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.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Catch .44

(2.5/4 stars)

It's pretty obvious during the five minute conversation between the wanna-be Charlie's Angels (Tes, Kyla, and Dawn) that this movie desperately wants to be a Quentin Tarantino film. Which was bad news for me because I don't really like Tarantino's films. "Reservoir Dogs" is pretty good. That's what this seems to aspire to, though it doesn't quite make it.

This is the kind of movie where a lot of it is told in flashback, but I'll give it to you in chronological order, without trying to spoil too many surprises. As I said at the outset there are three young women Tes, Kyla, and Dawn. The latter two we can forget about because they die in the first ten minutes of the movie. Tes (Malin Ackerman) is a former strip club waitress/pickpocket who works for crime boss Mel (Bruce Willis) around the New Orleans area. She and her crew are assigned to go to a diner in the middle of nowhere to intercept a drug shipment (or something). The drugs/cash are the film's MacGuffin, the thing everyone is fighting over and yet they don't really matter.

But as we see early on things go wrong and Tes's underlings are killed. There's a double-cross and then another double-cross and then another double-cross. It'd take too long and spoil too much to say who all is double-crossing who.

Anyway, like the earlier "Smokin' Aces" this is a film by a Tarantino disciple that tries to mimic the master's work, but never quite gets there. It's got a lot of the same pieces, but feels too derivative. (Which is maybe why I never heard of it before it showed up on the Vine newsletter and was released on DVD.) If you're a fan of double-crosses and gore then this is a good rental, but I wouldn't buy it.

BTW, like the earlier "13" I got from Vine the DVD includes no extras. I don't know if the actual sale version does or not. If it does I can't evaluate them since I couldn't see them.

That is all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

There are nice guys and then there's Ned.  Maybe the screenwriters named him Ned because he's like Ned Flanders on "The Simpsons" only without the religion.  He's so nice when a cop comes up to his fruit & vegetable stand asking for some pot because he's having a bad day, Ned agrees to give him a bag.  He reluctantly takes $20 for it and then finds himself sent up the river on a drug pedaling charge.

Ned (Paul Rudd) gets out 8 months later and is no longer welcome at the farm where he used to work.  At first then he stays with his mom.  When he feels smothered, he goes to stay with his sister Liz (Emily Mortimer) and her husband (Steve Coogan) and their young son River.  Liz and her husband are the type of parents who don't want their kid to eat sugar and make him play some weird musical instrument so he can get into a fancy school.  Ned upsets that by teaching River about karate and stuff.

Soon he ends up with his other sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks)--I have no idea which sister is the oldest or youngest.  She works for Vanity Fair and is trying to break a big story about Lady Arabella, who was involved in some scandal.  Ned's honesty screws that up too.

He ends up sleeping in a raft at the apartment of his other sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).  She's supposedly a lesbian, but has been sleeping around with a guy.  Ned's honesty ruins things for her too.

It's all a little too obvious that the real "idiots" are the sisters, not Ned.  As screwed up as his life is, theirs aren't much better, just they refuse to admit it.  You might be able to figure out where everything is going. 

But overall this was a fun, lighthearted film.  Ned's good-natured blundering is funny and makes him a likable character.  He's not exactly in the same mold as Forrest Gump (because he's not that dumb) but he is someone you root for despite the dumb things he does.

This is a good movie for adult couples who want something light and fun.  There's really too much sex talk (and an unfortunate shot of Steve Coogan's naughty parts) for this to be a family film.

The extras on the DVD I received are three deleted/extended scenes (one is real short) and an alternate ending.  Unlike some movies that claim to have an alternate ending but end up having one or two lines changed, this one really is a largely different ending.  I think the original works better, but the alternate ending gives more closure about the characters.

That is all.

(3/4 stars)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I guess since this was about Russian roulette and listed Jason Statham as one of the stars I expected it to be more exciting. I was definitely not on the edge of my seat, even when guys had guns to each other's heads.

Another complaint I have is I didn't really feel I knew much about most of the characters. In many cases I didn't even know their names. It took a little straining to remember the "hero" is named Vince, in large part because for 2/3 of the movie he's referred to as "Number 13."

