Monday, December 29, 2008


“VALKYRIE” (Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson & Kenneth Branagh)

I haven’t decided yet if this is my new #1 film of 08, or if ‘Australia’ should retain the title. When it ended I told my wife – It’s good. It’s really good, but something kept it from being ‘great’... I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, but I’ve concluded that it’s Tom Cruise. The funny thing is – he wasn’t THAT bad. He was the weakest actor of a fantastic ensemble cast, but what bothered me about him - & director Bryan Singer gets the blame for this – is that he is the ONLY member of the cast NOT speaking with a British accent. A whole cast full of English actors playing Nazi’s & one American inserted into the lead role? It became a distraction, even though I was engulfed by the story & the way it played out – even though I knew most of the time what was going to happen next. It COULD have been great – Damn it, it SHOULD have been great & that one unforgivable flaw keeps it from being the unquestionable Best Film of 2008... Pity.
Knowing the story, or even knowing how the story ends, doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t enjoy the ride (I knew the ‘secret’ of ‘The Sixth Sense’ prior to viewing but I loved it anyway) Sean Penn was so outstanding in ‘The Assassination Of Richard Nixon’ that it didn’t matter a lick that I knew he wasn’t going to succeed. I recently watched a History Channel special on the actual Valkyrie conspiracy, so it was easy for me to follow the plot & keep track of all of the Nazi’s speaking with British accents, but my wife, who hadn’t seen the special said she was able to follow the story & characters without much difficulty (Except when she asked which character did Liam Neeson play?)
‘Valkyrie’ as I’m sure you know is how the conspirators of the plot to assassinate Hitler referred to their operation, as the Valkyrie plan was created to tell the Nazi army what to do in case Adolph Hitler was killed. The leaders of the plot were all high ranking Nazi leaders – seeing how close they actually came to pulling it off was fascinating to watch. Realizing that if not for one ‘chicken’ (Tom Wilkinson’s General Fromm) they may have succeeded in taking over Hitler’s army even without disposing of him should have everyone in the world giving Tom a dirty look everywhere he goes for a few years...
The only complaint I have with the screenplay is that they didn’t include more of the previous attempts to show just how determined these conspirators were.
Still, it didn’t matter – even knowing the operation was doomed to fail, I was intrigued by the story from beginning to end. The cast is superb; Bill Nighy as General Olbricht, Kenneth Branagh as Major-General von Tresckow & Terrence Stamp as Ludwig Beck are all to be commended for their work in this film. Even the ‘bit’ part players shined – there wasn’t a bad performance by anyone. It just baffled me that Tom Cruise was told to ‘go ahead & speak in your normal voice’ . . . Would it have worked if he had adopted an English accent? From my past viewing of Cruise’s acting abilities – No (Bleep)ing Way!
Even though Cruise wasn’t bad – he had a couple of memorable scenes (Like when he saluted General Fromm by raising his ‘hand that wasn’t there’ & loudly spouting ‘Heil, Hitler’!) I feel the movie was hampered by allowing him to be the only American Nazi in the party. I thought of other actors that would have worked in the role & came up with Russell Crowe or Viggo Mortenson (We know he can do a Russian accent, English should be a piece of cake)
Although I was surprised to see cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard in a supporting role - & he did an okay job - but it would have been an improvement with, say, a Brenden Gleeson in that role.
So what we have is a truly great story, mesmerizing at times, & a poor choice by the director that ruins it & just makes it VERY good... I’ll be interested to hear other opinions on this film – I know Cruise has been lambasted by several critics, but I’d blame Singer, the director as much as the actor for his semi-weak performance.

Friday, December 26, 2008


“MARLEY & ME” (Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston & Several Yellow Labs)

