Thursday, December 31, 2009

Crazy Heart and Broken Embraces

Crazy Heart is getting a lot of buzz because of Jeff Bridges in his performance as a washed up country star named Bad Blake. In the movies I've seen this year, I can't think of any lead actor roles that dominated a film as much as this, so I'll be surprised if he doesn't win.

When I wrote about Me and Orson Welles, I mentioned that a couple of the performances were great, but I had no other roles from them to compare. With Bridges, he was Flynn, the creator of Tron. He was the Starman. He was recently Obadiah Stane in Iron Man. Most importantly, he IS The Dude. Looking at his resume, he has been quite diverse, and he has been nominated many times. He should win this one.

So how's the movie? It's pretty good. It reminded me of The Wrestler in some ways, as Bad Blake is at a similar point in his career as Randy "The Ram" was in his. I'm not a country music fan by any stretch, but the music, all performed by Bridges, is fun. I felt like the movie lost a bit of steam near the end, but as an alcoholic, it needed to follow one of two paths with the character. it definitely wasn't enough to ruin it, though. I recommend checking it out once it finally arrives at a more convenient theater.

On the other hand here's a movie I'm not as wild about. I'm going to admit right up front the awful truth about Broken Embraces. I didn't get it.

It's not that I didn't understand the plot (or that I couldn't figure out that you had to read the subtitles in order to understand the foreign words they were saying).

I didn't understand why anyone was doing what they were doing. I understand that there was a theme with things being in pieces, and that's why the movie is told that way. But I don't understand what it has to do with whatever the point of the movie is.

The inner teenager inside me wants to go ahead and dismiss the whole movie. I didn't understand it, so I have to just say it's hella gay and hecka boring. There are many good reasons why I'm not a movie critic, and this movie just shows me one of them. I'm just missing the whole point.

SO - this ends my Movie-a-Day entries. I saw 45 movies in the theaters in 2009, and I had a blast hitting that mark. Over the past month, I wrote about 34 of them. For those who are not so mathematically inclined, that leaves 11. Tomorrow I'll start counting down. I have a number 11 choice that I liked too much to leave off, so I'm giving it a runner up award. I'll write about that and number 10 tomorrow. Just a reminder that these aren't the BEST movies of 2009- these were my favorites. The best would probably include Precious, The Hurt Locker, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox. But I liked these more.

Red Cliff

Last night I had to make a horrible decision. It was Sophie's Choice in my home. Since I haven't seen that movie, I have to assume that someone named Sophie had to decide which great movie to bump off of her top ten list. I had to bump Red Cliff.

Red Cliff gets a unique and different complaint. It's not long enough. That isn't exactly true. It's just that this movie was released in Asia in two parts, each two and a half hours long. We Americans received one movie. The two parts were edited down into a single two and a half hour movie. Clearly, they were listening to idiots like me who complain that movies are too long. I'm hoping that a DVD release will restore the 148 minute version back to 280.

If you haven't heard of Red Cliff, it's a Chinese history/war movie. It shows the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period, a time when China was between the Han and Jin dynasties. It was directed by John Woo and broke the Chinese box office record.

The closest movie I can compare it with is Mongol. If you saw it and liked it, you might just give Red Cliff a chance. And if you haven't, I'd pop that one into your Netflix queue and take a look.

There are parts of the movie that are a bit tough to follow, and that's ultimately why I knocked it out of the top ten. I wonder how much that has to do with the editing and how much has to do with my lack of cultural understanding.

Still, the battle scenes are amazing to watch. They are visual masterpieces. One of the main characters is the military strategist, so they spend a little time with military formations such as the butterfly and turtle. They are really cool to watch unfold and it becomes clear why they are so named.

I don't teach any Chinese history, and I'm certainly no expert. I can't speak at all of the historical accuracy of Red Cliff other than what I have found with a quick google search. But it doesn't matter. It's a good movie, and I hope some of you who haven't heard of it (or Mongol) will go check it out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Single Man

I don't feel like I have a lot to say about A Single Man. Is it good? Yes, I guess.

It's a "theater" movie for me. This means that if I had waited to watch it on DVD, I might not have finished it. It has a slow, deliberate pace. It's not that this is a bad thing. I like stories that take their time to develop character.

Also, many movies are quite rewarding if you can make it though them. For example, Gone With the Wind is excruciatingly long. It's a great movie, but it's a movie that I prefer to have seen than to see. Back in 2006, I put the Woody Allen movie Match Play at number 8 in my top 10. If I had been watching at home, I surely would have stopped. But since I was in the theater, I got to the last act, where everything finally pays off.

A Single Man is a movie that deals with depression, broken hearts, and suicide. It isn't an easy movie to watch because of these things. Colin Firth is very good. But overall, it just didn't speak to me.

Sherlock Holmes

I don't have any real previous feelings toward the character of Sherlock Holmes. I think my biggest exposure to him was in Steven Spielberg's Young Sherlock Holmes, but it has been quite a long time since I've seen that. I seem to remember reading a Stephen King short story about Holmes, but I don't remember which collection that was in or whether I liked it or not.

The biggest complaint I've heard about the new Sherlock Holmes is that it turns Holmes into an action hero. I'm going to mildly disagree with even that notion. Allow me first to acknowledge that yes, there is probably more action than Doyle meant Holmes to have. But I liked the "thinking" part of his fighting.

If you haven't seen it yet, this paragraph might be a mild spoiler, but not for story. As Holmes fights, he thinks through each move he is going to make. You "hear" his analysis of each punch, kick, or block before he makes it. The idea reads as very cheesy. It felt a bit like something the Terminator would do. Think about the scene in Terminator 2 when Arnold is analyzing how to take out the police force without killing any of them.

But you know what? I bought it. It worked for me. Surprisingly enough, I liked this use of slow motion. But it also worked to make Holmes a thinker all the way through, which is necessary for him. The rest of the action didn't take up too much of the movie, I thought. I don't think I would be willing to defend it too much beyond that, however. If one were to argue that it amounted to dumbing down the movie to make it more accessible to mass audiences, I would agree. Do we want to dumb down a Holmes movie?

The plot wasn't anything too brilliant, but it was good enough. The best reason to watch is the interaction between Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law). They worked well together, and the best scenes were the ones when they were bickering.

Also, I enjoyed all scenes when Holmes is one step ahead of everyone else. He notices these minor details (a bit of chalk on the lapel, meaning someone is a professor) and plans out the entire scene before he says a word. I was thinking about this in one scene when Holmes then states that he has a question. I immediately thought that it was out of character, and that he wouldn't need to ask a question in this scene. It turned out the be a rhetorical question showing again that he was several steps ahead of everyone.

It was these little things that showed me that the people making the movie understood the character. They knew what was important about Holmes. So if they want to update him a bit with some action? I was OK with it. Lancey Kisses said it this way: "Was it amazing, fantastic, and groundbreaking? No. However, it was thoroughly entertaining and a lot of fun, which is what I think it was going for in the first place."

My question is - will kids who go see it want to read Sherlock Holmes, and if they do, is it similar enough so that they like it? I'll be curious to see how many kids even went to see it (I saw a couple Facebook posts, but not too many). If we had a real library at school, I'd be curious if anyone would search for Holmes books.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog is Disney's return to 2D animation. It looks great and its fun. I hope it was successful enough to prompt Disney to return to what it does best.

The makers deserve a lot of credit for going with something different from simply the Frog Prince fairy tale. Instead, they have loosely adapted the novel The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker. I assume this is because it would have taken quite a bit to stretch the small story into a full length film.