The reason for this is that Vince finds an invitation to a Russian roulette tournament. The mechanics of this are a little hazy to me. I think Vince is working at renovating this guy's house. The guy overdoses on morphine after he gets the invitation. Vince finds it and since he needs money for an operation for his dad (I think), he goes to New York to take the other guy's place.

The tournament is held in a mansion (or something) out in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how far you have to get from New York City for that. There are at least 17 players. Each one has essentially a sponsor. I'm not really sure who Vince's was. At the house we meet some of the other participants. There's #17 (Mickey Rourke) who was in a Mexican prison before being smuggled into the US for the tournament. He keeps telling his handler (50 Cent) that he knows where there's a large stash of money. 17 and his money really have no bearing on the overall plot.

Vince's main rival is #6 Robert Lynn (Ray Winstone) who was in a mental institution until his brother Jasper (Jason Statham) signs him out to be in the tourney. #6 has won the tourney a few times before. For some reason, Jasper borrows 2 million from someone to gamble in the tourney on his brother.

I think part of the reason I was never too excited is besides being located in a mansion--and not somewhere seedy like a back alley--is there are so many rules. For the first two rounds everyone stands in a circle. They're given a gun and one bullet. They put the guns in the air and spin the chamber around at the behest of the referee who sits in a chair like a tennis umpire. Then each player puts his gun at the head of the guy in front of him. (They are all guys.) When a light with spiders on it (why spiders? I don't know) goes on, they fire. Some people die and others live. For the next round, there are two bullets in the guns. The final round features two players chosen at random to "duel." They get three bullets in their guns. If you can't guess who is chosen to duel they show you A) on the DVD back cover and B)A few minutes into the film. So I guess that's another strike as it spoils a little of the drama.

Anyway, with so many rules and everything so well-mannered (they even let the "survivors" go free!) it felt more like watching tennis than Russian roulette. That and I didn't really know much about the important characters and a lot of characters weren't that important anyway, like #17.

So this definitely could have been a better movie. Maybe the original version was better; I might have to go look for it on Netflix or something.

BTW, there were no extras on the copy I was given from the Vine newsletter. I don't know if the copy for purchase has any extras or what they might be.

That is all.
(2/4 stars)

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I wasn't all that keen on seeing this movie, but one of my Gather "friends" recommended it.  Also, it drove me up the wall that Netflix wouldn't have it available for a full month AFTER you could buy the DVD, which is also a full month after Blockbuster and On Demand had it.  So once I signed back up with Blockbuster I put that near the top of my queue and here we are.

The basic premise of the movie is:  what if you could take a pill that would speed up your IQ past those of history's greatest geniuses?  Eddie (Bradley Cooper) faces this conundrum.  When the movie begins he's a socially-awkward writer suffering from writer's block, living in a messy apartment, and being dumped by his girlfriend.

(On a side note, only in the movies does a writer get a book contract without having written anything and without being famous.  That almost never happens in the real world, especially with fiction.  So suspend a little disbelief there.)

Then his ex-wife's brother runs into him on the street and offers him an experimental pill called NZT-48.  Eddie decides to take it and instantly his writer's block is gone, he's learning new languages at the drop of a hat, and winning back his girlfriend.  There's just a couple of little problems.  One is that the pill only lasts 24 hours.  After it's gone, he goes to the former brother-in-law's place only to discover that the brother-in-law has been killed by some nasty people looking for the pills.

They don't find the stash but Eddie does, along with some cash.  He uses the pills and bills to begin amassing a fortune.  First he tries counting cards and doing some day trading.  When that's too slow, he seeks out corporate titan Carl Atwood (Robert DeNiro) and goes to work helping to broker a huge merger that will net him $40 million.

But there are still the problems of the pills and the people who want the pills.
Overall I enjoyed the movie.  The scenario might be implausible, but it's a fun what-if fantasy.  Cooper gives a solid performance as Eddie and is fairly convincing as both mousy pre-NZT Eddie and suave post-NZT Eddie.  

It probably could have been 15 minutes shorter.  It drags a little in the middle.  Some of this drag is from a scenario I find puzzling.  Eddie reaches into his stash jar for a pill but seems to be out.  So he goes to a meeting with Atwood off the pill, which doesn't go well.  But then it turns out he has a stash hidden away somewhere.  So why didn't he just go get the stash before the meeting?  I mean if he's so smart on the pills how could he be so stupid as to run out before the meeting?

