Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Other Guys

This is actually not a bad satire. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play a couple of "2nd rate" cops. Ferrell is a forensic accountant and likes working at the computer, doing paperwork and investigating from his office. Wahlberg is very concerned with status, and has major skills, but is a bit jumpy. Early in his career, he accidentally shot Derek Jeter, and will never live that down. The two are a mis-matched partnership, and end up falling into a major fraud investigation. Throughout, we poke fun at the "macho cop", played admirably (albeit briefly) by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson and the implicit expectations we all have of the police. We poke fun at Wall St. and capitalism, and at the priorities that we all set by investing our money where we do. Don't get me wrong, this is not high cinema. It is goofy and relies too much on really wacky characters. Even so, to get semi-serious satire out of this genre was surprisingly enjoyable.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I am not sure if this film made me feel smart or dumb. Owen Wilson plays a writer who is traveling to Paris with his fiance and her parents. Unable to spend any more time with them, he wanders the streets of Paris and is transported to the 1920's, his idea of the golden age. Artists, writers, musicians from the 20's all show up and a name dropping fest begins. I felt pretty good that I had heard of most of the "famous people", and only a couple times did I have to lean over to Annika to say "Who was that? What did they do?". On the other hand, I suppose had I actually known something about Man Ray or Matisse, I would have found the caricatures and conversations much more entertaining. The nice thing was, even though I knew I was not getting every joke, I still enjoyed this film. It was a fun and light-hearted romp through Paris. Nothing spectacular... just a good afternoon diversion.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Leaves of Grass

Edward Norton plays both a snobby philosophy professor and his hick, pot-growing twin brother. A tale of who is smarter, who is right, and who really has his act together in life follows a path that is not altogether interesting or novel. Edward Norton is clearly having fun however, playing two drastically different personalities. I am glad he enjoyed himself. I guess when I come across a film that was released in the last couple of years that I had not previously heard of, the odds are pretty good that I hadn't heard of it for a reason. Pretty lame.
2 stars (out of 5)

The Last Man

Somehow, everybody on earth is dead. Except Alan. And then Alan finds Sarah. Of course, Alan is a nerdy, out of shape anthropologist and Sarah is Jeri Ryan. Then Alan and Sarah find Rafael, another beautiful person. Now let's all triangulate in our insecurities. Unfortunately, there is nothing interesting about this film. It is not even worth picking apart piece by piece to prove my point. Don't see it.
I should probably at some point do a general rant about movie ratings and then I will just have something to refer to. But for now, how does this film (no swearing, no violence, no sex, two male naked butts in route to skinny dipping) get an R-rating while Hotel Rwanda (hundreds of on screen murders, graphic depictions of genocide, violence and very disturbing themes) and Fast Five (scores of onscreen brutal slayings) get PG-13. Anyone? I just took This Film is not yet Rated off my list of films to see but I guess I should put it back on...
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hotel Rwanda

I don't remember any details from watching The Killing Fields. I saw it when I was in middle school with my Dad at the local single screen theater in the 80's. What I do remember is that it was horrific and that I was stunned by the sheer volume of death. Hotel Rwanda left me with that same feeling. Don Cheadle plays the local manager of a fancy hotel that becomes a refuge for Hutu and Tutsi alike during the genocide in the 90's. But the details are not what will stick. The fantastical count of deaths is horrific and the sheer disregard for human life is unimaginable. That people live through such events, that children grow up, that perpetrators continue to be fed by their hatred into a deeper hatred... unimaginable for most of us. In this particular case, the fact that it was unimaginable is exactly what led to no response from the west. I wonder, though, what response would have actually led to change? A military intervention would be another in a long line of military interventions, that would exacerbate tensions and enhance violence and hatred for years to come. How does the cycle of violence on a global scale begin to break? Hopefully films like this expose to "the powerful" the insanity of violence and begins to allow cracks to form in "the system".
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Win Win

Billed as a "wrestling movie with a message" I was pretty excited to see this film. It had been getting good reviews from all the right places. And it was a good film. Just not enough wrestling. The story is a classic set up to allow adults and kids to both grow up. Paul Giamatti is a struggling small town lawyer who doubles as the high school wrestling coach for a pretty miserable team. A kid who can actually wrestle drops in his lap (a la Michael Oher in The Blind Side) and two both learn about each other and life and what they need to do to make adult decisions. So a bit contrived and a bit too obvious with the message. I do like Paul Giammati and he does a pretty good job here along side the kid wrestler, cast as a typical teenager who only speaks in one word sentences. Perhaps the target audience won't notice this, but much of the overarching tension here comes from the fact that Giamatti is expected to support the family, while to all appearances, the wife contributes nothing financially. It is perhaps more commentary on my life and relationships that it seems weird to not even see a discussion on this point as a plot device. No consideration of a part time job, or Giamatti playing Mr. Mom for awhile. There are lots of assumptions running around this film family that are a very deep part of the ethos of the film, but are not explicit.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Anybody there?

