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Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trek, 4.5/5

Rated PG-13. Click here to view the trailer.

Review Coming Soon!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop, 3.5/5

Rated PG. Click here to view the trailer.

Review Coming Soon!

Observe and Report, 2.5/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

This is one nutjob of a movie and it desperately needs to get back on its meds.

Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, a bi-polar, washed out rent-a-cop at the local mall who takes his job waaaaaaay too seriously. And not in a fun way. We're talking obey-me-or-I'll-take-you-to-Sbarro-and-shove-your-face-in-the-pizza-oven kind of seriously. He desperately wants to become a real cop there no real need, since his current gig provides him plenty of opportunities to drawn his sidearm and pick on minorities. At one point, the cops are called in to remove an off-his-meds Ronnie from the mall and he takes them all on as if he were Samson with a mag light.

The plot centers on Ronnie's efforts to capture a "serial flasher," but the movie is more about his descent into rage-filled madness. I'm told his character is very similar to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, but - embarrassed as I am to admit it - I've never seen it. He kind of reminded me of Kurtz from Heart of Darkness/Apocolypse Now.

There are two polar opposite love stories (sort of) in the movie, one with cute coffee shop girl Nell (Collette Wolf) and another with the heavily made up and foul mouthed Brandy (Anna Faris). Nell has an utterly inexplicable crush on Ronnie, but he's so blinded by lust for Brandy that he can't see it.

Director Jody Hill relishes in making the audience uncomfortable. I'm pretty sure he meant the movie to be this way, but this is not the movie I meant to see. Observe and Report has been marketed as a comedy and but there are no real laughs in the film. The jokes that are there made me feel decidely uncomfortable. Because the cast includes Seth Rogen, I was expecting a little more of an Apatow flavor, which made the lack of any joy whatsoever all the more jarring. The best way I can describe it is cognitive dissonance. Even the poster is misleading. It should show Seth Rogen beating a 12-year-old into a coma with a skate-board then licking the blood off the splinters and shooting up more heroin.

Even though I didn't like the characters (accept for poor, sweet Nell), the actors did what they were asked to do and did it well. Rogen will never be an Oscar-winner, but he did an admirable job playing the playing a dark, disturbing part. Michael Pena was enjoyable as fellow mall cop Dennis, and Aziz Ansari (Tom from Parks and Recreation) was the humor apex of the movie. Most reviews I've read raved about Anna Faris, but here she just creeped me out. I suppose since that's what her character is supposed to do, you could call it a success. But why would you want to?

Observe and Report is a kind of brilliant, but not any kind of brilliant I want to "get" or be around. It's mean, depressing, nihilistic and doesn't mind slapping you in the face just when you think it's heart might be softening a little. Boo.

Maybe I'm losing any apprecation for "art" in my old age. If so, fine. I can be happier without it.

Slumdog Millionaire, 4/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

(Yeah, I just now saw Slumdog Millionaire. I’m behind the times.)

It's is a good movie, but I’m not quite convinced it’s really that good a movie. A Best Picture winner should be awesome, and Slumdog Millionaire just isn’t there.

The movie begins with Jamal (Dev Patel) in an interrogation cell. He’s a suspected cheat on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He’s answered all but the final, 20,000 rupee question but how is he doing it? He’s an ignorant Untouchable. A minority Muslim who has grown up on the streets and in the gutters, stealing what he can to survive. A slumdog (Hey! That's the title of the movie!).

So the show’s producers torture him (seriously?) to find out how he immediately knows trivia like who’s face is on the American $100 bill, the inventor of the revolver and the name of third Musketeer. As luck would have it, the troubles and trials of his hard-knock life play out like Trivial Pursuit cheat sheet and we flash back to episodes from his childhood, adolescence and teenage years as he explains his answers for each one. It’s a clever plot structure, even if it is a little inelegant.

Along with the trivia lessons, we watch Jamal (played as a boy by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) and his brother, Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) struggle to survive as orphaned Oliver Twists. They meet up with Latika (Rubiana Ali) and Jamal instantly falls in love with her. The three are “rescued” by a corrupt leader of an orphanage, where unbelievably horrible things happen. Events happen, things transpire, and boys have to leave Latika behind. When we catch up with them a few year later, Latika works as a “dancer” while Jamal and Salim are hustling tourist and stealing shoes at the Taj Mahal. Ever the romantic, Jamal hasn’t forgotten about Latika. Later, Salim turns to the Dark Side and it's Jamal’s undying love for his long-lost Latika that inspires him to try out for the game show in the hopes that she is watching.