Other than that hiccup it's a perfectly good movie.  A solid night's entertainment.

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score:  59-100 (2 stars)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Captain America (2011)

I haven’t gone to see a movie in the theaters since “Iron Man 2” in 2010, because nothing released interested me much.  But I’ve always had a soft spot for Captain America, though I’ve never read more than the first couple issues that my grandma gave me in some kind of compilation back in the ‘80s or something.  Anyway, this got good buzz from my Facebook “friends” so I thought I’d go see it.

I’d say it was worth the five bucks I paid to see it in 2D—it didn’t seem like the kind of movie to benefit much from the 3D thing.  Like most of the Marvel superhero movies it’s a solid popcorn movie, though not as great as “The Dark Knight” in my mind.

When the movie begins, it’s in present day as a government team is digging around the arctic for a strange downed aircraft.  Inside they find a frozen Captain America.  Then we flash back to 1942, where a scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, formerly the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four) is trying to get into the army to serve in the same unit as his dead father.  What he lacks in size he makes up for in courage, but he’s rejected for being too small and asthmatic.  That doesn’t deter Steve, who applies later at a World’s Fair, foregoing a double date with his friend Bucky Barnes (a kid sidekick in the 40s comics) and two random dames.  Steve’s tenacity comes to the attention of Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who is conducting a secret experiment to create a special serum to make “super soldiers.”  He’s already used it on Nazi commander Johan Strauss (Hugo Weaving) but has since defected to America.

Steve is given the serum and comes out looking like a bodybuilder.  A Nazi agent sets off a bomb and kills Erskine, making it so that Steve will be America’s only super soldier instead of having a whole army of them.  He’s presented with two choices:  be locked up in a lab for testing or become an army mascot known as “Captain America.”  He agrees to the latter, where at least he can be doing something.  It turns out that what he does is dress up in a funny costume and make speeches about buying war bonds.  He also makes movies and even has a comic book! 

Just as Steve is embracing his fame, he goes over to Italy and meets a hostile reception.  When he finds out Bucky has been taken captive by the Nazis, Steve goes alone into enemy territory to break him out.  There he confronts Strauss, going by the name the Red Skull because his serum turn his skull red, and becomes the real-life Captain America.

From there Steve, Bucky, and a loyal band of multinational/multiethnic troops try to wipe out the Red Skull and his evil HYDRA weapons plants.

I think what would have made this a little better to me was a little more realism.  I know it’s a comic book movie, but I found the Nazi ray guns to be a little too far over the line into fantasy.  And the whole “jewel of Odin” thing didn’t really add much to the plot.  They could have achieved the same results with more conventional weapons, though those might not have looked as cool to the teens in the audience.

Also, as much as I hate this new trend of breaking movies into two parts, a la Harry Potter, I think this would have been better as two parts.  One part to focus entirely on the World War II era and then another to bring Captain America into the modern age.  That way they could have dealt better with the issues surrounding him going from 1943 to 2011, like his love interest Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) either being dead or really, really old.  Because there’s just not going to be enough time in the Avengers movie to give that more than lip service.

No matter what, though, this was a million times better than the 1990 version Syfy aired at the time this movie came out.  It’s worth seeing if you’ve liked the other Marvel superhero movies or just want two hours out of the heat.

BTW, stay after the credits for a preview of the Avengers movie coming next year!

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  66/100 (2.5 stars)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cedar Rapids

I knew when I heard about this that I would probably like that movie.  The reason is that I could best describe it as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" meets "Up in the Air" and I really liked both movies.  If you do too then you'll probably also like this.

The plot involves a 40-ish year old insurance agent who's not a virgin named Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) who works for BrownStar Insurance in Brown Valley, Wisconsin.  He's worked for BrownStar since he was 17 but is overshadowed by his coworker Roger, who's one the prestigious Two Diamond Award twice. 

But then Roger dies in a perverse way and it's up to Tim to go to the insurance industry conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (really Ann Arbor, Michigan, woo hoo!) to win the award for a third time.  He leaves his girlfriend, his old teacher (Sigourney Weaver, who at this point I did not want to see having sex) and gets on a plane for the first time.  Boarding a plane for the first time is kind of scary and nerve-wracking, especially doing it after 2001 with all the paranoia and extra security.  More probably could have been made of this scenario.

