Saturday, February 23, 2008


“VANTAGE POINT” (Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt & Sigourney Weaver)

Did you ever wish someone would remake ‘Ground Hog’s Day’, but without any humor?
If so, “Vantage Point” is the movie for you! I would describe this film as one with an interesting premise that goes horribly awry.
Although the repetitious showing of the same 15-20 minute period gets monotonous, each ‘replay’ adds another piece to the puzzle so even though you get bored with seeing the clock tick to Noon (letting you know you’re about to live the same 20 minutes over again) you do understand that it is a necessity.
From the onset, I liked ‘Vantage Point’ – Secret Service Agent Tom Barnes (Dennis Quaid)
is back on the job after having taken a bullet for the President(William Hurt) a year earlier. He is part of a crew that is accompanying President Ashton to a ‘peace summit’ taking place in Spain. The ‘twitchy’ Barnes sees a curtain move in a building that should have been evacuated & shortly thereafter the President is shot twice. A man jumps onstage & runs toward the fallen leader, but Barnes tackles him. Turns out the guy was a local policeman hired to protect the mayor, who introduced the President to the crowd gathered in the plaza.
Forest Whitaker plays a tourist who for some reason would rather view the event thru his camcorder rather than with his eyes. He notices the concerned Barnes and turns to see what captured the agent’s attention. From the tourists’ vantage point, there was a man in the room with the flapping curtain, but the rifle that gunned down the Prez was a few floors higher.
The assassination attempt is followed by an explosion in a hotel lobby. In the confusion, Barnes approaches Forest the tourist & asks to see what he filmed. What he sees leads him to run toward the podium at which point a huge explosion goes off killing several people, injuring many more.
With each rewinding of the event we see how each character came into play; the local cop that rushes onto the stage appears to be in love with one of the terrorists, yet it seems as though he’s not aware of this – which leads you to believe he isn’t much of a 'detective'.
There are misleading scenes – on one replay it appears as though the Secret Service guns down the local cop just as he confronts the ‘real’ terrorists. But that’s okay, everything gets resolved in the end.
Barnes rushes to the TV news truck to get a look at what their many cameras shot. (Sigourney Weaver plays the director) At first, we don’t get to see what ‘clues’ the agent in; when we do, it’s one of those moments where you shake your head & wonder - what are the chances of that happening at just the perfect time?
Where this film completely dissolves is in the 2nd half – after ‘Ground Hog’s day’ ceases coming into play. The realization that one of the terrorist’s is actually an innocent victim who murders over a dozen people without believing in ‘the cause’ is more than a little far-fetched.
Then of course, there’s the 20 minute car chase scene at 80 MPH thru the cobblestone streets of a crowded Spanish villa with one close call after another as ‘Uber-Agent’ Barnes not only survives a crash that would have killed a mere mortal, but walks... no, make that runs away from the wreckage without a scratch – no wonder he took a bullet for the President, the man is invincible!
The funniest line ever spoken after an elongated car chase is uttered by Dennis Quaid when he calls for back-up & says he’s seven blocks from the plaza (where the President was shot) A 20 minute chase at top speed & he’s 7 blocks from where he started? This must be one of those ‘special’ cities where they film the TV series ‘24’; where EVERYTHING is within 5 minutes of EVERYWHERE.
I wonder why so many writers start off with great ideas & then seem to ‘give up’ on making a plausible ending. Or is that where the director steps in & says 'we need a 20 minute car chase with multiple high speed crashes’ & things just go down the toilet from there?