It’s a toss up as to who should receive top billing here – Wilson, or the several Yellow Labs. It is Wilson’s movie with Aniston in the co-starring role, but the ‘stars’ are the dogs that play Marley from puppy to aging canine.
I have yet to read a positive review on this film & that baffles me – Did the editors ask ‘Who here hates dogs?’ & whoever said yes was given the job of seeing ‘Marley & Me’? Because any dog owner/lover is going to thoroughly enjoy this movie. I have had a dog in my life pretty much since age 4 & I could see traces of practically every dog I’ve ever owned in Marley; The gobble-gut/eat everything in sight puppy is my current dog, Duffy. The ‘I’m marching to my own drummer & all I want to do is play & have fun’; that un-trainable young pup was my Husky, Odie. A scene where Wilson is shown laying on the floor with his ailing, getting up there in years dog struck an emotional chord, as I spent the final moments with Laddie, the Collie I grew up with in a similar pose. & the final, heartbreaking moments, that I’m getting a lump in my throat as I’m writing this, was the same situation my wife & I went thru with our first pup, Sarge. I’m always able to forget that awful day by remembering that Sarge was the first birthday present I ever bought for my ‘new’ girlfriend; when we said goodbye to him 16 years later, we were an old married couple coping with the loss of our precious ‘little guy’.
So what does any of my personal reminisces have to do with this movie – Well, I think that’s the best part of ‘Marley & Me’ & why dog lovers will enjoy every moment of it – even the ‘difficult’ scenes – because we can relate to them. That’s the joy of owning a dog – they try your patience at times, but at the end of the day, they love you with every fiber of their being, while asking for nothing back in return but a few bones & an occasional pat on the head. They listen to you moan about your life & don’t say anything negative or tell you to ‘grow up & stop whining’ – they sympathize & offer a cute pair of fuzzy ears to scratch to help you get out of the doldrums.
The dogs that played Marley were either excellently trained (Being told to misbehave couldn’t have been easy to learn) or very intelligent pooches that knew the were ‘acting’ because the facial expressions often said it all; Getting the puppy Marley to look scared; getting the grown-up Marley to chew up everything in sight, including a couch & to freak out during thunderstorms. Then, when the moment came to know that ‘mom’s sad so I have to be gentle with her’, that version of Marley reacted just the way my dogs have – Yet, this canine wasn’t reacting to his real-life mama actually crying, he was reacting to an actress pretending to be unhappy.
So ‘Marley & Me’ is all over the emotional charts – I laughed out loud at some of his antics; I smiled warmly at the cute little puppy moments; & yes, tears rolled down my cheeks when John (Wilson) said ‘goodbye’ to his best friend.
Jennifer Aniston is to be given some credit as well, if just for agreeing to play the ‘heavy’ – It is her character (named Jennifer) that the audience will turn on when she yells at John to ‘Get rid of that dog!’ – Thing is we’ve all had those moments when our dogs misbehave & we threaten to ‘send them back to the pound’ or make them sleep outside or ‘NEVER get to ride in the car again!’ (My wife’s favorite expression) & then they jump in our lap & say ‘But I love you! Why are you yelling at me?’ & we realize we would never do anything to harm our precious pups – which is exactly what happens with Jennifer’s character.
For the first time in a long time, I liked Owen Wilson in a role – as frustrated writer John Grogan, a man that always wanted to be doing something other than what he was being paid to do, he played the part well, letting the dog provide the laughs while he was basically Marley’s foil. His many moments with Marley – both humorous & touching – came across as being very realistic (At least to this dog owner)
On the human side, Alan Arkin was most enjoyable to watch; as Grogan’s boss, he reads John’s first attempt at writing a ‘column’ without changing his expression & then concludes, “This is hilarious! I’m laughing my ass off!”
The column, of course was on Marley, & the writer’s humorous way of telling the citizens of Florida about his extremely hyper pup make him both well known & well-to-do.
No, it doesn’t end happily, we see Marley grow from pre-weaned puppy to elderly dog with health problems – but the last words John says to Marley forced me to fight a losing battle to keep the tears back, it was both heartbreaking & heartwarming - & still, my biggest fear was that the house lights would turn up too fast & the man sitting next to me – Mr. Alan Smithee – would catch me bawling like a 2 year old & call me a ‘pussy’.
And as every dog lover knows THAT’S the worse thing you can call a ‘dog person’...

