Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

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…..

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.

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.

What’s your favorite scary movie? Part 1 – ‘Wait Until Dark’

October 13, 2008

Seeing how Halloween is coming up, and seeing how I love scary movies (but am rarely scared by them), and seeing how this is my 50th post (in less than five months of blogging, no less), I’ve decided to start a new series of reviews (similar to Batmania that I did this past summer) that celebrates what I think are some of the best scary movies of all time.

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Wait Until Dark, based on the play by Frederick Knott (who also wrote Dial M for Murder), is a delectable game of cat-and-mouse.  In one corner, you have a blind woman who’s still getting used to living in a world of darkness.  And in the other, you have a man who’s full of darkness, eager to destroy the lives of those around him–even those who are his accomplices.

What’s it about? Audrey Hepburn (who was nominated for an Oscar) stars as Suzie, a blind woman who’s being conned by three scam artists looking for a doll hiding a stash of heroin.  Alan Arkin plays Roat, the enigmatic ring leader who’s two steps ahead of his accomplices (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston).

Suzie’s husband (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) became the unwitting caretaker of the doll when Lisa (Samantha Jones) gives the doll to him at JFK airport.  The doll goes missing, Lisa is murdered, and Roat moves in for the kill, devising an elaborate scheme to get Suzie to believe her husband is responsible for Lisa’s death and that finding the doll is the one thing that could clear Suzie’s husband’s name.

Suzie’s bratty neighbor Gloria (Julie Herrod) keeps sneaking into Suzie’s apartment (she’s big on playing tricks on the blind) and eventually helps Suzie figure out what’s really going on, leading up to a heart-pouding climax.

What’s good about it? The play, of which the movie is based on, is one of my favorites.  The movie tries to add a bit of scope–like the prologue in Montreal which is not in the play–and it takes a while for things to get rolling.  But hoo-boy, once things have been set in motion, the tension builds and builds.

Hepburn’s Suzie is one of those characters who you wish nothing bad would happen to, while Arkin’s one of those characters who’s evil just to be evil, oddly reminscent of Heather Ledger in the Dark Knight (although Arkin’s performance is far more subdued.)

What’s bad about it? It’s a good 35 minutes before things really start going.  Be patient.

Perfect for: Audrey Hebpurn fans, anyone looking for a good scare without coarse language or gratuitous violence.

Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ – My Voyage to Secret Lady World

July 24, 2008

Let me first say that I am open to learning about the opposite sex, and not in a dumb how do I know she likes me? kind of way.  A few years ago I went to a local production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, where women talk discuss in rather frank terms about what makes them…women.  I was shocked–do women really talk that way when men aren’t around?–but I sat through it.  My female friends appreciated my tolerance (it was very crude) and assured me that not all women talk about lady business.  

Last summer I attended a women-only improv workshop at a national improv competition.  It was refreshing to see how women perceive how men perceive women.  I’ve even read He’s Just Not That Into You.  Sure, women still frighten me a bit, but at least I’m trying my darndest to understand them.

Mamma Mia! is a movie about women, starring women, made by women (first time film director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Catherine Johnson) and made for women.  Being a straight dude, I bravely entered into the theater with my date, knowing full well that I fall nowhere near the film’s target demographic.  I had weathered the Monologues and an improv exercise called–no joke–The Womb, and survived.  Two hours of singing and dancing to ABBA tunes won’t kill me, right?

Mamma Mia! produced a new level of discomfort for me.  I have no doubt that to enjoy this film, I would have had to have unholy doses of estrogen sashay through my veins.  I could actually feel my body physically reject this movie.  This is not a slam on the quality of the movie (that’ll come later); I’m simply saying that there are certain places I shouldn’t go, and this was one of them.  The whole time I was in the theater my soul whispered, you shouldn’t be here.  Never ignore that still, small voice that tells you you’re in way over your head, especially when taking a voyage to Secret Lady World. 

What’s it about?  If you watched the above trailer, you know the entire story.  20 year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is getting married.  She sends wedding invitations to three different men (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) who may or may not be her father.  See, twenty-one years ago Sophie’s mom Donna (Meryl Streep) had an extra hot summer, and nine months later Sophie appeared.  The only–and I mean ONLY–problem is that nobody knows who the real father is; not Donna, not her old beaus, and not a doctor who could do a DNA paternity test, because this all takes place on a remote Greek island.

The flimsy plot is weaved through a seemingly endless array of ABBA songs (as opposed to regular musicals, where songs cater to story and character) as people dance and sing and squeal and hug and kiss and drink and run away when flustered.  (This movie could have also been titled Everybody’s Running, and probably would have had ABBA wrote a song with the same name.)

What’s good about it?  Seyfried has genuine charisma and a pleasing singing voice–we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.  And Streep, in true form, owns her role and gives 110%.

What’s bad about it?  Lloyd’s direction is quite flat.  The dancing is sloppily choreographed and edited poorly.  Isn’t that one of the reasons why people go to musicals?  And to see Pierce Brosnan–the former James Bond–warble through his songs made my soul die a little.  He’s a good sport for doing it, but he was grossly miscast.  The supporting cast play their parts so broadly they leave no room for subtlety.  You can tell everybody had fun making the film, but after a while it just feels like they’re having so much fun they forgot to invite you.  

Perfect for: Women.  And only women.