A lot of publicity went toward their decision to make the lead character black. It worked because it worked in the story. Though this is obviously not the first time a Disney lead female wasn't white. How about Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Mulan?

Setting the story in New Orleans gave the movie a natural match in voodoo. It gave us our villain, Dr. Facilier (Dr. Easy?), the Shadow Man. Whenever he's shoing off his magic evilness, they surround him with neon images. Not only is he about as scary as most other Disney villains, but it's easy to picture him in a Disneyland ride.

The best decision was to set the film in New Orleans. It's a fantastic city, and The Princess and the Frog puts it on full display. The food, the buildings, the party, and the mighty Mississippi are here (though of course, it's a kids movie, so not so much of the party). Again, it works nicely with the story.

But the best reason to pick New Orleans is the music. Each song has a New Orleans feel, whether its Swing, Dixieland, or Gospel. The music was always fun. Now I'll let you decide if the next part is a positive or a negative. There weren't really any songs that stuck in my head after watching. None of the songs were what Stephen King calls an "Ear Worm." While I liked the music while watching the movie, I wasn't humming any of them when I left.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles was a bit of a surprise for me. It's not the type of movie that I would ever really see, but I've been to many movies out of my "comfort zone" this year. It got some pretty good reviews, so I went for it.

My main reservation was Zac Efron. Since I'm not well versed in the High School Musical movies, I'd never heard of him. But he looks like a tool. He wasn't too bad in this movie. He has moments when he looks like he's out of his element, but his character was supposed to be that way. So he was probably a good choice for the role. We'll have to see in later roles how good he is.

The strongest performance, and the reason to see this, is Christian McKay as Orson Welles. Welles is portrayed as a prick. From what I understand about him, it's an accurate portrayal. The scenes with McKay are the strongest and best in the movie. Since he hasn't really been in anything else, is he a good actor, or just a good Orson Welles? Again, we'll have to see in later roles how good he is.

If you don't see Me and Orson Welles, you won't miss anything too groundbreaking. And right now, there are probably a few other movies more interesting to see. If it were a slower time of year for movies, this would be a recommendation to go see it. I think it will surely be worth a rental for Christian McKay's Welles. And if you've seen a few other movies this season and want something different, check it out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The first part will be very general, then I'll give a spoiler warning before I get specific.

First the obvious. Avatar is a beautiful movie. I saw it in 2D. Once the crowds go down a bit, I might back and watch in 3D, as I've heard it might actually be worth it and not just distracting.

But I wonder if seeing in 2D allowed me to pay more attention to the plot and characters. I wasn't impressed. I found the story to be very predictable. Since there are many scenes in which you are just supposed to look at the scenery for several seconds, there are many scenes which allow you to stop and think. I guessed at what the upcoming plot would be. My guess was pretty much the whole movie.

I was disappointed by this because I thought I was predicting the first half of the movie, not the whole thing. In reviews, I avoided specifics. I read only the headlines or just the first few lines. One of those was Harry Knowles from Right at the beginning of his review, he states that he loves the movie "because of the story."

I like the website because it does (or once did) give a good heads up about what's coming up in movie news. But Knowles isn't the brightest guy. His writings are grammatical nightmares, yet he has been accepted as a "writer." I know the stuff I write is garbage, but no one is taking me seriously. With Avatar, the story is good enough. It isn't bad, but it isn't great. It's good enough. To love it because of the story? Eh, that's somebody who is trying not to say "I like the pretty pictures" but is afraid to do so.

And I don't understand why. It's a technological masterpiece. But the story is slow, and not for the right reasons. Usually story takes its time to allow ideas to develop or, more importantly, to allow characters to develop. Avatar is almost devoid of characters, so this didn't happen. James Cameron could have cut 45 minutes or an hour out of this movie. It would have cost less. It would have more screenings in theaters. Everyone who has seen it still would have. It would have made more money.

Should you go see it? Yes. See it in the theaters. It won't have anywhere near the same impact on your small V or even your big TV. See it in 3D (I think).

And now, spoilers.

These aren't big spoilers, but since some of you are still planning to watch in the next week, this might give away a couple things.

Characters, characters, characters. It's a bad thing when the most interesting character is CGI. It says a lot about the technology of the movie. But making the humans interesting should be easy.

The human characters were as flat as the 2D in which I watched it. The two "villians," if that's the right word, were a corporate guy (Parker Selfridge, played by Giovanni Ribisi)and a military guy Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang). Wow. How creative. And guess what? The corporate guy acts - wait for it - out of greed! Weren't expecting that twist, were you? And the military guy wants power.

Here's another way they could have saved some money. They could have simply put an action figure of a guy in a suit on the screen. Pull his string and have him say "I want money! Let's do things for money!" Then simply put an action figure of a guy in a military uniform on the screen. Pull his string and have him say "I want to blow up things! Let's take over everything!" You wouldn't tell the difference.

And then there's Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington. There was such an opportunity with this character to make him interesting. There could have been some real character development if anyone had cared enough to try.

Sully is in a wheelchair. I think that's about as far as anyone went with him. But the plot requires Sully to go through a transformation. He needs to go from being a military follow orders type of guy to someone who completely turns around and fights against his own people.

There were three reasons for him to turn. The first is that he falls in love with Neytiri. I think the movie makes this part clear, and chooses to focus almost completely on this part. But there's more to it that could have (and I believe should have) been developed more).

The second is that he is a paraplegic. In his Avatar, he gets to walk and to run. When he first enters his Avatar, we see this as he goes off running. his excitement is so great that he doesn't follow orders for those couple minutes (which should have been a foreshadowing of things to come). Later on, Colonel Quaritch offers him a procedure to fix his legs if he follows orders. This should have turned into another layer of the moral quandary, but it isn't developed.

The third reason for turning is the most important. But it isn't really mentioned. He should have turned and sided with the Na'vi because it's right. Sully is a military guy. Military guys don't get to question whether things are right or wrong. They get to follow orders. He was dedicated enough to have become a paraplegic, we must presume in battle somewhere. For a military guy to go against orders and do what's right is a big deal. It wasn't here.

The turn for Michelle Rodriguez's character was even more sudden. She suddenly decided that she "didn't sign up for this." And pulls away. That moment was very out of place.

Honestly, what hurt my viewing the most is that I kept waiting for something great to happen. It didn't. I guess I wasn't as impressed with flying mountains as everyone else. It's a cool concept, but I didn't need to stare at them as long. Flying on a dragon type thing was cool for a few seconds, but not for as long as we had to watch it. So the movie is like 90% CGI. Wall-E was 99% CGI (pretty much everything but the Hello Dolly! shots), but it also had more character and heart.

I've only found a small handful of people who agree with me (here is Peter David, who stated some of what I said but much better than I ever could), so I'm probably totally wrong. I'm guessing that when Avatar makes it from the big screen in 3D to your TV in 2D, a lot more people are going to agree with me. And that makes me a bigger visionary than James Cameron.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Invictus is a pretty good movie. It's isn't great, but pretty good. I don't know if it could have been much better.

It's a safe movie. It isn't going to offend or upset anybody but the most easily offended. For a movie that has issues of race at its core, that's saying something. But this isn't Spike Lee's version of South African Apartheid (given Lee and this movie's director Clint Eastwood's previous jabs at one another, I wonder if this could have been Eastwood's response).