Anyway, when Tim lands in Cedar Rapids he runs into a prostitute named Bree outside.  He of course doesn't know what she is and gives her a butterscotch.  He's meets his first black person ever inside the room.  Ronald (Isaiah Whitlock) owns his own insurance company and like Tim is a total dork.  Due to overbooking, they have to take on a third roommate, Dean Ziegler (John C Reilly), whom Tim was warned to stay away from by his boss.  And we soon see why as Dean is the polar opposite of Tim:  boisterous, cussing, and hitting on everything in sight.  Later in the fitness center Tim meets the fourth member of their ensemble, Joan (an unrecognizable Anne Heche) who if you've seen "Up in the Air" is basically the Vera Farmiga character. 

It doesn't take long for Tim to start being turned to the dark side.  It all begins with some cream sherry in the bar.  (Cream sherry, the Devil's nectar!)  Soon he's doing all sorts of things he never thought he would do.  The most serious of which is finding out the truth behind Roger's awards the past two years and about his boss's plans for the company.

I thought a lot of this movie was hilarious, in the same way as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" in that it's fun watching a straight arrow turn to the dark side.  Something sadistic in our nature.  It's just funny as Tim encounters alcohol, drugs, and sex and tries to reconcile them with his Ned Flanders world view.

What the movie lacks is a good love interest for Tim.  We know Sigourney Weaver is too old for him.  We know Anne Heche is married.  And we know the prostitute is a prostitute.  Since those are the only options available, you wind up missing something on the romantic front.  They needed some cute assistant at the office or something he had ignored for him to end up with.  Maybe it's in the deleted scenes.

Anyway, this is a fun movie and mercifully short and just about 85 minutes.  Make sure to watch the first half of the credits for a couple of bonus scenes.  If you work in an office and like adult humor then this is a good bet.

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  70/100 (3 stars)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Company Men

I really enjoyed this movie.  If it's not very subtle in its message that's all right because it's message is on target.  There is a labor crisis in America that affects everyone from the top on down.

"The Company Men" focuses on three separate segments of the workforce, all of whom work for GTX, a conglomerate that started by making ships for the Navy and so forth.  Of course now with defense cuts and so forth the shipbuilding segment of the company is being phased out.

Heading this division is Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) who co-founded the company with CEO Jim (Craig T. nelson).  Gene is conflicted about the company's downsizing and has been publicly vocal about his ethical concerns in putting people out of work to make the stock price go up.  When he winds up getting a pink slip himself, he still has millions but nothing to do with his time or money.

One of Gene's oldest associates is Phil (Chris Cooper) who started out in the shipyards after a tour in Vietnam.  Phil is in his late 50s and when he gets the ax, finds no one wants to hire him despite all of his experience.  Too young to retire but too old compared to the college kids coming up who'll work for cheaper, Phil is caught between a rock and a hard place with seemingly no way out.

And then there's Bobby (Ben Affleck) who was a middle-manager for GTX.  Despite making only $150K or so a year, he lives in an affluent suburb of Boston in a million-dollar home and drives a Porsche.  When he gets his pink slip, he's left scrambling to find work and keep his head above water.  To try and make ends meet, he has to take a job from his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) working as a carpenter.

All that's missing here is an even younger employee just trying to break into the market.  But still you get a pretty good idea of the bleak job market.  Many people like Phil find they can't get a job and the job they've been working for 30 years or more doesn't have any value.  Others like Bobby have been living beyond their means from paycheck to paycheck.  All the while CEOs like Jim continue drawing millions, refusing to give up perks like corporate jets, primo vacations, and giant offices in order to save someone's livelihood.

As I said, this is about as subtle as Michael Moore's "Capitalism:  a Love Story" but it's hard to deny that it's not true.  It's a changing job market and millions are being left behind, marooned on an island while others have to scale back their lives and their dreams.  The end reminds me of a documentary I saw years ago about the economic crisis in Brazil.  At one factory the head honchos decided to fire everyone and close the factory down.  The workers decided then to simply break the locks, fire up the machines, and keep working by pooling their own resources.  Maybe we need more of that spirit here.

Unless you're a rabid Tea Partier who still believes CEOs like Jim are riding to the rescue, I'd suggest watching this.

That is all.

