December 30, 2010

(Un)popular Opinions of 2010

Top 10 of 2010:

Black Swan

King's Speech

127 Hours


The Social Network

Scott Pilgrim

Four Lions

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The Fighter

The Kids Are All Right

Bottom 10 of 2010 (no particular order):

Dinner for Schmucks

She's Out of My League

Hot Tub Time Machine



Vampires Suck

Last Airbender


Other Guys

Eat Pray Love

Keep in mind, there's quite a few movies that I haven't gotten to see for one reason or another, and if something's not in my top 10, that's probably why. If you'd like to take me to task, I welcome the opportunity.

Dinner for Schmucks - 2010

Director: Jay Roach
Writers: David Guion & Michael Handelman
Starring: Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement

An up-and-coming corporate type (Rudd) enlists the aid of an IRS employee (Carell) who reconstructs famous art with taxidermied mice at his company's traditional dinner for idiots.

This film is a vastly inferior version of Le Diner de Cons, aka The Dinner Game, the French film it was based on. On top of that, a scene near the end ripped off one of the most memorable scenes in Edgar Wright's brilliant show Spaced. See those over this. That's all I have to say about that. F

December 29, 2010

The Book of Eli - 2010

Directors: Albert & Allen Hughes
Writer: Gary Whitta
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis

"The war tore a hole in the sky, the sun came down, burnt everything, everyone, I wandered, I didn't really know what I should do or where I was going. I was just moving from place to place,trying to stay alive.And then one day I heard this voice.I don't know how to explain it, it's like it was coming from inside me. But I could hear it clear as day. Clear as I can hear you talking to me now. It told me to carry the book west, it told me that a path would be laid out before me, that I'd be led to a place where the book would be safe it told me I'd be protected,against anyone or anything that tried to stand in my way. If only I would have faith. That was thirty years ago and I've been walking ever since." A single man (Washington) is tasked to carry a mysterious book westward, protecting it from those like Carnegie (Oldman) who would use it to do wrong.

One of many recent entries in the cover-everything-with-dust-and-slightly-desaturate post-apocalyptic films, The Book of Eli is surprisingly good, perhaps a nice companion piece to The Road if you care for something less depressing and with more action. Washington and Oldman are never disappointing, with Washington even doing all his own stunts, shocking for a 55-year-old-man. However, the longer the film ran, the more I thought about a major aspect of the premise: most people in this society, even if they were around before the event, have no idea whatsoever of prewar culture and society (not even literacy). THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Just because something's old doesn't mean people can't be aware of it, and just because we're forced into the barter system doesn't mean we stop teaching people to read. Beyond that, though, the last five minutes reveal a twist of Shyamalanic proportions which pushes suspension of disbelief to new bounds. Maybe it would have worked had the writer mentioned this early on and EXPLAINED a bit more, but as is, made me go from enjoyable to almost an entire waste of time. D-

December 27, 2010

The A-Team - 2010

Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, & Skip Woods
Starring: Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Jessica Biel, Partick Wilson

"They are the best, and they specialize in the ridiculous." Four special forces members set out to clear their names through a series of over-the-top plans.
Was this a great movie? Not by any means. However, it's a lot closer to the middle of the pack qualitywise than the bottom. Neeson and Copley really carry the film with their performances as the chief planner and nutjob pilot (respectively), Cooper plays the same womanizer we've seen him as all too often, and Jackson does as adequate a Mr. T. impression as is possible without the gold chains. This film is essentially a sequence of that's-so-crazy-there's-no-way-it'll-work-but-somehow-it-just-did events...and they kind of get away with it, even the bit from the trailers where they're shooting from inside a tank that's falling through the air to get it to move laterally. Biel's really my only issue with the film; her character (a military higher-up with a romantic past with Cooper) is wholly superfluous to the plot, although without her, Cooper wouldn't be doing much for the two hours. All in all, it's a film that takes refuge in its audacity, ending up fairly decent as a result. C+

December 22, 2010

Black Swan - 2010

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, & John McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassell, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

"I just want to be perfect." Up-and-coming ballerina Nina Sayers (Portman) struggles to keep hold on her sanity while competing against rival Lily (Kunis) in her attempt to play both the White Swan and Black Swan in the classic ballet Swan Lake.

As much as I've espoused the greatness of a few other films this year, this beats them all. I wish I had a single criticism of the film, but it's not there. Portman has hit the zenith of her career to date, Kunis plays someone who isn't her character from That 70s Show, the use of sound effects to enhance certain scenes is breathtaking...and overall, there's a movie for non-fans of ballet to love, although I'm sure die-hards will fawn over it as well. It's suspenseful and haunting and so many other things. If it doesn't win a certain three Oscars, I will be very disappointed. A+

True Grit - 2010

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

"I will not go back, not without Cheney, dead or alive." Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), the smartest and most outspoken 14-year-old girl in the Old West, hires Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Bridges), a US Marshal with a dark past, to track down Tom Chaney (Brolin), who killed her father. Texas Ranger LaBouef (Damon) is also pursuing Chaney for another crime, and the two combine their efforts.

On one hand, I feel like I shouldn't review this until I see the original with John Wayne (I have never seen a John Wayne film, and very few Westerns); on the other hand, that might help me be more objective, and review this as a film of its own merit, and not an adaptation. Steinfeld really steps up to the plate for her feature debut, especially considering a 21-year-old portrayed her character in the original film. Bridges, as always, comes through stellarly, playing another Southerner with booze issues like he did in last year's Crazy Heart, yet still making it an altogether separate character. Damon is a great foil for Bridges, and the two exchange barbs to add just enough humor in parts to make the film a bit lighter without being hammy. I could have used more of Brolin's villain, but he makes the most of his time onscreen. The Coens have created a masterpiece in honor of a bygone era of cinema, and it would be amiss to pass up. A-

December 21, 2010

Date Night - 2010

Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Josh Klausner
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, William Fichtner, Ray Liotta, James Franco, Mila Kunis

After Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) take another couple's dinner reservation, they are quickly entangled in an altercation involving a local mob boss and two NYPD officers on his payroll.