Monday, February 18, 2008

In Bruges

“IN BRUGES” (Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson & Ralph Fiennes)
Ray (Farrell) & Ken (Gleeson) are hitmen in Great Britain. They have just completed a ‘job’ when their boss(Fiennes) calls & tells Ken to go hide out in Bruges for a week or two. As Ray tells us in a voiceover, ‘That’s in Belgium.’
The older Ken enjoys sightseeing in the medieval village, while younger Ray gruffs, “If I was brought up on a farm - & was retarded – I might enjoy being stuck in Bruges; But I wasn’t, & I’m not – so I don’t.”
You eventually learn that the hit didn’t go off smoothly & thus begins the ‘serious’ aspects of this otherwise ‘dark comedy’.
A wide variety of characters enter the hitmen’s lives; a midget/dwarf actor shooting a film in Bruges; a cute young female drug dealer scamming tourists with her boyfriend & a Canadian couple Ray mistakes as Americans add up to an interesting set-up that gets slightly complicated, but never to the point where you’re left wondering ‘what’s going on here, exactly?’
Unless you’re one of those who don’t like films that can’t make up its mind as to what it wants to be (A comedy or a drama) I highly recommend “In Bruges” as it is the type of quality movie one doesn’t normally find being released so early in the year.
I happen to love films that allow me to experience a variety of emotions – the trick is in being able to keep it believable & interesting– a difficult task for most, but writer/director Martin McDonagh pulls it off flawlessly while still using one of my least favorite actors (Farrell)
Despite the presence of mostly ‘undesirable’ characters, they’re humane side is shown as well & makes them more acceptable & worthy of caring about. & yes, it is unquestionably Colin Farrell’s best acting performance to date. He is actually the best part of the movie – which isn’t meant to take anything away from co-star Gleeson, but he has always been a welcome sight in anything I’ve seen him in & here he is exceptional as well.
Clearly the best movie of 2008 so far & I have the feeling it’s going to stay at #1 for quite a while.

Definitely, Maybe

“DEFINITELY, MAYBE” (Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz & Isla Fisher)

Finally, a chick flick that doesn’t spend its entire running length bashing men! In fact, this is one of the best films of the c-flick genre ever made (In my humble male opinion) & leading the way as the biggest shock of all – Ryan Reynolds definitely shows some acting chops... well, maybe.
In fact, if I had to complain about any of the actors here, it would be little Abigail Breslin; & that’s only because she’s been touted as the ‘next’ Dakota Fanning – she’s a very good child actor, but not exactly a ‘natural’. But that’s nit-picking, which I really don’t want to do because I enjoyed watching this ‘realistic’ story play itself out even to the cutesy, less-than-bitter ending.
Why does it work? All the characters are likeable - & more importantly, all the characters are equally flawed (ergo; human)
The film opens with recently divorced William Hayes (Reynolds) picking up daughter Maya (Breslin) at school on the day they started teaching the kids sex-ed. So Maya wants to know how one of her classmates could be an ‘accident’ when his father had to knowingly put his... well,
you know how it works (I hope) Needless to say, it is the most humorous scene in the movie - & that’s another surprise – this isn’t a very funny ‘romantic comedy’ & yet it is still very appealing.
So dad winds up telling Maya how he met her mother – with a twist – since William was virtually ‘involved’ with 3 different women (in succession) he decides to play ‘guess which one turns out to be your mother’ with Maya. He changes their names & tells her about his college sweetheart, ‘Emily’ (Elizabeth Banks – the cute blonde that Steve Carrell wants to put his bike in her trunk in ’40 Year Old Virgin’) the red-haired copy girl ‘April’ who works with him during the Clinton campaign in ’92 (Isla Fisher – the screw-ball that falls for Vince Vaughn in ‘Wedding Crashers’) & the brainy ‘Summer’(Rachel Weisz) who initially is involved in a May/December romance with writer Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline in an impressive cameo role)
What could have easily been made as silly & slap-sticky as a guy tries to juggle 3 girlfriends at once, is instead a well-written story full of poignant, heartfelt moments of falling in love & breaking up. William makes mistakes along the way, & so do the women. There’s only one scene that doesn’t make sense – when William begins to propose to one of the women & she’s at first ecstatic to discover what he’s about to do – she then turns him down. Why would she get excited at the thought of him proposing if she didn’t want to marry him?
Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this ‘chick flick’ from start to finish. For proof that this isn’t your ordinary ‘all men are disgusting pigs’ c-f lick? – Robert Klein has a one line cameo that only guys will laugh at – those of you well into your 40’s or beyond will probably remember the bit. & to let you know how famous it is – Klein only has to say the line once.
Written & directed by a man (Adam Brooks) with nice co-male roles by Derek Luke & Adam Ferrara, “Definitely, Maybe” is a rare film – something women should definitely enjoy - & something men should be able to sit thru without squirming too much... maybe.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

“The SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES” (Freddie Highmore, David Strathairn, Mary Louis Parker, Nick Nolte & Sarah Bolger)

