Tuesday, May 26, 2009


(Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria & Owen Wilson)

Why would someone that didn’t like the first ‘Night At The Museum’ go see the sequel?
I can answer that in two words – Amy Adams. Plus my wife, for some unexplained reason, wanted to see it.
It isn’t very funny, a handful of chuckles is all you’re going to get; it doesn’t even attempt at being original – it is a carbon copy of the first bland film – With one exception – Amy Adams. Besides being a ‘spark’ as a bubbly Amelia Earhart, I discovered a portion of her anatomy that attracted my eyes. To keep from revealing the chauvinistic pig that dwells not all that deep inside my being, I’ll just say that every time they shot Ms. Adams from behind I found myself enjoying the view. So there you go, guys – if your wife/girlfriend/mistress/chicks you’d like to sleep with but only want to be friends still you keep hanging in there in case they get dumped and you think you might get a shot by being the proverbial shoulder to cry on/ want to go see ‘NATM-2’, I’m letting you know that Amy Adams has a delightful bubble to her bum that will keep your interest up.
For less important matters, such as the simplistic plot; Ben Stiller’s Larry Daley has evolved into an infomercial king who discovers the exhibits that come to life at his old job are being shipped to the Smithsonian for storage. He cleverly makes his way into the archives in time to find Hank Azaria’s Egyptian king on the verge of killing all the new exhibits that came to life the evening before in order to gain possession of the tablet that brings them to life. And when I say ‘cleverly’, I AM being facetious.
I realize common sense doesn’t have to apply to a film of this nature, but when they put Ivan The Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte & Al Capone in the script & make them all some unknown Egyptian’s ‘henchmen’ – that’s getting a little too ridiculous for me. Why would those 2 infamous leaders ‘follow’ anyone, let alone an unknown ‘king’ who speaks with a lisp. & since Al comes equipped with a machine gun, something tells me HE would be calling the shots, not the guys with swords & spears... They also assume that the audience is too dumb to realize that an ancient Egyptian should not know who Napoleon & Capone are – as well as picking up Owen Wilson’s miniature western character & knowing that he’s a ‘cowboy’.
Like the first film, this is merely a vehicle to have museum exhibits ‘come to life’ & that is supposed to suffice for entertainment. There’s even ANOTHER elongated ‘bitch slap’ scene involving Stiller & 2 monkeys. If you laugh at that, you are much too easily entertained (But the Adam Sandler’s of the world owe you their livelihoods)
The only scenes of substance involve Amy Adams. Bill Hader as George Armstrong Custer provides a couple of the chuckles (“When I yell ‘attack’, we’ll take them by surprise”) but the film’s central character is the unfunny, uninteresting, less than talented Ben Stiller, who shows here that “Tropic Thunder” was an adrenalin rush that inspired a short lived boost from his usual mundane performances.
Unless you have little ones that are entertained by seeing the same thing over & over, I’d say stay out of this museum – you won’t learn or see anything of value.


“KNOWING” (Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury & Lara Robinson)