I had a lot of concerns about this one going into it. Even though the two leads are probably the biggest names in comedy for their respective genders at the moment, neither was involved with the writing aspect, and many say the film suffers for it. However, even despite my personal distaste for Carell's humor, I kind of liked it. While the premise might not seem terribly original, it was very reminiscent of the screwball comedy of the 1930s and 1940s; I even chuckled a few times. The leads are a very believable worn-out couple, and they have great chemistry with the rest of the cast, especially Franco and Kunis (during their all too brief scene). I feel no remorse about missing this in theaters, but it's good for a rainy day when you're dreaming of something more. C+

Charlie St. Cloud - 2010

Director: Burr Steers
Writer: Craig Pearce
Starring: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Ray Liotta, Donal Logue

"We'll always be brothers, every day, come rain or shine, come hell or high water." After surviving a near-death experience, Charlie (Efron) is visited by his dead brother Sam (Tahan) every day at sunset for a game of catch. However, the rest of Charlie's life interferes, and he struggles to keep his promise to Sam.

I understand Efron's need to break out of his High School Musical-induced shell, but this isn't how to do it. Like some other movies I've seen this year, this is one of those identity-crisis films. You've got Zac Efron: Sailor, Zac Efron: Ladies Man, and Zac Efron Has an Adventure with his Dead Kid Brother, each of which tramples over the other two. In addition (here comes my favorite critique), no proper explanation about why he was able to see his brother, on top of the inconsistency of him seeing a certain other character despite them not being dead. To Hollywood: don't make any more movies just as an excuse for Efron to drop a four-letter word or two if the story can't back it up. F

December 20, 2010

The Nines - 2007

Director: John August
Writer: John August
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis, Melissa McCarthy, Elle Fanning

"The show's not real! Why can't you just see that? Jesus! What are you fucking blind? You think you're above this, don't you? You are trapped here with the rest of them brother! Get out! Get out! Oblivio essevet!" Gary (Reynolds) is an actor on house arrest who begins to see the number 9 in excessive facets of his life. Gavin (Reynolds again) is a writer about to screen the pilot of his new show for a focus group. Gabriel (one last Reynolds) is a video game designer stranded with his wife and child on the side of the road.

I'd like to describe the plot more, but I want anyone who sees this to enjoy it as much as I did. I'll say that Reynolds never truly shares the screen with himself, and that this is on par with his performance in Buried, far and above the majority of his work. For a movie that's as visually low-key as this one is, August has made one that's as mind-freaking as anything Nolan's ever done. A+

December 18, 2010

The Fighter - 2010

Director: David O. Russell
Writers: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasay, & Eric Johnson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

The third film from Russell tells the story of former boxing great Dick Ecklund (Bale) and how, after battling a crack addiction, trained his half-brother Micky Ward (Wahlberg) to become an even greater boxer.

The trailer for this film was a bit misleading, but the movie turned out even better than expected. The accents are spotless, and you really get a feel for the town itself over the course of the film, albeit its seedy underbelly. Wahlberg is an inspiring, Rocky-esque Ward, and never pulls punches both physically and with his performance. I WOULD BE OKAY WITH BALE TAKING ARMIE HAMMER'S OSCAR; THAT IS ALL I HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT. Leo is impressive as the boys' mother as well, and the small army of sisters is as legitimate as the entire cast of Winter's Bone (which I didn't care for because it might as well have been a documentary, it got so real). I don't even like most sports films, but the sports was my favorite part of this one. The boxing scenes were shot with 1990s equipment and with the aid of original fight filmmakers to replicate the original look, which is a great choice by Russell. My top 10 of 2010 is going to be really hard if the rest of the movies this year are this good. A+ - 2010

Directors: Noel Clarke & Mark Davis

Writer: Noel Clarke

Starring: Emma Roberts, Tamsin Egerton, Ophelia Lovibond, Shanika Warren-Markland

Thanks to a chance encounter with some diamond thieves, four friends in London have an action-packed three day span, despite every intention to lead altogether separate lives.

I come very close to calling this an exploitation flick. The majority of the film features our heroines triumphing over their obstacles, often by surprising displays of brute force. They also spend a significant portion semi-clothed or naked, usually serving no greater purpose to the plot. It eventually settles in as a standard failed heist film, more or less. How the girls can defend themselves so well is never explained, much to my annoyance, and the same goes for where the diamonds came from, where they're going, significant background about the characters….you know, silly things like that. The film's saving grace (aside from some choice cameos by Kevin Smith, Eve, and Mandy Patinkin) is its editing and narrative style. The girls are together in the introduction and conclusion, but each of the four stories is told consecutively, rather than concurrently, and then the film "rewinds" to the departure point. That makes it a little different in my eyes, and thus not a total waste of time. D+

December 14, 2010

68th Golden Globe reactions

Not going to predict anything, but I'm outraged, so I had to say something.




That is all.

