Monday, December 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire: Bollywood's First Oscar Contender

Guy meets girl, guy love girl, guy loses girl. Girl turns tramp. Guy still loves girl, guy searches entire world for girl. Love conquers all. Then end.

Pffffft, when does THAT ever happen? Give me a break.

But this is movieland, folks, not the real world. We go to the movies to SEE this happen, because in real life, it always goes to the crapper, right?

So I'm going to highly recommend you see this ridiculous tale of a kid from the Indian slums who wins his way to the very last question on their local version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." Not to win the money, but to win back his girl.

It's gritty and tough, and it doesn't shy away from showing you the vile, poisonous world of Indian orphans living on the streets. So if you're not into depictions of graphic violence, mistreated children living in squallor, and the thugs who abuse them, maybe this isn't for you.

But if you can stomach all of that, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised in the end.

Plus- and this is the best part- if you stay through the end of the film, you get to see a REAL LIFE BOLLYWOOD DANCE NUMBER! It's absolutely ridiculous and it's the best part of any movie this year.

I give this a 7 out of 10. Enjoy.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: My Oscar Bet for 2008

You've seen this movie before.

Think back, you'll remember. 1994? Box of Chocolates? Those look like comfortable shoes...? Ring a bell?

Yeah, Benjamin Button is basically a Forrest Gump "re-imagining" when you get right down to it, but hey, we can use a new Forrest Gump every 14 years, can't we?

So if it's just a reworking of something that was done before, why do I expect a best Picture Oscar to come of this? A few reasons.

First, it's almost three hours long, and it moves quickly through those three hours. Look back over the last twenty years, and you'll see that the three-hour epics (LOTR, Gladiator, Titanic, The English Patient, Braveheart, Schindler's List, Dances With Wolves, etc.) usually win, if they have a little meat to them.

Second, it's about life. And death. Trascendent themes that are easy to play, and difficult to master. In the end, nothing moves a movie-goer- and more importantly, an Oscar voter- like a movie that makes them contemplate their own imminent demise.

And third, it's better than Forrest Gump, and Forrest Gump was pretty damn good! The story was sweet and the production was expertly achieved. The special effects that made Brad Pitt look like an old man/little kid were about the best I have ever seen. (I kept thinking to myself, "How the hell did they do that?") And the love story wasn't some sweet "the-guy-gets-the-girl" love story, it was more of the kind I usually see happening in real life. Some kind of "the-guy-loves-the-girl-and-the-girl-loves-the-guy-but-they're-both-screwed-up-enough-to-ruin-what-could-be-a-good-thing-in-the-end-but-I-guess-that's-okay" kind of love story.

I give Benjamin Button an 8 out of 10, and I see it winning the final slug-out vs. "Slumdog Millionaire" at the Oscars.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seven Pounds- worth every pound.

I'm going to warn you up front- for about the first thirty minutes of this movie, you're going to be depressed. Maybe near suicidal, so keep all sharp objects locked up in your purse.

You won't really understand exactly WHY you're depressed, either, because while some of the events being portrayed are real downers, it shouldn't be weighing you down THAT bad.

It's Will Smith's acting that does it to you. He expertly portrays a man who has descended into the depths of living hell, and now has to plod through life carrying the burden of his own mistakes, and try to make something better out of the time he has left here.

So, you ask yourself, do I really want to go see a suicidally-depressing movie just 5 days before Christmas?

Yes, you do.

It's not a flawless film. There were more than a few moments when I sat there writing the upcoming dialogue in my head before they actually spoke it, and a few scenes where I said, "Oh, I know what's going to happen." Despite this, the ending did catch me a little off-guard, and had some minor surprises.

But you don't watch this for the SURPRISES- you watch it for that sense that even the worst of us can do something to make the world better. I'm not going to recommend you take the Will Smith character's path to world-bettering, necessarily, but I think it would be nice if more than a few of us could carry away a desire to be a little better after we watch this.

Yeah, I know, I'm expecting too much. So just go watch it and enjoy that "I feel so good but this was such a friggin sad movie" feeling afterwards.

I give it a 7 out of 10, and maybe an Oscar nomination or two.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Australia!- it takes less time to complete a walkabout than it does to watch this movie.


The mere mention of the place conjures up images of a savagely beautiful Outback; mystical Aboriginies living a mysterious culture; vast landscapes and enormous, paint-spackled skies.

As far as the imagery goes, this movie does NOT disappoint!

Now if only they had a good story to go along with it, we'd have had a winner.

Actually, let me correct that- they DID have a good story. It was a great hour-and-forty-five-minute story. Stretched out about an hour too long. Or maybe it was three great 55 minute stories, better told as a TV miniseries than as a supposedly-epic film.

Can I say something about epic films here? It's not the LENGTH ALONE that makes a movie an epic. It's the substance you fill that length with. Gladiator, Braveheart, the Lord of the Rings series- these worked, because they had a lot to tell us.

Baz Luhrman obviously missed that lesson in Epic Filmmaking 101.

But he got the cinematography down pat.

On top of a dragging storyline, this movie is also afflicted with terminal cartoonishness. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman don't play actual characters here; they play grossly exaggerated charicatures of stereotypical character types. Kidman is the Annoyingly Prim and Proper Woman From an Elite Upbringing. Jackman plays the Ruggedly Handsome Man From The Outback.