The contrast between the muddy slums and, well, anything resembling civilization is striking. It’s almost unbelievable that people still live this way, and India isn’t even as bad as some of its neighbors. The acting is also surprisingly strong, especially among the children. Patel is very good as well. Pinto doesn’t really do much in the movie except look pretty, but that’s OK because she is pretty. The Indian version of Regis Philbin, Anil Kapoor, stole the show for me. His beard creeped me out, but in a good way. Director Danny Boyle (Train Spotting) keeps things interesting visually, but there was so much going on that I was exhausted by the time the credits rolled.

It’s colorful, gritty, tells an engrossing story and we all know I love a good destiny-driven love story. But I feel the movie banks too much on its novelty and makes use of an extremely artificial and patronizing narrative structure. Imagine if the story took place in Omaha with the US version of the game show. I have a feeling that’s what probably what Indians think of Slumdog Millionaire. I doubt it would have won eight Oscars if Americans weren’t so eager to prove to each other that we care about the plight of orphans of India. I may be projecting a little bit here, but each time I hear someone sing its praises I also hear them saying “Oh how cute! They have Who Wants to be a Millionaire too! They think they’re just like us!” or “Look at me! I enjoy a Bollywood film! I’m so multicultual!” Force an American movie go-er to watch a real Bollywood production, and I have a feeling they’d start throwing popcorn at the screen within 20 minutes.

(For an accessible Indian movie actually made by an Indian, check out Monsoon Wedding. Though it's not true Bollywood either.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens, 4/5

Rated PG. Click here to view the trailer. (I did not see the 3D version. Poor me. I'm told it was not annoying and added to the experience.)

For the first ten minutes, I wasn’t a fan of Monsters vs. Aliens. It was a little slow, the 3D character models were off-putting and I was plagued by PG-13 questions like how can a woman standing at the altar in a wedding dress grow from 5’8 to 49’11” and not bust out of her dress? From about minute 11 however, things picked up and they picked up fast.

This latest computer animated movie from DreamWorks, brings together the goodhearted snark of Shrek and the pulpy goodness of classic sci-fi standbys to bring us a surprisingly entertaining movie.

We open with our heroine, Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a giddy bride-to-be who is suddenly struck by a meteor from deepest space, darn the luck. The meteor is imbued with some wunder-element (I’m don’t remember the name… it may have been flubber), which not only causes her to survive the impact, but bleaches her hair and rudely interrupts her nuptials by causing one heck of a growth spurt. Derek, her fiancĂ© (Paul “I can do better than I Love You, Man” Rudd), suffers a bout with Little Man Complex and breaks it off. Susan isn’t thrilled with that and gives new meaning to “bridezilla.”

Enter General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), an R. Lee Emery wannabe in charge of a secret government facility home to other captured freaks. His charges also include the amphibious Missing Link (Will Arnett), the blob-like BOB (Seth Rogen), and a mad-scientist cockroach hybrid (Hugh Laurie). They’re all more or less resigned to their fate (Susan aka Ginormica less so) until suddenly Earth is in need of a savior against an invading alien force led by Galaxhar (Rainn Wilson). It’s only natural that the vaguely Reagan-looking president (Stephen Colbert) would enlist the monsters, led by the resourceful and confident Susan as she begins to warm to her Ginormica identity. Who else is he going to call? The Ghostbusters are clearly unqualified.

That’s pretty much it. It’s a pretty simple story with minimal plot, but unilateral conflict is a theme as old as time: Man vs. Nature, Labor vs. Management, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Cowboys vs. Indians. Why not Monsters vs. Aliens? The fun comes in with the playful manic humor of each of the “monsters,” particularly Seth Rogen’s gelatinous BOB. A little bit of Rogen goes a long way in my book, but here his casting was spot-on. Colbert’s president also steals his scenes, successfully and hilariously bridging that cognitive gap between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Beverly Hills Cop (minor spoiler alert but very funny clip here).

Whatever qualms I had about the character models (Derek the Fiancé, the President and Galaxhar were particularly off-putting), the voice talent more than made up for. In addition to the principals I listed above, the bit part voice actors includes Amy Poehler, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Helms, Renee Zellweger and John Krasinki.

It’s not a grand slam home run like Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but Monsters vs. Aliens is a rock solid double with two runs batted in.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I Love You Man, 3/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

I did not love I love You, Man,
I did not love it, Sam I Am.

I would not love it in a box,
It’s not a failure but at that door it knocks.

Paul Rudd’s Peter tries to sell The Hulk's vast estate,
His need for a best man leads to many a man-date.

He finds one in Sidney, and gets a man-crush,
They fart and eat corndogs and rock out to Rush.

I understand Peter’s need for a friend,
To stand by his side ‘til his wedding’s end.