December 12, 2010

The Town - 2010

Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, & Aaron Stockard
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall

"Driver's name is Arthur Shea. Former Metro Police officer, fifty-seven years old. Soon as his partner leaves with the coal bag, Artie cracks a Herald, and he don't look up 'til the guy gets back. Marty Maguire. Cummins Armored courier. Five-ten, two-twenty, fifty-two years old. Picks up every Wednesday and Friday at exactly 8:12, makes a hundred and ten dollars a day, carries a Sig nine. And he's about to get robbed." Affleck's sophomoric directorial project is yet another Boston crime drama, this time about four bank robbers (two of whom are Affleck and Renner), a hostage (Hall) they take in the opening scene who gets involved with Affleck's character, and the FBI agent (Hamm) pursuing them.

Affleck has directed, written, and starred in a great follow-up to his debut Gone Baby Gone. The story's compelling, and everyone delivers, even the much-maligned Jon Hamm. One stood out for me above the others: BLAKE LIVELY. While she has less screentime than the underutilized Renner, she makes the most of every second. After watching her performance, I wondered why she's wasting such talent on a show as vapid as Gossip Girl. My only complaint would be that the film had a lot of gunplay. Now, I understand that a movie about robbers has to have cops, and at some point the two will exchange bullets, but a great deal of this film was watching a nearly-Ocean's-Eleven-type plot unfold (even though their earlier criminal exploits were less subtle). It was a bit jarring to interrupt something so detailed with loud noises for seemingly no reason. Good, but I don't see it walking away with any awards this year. B+

December 11, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street - 2010

Director: Samuel Bayer
Writers: Wesley Strick & Eric Heisserer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Kellan Lutz

"Wake up, Nancy, wake up. Nancy, please. Please don't do this please. Nancy, come back. Please wake up. You promised." A decade after the death of pedophile Freddy Krueger (Haley), his now-teenaged victims begin experiencing similar dreams of a knife-clawed Krueger out to kill them all.

I've never been one for horror movies. "Scared" is not an emotion I have any desire to experience any more than absolutely necessary. And while there where a few moments of poor writing ("if we survive the next 24 hours" being one, as well as when/how Mara's character determines how to lure Krueger into the real world) stand out, the mains all bring decent performances, especially Haley as the new nightmare killer. In addition, the movie was genuinely scary. When I can't watch something in theaters, I do the best I can to replicate the theatrical experience by watching in total darkness. I'll admit I jumped once or twice, and turned the lights back on sporadically as well. Guess that means that slimeball Michael Bay (whose studio Platinum Dunes is responsible for the recent spree of horror remakes) deserves some of his ill-gotten gains after all. C

December 9, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - 2010

Director: Thor Freudenthal
Writers: Jackie & Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, & Jeff Judah
Starring: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Grayson Russell, Chloe Grace-Moretz

"It all starts in middle school, you know? You're not a kid anymore. The coddling has stopped. Kids are now separated by intelligence. The weak are picked on and girls that you've known since kindergarten won't even talk to you anymore." Told through the main character's drawings and not-a-diary journal entries, Greg (Gordon) and his friend Rowley (Capron) attempt to survive the "glorified holding pen" of middle school.

Despite pandering a bit too much to the young audience, the film appeals quite a bit to the older crowd as well. The child cast all turn out fairly good performances, though there was far too little Grace-Moretz for my liking. It's a very good look at the hyperimportance of the minutiae of middle school, and overall I was surprised at how much better this was than I expected, and might even see the sequel. B

December 5, 2010

Nowhere Boy - 2010

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Writer: Matt Greenhalgh
Starring: Aaron Johnson

"There's no point hating someone you love." Nowhere Boy follows the life of a teenage John Lennon (Johnson), eventual frontman of the Beatles, and his struggle to reconcile the complex relationship between himself, the aunt who raised him, and the mother who didn't. He also recuits schoolmates, including one Paul McCartney, into his first foray into music: the Quarrymen.

I will be buying this DVD the day it comes out. My only problem with this film (aside from the trailer's excessive focus on the almost absent musical aspect of his life)? Some of the Liverpudlian accents were a little thick. Every performance is a knockout, and Johnson leads the way as the young Lennon. Unlike the also-great Kick-Ass, he really gets to flex his acting chops here, and it's proof positive that if he keeps picking proper roles, he could be one of the up and coming British actors. A

The Sorcerer's Apprentice - 2010

Director: Jerry Turteltaub
Writers: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, & Carlo Bernard
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Nicholas Cage, Alfred Molina

"I have been searching all over the world for you. You're going to be a force for good and a very important sorcerer. But for now, you're my apprentice." Balthazar Blake (Cage), one of three apprentices of Merlin, trains Dave Stutler (Baruchel) as his own apprentice to help him vanquish his nigh-immortal foe Maxim Horvath (Molina), another Merlinian.

I wasn't expecting a lot from this film; maybe that's why I kind of liked it. Molina's great at playing villains (remember Spider-Man 2?) and Cage, while it's not one of his best performances, it's not one of his worst either. The role plays to his natural insanity, shall we say. yet again the girl-repellant nerd he's been playing lately; I hope he can grow out of it, and sooner rather than later. The writing surprised me most, though. While it's a slightly-above-average summer popcorn flick, the science-as-magic premise really appealed to me, and while the dragon wasn't terribly realistic, the effects are otherwise executed well, and the obligatory mop scene is executed without a hitch. My only real problems were two: there's an elderly man that Horvath goes to (who seems to already know him) in search of an apprentice, and this man's background is glossed over completely. Is he another sorcerer? Your guess is as good as mine. In addition, a character near the end just sort of gets forgotten about by the writers during the film's climax, which is one of the worst things a writer can possibly do. He's there one moment, gets knocked out, and then not seen for the rest of the film. Regardless, I'd say this one's worth renting for a single watch. C/C+

Get Him to the Greek - 2010

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Rose Byrne

"This is it, Aaron. This is rock 'n' roll. Did you enjoy the party?" To please his boss (Combs), Aaron Green (Hill) flies to London to escort Aldous Snow (Brand) to a 10th anniversary concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. However, Green does not account for Snow's far from sober lifestyle threatening to derail the trip at ever turn.

