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|151 reviews in total|
Watching the Detectives - Neil (the very talented Cillian Murphy) owns
a rundown video store that specializes in obscure B movies and film
noir. His life consists of watching movies and chatting while his life
goes nowhere. One day he meets an intense free-spirit girl named Violet
(Lucy Liu) who plays pranks on him compulsively. The film contains many
delightful nods to gumshoe film noir.
The plot is simple, and it seems like the sort of film that was made for film buffs, with more references than you can shake a stick at. It even feels like the sort of film I would make, and doubtless director/writer Peter Soter speaks from experience. The premise is enjoyable, as is the chemistry between Cillian Murphy, who is the show, and Lucy Liu. She perfectly plays the "crazy" girlfriend. She's like fire. Violet burns brightly, but often burns the gullible Nick with her pranks. Nick reminds me of me. And I love myself, and love Cillian Murphy, so this film really spoke to me.
The films message, which is to get out and enjoy life, might rub some film aficionados the wrong way for criticizing the wholeness of their lives, so their umbrage is understood, though unfortunate. I know fully well that screens are no substitute for real life and take every opportunity to do something else. They are a nice distraction when things are stagnant though.
It's just all in good fun, often very good fun. The shenanigans that Nick and Violet get into are just too much. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this film. Watching the Detectives is cleverly written, often very funny and quirky and idiosyncratic as hell. As this is the case, it's not for everyone but eons better than most of what has come out this year. I'm dismayed Watching the Detectives didn't get a full release. I suppose there aren't enough ironic film buffs out there and fans of Cillian Murphy, whose performance makes the movie. This and Breakfast on Pluto are a great set of companion films. Watching the Detectives gets an A-
Twilight - Based on the popular children's novels, Twilight is about
high schooler Bella (Kristen Stewart), the palest resident of Arizona
ever, as she moves to be the palest non-vampire in Washington. She
meets smoldering young-looking vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson)
and the two have the most awkward courtship in the history of film.
Then he fights some of the most ridiculous and un-scary looking
vampires ever to grace the silver screen with their presence.
That's really all there is to the plot, and man is it stretched over two hours. Luckily, the film is hilarious, albeit entirely unintentionally. All intentional attempts at humor fall flat. Basically Twilight seizes you with it's big awkward fist immediately, and rarely lets go. The best example (and there are many) is Bella's relationship with her dad, the always uncomfortable looking Billy Burke. There are spaces between their lines that you could drive a truck through. It's all just painfully awkward.
Some things kept running through my mind. Edward is supposed to have spent 108 years on this planet. In those 108 years, couldn't he have picked up some basic social skills? Pattinson seems to have watched Charlie Sheen's performance in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for research on the undead, because he spends most of the film staring bug-eyed like he's strung out on meth. He gets the American accent all right, and that's the best I can give him. He's supposed to be cool. He's often just antisocial and creepy, especially with lines like "I enjoy watching you sleep." This line was hilarious by the way, and there are many that are almost as good. He has absolutely nothing interesting to say, and the makeup people have covered him in glitter for his sunlight scenes, presumably as the final rite of emasculation.
I expect so much more from Melissa Rosenberg, a writer on my favorite show Dexter. Stick with TV honey! Teen fantasy does your creepy off-beat writing no favors. I think the script was about 70 pages long, so they filled the rest with awkward silence, during which everyone seems to be struggling for their next line. Sweet jeepers, half the responses the actors give each other aren't even human sounding. What I said for Rosenberg goes for amateurish director Catherine Hardwicke, who should stick with her day job of production designer. She cannot film action or direct actors to save her soul. She has tried to give this the feel of teen angst but has instead come up with an awkward monstrosity that could put the combined talents of Michael Cera and Larry David to shame.
Bella is boring and, as mentioned, criminally pale. She's pretty, but I hate her, and her voice is bothersome. It's annoying to have followed a character that does not seem to give a crap about anything, and spends the entire film frowning. She also has the keen observational abilities of a squirrel for not guessing Ed was a vampire, or at least some sort of freakish being, two seconds after he stops a car with his hand. Neither does this freak out or intrigue anyone else in the vicinity, strangely. It's not Ed's weird behavior, aversion to sunlight or mind reading skills but his cold skin that tells Bella he's a vampire, thanks to the magic of Google. Thanks Google! It's so campy, silly and shoddily made that I should hate this film by all standards, but I had a great time. Ironically the less attached to the books the more fun you'll have. I'd give it a D for all fans but the youngest and most devoted. I haven't read the books but I'm sure it has been ripped to shreds on the journey to the film. But I had an wonderful time laughing at the film, minus puncturing points of boredom and a few times where I looked at my watch. One positive note: the soundtrack isn't half bad.