I smell a clash of cultures coming, don't you? Or course, it's part of the predictable formula in films like these.

You know what's going to happen. At some point, Kidman is going to show how rough-and-tumble she really can be, and Jackman is going to show up somewhere clean-shaven and wearing a tux. And then Tragedy-Will-Strike and they will have a Joyful Reunion. Baz even throws a kid in the mix to tug at those heartstrings, too.


I mean, I liked it, sure, but I was disappointed. I expected an Oscar frontrunner. Instead I got a sub-par Titanic on Dry Land.

Oh well, they can't all be winners. I give this a 6, and I recommend you sneak in a Red Bull and start sipping it about 45 minutes in.

Twilight: I'm a guy. Ignore this review.


I like women. No- I LOVE women.

They look good. They smell wonderful. They're all soft and voluptuous and feminine and they have those sweet-as-honey soothing voices that just make you want to fall alseep all cuddled up crook of their shoulder.

Ahhh, women are wonderful creatures.

They love horrible movies.

Atrocious films, at times.

We men condescendingly called these "chick flicks" for years, until women caught wind of it and hijacked that terminology and wore it like a badge of honor.

A wise man will pretend to love a horrible chick flick. There is nothing to be attained by criticizing one. Nothing whatsoever.

This was a horrible film. The acting was painful to watch. What was probably a fairly compelling novel was spun into a motion picture that's as interesting to watch as an SAT test is to take. This start-up studio took on the challenge of creating a film for tweens and teens and chicks that has no major stars, no sex whatsoever, and very minimal, cartoonish violence, as well as a generous sprinkling of not-so-subtle Mormon ethics lessons- and botched it.

I'm still reeling from it.

I give it a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. There's one for the ladies.

(p.s.- my date hated this movie even more than I did. Please.... marry me!)

Bolt!... from the theater after the first two minutes. And get your money back.

This started off really well.

Seriously, I could have sat through the first couple of minutes of "Bolt" on a continuous loop for 2 full hours. It was a breathtaking action sequence, spiced up with a little humor and a small dose of human warmth.

If they could have taken that and expanded it out for the entire length of the film, Bolt would have been a winner.

Instead, they wasted their 3-D technology and their A-List cast of voices on what could have easily been a Cartoon Network special event, aired on a Thursday afternoon right after the kids get home from school.

This isn't a horrible film, of course. It's got some funny moments, and it's got a reasonably well-paced plot, and some fun-to-watch CGI scattered throughout it. The kids will like it, although it won't make any of their lists of favorites.

So I guess it's not a TOTAL waste of time.

But let's just say, if you wait for it to come out on DVD, even without the 3-D effects, you can pop some popcorn and read the latest issue of People while the kids fall asleep on the floor watching it. It'd be time and money far better spent.

I give this movie a 6. In a couple of months, you can rent it and watch it and you'll probably agree.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wall-E: The Genius of Simplicity

There's a reason Kid's movies regularly rake in hundreds of millions of dollars, while more "sophisticated" adult fare often falls flat on it's high-falutin' face. It's in their simplicity, and this is illustrated by Wall-E, one of the best computer animated films I have ever seen.

The story is superbly original, and yet devoid of all that cluttering complexity. Wall-E is the last of a production line of trash-compacting robots, left behind on a polluted, abandoned earth to spend eternity crushing our waste into neat little cubes. So far as his programming goes, that's his entire purpose- but left alone to his own resources and reasoning, Wall-E developed a personality, and in so doing, developed a range of very human emotions.

Most powerful among those is a longing for companionship. Quite a bummer of an emotion to have when you're the last robot on earth!

Now what kind of movie would allow a situation like that to continue? Not a very good one, and THIS, my friends, is a very good movie.

One day a space ship lands on earth, carrying a beautiful, and decidedly feminine, probe named Eve. She finds the first plant to sprout on earth in 700 years and carries it back to her spaceship. And Wall-E, having fallen in love with her, stows away on the return trip.

What follows is a story that says as much about all of us as it does about Wall-E and Eve, and it's all symbolized in the simplicity of the act of holding hands.

It's a beautiful story, told quickly and efficiently, and it holds your attention throughout with dazzling graphics and fun-to-watch characters. Take the kids, take a date, or pop it in alone on a Saturday night. Anyway you do it, you can't lose. Wall-E is a winner.

I give it an 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Burn After Reading: Laugh After Watching

The Coen Brothers.

They have been entertaining us for years with some of the oddest films ever made. Gems such as "Raising Arizona," "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" and of course, last year's Oscar Winner for Best Picture, "No Country For Old Men."

No Country For Old Men's problem was that it was a great film with a horrible ending. So for their follow-up presentation, they decided to reverse that problem. This time around, they give us a mediocre movie that gets increasingly funnier and funnier until the very last scene, which wraps it up nicely and leaves you laughing long after the credits roll.

The Coens do a great job at giving us odd characters creating bizarre situations for themselves, but this time around the characters fall flat. I felt like they wanted to give us something odd and quirky, but had run out of ways to present that to us. So you get George Clooney commenting repeatedly on peoples' flooring, and Brad Pitt dancing to his ipod on treadmills. Ha ha ha. Very friggin' funny.

