Archive for February, 2009

Playing catch up. Again. I make no apologies.

February 28, 2009

CORALINE

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This Tim Burton-esque animated fantasy is visually stunning and effectively creepy.  Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a precocious tween who’s largely ignored by her workaholic parents (who, ironically, both work from home).  The family has just moved into a new apartment converted from a large old house.  In her attempts to fight boredom, Coraline befriends her quirky neighbors and discovers a portal to another dimension.  At night she visits the other world, which appears to be a perfect version of the world she inhabits during the day…except for everyone has buttons for eyes.  And things become increasingly disturbing.

I’ve seen a lot of weird movies, but this is one is way up there on the bizarre-o-meter.  It’s dark, twisted and downright morbid.  Definitely not suitable for young kids.  But the visuals are amazing.

Perfect for: Tim Burton, animation or fantasy fans.

MADEA GOES TO JAIL

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In addition to watching Why Did I Get Married, I also watched The Family That Preys and Madea’s Family Reunion this month as part of festivities sponsored by the White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies club.  (It was just me and my friend, who after watching two movies back to back, suffered from Tyler Perry fatigue  and dropped out.  No hard feelings.)  After watching Madea Goes to Jail, I think I might change the name of the club to White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies In Moderation.

Tyler Perry’s comedies go from Deathly Serious to Hi-Larious Hijinx within moments of each other.  This time around, the Deathly Serious story revolves around Joshua (Derek Luke), an Atlanta assistant D.A. who stumbles upon (in court, no less) his old friend Candy (Keisha Knight-Pulliam), during her arraignment on prostitution charges.  Excusing himself from the case and handing it to his fellow assistant D.A., fiancee and villain of the movie, Linda (Ion Overman), Joshua spends most of the film trying to get help for Candy.

The Hi-Larious Hijinx part of the film comes from Madea (Tyler Perry), the sassy senior citizen with a violent temper, whose frequent run-ins with the law have forced her to go to anger management therapy sessions with Dr. Phil (yes, that Dr. Phil) that end up going nowhere.   When a snooty white lady takes Madea’s parking spot at K-Mart, Madea exacts revenge by destroying the lady’s car with a forklift.  And then–you guessed it–Madea goes to jail.

I simultaneously like and dislike the Madea movies, because the humor is so broad and obvious, and knowing it’s kinda’ stupid, still has the power to make me laugh.  I should know better.

The character of Madea reminds me of characters found on Saturday Night Live–the less you know, the funnier they are.  Unlike the other Madea films (Diary  of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion), this one fleshes out Madea’s character (do we really need to know that in her younger years she was a stripper???) and in the process, some of the humor about the character is lost.

Perfect for: Fans of Ernest P. Warrel movies.

THIS IS MY LIFE

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You’ve Got Mail is, in my opinion, the greatest romantic comedy of all time.  It’s funny.  It’s clever.  It’s filled with great performances.  I figured that This is My Life would be an alright movie because a) it’s directed by Nora Ephron (she directed You’ve Got Mail and wrote When Harry Met Sally) and b) I like movies about showbiz.  I was wrong on both accounts.

Julie Kavner (unmistakable as the voice of Marge Simpson) stars Dottie, as a middle-aged single mom who gets her big break in stand-up comedy.  Gaby Hoffman (Field of Dreams) and a frumpy Samantha Mathis (Little Women) star as her daughters, Opal and Erica.  The film tries to tell the story from both Dottie and Erica’s points of view, but ends up focusing more on the latter.  The real story that needed to be told was from Dottie’s side, but things like stand-up routines and dealing with agents get glossed over whereas Erica’s first romance gets way too much screen time (including a sex scene that really pushes it for a PG-13).

The film is, on the whole, rather tepid and unforgettable.  If nothing else it shows how far Ephron has come as a director.

Perfect for: Hmmmm…..

DVD Review: ‘Why Did I Get Married?’

February 9, 2009

I am fascinated by Tyler Perry.  I’ve seen a few of his movies (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Meet the Browns), I’m still trying to decipher them.  I don’t find them to be very good–they tend to flip flop between wocka wocka funny and drama with a capital D–but I do find them strangely watchable.  And clearly, I am not the target demographic Perry has in mind (last time I checked I was not a middle-aged African American female), but  I keep watching them.  He’s pretty prolific, too:  not only do audiences show up for his films, he churns out about two a year.  That’s pretty impressive.

He’s made some films without his most popular character, Madea (which, for the uninformed, is Perry in drag), but until now I had not watched any of them.  So I rented Why Did I Get Married? to see how Perry fares when he plays a dude (sidenote: not only does he write and direct his films,  he always casts himself.  Could Perry be the black Woody Allen?), and to see what he has to say about the institution of marriage.  Not surprisingly, he endorses it, even though no marriage is perfect.