I think it might have been tempting to show the darker side of what was going on in South Africa at the time of this movie, but Eastwood chose to keep the move accessible. Is that a bad thing? I think keeping it safe might have kept it from being a great movie, but I don't necessarily think it needed to be so.

There were a couple kids in the theater with their parents when I saw it. The oldest was probably in sixth or seventh grade, and the other a couple years younger. On their way out, they seemed to have really enjoyed the movie. This gives those kids something to think about at their level. And if people are going to be more aware of the history of Apartheid, things such as this movie will only help.

What they might not understand, as I didn't, are the rules of rugby. I have no rugby background at all. After watching, I had to do a little research to fully understand how everything worked. I wasn't totally confused, but if you don't know anything about rugby either, you might want to take five minutes and read about the rules before you watch.

A few people will likely be nominated for Oscars for their performances. Morgan Freeman is excellent as Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon is pretty good (though the Best Supporting Actor statue is already reserved for someone in a movie in my top 10).

The movie chose to focus part of its time on Mandela's security team. I think they needed to give that a little more time or drop it completely. I wouldn't be surprised if at one point in the scriptwriting process the story was being told through their eyes. I'm not convinced that part of the movie worked the way it was.

But again, Invictus is a pretty good movie. Based on a box office total of just over $20,000,000, not enough people saw this movie. More than twice as many people have seen Old Dogs. That's why the terrorists should hate us.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Friday, December 25, 2009


If my year end top 10 were a "best of" list instead of my 10 favorites, Precious would be on the list, and probably pretty close to the top. I'll be surprised if it isn't nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

With my favorite movies, there is usually some kind of emotional attachment to the movie. That's something I didn't particularly have with Precious. There wasn't something I that pulled at me. But I think that only adds to how good of a movie this is. I still liked it quite a bit even without that.

The performances are great all around. I've read a lot of buzz for an Oscar nod for Mo'Nique. It's definitely a great performance, but I don't really know who she is outside of this movie. By that I mean I haven't seen her in anything else that I know of, nor have I seen her on any talk shows.

I have, however, seen Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious, in an interview. She's a completely different person than Precious. It showed me how great her work was in the movie. I don't think I would have recognized Mariah Carey if I didn't already know she was in this movie. The acting is really great all around.

Precious shows a world that I'm not really used to. Chances are most of you aren't either. But it's a real world that everyone needs to be aware of. I don't think it would be such a bad idea if more people saw this movie and became more aware.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

I guess I have a bit of a history with the book The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I distinctly remember giving an oral book report on it in the fourth grade. I had to read a "humorous incident" from the book, so I read the part where Mr. Fox got his tail shot off. Since I remember doing the book report, most likely I never read the book.

While watching the movie, I didn't even remember any of that until that scene came up in the movie. It was a flashback of - just giving the book report itself, not anything from the book. But still, I had read other Roald Dahl books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I liked these books quite a bit and with each enjoyed multiple readings.

The movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox looks great. Ultimately, it's one of those movies where I think I might like looking at it more than I liked what was really happening.

But there's plenty more to like. I liked all of the voice work. I feel like the actors would have sounded close to the same if they had been in a live action Wes Anderson movie.

Of Anderson's movies, I like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. I watched Bottle Rocket not too long ago, but I had trouble getting into it. Same with The Life Aquatic.

The thing with his movies is they can be a bit too self aware. Or maybe to self indulgent. With Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, it works. The other two, not as much for me.

With The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson had to reign that in a bit to make it a more children friendly movie. There are still bits of it, but not as much. It's there in the confidence of the character of Mr. Fox, but it needs to be.

The movie is a bit slow at times. I felt as if there were times where they just wanted to play with the stop motion instead of just allowing the story to move along.

I also wonder how well kids would really like it. I think they'll like the visuals. But I don't see it as the type of movie that kids would love and want to see again and again.

But as an adult? I liked it quite a bit. I kinda wish they had taken on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in this way.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Paranormal Activity

With every review I've written over the past month, I've been comparing each movie with excellence. What I mean by that is I've liked several things in just about every movie. But if it wasn't excellent, then I've nitpicked. Yes, there have been some I've clearly not liked as much as others. But in the previous 22 days, I've liked many things about each movie whether I've stated so or not. That streak ends now.

To be clear, Paranormal Activity isn't my type of movie. It wasn't made for me. I'm not sure, but I think there needs to be something inside you that believes that this sort of thing could really happen. If you liked it, then this movie reached into you and found that part. I don't have that.

Why did I go? I guess I saw enough reviews that liked it. I think I heard enough people say that even if you don't like this kind of movie you'll still get freaked out. One Saturday last month it was about 3, I had to be somewhere at 7, so I had some time to kill.

Thinking back, I can't think of anything I enjoyed about Paranormal Activity. Oh wait - since it was only 86 minutes long, I wasn't bored for 87 minutes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats doesn't come together as a movie. This is going to be a short review because I just summed up what you need to know.

The idea is interesting. A reporter discovers that the U.S. Army had a project that was investigating psychic abilities. These "Jedi Warriors" may or may not have actually had psychic powers. The movie wobbles on whether they really do or not. That's one of the weaknesses of the movie. They don't leave you wondering whether they do or know - that would be cool. But they sorta do, just a bit, but maybe no, not really.

Is it a comedy? Is it trying to give a message of some sort? You never really know after watching the movie. If it was a comedy, all the funny parts were in the trailers. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but that attitude makes the movie seem a bit lazy. If there is a message, I wasn't interested in discovering what it was.

Things happen in the movie for no particular reason. The ending didn't make sense. There were too many characters to make it into a personal story about any one of them.

It isn't a bad move - there are parts to like. It's just a lazy movie. I left The Men Who Stare at Goats thinking, "Eh? Who cares?" I think everyone had the same thought while making the movie.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big Fan

Here's another movie that not many of you saw, and perhaps many didn't even hear about. I had to seek out a viewing in San Francisco

Big Fan stars Patton Oswalt as a, well, big fan of the New York Football Giants named Paul Aufiero. Paul calls into a sports talk radio show regularly with prepared scripts delivering smack talk, especially to Philadelphia Eagles fans. He then gets to meet one of his favorite players with disastrous results.

I listed to talk radio every now and again. My favorite show is Len "I'm a Law-yah" Tillem on KGO. People call into that show for legal advice. As Len himself states, the reason to listen is for the stories. For sports radio, I tune into Jim Rome every now and again, though you don't learn a lot about sports. It's pretty much just smack talk.

I've listened a lot, but have never really had a desire to call in. There was one show that I did call. It was a Saturday morning trivia show. They asked a question to which the answer was Plessie V. Ferguson, something that I teach. About 15 minutes went by without anyone calling to answer. They kept asking, so I finally called and answered it. They asked me a few more related questions,and I was able to answer them (pretty sure the follow up answer was Brown V. Board of Education Topeka , KS). I was promised a prize. The next week was the last time the show was on the air. I never got anything.

So what type of person does call in? Is it really the casual person just listening and having such an important opinion on the topic? I think rarely. I think that most of the callers are regulars. Big Fan presents Paul as a guy whose life revolves around the Giants and calling into this radio show. Other than that, he doesn't have a whole lot going for him.

Patton Oswalt is great in this role. You might only know him as a character on King of Queens. You might know his voice asn Remy in Ratatouille. If you haven't listened to his stand up, check out Feelin Kinda Patton. My favorite bit is his Black Angus commercial, but it's pretty funny from beginning to end.

This is a pretty good little movie. I really like these independent movies that comedians make to tell a simple story and show off some acting chops. There's no need for a $100 million budget. There's just a good story, good characters, and good acting.

