Sunday, May 30, 2010

Year One

If movies had to be rated based on expectations, this one met all my expectations. Unfortunately, the expectations were for a pretty low quality, low humor vehicle for Jack Black and Michael Cera. Neither of these got to really show off their chops (see High Fidelity or Juno for these guys in their element). Instead, here we get a mild romp through a time-warped bible, meeting Cain & Able, Abraham & Isaac, and traveling to Sodom. Without the sci-fi benefit of an actual time machine. Black and Cera bumble around, chasing the girls and finally [spoiler alert] get the girls [end spoiler alert]. A little bit funny (very little) but not interesting. So the funny that is there doesn't get enough points to warrant the time.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sex and the City 2

I am a fan of the HBO series. One thing that makes you realize how good a show is, is to see something that tries to be that show, and fail miserably. Here New York, playing the role of "the City", doesn't even show up. There is no room here for the city to participate, so it is basically written out . One of the expendables in Star Trek (you know, the nameless 4th member of the away party that will never return from the planet). As for the sex, Carrie Bradshaw was a relationship columnist who was not afraid to write about sex. Here the character of Carrie is no longer a columnist, but a novelist. So presumably the writing has to be longer and more involved. An in depth look at relationships. But the quippy fun that can push a 22-minute episode (and even the first film to some extent) along doesn't really work here. It is just cliche. Forced "interfriention" for the sake of using the word. While the original series purported to be all about fashion, it was really about relationship, and fashion was a way of tying things together. Here, the movie is all about fashion, and relationship is just a way to tie one scene to another. Faux elegance and excess without real purpose or comment. The "lessons learned" from each column were a nice wrap up on TV, but by time we are done with this film, we just don't care... Yes, I understand that it can't be the TV show. But it isn't even the same tone or style, even though the surface does all it can to make it appear so. With all that said, I will say that the film is worth seeing for one reason... the opening wedding scene is Fabulous...
2 stars (out of 5)

The General's Daughter

I had avoided this a few years ago when it was in the theaters, primarily because the trailers made it seem like a slasher/rape movie. And while the plot does revolve around a rape, it is not explicit or horrific beyond what you might see on an episode of Law & Order. So what do we get? John Travolta is an investigator in the Army who is assigned to investigate the murder of young captain who happens to be the daughter of a retiring general and political hopeful. In unwinding the life and background of this captain, Travolta uncovers the secrets that will lead to solving the murder as well as the secrets that are embarrassing to the general, the army, the politically powerful, etc. So as an investigative thriller, it is sufficiently mediocre and I am not sorry to have only seen it as a late night diversion. What it did get me thinking about was Travolta. He plays a strong willed protagonist with a clear set of ethics that give him a "more moral than you" persona. I only mention this because it is the same persona he plays in so many of his other films (The Taking of Pelham 123, Swordfish, Civil Action, Michael, to name a few). It doesn't seem to matter if he is the good guy or the bad guy. He always puts his ethic to the audience as the one that should be valued, or at least appreciated. Not sure whether this bugs me or not, but it was something I noticed.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bright Star

I had passed this film up when it was in the theater. It seemed then to be too much of a standard period piece with not much new/interesting to offer. It seems now like I was right. Bright Star is the story of John Keats. He is a poet with out money who falls for a woman whom he cannot marry. The marriage is not possible because, living with her mother and siblings - father out of the picture, she must marry for money. She becomes Keats muse, battling his poet friend and all of society for the right to be in a relationship for love. In the end, Keats dies and she wanders the Heath late into the night, never forgetting the man she loves.

At least I had hoped to learn a bit about Keats from this film, but really all I know is that he was a poet, had an inferiority complex in his field, had no money, and died of TB. Most of that I could have guessed. What is fascinating (although not new to this film) is how strong the forces of class were on women during that period. That a woman must marry for money, and that a poor man would refuse to marry a woman if he knew she had no money of her own. Where are the stories of the cobbler's daughter finding love and getting married to the blacksmith's apprentice, in spite of the fact that neither has money. Perhaps those stories are simply not interesting.
3 stars (out of 5)

The Ghost Writer

Pierce Brosnan plays the role of the former English Prime Minister and Ewan McGregor his newly hired ghost writer as the two work to finish a memoir. The plot slowly unfolds the intrigue required for a political thriller, which of course includes hints of espionage, corruption, power and mixed loyalties. Probably the key to any good thriller (and effectively used here) is the word "hints". Never is there an outright revelation, or at least one that is believed as true. We also get hints at the U.S./English machinations surrounding the post 9/11 lead up to the Iraq war. But again, only hints. Add to this the fact that McGregor's character is all too trusting. He plays the roll of pop-writer well, admitting that he is not an investigative journalist and knowing that he is in over his head. As such, he basically trusts everyone with all his knowledge and we are left to figure out who will do what with his information. Until the last scene I was held, not quite sure how the resolution would be served. An excellent piece of work.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Deep End

It surely says something about a movie when you have to look over in the middle and ask your neighbor "Is this movie good?". Generally the question itself is an indication that the answer is No. In The Deep End a mother of three kids lives on Lake Tahoe with her father-in-law while the father of the children is on a U.S. Aircraft carrier somewhere. So from the start, we know there will be single mother stresses. As it turns out, the only character development in the entire film seems to be how much stress can mom show, while offering other characters no chance to be anything. The oldest son gets into a bit of trouble, mom tries to cover up a perceived indiscretion and some thugs come into the picture to try to extort money. I am sure that the film was made based on a treatment that included single mom stress and some sort of reference to a reverse Copenhagen syndrome. And if it were done well, that premise could have made a good movie. Show me something about why the daughter is a grease-monkey, why the son likes fish, why the father-in-law is treated with kid gloves. Instead we get a one dimensional mom and zero dimensional supporting cast.
2-stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Losers