I try to stay away from anything connected to Judd Apatow, but maybe I should reconsider that. I didn't see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I thought this movie was really solid, and funny on top of that. The film starts with Snow's latest music video, "African Child," which dances on the line between funny and offensive perfectly. Hill's given a good line here or there as well, mostly in the mold of the character he always plays, but the reason to watch this movie is Combs. Essentially playing an exaggerated version of himself, the recording executive's shouting about his personal life and doing what it takes to keep the rock star happy almost entirely overshadow having Hill vomit onscreen three separate times (my only real issue). B

December 4, 2010

She's Out Of My League - 2010

Director: Jim Field Smith
Writers: Sean Anders & John Morris
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, TJ Miller, Krysten Ritter

TSA agent Kirk (Baruchel) has a chance encounter with party planner Molly (Eve) based on an iPhone mishap, and the two gradually enter into a tenuous relationship, which seems impossible not only to their peers, but even Kirk himself.

I'll be the first to say that I'm a big fan of Canadian actor Jay Baruchel. Fanboys? Loved it? How to Train Your Dragon? It should win for Best Animated this year. The Trotsky, a Canadian film where his character thinks he's Leon Trotsky reincarnate? Next on my list. This movie, however...not so much. Aside from an abrupt turn in the last half hour, the writing is nothing special (thanks again, Hot Tub Time Machine writers), and the supporting cast is mediocre at best (very glad that Eve won't be playing Emma Frost in the upcoming X-Men film). In addition, and this doesn't normally bother me, but the film went out of its way to secure an R rating, and I think it suffers for it. Lots of F-bombs dropped, and the vast majority feel unnecessary (unlike the films of Kevin Smith, for instance). There's also a scene shot from behind that Baruchel insisted on a very obvious body double for, and the camera is fixed for a horribly long time; some better cinematography could have completely avoided that. D-

Wait. Baruchel did this AND Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nick Cage this year? Please start choosing your parts more carefully, sir. It'd be a shame to see you disappear.

December 3, 2010

Shrek Forever After - 2010

Director: Mike Mitchell
Writers: Josh Klausner & Darren Lemke
Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohrn

In the final chapter of the Shrek tetralogy, Shrek (Myers) has become dissatisfied with the monotony of his life with Fiona (Diaz) and their three children. After one particularly bad day, he makes a deal with Rumplestiltskin (Dohrn) to get a day to "live like a real ogre" again, in exchange for the erasure of a day from his childhood that he won't remember. Rumplestiltskin being the trickster that he is, the childhood day is the day Shrek was born, launching the characters from the series into a dystopian alternate universe where Rumplestiltskin is king and Fiona, still under the curse, leads a band of rogue warrior ogres against his tyranny.

I'm almost willing to put aside the fact that this is merely a Shrekified version of It's a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately, the series is now a bitter shell of what it once was. Klausner and Lemke's attempt to literally rewrite the beloved film from nearly a decade ago falls short of even the third entry in the series, making the same things that were once entertaining and amusing now painfully annoying at times. In addition, there's a star-studded cast of minor characters that (aside from the ogre played by Mad Men's Jon Hamm) are lucky to get three lines each over the course of the film. What a waste! Unless you're a die hard fan, you'll agree that "the final chapter" had come and gone before this one went into production. D

December 1, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine - 2010

Director: Steve Pink
Writers: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke

"Do I really gotta be the asshole who says we got in this thing and went back in time? " Three men (and one's nephew), wholly dissatisfied with their lives, return to a beloved ski town from the three men's past for a weekend of male bonding. However, a night of intoxication in their hot tub leads to the four being transported from 2010 to 1986.

This film is a mess. It's a comedy lacking a sole funny moment (though it tries every possible way to have one). The writers didn't bother explaining ANYTHING (like a certain character who appears at random, or why Duke's character still looks like his 2010 self). The time travel aspect is contradictory at best, and the plot either namedrops or full-on rips off legitimately good time travel stories (A Sound of Thunder, Terminator, and Back to the Future twice). When I saw the first commercials for this, I wondered how John Cusack ended up with this motley crew of actors below his station; imagine my surprise when he was also a PRODUCER. That's right, he helped this movie get made. I'll never understand some motives. And what stellar film can we next look forward to from the writer's? Why, it's the Jim Carrey-helmed adaptation of Mr. Popper's Penguins. Oh, happy day! F

November 30, 2010

The Virgin Suicides - 1999

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods, Kathleen Turner

"We would never be sure of the sequence of events. We argue about it still." The film tells the tale of the events leading up to the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters, told from the perspective of one of the neighborhood boys.

I think Sofia Coppola's one of those filmmakers that I'll never understand. I've seen both this and Lost in Translation (and am familiar enough with her take on Marie Antoinette) and I've yet to really enjoy any of them, but I feel like I should. Woods plays this great eccentric father type, and Turner's pretty good as the overprotective mother. All the girls are good too, I suppose, although some don't come off as young as they're meant to. My biggest issue was that this whole movie, I got a feeling of watching it through a veil or smokescreen. I know this is a fault of the novel this was adapted from (and I've been told aside from a scene dear Miss Coppola tacked on at the end featuring a debutante ball, it's pretty faithful), but telling a story from the perspective of someone besides the girls themselves, the viewer's left just as much out of the loop regarding the motivation behind the titular event, i.e. the most important thing in the whole movie. I'll give it a C, but I'm bumping it up a letter grade only because I know she's gotten so much praise over the years.