But the story was tight. The characters, who were so uninteresting to watch at first, become more entertaining as they dig themselves deeper and deeper holes to climb out of. The final scene, which is really a wrap-up of the entire unfortunate affair, really made the whole film worth it to me.

So how do I rate this? It started out as a 4, and increased to about an 8 by the end, so I guess to be fair I ought to split the difference and give it a 6. Nicely done.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Righteous Kill: Unholy Device.

Pacino-DeNiro, DeNiro-Pacino.
The Ultimate Paring, you know what I mean-o?
But sadly their day in the sun has now passed.
And movies like this come across as half-assed.

Okay, enough poetry, let's get into it. This wasn't a bad story but it was a horrible presentation, thanks to a poorly-thought-out cinematic device that really shouldn't have been used.

DeNiro and Pacino are cops, and partners, in this film that finally-FINALLY!- has them sharing not just top billing, but substantial screen time. The movie starts out with DeNiro's character, on tape, confessing to a bunch of murders.


IMMEDIATELY, we know he didn't do it, right? Otherwise, why watch any further? This film is a cops-and-robbers drama. Cops-and-robbers dramas are essentially games: you, the movie-goer, have to figure out whodunnit before they tELL you whodunnit at the end! So when they start off with a confession, we KNOW that guy didn't do it!

You see the problem here?

If they had ommitted that device, or even if they had introduced it halfway into it instead of as the opening credits rolled, they'd have really had a winner here.

I mean, I'll be honest, seeing DeNiro and Pacino onscreen together at this stage in their careers is a little anti-climatic. It would have been so much more fun to see them co-starring in a Scorcese film ten years ago! (And hey, Scorcese, it'd still be fun... just in case you're reading this...) But this is what we get, too little too late.

But their performances are pretty good, to tell the truth. DeNiro is DeNiro, and Pacino didn't do that weird screaming thing he does in a lot of his films, so hey, I was happy. Don Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are also good in their roles. Carla Gugino plays an adequate dirty-girl love interest, 50 Cent plays 50 Cent with another name- nothing here to complain about in casting or acting.

The story is a solid story, nothing groundbreaking, but a decent gritty-city catch-the-serial-killer suspense story.

But that DEVICE- it took away all the suspense. You had two choices here for the "who" in "whodunnit" and right off the bat, we know who DIDN'T dunnit. Way to ruin it for me.

I give this a 6, for good acting, a decent cast, and a noble effort. They got a 6 and my $9. They ought to be happy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous: Just like you, I didn't even bother to see it.

I have done a lot for you people.

I watched "Indiana Jones." TWICE. Just to make sure it was as god-awful as I thought it was.

I stayed awake through most of "The Golden Compass," fighting back violent urges to regurgitate my lunch throughout those painful waking moments.

I watched BEOWULF for you people! BEOWULF! All of it!

So never let it be said that I don't love you.

I thought that love was limitless.

I was wrong.

I'm not going to see Bangkok Dangerous for you.

Don't act all butt-hurt by it, ok? You weren't planning on seeing it either. Let's just pretend this weekend never happened, regroup, and try to pump ourselves up for Oscar Season. All is not lost. Iron Man and the Dark Knight are only a few months behind us; Hollywood isn't dead.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vicky Christina Barcelona: Well, at least it LOOKED pretty....

Two girlfriends go to Barcelona for the summer. They meet an exotic, hot-blooded artist. He has a violent history with an exotic, hot-blooded ex-wife. Everyone meets everyone and everyone sleeps with everyone, and then the movie ends pretty much the same way it began.

No character development.

No storyline or satisfying conclusion.

But Spain sure looked pretty.

3 out of 10. Half a point for Javier Bardem looking cool. Another half point for Penelope Cruz so authentically portraying a crazy latina. And ten full points for my date. But then I have to subtract 8 points for Woody Allen's inability to focus the camera half the time. It was distracting. I thought I needed glasses.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tropic Thunder: It's a Hollywood Thing. You Wouldn't Understand.

There is a lot in Tropic Thunder that any movie-goer can appreciate.

We're given a plethora of Hollywood stereotypes to mock and laugh at. Action Heroes, Serious Method Actors, Drug-addled Comic Actors, Scumbag Producers, Desperate Agents... expensive movie sets, clashing egoes, overdone movie premises... Budget overruns, delays in production... they even go into the Actors-Portraying-Mentally-Retarded-and/or- Gay-People territory.

The idea of a movie about a movie, involving all of these elements, is, in and of itself, funny enough.

And the movie is funny enough, too. Don't misunderstand me.

But throughout it, I got the sense that I wasn't really privy to the REAL joke here. It felt like Hollywood wasn't mocking "stereotypes" so much as they were mocking actual, specific people who FIT those stereotypes. And I don't know those people. So I can't laugh at those people like the insiders in Hollywood can laugh at those people.

This movie wasn't made for me, or for you, or for the common, everyday movie fan. It was made for the guys who work in the backlots making sets. The Gaffers and Lead Grips. The ladies who work the Kraft Food Service. The Sound Technicians and Make-Up Girls and the guys who have to squeeze Eddie Murphy into those stupid Fat-Guy suits in nearly every movie he makes these days. And yes, it was even made for the actors, actresses, producers, directors, and agents, who have to kiss each other's asses from day to day to make a living, but who really, secretly despise certain individuals in the business.