My BFF choie would never be Sidney Fife,
He’s 100 percent Id and insults the wife.

Jason Segel a very likable guy,
But as the slob Mr. Fife, his charm went bye-bye.

Paul Rudd is "The Man" in my book of cliches
But he sleeping walking here; no cheese and all whey.

Rashinda Jones’s Zooey is cute but a bit of a bore,
She’s not much of a character, but she didn’t make me snore.

I really liked bit player Jon Favreau,
He and Jamie Pressly stole the whole show.

The movie’s script is predictable and long,
Projectile vomiting isn’t funny and tone is slightly wrong.

I like the idea of a true bro-mance,
But Paul Rudd’s stature this film failed to enhance.

I appreciate the genre (Knocked Up and its ilk),
But I Love You, Man tasted like passed its prime milk.

Maybe I’m getting too grouchy and old,
This time they forced the Apatow mold.

Its funniest parts are in its trailer,
You won't too laugh and won't need an inhaler.

I did not love I love You, Man,
I did not love it, Sam I Am.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gran Torino, 4/5

Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.

Have you ever seen that old Clint Eastwood flick, The Outlaw Josie Wales? Gran Torino is pretty much the same movie sort of in reverse, complete with Olympic-caliber spitting, gang violence, copious racial epithets and pantomime gunplay. Gran Torino is set 140 years later and Mr. Eastwood has only gotten older*, wiser and more grizzled. Do I have to tell you he’s still mad-dog mean?

Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a retired Ford assemblyman who recently lost his wife and he’s pissed off at the world. Well, I guess his wife’s death didn’t have anything to do with it - he’s been pissed off since at least the 50s. Walt – excuse me, Mr. Kowalksi – doesn’t take much crap from anybody, so you can imagine that his lazy children don’t have much use for him, and he has even less use for them. He also doesn’t have much use for minorities of any kind, including but not limited to “Wops, Krauts, Eyeties, Gippos, Bubbles, Froggies, Chinks, Yidds, Jocks, Paddies, Dagoes, those dirty, dirty Belgians”** and especially the Hmong that have “taken over” his neighborhood. It doesn’t help matters when Tao – “Toad” as Walt calls him – tries to steal his cherry 1972 Gran Torino Sport. At the insistence of his sister, Soo, Tao will gradually work off the offense doing chores under Walt’s critical eye. Wouldnjaknowit, Soo and Tao also gradually work their way into Walt’s crusty old heart.

The problem is that the old neighborhood has also been taken over by gangs. “Spook” gangs, “Wetback” gangs, Hmong gangs, etc. etc. and trouble is a-brewin'. Luckily, Korean War vet Walt knows how to deal with a bully. He keeps a cool head and a lot his strategy revolves around pointing his finger at them and saying BANG (much like Chuck Norris, who shot down a German plane in a similar fashion). Don't worry, he uses his fists and plenty of real fire arms too. To watch Eastwood walk around being pissed off is always fun, regardless of which variation of tough guy he’s playing, and it’s very fun in Gran Torino. You will root for this loveable racist old codger.

Gran Torino is pretty good. It’s also pretty funny. Marketing for the film hasn’t touched on that aspect of the script, but there are more than handful of genuinely funny moments, not the least of which is a series of scenes in which Walt teaches Tao to “man up.” I also enjoyed Walt’s banter with rookie priest Father Janovich (Christopher Carley): "I heards there was some trouble in the neighborhood. Why didn't you call the police?" "Well, Father, I prayed for them to come, but nobody answered."

So yeah, it’s pretty good, but there’s a reason it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. It’s no The Good, The Bad or the Ugly or The Outlaw Josie Wales. It’s also not Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby. The script is very well-written (its author clearly had Eastwood in mind) and it never gets boring. Despite many many many racial slurs, the movie is not offensive nor is it overly preachy in its message seeing past racial boundaries. It stumbles a little in Soo’s dialog. The ending is telegraphed from frame one, but hey, it’s a good ending so why gripe?

Bee Vang who plays Tao and Ahney Her’s Soo are fine. Just “fine.” It’s not Vang’s fault, but I very much wanted to give his character a haircut. He kinda reminds me of my cousin, Kyle. But of course, this is Eastwood’s movie. His character is so crotchety it flirts with caricature, but he’s just so darn fun to watch! I’d like to see Eastwood and Samuel L. Jackson in a contest to see who can get pissed off the most in a 2-hour feature.

Did I mention Eastwood sings over the closing credits? Oh yeah. Worth the price of admission right there.


*His old-man pants are creeping higher on his waist as well. Check out the poster.

**I don’t even know what people group half of these slurs are referring to. Where have I been?