Monday, December 31, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Lately there has been a state of career biopics of various musicians and at some point it was a virtual certainty that someone would spoof them. You just hoped the spoof would be closer to Top Secret (1984) than it was to Balls of Fury (2007).

Judd Apatow, a guy who wants to make sure you are aware of every movie he has had a hand in, was the one who took up the gauntlet and went forth to make that movie. Unfortunately, the pre-views were largely devoid of laughs. The "It's the devil's music" guy getting punched seemed to be the centerpiece of every pre-view...and I did not laugh the first time. So I almost elected not to see it. However, after a careful recount, I discovered in my Near End of Year Review, I neglected to include Eastern Promises (2007) and, with my viewing of National Treasure;Book of Secrets (2007) I had the chance to average one new movie in the theatre every week for a year. So Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) would become the 52nd unique movie I saw in the theatre this year.

Obviously, I went in with low expectations. The pre-views looked marginal and the critics hated it. For some inexplicable reason I listened to the critics this time and waited to see this movie.

It took just a few minutes to change my mind. The first few minutes revolve around young Dewey Cox (Conner Rayburn) and his talented brother Nate (Chip Hormess). Nate plays the piano magnificently, but Dewey convinces him to play that day. Pa Cox (Raymond J. Berry) helps convince him to run along and play.

As they run out, one of the best lines of the movie is uttered. It is completely set up, believe it or not, by the pre-views. Anyone who saw the preview of Dewey singing the blues knows he cut his brother in half. So when Nate says, "Ain't nothing horrible going to happen today" it almost brought the house down.

The two kids engage in a variety of atypical kid activities...taking turns running with a bull in a pen, throwing live rattlesnakes at each other, playing chicken on a tractor versus a horse, fake sword fighting with machetes...oops. Dewey "halves" his brother.

This leads to one of the best running jokes in the movie as from time to time from here on Pa Cox will say, "The wrong kid died."

One of the best things about movies is the way they can move time. Walk Hard turns this, itself, into a joke as "14 year old Dewey Cox" is played by John C. Reilly...who is clearly NOT 14. Nor does Edith (Kristen Wiig). They deliberately do nothing to make the actors look young. Nor do the actors age.

The jokes come fast and furious, the actors take it with about the right amount of seriousness, and it only occasionally breaks the 4th wall, but when it does, it makes sense. '

It skewers a lot of musical conventions and, best of all, the songs are actually surprisingly good. It is clearly a spoof but they follow the correct path of making the music right and letting the jokes bring the laughs. This movie was much better than expected.

Also a lot cruder...and for an Apatow movie, that is saying something.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Before the movie there was a Disney short starring Goofy. In the short he tries to purchase and install a home theatre system. There were numerous laughs in this short. It had a lot of "old-school" type jokes...the football players as thieves, the binoculars to watch a television 3 feet away...and some new stuff. I think the biggest single laugh was the "consumer friendly packaging for the cables" which as the voice-over describes it, Goofy is struggling to open with a sledgehammer...more or less unsuccessfully. The skewering of overdone home theatres, masses of wires, armies of remotes, oversize televisions, and "feeling like you are in the game" spiels was awesome. This short, in and of itself, was worth the price of admission.

There are multiple ways to view any particular movie. For example, a person with a keen interest in history such as myself my snort with derisive laughter at the outlandish, ridiculous claim that "Custer's Last Stand" was a treasure hunting expedition gone wrong having to do with the Black Hills in order to protect the fabled City of Gold.

Or you can recognize a "popcorn" flick full of action, adventure, and good times. I prefer to do the latter and ignore some of the more over the top references in National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007). It is famously the first time Cage has done a sequel. He picked a fun franchise.

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is presenting a paper on his distant Grandfather when Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) interrupts with a document alleging that Gates was a co-conspirator in the Lincoln assassination. Desperate to prove his belief in family integrity is correct, Gates and his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight) join forces. Aided by Library of Congress curator Abigail Chase (Diane Krueger) and wise-cracking electronics ace Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) they go hither, thither and yon following clues to find out what Gates was protecting when he died. They are pursued bu Wilkinson and gun-wielding henchman. Ultimately they follow the clues to discover the lost city with numerous chases, traps, and puzzles along the way.

The movie is chock full of ridiculous plot how 3 or 4 vehicles can be stolen, ram dozens of other vehicles and yet not one cop is ever seen nor are there repercussions for the perpetrators...or why Wilkinson would feel compelled to fire on the Gates crew. That made no sense at all.

But it was a fun movie. This is a time to ignore ridiculous plot holes, outlandish escapades and obscenely bizarre puzzles. Just relax, enjoy the ride, chuckle at the one-liners and let the good times roll.

Oh, and...this was my 50th movie this year. That is kind of sad...

Friday, December 21, 2007

The monster (near) End of Year review

Somehow I missed mentioning Eastern Promises (2007), the Viggo Mortenson vehicle. It was yet another gangster epic in a year filled with them. It was better than the abominable We Own the Night but infinitely worse than The Departed. Nothing to write home about.

2007 had a lot of movies I was really looking forward to seeing. Some proved every bit as good as expected, others were huge disappointments, and a couple just managed to meet my anticipation. On the other hand, several movies vastly exceeded expectations. So here is a brief rundown of most of the movies I saw this year.


We started out well. Code Name: The Cleaner (2007) was better than expected. It was not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but it had a few nice laughs. It was completely forgettable, but movie prices were fairly reasonable at the start of the year. Cedric the Entertainer has an intriguing sense of humor and Lucy Liu always is great eye candy....

But then we hit Happily N'ever After (2007). Heavily promoted as being by the Shrek guys and with a "different take". It certainly did have a different take that tried to get by without humor or likable characters. Not a good start to the animated comedy genre. It was a movie I had looked forward to a great deal. I was completely stunned walking out of the theatre...were my expectations just too high? I do not think so. I doubt I will do the Shrek routine and watch it again to see if it was as bad as I thought. It was a complete, unmitigated disaster.


February started with Because I Said So, the Diane Keaton vehicle that continues to leave many of us stunned...why are critics so high on Keaton? This movie was much better in the portions she was not in. That is a running theme. Diane Keaton is one of those actors and actresses that make up the group that should be called "Acting critics love and people who enjoy being entertained hate". Be that as it may, pratfalls aside, this was a passable, mildly entertaining movie. Mandy Moore has a sweet innocence about her that lets her get away with playing the talented yet hapless girl who needs a man to complete her (apparently)...

February 14th brought us Music and Lyrics, yet another entry into the Hugh Grant as love interest in a romantic comedy genre. He and Drew Barrymore somehow click. The references to bad 80s hair bands and 2000s teenage sex pots were good for a few laughs and again we had a movie that about met expectations...worth seeing in a slow month, somewhat entertaining but nothing that will go down as a classic. The highlight might have been Haley Bennett's portrayal of a self-indulgent pop princess so lost in her own sensuality and completely invented, bizarre "spirituality" that bears no relation whatsoever to any reasonable or religious spirituality in existence. The riff on Spears, Aguilera, Madonna, and other "eye candy sensual dancers masquerading as singers" was hilarious.

Ghost Rider was the first entry into the Comic Book/Super Hero genre. It had some very cool special effects. It had Sam Elliott. It also had a nonsensical moment where Sam Elliott's character, in one of the least surprising "twists" this side of the revelation that Clinton did, indeed, have sex with that woman, turns out to be the Caretaker...which is all well and good, except after his "last ride" he fights nobody, does not go out in a blaze of glory, he just...rides along, assumably for the express purpose of having the brilliant special effects moment of his flame-shooting horse riding alongside Cage's flame-shooting motorcycle. His ride would have made much more sense if he had advanced the story with it...say, helped Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) fight Mephistoles (Peter Fonda) and his henchman, only to die there...thus having some point to the ride and making the bad guys look actually dangerous instead of easily beatable.
This movie was a disappointment, although it was still mildly entertaining. It just was not as good as maybe anticipated. I enjoyed it...but not enough to buy it until it is on the 5 dollar rack...

Breach continued the trend of disappointing movies. It was pitched as a true-life thriller but was a ho-hum melodrama with no suspense, no surprises, no drama and little interest. All the "secrets" were revealed in the trailers which was either really, really bad marketing...or it was a really weak movie. One suspects it would have been a much better movie if they left some suspense as to whether Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) was a traitor or not. Instead, Chris Cooper has probably, and unfortunately, seen the end of his starring roles. It is too bad because he is a magnificent actor.


Wild Hogs wanted to be a middle age road picture comedy. It mostly was. It had more and better laughs than expected, though a talented comedic cast was largely wasted. It was better than the reviews or pre-views but was a largely forgettable picture. It was another picture where several moments that could have offered some surprises and added to the fun factor were revealed in the previews. Woody Stevens (John Travolta) firebombing the bikes is a fine example.

Shooter had elements that could have made it great. Wahlberg did a good job of mixing super-patriot yet government-suspicious characterizations to weld an interesting, sympathetic character. The story was passable, the ending a bit ridiculous but overall it was as advertised, a mildly entertaining shoot-em-up. It had some fun technology moments and an interesting shootout in the snow with some mystery people who come from nowhere, shoot people for no discernible reason, and then disappear again. But it never claimed to be set in a believable universe, so I am okay with that. Yet another entertaining but forgettable flick.

TMNT was my third highly anticipated movie. Just as I had looked forward to Happily N'Ever After and Ghost Rider I had very high hopes for this one and had the release date marked down on my calendar. Unfortunately, the anticipation (and spate of pedestrian movies leading up to it) created expectations that were perhaps too hard to meet. The animation was spectacular. The story line was decent. The comedic lines were acceptable. But I walked out of the theatre very disappointed. When it came out on video I bought it anyway since I got it pretty inexpensively. Good choice. The movie was actually very funny. The combat scenes were excellent. It had references to old issues from when the Turtles were an underground phenomenon. It referenced the trilogy of live-action movies. Even the extras were entertaining. On second and third watchings (once it was released on video) I liked it very, very much. Initially I was disappointed. In the long run, this was a solid continuation to the Turtles franchise and well worth seeing.

