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, 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)