Awkward to the end and funny all the way through, Twilight gets a C
Let the Right One In 12 year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) has divorced
parents, abusive school bullies, unsatisfied revenge issues and no
friends. One day a 12 year old (more or less) girl named Eli (Lina
Leandersson) moves in next door. They quickly become friends even as
Eli's bloodlust wreaks havoc on the quiet community.
Oskar is a good protagonist. We follow him on his quest for love, acceptance and a spine. And it's difficult not to like Eli even as she commits atrocities. She has such pathos and really seems to like Oskar. I've read reviews describing Eli's vampire behavior as "cat-like" but "dog" or possibly "wolf-like" seems more accurate. She is quite vicious and it occurred to me how much the qualities of rabies and vampirism are similar. Both involve lack of pain, feral behavior and strong aversion to sunlight and water.
The usage of the old "the less you show, the scarier it is" rule is appreciated. Clever camera angles and Pov shots conceal sinister goings on to make what is shown all the more fantastical. I liked the neat twists on old vampire rules involving sunlight and invitation into people's houses. Also the understated (minus at the end of the film) violence was actually much more jarring because it was not out and out spectacle. Kills are not given huge sound effects nor are blows to the head.
It's not a straight out horror film for those expecting huge body counts, jump scares and all of that crap. It is quite plainly, a coming of age story with vampires and romantic tones. Let the Right One In does lag occasionally but it's a good film all around, a good horror film and the best vampire film in years. Now will people stop watching Twilight and go see this instead? B+
Happy Go Lucky - This movie defies my structure of starting with a few
sentences describing the plot. It does so by not really having a
concise plot, much like life. Polly (Sally Hawkins) goes through life
trying to brighten as many people's lives as possible and having fun.
She is bubbly, spunky, cheerful and out for a good time and so is this
movie. It has pathos of course which ironically is what gives it
substance, but just as quickly the film goes looking for the next bit
of fun, and so do we. Who wants to spend the day sad? Director Mike
Leigh's latest film was "Vera Drake", and if you saw that film you'll
know that this is on the complete side of the spectrum from that. I
also had the thought of "This is critic proof." during the film. HGL is
such a charming consistently funny film that marches to the beat of its
own drum. It really doesn't care what I think of it.
Sally Hawkins does a very good job with a role which could have been the equivalent of brushing your teeth with bubblegum toothpaste or having cotton candy for breakfast. She is not merely a ditzy airhead or perhaps not 'just' a ditzy airhead. She really does set out to make the world a better place, or at least the lives of her and her friends. It was H. Jackson Brown, not Sheryl Crow, who once wrote that "Success is getting what you want. Happiness is liking what you get." I like what I'm getting here. Polly is not successful, but damn the woman is happy. You can scoff, but she could outlive us all, and this cynic salutes that.
One of the things I liked best was the dynamic between Polly and Scott (Eddie Marsan, who will be pitch perfect as Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes next year). I was reminded of the relationship between "an unstoppable force meets an immovable object" a la "The Dark Knight" with the Joker and Batman. It's social vs. anti-social. Scott is anger and rationale and bitterness and cynicism. Polly just cannot be brought down by him. Scott doesn't have a chance. Scott is a pure glass-half-empty man whilst Polly is always looking for the glass that's half full. They're both right of course at times and it's good fun to watch the completely contrasting personas bounce off of each other. The idea is, admittedly lop-sided by a number of bigoted qualities that the screenplay gives Scott. It's okay Leigh. We already like Polly. You don't have to try too hard. Another favorite part is Polly's interaction with the wino. It's so genuine. I have been in similar situations and the screenplay and direction get the mood just right with the mixture of uncertain hilarity, fear, and above all, sadness. A truly great cinematic moment.