Monday, December 22, 2008


“YES MAN” (Jim Carrey & Zooey Deschanel)
If it wasn’t for Zooey being so adorably cute, this film would have faltered big time.
Not a lot of laughs, with Carrey back to thinking acting childish & mugging for the camera is humorous, but there are a few comedic moments that should make you grin, or maybe even chuckle quietly. But what I took away from this romantic comedy is just a sweet little story about two opposites attracting until she discovers his persona was given to him by the director of a seminar (Terence Stamp) where the subject is told he must answer ‘Yes’ to every question or favor that is asked of him. Carrey, of course, is the ‘subject’ in question.
His divorce, coupled with a dead end job as a loan officer at a bank has caused Carl (Carrey) to just ‘give up’ – He says ‘No’ to everyone – Spends most of his time in his bathrobe watching DVD rentals while sprawled on his well worn couch.
When an old acquaintance tells him about the ‘Yes’ seminar, Carl realizes his boring life needs a jolt & he attends. The covenant he enters into with the ‘inventor’ of ‘YES’ immediately leads to his driving a homeless man ‘home’ to a dark, wooded area of a park, allowing the hobo to talk on his cell phone until the battery dies & then running out of gas shortly after dropping the man off. But this eventually leads to a chance encounter with Allison,(Zooey) a little cutie on a motorbike. In fact, by saying yes to everything, Carl happens upon Allison again. He soon realizes when he sticks with the agreement, good things happen & when he goes against the rule bad things happen (Like when he says ‘no thanks’ to his elderly neighbor when she offers to... uh, pleasure him)
So, ‘Yes Man’ isn’t all that funny, but it is a pleasant romance story. If you go in thinking you’re going to laugh a lot, you’ll be disappointed – so go into it with low expectations on the ‘laugh-o-meter’ & you won’t be sorry you said yes to ‘Yes Man’.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


“4 CHRISTMASES” (Vince Vaughn & Reese Witherspoon)
Why does garbage like this do so well at the box office? All I remember – other than Robert Duvall & Jon Voight embarrassing themselves by appearing in it – is an inane scene where Vaughn is attempting to install a satellite dish atop his father’s house,
falling off the roof with dish in hand and destroying his dad’s television by making it fly about the den crashing against the walls... ho ho (yawn) ho...
I went because I like Vaughn – ‘Fred Clause’ wasn’t complete crap so with the above mentioned vets, I thought this might be a cut above the normal Christmas movie fare... it isn’t. It’s trash. Not a hollow turd like ‘Christmas with the Kranks’ or ‘Deck the Halls’, but it isn’t worth your time or money.
The premise is as shallow as the lead characters; to avoid their families during Christmas, couple Vaughn & Witherspoon go on vacation Christmas week – When all flights are cancelled & they are interviewed on local TV (&, of course, their families ‘just happen’
to all be watching at that precise moment) they are forced to visit all 4 of their divorced parents’ homes. Each just as boring & unfunny as the next – At least it explains why they go out of town every December to avoid these people – the only ‘merry’ part of this celluloid nightmare is when the credits begin to roll & you can get away from these annoying jackasses...


“NOBEL SON” (Alan Rickman, Mary Steenburgen, Bryan Greenberg & Shawn Hatosy)
Not a completely original plot idea, but one that could have led to a promising story; Son of a recent Nobel Prize Winner is kidnapped & held for 2 million in ransom – Twist #1, the father is an a**hole & thinks his son is ‘screwing’ with him to get out of going to Sweden to be with him to pick up his award. Twist #2, the kidnapper has a mysterious history with the father that actually leads to the son wanting to help with the money drop.
Yes, it has an interesting plot with intriguing possibilities. The problem is – it gets too overloaded with twists & backstabbing moments that by the time we reach the final conclusion, it turns out to be the lamest of all possible outcomes... So, for the most part I enjoyed this film - & then the last 10 minutes turned me against it.
Rickman plays Eli Michaelson, a pompous egomaniacal chemistry professor, & even though he’s ‘over-the-top’ unlikable, Rickman’s drool delivery of his lines makes him at least an interesting character to watch. Steenburgen plays his wife,Sarah, a police psychiatrist that suffers thru life with this ultimate lout of a cheating husband for no apparent reason – So their grown son doesn’t feel as though he comes from a broken home? It was nice to see Bill Pullman playing the detective in charge of investigating the kidnapping, as I’ve always enjoyed his work. & for the most part, I don’t have a problem with the rest of the cast; with the exception of Eliza Dushku playing a flakey ‘poet’ named City Hall... Yeah, sometimes coming up with ‘original’ character names makes you look like a moron – Hey, let’s call her Yellow Firehydrant! No, that’s dumb, let’s go with City Hall instead – You’re right, that’s a lot better... Eliza is very cute, with an exceptionally sexy body, but her diploma from the Drew Barrymore School of Acting isn’t going to get her any meaty roles any time soon...
Bryan Greenberg plays the dorky son, Barkley & Shawn Hatosy, the kidnapper with many hidden secrets. Cameos by Danny DeVito & Ted Danson made me yearn for a ‘Taxi’ or a ‘Cheers’ movie to be made – Yes, the ending was so rotten, it had me inventing more dumb ideas for old sitcoms being revived!
So where in the hell are all the Oscar caliber films that are supposed to be coming out this time of year? I still have ‘Iron Man’ & ‘Tropic Thunder’ in my top 5 for cryin’ out loud!


