December 21, 2012

Mao's Last Dancer (2009)

Um, the closest thing to a recognizable leading "star" in this movie  is Bruce Greenwood (who isn't really recognizable since I need to link to his name) and this chick from Center Stage

I realize this movie is a bit older than the ones I usually review, but being in China and all, it seemed only appropriate to watch a movie that is so Chinese, it's actually banned here! (eek... I hope the government isn't tracking my computer right now)

So let's dispose of the basics, since I'm assuming most people have not heard of this movie - it's a biography of a Chinese ballet dancer named Li Cunxin, based on the book he wrote of his life. He was born in the 60's, so he grows up during the Cultural Revolution. Only a few minutes into the movie, it was pretty clear why the Chinese government banned it - it is not a flattering portrayal of the government during that time. But the movie is more than half English, which might help sway those opposed to reading a lot of subtitles, and all the dancing segments, of course, have no dialogue at all.

The dancing is incredible. Being a bit of a ballet movie geek, I've seen the good (Black Swan), the bad (Center Stage - but really, so bad it's good), and the ugly (The Company, which I barely stayed awake through). I'll watch just about anything if it has ballet dancing in it. But the dancing here is really breathtaking. After sitting through something like Center Stage, in which the dancing is great but the acting is so horrible, I couldn't help but wonder throughout the movie how difficult casting must have been. The guy who plays Li Cunxin is, of course, a dancer, but plays his speaking parts just fine as well. Then again, his dancing is so amazing I'd probably forgive a fair bit of stiff acting.

But even disregarding the dancing, the story of Li Cunxin's life is enough to make a movie. While some of the events are probably not as extraordinary as we might believe, it gives those of us without firsthand knowledge of life in China during the Revolution a glimpse into what it was like. Some of the practices we find unthinkable still occur today, such as the training of young athletes hundreds of miles from home with no visitation rights for parents. Just think of all those cute Chinese gymnasts at the Olympics and then remember that they have not seen their parents in about ten years. It sure makes you think twice before complaining about a strict youth soccer coach or something. I'm not saying this to criticize the Chinese (and I'm not saying this because I'm afraid of the Chinese government), I just think the movie provides an interesting contrast between American and Chinese culture, shown through the eyes of one man.

I tend to skew toward movies of a decidedly lower quality (it's ok, I know it), so watching something so serious and with no car chases or cheesy romantic scenes might seem out of character. And I've definitely been accused of being biased toward movies set in Asia and/or about Asian people (is that so bad?), but I really think this movie transcends my inclinations and is worth watching, even for those who are either not Asian or do not have an Asian fetish (you know who you are out there).

Final word: You don't have to love ballet to be moved by this movie, but it would certainly help.

December 14, 2012

Ted (2012)

 Seth McFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis

I strategically put Seth McFarlane's name first in the list of stars for this movie. Why? Because the movie is basically all about him (he's the voice of the talking teddy bear, Ted). For Seth McFarlane worshipers out there, this is no problem. But those of us who can't believe he's been allowed to make three (THREE!) nearly identical shows that are all currently on air, it feels like one very long episode of Family Guy that's missing Stewie, Brian, Lois, Chris, Meg and Quagmire. Which leaves us with Peter Griffin. And whose favorite character on that show is Peter?

There are funny moments in the movie, of course. But there are also a lot of moments where it feels like Seth McFarlane wrote in some kind of inside joke that only he gets, and is laughing at home, thinking about you watching it saying to yourself, 'WTF'? (Cue the numerous anal penetration jokes that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.) Like Family Guy, it starts with an idea that's funny on its face, but ends up being a really long tribute to a bad Judd Apatow movie. That is to say, there are probably people out there who will think this movie is hilarious. And I weep for them. The movie even follows the same format as Family Guy - joke, joke, crass joke, long boring stretch of a joke that takes too long to execute, side rant, joke, long tangent into something 80's-related that no one cares about and isn't funny, crass joke, extended fight scene, joke, end. Please don't think I've ruined anything for you. If you didn't see this coming, that's on you.

I don't want you to think I'm a total Seth McFarlane hater. I actually like Family Guy. But on that show, everyone is making jokes. In Ted, the only person making jokes is the teddy bear. The whole thing just feels like a giant stroking of Seth McFarlane's ego, culminating in a comment by the bear that he "sounds nothing like Peter Griffin." Ha. Ha.

Maybe the whole thing wouldn't have been so bad except I can't imagine a world where a successful woman that looks like Mila Kunis is in a long-term relationship with a 35-year old who gets stoned every day with his teddy bear and works at a car rental place. But again, I don't like Judd Apatow movies.

Final word: I wish I had just been watching an episode of Family Guy/American Dad/Cleveland Show (take your pick, really) because then at least I'd know it would end in thirty minutes.

December 8, 2012

Contraband (2012)

Marky Mark Wahlberg (does no one else still call him that?), Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale (can she even still be considered a "star" at this point?)

I know my blog has fallen into a sort of Family Guy-esque predicable format - start on a topic, run off on multiple tangents that may or may not have anything to do with the initial subject (and that may or may not last just a little too long), then wrap up with some final snarky remark as though I've been on topic the entire time. So I thought I'd shake things up a bit.

I want to start with my confusion over how Marky Mark has morphed into what we consider to be an action star. When did this happen? Look, I understand everyone that is famous in one way or another thinks that they are entitled to be famous in other arenas (which is why we now have to watch movies starring WWE stars and Justin Timberlake), but I somehow missed the moment in which we collectively thought to ourselves, "a former boy band member - he seems like someone who could turn into a badass on screen." Someone actually pinpointed the moment for me and told me it was the movie Fear that did it for them, but I think all anyone remembers about that movie is the roller coaster scene with Reese Witherspoon because the movie came out when I was, like, in middle school and middle schoolers are little hormonal perverts that remember stuff like that.

Anyway... overlooking the fact that Marky Mark is like, 5'4" (his bio claims 5'8", but those stats are more inflated than NBA programs), he does an okay job here. Action movies are really just the male counterpart to romantic comedies. Not to get all sexist here, but I don't know why so many guys complain about their wives/girlfriends/moms making them sit through The Proposal or whatever when these same guys probably make their wives/girlfriends/moms sit through movies like Red Dawn. Fair is fair, guys. Let's all agree that the majority of action movies and romantic comedies fall into the middle-of-the-bell-curve of predictable okay-ness, where watching them is tolerable, but probably won't make anyone's Top 10 list. Of course, there are outliers of exceptionalism on both ends of the spectrum that taint everyone's memory (ahem, One for the Money on the rom-com side, John Carter on the action side).