This is a movie tribute to the people who have to deal, from day to day, with the Big Egoes. And I think that's pretty cool.

Not necessarily really FUNNY, but hey, way to throw them a bone, Ben Stiller.

The humor was good enough to keep me laughing about half the time. It was a little too graphically violent, and frankly, gross, in some parts for me to laugh with the reckless abandon that a comedy movies should allow me. When Ben Stiller is licking the blood off the bloody entrails hanging off a decapitated head, pardon me for holding back a little. And everyone else in the theater seemed to feel the same way. You heard a lot more muffled, ashamed, nervous tittering than full-on belly-laughing.

I give it a 6 out of 10, and I recommend that anyone who didn't like Pulp Fiction stay home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stepbrothers: Step out the door and down the hall to The Dark Knight.

We all knew this day would come. We didn't want it to come, but it was inevitable.

The day when Will Ferrell comedies become stale. When you watch one of his movies, and say to yourself, "Oh, this again."

I'm not celebrating this moment. This is a tragedy. Truly, it is. This guy has been a consistent homerun since headlining Elf 5 years ago, and that's quite an accomplishment for an SNL alumni. To churn out 5 years' worth of movies and hit the mark nearly every single time? Come on!

But this time around, you get the heavy-hearted feeling early into the film that you're going to see the same jokes all over again, but this time in [insert funny setting here]. Whatever stereotypical situation any of you could imagine two fully-grown stepbrothers getting into, you'll see it here. You can almost write the jokes yourself.

Don't get me wrong; this was still entertaining. If you rate a comedy on how many minutes you spent laughing vs. how many minutes were in the total movie, then this gets about a 50% rating. But I was never surprised. The laughs trickled out of me, they didn't burst forth with Diet Coke spraying out of my nose and chewed-up popcorn sprayed all over the two rows in front of me.

And as a frequent curser myself, I was still a little dismayed at the language. Comedians need to master the art of the F-bomb. The F word can be funny, but only when you make full use of it shock value. When it's said over and over and over and over, it's not funny anymore. It's offensive, and needless, and detracts from the film rather than adds to it. I don't remember hearing it so much in a Will Ferrell movie ever before. I hope to never hear it this much again.

I have to give this mildly entertaining poop pattie a disappointed 5 out of 10. This could have been so much better. Will, say it's just one bad apple in a wonderful basket of entertainment. Say it's not the beginning of the end.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight: Two of the Best Movies EVER MADE!

Where do I begin here? With the heaps of praise, or with my disgruntled grousing? I guess I'll get the negatives out of the way, since that's a much smaller pile to disperse.

First off, I know Batman's trying to mask his voice with that gruff, guttural half-whisper of his, but it's getting old. Can't we have Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) whip him up a voice modifier or something?

Second, a word to screenwriters Christopher and Jonathan Nolan: It's ok to kill bad guys in Movieland. And when the good guys are getting mown down like bunnies on a country higway, it's a little empty feeling when every bad guy mastermind lives to see another day. Or sequel.

Which feeds into my third- and last- complaint. This movie went on forever. And when you have THREE super-villains to contend with, it HAS to go on forever. I shudder to think of what Batman 4 or 5 will clock in at. They'll have to have an HBO mini-series and an old-school "cast of thousands" to cover all the still-breathing bad guys in those sequels.

Seriously- we can handle one bad guy per film, folks! (That goes for you Spiderman writers, too!)

Ok, gripefest over, let's get to the meat of it:

This movie is absolutely unbelievable. Believe the hype. And ignore the legions of Batfans who laugh too loud and too obviously at ever word out of the Joker's mouth, same as they did twenty years ago when Jack Nicholson had his go-round in the clown make-up.

Believe it when people tell you that Heath Ledger is Oscar-bound with this performance, because he is. It's probably unfair to compare the apples-and-oranges performances of him and Jack Nicholson, but come on, you HAVE to. Jack Nicholson was a great Joker, but he was basically Jack Nicholson in clownface. Heath Ledger, on the other hand, created something completely unique with this guy. If you didn't know it was him, you'd have never, ever figured it out, I guarantee you. And not to go all homophobe on you here, but it's nice to see him hitting on MAGGIE Gyllenhaal this time around, instead of Jake.

And thank you, Christopher Nolan, for replacing Kate Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal for this sequel. She's a MUCH better Rachel Dawes.

In fact, every performance here is noteworthy. From Batman himself (Christian Bale) right down to Alfred the butler (played by the other actor-who-has-kissed-other-men-on-film in this movie, Michael Caine, who made out with Superman Christopher Reeve in 1982's Deathtrap... what's with the superhoeroes-in-tights films loaded up with actors who play gay men? I see a trend... but I digress.)

The Dark Knight really is a completely different breed of Superhero/Comic Book movie. Not quite "true" to any of its predecessors- be it the comic books, TV show, or other movies- this series is panning out to be a gritty, this-is-how-it-would-really-be kind of superhero movie. No silly antics and fun gag-punches here. When you get hit, you get hurt. When you die, it's brutal and violent. When the world turns on you, they don't magically relearn how to love you before the closing credits roll. No, in these movies, when you're the Dark Knight of Gotham, you're alone and unloved and that's exactly the way you made it for yourself.