My score:  90/100 (3.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  69/100 (3 stars)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

True Grit (2010)

I think it was Roger Ebert's review that said what the Coen Brothers did in remaking "True Grit" was make a really good Western.  I have to agree with that.  The first time after watching this On Demand it surprised me just how straightforward the plot was.  No real twists or turns or much out of the ordinary.  Just a simple, straight ahead Western.  For a Western it might be really, really good but since the closest to a Western I've watched all the way through is "Dances With Wolves" I really wouldn't know.

The straight ahead plot starts first with a murder.  14-year-old Mattie Ross's father is killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and he promptly skips town to light out for Indian Territory.  Mattie refuses to take this lying down, so she hires US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to follow Chaney.  Before they can set out, Mattie is visited by Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who has also been pursuing Chaney for shooting a Texas senator.  He wants to take Chaney back to Texas so he can collect a reward, but Mattie refuses, wanting Chaney to die for killing her father, not for killing a Texas senator.

Without her knowledge though Rooster and LaBeouf set out together and agree to share the reward.  Mattie catches up to them, nearly drowning herself and her horse in the process.  This leads to a falling-out between Rooster and LaBeouf when Rooster refuses to send his employer home.  So Rooster and Mattie go off on their own to search for Chaney.

As you'd expect there are some gun battles and really everything except a tribe of Indians in war paint to attack them.  Though it's mostly through dumb luck that they eventually find Chaney for the final showdown.  Is that a spoiler?  Well, what kind of Western would it be without a final showdown?

Anyway, as you'd expect from the Coen Brothers, this is a well-made film that intersperses violence and humor in about equal doses.  The acting is all top-notch, as you'd expect from this all-star roster.  What it reminds me of mostly is "Road to Perdition" which combined a violent gangster movie with a coming-of-age story.  Only it's here on the trail in Indian territory in the 1880s or so that Mattie comes of age.

My main complaint, as I mentioned in the beginning, is that this is all so simple.  Mattie is the spunky girl coming of age.  Rooster is the gruff loner with a heart.  LaBeouf is the noble Ranger.  The only real non-archetype is the outlaw Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) who is the villain and probably evil but not really TOO evil.  Maybe it was just me but I couldn't help thinking if they'd cast someone a little younger for LaBeouf they could have had a little romantic thing going on with him and Mattie.  It seemed towards the end like it could go that direction, but a guy in his mid-30s and a 14-year-old girl would probably have made people too uncomfortable.

Anyway, since it's finally on DVD (which for some reason took six months when most movies go from theater to DVD nowadays in about half that) it's a good rental.  It's not as good as other Coen Brothers movies like "No Country for Old Men" or "Fargo" but it's definitely better than most of the schlock on the New Rental shelves.  If you're someone like my dad who grew up with the John Wayne version you might not care for it much.  I mean, come on, Jeff Bridges is not The Duke.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  80/100 (3 stars)

PS:  In the credits I noticed Buster Coen played "Mr. Damon's Abs Double."  What the heck is that?  A stunt double for his midsection?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Green Hornet

I think the best backhanded compliment I can give this is that I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would.  I've hated just about everything Seth Rogen has ever done except his supporting role in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and the Green Hornet always seemed like a third-rate hero to me.  So I was prepared to find this unwatchable.  But it wasn't.

That's not to say it's anywhere near the level of great superhero movies like "The Dark Knight" or "Spider-Man 2" or "Iron Man."  It is a small step above the truly awful ones like "The Spirit" and "Jonah Hex" though.

I think what makes the movie bearable is that it's in on the joke.  Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is presented as a complete buffoon.  In a flashback, we see that young Britt tried to stop some bullies from picking on a girl. 

When he fails and gets in trouble, he's taken to his father (Tom Wilkinson, previously in "Batman Begins") who tells him that trying doesn't matter if you fail.  So Britt just stops trying.  He becomes content to fritter away his life partying.

That is until his father is killed by a bee sting.  A moment where you have to suspend disbelief is that Britt's father, who finds him to be a total disappointment, gives him his entire estate, including control of The Daily Sentinel.

Britt has no interest in running a newspaper until he and his father's mechanic/coffee maker Kato (Jay Chou) go to the cemetery to chop the head off his father's statue.  In the process Britt and Kato (mostly Kato) foil a mugging--and possibly worse.