All of this ranting serves to explain why I'm commenting so little on the movie itself - because there's nothing really noteworthy about this movie that I couldn't say about every other action movie. It's fine. It has action, it has a plot that's predictable, but entertaining enough to sit all the way through without feeling like you've wasted your time, and it there are only a couple of moments where I needed to roll my eyes at the dialogue. 

Perhaps the only distinguishing feature of the movie was the presence of Giovanni Ribisi. I'm telling you, this guy is the next Paul Giamatti - I'm expecting him to start popping up everywhere. Why? Because he's so dang good. I remember him as the lovable but really, really dumb brother of Phoebe in Friends. I remember him as a totally believable person with mental retardation in The Other Sister. I remember him as the annoying younger brother that distracts you from the husky whispering of Nicholas Cage in Gone in Sixty Seconds (no easy feat, really). And now this - a greasy, shady drug dealer that's so vile you want to jump into the screen and punch him yourself. He's so good you don't even care that he's ugly. Hence, my reference to Paul Giamatti, who now plays romantic leads, despite the fact that he looks like he should be the grumpy neighbor or obscure relative on a thirty minute sitcom. 

Anyway, Giovanni Ribisi's appearance in the movie made me realize a couple of things:

1. Why is he in a movie with Kate Beckinsale? The only movie I've seen with her in the last six years besides the Underworld movies is Click. Seriously. Click. (Side note: Her official fan website is a .net, not even a .com. What other proof do you need that she can no longer count as an A-List actress?)
2. I more acutely understand why Marky Mark was pretty much the only person in The Fighter not nominated for an Oscar. It's not that he's bad, it's just then when surrounded by good actors, it's even more obvious that he's totally replaceable. I don't think the movie would have been any different with Jason Statham [or name your favorite action star here] in it.

Final word: It was like eating breakfast at Denny's - you know what to expect, it's totally fine, but don't pay more than $3 for it.

December 2, 2012

Liz & Dick [TV movie] (2012)

Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler

Now I realize this is just a TV movie, but honestly, who knows if we'll ever see Lindsay Lohan in a real movie again...

The real problem is Lindsay. Don't get me wrong - I love Lindsay Lohan. I always have. I'm not ashamed to admit it. There was even a time when I felt like if I knew her personally, we would be friends. For all the bat-shit-crazy stuff she's been through, I still see her as the adorable 10 year-old twins in The Parent Trap. But as aged as she looks from all her drinking and partying, it only makes her look like those people who have had a hard life, not old like she's been married three times and has a couple of kids already. Only her raspy smoker voice makes her sound older, but even that is an issue because well, she still sounds like Lindsay Lohan. Which is weird, because she does a perfectly fine British accent as Hallie Parker in The Parent Trap, yet that same accent is nowhere to be found in this movie. And you know how I feel about inaccurate accents.

Casting someone as high-profile (notice I didn't say A-List; I think Hollywood kicked her off after she made the TV movie, Labor Pains) as Lindsay is a mistake in a biography. It's just like when movies cast people with distinctive voices to ruin animated movies. (examples: Owen Wilson in Cars, Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo, Samuel L. Jackson in, well, anything...) At no point can you watch this movie and not see Lindsay Lohan playing dress up as Elizabeth Taylor. I've never even seen an Elizabeth Taylor movie and I couldn't buy into her as the character! In fact, about the only thing accurate about Lindsay's portrayal is that Richard Burton once said Elizabeth Taylor had short legs and a double chin - Lindsay has both of those, made painfully aware during the multiple close-up shots on her face. Again, reminding us that she really looks nothing like Elizabeth Taylor.

Grant Bowler, on the other hand, is plenty handsome enough for me to believe someone might leave their husband for him. And he at least uses a somewhat correct accent. Though he's not really famous, I'm a little confused as to how he ended up tangled in this mess of a movie. Perhaps the Lifetime Channel should have dipped into their roster of attractive/not-attractive leading men who only appear as guest stars on random shows like Criminal Minds or Bones so that people wouldn't be fooled into thinking this might not be as terrible a movie as it seemed. (Side note: I'm convinced Lifetime has a policy of only using actors and actresses who look just slightly more attractive than regular people, so when you first see them you're fooled into thinking they're attractive, but on second glance...)

One last complaint - the same as always - casting. Elizabeth and Richard are only supposed to be 7 years apart. Lindsay and Grant are almost 20 years apart. And Lindsay looks like a coked-out overgrown child, so it's even more disconcerting every time they make out on screen. Every. Single. Time. As the movie preview says, "they drink, they fight, they fornicate" - so you can imagine there is plenty of cringe-inducing PDA. Sigh. Maybe one day Hollywood will get it right with the pairings.

The most entertaining part of the movie though, hands down, is the ridiculously fake backdrops used to show us Elizabeth and Richard out and about in Rome. I realize it's a TV movie, but if you can't afford to actually shoot a scene in Rome, just don't show any outdoor shots! I mean, they couldn't even spring for some CGI? I guess Dance Moms just isn't paying the bills. Shocking.

Final word: It's totally believable as a Lifetime movie. I'll leave it at that.

November 24, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Keira Knightly, Steve Carell

Let me start off by saying this was yet another movie I thought was a comedy that turned out not to be. It's not my fault, really. The tagline for the movie is "the first comedy about the end of it all." I swear, sometimes the people responsible for creating movie publicity don't even watch the movie! One of my favorite websites, has plenty of witty and sarcastic remarks about this very subject. At least its aptly titled. I guess I thought the subject was too depressing to actually make it a drama. But I would be wrong. I also didn't believe that Hollywood, even with all their bizarre and inappropriate pairings, would actually make me witness a kiss between Steve Carell and Keira Knightly. But again... I would be wrong. So wrong.

I've said this before, but this movie was... strange. Not in a bad way, but not really in a good way either. It falls into the extremely narrow genre of 'not-supposed-to-be-a-full-on-comedy-but-has-Steve-Carell-in-it', which as far as I know, only includes Dan in Real Life (I suppose there could be an argument for including Crazy, Stupid, Love. but that would sort of be missing my point). So it depends on how you feel about comedic actors foraying into the dramatic realm. For example, I felt surprisingly okay about Jim Carey in The Truman Show, but would rather die a slow death by [insert anything, really] than sit through Robin Williams in What Dreams May Come again.

So even though this movie may seem like a stretch for Steve Carell because it's not a comedy, he's essentially the same person anyway - awkward, middle-aged, conservative guy. He even sells insurance in this movie. The only real change between this movie and every other movie he's made is that there are less references to sex and everyone around him makes less jokes. 