Babies - 2010

"Director": Thomas Balmes
"Starring": Ponijao, Bayar, Mari, Hattie

The movie compares and contrasts the first year in the lives of four babies: Ponijao (Namibia), Bayar (Mongolia), Mari (Japan), and Hattie (USA).

This film does not exist for people like me. It was made because people will apparently pay money to ooh and aww over 80 minutes worth of what amounts essentially to babysitting footage (or perhaps end up discussing the deplorable conditions of child-rearing in Namibia). I had my fill of cute baby moments fifteen minutes into it; the remaining 65 were wholly pointless. There's no narration or non-chronological order to give any sense of cohesion or direction to it. Shame on you, Balmes, and shame on the parents of these babies, especially the American ones who fed their child with a piece of bark because they forgot to bring a spoon. F

November 28, 2010

Marmaduke - 2010

Director: Tom Dey
Writer: Jon Vitti
Starring: Lee Pace, Judy Greer, William H. Macy, Owen Wilson, George Lopez, Emma Stone, Kiefer Sutherland

Marmaduke (Wilson) is a Great Dane, and thus often comically oversized. Wrap a contrived plot around that premise and add in actors who deserve better, and you have this film...based on a single-panel comic strip which was never that funny to begin with.

There's a scene midway through where Marmaduke surfs. The film ends with a bunch of horribly CGI'd dogs synchronized dancing to "What I Like About You." Do you need any more reason not to watch it? The writer even admits in the film's first fifteen minutes: "It's juvenile, but it's all I've got." F-

November 27, 2010

Vampires Suck - 2010

Directors: Jason Freidberg & Aaron Seltzer
Writers: Jason Freidberg & Aaron Seltzer
Starring: Jenn Proske, Matt Lanter, Christopher N. Riggi

It's a parody of the first two Twilight films condensed into 80 minutes.

This film was worse than Last Airbender, which is saying something. It also manages to be pitch-perfect imitation of the original series without having a single genuinely funny joke, which is a triumph in bad filmmaking. Let me turn you over to some other criticism:

"Writer/directors Friedberg and Seltzer are a scourge. They’re a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team, a Hollywood monster wreaking havoc on the minds of America’s youth and setting civilization back thousands of years."

"Friedberg and Seltzer do not practice the same craft as P.T. Anderson, David Cronenberg, Michael Bay, Kevin Costner, the Zucker Brothers, the Wayans Brothers, Uwe Boll, any dad who takes shaky home movies on a camping trip, or a bear who turns on a video camera by accident while trying to eat it. They are not filmmakers. They are evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization's decline..."


November 26, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief - 2010

Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Craig Titley & Joe Stillman
Starring: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener

"I just like being in water. It's the one place I can think." After being attacked on a school trip by his substitute teacher (really a fury in disguise), Percy (Lerman) is told that he is the demigod son of Poseidon. Along with the demigoddess daughter (Daddario) and a satyr (Jackson), he embarks on a journey to find the stolen master lightning bolt of Zeus to prevent an impending war amongst the gods.

THIS FILM IS BETTER THAN CLASH OF THE TITANS. I said it, and I meant it. While it's obviously a case of Columbus trying to repeat his success with the first two Harry Potter films (and failing at it), this is the first of the "bad" movies I haven't entirely regretting watching. The casting isn't as high-caliber as Clash, but the premise is more interesting and solidly executed. Since the film wasn't about the mythology directly, they could get away with stretching things a bit more, and while giving the traditionally virginal Athena a half-mortal daughter was a mistake in my eyes, the idea of magical beings hiding in plain sight was appealing enough to get me through. If Lerman plays his cards right (he could have been the new Spider-man!), he could have quite the career ahead of him. C-

The Last Airbender - 2010

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nikola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Aasif Mandvi, Shaun Toub

"He will need you... and we all need him." When those who can manipulate fire declare war on fire, earth, and air benders, Sokka (Rathbone) and Katara (Peltz) stumble across Aang (Ringer), a young man who is not only the sole remaining airbender, but possibly the key to salvation as the sole bender of all four elements.

I don't have the words to properly say how terrible this was. The writing is bad and the performances are worse. Most of the actors are horribly miscast, racially and otherwise. On top of all that, the bending scenes are completely underutilized, with elemental attacks being slow and not used to the fullest extent possible. Shyamalan couldn't even keep the pronunciations from the series he and his kids allegedly love in check; not only are most of the names altered, but the characters in the film can't agree how to say "avatar." Oh, and this movie was intended to be part of a trilogy, so it only tells 1/3 of a story, and unlike Deathly Hallows, that completely throws off the balance of the plot. Don't ever see this movie for any reason whatsoever. F-

November 24, 2010

Grown-Ups - 2010

Director: Dennis Dugan
Writers: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade

A bunch of childhood friends reunite after 30 years for a combination funeral for their former basketball coach and Independence Day party.

Parts of this movie try very hard to be touching and heartwarming, and every so often, it almost succeeds. Unfortunately, the slapstick/gross-out "comedy" bits completely ruin any chance this film had for being halfway decent. There's a reason Salma Hayek took her name off the poster, after all. Oh, and Steve Buscemi must be hurting for money, because he's in about 10 minutes of this; he spends it mostly in a full-body cast. He's the most talented person in this movie, but you'd never know it from the material he's made to perform. F

Clash of the Titans - 2010

Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, & Matt Manfredi
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes

"You may not want to be a god, Perseus, but after feats like yours, men will worship you." If you're familiar with Greek mythology or the 1981 classic, you know the story. The Olympian gods have grown sick of humanity's insolence, and threaten to unleash the kraken upon the town of Argos. Perseus (Worthington) leads a group of warriors on a quest to find the sole weapon that can defeat the great sea monster.