From there they decide to become heroes.  This is where Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) comes in.  Though she's working first as a temp and then as Britt's secretary, she has a degree in criminology.  Britt and Kato use her knowledge in order to find some criminals for them to beat up.  As well they use the newspaper itself to publicize their vigilante actions to bring more attention to themselves, kind of the opposite of the Spider-Man movies.

And actually I have to say I found the whole idea of the hero posing as a villain to be a good twist on the concept.  As they say, if the criminals think you're a hero then they know there are certain lines you won't cross.  If they think you're one of them, then everything is on the table.  Kind of a play on the Batman's philosophy.

All of the criminals in LA pay tribute to Chudnovsky (Christoph Waltz of "Inglorious Basterds" fame), a criminal who becomes insecure about his name, his clothes, and how scary he is after visiting an upstart rival played by Rogen buddy James Franco.

From there Britt and Kato take on Chudnovsky with the help of a really sweet ride called the Black Beauty that has machine-guns, missiles, flamethrowers, and lots of other goodies.  And in the process Britt has to grow up a little bit, though not too much since this is a Rogen picture.

Anyway, as I said earlier, this might have been unbearable if the movie weren't in on the joke.  Kato is clearly the real hero and Britt the sidekick.  Everyone but Britt realizes this.  The gas gun the Green Hornet uses in this movie comes about because Kato is afraid of Britt having a real gun, so he gives him something nonlethal.  The movie knows that not only Britt but the whole film itself is supposed to be stupid fun and it never really betrays that by getting too serious.

There are of course a number of problems with it.  For one thing, about half of Rogen's "acting" seems to be expressing "Wow!" sentiments at Kato and the Black Beauty, who are the real stars of the movie.  The film slows down in the second act, after Britt and Kato first take on Chudnovsky.  And as at least one of my Gather "friends" noted, the Lenore character doesn't make much sense.  She has a degree in criminology and she's working as a temp secretary?  In this economy that is slightly believable, but not a whole lot.  They probably could have solved that problem by giving her a kid and saying she had to take whatever job was available to provide for him/her.  That could also have provided some comic fodder of Britt interacting a kid who's clearly smarter than him.  I'm just saying.

Anyway, this isn't a great movie by any means, but it's not completely terrible either.  Now that it's on DVD and On Demand, it's an OK rental.

(And really I love the ingenious solution at the end of what to do when Britt gets shot.  The old killing two birds with one stone thing.)

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)
Metacritic score:  39/100 (1.5 stars)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's Kind of a Funny Story

I always think it's too bad that Focus Features never releases any of their movies so anyone between LA and New York can see them.  Well maybe you can if you live in a college town with an art theater or can make time for that one showing at the multiplex.  They have a good track record with movies like "Lost in Translation," "Atonement," and many more.

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" follows in that trend.  I think it was released in theaters for like two weeks in November, between Harry Potter and the big holiday releases.  At least I vaguely remember seeing commercials for it, though maybe it was my imagination.

Anyway, the funny story is about Craig, a 16-year-old who is feeling pressured by his father to get into a special summer program that will set him up to get him into Ivy League schols so he can become CEO or president or something like that.  On top of that he's got a crush on his best friend's girlfriend Nia.  And maybe some other things too.

So one night he calls the suicide hotline and then goes to the emergency room.  There he persuades the doctor to admit him to the mental hospital.  Because of a convenient renovation the teens and adults are forced to live together.  Almost immediately Craig starts to realize that he's made a terrible mistake, because the people in there are genuinely crazy.  Though none of them are so crazy to be dangerous.  They're all pretty much harmless.

He soon makes friends with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, the bearded guy from "The Hangover") who sort of shows him the ropes of the place.  Unlike "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" the nurses and orderlies are professional and somewhat caring in their treatment of the patients.

Craig also finds a kindred soul in Noelle (Emma Roberts) another teen who's actually tried to kill herself a few times.  (Why isn't really explained.)  While he falls for her he starts to realize hidden talents and to come to grips with his problems.  And at the same time he helps Bobby and his Egyptian roommate and becomes sort of a mascot to the psych hospital.

The high concept way to describe this would be to say it's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" meets "Scrubs."  There are a number of fantasy gags like in "Scrubs," including a sort of music video of "Under Pressure."  Though the movie never resorts to slapstick gags or toilet humor.  It was nice to see that Galifianakis could be more than the dumb fat guy in a movie.  The movie manages to deal with serious issues of mental illness without making it too much of a joke.