Ultimately, this movie is good for the following groups of people:
1. The clinically depressed, who tend to ponder their end of days anyway
2. Those who stand on street corners and warn people about the imminent demise of the universe
3. Pseudo-intellectuals who need new ideas to start conversations and sound deep
4. People who have two hours to kill and aren't super picky about what they do with those hours

Final word: I don't know if its was the movie that made me depressed afterward or the fact that I couldn't figure out how I'd spend the last three weeks of my life.

November 18, 2012

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Julia Roberts

I'd been anticipating this movie ever since I'd seen the previews before it hit theaters - maybe because it seemed like a more positive alternative to that dark Snow White movie starring the gross Twilight girl. The jokes were funny and really, who doesn't love a movie with midgets? Oh sorry, I mean little people. I mean, does anyone remember how much better Austin Powers got when Mini Me joined the cast?

So maybe this was all my fault. I looked forward to watching this movie, and that almost never turns out well. Kind of like this movie. It started out well enough - a few corny jokes that were funny enough, fantastic costumes, and little people dressed in costumes. But then, the cracks started to show. Sure, the costumes were great, until I noticed the characters were wearing the same thing for multiple days. And the main guy looked semi-attractive, but something about him sort of bugged me. So I IMDBed him and realized he played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. Ew. Even the costumes couldn't hide the fact that some of the little people were not good actors. I'm sure it's difficult to find seven whole midgets for a movie, but couldn't they just have made them walk on their knees or something like John Leguizamo in Moulin Rouge? (Hmmm... scratch that - that looked pretty stupid too.)

Now, I realize this is a family movie. As was another movie I recently watched... and skewered. But why should my standards for a family movie be any lower than a regular movie? Is it unfair to call a movie sucky just because it targets young kids? I mean, there's a reason Walt Disney (and Co.) has won so many Oscars - because Disney movies are mostly awesome (I don't care how well it did at the box office or that it managed a sequel, Cars was really stupid and annoying). This is the standard to which every other "family movie" is compared, in my world. And this one failed. Miserably. Especially when I think back to a comparable Disney movie - Enchanted.

A bright spot in the movie was actually Julia Roberts. I understand she's actually the star, and the main draw for people, but in general, I don't like her. I find her... abrasive. And in this movie, she plays an ok villain (she really should have watched Enchanted and taken some notes from Susan Sarandon). What's great about her in this movie is how she looks. It's incredible, really, how flawless they make her face look. It's no wonder actors in Hollywood are obsessed with plastic surgery - who can look like that in everyday life? So it's sort of humorous that we are supposed to believe that Lily Collins with her furry eyebrows is supposed to be more beautiful. But who knows - they are legions of people out there who adore Frida Kahlo. 

Final word: I only like my pizzas cheesy, not my movies (yes, this was intentionally corny to reflect the nature of the movie).

November 11, 2012

Anna Karenina (2012)

Keira Knightly, Jude Law

I've been dying to see this movie since I first saw the trailer. And no wonder! A great movie trailer can lure you into even the crappiest of movies! (Case in point: I remember seeing the A Walk in the Clouds because of the trailer. Not a confession I wanted to make public, but it really made my point.) I mean, they are so important that movie producers sometimes hire a whole separate crew of people just to make the trailers. There are even awards for movie promotional materials! Which makes sense, when you really think about it. It's kind of like how people hire professionals to take their dating site profile picture and create their profile for them. It's all in the initial sale.  (FYI: if you need do this, it probably explains why you are still single.)

The movie delivers on some of the promises from the preview. The movie is beautiful. Stunning, really.  In stark contrast to many period pieces that feel stiff and quiet, the movie is in constant motion, full of characters and colors - so much so that your eyes are sometimes scanning the screen, trying not to miss anything. The movie also runs music in the background almost continuously, which is actually nice because it keeps the viewer paying attention through the not-as-interesting beginning part where we're being introduced to all the characters very hurriedly. And the creative decision to portray the movie like a play is sort of genius. I mean, the book is 900 pages (side note: does Tolstoy know how to write anything shorter than all the Harry Potter books combined??) and condensing it into a two hour movie is no easy feat. So I can appreciate the difficulty of trying to cram everything in and can manage to overlook some of the choppier transitions.

And the costumes. Oh, the costumes! Divine, of course! So amazing that Banana Republic even made an entire line inspired by the costumes. I'm biased, of course, but Keira Knightly looks amazing throughout the entire movie. It's a little strange to see her make this transition into older woman and mother, but I suppose that's a natural progression of things in a Hollywood career for a woman. Sigh. 

The acting is wonderful as well, especially a surprising comedic turn by Matthew McFayden. Since the only other character I've seen him as is the stern Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, he's practically unrecognizable as a totally lovable Oblonsky. The only casting I had beef with was Count Vronsky. This is a man who is supposed to be so utterly handsome that Anna Karenina is willing to ponder sacrificing her family and her entire life after just seeing him once. So forgive me if I expect such a man to look like, well, better than this guy. Though I suppose he wasn't helped by the frosted tips and horrible porn 'stache he sported for the movie. Really, if that was what was considered attractive in 1870's Russia...

But while the acting wasn't a problem, the script was. It seems strange to demand that a two hour movie I didn't particularly enjoy should be made longer, but I think it would have helped. Character development was shallow and anyone who hadn't read the book could be prone to confusion in how quickly relationships developed in the story. Then again, anyone who has read the book will probably be disappointed in how much had to be cut out to fit into a two hour movie. Damned if you do, damned if I don't, I guess.

My biggest critique of the movie is this: the story is Russian, through and through. It's written by Tolstoy (does it get any more Russian than that?). The characters wear lots of fur and drink vodka at every opportunity. They have names like Aleksei and Sacha and Constanine. In fact, the only Russian clich├ęs missing in it are  a couple of matryoshka dolls and a shot of the Red Square. So why does the movie feel like a BBC production? Oh, is it because every person in the movie is British and they don't even bother to change their accent? Ah yes, that must be it. You might think, 'But wait, didn't you just watch a movie in which Keira Knightly had a Russian accent'? Yes, yes I did. But that accent was nowhere to be found here. As Tia Carrere says in True Lies, "Pity."

Final word: Like a cute guy with a good profile on, this movie had everything I wanted on paper, but there was just no spark.