When I first heard about this film, I was intrigued by the premise – then the critics ripped it to shreds; citing an absurd religious revelation for making the movie ‘laughable’ – so I stayed away until it came to the ‘cheap’ theatre nearby.
Just to let you know, I didn’t think it was all that bad – I’ve seen dozens of films that I felt I wasted my money on, but this isn’t one of them (especially for $3)
If you’re looking for a ‘religious’ aspect to the story, I can see where you could take it that way, but my complaint would be that it was too predictable. There was only one catch in the ‘climatic’ ending that I didn’t see coming.
The plot - & why I wanted to see this film in the first place – is an interesting one.
It opens in a classroom in 1959 where a grade school teacher tells her class they’re going to draw pictures to be placed in a time capsule for kids going to school in 2009 to see.
Lucinda, the girl who came up with the time capsule idea, writes down nothing but random numbers, filling both sides of the paper – the teacher takes the paper away from her before she can write down the last few numbers – she just has time to scribble the initials E. E. before the page is taken from her. (& she mistakenly writes the E’s backward)
When the time capsule is lowered into the ground, Lucinda comes up missing. Her teacher finds her in a closet in the basement with her fingers covered in blood from scratching away at the door to the closet...
We are then informed we are now in ‘Present Time’ (2009)
Nicolas Cage is a widowed high school science teacher with a young son (Caleb) who hears voices in his head & wears a hearing aid to help silence the voices. It is Caleb’s class that receives the contents of the time capsule from 1959 & to no one’s surprise, he is given Lucinda’s page of scribbled numbers. I guess if you were looking for the religious angle, this would be called ‘divine intervention’.
It only takes Caleb’s dad (John) one perusal of the page to understand its meaning when the numbers 9 11 2001 jump out at him. He goes on the internet & sees the final death toll from that fateful day & then looks back at Lucinda’s numbers; 9112001 is followed by the exact number of casualties. John then looks for other catastrophes & finds that there are dozens of them interspersed throughout the pages - exact dates followed by the exact number of fatalities. There are however other numbers following this information that keeps John’s colleague from buying into Lucinda’s ability to predict the future. When John discovers the meaning of the extra numbers there is no doubt in his mind that Lucinda was unquestionably a modern day Nostadamus & he begins to seek out those who knew her since it was now obvious to him that the last entry was incomplete.
Since I’ve probably revealed too much already, I’ll stop here. If I were to read this review, I’d be very interested to see what happens next – It’s a little silly, but it also throws a couple of curveballs that you don’t see coming. But I really don’t see why anyone would laud this film for the way it ended – Other than I knew what was going to happen with the kids (Caleb & Lucinda’s granddaughter, Abby) I felt if they went in any other direction the story wouldn’t make sense – they at least made the clues presented follow through to an obvious conclusion. Perhaps because I’ve only spent one day at Sunday school in my life, I was unable to understand the deeply religious aspects of the finale, but to me, it was, as my favorite Vulcan would say, “Logical.”


“ADVENTURELAND” (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristine Stewart & Ryan Reynolds)

Other than to say the trailer to this doesn’t exactly depict what the film is about - & is very misleading as to the type of movie it is, I don’t have a lot to say about “Adventureland”.
The bulk of the scenes do take place at a low-rent amusement park in Pittsburgh, but it isn’t a ‘goofy teenage romp’ about the young & dumb employees that work there. It has its moments of dumb/semi-retarded behavior; it does really heavily on the ‘wonders’ of smoking weed; but basically this is an innocent ‘puppy love’ story centering on Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart’s characters.
Jesse has just graduated from high school & discovers his parents aren’t going to be able to pay for his summer trip to Europe, or his tuition into college because his father has had a ‘setback’ at work – We never learn the details of this setback, just that dad seems to have a drink in his hand in every scene he’s in, no matter what time of day it happens to be. So Jesse needs a summer job & all he can find is a position in the ‘Games’ department at ‘Adventureland’. To quote Jesse’s buddy in ‘Games’: “We are doing the work of lazy morons.”
But when Jesse meets Kristen, suddenly ‘Adventureland’ turns into the opportunity of a lifetime – She’s very cute and appears to like him. It comes as no surprise when Jesse reveals his virginity status. Though attracted to Jesse, Kristen is having a secret affair with the amusement park’s married repairman, played by Ryan Reynolds. Ryan befriends Jesse and then reports to Kristen what he learns.
So ‘Adventureland’ is set in an atmosphere of a place where zany cornball antics take place on a daily basis, & yet, it actually leans more toward the sweet, coming of age story between 2 young adults seeking happiness while stuck in a situation that seems destined to end in heartbreak.
Mom & Dad, & the husband & wife team that manages ‘Adventureland’ didn’t bring much to the table for me – Bill Hader seemed to bring ‘too much’ wackiness to his role, while Kristen Wiig underscored hers by being too low-key. A lot of puking goes on as well, if you’re queasy at all about seeing multiple vomiting scenes, you may want to steer clear of ‘Adventureland’, but I liked it okay. It isn’t anything special, just a sweet little tale of a guy who falls in love before he gets laid for the first time. How awkward for the putz...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


