July 31, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens - 2011

Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, & Hawk Ostby
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano

A man (Craig) wakes up in the wilderness, stricken with amnesia and a mysterious manacle on his left wrist. Several men come across him and, assuming a bounty, attempt to take him in. In a matter of moments, he incapacitates them all and rides into town on one of their horses, wearing their clothes, and brandishing one of their guns. He soon learns that he's a wanted man by the name of Jake Lonergan, though not before interfering with the lives of local tyrant Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), his good-for-nothing son Percy (Dano), and the local saloonkeeper Doc (Rockwell). However, all are forced to band together when the night sky is suddenly filled with strange lights, and alien spaceships begin snatching people at random.

Favreau did a great job with the casting of Craig in the lead role; the man's able to hold his American accent, and he's proven his action chops in the Bond films, as well as other roles like Defiance. Sam Rockwell also has another strong (albeit slightly comedic) supporting role that he's prefected by this point in his career. Unfortunately, that's the ending of positive things I really have to say about the movie. Ford is woefully miscast; seeing him play a crotchety old man, and a semi-antagonist at that, just doesn't work out for him. Dano also turns the levels of hamminess up to 11 in this one, and quickly goes from merely obnoxious to whipping boy in the few scenes he's offered. Wilde's character is so flat to the point of near uselessness, and is as far from Atwell's character in Captain America as is possible, short of being Bella Swan. In addition, if the source material had stuck to being "Jason Bourne in the Old West," it probably would have turned out fairly well, as the Western aesthetic and tone is nailed to a T. Unfortunately, the sci fi elements never truly mesh with the rest of the film, making things seem as ridiculous as the title would have you believe. On top of that, about 45 minutes from the end of the film, the plot got so unbearably outlandish for me that I walked out of the theater. Never expected to do that, especially for something from the director of Iron Man and Elf (one of the few traditionally comedic Will Ferrell performances I find bearable), but now he's got both the departure of the Iron Man franchise and this as marks against him in my book. D-

July 22, 2011

Captain America: the First Avenger - 2011

Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci

"I don't want to kill anybody. I just don't like bullies." Steve Rogers (Evans), a 4F 90-pound weakling from Brooklyn, is transformed via the Super-Soldier Serum into Captain America in an effort to combat the war machine led by the Red Skull (Weaving), the head of HYDRA, the deep science division of the Nazi party.

Full disclosure: when Marvel announced the casting for this film last year, I was filled to the brim with fanboy rage. The former Human Torch playing Captain America? OUTRAGE, I cried! Not only that, but the roles Evans was primarily known for playing before now weren't exactly the most kind or considerate characters, in opposition to the Boy Scout nature of the Star-Spangled Man. I will glady say that I was 100% incorrect in my fears, however, as Evans turned out to be a stellar version of Rogers, both as skinny Steve and the more intensely-constructed shield-chucker we all know and love. There's not a weak soul in the supporting cast, either, from Atwell's precursor-to-SHIELD-agent/love interest Peggy Carter to Tucci's all-too-few moments onscreen as Abraham Erskine, the German scientist responsible for the Serum. Two in their number steal the show, however: Weaving as the Red Skull (having honed his villain skills by playing Agent Smith in the Matrix franchise and watching a bunch of Warner Herzog movies) and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips, the military man who repeatedly butts heads with Rogers. The script is dead-on in almost every way, and highly reminiscent tonally of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Johnston has taken his experience on The Rocketeer and combined it with the big budget afforded to him by Marvel Studios, and the result is the most entertaining and all-out enjoyable film of the summer. It's unfortunate they couldn't release this on Independence Day weekend, but of course the film itself doesn't suffer qualitywise because of Marvel's fear of Michael Bay. Remember: buy war bonds, and stay after the credits for a wonderful glimpse at the master plan. A+

July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - 2011

Director: David Yates
Writer; Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman

"Harry Potter, the boy who lived... come to die." In the final chapter of the decade-long Harry Potter saga, the trio continues fighting to destroy the Horcruxes, even as Voldemort and the Death Eaters have overtaken Hogwarts, the one place held safe among all others.

I can't review this movie like I do others. Yeah, there were cuts and changes made, as well as the addition of the occasional scene here and there. At the end of the day, though, it didn't matter to me. Harry Potter has been too important to me and too present in my life for too long for this to be treated like just another movie to me. Besides, at this point, either you've followed the series and have to see how it ends, or you never cared in the first place. I could go on about how great Fiennes and Rickman are especially, or how much the trio has matured since the first film, or even its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. If I'm forced to say one thing, though, I'll mention how I fought back tears twice at moments that I couldn't stand when I read them in the book four years ago. Yates has brought the greates cultural phenomenon of our generation to the ideal end.

Mischief managed.

July 8, 2011

Zelig - 1983

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow

"The Ku Klux Klan, who saw Zelig as a Jew, that could turn himself into a Negro and an Indian, saw him as a triple threat." A documentary on the life of Leonard Zelig (Allen). a man afflicted with a condition forcing him to take on the mentality and physical appearance of those around him.

In 1994, Robert Zemeckis amazed the world with his ability to insert a Southern-accented Tom Hanks into historical footage. Eleven years earlier, Woody Allen did the same with himself, and to equal or greater effect. It's a shame Zelig has not become as much of a classic as Forrest Gump. It's full of Allen's usual charm, cleverness, and humor. Any fan of Allen, multiple personalities, or alternate history should make this a must-see film.  A

Horrible Bosses - 2011

Director: Seth Gordon
Writers: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx

"You've got to admit that our lives would be better if our bosses weren't alive." After getting fed up with the over-the-top inappropriate treatment from their respective bosses, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) conspire to get them out of the picture.

If I'm going to be totally honest, I wasn't sure about seeing this movie at first glance. It seemed a little formulaic, and perhaps too raunchy for my tastes. And while the movie firmly establishing itself as taking place now via Lehman Brothers and Angry Birds references, it's still a stellar comedy. Is the idea of people purposefully not tying themselves to murders they want committed in this manner original? No, but it's a strong idea from none other than Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train). The three co-leads have all proved themselves (Arrested Development, Saturday Night Live, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and they continue to entertain as well as ever, although there are still touches of Michael Bluth and Charlie Kelly (slightly smarter and cleaner in the case of the latter). It's the bosses that make the film work, though. While not a psychopath in the same manner as Se7en or Superman Returns, Spacey's a villain here on par with those other performances, in his own way. Farrell, sporting a hideous combover and cocaine addiction, is an amoral nepotism hire who couldn't care less about the company's well-being versus his own wallet. Finally, in what might be the zenith of her film roles so far, Aniston's dentist swears enough to keep up with the most low-down sailor or mercenary alive, and couldn't be further from her Rachel Green-types she's so fond of if she tried. On top of this six great comedic performances, the script takes the unexpected turn or two here and there, and you've got a short blooper reel prefacing the credits, which is always nice. A