Posts Tagged ‘film’

Review: ‘Public Enemies’

July 21, 2009

There are a few directors whose films, regardless of buzz, I will go see in the theater: Tim Burton; Christpoher Nolan; M. Night Shyamalan; JJ Abrams. Whether or not I like their latest film, I want to see for myself what these directors have done. It’s a short list, and even some of my favorite directors are noticeably absent (Woody Allen being the biggest omission). But there is one director that I didn’t realize I have seen all his movies in the theater (barring one) since 1992: Michael Mann.

After seeing Public Enemies, I went over to IMDb.com to see what films he had directed. Last of the Mohicans. Heat. The Insider. Ali. Miami Vice. I had seen all of these in the theater. Collateral was the only one I hadn’t. (I saw it on DVD, and now desperately wished I had seen it in the theater. It’s the one movie that I can honestly say had me on the edge of my sofa seat.)

Mann’s films brim with the right amount of intelligence and testosterone, and Public Enemies is no exception. And while Public Enemies wasn’t a knock-your-socks off action film, it is a solid entry–and better than 2006’s Miami Vice–in the Michael Mann canon.

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? The year is 1933. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his band of…bandits steal from the rich and give to themselves. Even when he gets caught, Dillinger has the right connections (and amount of chutzpah) to escape. After breaking free from jail or robbing a bank, Dillinger will cross state lines, making it hard for state police to do anything.

The FBI is getting under way, doing what local law enforcement can’t do: catch guys like Dillinger. J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), director of the FBI, assigns Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to head the Chicago office with one goal: catch guys like Dillinger.

At a speakeasy in Chicago, Dillinger meets the Billie Frechette (Oscar winner Marion Cotilard), a half French-half Native American woman. The attraction is instant, and Dillinger, a man who gets what he wants, begins a whirlwind romance with Billie.

Eventually Purvis and his men, after numerous close calls with Dillinger, use Billie to get to him. It is when Billie is in FBI custody–and the fact that his bank-robbing skills are no longer appreciated by other criminals with bigger and broader illegal operations–that Dillinger’s days are numbered.

What’s good about it? Depp, as always, gives a charismatic performance as Dillinger. And Cotillard gives a devastating performance in what could have been a throwaway part. One sequence in particular–when she is interrogated by the FBI–is heartbreaking.

Colleen Atwood’s costumes are outstanding. (There’s at least one Oscar nomination right there).

I personally like Mann’s directorial style, which usually entails using digital hand-held cameras. It gives the film a sense of immediacy. Often times period pieces are romanticized or glamorized. But Mann gives the 1930’s a shot of adrenaline rarely seen.

What’s bad about it? I hate to say it, but Christian Bale’s quickly becoming Hollywood’s top second banana. After a ho-hum performance in Terminator Salvation (in which Sam Huntington stole the show from him), Bale is once again overshadowed by his costar.

The film tries to say a lot about celebrity, crime and the ethics of crime fighting. But even at a running time of 140 minutes, it comes up a little short. It feels as if some scenes to flesh out character got omitted to keep studio execs happy. Perhaps there might be a directors cut when it comes out on DVD?…

Perfect for: Depp fans, action fans, history buffs.

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…..

The holiday movie roundup, part 1

January 3, 2009

This post is what happens when you see too many movies in a really short time span and are so busy with other things (including my new blog, City of Champion) that you just can’t give each film the review it deserves.

SEVEN POUNDS

The trailer for this film is very cryptic–it doesn’t really tell you what the movie is about.  Usually that’s a good thing, because most movies are ruined because the trailer tells too much.  But in this case, Seven Pounds is a confusing film–it’s 90% first act, zero second act and 10% third act.  It’s frustrating because the audience is in the dark about what is going on the entire length of the film, until the end when everything is revealed.  The story is rather simple, but the execution is muddled and not enjoyable to watch.  The entire film is a downer, even the ending (which is supposed to make you feel good).

What’s good about it? Rosario Dawson’s performance as an artist waiting for a heart transplant is effective.

What’s bad about it? If your idea of a good movie is watching Will Smith cry and writhe in anguish, hoo-boy, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Perfect for: fans of depressing movies.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Keanu Reeves stars as a dude who looks human but is clearly not.  Yeah, there’s a stretch.

This lame remake of the 1951 Sci-Fi classic (which I admittedly have not seen) has aliens landing in New York City (of course!), primed to destroy mankind in order to save the earth from pollution.  (The same kind of thing was done in last summer’s The Happening and it didn’t work so well there, either.)  Jennifer Connelly co-stars as a widowed scientist who helps Reeves escape from the evil military people who are trying their darndest to protect the country.