I give this movie a solid 9 out of 10. It's about as good as it possible could have been, all things considered.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

HellBoy 2- Oh HELL Yes!

A couple of weeks ago I was treated to the audio-visual ecstacy of watching an enormous green guy smash things to pieces. "Could it possibly get any better?" I mused to myself at the time.

Oh HELL yes- how about an enormous RED guy destroying everything in his path??

I have to admit to a bias here. The original Hellboy still sits firmly entrenched in my personal Top-10 of All-Time list. But that actually should have worked against Hellboy 2, since my expectations were so high.

It's such a rare delight to have your expectations met and exceeded.

Hellboy 2 is not just dazzling to behold, but true to the style of its predecessor, it's funnier than- well, Hell- and it's smart, too. The plot isn't overly intricate, but it's not just a simple minded Red-Guy-Breaks-Crap kind of movie, either. Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of movie, and not that the Red Guy didn't break a lot of crap. But it's a treat to get a little cerebral stimulation to go along with the adrenaline rush.

And I have to admit, along with the aforementioned smashing of crap and smart plot, this movie actually had a satisfying and sweet continuation of the love story that was started in the first film. The relationship between Hellboy and his firey love isn't all sunshine and marshmallows; they are suffering through the same real-life drama that so many of us suffer through as we try to make relationships work, except that they have the added element of staving off an impending war with an army of unbeatable golden warriors to complicate things further for them.

Hellboy 2 is a fully-engrossing joyride that satisfies a discerning movie-goer on every level. I'm giving this movie my second-ever 10-on-a-scale-of-1-to-10 rating. I couldn't think of a better film to earn that accolade.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Incredible Hulk: HULK SMASH!

Sometimes, before I write my own review, I read what others have had to say. I know, I shouldn't do that, it might taint my own opinion. But I do. and I have a question for some of the other reviewers out there regarding The Incredible Hulk.

What the hell were you expecting? Dr. Zhivago? It's a Beautiful Life? The Godfather, maybe? Fiddler on the Roof, hmm?

This is THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Wanna know what it's about? A guy who gets pissed off every now and then, and turns into a giant green monster who smashes the crap out of everything in sight. So you know what you need to be in the mood for before you go see it?

Yeah- a giant green monster smashing the crap out of everything in sight.

And you wanna know what I was in the mood for when I went to see it? A giant green monster. Smashing the crap out of everything in sight.

And you know what they gave me? EVERYTHING I WANTED, AND MORE.

This movie was friggin AWESOME. He tears a cop car in half- IN HALF- with his BARE HANDS- and uses the halves as BOXING GLOVES. What's not to like here??

There is no message here, beyond the obvious metaphor regarding controlling your anger. There is no attempt to win an Oscar going on here. I didn't go to see this in hopes of being lifted up on cloud 9 and taught to be a better person.

I came to watch a giant green monster smash the crap out of everything he could possibly smash the crap out of. And I was entertained.

I am giving The Incredible Hulk a 9 out of 10, for smashing the crap out of everything in sight. And I am giving other reviewers the bird for thinking they were going to see Ben Hur, or The Sound of Music.

The Happening: Happening Now at a Theater Near You.

Have you heard of M. Night Shyamalan? He's a brilliant young director who many have hailed as the "New Alfred Hitchcock." I don't think anyone believes that moniker any more than he does, and this movie almost comes across as a business card with "The New Alfred Hitchcock" emblazoned across the top of it.

I guess it doesn't outright rip off movies like "The Birds" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", but if you've ever seen those movies and their ilk, this one will feel awwwwwwfully familiar to you.

That's not a bad thing. It's kind of nice to watch a creepy, End-of-the-World-as-We-Know-It movie every so often. They don't make enough of those anymore. Horror has been abdicated to the cliche' in recent years. It used to be the launching pad for new talent; now it's the cemetery for has-been Big name stars. It seems that every single film takes place in the dead of night, in a darkened house, with someone sneaking up behind someone else at some point in the film, and some creepy, jerky, twisted-human-form special effects thrown in. Yaaaaaaaaaaawn.... is that really scaring anyone anymore?

This one takes place in the bright, glaring sunlight, from beginning to end, and while I hesitate in calling it "original", I don't in calling it "skillful". It's not easy to scare an audience in broad daylight, but he does it. He does, however, resort to some in-your-face shocking moments to put fear into your heart, and that was somewhat of a disappointment to me. It almost seems like cheating.

So if you have a strong stomach and you like to be creeped out, and especially if you're a fan of his earlier films, go ahead and see this one. You're more likely than not to enjoy it. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Kung Fu Panda- There is No Charge for Awesomeness!

When I wrote my Summer Movie Preview, I placed this film on my list of "Upcoming Movies that are Going to Suck." My sincerest apologies to everyone out there who missed this film because of that. This is hands down one of my favorites so far this summer.

Let me explain my mistake: Kung Fu Panda. I thought to myself, "Oh great, they exhausted the Penguin motif, so now they're going to overdo the Panda films." Well, it's still quite possible they will, but don't miss out on this because of that; save your silent stay-at-home protests for the later, lesser films in the genre that are sure to come.

