Sunday, February 8, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You (Theatre) - Both

As romcoms go this wasn’t bad. It did, however, do exactly what it preached it wouldn’t do, but I expected that. We all know the ending of any romcom contains the couple happily living ever after, and while this wasn’t the case for all of our lovelorn losers the majority of these pairings were happily engaged in committed relationships by the end. And, for a movie that espouses that men don’t really like women I feel this film betrayed its message. This American version of Love, Actually (2004) seemed to falter only in its inability to truthfully kill relationships.

The couple that the movie based most of its message on was Gigi and Alex, delightfully played by Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long, respectively. Alex reveals a great truth to Gigi when he sees her crash and burn with his friend Conor, and thus strikes up a friendship with the lovable loser. As she navigates the sea of men in Alex’s bar he steers her around some of the more obvious icebergs that present themselves to her and she eventually falls for Alex. Now, anyone could have seen this coming, but I didn’t mind the obvious nature of this relationship. However, what Gigi took as signs that Alex was into her were figments of her imagination and Alex rebuffs her telling her what he has said all along, to paraphrase, if a guy really likes you he will find a way to let you know.

Conor and Anna make up the second pairing and portray the same message but in a gender reversal, if a girl really likes you she will find a way to let you know. Conor, played by Kevin Connolly, mopes about the screen longing for Anna, his one time partner, but she obviously has no interest in that sort of relationship. She toys with him, calling him up in the middle of the night, hugging him as she leaves each time, and engaging him in conversations about how their relationship should have worked out, but ultimately she likes Ben.

Janine and Ben, skillfully played by Jennifer Connelly and the affable Bradley Cooper, were the only couple to actually be sunk by the choppy waters of love. Ben’s wandering eye got the better of him as he broke his wedding vows with the aforementioned Anna, Scarlett Johansson, and Janine eventually found out. Janine then forgave him, but Ben’s oats got the better of him and he fell back into his cheating ways.

The last couple of note, Beth and Neil, played by Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck, portray a couple who have been dating for seven years but due to Neil’s desires to never get married are stuck in a place that makes Beth feel uncomfortable.

The characters are well played by all the actors with Aniston, Goodwin, and Connelly standing out, and this leads me to pause and say, that when actors take romcoms seriously they can surpass the genre and create an enjoyable viewing experience for all involved. The writing wasn’t amazing, not that it was bad, it just didn’t stand out, but the actors played their roles thoughtfully and it showed.

Alex eventually figures out that he wanted to be with Gigi and lets her know. This to me seemed somewhat weird and against message, but they were a cute couple in the end. Neil eventually learns that if he truly wants to spend the rest of his days with Beth, then they should get married. This, again, goes against message, but it plays to the audience. So again, this film betrays its name, but thanks to the actors taking their jobs seriously it remained watchable.

Just as a side note here at the end, I can’t believe this is directed by the same individual who directed License to Wed (2007), The Beautician and the Beast (1997), and Dunston Checks In (1996). What the hell.

6 out of 10 – a great score for a romcom, but it truly was a well acted and interesting movie. I can’t say that for most in the genre.


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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Coraline (Theatre) - Both

I’m not sure if Coraline was a good movie, or if when compared with the deluge of tepid children’s movies it at least isn’t bad. When you compare Coraline with works like Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Beauty and the Beast (1991), or any Pixar film its errant strings and gaps in storytelling become a bit more apparent, but largely Coraline succeeds. My main theory on why this is the case relies solely on the fact that there are consequences in the story.

I think a large reason why most children’s tales these days are somewhat boring and noncommittal hinge on the fact that nothing bad can or will happen. I think the idea comes from the fact that parents want to shield their offspring from bad things happening even if it is in a movie. When is the last time you saw anyone die in a Disney movie? The villains are all misunderstood individuals who just need someone to love them. No one needs to die, they just need a psychologist.

Gaston dies, man. He falls off a tower after fighting the Beast in a bloody battle. It’s a pretty gruesome death. That sort of thing would never happen in a film these days. Too many parents would be up in arms about how their precious little snowflakes learned to fight from the movie.

In Coraline the titular character is being wooed away from her home by a shape shifting witch/spider of sorts. Coraline is shown a world of wonder in which her parents always have time for her and her neighbor-friend is silent but present. This world is reached by traveling through a small hidden doorway in her family’s new living room, but there is a problem with her new play world. The leader of the world wants to take her soul, or eyes, or well, yeah, soul (eyes are the window to the soul right?). Anyways, that situation has consequences. She could end up dead.