The obvious comparison to make here is with “The Chronicles Of Narnia”, & to this critic, I was more entertained by ‘Spiderwick’ than I was by the silly story of a ‘secret world’ existing inside a closet!
Yes, ‘Spiderwick’ is also far-fetched – what fantasy-world film isn’t? – but one of the reasons this works should be credited to the young actors (Freddie Highmore plays twins Jared & Simon Grace – Sarah Bolger their older sister Mallory) Plus, including ogres & goblins instead of talking lions & beavers makes ‘Spiderwick’ more believable (In that the characters are not of ‘our’ world, so we don’t know if ogres & goblins have the ability to speak, do we?) I guess I liked the fact that they were ‘fantasy’ creations. Not that “Narnia” didn’t include plenty of fantasy beasts – but the main character was ‘just’ a lion that spoke in a rather soft, effeminate voice – kind of like using Liberace to represent the voice of the King of the Jungle. The ‘name’ voices used here are that of Martin Short, as an odd creature in charge of protecting the precious ‘book’ Arthur Spiderwick created on the ‘mystical’ creatures he discovered living among us. Seth Rogen as a two-snouted hog-like creature appropriately called Hogsqueal; the one draw-back to supposed ‘good’ guy Hogsqueal is that he likes to eat birds, but you discover why he has to have this craving for the story to work. & Nick Nolte, appearing in human form in the beginning, but then turning into the ‘mad ogre’ Mulgareth, who wants to take over the world & needs Spiderwick’s book to make that come about. Does it matter that there is no logical explanation given for this? Not really, unless you want your childish fantasy tales to make perfect sense. & that’s another thing I thought while watching this movie – ‘Boy, would I have loved this as a kid!’
A magic circle of rocks; tomato juice being used as a powerful weapon & the fact that you can’t see the ‘creatures’ without a magical lens until Hogsqueal spits a load in your eyes, do lend credence to being the type of tale only youngsters can enjoy, but I still liked it. I even understood why they turned older sister Mallory into a swashbuckling kung fu expert – as silly as it seemed – but obviously used to entice young females to feel ‘empowered’ by seeing a teenaged girl ‘save the day’.
David Strathairn doesn’t give his usually boffo performance & I didn’t totally understand why he was presented as such a weinie; being the ‘Spiderwick’ of the films’ title. & Mary-Louise Parker, though given more here than she was in the exceptionally boring ‘Assassination Of Jesse James...’, is nothing more than a pretty face playing the same old same old as the ‘mom’ who doesn’t believe her children until late in the game when she is put in danger.
But it was a fun way to spend an afternoon - & as far as I could tell – there were no ‘secret religious/or anti-religious’ messages being sent out. & the use of Freddie Highmore acting with himself was very cleverly done – special effects have come a long way from Samantha & Serena! Highmore’s performance has its flaws, but they had to make the boys’ personalities overly dissimilar as to easily tell them apart – so give him high praise for succeeding in that endeavor.
For a movie centering on ‘magical mystical creatures’ & child actors – I believe “The Spiderwick Chronicals” will succeed in entertaining most of the children & young adults who see it. Older farts may not be able to accept the ‘silliness’ of the plot, but it worked for this old stinker.

Monday, February 11, 2008


“FOOL’S GOLD” (Matthew McConaughey & Kate Hudson)

Boy, is this a sh*tty movie! Stay away from it – even if you like Kate Hudson & especially if you like Donald Sutherland – Don’t go, you will be embarrassed for him & by him. I don’t know if his career can survive this set-back; it may be time for the original Hawkeye Pierce to retire if he thinks this is quality material & that he gave a decent performance. Don’t be fooled like I was into thinking Kate, Donald & Ray Winstone might make this apparent travesty ‘watchable’ . . . they don’t.
McConaughey plays treasure hunter Ben Finnegan; Kate plays his ex-wife Tess. Sutherland plays a stuffy British millionaire named Nigel who has a Paris Hilton-ish spoiled brat media darling daughter with a double figure I. Q. as long as you use a decimal point.
This character was inserted, I imagine, to make the other characters appear semi-intelligent . . . it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when the heroes, villains & supporting roles all come off looking like idiots. Tess’s moment of ‘brilliance’ is when she figures out how to not be spit out thru a geyser.
All of the bad guys are dopes (They’d have to be to be outwitted by the incredibly stupid Ben) Ray Winstone, normally a terrific meanie, is wasted & in a lame effort to bring in a more diverse audience, there’s a misplacedrap-impresario-out-of-water called Bigg Bunny. Yes, I said Bigg Bunny ; & everyone fears Bigg Bunny & his wascally temper.
Now, the idea of having a ‘gangsta’ character called Bigg Bunny should lead to some humorous moments . . . it doesn’t.
& Kate Hudson has gotten to the point where she seems to not even care anymore. ‘ Just show me where to sign so I can get paid & write my crappy dialogue on a rock & let’s get this career over with already’.
The story Ben & Kate tell Nigel & Paris about the lost treasure of some Spanish Queen is so inane I wanted to doze off during the scene. This movie tries SO hard to be “Romancing The Stone” that it fails miserably because it DOES remind you of that wonderfully refreshing film & the flaws of “Fool’s Gold” become even more noticeable.
Is McConaughey trying to set a record for the most consecutive years with one of the 5 worst movies of the year? The man is on a roll & I seriously doubt that it will end with “Surfer Dude” (Which I’m sure will play in numerous theaters around Western Washington, while quality like “Grace Is Gone” plays for one week at one theater then disappears)