This story has your typical "Every-Day Guy Dreaming of Bigger-and-Better Things" theme to it, accompanied by that "We All Have a Champion Inside Us" cliche'. But come on, it has an enormously fat panda doing Kung Fu, and it has JACK BLACK humor to boot! And let me just say, after seeing this, I vote that all Kung Fu movies be required to stage their fight scenes with CGI cartoon animals instead of live actors.

I'm giving this an 8 out of 10, and I'm going to recommend it to everyone, even if you don't have kids! Bring along a niece or nephew or something though, because single guys alone in cartoon movies always look like pedofiles.

You Don't Laugh During The Zohan (very much)

I have never been a huge Adam Sandler movie, and I have to admit that this review is tainted with that existing bias. I have always thought his movies were full of half-developed humor, and this one is no exception. You watch it start a gag , you start to smile as it develops, and then suddenly they have moved on, and you realize they weren't laying out the groundwork for a great gag, but rather, that WAS the gag. That's all you get. Sometimes you laugh, but most of the time you just kinda-sorta smile.

Well, smiling's good, right? Not worth $9 and 2 hours in a theater, but if you have a Friday night free in a few months and you see this movie at the local Red Box, I say go ahead and rent it. You could do better, sure, but you could also do much worse.

Zohan is a former Mossad agent who fakes his own death so he can abscond himself off to New York City and fulfill his true life-long ambition of being a hairdresser who bangs fat old ladies in the backroom after making their hair silky-smooth. No, seriously, that's the plot. You're surprised? This comes from the guy who made a movie about an adult who finishes grade school, and a hockey player who becomes a golfer.

It's full of crotch jokes and sophomoric sexual humor. It has a few mediocre visual gags, lots of Jew-vs.-Arab humor (who knew that even existed?) and a lot of hummus jokes. In two hours, I laughed out loud maybe half a dozen times, smiled maybe a dozen more, and made an "ew" face three or four times, but never out-right vomited, although my gag reflex was triggered twice.

This movie offers nothing of redeeming value, but then again, neither does Guitar Hero, so I say you flip a coin to decide between the two when you have a free weekend evening without a date.

I give this a 5 on a scale of 1-to-10. And who knows, I could be totally off about its socially-redeeming value. Maybe the leaders of Hamas will sit down and watch this with the Israeli Prime Minister, and in laughing and not quite puking together, they will see the foibles of their rocky relationship, and come together in the name of peace. Probably not, but what do I know? All I do is review movies.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Bitter Realities of Aging

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This was a parody, right? Not a sequel.

If you view it as a sequel, and not just that, but a sequel that was 19 years in the making, well, sorry, folks, but it sucks.

So view it as a parody.

This isn't a bad movie, honestly. If you were a fan of National Treasure, The Mummy movies, or Danger Island from the old Banana Splits show, you'll probably love watching this. It's a fun ride, and worth a couple of hours of your time.

But I'm sorry, this isn't just a movie. It's an Indiana Jones movie. This movie set its own bar too high.

Let me start off with my opinion of the Indiana Jones series as a whole. It was one phenomenal first movie, followed by number 2 rushed out to capitalize on the surprise success of the first, and the third vainly attempting to recapture the lost magic of the first.

Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn't just a good movie, it was Iconic. It was Epic. It stands out as one of maybe three or four movies from my youth that truly drove me to the theaters time and time again, driven by the hope that somehow, all the other pap I was sitting through could break through and match the wonder and amazement it opened up in my impressionable little head.

The shame of it all is that I don't think even Spielberg/Lucas realize what it was about "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that made it so damn good. It wasn't the car chases, or the cliffhanging sequences, or the cartoonish bad guys, or the seemingly invincible hero who got out of scrape after scrape more on his luck than his skill. Instead, it was the over-arching sense of Awe that served as the backdrop for the rest of those elements. And not just awe, but GOD-awe.

Throughout the first movie in the series, you had a sense that something greater than us all was at work. You felt like there was an underlying mystery of epic porportions beneath all of the action you witnessed on the screen. Indy's quest had a sense of importance; he didn't seem like some greedy treasure hunter, he seemed like God's unlikely last hope to save mankind from the evil of the Nazis. Even the music conveyed this feeling.

And along with that sense of Awe, there was suspense. Every so often, the action stopped, and you were allowed to just stand and behold something magical and wonderful, with that edge-of-your-seat feeling of "hurry up, Indy!" driving the adrenaline into your bloodstream. (The scene in the maproom comes to mind, or the ending sequence when the Ark was opened.)

By the second film, that magical sense of awe had been completely discarded. Indy was no longer a hero, but a curmudgeon who reluctantly gave in to moral turpitudes in the end, obviously begrudgingly. There were no more stand-and-behold moments. There was just car-chase-shoot-out-fight-scene-Indy-gets-the-girl. Even at age 12, I knew they had lost the magic.

Now here we are, 26 years after the first masterpiece, and I sit once again disappointed. And not just that the magic is gone, but that even the elements that should have been slam dunks were bungled and wasted. The witty banter was forced and uncomfortable to sit through. The scenes of Indy's school-teacher life lacked the warmth and comfort that always contrasted so brilliantly with the danger he later got himself into. The humor was predictable and bland. Even the chase scenes were dull and plodding. It's as if Spielberg has aged even worse than Indy himself. He used to know action like the back of his hand; now you stare disinterestedly at the action like a liver spot on the back of his hand.