The voice acting is well done; I would especially call out John Hodgeman for his wonderfully fun portrayal of Coraline’s dad. And while the story was incredibly predictable, it held fast to a classic fable arc that revealed three tests that the protagonist had to best in order to mature. My one slight, if I had to find one, would involve the parents of the child. They were never shown in any real positive light. In most of these cases the parents are doing what is best for the child and the child just doesn’t see the love that is inherent in the relationship, but in Coraline the parents were mean. They never really had time for her despite both working from home and only after Coraline saved the day did her mother buy her a gift of love.

Oh did I mention this was in 3-D. I’m not sure why, nothing really came of it, but I guess as it is the flare du jour we have a 3-D movie on our hands.

6 out of 10 – An interesting children’s film that delivered a creepy yet satisfying little trip.


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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eagle Eye (Dvd) - Both

Computers are terribly dangerous. They can do some crazy stuff that you don’t even know about, like change traffic lights, operate cranes, blow the airbag in a truck, anything and everything you think a computer can do – it can. Plus computers hate humans. They find us dangerous. They believe that we are a hindrance to ourselves and to the world. Thus every time a movie imagines a world where computers think, they kick our ass. As long as we can maintain our dominance over conscious thought we’re good, but if they ever gain even semi-conscious thought . . .

Well, Shia Laboof lives in that world.

Shit.

The computers are going to get us. Not only does the computer in this movie hate humans, but it hates humans on the basis that we don’t follow a largely philosophical document that states our desires for our nation.

Wow.

This computer can think, hate and interpret the documents our forefathers wrote. We are in trouble.

The rogue sister of HAL believes that the president has broken a law and thus he needs to be eliminated along with the entire executive branch. The computer then devises an insanely complicated plot involving a trumpet and a diamond necklace to pull off the assassination.

Hell, man. Computers are amazing.

Now, why wouldn’t the computer simply take control of a plane and bomb the white off the executive branch – I don’t’ know. During the course of the movie we see that computers can do that sort of thing. But, I guess, our computer has a flare for the dramatic. Trumpet and diamond necklace – that’s the ticket.

Oh, computers, you are a dangerous match that humans love to play with. When will we actually get burnt?

Shia stumbles through his dialog as he does his fame and drags the film down a notch or two, but with a ridiculous plot like this, I’m not sure this ever had a chance of being good anyways. There are car chases, there are guns, and there is an individual who gets shot, but survives – it’s your basic action movie.

I largely don’t go for these types of movies, and neither does Jennie, but this film seemed to garner some praise, all be it a small amount, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why. The bland plot that mixed any action film with 2001: a space odyssey was straight from the latest airplane novel sitting in the tiny Barns & Nobles. I don’t get it. Where did any praise come from?

3 out of 10: I wouldn’t waste my time. This fil[ERROR] JRun Servlet [ERROR](SecModConnectionPool.java:705)[ERROR] THIS MOVIE WAS GREAT \nl GO WATCH IT NOW


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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ghost Town (Dvd) - Both

I watched Ricky Gervais earlier this month on Inside the Actor’s Studio he stated that some of the best comedians did one thing, and they did it really well, he named Abbot and Costello as prime examples. They also had a lovable loser thing going on, because according to Gervais confidence aint funny. This, I’m assuming, was said to combat the critics who call Gervais a one trick pony. I tend to agree with the critics but I can see where Gervais is coming from as well.

In Ghost World Gervias remains true to his ideal stated to James Lipton and plays a largely anti-social extrovert whose near death experience leaves him with the unintended side effect of being able to speak with the dead. Since he is incredibly anti-social this irks him a great deal as now he has even more people crowding his world. In an attempt to get rid of them he finds love.

Yes, this is a romcom staring Ricky Gervais. This, in my mind, is as bad of a casting call as Ellen DeGeneres in Mr. Wrong (1996). I’m not sure who thought he would be a good lead in a romcom but I don’t have the big Hollywood pockets.

This film has a heart to it – that’s undisputable. Gervais is given the chance to help the dead move on from what is keeping them trapped in limbo. In these acts of good will and kindness the lovable loser that Gervais plays finds that the closed world he has been living in his whole life is somewhat meaningless and vapid. This is not a horribly surprising message, but Gervais plays the emotions well, and I genuinely felt good when he helped people.

The scant hour and maybe thirty minutes that this movie takes to tell its tale is a bit short, but I wouldn’t have wanted them to spend any more time on the ghosts, nor would I have wanted any more riffing from Gervais, so I guess win win.

4 out of 10 – Gervais plays Gervias once again, but this time with emotion.