November 8, 2012

Rock of Ages (2012)

Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Mary J. Blige, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin

This movie was just... bizarre. I really don't know any other way to explain it. Of course, musicals are always a little kooky because people just randomly break into song, then continue with dialogue after their number ends as though nothing happened. But this movie in particular was... odd. I'm not quite sure I can put my finger on it, but I couldn't help thinking this was like a low-grade Baz Luhrmann rip-off. Like, if you factor out all the famous people in the movie, this could have been an excellent high school production.

The casting was ok, although I could probably do without ever seeing Alec Baldwin sing again. It made me equally as uncomfortable as when I saw James Bond singing ballads in Mamma Mia! And Tom Cruise playing a whacked-out weirdo? Not exactly a stretch. I felt like I was just looking into his life on a day without his handlers. 

The only person I didn't recognize in the entire movie was the male lead, which is weird since they packed in like 20 famous people - couldn't they find one more? Seriously - I had to look him up because he didn't even look familiar. Here's what he's from - are you ready for it? Pretty Little Liars, 90210 (the new one), and... wait for it... Mean Girls 2. (And just in case you're wondering, no, the sequel does not star any of the original cast members. It's that kind of "sequel.") So yeah, a real superstar. So what's weird about it is:
A. He's unattractive. I'm not saying that for just my taste - I'm pretty sure it's just a fact. And if you don't believe that, you have to at least agree he is not nearly as cute as Julianne Hough. In what world does he get her?
B. This movie is a nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up listening to 80's rock bands. So what would a kid who was born in 1990 be doing in it? Were the producers trying to attract a younger crowd? Because somehow I don't see a bunch of 16 year-old girls running to see this movie.

I think the movie was supposed to be a satire, but I'm confused as to what it was mocking - the 80's in general, perhaps? If it wasn't supposed to be a caricature of the times, well, then, it was just weird. Don't get me wrong - the music was amazing. But it got to the point where I'd look forward to what song was coming next and then feel disappointment sink in when it was over, knowing the "real acting" was coming back. Maybe I should have just bought the soundtrack.

Final word: This movie reminds me of a classic line from the movie Strange Brew: "This movie is rated 3B - three beers and it's good."

Post script: Throughout the movie, I kept having flashbacks to Burlesque. That should tell you something.

November 2, 2012

Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck, Alan Arken, John Goodman

Confession: my favorite part about watching movies in the theater is the previews. By judging the previews, you can really get a sense of the movie you're about to watch - whether it's good or not, what's the target demographic, etc. So you can imagine my dismay when the first preview was for some movie that seemed to cast Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as love interests. I mean, I know Hollywood seems to have blinders when it comes to pairing couples based on age (hello, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery in Entrapment!), but honestly! Jennifer Lawrence (apparently riding high off her recent Hunger Games fame) was born in 1990. Go ahead and let that sink in. 1990! Anyway, that preview made me wonder if my luxurious afternoon at the movies was suddenly a waste of time.

Luckily, the rest of the previews assured me the main attraction would be a quality movie. But even that was an understatement. The movie was... fantastic. And the timing of the release really couldn't have been more effective. With the recent tragedy in Libya, I couldn't help but think of the consulate workers there and whether they felt something similar to the characters in the movie when they see their building about to be overrun by rioters. It's moving--it really is. I am a little behind on recent movies (wasting the majority of my time watching horrible movies I can mock here on my blog), but if Argo isn't nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, I might need to boycott watching them altogether. No kidding. I mean, I spent the entire movie looking for something snarky to say about it and the only thing I came up with was the fact that I didn't like the thick gold chain Ben Affleck wore throughout the movie. But hey, it was the 70's, so even that comment doesn't really stick.

Speaking of Ben Affleck... I like him. Sure, sure, he lost some credibility points with the whole Bennifer thing (and er, Daredevil, but that hurts to even think about), but can't we move past that? Both those atrocities ended aalmost  decade ago! This is the guy who co-wrote Good Will Hunting, for God's sake! Remember how awesome he was in that? In fact, I like him enough to overlook he fact that he was the only character in the movie that didn't really resemble his real-life counterpart. (The guy's real name is Mendez and we know Hollywood only has a rotation of like, 4 Hispanic actors - this guy from Stand and Deliver, this guy who always plays a rapist or gangbanger or something mean, and these two young guys who are always the filler cast in movies with teenagers.)

The reason people love fictional movies is because you don't know how the story ends. But watching a movie based on actual events where you don't know what happened is just as good! (I do want to point out, though, my overall skepticism of "inspired by true events" movies, since this is what they claim for pretty much every movie involving ghosts or paranormal whatever. This is totally different than movies that are "based on true events." Just saying.) Of course, I spent the whole movie wondering exactly which parts were dramatized for effect, but it's still a pretty remarkable story. My favorite part might be the credits, in which they show side-by-side comparisons of photos from the event and era against the movie's portrayal of the same events and people. It reminded me a little of the credits in Miracle where they do the same thing, which of course, brought me full circle to 1980 and the events, since they mention the Iranian hostage situation in that movie as well. So there you go - learning my history from a movie.

Final word: The best movie I've seen all year. In several years.

October 30, 2012

The Dictator (2012)

Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris

Let me just get this out of the way: Sacha Baron Cohen (hereafter referred to as "Sacha" because typing out three names every time is really annoying) is a freaking genius. Regardless of what you thought about Borat or Bruno or any of the rest of his eccentric alter egos, he is a freaking genius for coming up with unapologetically offensive characters that test the limits of uncomfortable humor. I mean, this dude is so convincing in his portrayals of fictional people that a sporting event recently played his fake Kazakhstan anthem instead of the real anthem!

The Dictator is a throwback to the original days of South Park, where no one and nothing was off limits to mock (fast forward to the controversy over the depiction of Mohammed and Chef quitting over the Scientology episode and it feels like South Park has been much more tepid since then). The racial jokes are offensive and Sacha delivers them with such sincerity that makes it ok to laugh at them instead of feeling uncomfortable for thinking they're funny. Go ahead, laugh. Racial jokes are funny. If they weren't, comics would have gone out of business a long time ago. You know what else is funny? The jokes about Brooklyn. These might not be fully understood by everyone, but living in San Francisco has given me a special appreciation of organic markets, girls who refuse to shave, and protests. In fact, I'm fairly certain people move to this city just so they can have a protest to participate in every single day, no matter the cause.

The movie has lulls, of course, as no movie can really be funny from start to finish. And Sacha seems to have a penchant for making his characters sympathetic and heartwarming, if that's possible. So sometimes that puts a damper on the humor too. But overall, I appreciate his willingness to not just cross boundaries, but leap over them to the point you sometimes feel too uncomfortable to watch. Good for him.