This film is what Juno should have been. It's actually indie, with different sounding characters and something akin to realism. I know I shouldn't compare mid review, except I know that this one won't make a dime while last year's "indie" favorite was a smash hit with Oscar nominations and "Happy Go Lucky" won't get a foot in the door because it's British. Still, seems silly to be negative about such a positive film! Happy Go Lucky gets an A-
Baby Mama - Corporate executive Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) decides at the
age of 37 that she wants to have kids, but can't. She enlists the help
of a surrogate facility who gives her near-do-weller Angie Ostrowiski
(Amy Poehler) as a receptacle for Holbrook's eggs.
Anyone else getting tired of pregnancy movies? The subject, I think, has been submerged over the last few years (I think I'm ready for a few movies involving population control). And here it is again in the blandest form possible. The best I can give Tina Fey is she's a good funny writer and looks good in the evening dress shown in the film. What she is not, is a funny person or a strong actress. She's too shy, calculated, and uncomfortable in front of the camera. And as the film is supposed to be her vehicle that's a problem. Comedies about people on high horses are rarely funny. Poehler's character is an amalgam of new age hippy and deep south white trash, a combination that just does not work. The screenplay never decides how smart or stupid she really is. Nor is Poehler funny. She just tries way too hard like Will Ferrell does, and at least he occasionally strikes gold with his insanity.
Overall the movie tries way too hard but it doesn't have enough good material available, so what it has it stretches. Remember the funny priest in "The Princess Bride" that spoke his "r's" as "w's" (mawwaige)? Well, here we have a birth counselor who does the same thing except the same once funny and lightly used joke is stretched over maybe 3 scenes, it being the only joke in any of them. There is singing used as an easy bonding device. Organic and vegan food are also made fun of to little effect. It's like Ellen DeGeneres penned this largely unfunny screenplay with the desired audience being my relatives in the Midwest. All of the comedy is too safe. If that's your game, go for it.
There are some chuckles from the entirely wasted supporting cast. In fact writer/director Michael McCullers could have made a much better movie with the secondary characters. The film has Romany Malco, the hilarious Steve Martin, Dax Shepard of "Idiocracy", Sigourney Weaver (an actually FUNNY female) and Greg Kinnear, who in particular is given the awful and painfully predictable role of Tina Fey's love interest. The screenplay telegraphs everything and by and large, it's boring. I hope 30 Rock lasts for awhile, cause with Sarah Palin gone Tina Fey won't have much of a career left.
A really dumb unfunny pregnancy movie, Baby Mama gets a C-
Bolt- The canine star Bolt (John Travolta) of a fictional sci-fi/action
show that believes his powers are real embarks on a cross country trek
to save his co-star human Penny (Miley Cyrus) from a threat he believes
is just as real. Basically it's "Underdog" meets "The Truman Show", but
there is nothing new under the sun, so no sense beating it up for that.
I was expecting a snooze fest only palatable for small children, who
will delight in this by the way. I was mistaken. Though the premise is
shaky, with obvious plot holes as big as you like (Since when do Dogs
act?), it's a sweet little movie, and the kids won't care. The humor is
pretty broad but there's something for everyone.
John Travolta, an actor I haven't liked in quite some time, gives a genuinely cute performance as a young dog coming to grips with reality. Miley Cyrus also gives a decent performance. It's nice to hear Susie Essman (Here playing the cat Mittens) without the trademark F-bombs dropped in "Curb Your Enthusiasm". Who is absolutely wonderful, and I doubt I'm alone on this one, is the little couch potato hamster Rhino (Mark Walton, who has made his career with this). He's an obsessive fanboy of Bolt's TV show, and has such aplomb and over-enthusiasm that he steals every scene he's in, and probably the entire movie too. He's probably my favorite "side character" in years.
It's a nice film, with decent laughs and some fun action sequences. Once it sheds the convoluted TV show premise the film is allowed the breathe and have more fun. While it's hardly in the ranks of WALL-E, The Incredibles or Ratatouille, it's still a fun movie. B.
The Punisher - Frank Castle aka "The Punisher" (Ray Stevenson)
continues his one man war against the scum of New York. I am unsure as
to whether this is a reboot or a sequel to the 2004 Thomas Jane movie,
and about ten minutes into this stopped caring. It's just the Punisher
punishing criminals, beginning and end. You either like this sort of
brainless action or you don't.