“ANGELS & DEMONS” (Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Armin Mueller-Stahl & Stellan Skarsgard)

Count me among the many that didn’t care for the first installment of this series, “The Da Vinci Code”. I liked Ian McKellen in it, but for the most part I found it to be a whole lot about nothin’. “Angels & Demons” has a better plot – there’s a real life & death situation at hand & a race against time to save hundreds of lives. True, we are talking about Catholic lives, but they still matter. That’s a joke, Catholics, lighten up for a change.
So I liked the premise – The pope has recently died & as the Cardinals gather to elect a new pontiff, 4 of the betting favorites are kidnapped by an organization calling itself the Illuminati; supposedly a group of scientist that tried to work with the church to come up with a plausible reason for creation while still keeping God in the picture. But the church refused to accept the Illuminati’s findings & drove them out of Vatican City in the 18th Century.
The voice of the Illuminati tells the world that one Cardinal will be assassinated every hour on the hour at 8, 9, 10 & 11 PM; then at midnight, a stolen canister of anti-matter will explode somewhere in the city causing mass destruction of biblical portions.
Since there are no Illuminati experts in the Vatican, nor in Italy – the police call on American symbologist, Robert Langdon (Hanks)
This is where the storyline gets tiresome, I enjoyed the racing against time to save the Cardinals idea, but it is how Langdon determines where the assassinations are going to take place that became irritating – There wasn’t anything clever about it – Hanks would strike a ‘deep into thought’ pose for a few seconds & then spout out some obscure location & off they’d go. I actually had to laugh out loud when at one point, Langdon points to 2 particular angel statues & says, “The angels are pointing the way!”
Ewan McGregor plays the right hand man of the deceased pope & thus is ‘semi-‘ in charge of the Vatican until a new pope is picked. The way this character ‘evolves’ thru the film doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you throw logic out the window; which, in a film regarding religion isn’t difficult to do, so why am I complaining?
Ayelet Zurer plays the female scientist that helped to create the canister of anti-matter & then allowed the Illuminati to walk out of their super-secret laboratory with the extremely dangerous ‘creation’.
Armin Mueller-Stahl does his usual fine job as a stodgy old Cardinal that finds it difficult to maintain his forgiving grin while being ‘told’ what he should be doing by McGregor’s ‘camerlengo’. By the way, I finally figured out why they call them ‘cardinals’ – they all dress in bright red plumage with matching beanies, so they do indeed look like a group of St. Louis baseball fans.
As head of the Swiss Guard (the protectors of the pope) Stellan Skarsgard acts as though he doesn’t WANT to help Langdon stop the kidnapped Cardinals from being murdered – making it over-obvious that he is indeed the mastermind behind the Illuminati. I don’t feel as though I’m revealing a spoiler with that because it becomes very apparent from the moment the character is introduced & denies Langdon access to the information he needs to decipher the location of the first assassination. Which I had a problem with as well; the clues are embedded in the brick flooring & the streets are swarming with tourists & anxious Catholics, yet Langdon is still able to find the exact clues he needs to lead them to the site.
Now, I don’t mean to pick on Catholics, even though I have, I just don’t ‘mean’ to – but at one point the ‘swarm’ is warned to evacuate the city due to a bomb threat (The anti-matter is the true culprit) A short time later a news reporter is announcing how even more people have entered the square since that warning was given... Seems as if those darn Catholics just don’t believe anything anyone tells them unless they're dressed like a big bird...
In the beginning, I liked the way this film was heading, by the time it gets to the finale, I was shaking my head in disbelief... which, for me, is nothing new. Hopefully you’ll find the shocking climax more ‘entertaining’ than I.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