Will Ferrell had been closing in on "Do not see his movies" territory after a few stinkers. However, with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) I had returned to finding him funny and decided to see his 2007 effort Blades of Glory with John Heder. To be honest, the previews did not make me laugh and it was against my better judgment I went to see it. Well, that was a wise choice. The premise was lame, the ending absolutely stupid, but in between there were a lot of laughs and this was the first really big surprise hit of the year for me. Will Ferrell tweaked his normal character just enough for it to be fresh and funny. Heder was screamingly hilarious as the effeminate yet masculine counter to Ferrell's masculine yet ...well, no yet in that case...skater. Hilarious flick and, hard as this is to believe, slightly more intelligent than most Ferrell movies.


Disturbia is not a typical movie for me. It is a horror/slasher flick. It was okay. It left some doubt as to the villain's identity for a few moments and had some nice eye candy but overall it was pretty much standard, by -the-numbers fare. I did not find it frightening, thought the character choices were pretty dumb and nonsensical, so it is nothing I would recommend.

Kickin It Old School, the Jamie Kennedy vehicle, looked very, very lame in previews. Still, Kennedy has a history of taking a lame premise and carrying it off so we went to see it. The premise was lame...most of the movie was lame...there were a handful of laughs and the old guy break-dancing was memorable. Overall, though, this was indeed a stinker.


Lucky You was a poker movie. At least, it was positioned as one, along with being a romantic comedy. When you do these things, you should do the game it is centered around correctly. They decided not to. It was a disappointing movie. The main character was unlikable, his Dad was not exactly sympathetic, and Drew Barrymore was whining and annoying. This one busted out quick.

Spiderman 3 was another movie I was really looking forward to. It did not disappoint. Action packed, comedic, entertaining. It hit the trifecta, a worthy conclusion to the trilogy. I know it caught a lot of heat from critics...and again, sometimes I think they have just forgotten how to enjoy movies. Peter Parker's (Tobey McGuire) dance scene when he is trying to make Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is hilarious, the character interactions deep, the pose in front of the flag cheesy and in perfect keeping with the Stan Lee was entertaining, action-packed, and left you feeling good.

Shrek the Third was another highly anticipated movie. Shrek II (2004) was one of my favorite movies of all time. The previews were good. The movie was HORRIBLE. This looked like it was trying to be an unfunny version of Happily N'Ever After...a movie which had no humor itself. This was hugely disappointing. They just tried too hard to push an agenda and the movie, as a result, fell flat. The girls were not funny, the whole Merlin/King Arthur sub-plot fell flat, and the interminable child vomit scenes stopped being funny a long time ago. Made me sad as I could see the potential for it to be hugely entertaining. I suspect when this video is 5 or 6 bucks I will take another shot at it.

May was a busy month as next up was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third and final (?) movie in the franchise. The first one was great, the second one...well, let me put it this way; someone gave it to me that Christmas and I haven't opened it yet. This one was a continuation of the second. Loud, fast, confusing, and...oh, yeah...stupid. It lacked the sly humor of the first one, the sense of fun and not taking itself seriously. This was a miserable finale. It also stretched out interminably long. For example, the scene with the ship being rolled by the clams might have entertained if it were about 30 seconds long. Instead I think it was about 5 minutes. The franchise kept trying to work on numerous levels and got too busy and then did not make sense...Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) is Calypso...okay...her motivation for having Sparrow rescued is tenuous at best, her maelstrom in the final battle hardly seems worthy of the fear she engendered prior to her release...the final battle was somewhat entertaining but not worth everything you had to wade through to get to it.


Knocked Up was a crude, vicious movie. It was also pretty funny. The only thing it seemed to be missing to keep it from being an instant classic was that none of the characters was likable. Of course, late in the year I saw it again at a second run theatre. That time it fell completely flat. The jokes do not stand up and without good characters...well, it is a dead movie. Very funny the first time, not so good after that. Too many jokes rely on crudity or profanity. When you dislike the characters...those jokes stop being funny.

Fortunately, Surf's Up was right around the corner. I had low hopes for this one. The previews looked lame and the "Based on a true story" tag line really turned us off of it. We almost did not even go to it but then one day traffic was heavy so to out wait traffic we stopped in at the theatre. That was what is known as a happy accident. Great flick. The characters are likable, the sly humor (boom mikes "dropping in" to scenes, stuff like that) was classic, and the movie had me laughing beginning to end. Loved it. The cuts to interviews with numerous minor characters were nice touches, as were the "real-life" surfers showing up as penguins. Good times.

Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer was another comic book sequel and one I really looked forward to. The previews looked awesome, the special effects out of this world. Sadly, the movie blew chunks. It was another example of "Why sequels are a bad idea". Even 2 hours of Jessica Alba could not save this one. The story took too long to develop, there was too much angst and not enough showing how the friends could stay friends through it, and the defeat of Galactus was entirely too simple and easy.

You Kill Me was an off-beat, independent movie about a hit man trying to get sober. It had some weird, understated humor and some interesting beats. Not a classic and you can tell why it was independent, but still fairly decent. It did take the time to develop the story and sub-plots which sometimes big-budget movies fail to do...but the cinematography and dialogue were hardly brilliant.

At the other end of the spectrum was Live Free or Die Hard, the spectacular comeback for the Die Hard franchise after the abominable Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995). Heavy artillery, implausible destruction, clever criminals, and Willis cracking great one-liners ("I was out of bullets" after bringing down a helicopter with a taxi cab comes to mind) were all present, as well as a wink to the audience at how deadly he was...this was outstanding popcorn fare that fit the series perfectly.

Ratatouille had so-so previews, but I love animated movies so we went to it anyway. It started with a bang, providing fun, likable protagonists and unexpected laughs...and never came back to earth. This should be an instant classic and find its way into many movie libraries. It had a couple of nice twists...the health inspector versus the rats in a restaurant, the staff walking out on the hero...good stuff. Memorable movie and everything Shrek the Third should have been.


I had never seen more than the occasional episode of the old Transformers cartoon so the movie was not destined to be a disappointment for me. Indeed, Transformers had everything I want in an action movie...motivation for the action, however special effects, eye candy, big guns, great shoot-outs...and in this case, a bit more with the transforming aspect. Very fun movie. Megan Fox is easy on the eyes, I am one person who thinks the Bumblebee upgrade was a great idea, even if the reasoning of Volkswagen was nonsensical. Bay did what Bay does...the main problem with this movie was the second unit director turning the actors into cheese-factories to deliver their lines. Nevertheless, I watched it again on video...and still loved it the second time.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was next in line. I am no fan of the Potter franchise. My wife, however, loves it so we went to see it. It was about as I expected...execrable. There was no internal consistency, it had one of the worst "Hand of God" random plot devices I have ever seen, the protagonists were not all, it was a poor story poorly delivered. Even the Goose hated it. I do not know why I do not like this franchise. I really like fantasy as a genre. Yet this franchise...I saw the first movie in the franchise, hated it, tried to watch a second, walked out, and this one I would have walked out except I thought she was enjoying it. I was wrong. Awful, awful movie. Of course, enough people saw it that I know some people really liked it. I just don't see it personally. And that still shocks me.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry felt rushed, like they just did not take the time to make it work. The camaraderie scenes of the firefighters felt forced, the chemistry between Sandler and Kevin James, his fire-fighting and marriage partner, never made you believe it, and the jokes just weren't funny. This was a swing and a miss.

No Reservations was badly mismarketed. It was pitched as a heart-warming romantic comedy with an emphasis on the romantic. Instead it was a dreary, tragic tale with a protagonist who you never liked. It never really had a chance at being a great movie but it could have been at least acceptable. Many screens must have shattered when contacted by this bomb.

But the one movie that I looked forward to more than any...probably more than all...the other movies was yet to come. My expectations were so impossibly high that I knew it would not match them. There was no way The Simpsons Movie could do anything other than disappoint me. Well, there was one keeping me laughing non-stop for the first half-hour, by having numerous "in-jokes" to Simpsons fans, and by providing laugh after laugh after laugh from opening couch gag (redone as a theatre gag) to the closing "Sequel?" of Maggie's "first word". Awesome, awesome movie. Must-see for any Simpsons fan and even for anyone who likes barbed humor. I have seen it three times so far (counting once on Christmas Day :-) ) and have no doubt numerous repeat viewings are in the future.


August started off with a bang as The Bourne Ultimatum showed how good a spy thriller could be. High tech gadgets, cat and mouse games, cloak and dagger thrillers, bluffs, double-crosses, triple-crosses, and even, for those not paying attention, a huge twist. Very well done. I enjoyed all the movies in the Bourne franchise and would be willing to watch them back to back. Who knew Matt Damon would be a great action star? The only thing I can't figure out is why he deliberately traps himself in the CIA offices when he could be on his way before they could be on his tail...

Stardust was an off-beat fantasy with an all-star cast...where the big names were relegated to the background. Despite a slow start, the movie got very interesting and was worth the time to see for those who are willing to get off the beaten trail a little bit. It took a while for Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) to become likable...but on the bright side, he does.

Superbad was instantly called a classic. I saw it. I am not sure why. It is full of crudity and profanity. Seth is pretty annoying. McLoving is pretty funny and the cry, "NNNNNNiiiiiicccccceeeeee" should instantly enter the lexicon, but otherwise jokes about periods and where the outlandish profanity is itself the joke are hardly classic. Mildly entertaining at best. Not as good as people present it. Maybe I am just too old to "get" it...or maybe profanity for the sake of profanity stops being funny when brains start working.

The Last Legion, on the other hand, deserved many more viewers than it got. Sure, the legend of Arthur has been told a lot of times and ways, but this was one of the best. Likable characters, and ending that leaves it to the viewer to choose if it is myth as myth or truth as myth, good battle scenes, strong story...surprisingly good movie. It portrays one way a good story can become a great legend.

Mr. Bean's Holiday was classic Bean...watching his physical slapstick, ridiculous situations, and confusion for laughs. It was about what you would expect...not likely to make new fans or chase away old ones.

