Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

I am sorry for John Cusack. I was expecting to enjoy this movie if not only for the fact that it was traveling back to the 80's. Unfortunately, it was not the 80's of my experience. Aside from the hair, a bit of music, and an unusually large cell phone this could have been almost any time. For an example of how to do cultural time travel correctly, go see Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But here, we have a retread plot, a seemingly bored John Cusack, and a real lack of energy. I laughed a couple of times, but a couple of laughs does not a movie make. Sometimes when I look back at movies I have seen I feel like I am too generous or that I have low standards because I pretty much enjoy anything. So for that reason I am glad I saw this. It reminds me that I do have standards.
2 stars (out of 5)

Mind the Gap

This film is one of those that shows us a series of vignettes about 5 different lives. As we jump from story to story, eventually we begin to see a convergence and the characters begin to meet and interact. In this case, the stories start slow and struggle to keep your interest. They are a strange combination of both odd and quite ordinary. But over time, I began to wonder how the storyline would unfold. The stories include an old man and his memories of a friend, a young woman caring for her mother, a divorced man separated from his son, an up and coming singer/songwriter (who actually sings most of a quality soundtrack), and a single dad and his son. The unifying theme here is that each story involves a relationship and doing what is needed to move on to the next stage of life. And to be clear, this is not just a "dump the relationship and move on" sort of therapy, but instead very redemptive. In fact, perhaps a bit "Hallmark Hall of Fame" -ish at times. Sometimes the mark of a good film is one that you remember beyond the credits and I like this one more today than I did yesterday.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to Train your Dragon (IMAX 3D)

This Dreamworks animation has received lots of good press, so I figured it would be a decent afternoon diversion. I really liked most of the way this story unfolds. A viking boy forges his own way through life as he learns that killing and destruction are not the only way to provide safety for a village. In fact, he realizes that following the 300 years of historical practice in his village will never lead to sustained peace. It takes courage and the ability to stand against not only his village, but also his powerful and traditional father. Of course it helps to have "the girl" on your side, as well as a few easy tricks that make you nearly invincible. But the point is that he needed to think outside convention to be able to discover those tricks. All of this is good, but then the filmmakers take the easy way out. Peace and unconventional thinking only go so far. And then you get to meet "The Big Evil", and of course war and destruction is the only path available. Couched in just war theory and self defense, the film comes to a happy resolution. I guess the fact that we get 80% of a film suggesting that active non-violence is a viable plan is better than the 0% I am used to. Progress at least...

As for the technology of this film, let me offer a short rant about IMAX 3D (or at least my experience in this instance). The IMAX screen size is not compensated by the size of the 3D glasses, meaning that I had no peripheral vision throughout. The left lens of my glasses had a polarization that was not aligned correctly (and yes, I checked this afterward). The result was a blurry image with only the left eye, and left eye fatigue. While the 3D gave the film depth, the occasional "pop-out effects" were superfluous. I would rate the entire 3D on this film extraneous to an otherwise good animated offering.
4 stars (out of 5)


Mario Van Peebles puts together a partial documentary and partial re-enactment of the making of the film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, the 1971 film directed by his father Melvin. Mario plays the role of his father here and we are taken into the world of independent film-making, presumably before such a thing existed. Van Peebles nearly funds the entire film himself, avoiding obstacles put up by SAG and the very real role expectations for black actors. When he finally runs out of money, he hits up Bill Cosby for a loan and finished production, only to find that distribution and an audience were nearly as hard to find. I like watching the backside of film-making, especially here where we also get a view of race relations in the late 60's. Sure this film comes with a point of view, but it is good to see that point of view, and a good reminder of all the crap that was (and still is) going on in my lifetime. And I am now curious to see the original...
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Every year in the spring, a movie arrives that reminds me of the fun of the upcoming "summer movie extravaganza". Last year it was Fast & Furious, 2008 - The Forbidden Kingdom, 2007 - Shooter. You get the picture. This year it's Kick-Ass. A surprisingly capable cross between the Kill Bill series and Superbad. A geeky high school kid gets in over his head when he puts on a green wetsuit to become a local super hero. The geekiness is pretty much a caricature, but we don't mind since that is what sets the tone. We are also introduced to the bad guy (and his "superhero" kid) as well as the family with actual talent in this superhero business. The dialogue is fun and hits exactly the right tone of tongue-in-cheek seriousness as the players play straight, but know they are having fun. As the plot plays out and naivete gets crushed, the superhero kids share experiences that will bind them together (of course) for many films to come. We definitely earn our R-rating here with both language and violent killing. We even get the homage to The Matrix with a long hallway, one against thirty, take the fight to the bad guy scene. Welcome to the summer of 2010.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Tully, his brother Earl and his father Tully Sr. live on a farm in Nebraska and struggle to make ends meet. Tully Jr. is the family clown and playboy, Earl is the conscientious son, and Ella is the down home girl next door. This loosely reminds me of the feel of the East of Eden film with its farm coloring and family secrets. Yet it plays more like a Hallmark Hall of Fame special than a classic. In the end, the family struggles through adversity and toils on to make life as good as it can be as each character learns a bit more about themselves and their history. I know... you could write that line about many films without even watching them. But that shows how much this film depends on cliche for its style.
2 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2D)

Have we reached the point where you have to disclose whether you saw the 2D or 3D version? Do you have to defend your choice? In this case, the 2D version was showing at the time I wanted to see it. This did not disappoint me because of the $5 it saved me as well as the fact that I had heard so much negativity about the 3D version (e.g. unnecessary, marketing add-on aftereffect, etc.). In any case, Clash of the Titans was a mediocre summer action film. We follow the story of demigod Perseus, the son of Zeus and a human mother, in his effort to avenge the murder of his earthly family by his "demi-uncle?", the god Hades. We get plenty of action scenes in route to a final showdown with the Hades created monster The Kraken. The fact that this was only a mediocre summer film is probably why it was released in April -- it would not stand up to the real summer competition. There were quite a few amusing elements to the show, but it doesn't hold up well as a well scripted movie. Perhaps because it was spring break, and I had nothing else to do that day...
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Man from Elysian Fields

Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies team up here as a young, idealistic couple starting life in Pasadena. He is a writer who has published his first novel but can't find any interest in a second. She faithfully supports him as an artist. In order to make ends meet and (ironically) not lose the admiration of his wife, Garcia stumbles onto a job working for Luther (Mick Jagger) and his Elysian Fields escort service. What follows is the exploration of what it means to be an artist, a husband, a provider and a businessman. Jagger and Garcia are both able to highlight the internal negotiations necessary for the pursuit of balance and happiness. In many ways, these are the same questions that are raised in last years Up in the Air, and while this film is a bit darker, it may be even better. And as a side note, this is the original pairing of Garcia and Margulies, who again show up this year in City Island perhaps coincidentally also searching for personal/relational fulfillment.
4 stars (out of 5)