“STAR TREK” (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Eric Bana & Leonard Nimoy)

When I heard about this ‘prequel’ idea of starting ‘Star Trek’ over from scratch, I hated it. Being alive when the original series aired (& being a kid, a fan of it) those characters & the actors portraying them had been intertwined for most of my life – the thought of having a different cast taking over the roles seemed ludicrous. After seeing the preview, I became even more determined to avoid it – I hated the idea from the beginning & the trailer made it look more like a ‘Star Wars’ type of ‘kiddie’ flick, rather than the more character driven ‘Trek’ style that I grew up with. Then the critics started raving about it; the prominent line being ‘You don’t have to be a ‘Trekkie’ to enjoy this movie’.
Well, I liked the show, I liked movies #2-3-4, but I’m not a Trekkie. I laughed when Bill Shatner told the goofballs dressed up like Vulcans & Klingons to ‘Get a life!’
I felt it important to reveal my background so you would understand where I was coming from before starting my review – Which is – this is a spectacular film. With one minor complaint, which I won’t reveal due to it being a bit of a ‘spoiler’, this movie started strong & gained momentum with practically every scene.
The plot involves a villain from the future named Nero (Eric Bana) a Romulan who travels back in time to alter the future destruction of his home planet & seek revenge against the Federation Ambassador who promised to save his world & failed. Said Ambassador being an elderly Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy)
Since time travel isn’t new to the franchise (both the TV series & ‘Voyage Home’ enlisted that ‘impossible’ plot device) it was easy to buy into the concept of using a time traveling bad guy to alter the lives of the original ‘Star Trek’ characters. People & planets that existed during the run of the series & movies are at risk when Nero ‘alters’ their lives with futuristic weapons.
I liked ‘Star Trek’ because it also pays homage to what I call the ‘best’ Trek’ movie – “The Wrath Of Kahn”. Heck, it doesn’t just pay homage - it practically steals the entire plot! But in hindsight, I believe that is what makes it work – even when they give fans obvious ‘winks’ in tribute to the cream of the crop; Bana’s Nero screaming ‘Spock! Spock!’ imitating Shatner’s Kirk bellowing ‘Kahn! Kahn!’
Kahn was the perfect villain – a returning character from the series that seeks revenge against Kirk / Nero seeks revenge against Spock. Kahn gained control of the ‘Genesis’ device which could create life on a dead planet; which Kahn threatened to use on planets where life already existed / Nero brings a device from the future that can implant a black hole into a planet, thus eradicating it from existence (Once a deep enough hole has been drilled)
If you want to rag on it for being a ‘copycat’, I can’t argue that point, but... probably due to the new cast, it worked for me.
As for the cast, I didn’t have a problem with any of them (With again, one minor complaint) The biggest surprise to me was Bana – other than doing a decent job in ‘Troy’ I have not been impressed with his work. A good villain makes or breaks a series & Eric doesn’t hit any sour notes – he isn’t given the complexity of a Kahn, nor does he quote Melville; but his character is bent on revenge, with a preconceived plan as to how it must be doled out. In displaying this side of Nero, Bana delivers an impressive performance. Going down the list – Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk; the one actor that was the least similar to the original portrayer, it obviously took a little longer to warm up to Pine, but in the end I had to admit that I couldn’t find anything negative to say about his ‘take’ on Kirk (After all, the story opens with his birth being altered by Nero’s invasion into the past, so we are dealing with a whole new Kirk in a sense)
