Monday, December 27, 2010


“TRUE GRIT” (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon & Hallie Steinfeld)

Remaking ‘True Grit’ wasn’t a bad idea in my mind – it would be nice to see what actors that could actually ‘act’ could do with those roles – but when I saw the trailer for the Coen Brothers ‘take’ on the horribly acted 1969 western, I was unimpressed. Most of the scenes in the preview were the same as the ‘69 version – virtually word-for-word.
Still, I was assured that this would be ‘better’ than the original because the Coen’s were going to stick closer to the novel from which it came.
When the film ended, my wife said, “I don’t remember if I've ever seen the original...” And I said, “You just did.”
The trailer wasn’t misleading – this is the same story, same dialogue – Yes, the only improvement is the acting is better – but not THAT much better. With the notable exception of Bridges over John Wayne – but we all knew that was going to be significant.
What I discovered however is that I had been misguided in my harsh criticism of Glen Campbell’s performance as LeBoeuf, the Texas Ranger. In the early scenes, Matt Damon seemed just as uncomfortable as Campbell and I realized, it wasn’t just bad acting on Glen’s part - it was bad acting combined with bad dialogue. Now, something different happens to LeBoeuf mid-way thru the re-make and Damon up’s his performance in the second half of the film – but the problem with this entire project is poorly written dialogue and an unrealistic main character with 14 year old Mattie Ross (played this time by an actual 14 year old, Hallie Steinfeld)
It would be stretching it to say that a 21st century 14 year old girl could speak as eloquently and with such a wide breath of knowledge as Mattie (she knows Latin too!)
but this story is set in the 19th century which makes the character implausible. Yes, it’s cute and clever when Mattie talks over the heads of every adult she encounters but it isn’t realistic. Her droning way of speaking doesn’t lend itself to a child either. I kept wondering, ‘Are all of the children in Yell County this uber-intelligent?’
The only part that worked for me and that would make me say it’s worth seeing is Bridges’ take on Rooster Cogburn – though the character wasn’t too far removed from The Big Lebowski’s ‘Dude’ – Jeff is still fun to watch as the drunken one-eyed U.S. Marshall whose theory is ‘bringin’ ‘em in dead is much easier than bringin’ ‘em back alive’.
Josh Brolin as the ‘coward’ Tom Cheney and Barry Pepper as ‘lucky’ Ned Pepper pretty much say & do the exact same things that the original characters said & did, so why even mention them?
One thing that struck me as odd – In the original there’s a scene where one bad guy chops off the fingers of another bad guy (Moon & Quincy, but don’t ask me which was which) I remember the scene being very graphic as they showed the blade slicing off the fingers. In the re-make, 40 years later, how sad is it that they had to cut away from the ‘gory’ part of the scene in order to maintain a PG-13 rating.
This is another thing that made me leery of this version – If they were really going to tell the true gritty story using Jeff Bridges as the drunken disagreeable Marshall, shouldn’t it have an ‘R’ rating so Cogburn could let the curse words flow? Even though Bridges is entertaining in the second coming of Rooster, I felt it would have been more so if they had allowed him to be more ‘realistic’. I seem to be finding a lot of films that irritate me by not being ‘real’. Some would argue that you go to films to lose yourself in the make believe worlds of celluloid heroes, so I guess that I just go against the grain because I’m not sheep-ish. If you’re going to tell a story about real people living in the real world, then by Gawd you’d better make them believable, dammit!
Famed bad director Alan Smithee had a problem with Rooster’s treatment of Little Blackie at the end of the film – it wasn’t logical for the Marshall not to realize by doing what he did, he’d end up carrying the girl for several miles and she was more likely to die that way. But I’d argue that it made some sense because of how the horse swam across a river with the girl in tow – Blackie, like Cogburn was going to do whatever it took to get the girl to safety. Because of that, it isn’t a bad story – sure, I got emotional watching the tough as nails Marshall doing whatever it took to save ‘sister’ (as he called Mattie, completely dissing John Wayne’s Cogburn who called her ‘little sister’) but then the Coen’s added an epilogue that didn’t make any sense at all and as Mr. Smithee pointed out the ‘25 years later’ span they added meant that Matt Damon’s LeBoeouf was in his mid-to-late 40’s at the time of the ‘trek’ to bring in Tom Cheney. I didn’t mind there being an epilogue, in fact, I welcomed it as something ‘fresh’ but it was so poorly thought out it became a stupid addendum.
One of the biggest jokes in Oscar history came when they gave John Wayne the Best Actor award for ‘True Grit’. Since Jeff Bridges played the role a thousand times better than Wayne, he should be a sure thing to win back-to-back Oscars, right?