I can recommend a couple more movies along the same line. First, I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With (despite the grammatically incorrect title) starring Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Second, The Hammer starring Adam Carolla. If you know him just as the guy from The Man Show, you;ll be surprised. All three movies are pretty good. I'd consider that a nice little film festival.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I had mildly high expectations for Where the Wild Things Are. There's a movie I'll get to in a couple days that I really disliked, but I had no expectations for that movie. That makes Where the Wild Things Are my biggest disappointment of the year.*

However, based only on the book, I shouldn't have had any expectations whatsoever. The book - it's not very good. I can hear your protests screaming through my computer as I type this, so hear my out. Yes, the pictures are pretty. They are original and nice to look at. But the story, even by the standards of a kids' story, isn't much.

It's fewer than 60 words. Those fifty something words need to be excellent - they're ok. So this kids if Fing around, so him mom sends him to bed without supper. He images a bunch of creatures. Then his supper is waiting for him. End of story.

First of all, that's bad parenting. But second, your great memories of this book are no different than your great memories of playing tag. You "read" this when you were a young child, and the pictures were cool to look at.

Make that into a feature length movie, and there isn't a lot. So the makers of the movie had to expand on things quite a bit. I didn't care for what they did.

Let's start with the part that I liked about the book - the look. I didn't like the look of the Wild Things at all. They looked like the drawings in the book, but without style. Yes, they had CGI faces. But I still look at the costumes walking around and I see H.R. Pufnstuf. Even the voices of the characters annoyed me. It seemed like James Gandolfini and company were trying to do bad kids voices instead of, you know, acting.

The general look of the movie was very dim to me. Now this criticism might just be the theater where I saw it, but I don't think so. I saw it at the Contra Costa Stadium in Martinez, which usually has nice bright screens. After the movie, I had to shield my eyes when walking out into the lobby. I usually don't need to do that. It was just too dim in the theaters, which washed out the picture.

But for me, the part I didn't click with was the tone. Every review I've read from people who liked it discussed their own childhood. They stated that it brought back those feelings of sadness and frustration and handled those concepts beautifully. I didn't agree. The anger and frustration of the Wild Things just seemed - whiny.

My theory is that my childhood wasn't bad enough to like this movie. A couple days after watching Where the Wild Things Are, I was browsing through Garfield Minus Garfield and I came across this comic. For me, it sums up my feelings about this movie.

*I just watched Avatar, and I was pretty disappointed with that, too. But I want to give it a few days to see if the pretty pictures were enough to make me forget the lack of original story or interesting characters.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


There's nothing too revolutionary about Zombieland. It certainly isn't the first zombie movie. It definitely isn't the first zombie comedy (I can highly recommended Shawn of the Dead). It isn't even the first movie this year starring Jesse "I'm not Michael Cera" Eisenberg that ends with "Land." But it works, and I enjoyed it.

Thinking back to some of the reviews I've written this month, here's a couple reasons why I liked it. The first is expectations. I didn't exactly have low expectations, but I wasn't expecting anything amazing either. I had hit the point in this year where I just wanted to watch a bunch of movies. This was a movie, so I watched it.

The second is length. It clocks in at 81 minutes. There is only so much material available for this movie. They put in what they had and that's it. There isn't a lot of filler. We have just enough to get some basic back story ideas for the characters, but not too much. I didn't have time to get bored.

Other than that, it's funny. And it's fun. Without spoiling anything, it has the best and funniest cameo of the year. I haven't seen a lot of zombie movies, so I don't know how die hard zombie fans with like it (Die Hard Zombies - John McClane vs. the undead), but I recommend it for a good time killer, breezy evening.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story (and Food, Inc)

Will you like Capitalism: A Love Story? Here's a really simple questionaire for you:

Question 1: Did you enjoy any of Michael Moore's previous films? Yes or No?

If Yes, then yes.

If No, then no.

End of questions.

Yeah, it's pretty straightforward. It's another Michael Moore movie. Personally, I like his movies a lot more than I like him. I think he creates a very entertaining style of documentary. There is never a slow or dull moment. He knows how to bring you into the story. He does a good job of mixing personal stories with discussions of details with his stunts. Basically, it's easy to sit through a Michael Moore movie.

Also, he always leaves you something to think about. Even with capitalism as a cornerstone of our society (I know this because I heard Glenn Beck tell me so on his radio show today*), I still left questioning that concept. And of course he timed the movie perfectly. Those fat cat bankers and corporations are the biggest villains around. Ultimately, I needed to redefine my viewpoint of capitalism.

And that, I think, is the most positive aspect of Michael Moore's movies. He does get people thinking about his ideas. Bowling For Columbine was his best work with this goal in mind. He didn't really try to give any answers, but instead he wanted to explore the questions further.

Now, that's not what he really wants in this movie. I believe that Moore's goal isn't to get people thinking about these things anymore. I don't even know if he wants change. He wants the other side to look bad. With Sicko, he at least pointed us toward his alternate viewpoint. In Capitalism: A Love Story, he seems to want to bring down the top without offering a real alternative.

That said, I still recommend it to anyone who can still handle Michael Moore. There are a lot of questions and ideas that he brings up. He exposes a few things that were very revealing, such as the corporations purchasing life insurance policies on its employees (not for the employee - so that the corporations can collect).

Also, I don't think that Moore is as irrelevant as people think he is. He is dismissed very easily by too many people. I heard that a lot after Sicko came out. A couple years later, in the middle of the health care debate, people were popping out from everywhere stating that Sicko was actually quite accurate and that (surprise) the health care companies spent a lot of time and money discrediting it.

This was the only documentary I saw in the theaters this year. However if you're looking for a fairly new documentary to watch, I'll actually recommend Food, Inc. I watched it a few weeks ago thanks to Netflix, and it's also a movie worth discussing.

Food, Inc. is a pretty revealing look at the food we eat. Some other movies try to get you to think about your food by showing the cruel treatment of animals, show the slaughter of animals, or show the horrible conditions in which food is handled. None of that ever really got to me.

This one goes around that and shows quite a few surprising things that will make you look at your food and food companies in a different way. It has a few comments about large corporations that will actually go nicely with Capitalism: A Love Story. It's also very watchable, especially by documentary standards. Take a look.

*Disclaimer: No, I do not listen to Glenn Beck with any regularity. Today was the first time I have ever heard his radio show. Here's my quick review of the five minutes I heard today. It should be renamed Glenn Beck's Retarded Straw Man Program. End of review.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Informant!

I think The Informant! is another movie which was ruined for me with expectations.

Joel McHale was one of Adam Carolla's regular guests on his radio show. I heard him talking about it almost a year ago. I liked the concept quite a bit. Then when it came out, I read many good reviews.

So when I finally saw it in the theater, I was underwhelmed. But in thinking back on the movie, there was definitely a lot to like. Matt Damon was excellent as whistle blower Mark Whitacre. The story is actually really good. If you don't know too much about the story, which I didn't, you won't know where it's going.

I think for me I got tricked by the "funny" label again. I think that's going to be my New Year's Resolution (though I've never really made any before). Stop getting tricked by the funny label. As I mentioned in my writeup for Extract, comedy is too subjective.

I see The Informant! as the type of movie that might do well on cable. I think it will pop up again and again. I have a feeling that I'll give this movie another chance down the road and that I'll like it a lot more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In The Loop

Here's a movie that not many of you have even heard of. Here's how I first heard of it.