What’s it about? Every year four married couples spend a week together in some exotic location to work on their marriage.  This year they’ve chosen a swank log cabin in Colorado (probably Aspen or Telluride, but the movie never says where exactly).  And, of course, each couple comes to the cabin with Issues:

– Power couple Gavin (Malik Yoba) and Patricia (Janet Jackson) have a Deep Dark Secret that threatens their seemingly perfect marriage.

– Pediatrician Terry (Perry) wonders why his workaholic lawyer Dianne (Sharol Leal) won’t have sex with him.  (She has a Deep Dark Secret that threatens their seemingly perfect marriage.)

– Loud-mouthed (and frequently drunk) Angela (Tasha Smith) can’t stop telling people how it is, especially her semi-spineless husband, Marcus (Michael Jai White), who has a Deep Dark (and Burning) Secret that threatens their extremely tumultuos marriage.

– Jerk of the year Mike (Richard T. Jones) makes his overweight wife Shelia (Jill Scott) drive by herself to the retreat when she’s deemed too fat to fit into one airplane seat.  He also invites Trina (Denise Boutte), his and Shelia’s friend, to the retreat, even though it’s couples only.  The “friendship” between Mike and Trina threatens his already-in-jeopardy marriage.

The first half of the film has  everybody cooped up in the cabin, breathing in the fresh mountain air, waiting to exhale.  When the requisite crap-hits-the-fan scene finally happens, everybody leaves, packing their dirty laundry.  The second half is the aftermath.  The long, tedioius, aftermath.

What’s good about it? Scott’s performance as Shelia, the heavy-set wife desperate to make her husband love her, is the real star of this show.  You believe every word Perry wrote for her, no matter how trite or schmaltzy.  Jackson is also pretty good.  I really think if she wanted to make a real comeback, she should switch to acting instead of relaunching herself every two years as a crazysexyhott singer.  Miss Jackson, you are over 40. It’s okay to be over 40!   Quit Mariah Carey-ing it up and get in some good acting roles.  You can do it.

I have a hard time coming down too hard on any film that ultimately is pro-marriage and pro-religion.  We could always use more of them.  I only wish they didn’t have to be so preachy.

What’s bad about it? Perry’s films tend to overstay their welcome, and Why Did I Get Married? is no exception.  Perry likes to linger on shots, none of which make you say, “now that’s a movie!”  The film feels like a filmed play, which is not surprising, because it’s based on the stageplay he wrote.

Perfect for: people who like their movies extra soapy, but hope that everything will come out in the wash.

Movie Review: ‘Taken’

February 6, 2009

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There are so many films I’ve been meaning to see.  Gran Torino.  Slumdog Millionaire.  Frost/Nixon (even though it’s directed by Ron Howard).  And yet, when I had some spare time last week, what do I end up seeing?  Taken.

Not that Taken is a terrible film.  It’s just that with so many Oscar-nominated films FINALLY playing in my neck of the woods, I felt a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t see what I really wanted to see.  (I did this once before a few years ago, when I was eager to see Clint Eastwood’s  Letters From Iwo Jima but instead–inexplicably–saw Pedro Almadovar’s melodrama Volver instead.)

Taken is the kind of action that has its heart in the right place but lacks any real dramatic weight, which for a film that deals with human trafficking is something it desperately needed.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

What’s it about? Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a retired U.S. Secret Opps-type of guy who, after years of being absent on secret military missions, is doing his best to be a part of his teenage daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) life.  Unable to compete with his daughter’s mother (Famke Janssen) and stepfather (Xander Berkeley), Bryan reluctantly grants permission for Kim to go to Paris, France alone with only her cousin Amanda (Katie Cassidy).

While in Paris, Kim calls her father right when she witnesses Amanda being kidnapped.  (If you didn’t watch the trailer above, now’s the time to do it.)  Kim is taken too, and Bryan uses his Jack Bauer-like skills to bring his daughter home.

What’s good about it? Taken sheds some light on a dirty international secret: human trafficking.  (The girls are abducted, drugged, then forced into prostitution.)  It’s a deplorable, disgusting trade, and you can’t help but root for Neeson as he kicks, stabs and shoots his way through low-life thugs, up to the highest bidders.

What’s bad about it? Don’t get me wrong–you want Neeson to get to his daughter.  But had director Pierre Morel made Kim less of a spoiled rich girl (her stepfather gives her a friggin’ HORSE for her birthday) and more of a girl who’s never had a lot of friends or opportunities, I would have rooted for Neeson even more.  (It also didn’t help that Maggie Grace, while 25 in real life, is playing a 17 year-old who acts like she’s 12.)

I’m okay with Neeson plowing through thugs and lowlifes, but –SPOILER ALERT– in one scene, she shoots an innocent person in the arm to get a complacent frenemy to do something for him.  Shooting an innocent person to get to the bad guys?  That crosses the line.  And from that point on, the movie lost me.

Perfect for: fans of Liam Neeson and/or the Transporter movies.