“HOW DO YOU KNOW?” (Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson & Jack Nicholson)

How do you know if the movie you’re about to watch sucks? You’ll know when you see ‘How Do You Know?’
How do you know when one of your favorite actors, an iconic actor’s actor has lost his touch? You’ll know when you see ‘How Do You Know?’
How do you know when a movie that’s advertised as a comedy isn’t the least bit funny? You’ll know when you see ‘How Do You Know?’

Oh, how do I loathe thee, ‘How Do You Know?’ Let me count the ways...

At first I thought perhaps I’d set my expectations of being entertained by this cast too high but when I realized more than a half an hour had gone by and I hadn’t laughed at a single line - didn’t even cracked a smile, I knew I was watching a crappy film. With James L. Brooks at the helm, it was reasonable for me to expect, at the very least, a mildly amusing film.
Paul Rudd’s likeability rating plummets here – in the past he’s had an uncanny ability to raise the bar on the material he’s given just because the guy is so darned likeable, but an even bigger disappointment is Jack Nicholson. It seems as though after being snubbed for Best Supporting Actor in ‘The Departed’, Jack has taken the stance of ‘F’ all of you, I’m not even going to try anymore! He wanders into scenes looking like he’s forgotten his lines. A possible reason for this is he remembers that the lines he was given to say aren’t humorous so he’s trying to think of something witty to say on the fly but since his character is such a bland butthead he can’t come up with anything appropriate.
The main problem here are the unrealistic characters – they all have strong ‘quirks’; which is normally a good thing, you want your characters to be unique – but none of these characters behave like actual human beings so they aren’t relatable.
Paul Rudd is George. In the opening scenes George is dumped by his girlfriend and loses his lucrative job with his father’s company because his ineptness has lead to a fraud indictment. Dad (Jack) seems torn because he wants to help his son, but can’t because he is forbidden by the company lawyers from having any contact with him.
Reese Witherspoon’s Lisa is even more pathetic; she’s a 31 year old whose ‘job’ is playing for the USA’s women’s Olympic softball team... I wasn’t aware that you could make a living by playing non-professional women’s softball. Her life is shattered when she doesn’t make the final cut and is kicked off the team. I’m sorry, but I had zero sympathy for this woman – besides the unrealistic fact that there isn’t a single woman in America that makes a living from playing on the Olympic softball team – I’m quite certain that in the real world those ladies all have actual jobs where they earn enough money to survive and the softball team is more or less their hobby - but to still be having softball as your ‘occupation’ at age 31? They could at least have shown her endorsing a product or two to make it more believable.
Owen Wilson plays Matty (not Alou) a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals.
Lisa meets Matty shortly before going on a blind date with George. Shortly after her blind date with George, Lisa accepts Matty’s invitation to move in with him. This is a man she barely knows, yet is willing to become his live-in lover at the drop of a hat.
Even more bewildering is the blind date with George – they’re both miserable, so Lisa comes up with the brilliant suggestion that they not speak during their date – Just eat and call it a night. George ACTUALLY thinks this is brilliant and he falls hopelessly in love with Lisa simply because she didn’t want to hear about his troubles because she had so many of her own. Like I said, quirky people, but not funny nor entertaining.
The one time I chuckled was when Matty comes home to find Lisa in their apartment with George. Matty, in his boring babbling way, tells Lisa he’s not happy with her bringing strange men into ‘his’ apartment. Lisa storms out leaving the two men standing in the doorway. Matty says, “I think I just blew it.” George replies, “Not from my point of view.”
That SHOULD have been the springboard to turn this story into something interesting by developing a grudge match between the men as they try to one-up each other to impress and win Lisa – Instead they just go about their boring little lives being milquetoast pansies.
How do you know you should avoid this movie? You’ll know when you finish reading my review of “How Do You Know?” Which you have.