I went to see a movie at The Albany Twin, which is a pretty small theater in Albany, watching another movie that not many of you have heard of (but I'm saving that movie for my top 10 list). While in the short line for tickets, the four or five people in front of me were all buying tickets for In the Loop, the other movie showing in that theater. There was a trailer for it as well. So I did some quick research at home and decided to check it out the next weekend.

I'm happy I did, and I can recommend it to many of you who I know read this. Basically, it's a British satire of war politics. So here's what you need to like to enjoy this movie.

1. British humor. I, for one, have a lot of trouble with sarcasm and dry humor. I don't use it or understand it. But you might like that sort of thing. There are a lot of good one liners and some pretty silly situations. This means you won't always be laughing out loud - you have to think about some of the humor. I know - thinkin' is hard!

2. Satire. Last year I wrote about Tropic Thunder and how too many people didn't like it. The general consensus seemed to be that too many people don't understand satire. In some movies, if you don't understand that the movie even is a satire, you can get the totally wrong impression. A couple examples are Starship Troopers (which Nolan recently wrote about here) and Observe and Report. This week I heard some kids talk about how they liked the movie because they wanted to be like Seth Rogan's character. They missed the point. They're eighth graders, so they do that often. In The Loop is the type of movie that one who doesn't understand satire won't understand it at all.

3. Political Humor. The basic plot of the movie is that a member of the British cabinet tells the press that a war with the middle east is unlikely, but that isn't the party platform. They must spend the movie correcting that mild error. A lot of it is about the relationship between politicians and the media. If you believe that the politicians you see on TV are real people and not the characters they play in government (with some exceptions, of course. I still believe there are some "good guys"), you won't get this movie.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


My biggest difficulty with Extract is that you ultimately must go into the movie with Office Space in your mind. Honestly, it's the only reason I went to see it. Since Mike Judge was able to make such a funny movie once, he certainly should be able to replicate it. Maybe? Not as many people saw Idiocracy. The overall concept was good, I liked the satire, but there were only a few laughs.

Extract wasn’t that great. Yeah, there were some funny parts, I think. At this point, I can’t remember any. I do remember that this movie also featured a drug trip using camera tricks. In fact, it looked a lot like the one in Woodstock, which I had seen a few days earlier.

So my question is – “Is Jason Bateman overrated?” Bateman made his resurgence with Arrested Development. The show was brilliant, and he was great in it. For the most part, he was the straight man to his bizarre family. But he had his share of funny parts.

But then when you think about the other movies he has been in since then – Juno, Hancock, Up in the Air – he’s mostly the straight man again. But he isn’t offered a lot of funny in those scenes. And he doesn’t produce a lot either. His comedy seems to be very specifically focused in one direction. So I’m looking forward to the Arrested Development movie, should that ever take off. Of course, I’m completely ignoring the fact that he wasn’t just a Teen Wolf – he was Teen Wolf Too.

Extract. Comedy is very subjective. You might like it more than I.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taking Woodstock

I think my writeup of Taking Woodstock is going to be pretty simple and pretty straightforward, since that's what the movie was. Though there was one thing that wasn't as straightforward about the movie, and that gave it a bit of a unique twist.

Taking Woodstock tells the story of a young man who tries to save his parents small inn by allowing a music festival to play. That festival turns out to be Woodstock, one of the biggest ever.

Of course, the music makes this movie. It has a pretty nice soundtrack, though the actual music festival is barely part of the movie. Director Ang Lee instead focuses on Elliot, played by Dimitri Martin. Is Martin a full fledged movie star? Not in the most traditional sense. He works nicely on Daily Show appearances, his Comedy Central show Important Things with Dimitri Martin, and his stand-up. No, he isn't going to be the lead in a romantic comedy or an action film. But for a movie with small goals like this one, he does just fine.

If you remember Ang Lee's mediocre Hulk movie, you might remember the way he split up the screen to look like comic book panels. Lee uses the same technique here simply to show different things happening at once, more like an episode of 24. It works nicely because a good song needs to have the accompanying action well choreographed.

One part of the movie did pull me out and got my mind off track. It seems like every movie that features a drug trip does the same simple camera tricks. So if you drop acid, is it pretty much just a camera trick? And if so, why would I ever need to do so? I can save myself some time and brain cells by looking through a camera and tweaking the lens. I want a movie maker to come up with something original.

Overall, it's a fun movie. There isn't anything too serious or groundbreaking, but if you're interested in Woodstock and want to see the story told from a point of view away from the stage, definitely watch it. If you just want a cool little movie, watch it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cold Souls

Cold Souls is a film with a promising premise. A company has found a way to extract a person's soul. You can then replace it with another. Paul Giamatti stars as an actor who tries the procedure only to find that he loses his acting touch.

Stop right now and image where this movie is going. The good thing is that you won't guess what's going to happen. The bad thing is that the direction the movie goes isn't particularly interesting.

One missed opportunity is to see Giamatti's acting chops. Paul could have shown us the same character with several different souls. I think Giamatti is the type of actor that wouldn't go overboard. Give Jim Carey that type of challenge and you would see several different characters. But Giamatti, and especially in a movie with this tone, could have given subtle differences to each soul.

But it's unfair to judge a movie on what it isn't. There's another important premise that I didn't go for. The movie takes us to the Russian black market for souls. It's an interesting direction, but as I mentioned before didn't really pan out.

The souls come from Russian artists, writers, and poets. The makers of the movie want us to imagine these sad, heavy souls filled with despair, yet maybe some hope. Then the makers want us to believe that sadness is beautiful.

Here's the problem. Sadness isn't beautiful; it's sad. Yes, sadness can be the gateway to amazing art. It's the sadness of the songwriter from a lost lover that makes the music he writes amazing. It's the sadness of the author from a childhood of loneliness that makes the story she writes have impact.

But sadness itself? Not pretty. Look at the artwork I stuck in here. That's called At Eternity's Gate by Vincent van Gogh. It's beautiful. You feel the sadness. Go ahead and click on it and look at the larger version. Look at every brush stroke. Check out how he drew the fire. So simple, yet perfect. Amazing.

But you don't want to be that guy or be with him. For that matter, while I love looking at Van Gogh's art, I wouldn't have particularly wanted to hang out with him in Arles.

I guess the title Cold Souls should have indicated that to me. If you disagree, you might like it more than I did. But I can't really recommend this unless you're a huge Giamatti fan. Otherwise, skip it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

District 9

District 9 was a fresh new look at the alien invasion genre. The general idea is probably the most "realistic" view of what it would look like if aliens were to come to Earth.

Many invasion movies show our alien overlords (whom I, for one, would welcome) to have superior technology and/or advanced morals. In this movie, they don't. Yeah, there are many technologically advanced weapons. But the difference is that they don't immediately overwhelm the world with them. Instead, the aliens are put in their own ghetto.

Another reason I liked the movie is that the movie isn't about their invasion. In fact, what their arrival and placement into the camps is all done before the movie really starts. I was reminded of Kurt Busiek's Astro City. In the alien invasion story, the actual invasion was the background story. I seem to remember the actual info about it being in about two panels, mostly words. This was the same way. We're talking about Wikus and his point of view.

It's my understanding that the special effects in this movie were done for a much smaller pricetag tat many Hollywood movies. I couldn't really tell the difference. And since the effort went into storytelling, it didn't matter.