On the other hand, War was an excellent movie. It had a bit of everything...great fight scenes, multiple layers of plot, and a surprise at the end that just might catch you if you are not thinking your way along with it. Very entertaining movie. I am not sure why Jason Statham does not draw better at the box office. Possibly because for every War or Transporter (2002) he makes, he makes a Crank (2006).

Balls of Fury was another in a long line of spoof movies. Occasionally they work, usually they are just too incredibly stupid. This was on the edge of working but just missed. I really don't recommend spending more than 50 cents to see it if you don't want to feel like you got ripped off. It had a few laughs but managed to waste Christopher Walken. All his good lines were in the trailer. Actually, 107% of the laughs were in the trailer...


3:10 to Yuma had a lot of things working against it; it was a Western, it was a remake of a classic, and it was making Russell Crowe as a bad guy. However, they updated the story, made some not-so-veiled references to current events, and churned out a moving, strong story with a very satisfying shoot-out. Very watchable. I enjoyed it a great deal. I would be interested in watching the original back to back with the remake to see which is more entertaining.

Good Luck Chuck, on the other hand, started out with a lot of promise. It has the always easy on the eyes Jessica Alba, penguins, and was poised to be the next great romantic comedy. It even had some comedy in it. And some romance. And Jessica-related pornography. I still am not sure why it did not work. But it didn't. Somewhere along the way it fell flat and was another disappointment. Maybe it was Chuck's buddy...sometimes a movie misses and you can't put your finger on why.

The Game Plan was exactly as the numbers misfit parent/sibling comedy aimed at the family audience. It hit exactly where it tried. No surprises...just a mildly entertaining feel-good film. Disney made dozens just like it, only funnier, in the 60s.


The Heartbreak Kid looked like another sure-fire Ben Stiller hit. It was written for his particular brand of comedy. It had some hysterically funny scenes in it. But it just never really gelled. It worked better as disjointed sketches with recurring characters than anything else. It was like watching an episode of Saturday Night Live or Mad TV where some of the writers were "on" and others were on a really "off" night. And it was just...tooo...crude.

We Own the Night positioned itself as a classic crime drama. It followed a format that is tough to do; a miserable, dreary setting, a miserable, dreary protagonist you don't like doing a tough job undercover to bring down criminals with no redeeming features in a violent confrontation. It ended up being a miserable, dreary, horrible movie. The very fact it is MENTIONED as a possible Best Picture at the Oscars shows you how irrelevant and out of touch they are. Did I mention it was miserable and dreary?


Despite my deep and abiding love for all things animated, the previews for The Bee Movie were so unabashedly stupd and lame that I almost skipped it. Another slow night of traffic convinced me to see it...especially with the paucity of watchable movies in October. Well, it proved to be much, much better than expected. There were a fair number of laughs and a couple of memorable scenes. November was off to a good start. I actually think had I not seen the previews, particularly the live-action ones, I would have really, really enjoyed this one. I did enjoy it...I just think the previews were so bad they actually inhibited my enjoyment by making me wait for that level of nonsense to enter.

American Gangster was supposed to be the next great The Godfather (1972). It wasn't. It was a so-so crime drama chronicling his real-life rise to power. The individual performances were excellent...Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe were at their best. But the story did not had the potential and verged on greatness. I suspect history will show it as a good but not great bit of cinema that is largely forgotten.

Fred Claus rehashed The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006) and had about the same amount of humor. It had the potential to be just...missed. And sometimes you cannot put your finger on how or why. There were some humerous moments but there was some really lame ones, too. This was too much Vince Vaughn playing the snarky, cynical, world weary guy and not enough fun.

Beowulf seems like it demands the 3-D effects. The story is decent but not great, the animation pedestrian...much like the source material, it is simply to dark and grim to allow you to leave the theatre feeling buoyed by your good fortune in having seen it. You don't really mind when the hero dies and don't care enough to think about what the inconclusive ending means.

Enchanted looked, from the previews, like a disastrous live-action version of Happily N'ever After (I must have REALLY hated that much as I have mentioned and panned it in here...). But I thought I would take a run at it anyway. I am very glad I did. Though some of it was annoying...the chipmunk, the lame, "I am villain and therefore must act stupid" ending...the movie overall was fun, vibrant, outstanding. The production numbers were well-choreographed and hilarious, there were some nice touches to give it layers of meaning for the more attentive...maybe the surprise hit of the year. I loved both the live-action dance numbers. I never thought I would say that. They just were so entertaining it was amazing.

This Christmas quickly brought us back to reality. It was a busy, predictable, lame bit of film that should be forgotten as quickly as possible.

I never played any of the games in the Hitman franchise but the Hitman flick was good at what it is; a violent, gunfire and swordplay driven movie with little time or need for meaningful, intelligent plot. So it dispensed with that and did what it does best...good entry into the genre. It joins a long line of movies that try to get by by being about assasins.


His Dark Materials; The Golden Compass was intended to be another tentpole picture that would lead to book sales, merchandise sales, and 2 follow up movies. The firestorm over whether they will "sneak" atheism in was perhaps predictable, debatably necessary...and will definitely prohibit the most important feature. The box office flop will be blamed on the debate instead of what it should be blamed on...the shortcomings of the movie. It simply failed to entertain, regardless of whether it would adversely affect the thoughts of children. To pass a message, a movie must first entertain. The Golden Compass never bothered to do that...or to make sense. I still cannot get past the armored bear who claims his armor is the very meaning of his life...yet separates from it as willingly as most people separate from bad sushi.

I Am Legend is nothing I normally look for in a movie. It is a disaster movie. It has a bleak vision of the world. It has not hope, no potential for positive outcomes. Yet I heard enough good things about it that I elected to see it. It was surprisingly good. Will Smith is fantastic. It presented a cohesive picture of a man with a god complex watching everything he loves and cares about be destroyed, only to be redeemed through self-sacrifice. I was surprised to find out I was actually entertained.

Alvin and the Chipmunks was another movie where the preview was disastrous. The infamous "raisin eating" preview led me to believe the jokes were going to primarily be flatulence and fesces related. I can live without that. It made me sad because the Chipmunks are a treasured bit of my Christmases. Well, happily the movie was far better than its previews. It was funny. The characters were engaging. The primary disappointment was the refusal of Jason Lee to sell out on his "AAAAAAAAALLLllllllllllllllvvvvvvvvvviiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnn!!!!!" scream of annoyance. Not a great movie, but certainly entertaining with a few nice laughs and some solid nostalgia.

There is a possibility I will see one or two more movies by years' end...but for now, this is my take on an overall very fun year at the movies.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Legend

I am Legend (2007) is the third attempt at making a movie based on the book of the same name. The other two were The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971) This leads one to believe there is a message the film-makers wish to impart to the viewing audience. So what could that message be?

The centerpiece of the movie is Robert Neville (Will Smith), a military man, a scientist, and a survivor. He alone is immune to the virus that devastated the world population and lives alone with a city full of mutants. Along with his German Shepherd Sam he travels New York by day searching for supplies and, occasionally, test subjects to try serums on. By night he hides and barricades himself in a hidden home.

The overarching theme is loneliness. He talks to Sam like a real person. He sets up mannequins at the video store he regularly goes to. He leaves his radio broadcasting his location with when and where he can be found.

And he works. And works. And works.

There is a strange discrepancy between the verbiage of the movie and the visuals. After Neville uses a trap to capture a subject to try his latest antidote on he makes a "behavioral note" on the mutants in which he claims they have lost their survival instincts and social interaction has totally devolved.

Yet the viewer is led to believe the Alpha Male (Dash Mihok) endures the sun briefly for want of companionship with the captured Alpha Female (Joanna Numata). He also moves Sam, the mannequin "storekeeper" at the video store and catches Neville in the same trap Neville used to capture the Alpha Female.

In other words, it is easy to draw the interpretation that part of Nevilles' problem is inattention, refusal to believe the truth. This is reinforced as a picture of arrogance as he first proclaims to fellow immune survivor Anna (Alica Braga) that "God didn't do this (the plague), WE did!" and that there is no God, yet in the final few minutes of his life he "hears" the voice of God. It is then that his last cure works, the antidote for the virus comes to fruition and he must sacrifice his life to slay the Alpha Male and allow Anna to carry the antidote to the colony of survivors.

Other possible interpretations exist. Another obvious potential interpretation would be that mankind is itself the virus poisoning the world through racism and hate. Loneliness comes when that poison creates separation and can only be defeated if good people work day and night, never stopping, and are willing to sacrifice themselves to ensure its defeat.

This is amplified by the way Neville becomes more separated from others as first, his wife and child die in a helicopter accident when leaving New York, then his dog dies to rescue him from the mutant trap, and then he attempts to commit suicide while taking out as many mutants as possible, only to be rescued by Anna. Yet he proves unable to reconnect to other people because the strain of fighting the virus has taken him too far over the edge. He has systematically lost his family, dog, and belief in the effectiveness of the plan formulated to counteract the virus. In his arrogance he refuses to believe there is any other survivor or colony. He and he alone has the ability to end this plague.

As a general rule I can leave or not take zombie movies. Yet Smith gives a powerful performance, director Francis Lawrence keeps things together and makes it entertaining as well as a little bit thought provoking.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

Every Christmas we hear the music. And now somebody thought it was a good idea to make a movie starring the Chipmunks. The first trailer was horrendous. There just were no laughs other than the feces as raisin joke...and that was pretty juvenile. So there looked to be no reason to see this movie.

Fortunately, it was actually pretty good. The movie opens with Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) singing "You've Had a Bad Day" while stuffing a tree with nuts. Alvin pushes too hard and they lose all the nuts which leads to complaining about life in the forest. Meanwhile, tree farmers cut down the tree...with the Chipmunks in it...and put it up as a Christmas tree at Jett records.

Meanwhile, David (Jason Lee) was going to Jett Records to meet with Ian (David Cross) in an attempt to sell him a song David had written. On his way he runs into ex-girlfriend Claire (Cameron Richardson) who sees he is, as usual, late to be somewhere but agrees to come to dinner anyway.

At Jett Records Ian just blows up David's song-writing skills and tells him to get a different career, to give up on the songwriting. Angry, David steals a fruit basket. As he is walking through the lobby, the Chipmunks are trying to return to the woods and, to avoid danger, smuggle themselves into the basket. Thus is born the unlikely partnership.