Monday, December 20, 2010


“The FIGHTER” (Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams & Melissa Leo)

Once every few years (or so) an actor comes up with a performance that transcends your ‘normal’ great performances – When the screen went blank at the end of ‘The Fighter’, I asked my wife, “Do you thin we just watched an Oscar winning performance?” & her answer was, “I thought Amy was good.” - which brought me back to realizing that no one else seems to view films the same way I do. The regular commentators on this blog are much better-rounded than I am in what they look for in a film – they’ll make comments on the cinematography and the lighting of scenes – even the director matters more to them than it does to me. I can’t see the director, so why do I care who he is?
My biggest criteria are acting & story; and what blows me away is when an actor ‘becomes’ his character and yes, the further that character is from the actor’s natural persona (& voice) the more impressive it is to me. Early on in ‘The Fighter’, Christian Bale, as ex-boxer Dicky Ecklund, is seen walking the streets with his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Wahlberg) It is clear that Dicky isn’t ‘right in the head’ as he does most of the talking and he doesn’t articulate one single intelligent thought. My wife
whispered to me, “What’s wrong with him?” I replied, “he’s Australian.”
I said that because I wanted to remind her that the man playing Dicky, the All-American crack addicted braggart speaks with a very thick Australian accent in real life.
When the film ended and she guessed that Amy gave the Oscar winning performance, I told her Amy was good – a supporting actress contender – but she spoke in Amy Adams’ voice – Wahlberg spoke in Mark’s regular voice – Christian not only became that unreliable crack head loser Dicky, he did so while using a voice that wasn’t anywhere near the way he normally spoke – that’s impressive. I heard that Christian’s performance in ‘The Fighter’ SHOULD garner him his first Oscar nomination – those people are wrong – it SHOULD net him his first OSCAR. I cannot heap enough praise upon Bale – rarely does an actor WOW me the way he did as Dicky Ecklund. An incredible acting feat from an actor that seemed to me to give up a promising career to go ‘franchise’.
When my wife remembered that Bale was also ‘Batman’, she commented, “That guy sure didn’t look like ‘Batman’.” Didn’t look, act or talk like Batman or Christian Bale... well, except for the temper tantrums.
So, what about the film? It’s good. The entire cast elevates the material (I actually thought Melissa Leo was more impressive than Adams as well) & Wahlberg fit because his character was the easiest to play from an acting standpoint (Don’t get on my case for not realizing how much work it took to get into fighting shape)
Another ‘based’ on a true story, “The Fighter” tells the tale of a family that brings a bad name to the phrase ‘trailer trash’. Micky Ward is trained by his drug addicted brother, Dicky and managed by his chain smoking, tough talking, Dicky-loving mother, Alice (Leo) And always lurking in the background are Micky & Dicky’s seven ‘lovely’ sisters... I’d like to know where they found these 7 broads – I’m guessing there was a trailer trash sale at ‘Skanks ‘R’ Us’.
Micky is the only member of the clan that has a chance to make it out of the ‘slum’ Alice has raised them in & seems very content to keep ‘the family’ together.
When bartender Charlene (Amy Adams) comes into Micky’s life he begins to yearn for a better life. Charlene pushes him into dumping his brother and mother as trainer and manager and hired ‘legit’ professionals.
This sets up a good vrs. evil scenario; on the good side, Charlene, Micky’s father George, who runs like a scared bunny every time his wife loses her temper (Which is frequently) and police officer Mickey O’Keefe – a good friend that helps Micky W. with his training.
On the bad side – everyone else in Micky’s family; Mom, Dicky & the Seven Deadly Sisters.
Still Micky is in conflict over dumping his family and thus threatens to break up the good thing he has with Charlene and his new associates.
This movie isn’t pleasant to watch (unless like me, you become completely enthralled by Christian Bale’s performance) it is gritty and hard-core (language-wise, there’s no nudity, damn it!) These are the type of people that if you were in a bar and they walked in, you’d get up & leave immediately because you know something distasteful is bound to happen with this group of sleaze-bags.
It doesn’t give you anything new as far as boxing stories are concerned - it is the relationship between Alice and her two sons that propel this film. And trust me, you’ll WANT to forget that you ever meet Alice & Dicky but I doubt that you’ll be able to do so.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