Another summer action movie based on a graphic novel that is not well known by the general public. As such, it has no history (like a Batman would). Here we have a group of special ops soldiers who are betrayed by their handler (whom is anonymous) and engage in a mission of revenge. Sort of a poor mans Jason Bourne. Poor mans not because this film looked any cheaper to make, but because it is not as clever. The bad guy resorts to nonchalantly killing people in a way that makes me feel like I am part of a video game. Nothing graphic or gory, just unemotional and gratuitous, but a cheap way to make the bad guy bad without any effort in story or motivation. Overall, this is a lazy effort meant to cash in on graphic novel action. I read an editorial recently in the LA Times (I believe) that suggested we need to hold movies to different standards based on their intent. For example, it suggested that this movie would be worth it if it only cost $4 to see at the cheap theater. While I like the idea that different films have different value, I must disagree that this was worth $4. I tried to imagine wanting to see this streamed on netflix and even then I think I would feel ripped off. Skip this one.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Iron Man 2

I was at the theater early for this film and was enjoying the pre-film ads when the voiceover stated "We will be right back after this message". Really? They interrupted an advertisement to show an advertisement?

Iron Man 2 is a fun movie. A good guy who struggles, a really mean bad guy, sexy sidekicks who really kick ass, and the obligatory lead in to the next film. Tony Stark is ensconsed as the creator of world peace, having apparently eliminated all bad guys between the end of the first film and the beginning of the second. He is so good at his job that he is not apparently just bored (not enough bad guys to fight). Boredom cannot last long in an action movie, so enter the Pentagon (who wants his weapon) and a nemesis (with a family grudge to right). In the end [spoiler alert] everything works out [end spoiler alert]. Like I said, good fun. I had heard a lot about how Robert Downey Jr. does an excellent job of embracing the narcissistic side of Tony Stark, placing him (strangely enough) in a realistic role and attitude that doesn't come off as too over the top. While this is true, I noticed too that Favreau allows us a few glimpses into Stark's struggle to accept his inevitable mortality and to somehow make that mesh with his massive ego. It was just enough of a glimpse to keep the film grounded, or at least keep it from jumping the shark. And therefore enjoyable throughout.
3 stars (out of 5)

Food Inc.

There is not a lot of new information here that hasn't been already published in Fast Food Nation or Omnivore's Dilemma. In fact, much of the documentary is interviews with the authors of those fine books. The one new take is the discussion of GMO corn created by Monsanto to be be Round-up resistant. Apparently, Monsanto (as owner of this GMO DNA) can legally prevent farmers from saving any corn seed and replanting it the next year. Instead, farmers must buy new seed each year. This is astounding. It is anathema to farmers to not be able to use a portion of the harvest as seed. I can see how Monsanto needs to make money on their investment, but there must be another way (notice that I am not following this outrage with any brilliant ideas).

Otherwise, the film reinforces the notion that corporate farming is a big deal and a big problem. For the pessimist out there, you may not want to see this film because it will simply send you down the road of despair, realizing that their really is no long term hope for civilization. For the optimist, you must hang on to the fact that the farmers interviewed state "Consumers must demand better food, and we will produce it". My own personal feeling of hopelessness comes to light when I think about how few people in the U.S. have the ability (either financially, or energy wise) to demand better food by purchasing better food. It is just not easy to do for every purchase.

If you haven't read / seen any of the other expose's of corporate farming, you may as well start here.
4 stars (out of 5)

Bad Company

In terms of action comedies, this is pretty formulaic. Anthony Hopkins plays the seasoned CIA handler and Chris Rock plays twin brothers. The first is a CIA agent who gets killed while setting up a sting. Of course, the CIA then finds the long lost twin who is a street hustler and trains him to play the role of the now dead brother in order to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Hopkins is steady, but not outstanding. Probably because there is not a lot of room for him to be outstanding. The film seems to be designed for Rock to use his comedic talents to play a hustler playing straight, and all that goes into a "fish out of water". While it is capable, there is nothing outstanding or hilarious here. Well worth the amount I paid to stream it from Netflix.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Please Give

I really liked this film, but everything I have to say about it makes it sound lame. I guess you just have to see it to see for yourself. Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt play a couple with a 13 year old daughter and a capable business in New York. They own their apartment and the one next door and are just waiting for the tenant (80 year old Andra) to die so they can remodel and enlarge. As landlords, they are of course familiar with Andra's granddaughters who stop by often. For business, the two purchase portions of estates and then resell them in the lucrative modern furniture market that New York offers. The two grand daughters are polar opposites in many ways, and alternately appealing to adolescent Cathy. This really is a "slice of life" film (albeit a strange slice) and we get to see how different personalities are dealing with day-to-day life events and decisions. There are no heroes here, with every character having significant neurosis to deal with and only barely able to deal with them. And there is no story arc. We simply traverse the relational geography set before us until we get to the point 90 minutes later when we can get off, knowing that the characters will continue to struggle with their lives and relationships. And throughout the ride, I was laughing.
4 stars (out of 5)