Also, the ad campaign was fun. the "humans only" signs found all over theaters in the months prior to its release were interesting. The first time I saw them, I stopped to read it. After seeing several, I even went online to see what it was about. Such a simple idea got this small movie into minds long before it was released, which allowed for word of mouth to get around early. That sort of thing is usually reserved for larger movies.

Wikus's story might remind some of The Fly. And they would be correct. For me, it brought back sweet, sentimental memories of Robot Ninja. Though,minor spoiler, at the end Wikus does actually kick a little ass. But it is just a little. Wikus really is a Robot Ninja for the 2000s.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Hurt Locker

At the beginning of the month, I went down the list of movies to give myself time to think about each one. When I saw The Hurt Locker on the list, my immediate thought was, "It was good. I liked it quite a bit, so I won't have any problem writing about it." That was about it.

I remember after seeing it that I had a few problems with it (I'll mention one a bit later), but overall it was very good. I figured that it would make my top 10 list. Yet when I started actually making the list last month, I didn't really consider it. I looked at it and thought, "It was good, but there are 10 more that I liked better." So I didn't think much more about it at that time.

Last night after writing my Movie-a-Day entry, I looked at the list to see which movie is next. I saw The Hurt Locker. My first thought was that "It was good. I shouldn't have a problem writing a few things about it." I didn't think too much more about it.

During the day, I started thinking about what to write. I drew a blank. I don't remember enough details about the movie. I immediately thought about what I wrote about Terminator: Salvation. I stated that it's biggest sin was that it was forgettable. So I guess The Hurt Locker was the same way.

The one thing I do really remember about this movie was the shaky cam shots (. I don't like the shaky cam. I don't want to be part of the action. I want to follow the action. I remember it being enough of a distraction to take me out of the movie for a bit (I'll talk more about shaky cam in a later movie where it really bugged me). Yet last year there was another movie that had too much shaky cam. it had chase scenes that were hard to follow. Yet I named that movie, Slumdog Millionaire, my top movie of the year.

So I what I really started thinking about is how inconsistent people, me especially, can be while watching a movie. The word I was really thinking about what hypocrisy, though I don't want to go that far. It's too difficult to predict which movies one will like and dislike. Shoot - Roger Ebert liked Garfield.

I guess that's one of those things that makes art so great. It really appeals to something inside instead of being strictly cerebral. My brain is telling me that The Hurt Locker was a good movie. I remember that a lot of the scenes were very tense. Obviously, things are going to be so when one is disarming a bomb in the middle of a war zone.

But on the inside, The Hurt Locker didn't resonate with me. It didn't stick. And without watching it again, I just can't explain why. Movies are such an amazing form of art.

Harry Potter addendum

A day after saying that I wasn't worried about the Deathly Hollows films, I read THIS ARTICLE. Now I can start getting worried. Mr. Yates, you don't need to be "axing parts of author J.K. Rowling's original manuscript from the book."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've been a fan of the whole Harry Potter franchise. I first learned about the books when I started teaching middle school. The third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, came out right after I started teaching, and a bunch of teachers were excited. It cast them off as loons at first, but then I started hearing more and about it. A few months later, I decided to give the first book a shot.

I found it very easily readable. I made it through in just a couple days, and enjoyed the journey quite a bit. I got the next two and breezed through those as well. I wasn't blown away, but I was interested enough to look forward to the next book. Around the same time, talk about the movies started brewing.

With the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, things changed. The books about doubled in length, but Rowling is a good enough writer that she still made them easy to read. But they started to become darker. As the kids grew up, the overall mood became more mature. No, not a big step. They grew up a year at a time, as did the books. Compare one with the next and you won't see an enormous leap, but compare the first to the last and you will.

I think the first three book are great kids books. The last four are great books. The movies started coming out at the same time that the books turned the road, so I think the makers of the movies were able to guide them in that direction. One mild problem I have with the first three books is that they follow a formula of misdirection. Rowling wants you to think that person A is the bad guy, but then at the end its person B. I've heard from several people that don't like the books that they feel too much like a long Scooby Doo episode, and I think this "unmasking" at the end might be why. But that assessment ignores too much.

For Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I bought the book in Spain. I knew that it would make the flight home much easier. The problem was that I was also in my fifth week in Europe away from home. I was hitting that point where I was pretty tired of traveling, and I was ready to head home. I wanted to read the book more than sightsee at times. I only did one VERY hot day when I had exhausted my sightseeing and my body.

But Half-Blood Prince contains a huge plot point that could really suck if spoiled. I did finish the book on the plane. The next day while browsing around the internet, I saw the spoiler several times. If I hadn't been out of the country I have a feeling it would have sucked.

The movie was excellent. In fact, it was on my top 10 list until this past weekend when it was bumped by the two movies I saw. The Harry Potter movies have certainly appeared on my list before - this will be the first that hasn't made it. But it isn't because of the movie, but due to the ten other movies that I've enjoyed more.

The Harry Potter movie that has ranked highest for me was definitely Prisoner of Azkaban. It was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who had previously directed Y tu mamá también, another movie that I highly recommend.

But that was the movie that felt the most alive to me. I love the camera work. The soundtrack, John Williams last in the series, took on a different tone. I love the time travel double viewing of the last sequence from the two different angles - it's beautifully choreographed. Azkaban perfectly transitioned the kids movie of the first two into something just a bit darker. I think the three leads, Daniel Radcligg, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, become actors in this movie.

Azkaban scored the highest on my list of top 10s. It was number 3 for 2004, the first year I made my list. And I must say that the two films that topped it are now among my favorite ever, Garden State and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm considering making a top 10 of the decade (yes, I know, depending on your definition of "decade") to use to write up a few movies later this month. I won't be surprised if Azkaban makes it onto the list.

Of the Harry Potter movies, Azkaban is the one that I will stop to watch every time its on. It's the one that I want to see again.

So the final book and movie? The big miracle is that Rowling pulled it off in the Deathly Hollows. The book had the most logical and satifying ending. That isn't always the case. I think of King's Dark Tower series. It couldn't have ended any other way - it's the most logical. But yet, by definition, it was unsatisfying (which in its own way, makes it so. If you haven't read it, that makes no sense. It might to those who have.) But Deathly Hollows ends the story perfectly.

Since the filmmakers have split the movie it two, I'm hopeful. I think they did that to be faithful of the book. I wonder how many things they cut out of previous movies might affect it, though. There have been a lot of full plots cut, some of which tied back together for the final book. I hope they don't kill it. But yet, after six good movies, I can't believe at this point that they're going to screw it up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


For today, I'm jumping ahead to write about Brothers because its fresh in my head. Because its still new in theaters, I should warn that there will be some mild spoilers.

Brothers was a frustrating movie for me because there's a lot of good parts to it. However, the parts never come together. And after ranting about how movies are too long these days, I think this one left out too much.

First of all, there's a pretty good story about Tobey Maguire's characters, Sam. Sam is a marine who leaves his wife Grace, played by Natalie Portman, and two young daughters to fight in Afghanistan. He is presumed dead, but is actually captured and tortured. He goes through an incredible ordeal before being rescued and returned home. But for this particular story, the interesting part of his character begins after he returns home. This is too late in the movie to develop what happens to him.

Just before Sam leaves, his younger brother Tommy, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, gets out of prison. He becomes close with Grace and the daughters. I won't spoil the exact nature of the relationship between Tommy and Grace, as that's an important part of the movie. This story is also interesting, but the real fun should have been when Sam returned. Again, it was cut short.