What’s good about it? It’s not boring.

What’s bad about it? The special effects are so-so.  Reeves is terrible (as usual), as is Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s son), who plays a bratty tween.  (Something tells me there’s not much acting in his performance.)

Perfect for: Keanu Reeves fans.

MARLEY & ME

Watching Marley & Me, I realized that there is an art to making a broad, crowd-pleasing film.  Director David Frankel (who directed 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada) has crafted a film that is nearly perfect in terms of pacing and accessibility.  Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston have genuine chemistry.  I’ve never said this before (and hopefully never again), but you’ll laugh, you’ll cry.

What’s good about it? See above paragraph.

What’s bad about it? If you hate crying in movies, stay away.

VALKYRIE

There was a lot of negative buzz surrounding Valkyrie (it originally was slated to come out this past summer, then it was pushed back to February 2009, the bumped up to Christmas 2008…oh, and it stars the poster boy for Hollywood eccentrics, Tom Cruise), but the good thing is that the movie itself is actually good.  Really good.

In this World War II-era thriller, Tom Cruise (in a winningly low-key performance) stars as Claus von Stauffenberg, a colonel in the German army who plots to kill Hitler and stage a military coup.  It’s a great edge-of-your-seat movie, expertly directed by Bryan Singer (who directed Superman Returns, X-Men and The Usual Suspects).

What’s good about it? SPOILER ALERT: The events of this true story take place in the summer of 1944, and Hitler didn’t die until 1945.  (It’s history, kids.  Look it up.)  But even with that knowledge, I could not stop asking, how does this end? A good indicator of a good film is when you know the ending and you still wonder what’s going to happen.

What’s bad about it? SPOILER ALERT: Hitler wins.

Perfect for: Anyone looking for a good thriller.  And anyone wondering if Tom Cruise is still worth seeing in a movie.

Review: ‘Australia’

December 18, 2008

Baz Luhrmann’s first film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge! has all the trappings of a sure-fire hit, with its attractive leads, money shots of rugged landscapes and immaculately designed sets and costumes.  But something in Australia is missing, but after sitting in the theater for nearly three hours, I don’t care what.

What’s it about? I’m not 100% sure, because for the first half of the movie I couldn’t understand what all these Aussies were saying.  (Like the superb Irish film Once, this one needs subtitles even though it’s in English.)  But this is what I gather: Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is a rich British prude who comes to Faraway Downs, her husband’s money pit of of a ranch in the Australian Outback, to sell the property and bring her husband home.  Upon arrival she discovers her husband has been murdered, supposedly by an Aboriginal mystic named King George (David Gulpill).  It turns out that the ranch could actually turn a profit, should Sarah  be able to get her 1500 head of cattle to Darwin.

With the help of the rough and tumble Drover (Hugh Jackman, in full romance novel cover mode), Sarah and her hired help (including Nullah (Brandon Walters), the 10-year old half-white/half-aboriginal grandson of King George) drive the cattle across the unforgiving Outback.

Just when you think the movie’s over, however, there is an enitrely different story that drags on for the last hour: Japan bombs Darwin, and Sarah, Drover and Nullah are separated and–SPOILER ALERT–reunited in the end.

What’s good about it? Walters gives a fine performance, and there’s some beautiful cinematography.

What’s bad about it? Well, there’s not a lot that is bad per se (barring the fact that the movie is far too overlong), it’s just that there really isn’t anything great about it.  Australia reportedly cost $130 to make; when a movie costs that much, it should knock my socks off.  I am sad to report that my socks stayed on my feet the whole time.

The film feels like a glossed-up remake of 1985’s Out of Africa (one of my favorite films), but lacks any real dramatic weight.  Australia is cinematic cotton candy; Out of Africa is meat and potatoes.

Perfect for: Swoony Hugh Jackman fans.

Netflix this: ‘The Nativity Story’

December 14, 2008

I must confess: I planned on liking this movie before I even saw it.  As a Christian and as a movie addict, The Nativity Story seemed like the right amalgamation of spirituality and cinema.  I was in the mood to watch an uplifting film about the Christmas story, especially since I tried to watch the abismal Rankin-Bass special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey the other day.  (Bastardizing Santa and Rudolph is one thing, but stay away fom the birth of Jesus.)

I shied away from The Nativity Story because when it was released theatrically in 2006 it got lousy reviews (Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer has it at 38%) and it only grossed about $44 million worldwide.  Quite a pitiful sum, when you consider that the target audience is all of Christendom (that’s a lot of people).  So I added it to my Netflix queue, wanting to get into the Christmas spirit in a medium that speaks to me.  (I’m not big on candy canes or tacky sweaters.)