At first it is a negative one as the Chipmunks wreck the house and foul up David's dinner with Claire. However, there are moments of tenderness as well.

David ends up writing Christmas Don't Be Late, the Chipmunks are a hit, and then a struggle for control of the Chipmunks erupts between the angelic David who wants to give them a healthy life with planning for the future and Ian who wants to market them heavily, take them on tours, and let them live a life with no rules. David's unwillingness to be open about his fondness for them causes the Chipmunks to head out on the road with Ian.

Soon their excesses render them unhappy but Ian is bent on marketing them heavily and making bank. In the finale David must rescue the chipmunks, admit they are his family, and get Claire.

First, the good.

The Chipmunks are well-animated, fun to watch, and the music is surprisingly good. There are more laughs than expected and Theodore steals virtually every scene he is in. David Cross gives an excellent performance and is a strong foil for David and the Chipmunks.

Then, the bad.

Cameron Richardson has little to do, Jason Lee is not as into his character as normal, and at times in the crowd scenes you can tell nobody is really into it.

Finally, the ugly.

The final chase scene does not fit with the movie. It is poorly choreographed and, frankly, pretty lame. It really lost me which is sad because up until then I was really, really digging the movie. But most disappointing was the Jason Lee version of Seville's (David Seville) famous, "AAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLVVVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNN" cry of disgust. Lee never sells out and gives one that resonates the way Seville's did.

Still, it was a very entertaining movie with some good laughs and was much, much better than expected.

The Golden Compass

There was quite a firestorm prior to the release of The Golden Compass (2007) in which certain segments of the religious community claimed it would promote atheism largely through encouraging children to pick up the books. I discussed at some length my view on the validity of that objection to the movie. I also had no outstanding desire to see the movie, largely because the previews looked...well, weak. It looked like another Eragon (2006) rather than another Lord of the Rings type franchise and that is the reason my desire was light.

Well, as it turns out, Ironman Al wanted to see it so off we went.

The story follows Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), a headstrong, dishonest, annoying little twerp sent to school by her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). She is constantly in trouble, known as a liar, and basically is one of those annoying characters so often foisted upon us for protagonists.

Soon she is taken out of school by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), an operative for the Magesterium. This does not go well, she escapes Coulter, joins up with a variety of people who help her and she develops a mastery of the use of the Golden Compass.

Through a pretty random series of events she ends up finding the location where the Magesterium is involved in separating children from their daemons, rescues the children, and then comes the best scene of the movie.

As the children escape from the exploding prison they are headed off by guards clearly reminiscent of the fearsome and murderous Cossacks of the Russians. However, the children are rescued by an alliance consisting of the Gyptians, witches, and an armored bear who spends more time out of armor than in it. The battle is pretty entertaining.

The movie missed the mark on many accounts. Lyra is very hard to like, her journey is guided by the writer saying "we need to go here for the next scene" instead of any internal consistency, the characters in the movie do not have internal consistency...

For example, Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellan) has a long scene in which he talks about being an armored bear for whom his armor is like the daemons for people. Of course, if people are separated from their daemons for longer than a specified length of time they die...but Iorek spends most of the movie leaving his armor behind to head into danger. It makes no sense whatsoever.

In short, this was a movie with unlikable characters, weak plot, and inherent discrepancies. On the bright side, the acting was passable, the special effects excellent and the ending battle scene is almost good enough to redeem the movie. Key in on the word almost.

This Christmas

When I saw trailers for This Christmas (2007) I told the Goose this looked like a movie with essentially no plot or at the very most a loosely tied selection of stories that are drawn together primarily because they revolve around the same characters.

As it turns out, it was a movie with basically no plot involving numerous mini-stories loosely tied together by revolving around a family gathered together for Christmas.

And that is one of the problems with this movie. There are so many stories that none really gets fully developed.
You have Joe Black (Delroy Lindo) and Ma'Dere (Loretta Divine) hiding the fact they are living together from the kids. You have the tension between Joe and Quentin Whitfield (Idris Elba) because Quentin dislikes anyone replacing his father who left because of his music. You have Quentin running from violent hoodlums over some debt or other. You have Ma'Dere objecting to Michael 'Baby' Whitfield (Chris Brown) singing because Quentin and her husband both left for their music. You have Baby taking pictures and sneaking out to sing. You have Malcom Moore (Laz Alonso) and Lisa Moore (Regina King) trying to get the family to sell the cleaners so Malcom can finance a business project while he cheats on Lisa. You have Claude Whitfield (Columbus Short) and Sandi (Jessica Stroup) trying to hide the fact he married a white woman who is hiding from him the fact she his pregnant while he is hiding from her the fact he is AWOL. You have sisters arguing over the value of staying home to help with the cleaners versus going to college, of a sister bringing home her boyfriend for the first time, of college sister finding a boyfriend on the California coast while she lives in New York, of...well, you get the point. There are probably three or four other stories.

As a result, none of them gets anything more than a cursory, by the numbers treatment and you never really are able to get involved with the characters.

On a side note, the Joe Black character is interesting. It is a rare, positive portrayal of a religious figure. He is the tolerant one in the conflict with Quentin, he is the one who rescues Quentin from the thugs and then draws the family together, he is the one who provides the glue to hold the family together in spite of the obstacles...

Why, then, did they feel it necessary to have he and Ma'Dea living together outside of marriage? If he is indeed a deacon, as they represent and explicitly state, in what religion is extra-marital co-habitation acceptable? The film makers are creating their own morality here and it is unfortunate because otherwise the character would have had more consistency.

Overall, it was a predictable, busy movie that never really grabbed the heart the way it had the potential to do so. Fewer stories would have allowed more time to identify with the characters and consider their relationships.

One final note: this was brought up by the Goose or I would not have noticed: at the close of the movie, each character of any import at all, from the immediate family to the housekeeper to the thugs does a little dance. In fact, the only cast member of any import who does not go through the line dancing is Jessica Stroup...the white girl. To me it did not matter one way or the other, but she felt they were making a statement with that omission. I leave it to the viewer to decide...if you bother to see this flick that could have been really good but somehow ended up feeling like a half-baked Hallmark Special.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Fans of the video game franchise Hitman are probably the primary target for the movie Hitman (2007). However, it does offer some entertainment value even for people like me who have never played the game.

Hitman starts out with standard fare...a variety of children are shown being given strict, rigid training that turns them into cold, calculating, and efficient killers. He echoes scenes from the short-lived Dark Angel series, particularly with the scene where barcodes are tattood onto the heads of each kid.

Then it flashes to Agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) as he arrives home. The music in this scene is interesting as it strongly echoes the Bourne franchise music in moments when Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is about to do something based on his training as a specialized, renamed killer for hire by a secret governmental agency...of course, that might be expected since in Hitman the title character is trained to be a specialized, renamed killer for higher by a secret religious agency so referencing a highly successful franchise is not a mad move here.

Inside he faces Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), the grown-up version of, one presumes, the child we saw get his dome inked up earlier. Agent 47 asks Mike the key and when does a good man decide to kill? Then the movie flashes back 3 months to show one of his hits.

Mike also appears in that scene, which takes place in Africa. Mike works for Interpol and is tracking "our guy" who, naturally, will turn out to be Agent 47. He is convinced the Africa hit is the work of his ghost, his unseen assassin who Mike is sure has made over 100 hits.

Meanwhile, Agent 47 gets another assignment...kill Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), the newly turned moderate President of Russia. However, against his normal protocol, he is ordered to make the hit in public. Agent 47 likes the low profile work as it allows him to stay hidden.

Before he can leave Russia he is told there was a witness and is told to hit Nika Boronina (Olga Kurylenko). However, when he approaches her, she does not recognize him and he realizes he has been set up. Just in time a random passerby comes between him and the guy sent to kill him, taking the bullet meant for Agent 47. He escapes into the crowd.

Then he is told he missed his first hit, that Belicoff is still alive. This sets in motion a chain of events as he is chased by The Organization (the group that trained him) who are trying to kill him, Mike and Jenkins (Michael Offei) of Interpol for being a killer, and Yuri Marklov (Robert Knepper) of the FSB, the Russian intelligence arm, to kill Nika for knowing why Belicoff hired his own assassination, and Agent 47 for now knowing the truth.

Inter-faction arguments between INTERPOL, the FSB, and in a tertiary role the CIA lead to chases, fights, killings, and basically turn it into a road fight picture.

In the end Agent 47 unravels the mystery, gets the girl...maybe...and convinces Mike to play off another assassin Agent 47 has killed as being the target of his hunt so Agent 47 can disappear in safety.

The acting is interesting. Agent 47 is a deliberately cold, unemotional, unfeeling character. However, for those who have not followed the video game franchise, this makes him hard to get involved with. Nika's roll seems to be to show lots of skin and try to seduce Agent 47 at 10 - 15 minute intervals, albeit unsuccessfully. Mike and Yuri have excellent rapport and byplay that really steals the movie.

But this is not a movie about acting, it is about shooting and sword-fighting, and spectacular, convoluted plans to kill bad guys. And for that, it does just fine.

It was a bit disconcerting in one scene between Agent 47 and Nika where her ridiculous dragon tattoo jumps from left cheek to right cheek and back. The scene was clearly shot at two different times as her make-up and skin texture change as well. There are other continuity issues, but this was the most jarring.

Overall, it was pretty good for what it was...popcorn fare based on a popular game. The storyline was better than expected, though it had huge, gaping holes that seem to have been left alone since there is no reasonable explanation...they simply provided a thin excuse for great heaps of violence. For example...why does the Organization elect to pursue Agent 47? In the confrontation between 4 Organization assassins and Agent 47, why do they point their guns at each other, then only fight Agent 47? Once the Russians have been killed, why is an assassin still sent after Nika? It is pointless.

Be that as it may, leave the questions at home, just sit back and enjoy the violence.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Classic literature comes to life as a 3-d movie...sometimes. I elected to see it in a non-3-D theatre. This was possibly a mistake. Close-ups designed for psychological impact lose a lot of that impact when the face you are seeing looks cheesy and cartoonish...which without 3-D is exactly how a lot of the characters looked.