And the reunion with Marion? Marion, the ultimate heroin? Marion, with her raspy voice and sexy-tomboyish charm? Marion, who had as much fight in her as any guy in the film? Marion, the heroin who you wanted to see in all of the sequels, instead of the dumb, whiney eye candy they replaced her with?

Yeah, she's a fat dumpy hausfrau now, and her character is entirely useless. She does nothing but ride along. There is no spark or chemistry between her and Indy whatsoever. She might as well have been a mannequin. Even the reunion you have waited 26 years to see was, in the end, a disappointment.

So like I said in the beginning, take this as a parody. If you go in expecting very little other than some goofball characters lampooning a decades-lost greatness, mixed in with some good flash-bang special effects, then you will be entertained. But if you're looking for Indiana Jones's last hurrah to go out with the luster that he came in with, you're only going to learn the sad reality that even the greatest among us just grow old and wither in the end.

I give it a 6 out of 10. That nuke blast was cool.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer: Turbo-Charged Eye Candy!

I'm pretty sure I just had a coronary watching this movie, so let me try to calm down as I write this review.

Speed Racer looked like someone shot a bag full of skittle across the surface of a pinball machine with an airgun. If you have ever wondered if live-action anime' could possibly work, wonder no more. The Wachowski Borthers (remember The Matrix?) have proven that it can.

But it's a delicate dance, so before this launches a whole new live-action anime's genre, let me just tell the rest of the directors in Hollywood, "You won't be able to do it like they did, so please don't try."

I had wondered, before going in, why A-List actors like John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci were signed on to appear in a movie that seemed to be so visually-driven from the previews. I mean, you'd think they could have signed on anyone with a heartbeat out of any old Studio Cattle-Call and saved themselves a buck or two. But live-acting an anime' series, without making it look completely ridiculous, is probably one of the more difficult things an actor can pull off in their career, and they found the best cast they could have to do it.

Slap on top of that the best visual effects so far of the year, and you have a checkered flag for the weekend Box Office receipt race. (Hey, it's a racing movie review; as a reviewer I'm obligated to use predictable cliche's, ok?) Borrowing from Tron and improving upon it a hundredfold, it is without hesitation that I call this a "visual delight." The Wachowskis have discovered a whole new frontier in cinematography, one that I hope they contnue to explore.

A few other small things made this movie particularly enjoyable for me, on a personal level: the bad guys were easily identifiable by their bad teeth; they had a chimpanzee in people-clothes, and that's always been one of my favorite things to watch; and someone near the beginning of the movie said "Holy Canoli," and I always say "Holy Canoli."

I give Speed Racer a grade of 8 out of a possible 10; the only real flaw that keeps it from being perfect is in the nature of the film itself. As a racing film, and not just that but a speed racing film, there are two hours of speeding cars throughout the movie, from beginning to end. That unavoidably lessens the climatic effect of the final race, since you feel like you have been watching the climatic race for two hours by the time Speed Racer makes his final pass over the finish line. But if that's all I can find to complain about, then you know it's going to be one hell of a ride.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Iron Man: The Greatest Movie... EVER MADE!

I kid you not... This was the greatest movie ever made.
It had explosions. It had guns. It had epic bad guys and smart-ass heroes. It had robotic fist-fighting and terrorists getting their come-uppance. It had battle-scarred titanium armor, super-models dancing in flight attendant outfits, and it even had JEFF BRIDGES- yes, the BIG LEBOWSKI HIMSELF!

The only thing that could have made it better would have been Gwyneth Paltrow in a slinky, backless evening gown-- WAIT!


THIS is a masterpiece. THIS is why CGI was invented. THIS is why movies are made in the first place.

Ok, am I overstating it? Maybe a little bit, but I don't really think so. Because on top of all the guy-elements that I had expected from this Juggernaut of a comic-book movie, it had another rare treat that blind-sided me:

Robert Downey Jr.

Now listen, I am honestly not much of a comic book reader, and I have never been a huge Iron Man fan in any other incarnation of the character. So I didn't go into this with an proconception of what Tony Stark was supposed to be.

But I can tell you what he was, as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr: He was the greatest Ordinary Man-turned-Super Hero I have ever seen in a movie. He wasn't a dorky Peter Parker or a stiff Clark Kent. He was loose, he was quick-witted, he was human, and above all he was fun to watch OUT of the Iron Man suit, and THAT, my friend, was something I never expected from a movie like this.

I suppose I should give some sort of "plot" synopsis, right? So you know what you're going to see? Ok, here it is: Tony Stark makes a super-suit and becomes Iron Man. The rest of the details don't matter. Just enjoy the ride.

It without hesitation at all that I give this movie a ten out of ten. Yes. My highest rating possible! There might be better causes you can shuffle your nine dollars off to, but as of right now there isn't a better movie out that you can waste it on.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Oh hell yes, am I ever in a great mood. Not even the inch of snow on my front law could dampen my spirits this morning as I left my house and headed off to work just before the crack of dawn. (Yeah, snow on MAY 1st!)

What's got me in such a chipper disposition? SUMMER.