“VINCE VAUGHN’S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW” (4 unknown comedians, some has-beens & Vince)
I shouldn’t make fun of the ‘cast’ as I actually enjoyed this comedy-mentary; it starts off slow, but builds up momentum at various intervals along the way & ends at just about the right time (Before you start getting sick of these guys)
Vince Vaughn, fresh off the success of “Wedding Crashers” took 4 stand-up comics; Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst & Sebastian Maniscalco - & went on a 30 shows in 30 nights trek across America starting in Southern California, traveling eastward staying mainly in the south & ending in Vaughn’s hometown of Chicago. Along the way, a show is cancelled due to hurricane Katrina. They then do some benefits for the victims of that disaster, which turn out to be some of the best scenes.
Also on board is Vaughn’s best friend Peter Billingsly (from that over-rated Christmas movie) Justin Long (Before ‘Die Hard 4’ made him ‘known’) John Favreau (Who’s one of those guys I like, but I don’t know why) & Keir O’Donnell (Who played the ‘gay’ disturbed brother in ‘Wedding Crashers’ – disturbed in that he falls for Vince’s character)
I could have done without Billingsley, Long & Favreau – their ‘skits’ all failed in my mind. & the comedians aren’t going to have you rolling in the aisles either, but at times throughout the journey, they each come up with bits that will make you laugh.
Ahmed Ahmed is the least funny of the 4 – he plays the ‘terrorist’ card over & over & over again until you wished he’d find another subject. Caparulo is the only one I knew going in & his drawback is in relying on the ‘F’ word waaay too much. There is however a humorous moment where John has been told not to swear during one of the shows because of the deeply religious crowd & he gets to the punchline of an extremely filthy joke & realizes he can’t finish it. Bret Ernst probably made me laugh the most, but he didn’t exactly ‘outshine’ the others – I think I just related to his material more. Sebastian Maniscalco is the reason the film works; this guy was a waiter – not prior to becoming a comedian – As they headed out on this journey, Sebastian was expected back at his ‘real’ job of being a waiter in Hollywood. So here’s your rooting interest – You want this guy to succeed as he embarks on this ‘dream come true’ opportunity & he holds his own with the more established comics.
They also hit the hometowns of each of the 4 stand-ups & time is spent introducing their family members; sometimes this works out – sometimes (Such as in Ahmed’s case) you wish they would ‘move on’ & get out of this uncomfortable situation.
Just to warn you, though – this isn’t a ‘best of’ the shows they did – it is a documentary of the journey they took, so it isn’t all jokes, jokes, jokes - & because of Katrina, it isn’t always humorous either. But this was an experiment in filmmaking that I found interesting & amusing to watch. I hear there’s talk that Vaughn might do it again & that will be one sequel I’ll look forward to seeing.


“ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR 2 : The REQUIEM” (Dozens of plastic monster models)
Yes, it was ‘dumb fun’ for a dollar night at Gateway & I wasted 2 hours of my life watching what I believe to be the 6th sequel to the best sci-fi/horror film ever made.
The problem with this one is obvious; there’s nothing new here – nothing you haven’t seen before in 5 previous Alien films. An Alien/Predator hybrid is created, but you can’t
really see the thing since EVERY scene in which the hybrid appears is during a downpour(Which seems to let up when the hybrid goes away) & in a very dark place.
If there’s a story here, it escaped me, as there was no explanation as to why a ‘Predator’ was experimenting with the ‘Aliens’ in the first place – no explanation as to why a fellow ‘Predator’ followed ‘Dr. Predator’ to earth after he crash lands on the blue planet & no explanation as to why ‘Michael Clayton-Predator’ does what he does to ‘clean up’ the situation. Just tons of scenes of Alien babies hatching out of human’s chests (Oo, oo, this time they explode out of a little boy’s chest – yeah, that’s what everyone wanted to see)
The original ‘Alien’ movie was so well done; nicely acted, believable- in that the Nostromo was basically a space garbage dump & the ‘crew’ just employees. The clever way the alien morphed from clinging octopus to toothy lizard to walking Great ‘Black’ Shark with claws & a deadly tail as well as ‘acid’ blood. And in the end, everything was explained – that they didn’t just ‘happen’ upon this creature, it was planned.
Classic story, excellently told. As I walked out of ‘AvP2:R’, I thought ‘how could they have gone so wrong with this ‘franchise’? & the answer is – the fact that they didn’t leave well enough alone & turned it into a franchise.
& in case you’re wondering – Yeah, but you’re an old fuddy duddy, you have no idea what the youth of today likes – As I left the theater, a girl in a group of late teens/early 20-somethings said, “That was the worst dollar I’ve ever spent!”


“OVER HER DEAD BODY” (Paul Rudd, Eva Longoria Parker & Lake Bell)

You’d think this would be a time for ‘Hollywood’ to want to produce quality product, being so close to their big award night and all. Not ‘Oscar buzz’ material, but better than the poop they throw out to entice kids during the summer months... I guess they want movie goers to catch the Best Picture nominees, so to steer them in the right direction they give us crap like ‘Over Her Dead Body’.
I always dread when I see a trailer with numerous ‘red flags’ warning me to ‘stay away’, as I know my wife is probably going to turn to me & say, “That looks like it might be cute.”
The difference between the sexes; women will watch anything, no matter how nonsensical or idiotic the plot is if it means there’s going to be a big bag of buttery popcorn in her lap. And men are left wondering how they might be able to pull off the ‘Diner’ trick without spilling all of her precious kernels.
In a change of criteria, I agreed to see this because I like Paul Rudd (Normal criteria is – there has to be a nice looking actress I can gaze upon) & Paul has the one or two nearly comedic moments in this chick flick, but this one goes beyond stupid & neither lead actress is much to ‘gaze’, with the exception of Bell’s upper torso. Unfortunately enough of it isn’t on display here & when the titillating moment comes where Lake’s Ashley runs topless thru a health club – the moan you hear from the men in the crowd isn’t from seeing her clutch her soapy breasts, but from the total lack of comedic timing, dialogue & ‘Saturday Night Live-ish’ acting that’s going on.
Plot, if you’re still interested in this D- un-humorous ‘romantic comedy’, is this; Kate (Eva Longoria-Parker) is about to marry Henry (Rudd) she is presented as a bossy, uncaring b*tch; so when she is killed while being such, you are glad she’s finally erased from society. But no – we get to see her in a cloudy ‘limbo’ where she’s a bossy, uncaring b*itch toward St. Peter’s ‘angel-like’ intern who is supposed to tell Kate how to get into heaven. Too busy complaining to listen to instructions, Kate winds up back on earth as a ghost whose sole intention is to make sure her fiancé Henry lives a lonely & miserable life.
Henry for some strange reason misses Kate, so his sister arranges a séance with part-time clairvoyant Ashley (Bell) Ashley’s real job is catering & she has a rather uncomfortable (to watch) relationship with her male employee, Dan (Jason Biggs, playing a very unconvincing ‘gay co-worker’) But with the help of Henry’s sister providing ‘inside’ information, Ashley convinces a skeptic Henry that she actual can speak to the dead.
In due time, Ashley & Henry develop an interest in one another & both appear to be headed for that proverbial chick flick happy ending. But no – even though she’s a fake clairvoyant, Ashley is the only person who can see Kate as she appears to screw up the life of the man she supposedly loved. & yadda-yadda,yadda scenes of non-comedy ensues...
It’s easy to finger the blame for this film as the 10 minutes or so after the ‘limbo’ scene, when Longoria-Parker isn’t onscreen is the best part of this (Well, not ‘best’ part, let’s say ‘least annoying’ part)
And not too surprisingly, Stephen Root is the most enjoyable character as he plays the drunk that ‘accidentally’ kills Kate. So you love him immensely from that moment on.