This brings up an interesting point. The 3-D glasses can be quite annoying to there a huge market for movies that can be viewed with or without them, but look and feel better with the glasses? Maybe.

Be that as it may, Beowulf (2007) tells the story of self-indulgent, passionate, self-promoting hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone) as he struggles to defeat Grendel (Crispin Glover), a whining, mewling murderous troll who happens to be the son of the aptly named "Grendel's Mother" (Angelina Jolie) and the King. Once Grendel is slain the celebration is surprisingly muted until Beowulf insists on a celebration.

Unfortunately, when Beowulf is celebrating, all his men are killed. It is then revealed that Grendel's mother is still in the area so he must go after Grendel's mother. When he returns the King realizes he did not slay her but rather slept with her. He commits suicide, leaving the kingdom to Beowulf.

Years go by and finally the sins of Beowulf come back to haunt him as he must battle his son, the Golden Dragon (also Ray Winstone). In a final climactic battle he shows himself an actual hero, finding a way to slay the dragon, though it costs him his own life. As the movie ends, Grendel's mother is seducing his long time advisor.

The special effects were nice, but more for aficionados of special effects than a reason to see the movie. The animation was nice, but outside of 3-D it was hardly spectacular. It was actually a bit distracting. The story is okay but not gripping. It tends to be a bit longish and disappointing in that the most entertaining characters are killed off early. Overall, it was a movie with a lot of promise that failed to deliver.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Shrek (2001) started a new trend in movies. It operated in the same world as classic animation such as Cindarella (1950), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) with beautiful princesses who are sweet and caring, with handsome, brave princes seeking to slay ogres and dragons in order to rescue the princess to be their one true love, and so forth. It just switched things up to where the ogre was the hero and the prince was the villain, the princess was physically beautiful but inwardly an ogre, and ogres were not exactly as presented.

Shrek 2 (2004), being a sequel, expanded on the trend but within the same franchise. Meanwhile, the purveyors of the abominably bad Happily N'Ever After (2007) took it one step further. They advertised their flick as "what if the villains actually won", made the heroine ugly, her beau into an ugly, unlikable castle servant, and the women into the rescuers. Great concept, horrible execution. Oh, and...the bad guys end up losing.

Then Shrek the Third (2007) followed up with a stinker that was closer to the Happily N'Ever After franchise than to the Shrek franchise. The first two Shrek adventures certainly mocked classic Disney flicks but it did it in a way that was funny, charming, and clearly felt a certain affinity for them. The last adventure and Happily never managed to skewer the fable conventions while still being charming.

But with all the "make the bad guys good" stuff going on, it is certainly no shock that Disney would take a shot at it. The result is Enchanted (2007), a twisted Disney flick that has many nods to its own history, the history of cinema in general, and yes, even to recent critiques.

It opened in a manner reminiscent of Shrek with a voice over as a beautifully decorated fable book was opened and turned. Then it went into an over the top, extra-cheesy opening scene of the (soon to be) princess Giselle (Amy Adams) singing a song as the animals surrounded her and contributed. They just amped up the number and kind of animals.

The early animation and rather rapid story have Prince Edward (James Marsden) defeating an evil troll (Fred Tatasciore) who was egged on by Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) who was set to keep Prince Edward from ever encountering Giselle by his evil step-mother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon). As a result, he and Giselle are to be wed the next day.

Queen Narissa takes a hand, turning into a clone of the evil hag from Sleeping Beauty (1959) and offering the apple from that flick. It is a nice nod to their movies of yore. The result is Giselle arriving in the real world of New York. Things are not smooth for her there as she encounters people who are "not nice" such as the bum who steals her crown. Eventually she encounters divorce lawyer Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter Morgan Philip (Rachel Covey).

Robert is a cynical, cold, logical, unemotional man with a warm spot for his daughter. He also has a spot for people in trouble. He is currently planning to propose to his girlfriend, the ugly, unlikable Nancy Tremaine (Idina Menzel). One suspects the ugly, hawk nose, harsh facial lines, and icy demeanor are deliberate since later her appearance is softened and, while never beautiful, she is at least presented as attractive. Thus we are shown that in the real world logic trumps emotion. You don't have to be a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, or even have any emotional attachment to have a match.

There are then 2 movie-stealing scenes. In the first Giselle summons her animal friends to clean the apartment. The Mary Poppins (1964) -like cleaning scene as she sings and the animals clean is hilarious...and made more so by the cleaners being crotch licking rats, cockroaches, and a pigeon that keeps lousing things up.

The other is when Giselle tries to show Robert that to have instantaneous love you just need a love duet. The live action production number would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of the great choreographer Busby Berkeley. It was charming, intelligent, funny, and well choreographed. It was brilliant. That scene alone made the movie for me.

So did the cameo by Edgar Bergen and Mortimer Snerd who, in a blatant foreshadowing of Nathaniel going good, as Nathaniel goes out the door says, "I like happy endings, Mr. Bergen".

Good thing because after a brilliant start and middle to the movie, the end gets stupid. Disappointed with Nathaniels' repeated failures in trying to poison Giselle, Queen Narissa arrives on the scene.

She turns into a dragon, they reference King Kong (1933) as the flying dragon inexplicably climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, this time with Robert in hand. Dragon plunges to death, Robet & Giselle marry and stay in New York, Nancy and Edward marry and live in Andalasia, typical happy ending.

Along the way there was a lot of great stuff. The Prince is hilarious as he leaps around in classic rescue type actions, manages to rent hotel rooms without money, slays a bus, and, in the greatest line in movies this year, tells Robert and Morgan, "Thanks for keeping her safe, peasants." I will be stealing that line.

The movie also has a very positive message. In an era where a spate of recent movies (The Break-up (2006), The Heart Break Kid (2007), etc. have celebrated relationships ending or even outright adultery (remember that line in The Heart Break Kid where Eddie (Ben Stiller) says something along the lines of "Since I met her I have never cheated on her with my wife"?), Enchanted goes the other way.

The divorcing couple, Phoebe (Tonya Pinkins) and Ethan (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) Banks not only reconcile, they point out "Everyone has problems. But there is no point to throwing out the good because of some bad" or something along that line. They reconcile and work on building a marriage instead of letting trouble turn it into a throw-away.

Overall, this movie was upbeat, entertaining, and managed to pull it all together, albeit perhaps a bit cheesy at points. And, though it might be a bit embarrassing to admit this, it is worth seeing just for the music and dance scene with the song about How to Tell Her You Love Her or something similar.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On foreign films

I enjoy a good film as much as the next person and have been known to take in an independent film or two as well. Sometimes they are good...other times they are not. Yet over and over you here an elitist crowd decry the entertainment factor of Hollywood pictures...and the closer it is to a blockbuster, the worse they think the film was. Yeah, I deliberately used the word film just to irritate them.

You see, to these elitists, a film is a brilliant, deep movie with superior dialogue, acting, directing, plot, and whatever else goes into making a moving picture. A movie is merely some poor dialogue, bad acting, and (hear the sneer in my voice as I say this word) commercialized bit of celluloid trash.

The worst of these are blockbusters. To hear these elitists speak of a blockbuster, one calls to mind a picture so bad that even Mystery Science Theatre 3K wouldn't bother to mock it. To hear them discuss it, the dialogue barely exceeds the banal level of three year olds, the plot is thinner than Kate Moss on a diet, and the directing is barely competent at best. Meanwhile, millions upon millions of people who fail to see the entertainment value in an obtuse bit of celluloid such as alleged master Fellini's 8-1/2 (1963) flock to see something like Spiderman 3 (2007) in record breaking numbers.

It is not that I object to people enjoying unusual fare. There was clearly an audience for Pan's Labyrinth (2006), even if it was not as large as the blockbusters. But the sheer audacity of a small percent of people insisting they have better taste than the masses has always irked me and I have long struggled to figure out why.

Fortunately, Joe Queenan of Movieline Magazine wrote an essay in which he did a great job of verbalizing it. In his essay A Foreign Affair (in the book Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler, New York, 2000) he has the following things to say about foreign films which I have found, with a few exceptions, also apply to most independent films.

"At several points in this stilted, incoherent, pretentious film..." (p. 243)

"I'd completely forgotten that for foreign-film buffs, attending these screenings was a nigh-on religious experience, where everyone sat transfixed, exhibiting no visible reaction to what was transpiring on the screen, even when the dialogue was completely ridiculous." (p. 244)

"They were, for the most part, mediocre-to-bad, low-budget movies that happened to have been made in a foreign country. There was nothing special about them. There was nothing awe-inspiring about them. They were dull. They were predictable. They sucked." (p. 246)

To be sure, from time to time there is a good independent or foreign film that stands out from the crowd, that entertains and amazes. But far more often, you get something that is slower (not necessarily a bad thing) paced, with characters who seem deeper because they run different thought processes than our standard characters, but once you have seen them a few times they are no deeper or more intellectual than the fare already available.

It is well past time to continue insisting films with no audience are better because most people find no entertainment in them and admit sometimes it is just fun to watch a big-budget, big-thrill flick.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fred Claus

Vince Vaughn has developed a laid back, smart-aleck character that is self-indulgent, yet with a caring side that always shines through. He seldom expends much effort, occasionally mis-treats other people, but always has that little something in him that draws people to him despite...or perhaps because of...his flaws. He played this character in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), The Break-up (2006), Old School (2003), and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Now you can add Fred Claus (2007) to that list.

Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) is the oldest son of Papa Claus (Trevor Peacock) and Mama Claus (Kathy Bates). He first loves, then becomes jealous of his "saintly" brother Nick "Santa" Claus (Paul Giamatti) as everything he does is topped by his younger brother.

They grow apart and several years later Fred makes apparently a nice living by repossessing things from times unlikely things such as a 56" plasma television from a young girl's room in a poor suburb of Chicago while planning to place a casino across the street from the mercantile exchange. Yet he shows his tender, good-guy side by caring for orphan boy Slam (Bobb'e J. Thompson) even as he stands up his girlfriend Wanda (Rachel Weisz), forgetting her birthday, breaking promises, and just generally treating her as a second class citizen.