Sam Worthington can't keep his accent in check. Ralph Fiennes plays Hades as a bearded, nosed Voldemort. Perseus is wearing a T-shirt and Nikes (painted to look like sandals), and has a buzz cut. There's a Norse sea monster and an Arabic djinn. Motivations for why Perseus hates being half-god and why the people resent the gods at all are nonexistent. I want my 90 minutes back. How is this deserving of a sequel? Damn box office. F

Chicago - 2002

Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: Bill Condon
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, Taye Diggs

"My audience loves me. And I love them. And they love me for lovin' them and I love them for lovin' me. And we love each other. And that's cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods. And that's showbiz, kid." Roxie Hart (Zellweger) commits murder, and uses the publicity surrounding her trial to gain fame and launch her career.

This is the single greatest movie adaptation of a musical I've ever seen. Marshall knows exactly how to use his medium to enhance an already well-written musical, so as long as you're not thrown off by the sudden departure from the jail or club or courtroom into some fantastical other place, you'll love it. See this movie, but make sure you don't get on the wrong side of the Merry Murderesses. A

November 23, 2010

Mister Lonely - 2007

Director: Harmony Korine
Writers: Harmony & Avi Korine
Starring: Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant

"I don't know if you know what it is like to want to be someone else, to not want to look like you look, to hate your own face and to go completely unnoticed. I have always wanted to be someone else. I have never felt comfortable the way I am. All I want is to be better than myself, to become less ordinary and to find some purpose in this world. It is easier to see things in others, to see things you admire and then try and become that." A Michael Jackson impersonator (Luna) living in Paris meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Morton) who asks him to join her and her husband on a commune of like-minded individuals.

In all, the film features:

  • Michael Jackson
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Shirley Temple
  • Pope
  • Queen of England
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Sammy Davis Jr.
  • James Dean
  • Madonna
  • Buckwheat (from the Little Rascals)
  • Three Stooges
If this appeals to you, and you can stomach an odd subplot involving nuns that survive chuteless skydiving led by priests played by Werner Herzog and David Blaine (yes, THAT David Blaine), as well as the writer/director's wife being shoehorned into the film as Red Riding Hood (she has a whopping two lines), watch it. It's about as anti-Hollywood as a film can be and still be coherent. B

November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 - 2010

Director: David Yates
Writer: Steven Kloves
Starring: Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans

Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint), and Hermione (Watson) eschew their seventh year at Hogwarts to embark on their task to destroy the remainder of the objects that Voldemort (Fiennes) stored bits of his soul in, all the while being pursed by Death Eaters. Along the way, they learn of the titular Hallows, three objects that make the owner nigh invincible.

Cinematically, the film's problems are minimal. The middle portion where the trio is camping has a bit of a pacing problem, there's a chase scene with almost unwatchable cinematography, and a few concepts are thrown out that should have been explained in a past movie (but weren't). [An aside to Ebert, who called the film "completely unintelligible for anyone coming to the series for the first time": NO ONE jumps into a series 7/8 of the way through.] There's quite a few issues as an adaptation (things cut out, other things added, recasting of minor characters who appeared previously), but all that goes out the window when you realize that this is half the final story, and trying to compress twice the material in the same timeframe would have been atrocious. A-

November 15, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop - 2010

Director: Banksy
Starring: Rhys Ifans (narrator), Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey

"I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that so much anymore." Enter on Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in California with a compulsive need to videotape his entire life. His cousin is sometimes known as Space Invader, at least to his cohorts in the street art community. Exit follows Guetta's journey into this illegal subculture, from following around his cousin to working with the now-famous Shepard Fairey, and finally meeting street art's leading contender, the mysterious Banksy, and suggesting that he compile his footage into the first street art documentary.

I literally don't know what to say about this movie. It's not like any other documentary I've seen, and I mean that in the best way possible. I don't know what it's going up against for best documentary (Waiting for Superman, maybe Catfish), but I hope it wins. A+

November 9, 2010

Harry Brown - 2010

Director: Daniel Barber
Writer: Gary Young
Starring: Michael Caine, David Bradley, Emily Mortimer

"The Marines were a lifetime ago. I was a different man then." Harry Brown (Caine), an ex-Marine widower, is pushed to the breaking point when escalating gang violence in his area of south London results in the death of his friend Leonard Atwell (Bradley). Brown decides the only thing he can do is start fighting back, but the police give him a spot of trouble along the way.

There are certain actors in the business that will achieve nearly universal appeal, but still have a few moviegoers crying foul. Michael Caine is not one of them, and if his Oscar nominations every decade from the 1960s through 2000s isn't evidence enough of that, this film should be. An incredible feature debut for director Daniel Barber, Harry Brown, while a bit graphic at times, never disappoints, and Caine's performance is squarely the source. No other character really has a significant or developed role, but the script works well all the same. And while the action isn't over-the-top a la RED, for example, it's entertaining nevertheless, probably for the same reason. The police in the film doubt an emphysema-ridden pensioner would commit such acts of vigilanteism, but the audience accepts it perfectly. A-

November 6, 2010

Greenberg - 2010

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach & Jennifer Jason Leigh
Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans

"The thing about you kids is that you're all kind of insensitive. I'm glad I grew up when I did cos your parents were too perfect at parenting- all that baby Mozart and Dan Zanes songs; you're just so sincere and interested in things! There's a confidence in you guys that's horrifying. You're all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn't know agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean. You say things to someone like me who's older and smarter with this light air... I'm freaked out by you kids. I hope I die before I end up meeting one of you in a job interview." Roger (Stiller), after suffering a nervous breakdown in New York City, is flown to Los Angeles to housesit for his brother and attempt to "do nothing." Here he meets Florence (Gerwig), his brother's assistant, and the two begin an awkward romance.