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Wanted (Dvd)

I would figure a Matrix (1999) rip-off would have been made a little earlier, I mean isn’t this about 5 years late? And when I say rip-off I don’t mean like Heathcliff v. Garfield, I’m talking plagiarism right down to the pseudo-attractive female that kicks ass. This film is the Matrix without computers. I can actually picture the Hollywood heads using that exact phrase, “Matrix without computers,” to describe what this was and how it was going to make money.

The hero is starts in a cubicle where he is picked on by his “best” friend and boss and is ignored by the office hottie.

Oh man, what a set up.

His girlfriend is cheating on him with his “best” friend from the office though she isn’t nice to him anyways. This cardboard situation isn’t developed in anyway though so when his estranged dad turns out to be in a secret group of assassins it seems like a great deal for the main character Wesley “Neo” Gibson. Eventually, this group of assassins needs to show this nobody that he is a somebody by teaching him the ways of his father so that he can track down his father’s killer who just so happens to be the best assassin ever.

I can’t tell you how many Matrix type situations and characters are in this film and as it turns out the graphic novel this film was adapted from was published in 2003 so I think we all know where Mark Miller got is inspiration. And though the plot was a direct rip-off of a better work it is actually a pretty universal plot, so you would think that the audience could get behind this loser with a destiny plot. But the action and actors seem so clichéd and flat it felt like watching an hour and a half commercial for some hot new cell phone, caffeine drink or at least some other product that the kids like. There was absolutely no weight to the characters.

The one character I found that they gave at least an attempt at fleshing out is big-lips herself, Mrs. Angelina Jolie – shudder. I dislike her. I don’t think she is a good actress, and I don’t know why. I won’t watch Changeling (2008) though I have heard great things about, because she is the central actor. She is like the female Vince Vaughn, always adding her sleek “sexiness” to every character she plays. Her back story here involves a clichéd rough childhood, and, I guess, that means she can kick ass.

Yeah.

There is a betrayal, what we thought was true wasn’t – and, finally, a twist a Romcom fan could see coming a mile away - oh, and a huge scene with ass kicking. Ho-hum. There is room for a sequel, of course, but if this is a mediocre Matrix, and the Matrix sequels were horrible, then the amount of suck that a Wanted sequel would create would be monumental.

3 out of 10 – Just rewatch the Matrix.




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My Bloody Valentine 3D (Theatre) - Jennifer

Jennie was unusually amped for this movie. I remember when we were dating I was dragged to Spy Kids 3-D. It seems I married a teenager from the 1950s. Boy, does she love her some 3-D. I’m not sure I get why, but I go and usually enjoy the interesting film experience that the technology can give.

Now, it seems horror is a genre that is perfect for the out-dated technology. Think about it, scary men popping out, items being thrown at you, weapons being brandished in your general direction it’s all ripe for 3-Dedafacation. And this film actually used the technology well.

I’ll give you some examples. As the killer attacks a helpless victim she throws a bed frame in front of her to block the weapon, then the camera turns and we see things from the victims prospective and we see the weapon lunging out of the screen at us being blocked by the bed frame. It’s all very exciting. Another staple of the horror genre is the naked female that has just had sex, but now is killed for her indiscretion. Well, the director or maybe the writer – well, someone – seemed to love this concept cause they 3-D’ed the hell out of it. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm saying it is a ludicrously hammy thing. I’ve got a feeling that this is the first full frontal 3-D ever created, but I could be wrong.

As for the plot itself, it wasn’t bad – well, until the ending. It was classic horror film: killer on the loose in a small town. The players were set up nicely and there were false leads as to the identity of the killer. It was all very exciting. But when it came right down to brass tacks the killer was revealed with a whimper – the old boyfriend who just went crazy and thus was killing people when he didn’t know it. There were no clues, no way to figure it out. Even the killer didn’t know it was himself until it was revealed. The ridiculous nature of this reveal worked against the mediocre horror film that had constructed itself, and the 3-D aspect remained the only support the film had going for it.

I’m not sure what future 3-D has in the world of film, but it seems that it’s making a comeback. I can’t wait for the 3-D remake of The Big Chill (1983)!

3 out of 10 – would have been a solid five if it weren’t for the ending. Coming for the 3-D stay for the… 3-D.


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Monday, January 12, 2009

Snow Angels (Dvd) - Matt Suggestion

I’m not sure what is more surprising – the idea that this film hasn’t had any praise whatsoever in a lackluster year for award movies, or that this film was directed by the same individual who directed Pineapple Express (2008). You choose.