But the key missing ingredient is the relationship between the brothers Sam and Tommy. At the beginning of the movie we see Sam picking up Tommy as he is released from prison. Then Sam is gone. We don't really get a feel for their relationship. But near the end movie, it seems that this relationship plays a pivotal role in defining and defusing conflict.

We get hints of what their relationship was like, but its all very vague and stereotypical. The father, played as a caricature by Sam Shepard, brings up how the boys were different. He clearly liked and had more respect for Sam, and the writer gives him every cliche just short of telling Tommy after Sam funeral, "The wrong son died!"

We also get a hint of the brothers connection when Tommy mentions to one of Sam's daughters that Sam saved his life in a river. We see a quick pause on Gyllenhaal's face, but it's never mentioned again. I think it's thrown in there just to show that Sam has always been a hero. But wouldn't a moment like that define the rest of their lives? But exactly how?

I think that for a movie called Brothers, there should have been more emphasis on that relationship. And even if the movie wasn't called that, it still should have been. I think it would have benefited from starting earlier in their lives. Show them as kids. Develop the relationship with their father to save it from cliche. Yeah, the movie is about the rise of one brother and the fall of the other. Everything revolves around them. But bring them together.

And I'm also going to type something that I don't want to, but there needed to be less emphasis on Grace. I hate typing that because I don't ever want to see less of Natalie Portman. And she's actually very good in this, as are Gyllenhall and Maguire.

I think that in the end, the makers tried to make a safe movie. They wanted a war movie that more people could go see and relate to. Too many scenes dance with melodrama, and that's not the right tone for this. Take off the safety valve. Let the characters grow and experience each other.

This is a remake of a 2004 Danish film, Brødre. I'm intrigued to check it out to see if they went for a different style or take when remaking it for American audiences. Again, I think there are a lot of good things in this movie. There's something here. There's a really good movie waiting to come out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


After watching Watchmen, there's no way I could have imagined that I would return to the theater to see more penis this year. But I went to see Brüno.

Brüno (the movie) is Borat's (the movie) dumber, less interesting, and less funny younger brother. I didn't think that Borat was phenominal. It's a movie that I enjoy watching in parts. This makes sense, since the character started in short sketches by Sasha Baron Cohen. For me, Borat is a lot like Napoleon Dynamite. I like the character. I like seeing him in scenes. I don't want to sit and watch him for an hour and a half. Still, there are genuine laughs in Borat.

Borat was also ruined for me when someone chose to describe the funniest scene to someone else while I was there before I had seen the movie. Spoiled!

I will admit up front that Brüno has several laughs as well. His "interview" with Harrison Ford is pretty funny, as well as his seance to contact Rob of Milli Vanilli. I also got a kick out of Brüno calling the Middle East "Middle Earth." I don't know why I enjoyed that so much, since it's so simple. And it's always fun to watch conservative people get offended by things that aren't really very offensive.

But in the end, there wasn't enough funny to maintain a full movie. Like Borat, Bruno is a sketch comedy character. It's too bad that Brüno, in my mind at least, falls into the same category as It's Pat.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

With today's post, I skip over a top 10 contender and jump to the next movie I saw this year, Drag Me To Hell.

I'm not big on the whole horror/scary movie genre. This was the first of two I watched in 2009, and by far my favorite of the two (I'll get to the other later this month. In fact, even for a horror movie, I liked it quite a bit. But I'm not too surprised, as my favorite horror movie, if you can call if that, is Evil Dead II, also made by Sam Raimi.

I really liked Alison Lohman as the lead, Christine, who has a curse placed on her by a gypsy woman. Lohman had to do a lot of silly things in this role, including her memorable fight with the gypsy in the parking garage. This was quite possibly the best fight scene of the year. It was certainly the most fun. But throughout the stuff she needed to do, she stayed cute and as believable as possible while going through what she did.

And I bought the whole story. I obviously didn't meant that it could really happen, but I didn't hit any points that didn't work in the story, including the end. As I talked about movie length a few days ago, this one was barely more than an hour and a half - perfect length so that I didn't lose interest.

I don't think people who get legitimately frightened by horror movies will get scared watching Drag Me To Hell, but I think they'll have some fun watching.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

Terminator: Salvation committed a sin for which I cannot excuse. It was FORGETTABLE. Looking back, I can barely remember the movie. I remember a CGI Arnold, some huge robot, and a little kid who wouldn't stop talking. See? Perfect memory.

But beyond that? It's very, very fuzzy. Terminator 3 wasn't exactly the best movie, but I remember that chase scene as being pretty entertaining and over the top (in a good way).

But really, were expectations much higher than that? It was directed by McG. This guy is known for his amazing... Charlie's Angels films. Yeah. high credentials. It does have Christian Bale, who lended it some credibility. The footage shown at Comic-con was well received. But beyond that, I guess I couldn't have been expecting much more.

Since I can't remember enough about this movie, I'm going to leave with two copy/pastes. First is James Cameron's response to the movie.

"It didn’t quite have the emotional power that it should have had. I thought Sam was great, very powerful, and Christian… people have criticised him for being one-note but that’s part of the character. He was playing a guy who’s furiously dedicated to the survival of the human species. Maybe more could have been done with that. In T2 we showed the consequences. It drove Sarah insane."

He hits it on the head with those first seven words, though he tries to be politically nice.

So here's what I wrote right after seeing it. I guess I agree with most, but if anything, I thought less of the movie as time went on. I went from "not too bad" to "not really worth much."

>Terminator: Salvation was OK. Not too bad, but nothing great. The action was pretty good. Seeing a bunch of Terminators walking around was kinda cool. The movie had a cool look to it. The dialogue was kinda crappy throughout. The only interesting character was only half human. There were a few things that were way out of place. For example, every human that wasn't part of the Resistance was a country bumpkin stereotype right out of Deliverance 2018 ("Squeal like a cyber-piggy"). With those negatives, I think the positives were able to outweigh it a bit.

But before you consider this to be much of a recommendation, I had really low expectations going in. I hope those of you who see it in the theater have someone in your theater who is an awesome as the person who was sitting behind us. There's a VERY forced "I'll Be Back" from John Connor. And immediately after that line, the fucktard behind us decided that he had to repeat the line in an awful Arnold accent. Heading out of the theater, I said that it was my favorite part of the movie. Looking back, I still agree. It was the most memorable moments.

And then there was Christian Bale. Christian Bale was rather... crappy. He hit one note throughout the movie, and that note was "Angry Because I Have To Take a Dump." It's been awhile since I watched T2 or T3, but he didn't seem like an adult version of the John Connor from those movies. The disappointing thing is that the only credibility that this movie has was Bale. It certainly wasn't hack director (Charlie's Angels) McG. After relistening to the rant, it wa during a scene with Bryce Dallas Howard (and I believe that her only part in the script was to open her eyes really big). Since all of his scenes had the same out of place intensity, I have no idea what the scene was. But since the movie looked better than Bale's acting, I declare the following. One point: Shane Hurlbut. One douche: Christian Bale.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Star Trek

The fifth movie I saw this year was Star Trek. Both because I don't feel I have too much original to say about it and I need to get out of here, this will just be a quick writeup.

I've always been a Star Wars fan instead of Star Trek. I've seen some of the movies. I've seen a few episodes of the original, but not in since I was young. I do show a clip in class, though. But I only know about this clip because of a youtube search for the Schoolhouse Rock preamble.

For The Next Generation, I never saw a complete episode until I couple years back. I added it to my Netflix queue, since I enjoy watching full seasons of shows at a time. I made it through the first disk, maybe into the second before sending it back. I just wasn't into it enough.