This is a story about Edward, a pre-teen kid in England whose parents have decided to make a living by turning their house into an assisted living facility for the elderly. Edward becomes fascinated with death and ghosts, waiting for a client to pass to observe direct evidence of the later. Things get shaken up a bit when a new client arrives (Michael Caine) who had a career as a magician in his younger days. Caine and Edward hit it off reluctantly and both learn a bit from each other. This is an amusing film and well played. A good combination of comical, sad and real.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thor (IMAX 3D)

I don't like it... 3D that is. Either the technology is not quite right, or my eyes aren't, or maybe even my brain. I have problems with the peripheral vision, with the shadow images when the lenses from each eye don't completely align, and from the blurry imagery of too much going on in action scenes. I was constantly distracted by the technology from watching the film. I know I ranted on this last year, but I guess I forgot. Don't worry, I won't let it happen again. 3D is officially not a good idea... yet.
As for Thor, this is a moderately good film that stands on its own as a comic book hero flick. The danger in these films is that they are just setup for the next. Here we get a good mix of action in Thor's world (Asgard) and on Earth. As a plot device, Thor is banished to Earth after pissing off his dad by being an arrogant, war-mongering, wanna-be-King of a son. The banishment instills an appropriate amount of humble, peace-loving, care for the innocent, maturity which inevitably leads to the removal of the banishment. While this is all expected, it is also notable that it is done well, with appropriate timing and style. Never do we feel like we are watching a film just go through the motions. A good, but not outstanding, addition to the Avengers lineup.
3 stars (out of 5)

It's Kind of a Funny Story

A charming story of self discovery and the power of honesty, with both yourself and with others. Craig is a 16 year old kid who thinks he is struggling with depression when he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital to get help. Only after being admitted does he find that it is for a minimum 5-day stay. And that the teen-ward is under construction so he is in 3 North, with all the other crazies. Of course, none of them are seriously crazy, so everybody has fun working on self improvement in music class, art class and playing table tennis. Craig's friendships on the floor lead to a developing maturity in himself as well as impacting those around him. This could have been really cheesy (it was only sort of cheesy) and really dumb (it wasn't). Mostly, I was surprised that it held my attention and I enjoyed the evening with Cool Craig.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Square

Ray is a construction supervisor looking for a way to change his life by running away with his mistress. This sounds like the beginning of a thousand films, and in many ways, The Square is no different than those thousand. But it is also a quality look at motivation, decision-making and feeling trapped built around the story of a small time heist. On a small scale, we see how one decision leads to an inevitable next decision. Within the context, each decision is logical and essential. In hindsight, I am looking back (as I am sure is Ray) to think about which decision could have been made differently at each step of the way. The plot is sufficiently intricate to keep you thinking and curious, and of course, the story doesn't go the way Ray thought it would...
4 stars (out of 5)

The Audrey Hepburn Story

Every so often it is worth watching a made-for-TV docudrama. And when the subject is one of my all-time favorite actresses, you can't really go wrong. Hepburn is one of cinema's finest stars and while the acting quality in this film is not great, I did find her life story very interesting. Raised in Brussels and Amsterdam during WWII with a Nazi sympathizer father, Hepburn turned a love of dancing into a love for acting and pursued her dream with unwavering commitment. In the end, her mother's mantra of "You can be whatever you want" ended up to be true...
3-stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Hanna is a young girl who is raised by her father in the northern wilderness (somewhere near the arctic circle). The two are completely isolated and dad uses the roughness of nature as a way to train his daughter how to protect herself from anything. When she is finally ready, the two re-enter civilization to try to clean up a messy past. Hanna is not aware of most of the truth (she has been protected), but she is a kick-butt special agent. As we progress through the film, avoiding and then chasing the nemesis, I am not sure what I am left with. Or, I am sure, and it is not much. Reminiscent, at times of last years Kick-Ass, but without the humor and of the old James Bond classics like Goldfinger, but without the camp or class. In the end, we are left with a well trained soldier who is ruthless and has lots of questions about the world. Almost like Jason Bourne, which makes me suspect a sequel next summer. I can't recommend this one, but will probably see the sequel when it comes out since I invested in this back-story.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

By far the best of the three Millennium trilogy films (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire as the first two). This film plays out as a courtroom thriller with political intrigue and international espionage drama. We leave behind most of the misogynistic current of the previous films (although it hangs around as a fundamental motive). The protagonist Lisbeth Salander starts here where she left off... dark, chip-on-her-shoulder, and with a bullet in her head. She is in the hospital recovering while a case is being built against her for attempted murder. Blomkvist, meanwhile, continues to dig up dirt on the conspiracy that got Lisbeth in trouble in the first place, getting help from hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth. He ultimately ends up with a massive expose for his magazine. If none of this makes sense, you have got to see the first two films (or better, read the books). Overall, I loved the books, and was entertained by the films. It is interesting the "The Girl" is clearly the protagonist and the driver of the story, but is really a minor part of most of the films. And just for fun, the first of the American version (staring Daniel Craig) releases at the end of this year, so it will be very interesting to see the trilogy again from a different perspective so close to the original.
4 stars (out of 5)