The film is a sparse drama set in a snow fallen small town that while showing the cycle of relationships reflects on the pain and loss that can be born from mediocrity in effort. Sam Rockwell, brilliant as always, plays Glenn Marchand, a recently divorced recently born again Christian who skirts the line of worthlessness and significance as he attempts to regain the life he once had. His ex, Annie, played against type by Kate Beckinsale, is obviously done with any relationship that the two could possibly produce and is self-destructive with her other relationships in the small town. The two stumble through their parental duties until the rising action of the film when the here-to-for pawn in their relationship embodied by the little girl goes missing.

Backinsale’s character works in a shabby Chinese restaurant the type you know is about as Chinese as a fortune cookie, while Rockwell works as a wholesale carpet dealer attempting to parlay his newfound religion into sales and advancement. The town’s high school band plays a soulless and mournful version of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer while the band leader screams for them to feel it. Meaning – the tangible qualities of the town are additions to the morose feelings the jilted relationship emanates, it’s all rather depressing.

There are four central relationships that this film attempts to portray that displays four distinct stages in relationships in general: birth (young love), angst (a couple who is being torn apart by infidelity), acceptance (a couple divorcing due to infidelity), and death (a couple destroying their relationship and each other). Rockwell and Beckinsale play the latter of the four who are falling deep into a gulch of self loathing and after the loss of their daughter Rockwell’s character is sunk. It’s all rather depressing.

My biggest complaint in this film lies with its youngest actors and the writing done for them. They are given poor dialog and seemingly worse motivation. Their relationship seems born of confidence and a mutual attraction both of which are hard to come by in high school. This isn’t to say it is impossible, but with the characters, I find it to be against the grain.

But overall this film is a well done yet miserable. Despite the young love flub the relationships are stark and realistic. Accolades are deserved all around, but I fear none will come, which is all rather depressing.

7 out of 10 – a great film that should be seen, but I would never want to watch it again thus it loses a point.


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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bride Wars (Theatre) - Jennie

Weddings are amazing. I mean that. Mine was the second happiest day of my life. Only to be surpassed the very next day as my new bride and I drove to our hotel in Maui. So how does Hollywood take the romance, joy, and love out of weddings?! How do Cinema weddings turn into what was displayed by this film?

This film was horrible. It highlighted a rare strain of female that wants so badly to have the perfect wedding that nothing, not even a cardboard cutout of a fiancé will stand in her way. Now, technically I don’t know any woman who has acted like that on their wedding day. So I feel that Hollywood is doing the fairer gender a disservice by producing this schlock. But it was obviously made for females. Not one male of note even graced the cast.

I’m not sure what anyone can get from this movie either. It depicts two wedding hungry girls who happen to be best friends. They both get engaged around the same time as well, one by forcing her boyfriend to ask her and the other by a nonchalant sigh of resignation. After finding that the wedding planner of their dreams booked them on the same day they fight to see who gets to keep the wedding date. No one wins and they both put on their weddings but not before attempting to sabotage the others. Along the way the husbands to be are pushed aside and barely even noticeable except for the occasional quip about how “crazy” girls are about weddings.

Eventually, one’s wedding falls apart on the day of the dual weddings and they make up. They both attend the wedding that is still on– while both of them are in wedding dresses – um, yeah. There is a little wrapper that shows that the two have been playing wedding together since they were children and the final voiceover reads something like this "Sometimes in life there really are bonds formed that can never be broken. Sometimes you really can find that one person who will stand by you no matter what; maybe you'll find it in a spouse and celebrate it with your dream wedding, but there is also the chance that the one person you can count on for a lifetime, the one person who knows you, sometimes better than you know yourself, is the same person who's been standing beside you all along."

Now I don’t know about you. I don’t know about your partner. I don’t know about anything other than my own marriage, and if that last sentence isn’t talking about your partner then you probably shouldn’t be getting married in my opinion. I wanted to start this review of with a remark about how Sex and the City has given woman the courage to say that a good group of friends is really all they need, if a life partner comes along so be it. And I think that is great, but that also means you shouldn’t then get married because it is some rite of passage. I guess what I’m trying to say is you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you can’t give everything to your partner, then why get married, what is the point? Stay dating forever and leave it at that. If you really do want to be there for that person in good or bad times, sickness and health, zit or no zit (thank you Mrs. New!) – do it. But don’t marry someone for the ceremony. It is just rude.

I know I got off on a tangent, but this movie simply pissed me off. Marriages, between men, women, both – who cares – should be held in high regard. If you don’t – don’t get married. This movie simply mocks what it supposedly obsesses over.

1 out of 10 – simply a waste of time. And even somewhat offensive to weddings in general.