My only complaint is that maybe it's a little too sweet at times.  It might have been nice to get a little deeper into what was going on with Noelle and Bobby and some of the other patients.

But overall I found this to be a really enjoyable comedy/drama.  If you like movies like "Little Miss Sunshine" then you'll probably enjoy this too.  That is if you can find it first.

That is all.

My score:  90/100 (3.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  63/100 (2.5 stars)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Easy A

Here's the timeline of me watching this movie:
  • 10 minutes in I wonder why I'm watching this
  • 15 minutes in I grabbed my cell phone and started playing Solitaire
  • 30 minutes in I got bored of Solitaire and opened my netbook to check Emails/Gather/etc.
  • 60 minutes in I got up to use the bathroom, tidy up some stuff while the movie was still running
A couple of "friends" recommended this movie, but it didn't do anything for me.  It was predictable pretty much from start to finish, so that when I got up to use the bathroom and stuff I didn't care because I knew by then what was going to happen, although the zany scheme at the end to save the day wasn't even that zany.

The been there, done that story involves Olive (Emma Stone) who is ignored at school because...um, she dyes her hair red and gets good grades?  That's about all I could think of.  She doesn't even have glasses like most Hollywood movies about high school outcasts!

Anyway, she tells her friend for no real reason that she had sex with some guy named George (one thing that struck me is where the friend says there's no one sexy named George; I guess she's too young to remember former Sexiest Man Alive George Clooney) and then gets a bad reputation.  Some gay kid then goes to Olive and bribes her to stage some fake sex so people will think he's straight.  Word gets around and soon Olive is the school slut--except she never sleeps with anyone.

You could probably figure out the rest of the plot.  [Mild spoilers!]

There's your Mild Spoiler space.  At first she thinks it's cool but then realizes it sucks.  There is of course some hot sensitive guy she likes who she finally gets at the end after confessing everything on YouTube.  (Why anyone would believe her when she's obviously a liar is beyond me.)

More Mild Spoiler space.  The movie wants to be "Juno" mixed with John Hughes, but it's just another dull, cookie cutter Hollywood teen movie.  Emma Stone makes a good sassy heroine, but the story lets her down by being way too predictable.

Anyway, save yourself some time and just watch "Juno" instead or even better, get MTV's "Daria" series from the late '90s on DVD.  Or you could rent some John Hughes and watch the master at work. 

That is all.

My score:  25/100 (1 star)
Metacritic score:  72/100 (3 stars)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Social Network

That "The Social Network" has won numerous awards as the Best Film of 2010 pretty much sums up what a disappointing year it was for films in my opinion.  I just watched this on DVD and I was pretty unimpressed.  Really I think it would have made for a better hour-long CNBC documentary on Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook.

Writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher try to inject some life into what is otherwise a pretty dull tale.  Essentially what they do is try to set Zuckerberg up as a 21st Century Charlie Kane, going so far as to create a fictitious Rosebud in the form of a former girlfriend named Erica (Rooney Mara), whom Zuckerberg perhaps sees as "the one who got away."  They also interweave testimony from two legal hearings against Zuckerberg.

One hearing is for a lawsuit brought on by his former partner Eduardo (Andrew Garfield, soon to be Spider-Man), who put up the cash for Zuckerberg to start "the facebook" which eventually became what we now know as Facebook.  Eduardo thinks that the site needs to find some advertisers to make money, while Zuckerberg thinks that would compromise the "coolness" of the site.  The former Harvard roommates eventually drift apart, much like Kane drifted apart from his former roommate, played by Joseph Cotten.  And just like in "Citizen Kane" there's a final betrayal that fractures their relationship, leading to the lawsuit.

The other hearing is brought on by the Winklevoss twins and another guy, who wanted Zuckerberg to create a dating service called "Harvard Connection."  But Zuckerberg had a better idea.  Instead of just breaking things off with the twins, he makes excuses and then rolls out "the facebook" on his own, cutting them out of the loop.  After exhausting other remedies, including going to Harvard's president, the twins and their partner sue Zuckerberg.