“The TOURIST” (Johnny Depp & Angelina Jolie)

Sometimes there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. Case in point; the final scenes of ‘The Tourist’ – I’m sure the three screenplay writers thought they were being witty with their surprise twist of an ending, but I thought it totally ruined an otherwise pleasurable film. I shan’t reveal the twist, of course, but now you know there is one & it’s ridiculously stupid & ruins the movie.
I liked ‘The Tourist’ up until the final scenes – in that way it’s akin to ‘Inglorious Basterds’, except that it wasn’t nearly as much fun as ‘I.B.’ leading up to the disappointment.
One thing that was odd about the pairing of Depp & Jolie – very little chemistry develops. Yet, I liked Depp as the Wisconsin math teacher on vacation in Italy & Jolie as the love interest of the mysterious Alexander Pearce; a man that embezzled over 2 billion euros from a ruthless drug dealer. Together they worked when Depp’s naive Frank Tuppalo was obviously awe-struck by Jolie’s Elise Ward. With the exception of her fat-assed lips, Jolie is dazzling throughout ‘The Tourist’ – whether walking solo thru the streets of Venice or in a crowded fancy ballroom, Elise stands out, not just from the other humans but from the scenery as well. Depp, on the other hand, looks disheveled most of the time; & not at all like someone the glamorous Elise would find the least bit interesting.
Her reason for approaching him in the first place made sense, but when she checks into a luxurious hotel with him as ‘husband & wife’, it starts to look a little fishy. It’s when they start to make it appear as though Elise isn’t just ‘using’ Frank, but desires him that they just don’t mesh. It was weird. They had chemistry when chemistry wasn’t called for & had none when it was needed.
‘The Tourist’ starts off interesting; gains momentum with Frank’s arrival and then peters out to a sputtering, idiotic climax.
It starts with Elise going out for her morning coffee being watched by every possible surveillance device known to mankind. When she receives a letter from a courier, those spying on her go nuts; arresting the kid that delivered the message and saving the ashes from the note after Elise burns it, as instructed.
The letter is from A. P. who tells Elise to catch a certain train and then find someone with his height & build and then make ‘them’ believe he’s me. Naturally Elise finds Frank and the wheels of an intriguing entertaining tale of mistaken identity is set in motion.
Unfortunately the wheels go flat with the appalling finale.
There are some whimsical lines, mostly Frank’s, but it wasn’t nearly as funny as I hoped it would be. The best line was revealed in the preview; “No, when you downgrade murder to attempted murder it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you upgrade it from room service it becomes quite serious.” & Frank’s continual use of Spanish, thinking it’s close enough to Italian that the inhabitants should be able to understand him bring a few chuckles = but there aren’t any, & I hate to use this expression, ‘laugh out loud’ moments. It was enjoyable, but a fun ride that ends with dissatisfaction is worse than a slow ride that ends with a bang – because as I walked out of the theatre I felt cheated by the writers for making me think I was going to enjoy their show and then performing a cheap, seen-it-a-thousand-times before card trick that sent me home feeling disappointed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


“NEXT THREE DAYS” (Russell Crowe & Elizabeth Banks)

Russell Crowe is losing his ‘sure thing’ quality – Not that I didn’t like ‘Robin Hood’, but I can’t remember the last time he made a movie that REALLY impressed me. This one, is probably his lamest effort since ‘Beautiful Mind’ (Sorry,Oscar voters, but it stunk)

I would say that if you like the TV series ‘Breaking Bad’, you’ll like this film – it is just as absurd; here, a mild mannered English teacher becomes a criminal mastermind with the ability to murder practically overnight.