He gets in trouble when he creates a fake charity to fund his casino location purchase and is chased down by multiple Salvation Army Santa's. To get out of trouble he calls on his brother Nick who, in return for bailing him out and loaning him the needed money insists that Fred work for Nick until a few days before Christmas.

Of course, there has to be a villain of the piece which is efficiency expert Clyde (Kevin Spacey). He hates Christmas and is there to shut it down by filing a bad report with the nameless, faceless Board.

The battle between the churlish Fred and his kindly, helpful brother Nick gives him 2 of the three strikes Clyde needs (Clyde himself provides the third) to shut down the Santa operation.

Of course, this is a Christmas movie so (spoiler ?!? alert) Fred has a change of heart, Nick convinces Clyde to help, and heroic measures save the day, giving everyone the best Christmas ever while rescuing the relationships of Fred & Nick, Fred & his parents, and Fred & Wanda.

The set is eerily reminiscent of The Santa Clause II. I would be very surprised if the North Pole scenes were not filmed on the same set as it certainly seemed blatantly cribbed from that franchise. With that said, it is beautifully imagined and delivered. The camera work is nice.

The story is okay...nothing particularly innovative or original but certainly enjoyable. It has several feel-good elements and a humorous scene where Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, and Stephen Baldwin riff on their roles as the older, less successful brothers of Sylvester Stallone, Bill Clinton, and Alec Baldwin and unintentionally convince Fred to change his ways, but it is no It's A Wonderful Life (1946)...or, for that matter, even Elf (2003).

The acting is serviceable, nothing special. Kevin Kline channels the great Jack Benny for his look as Clyde but never brings the warmth to it that underlay the Jack Benny character. Giamatti does a decent job of bringing life to a slightly different take on Santa but Miranda Richardson is cold and a little bit mean as Annette Claus, Santa's wife.

The special effects that turn average height people into a bunch of elves is a nice touch but not enough to make this a classic.

Overall, it is a mildly sweet movie with a few charming moments, but no laugh out loud classic scenes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

American Gangster by Ironman Al

American Gangster
The weasel needs to write his reviews closer to the time he sees the
movie so they are actually correct. I'll try to fix the problems with
his review in my review.

So I went into the movie expecting a little more action than I got. The
movie was a typical drama length at 2:40ish. Denzel kills a unknown man
ruthlessly by setting him on fire and shooting him. Crowe's cop
character bashes into an apartment and beats the crap out of guy on what
appears to be a routine summons. I'm thinking to myself we're on the
way to a classic Scarface like movie. All of sudden it slows way down.
Denzel's mentor and head gangster of Harlem dies as he's preaching about
corporations. I guess it was trying to tell us how Denzel's new
approach to drugs was set into his mind. Denzel ends up going straight
to Thailand to retrieve pure heroin which turns a nice blue when a
reagent is applied hence his product's name Blue Magic. He starts his
drug operation just as Crowe is set to head up a new drug enforcement
agency in New Jersey.

There's tons of plot that happens and very little action over the next
part of the movie. We don't see any good action until Denzel shows his
brothers how he deals with his problems by shooting a rival gangster
point blank in the head in the middle of the day on the street. He gets
all of his younger brothers to help with distribution of his product.
He conducts himself as a CEO business man and tries to tell his brothers
not to be flashy and draw attention to himself. In a weakness for his
finance, he goes to see the Ali/Fraizer fight in a full fur coat and
hat. This is where he draws the attention of Crowe as his seats are
better than the head of the mob family. This one mistake is the start
of his undoing. He finds out that cops good and corrupt know who he is
and immediately burns his fur coat and hat.

Again, the movie moves slowly with the only violence being key to the
story. In other words, there is really no unnecessary violence in the
movie. It's all key pieces to the story. He gets pissed about the his
brother's driver shooting someone in the leg during a party with all
kinds of politicians and celebrities. He ends up beating the guy
intensely and telling everyone to leave. He tells his brother to fire
this driver but his brother doesn't listen. The driver is turned by the
Crowe and ends up being Lucas's undoing.

On Thanksgiving, he has to inform one of the key drug dealers about his
policy not to allow anyone to mess with his product. On the way back as
his brother is driving, the main crooked cop in the story pulls him
over. His brother is carrying a bunch of the product in the trunk which
subsequently gets taken by the cop. Denzel immediately beats the crap
out of his brother to show his displeasure.

At least at the end, we get a nice shootout as Crowe takes down a big
distribution center for Lucas's last drug shipment. This was pretty
much the highlight of violence. I thought the end of the movie with
Lucas's describing to Crowe the entire crooked cop hierarchy as a real
letdown. At least we got some real facts as the movie closed with Lucas
getting out of jail after 15 years in 1991.

All in all it was good movie but it could've been great.

by Ironman Al

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Bee Movie

One wonders how something titled The Bee Movie (2007) could receive any grade other than a B. In fact, that is one of the jokes in the movie. But I will resist it.

The Bee Movie first got my attention about a year ago when I saw quite possible the worst preview in the history of cinema...and I saw previews for Vanilla Sky (2001) which, coincidentally, is perhaps the worst movie in the last 50 years. And that includes a raft of Kevin Costner and Keanu Reeves vehicles, for the cinema snobs...

In the preview Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock put on ridiculous insect costumes and did some slapstick material on a windshield. It was not funny, it was not was actually so stupid that on the preview rating system of both the Goose and I it received a "No interest whatsoever".

The second preview was almost as bad.

The third preview saved it and we ended up seeing it, though there is an open question whether we saw it because we thought it might be good or because my back hurt too much to want to see cards, Tuesday is free popcorn day, and we could dodge major traffic. I put my money on the popcorn/traffic avoidance motivation, personally.

It started out promisingly with a few good jokes such as three days of high school being awkward.

Then there is the pretty funny dream sequence where Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), while drowning in honey, fantasizes about a picnic with Vanessa Bloome (Renée Zellweger).

There is great potential in the movie and some is realized during the courtroom scenes where Barry comes up against Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman), a blowhard attorney set on defending the honey companies.

The movie was clearly made by people with an agenda and the courtroom scenes make this abundantly clear. Heaven help the person who does not think animals are at the least equal to human beings on the importance scale because writers Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, and Andy Robin and directors Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith will not.

In the end, and I assume this spoils nothing, the "natural order" is returned, albeit with improved roles for the worker bees and everyone ends up happy...except Vanessa's clueless blowhard ex-boyfriend Ken (Patrick Warburton).

The animation is beautifully done. There are some amazing shadows and reflections that show just how far animated pictures have come since Steamboat Willie (1928)....or even since the gorgeously done The Lion King (1994).

The plot is nice with a couple of interesting twists, but nothing too surprising.

The dialogue is okay. Several clever fourth wall asides are probably the best jokes...for example, on their way to work Barry and Adam Flayman (Mathew Broderick) take a loop that shoots them airborne, after which they comment, "It is nice of them to incorporate a thrill ride on our way to work" in a none-too-subtle jab at rides based on movies, which are plentiful. And Seinfeld has worked in a couple of one-liners that call back his observational humor.

But in the end, everything doesn't work as well as you would think it would. It is not as funny as you would expect...though the Larry King sequence stole the show and almost moved my rating up an entire notch...and tries to do too many things so never does any of them well.

It is a diverting hour and change, but nothing you should pay full price to see.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

American Gangster

American Gangster (2007) is one of the infamous "Based on a True Story" line of movies. You always have to be careful when you watch something "based" on a true story. They range from fairly highly accurate...say, Gridiron Gang (2006) to the positively ludicrous...for example, JFK (1991). Even with the highly accurate there are certain liberties taken to make the movie more entertaining.

In this case, cops such as Ed Jones complain they were more to credit for bringing down Lucas than Richie Roberts. But it makes a better story the way it was portrayed.

Gangster starts out by letting you know that Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) is no angel. In the opening scene he has a Hispanic rival tied to a chair. He douses him with gasoline, lights him on fire, then shoots him in the head as he burns.

Juxtaposed against this are the questionable legal tactics of Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) and his partner as they strong-arm their way into a flophouse, get information, perform a search and seizure that is illegal due to the lack of warrant in hand...and then turn in the money.

This sets them apart from the other cops. Only Roberts is willing to turn in money...the corruption throughout the New York Police Department is rampant and other cops hate him for it.

Meanwhile, Bumpy Johnson (reportedly an uncredited Clarence Williams III) teaches him how to run a successful crime business.

After Bumpy dies Lucas finds he is shut out of all Bumpy's businesses. He quietly watches and studies what to do while Roberts loses his partner and is moved to a Federal drug prevention team.

Inexorably event move Lucas to find he can import high-grade heroin from Vietnam under cover of the Vietnam War. To help his organization, he brings in his family members out of the Carolinas.

Meanwhile, Robert's life is falling apart. He is losing custody of his son due to his bad companions and habit of sleeping with...well, every girl he comes across, apparently. Yet through it all he doggedly pursues whoever is importing the Blue Magic (the name Lucas gave his high-grade, low-price heroin).

He also runs into trouble with crooked cops who are protecting the drug trade in return for hefty cash payments and appropriations.

During this period, Roberts makes an interesting statement in which he alleges the drug trade could be stopped but there is no interest in stopping it because A) it employs too many people....judges, cops, prison guards, medical personnel, politicians....and B) because too many crooked cops are getting rich from the trade.

This is backed up when crooked cop Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) comes into Roberts' office and tells him they need to protect the cash cow that is Lucas.

Lucas, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly volatile and brutal. At one point a rival who demanded 20% is shot in the head in the middle of the street. Later, in a party at the Lucas domicile, a drugged out accomplice is shot in the leg. In revenge for the shooting, Lucas smashes the shooter's head in with the piano lid.

When he is shook down by Trupo and there are drugs in the car, he responds by beating his driver...who subsequently a pulp. He is a vicious man.

This viciousness is somewhat redeemed by his habit of giving out Thanksgiving turkeys. His largess is clearly intended by director Ridley Scott to instill a certain amount of empathy for Lucas, as are the stories of police abuse in his youth and the large number of corrupt police he encounters.