"HappyBack, you idiot," you say to me, "it's only May. Spring has barely sprung. Winter's deathgrip hasn't even loosened its hold on the valley yet. See all that snow? Summer isn't even close!"

First off, don't call me an idiot, or I'll have to bring the smack down on your ass.

Second, summer, my silly friends, isn't determined by the temperature outside, or the date on the calendar. In HappyBack's world, summer starts when the multi-million dollar blockbusters start hitting the theaters!

I'm both giddy with anticipation, and sick with apprehension, at this year's offerings. Two things are absolutely guaranteed to happen this year: I will be blown away and I will be sorely disappointed. But let's try to concentrate on the good rather than the impending fiascoes.

The entire season kicks off tomorrow with Iron Man. I already don't care that the plot will assuredly be weak and the storyline ridiculous, nor that the acting will be horrible. It will have loud noises, fight scenes, and it will blow crap up, and those are the three elements that make for a good movie. I am already close to declaring Iron Man the Greatest Movie Ever Made, just off the previews alone.

As the summer progresses, a handful of guaranteed delights also awaits:
Prince Caspian (May 16)
The Happening
The Incredible Hulk (both June 13)
Get Smart (June 20)
Wall-E (June 27)
Hancock (July 2)
The Dark Knight (July 18)

and to cap it all off, possibly the greatest film to be released all summer:

Hellboy 2 (July 11), which will wrest the title of Greatest Movie Ever Made away from Iron Man, just 2 months into its reign.

Now as with any good thing, the bad will have to be tolerated along with it. For example, you may have noticed one glaring omission from my list of Summer Blockbusters. Yes, folks, I hate to say it, but I am fully expecting the new Indiana Jones installment to be one of the worst disappointments of my life, ranking somewhere between finding out that Santa wasn't real, and seeing Grissom from C.S.I. peeing in a Las Vegas Men's Room.

Frankly, I never much cared for the 2nd or 3rd Indiana Jones movies, so I'm expecting this one to suck like a Hoover vacuum, too. But I'm sure to pay my $9 to see it suck for myself.

So just to prepare you folks, here's a list of movies to avoid this summer:

What Happens In Vegas (May 9)
Sex and the City: The Movie (May 30)
Kung Fu Panda (June 6)
The Love Guru (June 20)
Meet Dave (July 11)
Mamma Mia! (July 18)

and to cap off the summer's suckiness with a bang,

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (August 8)

I kid you not.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants....... 2

Hey, it can't ALL be good, right?

Along with the good and the bad, there are a few coming out that the jury is still out on, like You Don't Mess With The Zohan, and Step Brothers. We'll just have to wait and see what those will end up looking like.

So that's it, people. I know I haven't added much to my film review blog lately, but be prepared for a flurry of activity there this summer. Next to Oscar Season, this is my favorite time of year!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Country For Old Men: No Stomach For Subtlety

Got a strong stomach for violence? If so, you will thoroughly enjoy this joyride. If not, you won't make it past the first minute and a half.

This is the first movie I have ever simulataneously loved and hated with equal fervor. Loved for it's phenomenal acting, tight pacing, and edge-of-your seat action and suspense. Hated for the way it seemed, in the end, to have dragged me all over for creation for no reason, with the most unsatisfying ending conceivable.

The plot is simple enough: a simple Texas welder finds a drug deal gone bad and a satchel full of money while out hunting on the prairie one morning. This is a movie, of course, and in movieland, no satchel of money ever comes without an accompanying bloodthirsty hit man, and justice-seeking lawman.

I have a short list of "favorite movie bad guys"- Bill "the Butcher" Cutting from "Gangs of New York", for example, or the bad guy to end all bad guys, Darth Vader. But Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh is really giving everyone on my list a run for their money. This guy was just cold and scary. He's even chilling while choking on a peanut in one scene. His performance alone made the movie worth sitting through.

Equally as satisfying were the other two main characters, played by Josh Brolin (the guy who finds the satchel) and Tommy Lee Jones (the sheriff who tries to make everything right.) Brolin's character might be an average Joe who stumbled onto some cash, but he's no fool, and his tough-as-nails character is the perfect savvy mouse to Bardem's ruthless, relentless cat. And Tommy Lee's Jones' portrayal of a tired old sheriff who really didn't need to have THIS little problem dropped on his doorstep at the sunset of his career is spot-on. And I also have to mention Kelly MacDonald's portrayal of Brolin's hick wife, whose performance is merely adequate, until you realize that MacDonald is Scottish; her west Texas accent is perfect!

Now as I said, I simultaneously love and hate this movie. And without spoiling the ending for you, let me just make a general statement about it: It sucks. From what I have heard, it's true to the book on which the movie is based. Whoop-de-freaking-doo. I echo the sentiments of a fellow movie-goer, who, in the moment of bewildered silence that immediately followed the start of the closing credits, incredulously excalaimed, "Oh, you've got to be freaking kidding me!"

So in the end, I can't give this movie more than an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Believe me, I really wish I could give it a ten, but I have to rate the whole thing, and I can't ignore that feeling of unsatisfied anger I had when I threw out my empty popcorn tub and left the cinema. So there you go; if you're not big on satisfying endings, and you can handle buckets-o'-blood, then this is the movie for you.