It could be my innate bias towards such a film, but I found The Nativity Story to be a compelling and, yes, moving  portrayal of a story I’ve heard and read numerous times.  This is a film where you know what’s going to happen.  The key is to enjoy the journey of how they arrive at the final destination.

What’s it about? Regardless of your faith or your devotion to it, there’s a pretty good chance you know the gist of the story.  Set in the year before Christ’s birth, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is told in a vision that she’ll give birth to a child that will be the Messiah the prophets have proclaimed would redeem the people of Israel.  Pretty controversial, considering that her betrothed husband Joseph (Otto Isaac) is still her betrothed (read: they haven’t consummated the marriage).  Despite persecution and King Herrod’s (Ciaran Hinds) constant attempts to locate the prophecied Messiah.  Add some shepherds and the three wise men, and you’ve got yourself The Nativity Story.

What’s good about it? This is one of those films where you can tell that meticulous research was put into this film.  You get a sense of the everyday life of living in Nazareth.  You get a better understanding of the political climate.  You have a little more context for why people did what they did back then.  There’s attention to detail and there’s sense of scope from seeing a studio-funded production.  And at a hour and forty-one minutes, The Nativity Story doesn’t overstay its welcome.

And while there are a lot of dramatic holes to fill with a movie based on scripture, screenwriter Mike Rich does a good job of developing the relationship between Mary and Joseph.  If anything this movie is the story of how they fell in love.  It added a nice human touch to a story so immersed in the divine.

This is the type of film I want to watch every year and make it part of my family’s tradition.

What’s bad about it? I wanted to like this film, so I don’t have much to say here.

Perfect for: Anyone needing a detox from innocuous Christmas tv specials or made-for-tv movies.  Oh, and the 2 billion Christians on earth.

DVD Review: ‘Gremlins’ – Yes, I’m blogging about ‘Gremlins.’

December 11, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with Gremlins.  It’s a stupid movie.  I know this.  Yet, for some reason I cannot help but enjoy watching this movie.  Perhaps my affinity for Gremlins stems from not being allowed to see it when it was released in theaters.  I was seven, and the commericals (and the above trailer) refrained from actually showing what the fiendish critters looked like, which meant I didn’t think it would be that scary.

My parents wouldn’t let me see it, although my uncle (who, being a mere eight years older than me, was more like an older brother than an uncle) told me all about the movie.  The closest I came to actually seeing it was owning a t-shirt with Gizmo on it.  So yeah, not that close.  I don’t remember when I did, in fact, watch Gremlins, but I remember I loved it.  (I was twelve when Gremlins 2 came out, and I saw it twice in the theater.  Jealous?)

I had been waiting for quite some time to buy Gremlins, but never felt right about paying actual money for it.  Then Target had it on sale for $4, and that’s very close to no money, so I bought it.  And I’m happy/sad to say, I’ve enjoyed watching it again.

What seven year-old WOULDNT want to see this?

What seven year-old WOULDN'T want to see this?

What’s it about? Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is a putz-ish bank teller whose dad is a putz-ish inventor.  Dad goes on a business trip and brings home a critter called a Mogwai named Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel–yes, that Howie Mandel).  There are some rules to follow when keeping a Mogwai: 1) keep it out of bright light; 2) don’t get it wet; 3) don’t feed it after midnight.

Billy accidentally spills water on Gizmo, which causes the little critter to reproduce asexually.  So now Billy owns five Mogwai.  The putz.  Then he accidentally feeds all of them (except Gizmo)  after midnight, which causes them to turn into little monsters who wreak havoc on the entire town.  Smooth move, Peltzer!

What’s good about it? The scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) is home alone with the Gremlins is effectively scary.  And gory!  (This film, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, prompted the MPAA to introduce the PG-13 rating.)

The film walks the fine line between dopey comedy and tepid horror, but does so with such panache, you can’t help but accidentally watch the whole movie.  And the final showdown between Stripe, the head Gremlin, and Billy is enjoyable, if for no other reason than to see Stripe shoot Billy with a crossbow.

What’s bad about it? It’s silly and gross.  (This may also be a good thing.   But I’m not the boss of you, so make up your own mind.)

Perfect for: I have no idea.

Review: ‘Rachel Getting Married’ – One of the Best of 2008

December 9, 2008

I love the tagline in the trailer for Rachel Getting Married:  “This is not your family.  But it is your family.”   I love it because the family portrayed in the film is nothing like my own, yet I identified with these people so strongly.  Jonathan Demme’s first narrative feature since 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate is a testament to the power of family, and no matter how much you sometimes can’t stand the people you’re born with, they’re yours, and you’re theirs.