I'm a sucker for comic book films and loved Ray Stevenson on the amazing HBO mini-series "Rome". He's a big stocky brute of a man, and looks believable as a killer. I applaud his decent American accent. Unfortunately Stevenson's got maybe 50 lines in the entire film. It's two action scenes into the film before he says anything. The Punisher has one scene where he visits his families' collective grave site, and one scene where he talks with a preacher about what the repercussions Frank's style of street justice might return to him. That's all the introspect we get.
It is nice to see Wayne Knight doing work again. Lets hope he picks some better movies in the future. Julie Benz plays a supporting part, which is fitting as what my friends kept saying of this year's "Rambo" (which she also co-starred in) kept running through my head. I love her in "Dexter" but she too needs to find better films. Ones that don't require an on off again New York accent. It's fascinating to see actors I like in a really stupid film.
It's about half of a good movie thanks partly to a script that cripples the proceedings every step of the way with characters named "Loony Bin Jim" and writers ("Prison Break" writer Nick Santora, and Art Marcum and Matt Halloway) that don't know how to make believable original villains or deal with what might be going on in Frank's head. The latter two guys helped write "Iron Man", so you'd think some greatness would've rubbed off on them from that venture. C'mon guys! Marvel kept The Punisher going for 40 years! You'd think somewhere down the line they had issues where he talked to people about what he was thinking, the effect killing has on a man's soul, and all of that.
The violence is ridiculous. Equal parts stupid, funny, and awesome. As such, it lends a "Grindhouse" air to the film. It's brutal, even if director Lexi Anderson doesn't always know how to film it. Speaking of "Rambo", Frank also kills a man with a punch to the head in this one. Yes horror movie physics are strangely in play here, where anything that can kill, does kill in increasingly silly ways.
I'd like to say that the film is self aware of the humor, but it starts off so somber. When we follow Frank around the film takes itself seriously, with gritty tones and grays and greens. When the villains (Dominic West and Doug Hitchison), and the general supporting cast for that matter, pop up the quality changes to some 80's Steven Seagal film. The villains are a plunge back to the guys who killed in comically easy ways, chewed scenery like there's no tomorrow, and laughed for absolutely no reason at all. Dominic West talks like a New Yorker from the 1930's and just leers at everything. Doug Hitcherson snickers like it's his job and is so far beyond the top it's not even funny. It actually is, but quite, I think, unintentionally. The damn near parodying of villainy in this film kind of makes Frank's burden and vendetta into a mockery. The film is impossible to take seriously, so Stevenson, the only one who seems to take it seriously, is left in the dust. Shame. He's such a fine actor. For what it's worth though, it is fun, and I kept watching.
For those who loved 2008's Rambo, Die-hard fans of The Punisher and action junkies. For everyone else, you could do better. C+
Leatherheads - Dodge Connolly, a charming, brash football player is
determined to guide his team from bar brawls to packed stadiums. But
after the players lose their sponsor and the entire league faces
certain collapse, Dodge convinces a college football star/war hero to
join his ragtag ranks.
I wasn't expecting much from this film, but I always enjoy George Clooney. His presence tends to brighten almost any film. He is this generation's equivalent to Steve McQueen/Robert Redford etc. Renee Zellweger has a sweet bubbly persona and occasionally made me forget that I dislike her. Their banter is the heart of the movie. Jonathan Pryce seems to be typecast for life as the stuffy snob. It's a shame Hollywood doesn't know what else to do with him.
George Clooney directs and gives much of the film the feel of an old Charlie Chaplin. It's not surprising that in preparation he watched a lot of old screwball comedies. My favorite sequence is probably his and Renee's escape from the police. I am curious about whether real people actually talked in the fast, occasionally stilted way we see in this film and associate with so many old movies and that era in general. It's almost a shame, because what's hidden is some clever often funny dialogue that the fast delivery glides over faster than I'm guessing most modern audiences can comprehend.
I'll be honest, I usually hate sports movies, but the thing I am this movie have in common is the agreement that America's sports are too sterilized nowadays. The football this film talks about actually sounds pretty fun. Unfortunately we are never shown many examples of cheating. The movie is more interested in the love triangle than the football, and doesn't have much substance beyond that. The old timey football was actually the most original aspect of the film, and it's a shame it didn't center on that more.