Actually while they were already pilfering so much of one of the greatest films in history, Sorkin and Fincher might as well have gone the rest of the way and used the same style of having a reporter interview everyone to try and find the real Zuckerberg.  The real Zuckerberg is what's missing from this movie.  We get to see that he's socially awkward, smart, a gifted programmer, and driven to succeed.  I'm not sure we really get to see what makes him tick.  We never get to see his parents.  (Are they alive?  Where do they live?  Does he have siblings?  Aunts, uncles, cousins?  I have no idea.  Maybe I should check his Facebook page.)  "Citizen Kane" at least gave us some glimpses of Kane's background.  "The Social Network" just has Zuckerberg springing fully formed from Harvard and bursting onto the scene.

Like Charlie Kane, the film shows Zuckerberg as essentially being a victim of his own success.  By achieving fame and fortune he's alienated those (one, really) who cared about him.  Probably if they made this movie ten years from now they could include where Zuckerberg builds his palatial house and lives in seclusion from the outside world after a failed attempt to become governor.  Overall it's fine, but as I said, a straight documentary would have been more interesting to learn about Facebook and then you can always watch "Citizen Kane" for the rest of it.

Though the greatest accomplishment is that now I probably won't think of Jesse Eisenberg as "that guy who looks like Michael Cera and was in 'Zombieland.'"  I have my doubts that he'll become an A-list star after this (I doubt he'll win the Oscar or Golden Globe), but he's on his way to some good parts now.
Anyway, I should probably go see "The King's Speech" which is the other heavyweight Oscar contender.  I doubt it could be less impressive than this.

That is all.

My score:  62/100 (2.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  95/100 (4 stars)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The American (2010)

Movies like "The American" and "Greenberg" exemplify why we still need film critics.  In looking at the customer reviews on the Blockbuster website for both films, the majority opinion is that these are slow and boring.  To which my rebuttal is, "Yes and they were supposed to be."  Slow, that is, not boring.  Though to some people anything without an explosion or car chase every two minutes is boring.  If these people had done their due diligence by reading a few critical reviews, they would have known that before renting it and complaining.

If you're reading this, then you're taking the first step towards doing that.  Good for you!  Let me say that "The American" is not a frenetic actionfest like the Bourne movies, though it is similarly part of that subgenre of films about a hired gun getting tired of the business and wanting to quit.  (Besides the Bourne movies, I could think of "The Merry Gentleman," "The Matador," "Bangkok Dangerous," and "Grosse Pointe Blank" off the top of my head that also fit into this category.)  What you get with "The American" is a slower-paced, more thoughtful variation on this topic.

When the movie begins, Jack (George Clooney) is hanging out in the wilds of Sweden in a cabin with a woman.  They go outside one morning to get some fresh air, but then some bad guys try to kill Jack.  It's not a spoiler to say that they do not succeed and the woman is killed, for which Jack feels guilty.

His contact Pavel sends him to a small town in Italy, though Jack soon takes off for an even smaller town in Italy.  There he pretends to be a photographer and makes friends of a sort with the local priest.  He also begins visiting a local prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido, who looks exceptional in the several scenes in which she is topless--so sue me for noticing!).

Eventually he takes a job to design a special sniper rifle for a woman named Matildhe, who appears each time with a different hair color.  Meanwhile, problems begin to escalate as the Swedes track Jack down in Italy and he's entangled by his feelings for Clara and dissatisfaction with his life.

There is a low-speed chase and some gun play, but probably not enough for action enthusiasts.  Something else that probably throws off the general public is that this isn't the Clooney from "Ocean's Eleven," the suave, debonair criminal.  This is more the Clooney from "Solaris," somber and brooding.  That is generally the air of the movie overall.  This and that Clara is an unabashed prostitute probably don't make it the best "date night" fodder.  But it is an interesting look at a man who is grappling with his personal demons and the bad choices he made in life.

My main complaint (other than the subtitles when people speak in Italian are all but impossible to read on a normal 27-inch television screen) is that the movie doesn't say much that's overly new.  As I said, there's a whole subgenre dedicated to this kind of character and generally "The American" plays out the same way those do:  the assassin is cracking, then there's a last job, a love interest enters the fray, some fights/chases where the assassin tries to escape those who want to make sure his retirement is very short, and then the end.  But to it's credit "The American" takes this more seriously and is more plausible than most of those other movies I mentioned.

So now you have a better idea what to expect--and knowing is half the battle.

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  61/100 (2.5 stars)