I absolutely hated Baumbach's last film Margot at the Wedding. Haven't seen Squid and the Whale, but it gave us Jesse Eisenberg, so it can't be too bad. Greenberg, in and of itself, is a pretty good film. There's a strong sense of realism in the character interaction. Where this film excels is its balance between the comic and tragic, especially at the same time. It's nothing like what Hollywood makes these days, so naturally I call it a must-see. A-

November 5, 2010

Never Let Me Go - 2010

Director: Mark Romanek
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield), and Ruth (Knightley) are students at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic British boarding school in the 1960s. They have virtually no interaction with the outside world, not even a connection with their own families. There couldn't be any ulterior motive for their existence, could there?

I went into this movie knowing (what apparently is supposed to be) a major spoiler, so maybe that's why I didn't care for this movie. I nearly fell asleep three times in the theater. THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME. Don't get me wrong, the performances are solid, but when the story's as weak as this one, it just isn't enough. Maybe the book went into more detail, but half the questions raised by the film (most in the characters' dialogue, even) is barely addressed, much less answered. The cinematography's nice too, but I was ready to let this go before the credits rolled.

Leaves of Grass - 2010

Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Writer: Tim Blake Nelson
Starring: Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Tim Blake Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon

"If everyone goes around making up their own rules, how can you find any truth?" English professor Bill Kincaid (Norton) is lured back to his Oklahoma roots with a false report of his twin brother Brady's (Norton) death by crossbow. Soon after his arrival, Bill realizes that he's there solely to provide an alibi for Brady, in case Brady's scheme against local drug lord Pug Rothbaum (Dreyfuss) goes wrong.

The best kind of film, to me, is one in which everyone involved is on the same page from day one, and this is one of them. Without Norton's involvement, there would have been no film. He was so integral that he took a 50% pay cut to play 100% more characters than usual, and it was well worth it. He excels in the dual role of professor and pot dealer (two brothers who have more in common than you might think). Dreyfuss's angry energy makes you yearn to see him on-screen more, but the romantic subplot with Russell's character seems as though it was added in last-minute, and the boys' relationship with their mother is also not addressed to the extent I thought it needed to be. There's also a sudden turn toward the violent at the hour mark, and the film ends up far from the madcap antics of identical twins that trailers made it out to be. However, it's far from the worst film out this year, so check it out if you run across it. B

October 28, 2010

RED - 2010

Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Jon & Eric Hoeber
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban

When a team of assassins appears under cover of night at the home of ex-CIA assassin Frank Moses (Willis), he does the only thing he can do: fight back, and proceed to get his old team back together, as they may also be under siege from this mysterious threat.
Earlier this year, filmgoers were treated to The Losers, another over-the-top graphic novel-based action/comedy, which (in my opinion) failed miserably. Going into the theater for this, I was ready for RED to take up that mantle as a shining example of what could have been. Unfortunately, this one falls short too, although it's nowhere near as bad as Losers. While quick to establish a premise, the movie spends nearly half its duration merely getting its four protagonists united. There also seemed to be a bit of a lack of character development. Now, I understand that they're all supposed to be ex-CIA, and at one point Willis's character's 99% redacted personnel file is shown, but knowing why the characters are the way they are and how they got there is an important part of any good script. Bruce Willis can kick just as much ass as he did in the first Die Hard, Helen Mirren is stellar as the long-range weapons master, and John Malkovich is a laugh and a half as the paranoid-because-the-govenment-gave-him-LSD-for-11-years guy. I wouldn't say it's a film you need to see in theaters, but definitely give it a chance when the DVD hits shelves. C

October 16, 2010

The Hudsucker Proxy - 1994

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen and Sami Raimi
Starring: Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman

"I just got hired today. You know, entry level. But I got big ideas." Before their mainstream breakout with 1996's Fargo, the Coen brothers made the screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, a paean to many films of the 1930s and 1940s, in which Norville Barnes (Robbins) is quickly promoted from the mail room of Hudsucker Industries by chairman of the board Sidney J. Mussburger (Newman) as part of a scheme to keep "any slob in a smelly tee-shirt" from buying shares in the company after founder and CEO Waring Hudsucker jumps to his death from the 45th floor.

The Big Lebowski may have a great cult following, and the Coens' serious work as of late has Oscar nods aplenty, but I'm calling this my favorite film they've made to date. The snappy dialogue moves quickly enough to amaze yet still be made out, characters are well developed, and we're never left wondering "why." Roger Deakins's cinematography and Carter Burwell's score compliment the Coens' style beautifully as always. I'm hard pressed to find a single weak point in this movie, aside from a brief foray into the impossible near the end. This is a goal for any comedic filmmaker to strive for. A

October 15, 2010

Sky High - 2005

Director: Mike Mitchell
Writers: Paul Hernandez, Bob Schooley, & Mark McKorkle
Starring: Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Steven Strait, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

"You look at them and see the defenders of the world. All I see is my dad wearing tights." Will Stronghold (Angarano) is the son of the world's two greatest superheroes: Jetstream (Preston) and the Commander (Russell). The only problem: he's heading off to Sky High, the training school for heroes and sidekicks, with no powers of his own. Unbeknownst to them all, an evil plot is being hatched to take down the school, and superherodom as we know it.