In college, I started watching Voyager (interestingly to me, I started watching with my friend George - a guy who I haven't thought of in years, but makes his appearance in my blog for the second day in a row.) I think we made it through most of the first season, meeting to watch it every time it was on. But I don't remember us watching beyond that.

I haven't seen any of the other series. That said, I'm not a big Star Trek fan. So a reboot wasn't a problem for me. And I really enjoyed the movie. The plot involves time travel, and when you drive down that road, you're always going to hit plot hole. And it's science fiction in which the science is the fiction, so some part there don't make sense.

But what Star Trek did was to redefine the characters of Kirk and Spock. I don't know if individually it made them into the most interesting characters, but it didn't have to. It made them into another great on screen couple. I think that dynamic was what made the movie work for me.

I don't remember being bored while watching it, and it looks great. There weren't too many part, from what I remember, where they went for big CGI shots while sacrificing pacing. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I look forward to some more Abrams
Star Trek.

Friday, December 4, 2009


My plan while writing about Adventureland was to discuss movie expectations and how they shape your movie going experience. Then I read Nolan's blog where he discusses expectations for the second day in a row and decided to change where I was going. but then I realized that it would change my expectations of my blog writing experience. Also, it's a common theme in many of my writeups, so I will continue as I had this planned in my head.

The trailers and commercials I saw for Adventureland had it pegged as a bit of a screwball type comedy. I didn't find the trailers to be especially funny, but there were some people in it that I often find funny, such as Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader from SNL. The trailers also showed that guy who kinda looks like Michael Cera (Jesse Eisenberg) and the Twilight chick (Kristen Stewart). I didn't have a lot of interest in seeing it.

One weekend, I was in the mood to see a movie, but I didn't really know what to see. Rotten Tomatoes was showing Adventureland as having a pretty high rating. Remembering what However, I didn't really read the reviews. I put two and two together - the trailers and the ratings - and figured that this could be a funny comedy. That sounded like a decent was to spend the afternoon. My math was off, but in a different, weird way.

Back in college, my friend George and I talked about gong to see a bunch of summer movies as a way of getting through midterms and finals. But he never wanted to see any trailers or commercials. One of the movies coming out that summer was Twister, and I specifically remember him running out of the room when the trailer came on TV. He wanted to see his movies fresh. While I cannot recommend Twister in any way shape or form, it does have one of the funniest lines ever, but not intentionally. (If you see it again, it's Bill Paxton's amazing delivery of the line, "He's in it for the money, not the science.")

I think I remember reading (though I could be off, yet I'm feeling too lazy to look it up) that Gene Siskel would wait in the lobby until the trailers were over. He wouldn't read any notes before the movie about the movie and tried to avoid knowing anything about the movie beforehand. In his review of Monster, Roger Ebert writes that he had no idea that Aileen Wuornos was played by Charlize Theron until the closing credits.

The closest experience to this that I can remember right now is when I first saw Groundhog Day. I went to see it with a group of people, so I was just along for the ride. The few commercials I had seen didn't discuss its actual premise. All I really remember was seeing Bill Murray drive around with a groundhog and Murray's line, "I'm a god. I'm not the God..." Clearly, if you've seen the movie, I had no idea of the premise. This means I had the experience to share Phil's (Murray's character) realization of the plot. While it's already a great movie, it made my movie going experience that much better.

So back to Adventureland. I was expecting and wanted a silly comedy. It isn't, and I didn't get it. I spent the first half of the movie slumping in my seat feeling really disappointed that I wasn't laughing. I was getting upset with the reviewers for giving this comedy such a high rating.

I blame all of that on my expectations. The fact that Adventureland isn't in my top ten is probably due to dumbasses who put together the trailer, and my dumb ass for not learning a bit more about the movie before going in.

But luckily, I started recognizing that the rest of the movie is actually pretty good. Not as a silly comedy, but as a good romantic comedy. And as a coming of age comedy. The characters are nicely developed. The dialogue is sharp. Wiig and Heder provide some good comic relief to ease so that the movie doesn't have just one tone.

So here's the story: I was caught of guard about Adventureland so that you don't have to. This movie deserved a wider audience because it's actually pretty good. It's my second favorite romantic comedy of the year, but I'll get to that on my top 10 list (unless it's bumped in the next few weeks).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Love You , Man

This is the third movie I saw this year, I Love You, Man.

I've found that in general, I tend to avoid comedies in the theaters. In the past, I figured that if I were going to see a movie, I wanted it to be something big. It should be something worth seeing on a big screen. But as I've grown up to the fact that the movie watching experience is more than that, I made an attempt to watch a few more comedies in the theater instead of just waiting for the DVD release. I'll write about a couple over the next month.

I Love You, Man wasn't great, but it was pretty good. Paul Rudd works well with the other two leads, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. Rudd and Segal were on screen together in Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I think that in the latter they were pretty funny together. They worked well in this movie as well. If you were to call this movie a romantic comedy, you could be referring to the man crush these two have on each other, and I think it worked.

Overall, it's a decent movie. There are enough funny parts, so I don't think you will be disappointed if you watch it.

But most importantly, it isn't too long. This is something I've totally changed my mind about over the past few years. I used to look at movies from an economical point of view. My thought was that if I'm paying x amount for a movie that's two and a half hours long or spending x amount for a ninety minute movie, I'm getting ripped off. Once again, I've grown enough to discount this now.

Now I truly appreciate some good editing, and I'm more likely to see a movie that doesn't go too much beyond two hours. With comedies, shorter is often better. I Love You Man was about an hour and forty-five. That's about the max.

This year, I think I've seen more movies that have been well under two hours, and they just seem tighter. I haven't felt nearly as many physically uncomfortable moments as movies slow down to the point where I start worrying about how numb my left buttock is. My legs are already pretty figgity in theater seats, so I don't need the extra uncomfortable time.

I wonder - did I more "short" movies this year because I chose to or because they are just getting a bit shorter? If they are, perhaps it has something to do with DVD releases. Everyone knows that you have to have some parts cut for the inevitable extended editions on the DVDs, so they can cut out a few things that they might have been reluctant to earlier?

My mini thesis is unproven by a couple "big releases this year, Transformers 2 and 2012, both of which, I understand, were rather long.

And of course, there are obvious exceptions to the rule. There have been many movies that NEED to be epics. I can't imaging seeing Gone With the Wind in the theaters. But watching it in parts at home - cool.

While watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I remember hitting a point where I was enjoying myself so much that I didn't want it to end. so for those of you who hated the endings and endings and endings, I guess that's my fault.

When the makers of the movie are good enough, and if the movies are great enough, they can take their time telling the story and developing the characters. But it can be a risk. The editing process needs to filled with outstanding judgment. I felt that with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it was excruciatingly long for me. Perhaps a major cut would have fixed that (though I hated it for so many other reasons, I doubt it.) Yesterday I talked about Watchmen and how adding more content would have been beneficial. But I don't know if I wanted to spend more than two and a half hours in the theaters with it.

Lance wrote about The Bridge on the River Kwai today. So I took a moment to see what I wrote about it right after seeing it. It turns out that I wrote a very nice little conclusion for today's Movie-a-Day entry:


December 1, 2000 - Excellent! This is one of those long movies that flies by. In the first hour, with the conflict between Obi Wan and the Japanese military guy (I'm so precise) was extremely intense. Sir Alec Guiness was incredibly cool. Then the rest of the movie built up nicely to the final scene, as we learn what the final fate of the bridge will be. Really amazing.