What’s it about? Rachel Getting Married is a story of a young woman who tries to make right so many wrongs, and still can’t forgive herself for her drug-induced negligence that led to a terrible accident years before.Kym (Anne Hathaway), a former model, checks out of rehab for the weekend to attend her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe).  Kym’s one of those unpredictable hurricane types who can’t help but to storm through people’s lives and leave nothing but a path of destruction.   Amid numerous guests who parade around the house all weekend, the family does its best to keep the airing of dirty laundry to a minimum, but Kym has a way of bringing out the hurt in others (and not always intentionally, either).

What’s good about it? Demme’s film is shot like Lars Von Trier’s 2000 film Dancer in the Dark–hand-held camera work with long takes (similar to the Dogme style of films), with performances so raw you’d swear you are, in fact, watching a documentary.

Anne Hathaway’s performance is more than an attempt to shed her Disney princess/safe romantic comedy persona; it’s an actual, Oscar-worthy performance that gives me hope that down the road fthat she’ll take on other diverse and convincing roles.

Also Oscar-worthy is DeWitt’s performance of the titular sister, who’s had to suffer in silence while Kym’s antics sucked all the energy from their parents and doesn’t want her sister to ruin her wedding.

Hathaway and DeWitt execute that sisterly bond with the utmost precision–they love and resent each other simultaneously.

This is one of those films that makes you realize how important family is.  You didn’t choose these people, and sometimes, if you weren’t related you might never have associated with them at all.  But that’s the  the blessing/challenge of family: to connect, to love and to be there for each other.

What’s bad about it? There’s some language and a very brief sex scene.

Perfect for: fans of The Family Stone.


Playing Catch-up, part 2: More movies I’ve seen of late

November 22, 2008

THE BAXTER

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A good friend of mine recommended I take a look at The Baxter, Michael Showalter’s 2005 comedy about a putz who tries to win back his fiancee from her high school sweetheart.  She noticed that I had not posted about The Baxter, and I told her I was hesitant because I really did not like the film.  (She was okay with it–she watched The Devil Wears Prada per my recommendation and hated it.)

The film feels like a big inside joke, like you need to be part of the New York improv/sketch comedy scene to enjoy it (writer/director/star Showalter is part of Stella, along with Michael Ian Black and David Wain; Black and Wain have small parts in The Baxter.)  Elizabeth Banks is the fiancee, Justin Theroux is the old boyfriend, and Michelle Williams is the girl Showalter wants to be with.  With the comedic pedigree behind The Baxter, you would think the film would actually be funny.  The only bright spot is a cameo by Paul Rudd, who can’t help but infuse energy into any film he’s in.

CHANGELING

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Clint Eastwood has become one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors; since 2003 he’s directed five films (including Changeling) and he still has another one–Gran Torino–coming out in December.  His recent films have been real showcases for actors, and Changeling is no exception.  Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles whose son goes missing.  The LAPD, in need of some good PR, recovers her son…only it’s not her son at all.  (He’s three inches shorter.)  When Christine persists in refuting the LAPD’s claim, she’s thrown into a mental hospital against her will.

This is an exhaustive, heart-wrenching drama that’s not easy to watch.  Jolie’s performance is Oscar-worthy, and Eastwood’s direction is deliciously spare and restrained.  But Eastwood’s got to lighten up.  With Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and now Changeling, Eastwood has become the King of Despair.  Doubtful if Gran Torino will buck the trend.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

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I LOVE Casino Royale.  Hands down, it’s the best James Bond film.  Rebooting a franchise is always a risk, and Casino Royale gave James Bond a certain gravitas that the prior films (obviously) lacked.  It was dark.  It was intense.  And Daniel Craig’s Bond was a bit of a sociopath (after all, he’s a killer).

Quantum of Solace, however, is a much weaker sequel (the first in the series, really; this one’s a continuation of Casino Royale, not a standalone story).  The Villain?  Weenie.  The Girl?  Uninteresting.  The Action?  More of the same, but far less exciting.  This may also be the only Bond film that had locations that I don’t want to visit: Haiti?  The Bolivian Desert?  Russia?  Blech.

The film is watchable, but it definitely is missing something.  And coming in at around 105 minutes, Quantum of Solace is probably the shortest of 007’s adventures.  I wonder, however, what wasn’t good enough to make the final cut.

Playing Catch-up

November 17, 2008

My life is kinda’ busy right now.  I make no apologies for having plenty to do.  I refuse to write a “sorry I’m such a terrible blogger” post, but I will say that I’ve seen a lot of movies lately but do not have the time to write full-blown reviews for each one that I’ve seen.  (I might be busy, but I can always make time to watch a movie.)