It is enhanced by the juxtaposition of images from the Vietnam War that reflect the changing nature of the battle between Lucas and Roberts.

Slowly but surely Roberts begins realizing it is Lucas, not some mystery crime family, bringing in the heroin. Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, he turns a family member who gives up Lucas. They catch the dope and have their case built.

In return for a reduced sentence, Lucas then rolls over on everybody...including the cops. In one of the largest corruption cases in U.S. history, dozens of cops we convicted as a result of Lucas and his testimony and the work of Roberts and his crew.

The movie is darkly lit throughout. The characters are likable, you can feel some compassion both for Lucas and for Roberts...yet the not infrequent showings of junkies also shows the horrible price people pay for using heroin, thus counterfeiting the positive portrayals. At the end, you realize Lucas deserves prison time and are quite happy to see the corrupt cops being led away as well.

The acting is, as would be expected from Washington and Crowe, excellent. You never feel like you are watching actors, you feel like you are watching "real people" behave as they probably did.

It is a story that has all the elements of a great movie. But it somehow just...misses. It is an entertaining movie but nothing you will feel like you need to see again and again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

We Own The Night

James Gray set out to make a dark, gritty crime drama. He wanted it to be dark, moody, intelligent, thought-provoking, intense, and memorable. He only missed on 6 of those traits.

We Own the Night (2007) tells the story of Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), the black sheep of the Grusinsky family. Bobby is the club-running drug-hazed brother/son of 2 high-powered members of the 1988 New York Vice Squad. His father Burt (Robert Duvall) and brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) take turns running the vice squad. To distance himself, Bobby has changed his last name.

Bobby is living a self-indulgent life with his girlfriend Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes) and his close friend Jumbo Falsetti (Danny Hoch). He runs a club for the Russians and spends his time getting high.

Meanwhile, Joseph is promoted to run the Vice squad. Bobby and Amada show up to his party high, leave early during the moment of silence for yet another fallen NYPD officer, killed by the Russian drug mob. Not too long after, Joseph leads a raid on El Caribe, the club Bobby is running. Bobby and a Russian hood are arrested. The hood kills himself rather than talk, Bobby and Joseph fight.

Later that Thanksgiving night, Joseph is shot by a hooded gunman, Burt resumes that role. Bobby is approached by Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov), the strong-arm face of the Russian mob and the man Joseph had been after during his raid, to be a distributor. In the conversation Vadim is very up-front about not only having arranged the attempted slaying of Joseph but of his plans and ability to kill several other important city officials.

Bobby then tries to help the cops to get revenge on Vadim. He and policeman Michael Solo (Antoni Corone) set up an undercover search for Vadim's distribution house which ends disastrously. In the shootout he breaks several bones.

This gets Bobby and Amada moved to a safe house. When she sneaks out to visit her mother their hiding location is revealed. This results in them needing to be moved. During the move Vadim's organization kills several policemen including Burt.

This inspires Bobby to become a policeman which in turn causes Amada to leave him for not consulting with her. Like most other plot developments, this makes no sense, but...whatever. How bizarre are some of the plot developments?

In the end Bobby finally puts together the pieces, and he leads the police when they raid the big incoming drug shipment, wipe out the Russian mob and Bobby is the hero. He directs experienced policemen despite being a probationary officer not even given a gun. Uhm...okay.

At the end of the movie Joseph is moving to administration since flashbacks keep him from being effective in the field and Bobby is rapidly advancing in rank over men with years of service.

The story had tremendous potential. Family conflict, moral questions regarding drug use, a scary opponent in the Russian mob, themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal...but it is poorly written and horribly executed. Take the sub-plot of Amada for example.

She loves her mother and Bobby. She is very supportive of him. She wants to get to know his family. They party together a lot, always laughing, smiling, and high. She wants to spend more time with him, but he keeps leaving her to run the club, visit his family, visit his patron. She stays with him. When they go into hiding she stays with him. She takes an interest in his life. But as they are high less often they smile and laugh. She still tries to be part of her life but he more or less ignores her. When she leaves it makes no sense within the film...only from the morality play standpoint. Bobby moves from happy and worthless to miserable and a good, effective cop...without a woman. It could have made sense. It could have been a great story arc. Instead, when she left it leaves you scratching your head and saying, "Huh? What happened?"

The camera work is abysmal. It makes the action hard to follow, has no visuals that stand out, and the choice of film stock was, at best, interesting...and could have been better. This seriously had independent film production values. Even worse, it spent a lot of money to get them. Why? It did not add to the "feel" of the movie, it was inconsistent.

The audio was equally bad. When you notice the audio for being annoying and distracting, that is not a good thing. It also did not make sense. For example, in the shoot-out at the drug house it suddenly transported you to what Bobby was hearing...or rather, the ringing in his ears preventing him from hearing. In the car chase the audio was very muted and bizarre...both the motivated sounds and unmotivated sounds were difficult to identify or relate to what you were seeing on the screen.

Even the acting fell short. With a cast involving Robert Duvall and Mark Wahlberg you figure you are in good shape. But Duvall seems wooden and his acting doesn't ring true. Wahlberg does a solid job but Phoenix is heinously bad. Early in the movie he is stiff and whispers to display being high. Late in the movie he is stiff and whispers to display sorrow. In the middle part of the movie he is stiff and whispers to display confusion. I could not tell the difference between his "high" mode and his "valedictorian of the police academy" celebration speech. It was an appallingly bad performance.

Eva Mendes seemed to be there explicitly so they could see how many hair styles she could look good in during the movie. If she was in 31 scenes then she had 31 different hairstyles. It was amazing. Not entertaining enough to save the movie, but certainly awe-inspiring.

In short, this movie is a probable Oscar winner since it was easily the most boring movie I have seen this year. Save 2 hours and change of your life and 20 bucks...go buy the Transformers DVD or something. Or watch Heat (1995), a dark, gritty, brutal, bloody crime drama with an unsatisfying end, much like We Own the Night, but at least it is interesting on the way there...or watch The Transporter (2002) for a movie about redeeming the hero. Just don't waste your time on this one.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Heartbreak Kid

Ben Stiller has a history of making extremely funny movies. The Meet the Parents franchise presented us with 2 of the funniest movies of the last decade as did There's Something About Mary (1998). On the other hand, he has also participated in the less spectacularly received Mystery Men (1999) and Zoolander (2001).

The Heartbreak Kid (2007) will be closer to one of the latter. There are some screamingly hilarious scenes...but they are too few and far between. While waiting for the laughs we are subjected to some excruciatingly painful scenes.

Heartbreak follows the story of (theoretically) lovable loser Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), a guy who never met a commitment he wasn't afraid of. When his best friend Mac (Rob Corddry) mocks him does his dad Doc (Jerry Stiller), he jumps at the chance for a relationship with Lila (Malin Akerman).

After a 6 week courtship flies by in a montage of them kissing and ignoring everything going on around them, they marry and take off for Mexico. On the trip Lila is bright and full of life. She sings every song that comes on the radio as Eddie gets more and more irritated by her cheerfulness.

He is also turned off by her aggressive and wild sexuality when they get a motel room.

In fact, pretty much everything about her starts to irritate him. And some of his actions and words start to irritate her. It comes to a head when he tries to get her to put on sunblock instead of mineral oil. She burns extremely badly which allows him to have a series of solo adventures involving Miranda (Michelle Monaghen) and her family.

He and Miranda fall madly in love. Complications arise. She goes home, he gets divorced, he turns into a stalker, he moves on, she comes to find him for the big surprise twist at the end.

It is a funny premise (and is a remake of Charles Grodin's 1972 The Heartbreak Kid) with room for some interesting social commentary that falls apart. Too much of the comedy comes from hearing Jerry Stiller use horrific terms for women and their "uses" and too little from actually funny stuff. The talents of Stiller, Carlos Mencia as Uncle Tito, and everyone else in the cast are wasted.

Eddie and Miranda never seem like they belong together and Lila is actually a sympathetic character at times.

This movie could have been epically hilarious. As is, it is pretty much a waste of popcorn eating time.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Can you smell what the Rock is cookin'?

Today my husband and I caught the Rock's (A.K.A Dwayne Johnson's) new flick, "The Game Plan."

The movie started out showing NFL Quarterback Joe Kingman's (Dwayne Johnson) bachelor lifestyle. It was clear early on that this man was the life of the party, but also very lonely, as his only real friend was his pet Bulldog, Spike. His lonely days ended when he discovers he's a father by his daughter showing up at his doorstep. What follows is incident after incident of the Rock trying to adjust to his new role as father. We watch him go from macho man to a father who's willing to put his daughters needs first. Somewhere in the middle an unexpected love interest pops up and romance ensused. Throw in a plot twist at the end I wasn't expecting, and overall it was a good flick. During one scene, I even shed real tears. The only thing lacking is that the real heart of the movie doesn't show up until the last 45 minutes. So although you are entertained, you don't really care about the characters until the movie is almost over.

My rating, a good family flick. And what female wouldn't enjoy 2 hours of watching the ROCK.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Good Luck Chuck (2007)

Good Luck Chuck (2007) is an amalgamation of scenes that worked in other recent romantic comedies, classic cliches, and breasts. Lots and lots and lots of breasts.

Coming in there is a great deal of potential for humor. Super hot Jessica Alba is advertised heavily in the trailers...if there is anyone in America who has not yet seen the trailer of her in tight shirt and white panties (with a penguin emblem) they simply have been nowhere near a theatre or television set in the last month. That shot has played over and over and over ad nausea.

Playing opposite her is popular comedian Dane Cook. He has quickly become popular as both comedian and heartthrob.

Between the two of them you have a lot of rising star power.

Add to that the great potential of the story of Charlie (Dane Cook), aka Lucky Charm Chuck, a man who can get any woman he wants but can't keep her. Instead, she will soon leave him, meet the man of her dreams and get married. As a result, hot women are knocking down Chuck's door. Yet the man who can have any woman he wants can't find love.

It is potentially a hilarious and/or touching story. Unfortunately, Josh Stolberg and Steve Glenn got a bit lazy.