Final word: I wish Sacha didn't feel the need to show his penis in every single one of his movies, but other than that, The Dictator is a fitting addition to his repertoire of character movies.

October 23, 2012

American Reunion (2012)

Everyone from the original movie. Literally, every single person. Even the MILF dudes.

I am of the American Pie generation (hmmm... is that really how I want to identify myself?). It came out when I was in high school, and I even remember watching the sequel in the theater and thinking it was the funniest movie like, ever. So this movie is more than a reunion for the characters of the movie--it's a nostalgic trip back to high school for anyone who was the right age to think the first movie was funny.

This movie is sort of like a VH1 special of Where Are They Now, except it was created for fictional characters. You can't help but wonder what the sex-crazed, immature high school guys grew up to be (spoiler alert - um... sex-crazed, immature 30-somethings?). While watching this movie, I suddenly realized how old I was. When you are old enough to reminisce about high school movies as though they were a lifetime ago, you're old enough to have movies that make jokes about how old you are. Call it a 30's version of Grown Ups (which isn't really a fair comparison, I suppose, since Grown Ups was pretty terrible). 

Either way, this movie was everything you'd expect, and/or want, from an American Pie movie - nudity, swearing, masturbation jokes, of course, butt-sex references. Ahhh... the 90's. But somehow in this context, it feels less immature and crass than a fitting tribute to a franchise that was based on a guy screwing an apple pie. Can one be nostalgic about that? I mean, are kids who are teenagers now going to think that in 15 years watching Jonah Hill and Michael Cera curse and obsess about sex is funny? I don't even think either of them is funny now, and Superbad is only 5 years old!

I was initially impressed that the cast included every single person from the original movie, until I realized that they all probably have nothing better to do. I mean, what has Tara Reid been up to for the last 13 years, other than complaining about her botched boob job? And Chris Klein? Please. His celebrity peaked when he dated Katie Holmes in the pre-creepily-married-to-Tom-Cruise phase. (It seems Katie's feeling nostalgic these days too!) The most famous person in the whole movie is probably Stifler's mom, which is really saying something.

My main complaint? The story centers on a 13-year high school reunion. I understand the original American Pie was made, yes, 13 years ago, but who the eff cares about that attention to detail? No one has a 13 year reunion! Friggin' stupid.

Final word: It's a lot like attending your own high school reunion - not nearly as fun or exciting as you imagined or hoped, but somehow you know you'll end up going just to satisfy your curiosity.

October 21, 2012

Hop (2011)

James Marsden, Russell Brand

Remember when I made fun of New Year's Eve for trying to cash in on the title of the movie alone (ok, I made fun of that movie for a whole host of reasons) because for some unknown reason, people like movies tied to holidays? This is just an animated case of that, except here, the writers are preying on unsuspecting families, who have been lulled into thinking all animated movies with cute little workers (in this case, the baby chicks) will be as good as Toy Story (the little aliens) or Despicable Me (the minions). 

The main problem is that I found the bunny (aka the main character) detestable. It's not just that he's voiced by Russell Brand (though that really doesn't help), but that he's, well, a jerk. Yes, yes, this is a family movie so it's all about discovering yourself and there are life lessons injected, but it really doesn't change the fact that I spent 4/5 of the movie hating the bunny. And yes, I realize that sounds ridiculous to say I hate an animated fictional character who is drawn to be as cute as possible, as if that will distract the audience from realizing he's obnoxious and self-centered. I was not, in fact, rooting for him to turn over a new leaf. (Alas, this being a family movie...)

I really like animated movies, but I don't understand why writers seem to think it's acceptable to have predictable plots, crappy character development, and cheesy dialogue just because the movie is marketed toward children. You know who has to bring these kids to go watch the movie? Adults! And you know who pays for the movie? Adults! Kids will watch anything as long as it has bright colors and funny voices (seriously - turn on Saturday morning cartoons once in awhile - it will astound you, the crap they'll sit through). Why not make the movie enjoyable for the people who are actually paying attention and will remember how good or bad the movie is longer than 5 minutes after walking out of the theater?

The most insulting part of the movie, though, was its complete and utter lack of creativity. I mean, it shows the Easter bunny riding an egg-shaped sleigh manned by rows of baby chicks. Really?!? They couldn't even come up with an original mode of transportation? They had to rip off Santa's sleigh idea? I worry that these same writers will decide to set their sights on Valentine's Day next. Ugh.

Final word: It's like a spring version of The Santa Clause, except no one watches Easter-themed movies for the holiday and this was stupid.

October 15, 2012

Think Like A Man (2012)

Taraji P. Henson [aka that chick from Hustle and Flow] Gabrielle Union, Turtle from Entourage, and a bunch of people who look familiar but you don't know their real names

I want to start by saying I was very skeptical to watch a movie based on a book by Steve Harvey, but I take my reader recommendations seriously. I mean, this is the guy who hosts Family Feud! Am I really going to take relationship advice from him? You know who else hosted Family Feud? Al, from Home Improvement! Would you read a relationship advice book from him? Anyway, Steve Harvey's book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man has a ridiculous-sounding title. For some reason it sort of offends me - perhaps because it reminds me of a certain Ludacris lyric?

But this is a review of the movie, not the book. And begrudgingly, I admit it was pretty funny. Much like the 2009 movie He's Just Not That Into You, this movie assigns each character a chapter from the book. It also packs the same number of stars into the cast, making the viewing of the movie turn into a giant game of "where have I seen that actor before?" If I had just IMDB'ed the cast beforehand, I probably would have relaxed and enjoyed the movie a bit more. But I realize that's a personal problem.

What makes this ensemble cast different from the others I've ripped apart is its ability to give each character a legitimate story line. It doesn't pack in so many stars that the movie becomes a balance between giving everyone their five minutes of screen time to legitimize the salary they are being paid and making the movie a breezy two hours long (you know who you are, New Year's Eve). The movie is instead limited to four main couples, each with distinct relationship issues so the viewer isn't forced to keep copious mental notes to remember who's problems are whose. What also helps is its ability to relate to real life. Again, like He's Just Not That Into You, the movie highlights relationship issues familiar to a lot of people, making the jokes accessible and funny to a wide audience.

And I don't mean to keep harping on the issue of race, but I couldn't help but notice that this movie even incorporated an interracial couple as main characters! (And not like more "mainstream friendly" interracial like African-American and Asian, Caucasian and Asian, or really, anyone with an Asian girl because Hollywood seems to think that is most believable... but straight up black/white.) Though I am disappointed that none of the characters were Hispanic, Asian, or even Indian (poor Indians never get any roles - no wonder they created their own Hollywood!), I do commend the director for actually integrating color (or in this case, non-color) into the cast without making the character's race itself a plot point.