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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Theatre) - Both

David Fincher is known for making dark films – Fight Club (1999), Se7en (1995), Zodiac (2007) these are all rather pessimistic movies that don’t really celebrate the human endeavor – even Panic Room is darker than most cinema fair. However, Fincher’s latest effort is close to the exact opposite. It has the light charm and sullied optimism of Forrest Gump (1994), and that isn’t the last reference to that film I will make here.

Fincher's touch isn’t as heavy handed as it has been in the past, there are no scoping shots parsing rooms out as action takes place, but as the director grows older his touch with the scissors seems to be waning. While Zodiac came to 158 minutes Button runs the marathon of 166 minutes. And there are numerable scenes that could have found a home on the editing room floor.

To give you an example – the wrapper was a waist of emotion, money, and time. We see Daisy, the central female protagonist, as an old woman slowly dying has hurricane Katrina threatens to strike New Orleans. Why Katrina needed to be thrown into this film, I will never know. Her daughter reads to her the diary that Benjamin has left behind as she, Daisy, dies. This mirrors Forrest Gump’s wrapper in that the audience is constantly drawn out of the story by the two individuals telling it to rehash the information learned. Additionally, we get the emotional dead weight of a daughter finding out that her father is clearly not who she thought it was, but as she finds out through the diary, he was a curious man who happens to age backwards. The wrapper could have never been in the story and the film would have been the same.

The love story in the film also mirrors Gump in its breadth and scope. We are lead to believe that the two main characters fell in love when they were both around the age of ten. This means that we need to believe that a ten year old girl fell for, what looked like, a seventy year old man. An odd concept, I know. And much like Gump, the love isn’t really kindled until much later. They are torn apart and brought together on several occasions, all the while one is growing older and the other younger.

Now, it seems like I’m down on this film. I’m not. In fact, when walking to the car with my wife I exclaimed that I enjoyed this film more than Slumdog Millionaire (2008). But I find that while I thought the film was a subtle epic, which played its cards at just the right moment, it doesn’t stay fresh as I turn its central themes around in my head.

I continue to believe that I loved this film while watching, I love a good epic. They seem so grand. But epics, even Forrest Gump, my favorite, don’t always maintain their luster when taken away from the viewing experience. I’m not sure why. Maybe, it has to do with the fact that you are no longer having to buy each and every coincidence. Maybe, it has to do with the fact that our lives never mirror the majestic highs, lows, or battles that appear in the individual’s life. I’m not sure. But, I can’t think of an epic that stays epic after the theatre.

7 out of 10 – an epic piece of cinema that tries its hardest to maintain the paces it sets for itself.


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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (Theatre) - Both

From the opening scene of Danny Boyle’s tale, India is a sight to behold. The bombastic movement that follows the children as they run through their slum depicts a tangible world for his characters to inhabit. Boyle’s cardinal filming techniques are present with quick edits, bright colors, and variable focus lengths. The pinnacle establishing shot jump cuts to a view that shows the children escape through a clearing in the hodgepodge of tin roofs that provide shelter for the slum. And much like Boyle’s last film, the amazing Sunshine, Boyle makes his set piece a character.

But to speak of only Boyle’s filming techniques would be a misstep. The script that Boyle puts to film is a classic tale that brings about thoughts of other old stories from Britain’s great authors. The film’s plot is a mixture of both Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Dickens’ Oliver Twist, with a little twenty-first century wrapper that pulls the plot together. The wrapper is truly what makes the plot stand out from a simple rehash of old tales of orphans and unrequited love and gives an easy climax to the old narratives.

Jamal Malik, awkwardly played by Dev Patel, uses Who Wants to be a Millionaire to get in touch with his lost love Latika. However, the police are interrogating him based on the idea that a man from the slums can, in no way, know all of the answers to get as far as he has gotten in the contest. The story of how Jamal came to know and fall in love with Latika is then told through his interrogation as he explains how he knows the answers to the entire list of questions. Each subsequent answer to the twenty or so questions chronologically steps us forward in his relationship with Latika.

And while this is one of the better films I have seen in the last year or so, I do have one major qualm with it. Joel pointed this one out before I had seen the film, and so while watching all I could think was the love between Latika and Jamal wasn’t based on anything really. They met as children, had a few harrowing adventures, but that is it. Are you in love with anyone you met when you were five? While this is not unlike Romeo and Juliet, and I still have problems with this plot device. Why would you love someone whom you’ve had very little contact with?

Boyle’s film gives the viewer a tangible India and a classic tale. It’s an optimistic film in a pessimistic season. I can’t wait to see Boyle’s next trick.

8 out of 10 – a fantastic view of India with a universal story.


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