Zachary Quinto as (Young) Mr. Spock; I liked the way they explored his childhood of being ridiculed by ‘full’ Vulcans for being a half-breed – It immediately put you on the side of this pre-robot-to-all-things-logical being. My friend Chris wondered how they could show Spock totally flipping out in the preview & expect ‘Star Trek’ fans to buy into this. Chris, go see the film – You will understand why that scene was necessary & made sense – In fact, it’s a ‘highlight’. Old time fans should see enough of the Spock we knew & loved in Quinto’s performance to accept him as the new Spock without a single complaint.
Karl Urban as Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy; everyone should at least smile, if not chuckle out loud when Kirk meets young Dr. McCoy & the reason for his nickname coming into being is revealed – It has nothing to do with his profession, as we all would have surmised. Urban may be the best of the lot here – he probably comes the closest to capturing the essence of the original portrayal (DeForrest Kelley) & does a flawless job – You’d think the guy was a direct descendant of Kelley.
John Cho as Sulu; Plays him just like the original – no flashy personality – a no nonsense guy that keeps a stiff upper lip even when he makes a major boo-boo.
Anton Yelchin as Chekov was the ‘supporting’ cast member that I expected to have the most trouble accepting; I liked Anton in the short-lived series “Huff” & in “Charlie Bartlett” (Where I’m sure working with Robert Downey, Jr. was an enlightening experience) But Anton isn’t Russian, nor does he possess a manly set of vocal cords. So, yes, Anton had to grow on me after a rocky start of impersonating Walter Koenig’s Chekov’s way of pronouncing vessels as ‘wessels’ & Vulcans as ‘wulcans’ – He endeared himself to me with his mumbling of “I know how to do this, I know how to do this” as he races thru the Enterprises corridors to save Kirk & Sulu.
Zoe Saldana as Uhura; Well, looks-wise, she’s a major improvement (Sorry, Nichelle) but Zoe is the one character I had a bit of a problem with – However it had nothing to do with her acting ability, it had to do with the new direction they took her character – I didn’t approve.
& that leaves last but not least, the one actor I knew well going into this ‘re-structuring’, Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott; Scotty is the last ‘regular’ to join the team in the film, but he makes up for it by being the most welcomed change – Simon is a comedic actor, so he easily makes Scotty his own while delivering ‘standard’ Scotty lines at the same time.
Now, as all die-hard Star Trek fans know, Kirk is supposed to take command of the Enterprise from a crippled Captain Pike, & Pike(Bruce Greenwood) is involved as a major character, but remember, you Trekkies that can’t accept change, the future for all of these characters is altered when Nero appears – so Captain Pike’s fate is altered as well.
Each character is introduced in a way that reminds you of the original – You’ll find yourself thinking, ‘Oh yeah, that’s ‘Bones’ all right’ – or whatever character is being spotlighted – So credit is to be given to the entire cast for making the transition not only acceptable, but welcomed. I will be looking forward to the next Star Trek film, & that’s something I haven’t said in 23 years!
Great job done by everyone involved, & I have to go along with the ‘sheep’ on this one – Even if you’re not a ‘Star Trek’ fan – if you like your films fast paced & action filled, while still taking some time for character development - I think you will walk out of the theatre saying, “Wow, that was a damn good movie!”
I walked out calling it ‘Spectacular’.


