Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

Built as a summer popcorn movie and delivers as a summer popcorn movie. Just make sure you get the extra large popcorn as this times out over 2.5 hours. There is nothing new or fabulous here that we have not seen in the other films. The transformers are so well drawn that you don't think twice about their characters (we have come a long way from Roger Rabbit). Lots of action, lots of earth saving heroism. The girlfriend wears white throughout the destruction and never gets dirty, never has her makeup smeared and is always fabulous looking. The main critique here is the length. Why do the parents show up at all? Why do we need the job search, or the mailroom? Take your scissors to about 45 minutes of film and we are talking.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Big Year

A big year refers to a birding event where birders keep track of how many unique species they observe in a particular geographic area within a year. This film tracks Owen Wilson (reigning North American record holder), Steve Martin and Jack Black as they set out to have a Big Year. The film used birding as a vehicle for plot, but the charm of this lies in the relationships developed. All three of these comedic actors are known for playing over-the-top roles, but here are appropriately understated. And each, as a result of the process of their big year, comes to a new and deeper understanding of some part of their life outside of birding without needing to resort to sappy over-sentimentality. 
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 16, 2012


I am not a big fan of Indian films. Maybe I just haven't seen enough of them, or enough good ones. What made Kurbaan interesting was that it felt like a straight forward U.S. post 9/11 stop the next terrorist attack film. But it came from the Indian perspective. The story follows a Muslim man and his Hindi wife (or more truthfully, a Hindi woman and her Muslim husband) as they immigrate to the U.S. so she can take a job as a professor at a university in New York. They find housing in an Indian neighborhood and begin to get to know the neighbors. At least, that is the front story. As the film unfolds, we find lies, deceit and conspiracy. We discover a back story that is much more complex. And of course, we get it all with musical interludes and an intermission at the half-way point. So while the idea is interesting, I didn't find the execution likable. Too slow to get into the story and dialogue delivery by the actors often reminded me of high school theater. And I could never get over the question of why an Indian filmmaker would make an Indian film about this subject. Not that it is not allowed, but it seemed to me to be purely opportunistic, looking for an American audience by chasing what is perceived to be interesting here. I am not smart enough to know why this perception stuck with me or what exactly bugged me, but bug me it did.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Deja Vu

I like a good sci-fi time travel film and I like Denzel Washington. With those two requirements, how did I miss this in 2006? Washington plays an ATF agent whose entire life is given to the job. He is a great investigator with the intuition needed to solve tricky cases. When a ferry carrying Navy seamen blows up in New Orleans, he is on the scene as the explosives expert. The FBI invites him into a special investigative group that has surveillance software that can process and give full 3D imagery of any scene delayed by about 4 days... kind of. Of course there is a girl who is involved in the case and there are the requisite clues that are dropped along the way to help Washington (and the viewer) unravel the reality of what is going on. And the nice thing is that not all of these clues are obvious. As a viewer, you see a few options where these could take the film, but can't commit right away to a direction. Not quite as clever as my all-time favorite 12 Monkeys, but more along the lines of Source Code. Glad I saw it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Battle: Los Angeles

First, don't confuse this with Battle of Los Angeles which I saw last summer, while thinking I was seeing this. They both have the same plot (Aliens invade LA and the marines save the day) but it becomes very clear what a few million dollars of production value will do. In this film, the writers try to produce a back story on protagonist Aaron Eckhart, nearly retiring staff sergeant in the marines. Unfortunately, the film is basically a "kill the aliens" movie, so back story just seems false. There are also lots of sci-fi elements thrown about, but not developed. So the aliens like our salt water oceans. Aside from that statement, we never get to take advantage of it or learn more about it. What an opening for a great story. I guess I don't have the patience that I used to for flat out summer fare. Or perhaps this is truly bad summer fare.
2 stars (out of 5)


Having just seen a great film set in Tehran (see the Persian Cats) I was looking forward to this. We are introduced to two girl friends in school and immediately told that one is rich and one is poor. We follow these two friends through their lives as they struggle to reconcile what it means to be women in Iran, what it means to be teenagers, what it means to be lesbian, what it means to be religious, what it means to be rich or poor, and what it means to have family history. We see the girls and their families make lots of choices, often without an obvious right choice being available. I found it interesting that in these choices, personality is revealed. Are you the type of person who is a risk taker, bold, willing to sacrifice for the potential future dream? Or the type who is fearful or realist, willing to sacrifice the dream for the sake of convention or safety? These girls are under duress for most of their lives and trying to cope, trying to acknowledge that dreams do exist (or could exist). Probably the most disturbing part of the film was when the car is pulled over for having a dog in the car and the officer confiscates the dog. The power imbalance, the perceived cruelty of the powerful and the implied moral judgement were thick on the screen. This one scene shows the power of film to communicate. Although I was underwhelmed by the images of Tehran that I was hoping to see, and underwhelmed by the overall pacing of the storytelling, I am glad I saw this.
3 stars (out of 5)