Comparisons have to be made to ‘Conviction’ and I wondered why they didn’t hold off releasing ‘Next 3 Days’ for another 3 months or so since ‘Conviction’ was still fresh in my mind. In ‘N3D’ Russell Crowe’s John Brennan studies to become a notorious criminal capable of breaking his ‘wrongfully convicted’ wife out of a maximum security prison instead of taking the long way by taking 12 years to become her lawyer.

Although it was cleverly executed with some believable touches (i.e., picking up the elderly couple on their way to Buffalo) the script was holier than my favorite pair of underwear. Undermining all the ingenious details John preps for is the fact that he’s an English teacher – a humble, law abiding, loving husband & father that should have never put his wife & son in the dangerous position he puts them in.
That thread kept me from ‘going along for the ride’ – the character John Brennan,
as laid out for the viewer, never WOULD have done the things that adapted- writer/director/producer Paul Haggis has him do. When John buys the gun he needs to break his wife out of jail he picks it up and asks, “Show me where the bullets go.”
That alone tells you this guy is too naive to pull off a caper of this magnitude. Yet, there’s John a few scenes down the road, murdering drug dealers and threatening to kill innocent doctors & nurses that were actually trying to help his wife... To quote South Park’s version of Johnny Cochran, “That does not make sense!”
If they had made John an ex-prison guard turned English teacher, I’d have bought the premise, but it was too far-fetched to believe.

Elizabeth Banks continues to not impress after a promising start in ’40 Year Old Virgin’.
Her character, John’s wife, Lara, should be memorable, but instead she’s quite bland and forgettable – or maybe it’s just because her hair gets darker with each subsequent scene she’s in & I’m partial to blondes so that irked me...

Liam Neeson... boy, talk about bland, unbelievable characters – he’s become the king of those recently – but in ‘N3D’ he only has one scene & he pulls it off nicely. As the ex-con expert at breaking out of prisons, his instructional speech to John is probably the best part of this film.

Then there’s Nicole (Olivia Wilde) an unmarried mother that clearly likes John. Nicole is beautiful, friendly and her daughter & John’s son are best buddies. Personality-wise, Nicole is the complete opposite of the hot tempered, bitchy Lara. Any sane man would have rejoiced that this gorgeous woman entered his life, but not John – he uses her in his attempt to break his convicted murderer wife out of prison. Of course, if he had done the sane thing and dumped Lara for Nicole, it wouldn’t have been much of a story would it? Unless, the insanely jealous, fiery-tempered Lara breaks out of prison by herself and comes after the happy couple... at least it would have made more sense that way.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


“LOVE & OTHER DRUGS” (Jake Gyllenhaal & Anne Hathaway)