The movie starts with a scene that feels like a direct rip-off of the premise for the Jennifer Garner vehicle 13 Going on 30 (2004), except this time the girl Chuck hooks up with in spin the bottle wants him and he wants nothing to do with her. As a result, Young Anisha (Sasha Pieterse) casts a hex on him that he will be surrounded by love but never experience it.

Fast forward a few years. Best friends Chuck and Stu (Dan Fogler) work in the same office building. Chuck is a dentist and Stu is a cosmetic surgeon specializing in breast enhancements.

One thing never becomes clear...and that is why, exactly, Chuck and Stu are friends. Stu is a self-indulgent, horny, breast-obsesses loser who has no dates with anyone more attractive than a cantaloupe. Actually, the cantaloupe or whatever fruit it was IS his only date. He breaks out cheesy cliched line after cheesy cliched line. Most of them interfere with Chuck's attempts to make progress with girls.

For example, at the wedding where Chuck's "Lucky Charm" effect is introduced into the story, Chuck meets Cam Wexler (Jessica Alba) and instantly is deeply infatuated with her, Stu interrupts them. He sees Cam and breaks loose with, "Here I am, what are your other two wishes", a line as fresh as a pre-Caesar bottle of wine.

Stu is a stereotypical chauvinist. Girls are breasts, butts, tail, and several other more profane words. They are good for sex, getting laid, getting screwed, etc. He loves to drop the F-bomb about them, regularly uses the word trim, has no concept of appropriateness, and works at his job largely as a way to see naked breasts.

Actually, looking back, I do not recall so much as a single positive trait he displayed in the entire movie. Nor was he a good friend to Chuck in any way whatsoever.

Yet they are good friends. The "buddy" cliche is often see it assumed in movies. Sometimes you see things that make the friendship make sense...for example, in the Bad Boys series of movies even though Smith and Martin fight a lot, you also see them away from work and their friendship makes sense. The same holds true for Peter Parker and Harry Osborn in the Spiderman franchise. Other times it makes less sense...I would argue Ladder 49 (2004) was a fine example where the "friendships" and camaraderie seemed fake and forced instead of natural... and such as Good Luck Chuck when you never see them doing "friend things." You pretty much only see Stu screwing Chuck over.

As the movie develops, Cam is aware of Chucks' get-around nature and is not interested. He keeps trying but she is not interested. So Stu talks him into sleeping we are "treated" to a montage of Chuck and random girl sex scenes of increasing bizzarity and his increasing boredom. He finally decides to stop, goes back to pursuing Cam and finally gets his shot. For a while it works. Then there are problems. In the end he gets the girl.

Along the way we reheat several tired pick-up lines, date jokes, happy stoned on marijuana dude jokes, and happy date montages.

We also spend a lot of time with naked breasts. Check out the number of times that line or one like it has been used in this review and you start to get the picture.

I wanted to like this movie. I am a huge Jessica Alba fan and have heard good things about Dane Cook's work. Sadly, this was a thinly disguised soft porn movie with a weak plot, weak writing, and nothing in particular to recommend it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

The Western genre has a lot of iconography that is always with any viewer, whether they consciously think of it or not. You have the lone hero, standing alone against the odds, you have the fearful and incompetent townspeople, and you have the villain.

3:10 to Yuma (2007) takes all that and turns it on its head. 3:10 is the story first and foremost of 2 men and their relationship to people around them.

Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is the failing rancher, injured in body during the Civil War and injured in spirit by a drought-beset, debt ridden farm, a wife and son who don't respect him, another son quite sick, and a nigh on to hopeless situation.

Conversely, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the smart, tough, capable leader of a particularly successful, albeit brutal, band of train robbers.

In the opening scene the character of Evans is set. His farm is raided at night and his barn set on fire by Tucker (Kevin Durand) and another man. They are the henchmen of Glen Hollander (Lennie Loftin), the man about to foreclose on the Evans ranch. Evans, former sharpshooter for the 2nd Massachusetts regiment, has a clear shot at Tucker as he rides away but refuses to take it. His son William (Logan Lerman) shows his deep disappointment and continues to criticize his ineffectual dad.

In the next scene we start seeing the "good badman" of Ben Wade. While waiting for a stagecoach he carefully draws a picture of an eagle that has been sitting on a nearby branch. The love of nature and desire to capture beauty gives him the classic movie markers of a good guy which is accentuated by the good-humored smile he constantly maintains. This smile is an even stronger marker when contrasted with the ever-present frown on Evan's face.

In the ensuing stagecoach robbery Wade's gang charges into a heavily armed group of men. They are on the verge of failing their ambush when Wade pushes the scattered herd of Evans' cows in front of the stage. Every member of the stagecoach crew is killed except for Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda), the long-time foe of Wade. Even he is badly wounded when Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) shoots him at point blank range...but Wade won't let Prince finish the job.

In Charlie Prince we have one of those supporting characters so essential to turning a good movie into a great one. Foster does an outstanding job of playing a man who has a cult-figure like worship of Wade. He has a fanatical, somewhat psychotic look in his eyes. He looks like he really enjoys the adrenaline and his role as a sadistic killer.

After the conclusion of the robbery the Wade gang repairs to Bisbee to celebrate. Wade sends the boys on so he can enjoy the attentions of the saloon woman but waits too long and is captured. Stagecoach man Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) puts together a group of men to take Wade to Contention to put him on the train to Yuma prison. To earn money for his farm Evans joins the group.

As they travel Wade maintains his sense of humor...until the first night out on the road Tucker goads him too far. Wade, while handcuffed, manages to kill Tucker by strangulation. And here is one of the places the viewer starts to understand the depth of this movie. He would escape if not for the timely intervention of William, who snuck out after them against his Dad's orders.

Tucker is nominally on the side of the law. He is transporting a thief and murderer...yet he himself has engaged in criminal behavior in burning down Evans' barn. Even while in the posse he has been goading you not only do not grieve for his loss, you are tempted to cheer Wade's dispatching of him.

The same is true of his inevitable killing of McElroy after a verbal exchange in which the "pious" McElroy is revealed to be a murderous weasel of the worst kind...and finishes with him being thrown off the cliff. Again, the verbal exchange leads you to identify with Wade, the does almost every verbal exchange.

Another fine example would be between Wade and Butterfield. Butterfield talks about all the stages Wade has robbed, all the money he has stolen...and Wade replies something along the lines of "Notice he says nothing about the lives I have taken." Thus we notice the interesting dilemma...the representative of corporate America, Butterfield, cares about possessions and the outlaw cares about lives.

So the audience is cheering the villain...this could be a disturbing trend. And it continues when Apaches attack. Wade manages to seize a gun, sneak up the hill and dispatch them. His heroic role gains him further admiration. Then he makes good his escape, taking the guns of the posse and their horses.

Unfortunately for Wade, he rides into a railroad camp being run by a hard case Marshal who had watched Wade shoot down his brother. When the posse catches up to Wade he is being tortured brutally by the Marshal. The way Wade bears up under the torture refers back to the Western codes...the hero bearing up against impossible odds without murmur.

It is at this point that the point of having Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) makes his presence felt. First he protests the mistreatment of Wade as immoral. Moments later Potter is dead and symbolically the posse has lost its conscience.

Of course, the evil Marshal must receive his comeuppance which comes when Prince rides through. He asks where Wade went, notices the badge, asks if they are a posse, then guns down 3 men in fewer seconds. It further advances his role as a very dangerous adversary.

Finally the escort for Wade arrives in Yuma. Shortly behind them comes Prince and his gang. So we are set for the big showdown.

As soon as they get to Yuma Butterfield heads out to recruit help. He comes back with the Contention Marshal and his capable deputies. However, when Prince makes a diabolical and fiendish announcement to the town, the Marshal and his men elect not to participate in walking Wade to the train. They walk out front, lay down their guns...and Prince and his gang promptly gun them down in a heavy fusillade. Thus we learn that when good men lay down because of the threats of bad men they die anyway.

Finally even Butterfield walks away and tries to convince Dan to do so. Instead, Dan insists he is going to do the job, but not before first wrangling a promise from Butterfield that ensures the success of his ranch.

The final showdown could have been equal to that of High Noon (1952) when Will Kane (Gary Cooper) takes on a numerically superior but morally inferior gang. The only reason it isn't is 3:10 spends too much time leading up to the finish with random violence. It does not build quite the same level of tension...but it does grant the same release.

The showdown is epic. Evans does lots of heroic shooting, Prince is even deadlier in the same erratic, psychotic manner he has been all movie, shooting both at Evans...and anyone he thinks was shooting too close to his hero Wade.

Finally Evans gets Wade on the train, fulfilling his end of the bargain. Through this act he finds redemption. He has proven himself courageous and capable. However, he has also shown he isn't quite vicious enough since he did not slay Prince. Prince lets him know that was an oversight by emptying his gun into Evans, rescuing Wade.

Somehow, it is okay because Evans found his redemption. Meanwhile, Wade hops off the train, gets his gun back...and promptly kills every last member of his gang in retribution for their killing of Evans. Thus he finally finds redemption, the little spark of good within him and we can openly cheer for the man we have privately been rooting for all along.

Then he gets back on the train so Evans' pact with Butterfield will remain intact and as the train pulls out, he signals his horse to follow, leaving it to the imagination that he will escape yet Evans' family will still be cared for. It is a different way to have a happy ending for all.

The cinematography was decent, rarely standing out as either good or bad. The directing was good, though some strange decisions were made...such as having train men standing around after thousands of rounds were poured into the vicinity, numerous people in the final shootout who appeared to be firing at each other for no apparent reason, and in the scene where Prince burns a guy inside a stagecoach, why the guy would give up his gun after firing once. But overall it was solid work.

The acting was, for the most part, outstanding. On occasion Bale would forget he was supposed to limp...other times he looked like he could barely walk so clearly he never developed a limp he was comfortable with. Prince and Crowe were outstanding...actually, everyone was strong. You were in a believable world where people looked like they were behaving naturally.

Overall it was a quite enjoyable movie that is an interesting update of the classic 3:10 to Yuma (1957) with some nice homages...such as Evans and Wade working together to get Wade on the train. If you are a Western fan...or maybe even if you aren't...go check out 3:10 to Yuma.