Take This Waltz

This was a good, but not altogether novel, film. A couple (Seth Rogan & Michelle Williams) is entering the phase of marriage after the honeymoon. They find that they don't have much to talk about. This later fact is probably exacerbated by the fact that they are together nearly 24 hours a day. She is a stay-at-home writer (who seems to write pamphlet text for brochures) and he is a stay-at-home chef working on a cookbook. They try to keep things fresh with language, but essentially they are bored. Williams meets another guy and we find the entire point of this film is summed up in a conversation in the shower at the gym. "New things are shiny" and "New things get old". For the remainder of the film, we see these themes played out, which is reality, but also a bit depressing. One thing that I love about a film like this is that in spite of the blase story, the coloring was fabulous. Rich and vibrant, color became something fun to watch and observe on its own. And finally, after sitting through the credits, the obligatory "No animals were harmed during filming" scrolled across the screen. While I applaud this commitment, I did find it quite odd that they could actually make the statement when Rogan's entire purpose in the film is to write an entire cookbook on chicken. Throughout the film, every kitchen scene contained chicken in a pan, broth, stock pot, on a kabob or under the knife. I would guess that if chickens had a union, they would protest the inclusion of "No animals harmed..." for this particular film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 6, 2012


As I am walking out the door to see this film, my friend Kathleen says "Make sure to let me know if it is edifying". Well... it's not. It is Oliver Stone. The filming here took me straight back to Platoon. It was strange how distinct Stone's style really is. The film itself centers on a couple of independent pot growers in So. Cal. and their shared girlfriend. One is the botanist/grower, one is the businessman/muscle, and the other is the girlfriend. With political turmoil in the drug trade in Mexico, one of the Mexican bosses decides to come in and "partner" with our protagonists. They decide they will just sell out and get out of the business but that is not an option. So girlfriend gets kidnapped and the two boys begin to do whatever it takes to get her back. I was not particularly entertained by the brutal violence and even the twists in the storyline were a bit bland. It was however, interesting to watch how easily people change their core beliefs when under stress. I am not sure that this is true in real life, but we see it in films all the time (and very explicitly here). I like to think that, while I don't have much figured out in life, I am in process of figuring some things out. And every day I get to practice little things that reinforce who I am and what I believe. My thinking is that by practicing the little things, if a big thing ever comes up, the core ethic that I profess to live by will be more natural and not seem out of character. I won't just resort to the easy answer, or the violent solution. If films are a reflection of reality, and this film in particular, then my line of thinking is ridiculous. Fortunately, I have practiced ignoring (or at least putting in its proper place) popular media for many years, so I don't have to believe that I too am ridiculous.
2 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

I like the idea of using fairy tale story lines and re-envisioning them around non-Disney/darker themes. This is an example of such a film and it almost pulls it off. The basic story pieces that everyone recognizes are there (the mirror, the evil and spellbound queen, the poison apple, the dark forest, and the dwarves). Care is taken to provide a cohesive story that doesn't just throw these elements around and overall, I was quite entertained. The film was a bit long and to be honest, I wanted to see Sneezy. Ok, so the dwarves were present, and there were seven of them, but at least give me a little comic relief by having one of them sneeze at least once. Hopefully we see more of these that push the genre out of the kids world and into the adult world (skipping right past horror, which nobody needs to see). So bring on Hansel and Gretl, and I will have to see if Red Riding Hood crosses into the horror category.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 2, 2012

No One Knows About Persian Cats

This has been on my 'To See' list for quite some time. Now I recommend that everyone else see it. It is a story of a couple of young musicians who want to put together a band and tour Europe. Ashkan and Negar are a singer/songwriter duo who need some backup instrumentals before they can book any gigs. The film takes us through a series of meetings with underground bands in Tehran as they audition members for their band. Each meeting ends up being a music video with that bands style and we see quite a variety. We see heavy metal, rhythm & blues, alt rock, rap, soul. And it is this piece of the film that makes it great. The music of these local bands along with the imagery of Tehran is striking. While this is fictional, "based on" real people, it is the kind of film that you simultaneously home that it is real and hope that it is not. The music, the desire to be artists, the struggle to be relevant and the hope for a different future abound. The reality of living in terror, the total lack of control of ones life and seemingly random brutality are equally present. This duality likely represents a pretty accurate picture of life in Tehran. A must see film.
5 stars (out of 5)