As a closing thought, I want to point out that this girl is way too cute for the guys she keeps getting paired with in movies. I thought it in my last movie review, but seeing it again here just solidified the un-justness of it all.

Final word: A rom-com even guys can enjoy without having to pretend they didn't. Added bonus: Katherine Heigl was nowhere to be found!

October 12, 2012

Jumping the Broom (2011)

Angela Bassett, Paula Patton

Finally! A movie that has an African-American cast that wasn't produced, written, or has anything to do with Tyler Perry. It's not so much that I think Tyler Perry movies are bad, it's just that I can't stand the narcissism of putting his name in front of absolutely every title. I mean, James Cameron seems like he has a ridiculous ego, but you don't see him coming out with movies like "James Cameron's Avatar."

Maybe I've been watching too much Bridezillas lately, but it was almost a little shocking to watch a movie about a wedding in which the only sane people are the bride and groom. The families in this movie are so crazy, yet totally believable that it makes you uncomfortable. I would compare my level of discomfort watching this movie on par with Meet the Parents, but with less obvious attempts at humor. And though movies about hilarious dysfunctional families has been done in pretty much every culture (remember what a surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding was??), they are generally always accepted by audiences because let's face it, who can't relate to having odd family members?

But seriously, this is how a cast of more than 2 famous people is supposed to function! The lead characters are the stars, and everyone is plays a supporting role! I don't want to make it a racial thing, but it seems like I have seen way too many movies with white people where everyone's character is trying to be a star and the director, appeasing people's egos or whatever, devotes unnecessary plot extras to up their screen time (ahem... Hunger Games).

The standout performance of the movie goes to Loretta Devine (aka Adele on Grey's Anatomy, which is how I identified her), who was the most annoying characters I have seen in a very long time. On an overbearing parent scale of Helene McCready in Gone Baby Gone to Nora Walker on Brothers and Sisters, I'd rate her an 11 (does that even make sense?). But somebody has to be the villain to make the plot more interesting and she does a bang-up job of making the audience hate her.

Side note: Paula Patton reminds me of a black Kardashian, except in this movie, she's not that slutty or annoying, so I guess it's just based on her looks. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether or not you lack the brain cells to watch any number of their shows.

Uh, second side note? Kudos to Mike Epps for not trying to be the funniest person in this movie! His usual style of over exaggerating body language and facial expressions put him in my Jim Carrey category of actors who can really ruin an already questionable movie.

Final word: I normally hate conveniently tidy endings, but I suppose this movie wouldn't have otherwise been labeled a comedy. At least it was actually funny.

October 9, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Pine, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Call them the 'Redeem Team.' Except unlike LeBron, Wade and Co., people don't actually detest these Marvel characters. Rather, we'd like to see them succeed and make good movies. That just hasn't happened a whole lot lately. (With the notable exception of Robert Downey, Jr.'s Ironman, who was surely wondering why he was stuck carrying the cast of of much lesser stars that couldn't even make their own movies succeed.)

There was a lot of hype surrounding this movie. So much so, you'd think it was the second coming of Batman. But that being said, the movie was mostly entertaining. Captain America was refreshingly quaint, in all his 40's glory (and kudos to Chris Evans for bulking up since I saw him last!), and Ironman was cocky and witty as usual. I felt a minor disappointment in Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, since he never actually played Hulk before, so he was the only character lacking promotional flashbacks to a solo movie. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing. 

The special effects team was kept busy, as with any movie that includes aliens. And for the most part, it was done fairly well (although I'll probably feel differently looking back on this 10 years from now - remember the special effects on the original King Kong??). They made Hulk look like an absolute beast - so much so that I wish he had gotten more screen time (especially instead of Samuel L. Jackson). They also made Loki's powers seem realistic (in the sense that this is a movie about people with superpowers). I totally get why guys get all geeked out about these superhero movies - they are the chick flicks for the male population. And this would be one of the better ones, especially since it didn't fall into the trap of trying to emphasize some lame romance angle to satisfy reluctant girlfriends dragged to this movie.

But (and it's a big but), I have some serious pet peeves about the details. I understand the movie is not exactly shooting for the Oscars, but is it so much to ask that the characters use the correct accents? What do I mean? Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has the real name of Natasha Romanoff. As in, she's a Soviet (Russian, for those of you who can't keep track of history before 1991). But does she have a Russian accent? And what about Thor? I understand according to Marvel, Thor was raised on another planet, but considering the fact that he is based on the god from Norse mythology, one would think he would at least not have a British accent.

Final word: If this movie were judged on body count and fight scenes, it's be ranked as the greatest action movie of all time. Then again, Con Air would also be on that list.

October 5, 2012

A Thousand Words (2012)

Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington

Just the other day, I saw Liar Liar with Jim Carey on tv. It was fitting then, that I watched this movie later the same week. Why? Because they're sort of the same. You might think, what does a guy who has to always tell the truth have to do with a guy who isn't allowed to talk anymore? Let me explain.

When you strip the movies down to their rough plot outlines, it reads something like this:

Step 1. Guy who is dishonest in life, but can't see he needs reforming
Step 2. Curse placed upon him, forcing him to live in the way that will ultimately help him 
Step 3. Overacting by lead character that's supposed to be funny ensues, followed by epiphany of what life really means 
Step 4. You can guess how it ends

Stretch this idea a bit further, and you could include Yes Man, and even Bruce Almighty. So basically, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carey have become interchangeable in their bad movies. Ok, maybe "bad" is a bit harsh, but let's not pretend A Thousand Words is on par with Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, or really, anything he made before 1998 (which was when he made Dr. Dolittle and officially lost his status as a cutting edge actor in my book). Let's call them so-so movies that are rerun on TNT a little too often.

Every time I'm surprised Eddie Murphy is allowed to make a new movie (especially after The Adventures of Pluto Nash or Meet Dave), I remind myself the people still go see his movies! In fact, he's the second highest grossing actor of all time!! Like so many other movies, it's not terrible, it's just nothing original. And any movie that makes me immediately think that the main character could be swapped for Jim Carey isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. Then again, casting someone who can't fulfill Step #3 (overacting) would probably make the movie worse.

Final word: I couldn't even come up with a thousand original words to say about this movie.