“The SOLOIST” (Robert Downey, Jr. & Jamie Foxx)

A film that is both beautiful & ugly, uplifting & depressing, “The Soloist” is a well-crafted (A hate that phrase, but here, it applies) story of two men from entirely different walks of life, meeting by chance and becoming close friends – Albeit ‘unique’ friends, in that one becomes a reluctant ‘God’ to the other.
The pulse here is that friendship – Some might argue that the pulse, or heart of this film is ‘music’, but I would completely disagree. The music for me became a bit of an annoyance in that it was all ‘classical’; I don’t mind it in small increments, in fact I would say I enjoy it in minimal doses, but it dominates the soundtrack – with the exception of 2 Neil Diamond tunes, which I found odd since the film is based in L.A. & Neil was strictly a New Yorker. Neil’s inclusion does make sense with a whimsical scene in which Foxx’s character puts Neil’s picture up thinking it’s a photo of his new friend.
Robert Downey, Jr. plays Steve Lopez... Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but what did you think when you heard that Robert Downey, Jr. was playing an Australian who becomes a black man? In other words, it doesn’t hurt the story that Downey doesn’t look Latino. Steve is a reporter for the L.A. Times. He suffers a bad fall off his bike in the opening sequence & spends an un-enjoyable evening in the Emergency Room.
Always on the look out for potential stories, Steve hears the plaintive sound of a 2-stringed violin being played... ‘Plaintive’ – I haven’t heard that word since the O.J. trial...
Steve follows the sound & meets an oddly attired homeless man named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. who spells his name out for Mr. Lopez, including both the full version of J-u-n-i-o-r and the shorter ‘J – R – period.’
Nathaniel at first appears to be speaking incoherently, his sentences run together endlessly without a moments pause even for a breath. By listening intently, Steve comes to realize that Nathaniel’s ramblings aren’t jibberish at all, he just runs every word together without inserting vocal commas, pauses or periods.
To Steve, Nathaniel is a future column – especially when he checks out the homeless man’s claim that he attended the prestigious Julliard School of Music at one time.
After Steve’s first article on Nathaniel is printed, an aging musician with arthritis donates her cello to Nathaniel so he can have a real instrument to play. This brings about the problem of owning something of value while living on the streets, so Steve helps Nathaniel find shelter. And so the story goes with each column Steve writes, someone else steps forward to offer a helping hand, including a religious music teacher with an ulterior motive.
Although Steve is aware of the fact that the best conclusion to this series is to have Nathaniel return to a ‘normal’ life, the fact is Nathaniel is not mentally equipped to return to normalcy & thus the friendship is tested – Somewhere along the way, the ‘story’ takes a back seat to Steve wanting to help this man get his life back as a promising musician.
Catherine Keener played Steve’s ex-wife & boss who becomes upset with him for making the statement, “I’ve never loved anything as much as he (Nathaniel) loves music!” Keener does an outstanding job of showing how that line hurts her, even though it is spoken by the man she divorced. She then makes a ‘scene’ at an awards ceremony that reveals how she still has special feelings for her ex & that his profound friendship & acclaim are digging away at her as she wonders why he never put forth that much effort to keep their marriage intact.
Acting wise, Downey continues to excel at his craft – I think he’s fantastic, no reason to keep piling on the accolades – the man can virtually do nothing wrong these days. But I need to speak against those that are calling Foxx’s performance weak – Is it because he said something mean to a spoiled teenaged celebrity on his radio show? (Which he also apologized for saying the next day, folks – How many ‘shock jocks’ apologize for ANYTHING they’ve said until their jobs are threatened?)
Yes, Nathaniel, for the most part is a one-note character that doesn’t have a metamorphic change, ala Steve, but it obviously wasn’t easy nailing those ‘rambling’ yet coherent lines. Don’t give the man crap for what he said outside of the realm of acting – I’m the first one to say he didn’t deserve to win an Oscar for ‘Ray’ – Judge him on the merits of his performance – just think of how difficult it must be to act toe-to-toe with Robert Downey, Jr. and not come out looking like the lesser talent? All things considered, I thought Jamie gave one of his better showings & he deserves a pat on the back for this portrayal. Just like all the hoopla over the Miss America bimbo that spoke her mind about gay marriage – Do you people not realize that living in the United States of America means every person has the RIGHT to say what they believe? I don’t agree with what she said either, but she sure has the right to feel that way. I hope she becomes enlightened & changes her mind, but it’s none of my business if she doesn’t... Sorry, had to get that rant off my chest.
As long as I’m in a bitchy mood, my one complaint about this film was the inclusion of a scene that takes an unwarranted pot shot at atheists. Other than that, I found ‘The Soloist’ to be a very touching film. Just for the record, it comes in as my 4th favorite so far in ’09 - #1 SUNSHINE CLEANING