This movie was terrible. The costumes are tacky, the special effects budget was nowhere near what it needed to be, and the plot is wildly predictable, not to mention a plothole vital to the climax that you could drive a truck through. The acting's decent, but there just isn't a lot for the actors to go on. There are some nice nods to legitimate superhero media like the Wonder Woman TV show (Lynda Carter and Cloris Leachman have small roles) and Spider-man (a line of dialogue about how quickly some people get powers), but that's ruined by more blatant references, like Carter's character virtually confessing to be Wonder Woman, on top of spinning to activate her power. They also depict X-ray vision with red beams a la heat vision, which any superhero film worth its salt should know better than to do. Also: this (minor spoiler). HERO LIGHTING ONLY WORKS WHEN IT DOESN'T LOOK UNNATURAL. Oh, and how this film got away with having a redheaded girl with control over plants without getting sued by DC is beyond me, if Lynda Carter wasn't allowed to wear gold bracelets. I put this film on par with Ghost Rider and Schumacher's contributions to the Batman franchise. D

Buried - 2010

Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Writer: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
"My name is Paul Conroy, I'm a truck driver in Iraq, and I need help." Cortés makes his English-language feature debute with this thriller about Paul Conroy (Reynolds), a private contractor sent to Iraq to deliver supplies, whose convoy is ambushed while on a routine drive. The film opens with Conroy gaining consciousness in a coffin scarcely large enough to contain him, along with a lighter and a cell phone. His initial attempts to reach the outside world prove unsuccessful, his captors are demanding an unreasonable ransom of $5 million, and saying that finding a single coffin buried in the Iraqi desert is a difficult undertaking is a gross understatement.

This film is incredible. It's probably the most intense, thrilling movie I've seen all year, and maybe since I've started seriously watching movies. Buried is, if nothing else, a tour de force for Reynolds, but it has to be; he's virtually the sole living thing you see for 90 minutes (the first seven of which are completely sans dialogue as he discerns and comes to terms with his location as best he can). Along with the acting, cinematography makes this film a double-header. Aside from a few overhead shots, the camera is always inside the coffin, heightening the sense of claustrophobia. The only way to further get inside Conroy's head would be to shoot it all in POV, which probably wouldn't have worked as well. The above screenshot is the brightest the movie gets, with most of the duration wavering between total darkness and shots like this. The script is very well written, despite a plothole or two (which any movie can have if you pick it apart enough), and some arguably unnecessary suspension of disbelief regarding the effect of a Zippo lighter on a limited air supply. I was initially wary that ex-Van Wilder put in such a limited space might not be worth my time and money, but my fears were completely unfounded. A+
Note: I saw the film with my girlfriend, who had a diametrically opposed opinion about it. Most of her complaints stemmed from either overuse of the lighter and lack of proactivity on Conroy's part regarding his situation. Saying any more would spoil it, but I'd really like to hear what you all think about this one. Please see it if you can.

October 10, 2010

The Fifth Element - 1997

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Gary Oldman

"Leeloo Dallas multipass." A mysterious alien race shows up, interrupting an archaeological discovery on Earth in 1914, explaining that "the stones are not safe" on Earth due to the coming war, and in 300 years when "a great evil" comes, the aliens will return with the stones. Cut to 2214, and ex-military-man-turned-cab-driver Korben Dallas (Willis) having the good fortune to be dropped in on by the mysterious Leeloo (Jovovich), who asks to be taken to priest Vito Cornelius (Holm). It turns out the woman has a connection to the stones destined to save the universe from aforementioned great evil. The three are pursued by the evil Zorg (Oldman), intent on taking the stones for his own nefarious purposes.

This is, very nearly, the best action sci-fi film I've ever seen. (The best dramatic sci-fi film is, of course, Moon.) The plot is a great twist on a classic motif of mythology, and the visuals of Besson's future world are richly detailed. Few excel more than Willis at being a normal guy who hides his badassery, and Oldman with that pseudo-Southern accent is possibly my favorite movie villain of all time. Then, out of nowhere, this happens:
Chris Tucker plays a radio DJ named Ruby Rhod, who in about 30 seconds of screentime, eclipses Superbad's Fogell/McLovin as the most annoying character ever captured on film. He serves no purpose to the plot whatsoever, and we don't even get the pleasure of seeing him die. Rhod was the overdone piece of meat in an otherwise gourmet meal. A

Easy A - 2010

Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal
Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Stanley Tucci

"The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated." A sort of reverse take on The Scarlet Letter, Easy A follows the exploits of Olive (Stone) as she has a series of fictitious sexual escapades for the social benefit of both the gentlemen involved and herself. However, the rumor mill inevitably spirals out of control, and Olive ends up with quite a bit more than she hoped for.

This movie was a lot better than I was expecting it to be, and had a lot of good things going for it. The script is surprisingly well written considering most entries in the genre, and Stone plays a powerful, eloquent, intelligent, and admirable female lead, far too few of which exist in film. Stone along with Tucci and Clarkson make for one of the most believable and enjoyable to watch family dynamics in recent years. Church hasn't had a role this good since Sideways, and even Kudrow is far more tolerable than her usual Phoebe-from-Friends roles. The high point of the film (which comes after a slam against an Alamo Drafthouse-type theater) is a monologue bemoaning the lack of John Hughes moments in the average modern teenager's life, something instantly identifiable for the current generation, especially one familiar with the works of the late Mr. Hughes (as everyone should be). Unfortunately, the film's far from perfect. Malcolm McDowell, having made a career on playing evil men, was horribly miscast as a high school principal in the film; it's painful to see main droog Alex from A Clockwork Orange doling out detentions. There's also an incredible sharp, sudden shift in tone from comedy to drama about halfway through the film. As I've said, the worst thing a movie can do is suffer from tonal identity crisis. While it's better than a great deal of the tripe that's come out this year, it won't make my top ten. B