Overall, it's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy and I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally laugh (and I was always smiling). Not everything works, but the charm is irresistible. A pleasant surprise, Leatherheads gets a B-.
10,000 BC - A prehistoric epic that follows a young mammoth hunter
named D'Leh(Steven Strait) in his journey through uncharted territory
to secure the future of his tribe. Said tribe has it's own token black
comic relief kid and an Indian "spirit mother". Yeah, it's that kind of
film. Brace yourselves.
Jesus this movie was exhausting. It's under two hours long but it took me two sittings to make it through. Bottom line: it's BORING. Of course I wasn't expecting a masterpiece but this film just did not deliver by any standard. When one views the spectacle of Mammoths, in a desert no less, helping to build some pyramids the shark has officially been jumped. This is quite possibly the dumbest most mechanically made film I have seen in awhile. I've heard NASA uses "Armageddon" to train it's students by having them write all the scientific goofs. History professors could follow that example with this film's anachronisms. The only things I think this film got right was that there were people in existence in 10,000 BC, and they used spears for weaponry.
Roland Emmerich, maker of "The Patriot"(and THAT heavily flawed film is a comparative masterpiece), directs. Not satisfied with having turned the British into Nazis in "The Patriot" and global warming into a joke in "The Day After Tomorrow", in "10000 BC" Emmerich has demonized Egyptians and Arabs by making them all into Huns and Aliens with inhuman spooky voices to boot, just to make sure everyone knows who to root for.
The main hero and heroine are white faced and speak English, presumably to match their pure Christian souls (and make no mistake, Emmerich wants his main guy to be Jesus). D'Leh looks like Orlando Bloom with dreadlocks. Everyone else is mix and match ethnic. Indian, Native American, Ethiopian, doesn't matter to Emmerich. To compensate, most of the characters have dreadlocks, which look awful. It's the worst historical film attempt since Disney's Pocahontas. At least that one had some song and dance numbers.
This wouldn't be such a hideous thing (well, parts of it still would) if the film were even a drop of fun. It's not. The screenplay feels like a very rough first draft. Emmerich and Harald Kloser (Alien vrs Predator) have no idea what people thousands of years ago would have had to talk about, so the dialog is as bland as communion wafers. Plot points are telegraphed a mile away. Idiocy in the main character is mistaken for nobility. The CGI is pretty crummy and the action sequences offer little to ease the pounding boredom. This film might have entertained me when I was 5.
Not a single redeeming factor except for pretty landscapes, 10,000 BC gets a D-
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - When young Bruno (Asa Butterfield)'s
father (David Thewlis), an SS man, is sent to work at Auschwitz, Bruno
makes friends with a Jewish boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon). Through
the camp's electrified fence, their friendship grows and Bruno
gradually learns of the sinister nature of his father's work.
What the film drives home is that not all Germans approved of the Nazi regime's plans and ideals. Is it a sad movie? Of course it is (particularly for mothers. hint hint). The Holocaust is such a grim subject that it's impossible, and beyond the point, to make a film about it that isn't sad. What is important is what this film does differently from prior Holocaust films. It's a story about friendship, redemption and fulfilling oaths. The exact events are fictitious, but does that really matter? There were millions of deaths and there were some German sympathizers, so the story rings true in any case.
Asa Butterfield gives a genuinely sweet performance as Bruno. He is imaginative, good-hearted, and almost entirely in the dark about what is going on, as would any 8 year old. And though he is in the dark, he sees clearer than many people around him because he's such an innocent. As such, we often see things from his perspective. Vera Farmiga has an interesting character evolution as Bruno's mother. She goes from ignorance and obedience to rebellious as she quickly sees her husband and the 'camps' in a new light. David Thewlis is cold yet not uncaring to his family, though he seems to always put his duties before fatherhood. It is interesting to note that Nazis did try to keep their families in the dark about what was going on, much as they 'believed' that their actions were the correct ones.
One minor performance that was actually the most moving for me was the part of Pavel the Jewish servant (David Hayman) who was previously a doctor. He says practically nothing, but you can see it in his eyes just bursting to come out of him.
The end of the film is telegraphed and seems to come in terribly slow motion. Much as the film is light and has self-aware humor at the beginning, it's often terribly dark. It's a good film, and a decent tearjerker.
Heavy, compelling, sensitive and sad, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas gets a B+
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