October 2, 2012

Colombiana (2011)

Zoe Saldana

Poor Colombia. It gets such a bad rap. Clear and Present Danger. Blow. Miami Vice. Even Proof of Life! (Although I don't blame you if you skipped that last one. It wasn't good.) All these movies depict Colombia as a haven for crime, drugs, and ugly old men wearing aviator sunglasses who are so rich they can have young hot women lounging at their compounds 24/7. I'm assuming some drug lord in Colombia must have had this set-up at some point, because it really seems to have become the standard for every movie involving rich drug dealers. If I ever go to a drug lord's house, I'll let you know if it's accurate. I'll also let you know if Jordi Molla is there, since he seems to be a fixture in all these types of movies as well.

I first discovered Zoe Saldana back in an amazing little film called Center Stage. If you are not averse to cheesy dialogue and sub par acting in the name of a dance movie (namely, all of you out there keeping the Step Up franchise alive), you need to go rent this immediately. And for those of you who thought you'd seen her big screen debut by sitting through Crossroads with Britney Spears, well, shame on you (for both watching that movie and being uninformed about Zoe's acting career timeline).

So now that she's made it to the big leagues by headlining movies and even dating other A-List actors (the true mark of "making it" in Hollywood, really - just ask J-Lo), I was disappointed to see her exploited in this movie. What do I mean by this? She's supposed to be a stone-cold assassin, which is badass, except for the continued attempts to make her character "sexy" by having her awkwardly dance seductively alone in her apartment for absolutely no reason and frequently undress slowly. Again, alone, so it's not like they are claiming it's artistically relevant to the plot or anything. And no matter how good looking she is, these scenes just shouldn't happen. The movie doesn't need it. Call me a feminist, but I think it sort of undermines the whole female empowerment thing.

Anyway, I do have to give some kudos for casting a decent actor as "young Cataleya," since so often in movies directors seem to think if a kid is cute people won't notice they have the acting skills of a paper bag. It's actually Rue from The Hunger Games, so it looks like this movie may have actually propelled her career. In the movie, the little girl has moves like Jackie Chan, which is kinda cool and entertaining, as long you don't think about the fact that it's totally implausible that a nine-year old can lift a manhole cover by herself. But hey, people don't watch action movies for the plot, right?

Final word: I know I say this about a lot of movies, but I've seen worse.

September 28, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting (2012)

ugh...Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Dennis Quaid, Chace Crawford, et al

I recently attended the world premiere of the opera, Nixon in China. If your first thought was, 'who the hell would make an opera out of that,' then you would be smarter than me, my friend. To say it was horrible would be an understatement. Some subjects were just not meant to be adapted for the fine arts.

The classic book, What to Expect When You're Expecting, falls into that same category. For anyone who hasn't read the book, it's a 616 page tome of information with extensive Q&A's, answering pretty much any pregnancy question a reader could have. Why someone thought this would transition easily to a movie script is beyond me. It's a bit like making a movie out of a health brochure you'd pick up at your doctor's office. The scenes jump from story to story, trying to cover all the main themes of the book from conception to delivery. (Which, by the way, I will never understand why movies portray every woman as a sweaty, screaming banshee who curses out her husband while giving birth. I mean, for a movie on the most popular and informative pregnancy book out there, they sure play into some stereotypes.)

I remember reading a critique of the movie that pointed out the fact that the movie stars no women of color. First of all, last time I checked, Jennifer Lopez is not white. But I understand the point and do agree there is a conspicuous lack of other ethnic characters in the movie. Throwing Chris Rock into random scenes doesn't suddenly make the movie more realistic of America's demographics.

Speaking of Chris Rock... I'm convinced someone saw the trailer for this movie, heard the two funny jokes he makes, and decided that new show Guys With Kids would be a good idea. (If you thought I was being hard on playing into stereotypes earlier...)

Ugh, and this chick!! Why is she suddenly in everything? Sure, she was mildly funny in Bridesmaids, but does that mean every single movie now needs a fat sidekick who makes inappropriate sexual jokes? It's not that I care that she's fat - I care that every movie makes her being fat as part of the joke. Didn't Hollywood learn anything from the travesty that was Shallow Hal? Something isn't funny just because people are fat! (Side note: does any movie coming out right now look lamer than that singing movie, Pitch Perfect, she's in?? [In which she plays the zany fat girl. Again.] But really? Rebel singers? That's almost as ill-conceived as that "action" movie with bike messengers!!)

The bright spots in the movie? A few, actually. First, and most importantly, was the inclusion of this guy, who the world has been waiting to see more of since he stripped down to his underwear in Love Actually. (He may have actually gotten partially naked in Post Grad, but I really tried to block out any memory of watching that movie.) And surprisingly, I enjoyed Brooklyn Decker's appearance as the young, pregnant trophy wife. She may just pull a Justin Timberlake here and defy the odds to star in real movies (whether or not said movies are of decent quality is another matter).

Final word: Not every single moment of the movie sucks, but that would probably make it more entertaining and noteworthy than it is in its current state.

September 24, 2012

Another Earth (2011)

randoms, but to be expected for an indie

I commend Brit Marling, the star of this movie. Apparently she's been trying to break into acting, but couldn't get cast in anything of substance, so she wrote this movie and cast herself in it. Talk about a go-getter. So that's sort of the best part about the movie.

My main complaint is that it's billed as a sci-fi movie. I remember seeing a trailer and being really excited to watch this, since it made the movie out to be this story of a parallel universe exactly like Earth somewhere else. Sadly, it was just an allegory to reveal inner reflections of life and whatnot. Once you get past the fact that you don't actually get to watch this parallel existence, the movie isn't terrible, just a bit predictable. 

It is movies like this that make me question why people are so crazy about indie movies. What is it about them that makes them more enjoyable than mainstream Hollywood movies? Is it just a hippie knee-jerk reaction to the man? Are these the same people who complain that underground bands "sell out" when they get a real record deal? As if making money and achieving fame isn't the goal of every sane person who pursues music full time? The movie is fine - it's just nothing new or special. The themes aren't new, the plot isn't particularly noteworthy (especially since it eliminated the potentially coolest part of the movie) and the acting is average. And the whole movie follows that "we don't need words" indie theme of making a movie almost entirely silent.

But as much as I hate on indie movies (and the people who swear by them), I have seen much worse. I wasn't completely bored throughout and the actors were able to effectively convey emotions without dialogue, so I suppose that's a triumph in it of itself. If only the guy the movie didn't look like an ugly version of Roger Federer. Except this guy isn't being recruited for awkward Gillette commercials with Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter.

Final word: At a film festival filled with pretentious arty films, this would be a pleasant surprise. At home on a Saturday date night, this would be significantly less pleasant.