As a light hearted ‘rom-com’, “Love and Other Drugs” made me chuckle frequently.
As a depressing medical drama, “Love and Other Drugs” made me get a bit emotional (Bringing out my rarely seen girlie-man side)
As an ambitious story of a young man that discovers his niche in life and suddenly starts climbing the corporate ladder to success, “Love & Other Drugs” didn’t bore me to tears.
So there’s a lot going on in this movie – A sh**load, in fact – and it’s all over the place in trying to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.
If someone were to tell me they didn’t like it because of that, I wouldn’t argue with them, but somehow the variety of styles worked all right for me & I would recommend ‘L & O D’ as a worthwhile diversion from the depression that is upon us... & by that I mean the ‘holiday’ season.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall; a likable sleazy womanizer. Jamie is likable because he comes across as being sincere – he isn’t just adding notches to his bedpost, he beds women because he’s a good looking guy that women throw themselves at & he simply obliges them. But unlike most walking hard ons, Jamie doesn’t have to turn on the fake charm to suit his prurient interests - he appears to be naturally debonair.
When Jamie lands a job as a pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer he uses his boyish charm to smooze his way into places he should never be allowed. While posing as an intern for a horny MD (Hank Azaria as Dr. Stan Knight) Jamie is present when a young Parkinson’s patient comes in for an exam (Anne Hathaway’s Maggie) and Jamie is immediately smitten.
This is where ‘Love & Other Drugs’ takes on another film style – pornography.
I can’t remember the last time I viewed this many nude scenes in a mainstream film. I never watched the ‘Princess’ films Anne made with Mary Poppins, so it wasn’t a shock to me to see her cavorting about au naturel.
Even though it was shown in the trailer, a scene where Maggie comes into Jamie’s apartment dressed only in a raincoat made me laugh – I have to say that it was from actually seeing her naked when Jamie’s dorky little brother sees her that made it funnier than the preview version.
I’ve always been a fan of Oliver Platt and he makes a nice comeback of sorts here as Jamie’s supervisor, Bruce. When given decent material, Platt can deliver and he does so here with many humorous lines.
But be prepared, the light ‘n’ breezy chick flick material gets brushed aside when “Love & Other Drugs’ decides to become a heavy medical drama.
Jamie’s annoying little brother, Josh is inserted at this time to try to provide comedic relief – maybe it was due to the fact that the film took a depressing turn that I found the chubby whiner more amusing during this stage than when he first appears.
Despite being the ‘downer’ character, Hathaway’s Maggie gets the lion’s share of the smart-alec quips as she seems to be the indifferent one that only wants to have sex and not a relationship. It becomes clear that as Jamie falls for Maggie, she wishes that he wouldn’t.
In the beginning, Jamie allows Maggie to control their relationship but as she becomes a walking mass of depression, he switches into protective lover mode
and Maggie rejects him.
I’ve always said the best movies for me are the ones that can make you feel a gamut of emotions, but I normally like things mixed up more than they are in ‘L & O D’. But I’d still say it is worth seeing as long as you’re aware that it isn’t your typical ‘rom-com’ –
it’s R-rated (& if you find nudity distasteful, consider it to be NC-17)
it’s full of immature boner humor (When Jamie starts selling Viagra)
and it takes that dreaded ‘dramatic’ turn.
Whereas Gyllenhaal & Hathaway had no relationship as a married couple in their first film together, the sex scenes in this are so graphic even I felt a bit uncomfortable ‘peeking’ in on their private intimate moments. But I’m betting that Jake had more fun filming these scene with Anne than he did with the late Heath Ledger in ‘Ride ‘Em, Cowboy Mountain’.

Friday, November 26, 2010


“UNSTOPPABLE” (Denzel Washington, Chris Pine & Rosario Dawson)

I wasn’t too keen on seeing this – the preview seemed to advertise, ‘You’ve seen this film before, you’ve seen Denzel play this character before, so save it for the $3 theatre or HBO’. But fellow critic Alan Smithee told me it was both exciting and humorous, so we decided it would make a good Thanksgiving Day flick. It was – though I’m not as exuberant as Mr. Smithee, basically because it IS another runaway train flick which means numerous useless scenes of trains rolling along their tracks and I HAVE seen Denzel play this character before.
What I thought was a ‘terrorists’ plot for a plot turned out to be erroneous on my part and I was happy to see that the runaway train was an accident, rather than a fiendish ploy by some radical organization or religious sect. The train (777, to his friends & co-workers) is sent on it’s destination to disaster by two numbskull railroad employees. One, (Ethan Suplee) too fat and stupid to know not to leave a moving locomotive; the other (T.J. Miller) too lazy to set the air brakes on a train they’re about to move.
Denzel plays Frank Barnes, a 28 year vet of the railway. He is given the assignment of basically training his replacement, though Frank isn’t ready to retire. Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk II, to his friends & co-workers) is Will, the ‘kid’ Frank is forced to show the ropes to as they head out in train 1206 for a routine run.
“Unstoppable” works for 3 reasons – Washington & Pine develop a believable bond as they spend the day getting to know one another after starting off on the proverbial wrong foot / The fact that the runaway train is unmanned rather than being ‘used’ as a weapon made the story realistic / & Kevin Dunn’s Galvin, a corporate dunderhead making all the wrong decisions was easy to dislike (providing a ‘realistic’ villain, though he was just trying to do his job under a stressful situation)
Rosario Dawson played Connie, the person at the helm of the control center and who ultimately over-rides Galvin’s decision by allowing Frank to ‘go after’ train #777 in order to divert a catastrophe.
All-in-all it was an entertaining ride. It wasn’t a great film. It would have been better if Frank’s daughters had bigger boobs (They worked at Hooters!) But other than that, it was a mildly tense, mildly amusing enjoyable experience. The only thing missing was a scene with a television showing ‘The Mask’ and Jim Carrey exalting, “Somebody STOP me!”