So here are some quick reviews on the stuff I’ve seen of late (in no particular order).

THE TV SET

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This is one of those films where you’re led to believe you’ll be watching a comedy because of the insane things people do and say.  However, The TV Set, while expertly acted (particularly by Sigourney Weaver as the executive from Hell), is more informative than entertaining, cautionary than humorous.  David Duchovny plays a TV writer struggling to get his dramedy The Wexler Chronicles produced.  The network loves it, but wants changes.  And more changes.  And then some more changes. PERFECT FOR: People who love behind-the-scenes types of movies.

APPALOOSA

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I had somewhat high hopes for Appaloosa; Last year’s 3:10 To Yuma was my top movie of 2007.  Sadly, Ed Harris’s second directorial effort lacks the heart and intensity of Yuma.  Harris and Viggo Mortensen are Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, hired guns given charge of the town of Appaloosa, New Mexico, to rid it of rampant crime at the hand of Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, who seems terribly out of place despit his best to muffle his British accent).  Renee Zelwegger shows up as a two-bit hussy masquerading as an old-fashioned kind of girl, eyes always fixated on the nearest alpha male.  Some interesting moments, but stoic performances from Harris and Mortensen (a deliberate choice, I’m sure) make Appaloosa watchable, but not memorable.  PERFECT FOR: Western fans.

NETFLIX THIS: BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER

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Bigger, Faster, Stronger follows director Chris Bell as he tries to make sense of the widespread use of steroid use in America, and in the process upends everything you thought you knew about it.  While much emphasis is places on how steroids have (artificially) built up America’s heroes (like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone), the film also tells the very intimate story of his own family–Bell’s older and younger brother are both on steroids.  The scene where Bell’s mother discovers her sons’ steroid use is heartbreaking.  “There is a clash in America,” Bell says, “between doing what’s right and being the best.”  Bigger, Faster Stronger is not only educational, but highly entertaining.   PERFECT FOR: People who want to like Michael Moore but can’t stand his smugness.

*Sigh*  I’m out of time.

Review: ‘W.’

November 3, 2008

I’m not a big Oliver Stone fan; I don’t mean that I don’t like his films, it’s just that I haven’t seen any.  Barring half of 1991’s JFK (I was bored and confused.  But I was only 14 at the time), my exposure for Stone’s liberal agendas and conspiracy theories has been minimal at best.  Sure, I know where he leans, politically.  But his films?  Haven’t a clue.

I was eager to see W. because I am not a fan of George W. Bush and have, admittedly, been caught up in the election hoopla.  (I myself lean to the left in a state so red it glows at night.)  I’m an Obamaniac, to be sure, and what better way to sit in the choir seats and be preached to than a scathing expose on the complete incompetence of our 43rd President?

There were two big surprises about W.: 1) It’s kinda’ dull; and 2) If the film is anything, it’s a sympathetic (yet incomplete) portrait of man who, according to the film, had to become the most powerful man in the world to break out from the shadow of his father’s political legacy.

What’s it about? Uh, George W. Bush.

The film goes back in forth in time from the early 2000’s when Bush (Josh Brolin in an Oscar-worthy performance) and his team–including Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright), Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Karl Rove (Toby Jones) George Tenet (Bruce McGill), Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris), Condoleeza Rice (Thandie Newton) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss)–as they contemplate, argue and ultimately decide to have the US invade Iraq; to various defining moments in W.’s life in the late 60’s (drinking!), 70’s (drinking!) 80’s (drinking…and then getting sober…and helping Dad (James Cromwell) with his Presidential campaign) and 90’s (running for Governor of Texas!).

What’s good about it? Brolin’s performance is spot-on, and the scenes of Bush & Co. debating the feasibility of a war with Iraq (with Powell being the wet blanket) are fairly engaging.  I also admire Stone’s willingness to portray W. as a tortured soul (his rocky relationship with George Bush Sr. is the sole dramatic force throughout the film).

What’s bad about it? For starters, I must admit I’ve never been a fan of biopics.  I like my films to have a first, second and third act; biopics don’t work that way.  Mostly, they’re Stuff Happening.  And while some people’s lives are larger than others, there’s no real narrative thread to drive the story.  W. is no exception.  The film, clocking in at around two hours, is about a half-hour too long.  We know the basic storyline, so why do Stone and writer Stanley Weiser drag it out for so long?

The film also shows W. drinking.  All.  The.  Time.  Booze is everywhere.  He’s a boozehound.  I get it.  There are also a plethora of scenes where people eat that usually feature W. talking with food in his mouth.

Perfect for: Bush fans.  All eight of them who are left.