September 21, 2012

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender

Ahhh... another Michael Fassbender movie involving inappropriate sexual themes. Then again, in a movie with Freud, how could there not be? Maybe I'm uncomfortable with it because of my deeply repressed feelings of childhood experiences? (If you don't get this joke, please just reading now. This is not the movie for you.)

So in case you don't know the premise of the movie, it shows the beginnings of psychiatry with the relationship between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (yeah, I've never heard of that last person either, but apparently she's well known in the psychiatry world). The movie is informative and full of intellectual discussion, which makes it a better candidate for a textbook or at least a slightly dry biography instead of a major motion picture. 

On the plus side, Keira Knightly's Russian accent is passable and she does a pretty convincing job of acting like a mental patient. Considering the vast majority of her work is playing characters in classic novels (her upcoming Anna Karenina is no exception), it's nice to see her finally attempt something else. I mean, I appreciate when an actor can really excel at a certain part, but it's kind of like, will we ever see Steve Buscemi in a role where he isn't the weird, crazy guy? Sure, he's ugly, but he has such potential! At least he can act!

Final word: It was like sitting through a two hour psychology lecture, except with more nudity.

September 17, 2012

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)

a bunch of random Australian and British people

Movies, like life, are all about expectations. The less you expect from a movie, the more likely you are to be pleasantly surprised by it. And as much as it pains me to say, such was the case. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by the owl movie. I admit it. It's sort of like coming out of the closet to admit you own an Ashlee Simpson c.d. - you're ashamed to tell people, but you do listen to it. And enjoy it. Self-loathing-ly.

It had all the trappings of a terrible movie. First, there's the matter of the title. No movie deserves a title with EIGHT (count 'em, eight!!) words in it. And it's not even a sequel!! It's truly a terrible title. Second, owls are not cool animals. They're just not. They cough up hairballs with rodent bones in them, which is positively revolting, yet strangely familiar since it reminds me of 10th grade biology. (side note: I love that they manage to incorporate this nasty habit into the movie!)

It's not a regular hokey kid's movie like Happy Feet or other animal-themed animated movies, which is sort of weird, since I'm not sure who they would market this movie to (and the fact that this movie is actually from the same creator as Happy Feet). I'm not usually one to decry the uptick in violence and adult content in children's animation, but this movie did have some more mature themes that I'm not sure kids would appreciate, let alone understand. Which makes it an adult movie - except again, it's animated. It's strange.

Final word: Just a regular, enjoyable movie, except it stars owls instead of people. Wow, that sounds weird.

September 14, 2012

Win Win (2011)

Paul Giamatti

I must say, I continue to be surprised at the amount of work Paul Giamatti gets in Hollywood. I think he's a great actor, and I generally enjoy everything he's in (with the exception of Sideways - what is it with people and that movie??), but I'm still surprised. Even more surprising, is Hollywood's ability to keep coming up with movies that cast him as the lead, but not necessarily as a romantic lead in movies. It's impressive, really. The way Hollywood casts their romantic movies and sit-coms, you'd think the entire world is full of beautiful women falling all over themselves for short, fat, unattractive men who are semi-funny (ahem, anything starring Seth Rogen).

So about the movie...also surprising. Surprisingly good, that is. In that rare genre of drama-comedy, it really is both dramatic and funny. A lot of the humor comes from this dude, who, for some reason, reminds me of this guy in Everybody Loves Raymond who talks like there's something wrong with him. (another side rant - why on Earth would the creators of Ice Age cast Ray Ramano as the voice of the main character in the movie? His voice sounds like a monotone college professor with a stuffed nose.)

The story is really interesting in that you can completely relate to a lot of the situations and emotions in the movie without ever actually living through it. It deals with a balance of relationships and ethics, which is different from the usual formulaic hero/villan dichotomy. So score one for the indies.

Final word: It won some kind of award for being a Top 10 Indie film of 2011, which doesn't usually mean much in my book, but I figure it might convince some people to go watch it. 

September 11, 2012

The Big Year (2011)

Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson

I assume this movie was billed as a comedy because of the cast. Three supposed funny men and a movie about bird watching. Excuse me, birding. Except that the only funny thing in the movie is that the entire plot is centered around grown men obsessed with bird watching. Excuse me, birding. (I should probably stop making that joke - you really need to see the movie to get it.)

That said, the movie is actually enjoyable. It's more about people finding themselves and relationships and other themes that sound really lame when said aloud, but are essential to a quality movie.

Though I hate both Jack Black and Owen Wilson (I mean honestly - who keeps casting Jack Black in romantic leads?? And why do camera people keep insisting on filming closeups on Owen Wilson's nose??), I think both of them play their roles in the movie well. In case you're wondering what those are, Owen Wilson plays a cocky narcissist while Jack Black plays a loser who lives at home with no friends. So...pretty much exactly what I believe them to be like in real life. And I must say, it's nice to see Steve Martin in an enjoyable movie again, since I've been a little gun-shy about choosing his movies since the sad little movie that was Shopgirl.

I'm a little disappointed to see the movie only grossed $7M in total, but not surprised. I mean, even I'm having a hard time explaining what this movie is really about or what makes it worth watching, and I am rarely at a loss for words. Just don't go into the movie expecting it to be funny and you should be fine.

Final word: Seriously worth the time spent watching it (get it? get it?).

September 6, 2012

The Brothers Grimm (2005)

Heath Ledger, Matt Damon

Can a movie be both interesting and boring at the same time? Funny, yet un-funny? Creative and stupid? If so, this movie encompasses all of it.

In a way, I admire the attempt to integrate as many Grimm fairy tales as they did into the plot. It's just that not all of them were readily identifiable and the marriage of fantasy with a real plot is neither seamless or believable. The humor works when it's subtle, but the over-the-top characterizations of French people is cliche and actually sort of offensive. It's also weird to make this movie a comedy, considering how dark the Grimm fairy tales really are. So the movie ends up having really dark events like death and kidnapping, offset with jokes. It's uncomfortable.

And another thing...Heath Ledger's accent is really terrible. I know, I know, people seem to think just because he's dead means no one can ever say anything bad about him. He was such a great actor, you say. Just look at his work as the Joker in the Batman movie! But, dear friend, you are handily claiming amnesia on moments like this in Ten Things I Hate About You or the entirety of Casanova. He and Matt Damon are supposed to be German, but their accents fall somewhere in the English/Dutch region.

Final word: Taking into account the super crappy CGI, this whole movie feels like a high school film class project. And not one of those upscale artsy schools.