“The DUCHESS” (Kiera Knightly & Ralph Fiennes)
Took in this period piece for $3 basically because I knew I could sit & watch Kiera be beautiful for an hour & a half & just about get my money’s worth off that alone... Unfortunately the way they presented her character, I had absolutely no sympathy for her plight whatsoever – The woman gets what she deserves...
The film pretty much opens with her mother (Charlotte Rampling) telling Georgiana(Knightly) The Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes) has ‘asked for her hand’ – ‘G’ wonders why since they’ve only met twice & he’s never shown any interest in her. Still, when her mother proudly announces that she will become a Duchess, G beams with pride at being ‘chosen’ for such a lofty title... So she’s just as superficial as The Duke (& her mother, for that matter) & when he turns out to be a chauvinistic blowhard that simply wants a ‘breed mare’ to give birth to an heir, why are we suppose to feel sorry for her? Poor little thing didn’t expect marrying a total stranger with a pompous title to be a poor choice?
So the movie just rolls on & on with one scene of obnoxious adulterous behavior after another until you really hope one of these cretins would pull out a gun & knock off the other so we can be rid of a least one stupid twit of a Duchess, or one snobbish ‘dictator’ Duke – But, alas, fair fans of the cinema, such a scene never takes place; it just rolls on & on & on until the ‘And here’s what happened to them the rest of their lives...’ paragraphs show up to let you know nothing exciting ever DOES happen to these boorish characters... & the worst of it is, they plaster so much make-up onto Kiera’s naturally pretty physiognomy that she isn’t all that attractive in many of her scenes... Oh, the injustice of it all - $3 shot down the drain!


“RIGHTEOUS KILL” (Robert De Niro & Al Pacino)
I didn’t go into this movie thinking it was going to be great just due to the star power of the lead actors – Pacino has always been vastly over-rated in my mind & De Niro doesn’t seem to be too picky about scripts lately. I’d heard how predictable & mundane the plot was, & although I didn’t see the ending coming - when all was said & done – no, it wasn’t very original. It seemed like the storyline was honed so the ‘hammier’ of the two actors could do just that – Ham it up with an implausible, insipid finale.
The title refers to a series of ‘serial’ killings where the victims were criminals that ‘got away’ with their crimes – released by the system for lack of evidence, etc. Normally, I’m a sucker for such fare – as long as we can see that the criminals are indeed guilty & deserve what’s coming to them, I’m all for vigilante justice. So, we don’t care about the victims, so what else is there to care about? I guess, trying to guess which one of the star detectives is committing the justifiable murders – I thought the clues were pointing toward the horny female forensic detective, who was more hooker-like than a professional police officer (Carla Gugino, whom I haven’t seen in quite a while & although she’s a pretty little thing, I’ve seen better acting in Safeway commercials)
The guilty cop leads fellow detectives to focus on an ex-cop, now struggling to make ends meet as a ‘mall security guard’ – just one problem with that plot twist – we know he’s innocent – So when he jumps into the car with one of the investigating officers, we
know he isn’t going to cause him any harm – There’s no ‘Oh My God, he’s getting in the car –What’s he going to do next?’ moment... There’s no real suspense here because it’s a policeman killing guilty criminals - Do we really care if he gets caught? & when the finale ‘kill’ takes place, we’re left wondering ‘Why stop there?’ The vigilante doesn’t get caught, he simply cops to the killings... Why? Yes, this is another one of those reviews that ends with a question for the actors involved in this film... Why?