“WALL STREET : MONEY NEVER SLEEPS” (Shia Lebeouf, Carey Mulligan, Michael Douglas & Josh Brolin)

Somehow I don’t have as much trouble with sequels that take a decade or two to appear. I liked the first ‘Wall Street’, but didn’t have a lot of interest in this sequel only because I’m ignorant of the subject matter. I don’t care about Wall Street, I don’t own any stocks and even though I liked ‘Trading Places’, I still have no idea why Don Ameche screamed ‘turn those machines back on’ at the end of it.
The problem with long-awaited sequels is that the original isn’t fresh in your mind. So when Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox makes a one scene cameo, it didn’t really click for me because I had forgotten exactly what took place 20-some years ago in a film I only watched once.
The addition of the kid who stars in the toy robot trucks movies didn’t exactly lure me into the theatre either. We waited until it came to the $3 theatre, and, as usually is the case, it was worth the price of admission. But I was also glad I didn’t pay full price to see it a month or so earlier.
It is full of witty banter & boring presentation speeches. It has some well acted scenes & a few that made me cringe. & since I hadn’t heard any David Byrne songs for a while, the soundtrack, featuring nothing but the Ex-Talking Heads frontman’s music was acceptable to my ears.
‘Wall Street 2’ usually worked when Michael Douglas was onscreen recreating his Gordon Gekko character; or secondary, Josh Brolin’s even greedier character Bretton.
When it didn’t click was when Shia & Carey appeared. Labouf played Wall Street whiz kid, Jake, who asked his girlfriend Winnie (Mulligan) to marry him minutes after receiving some tragic news about his mentor. Winnie‘s last name being Gekko, daughter of Gordon, recently released from prison for insider trading.
The ‘love interest’ portion of the film fell flat for me because it seemed as though Mulligan has tears rolling down her cheeks in practically every scene she was in – it became monotonous; “Alright, ya big cry baby shut off the waterworks & stop whining about your past!”
So Jake loves Winnie, who hates her father. Jake introduces himself to future father-in-law Gordon & falls in love with him as well. Jake tries desperately to bring father & daughter together, but for what reason? It seems, so he can get in good with ‘dad’ so they begin working as a team in cheating other people out of their money. We’re suppose to feel good about their greed because they are going after other greedy j*ck-offs, but with too many characters not worth caring about, there’s really no point to this film Other than the lesson that money, like rust, has insomnia.
That’s not to say ‘Wall Street 2’ wasn’t entertaining – Bretton is the person that ratted Gordon out which led to Gekko’s 7 year stint in prison; so Gordon approaches Breton at a fundraiser and he tells him, “You stop telling lies about me & I’ll stop telling the truth about you.”
So the easy to follow lame love story dragged the film down, while the ‘I have no idea what these people are talking about’ stock traders made it work.
I liked the fact that 111 year old Eli Wallach was in several scenes and the old guy remembered his lines & the fact that Jake’s cell phone’s ring was the ‘Theme from the Good, the Bad & The Ugly’, which made me wonder if Eli even knew was a tribute to him.
Early on Gordon tells Jake, “Money is a bitch that never sleeps.” & yet, it is abundantly apparent that Gordon loves money more than anything else – so why would he call his one true love a bitch? & why did Lou (Frank Langella) have a bag of potato chips as his last meal? Surely there was a decent donut shop nearby. Sometimes stock brokers just don’t make sense...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


“FAIR GAME” (Naomi Watts & Sean Penn)

I shouldn’t watch movies like this because they make my blood boil and I already have high blood pressure, but I will TRY to set my beliefs aside long enough to give you an insight as to why you should see this film.
Based on the true story of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame Wilson – some portions that we know to be true and the credits acknowledge books by both Valerie and husband Joe as chief references – but this is Hollywood, stretches and embellishments will be made.

I kept hoping that the part that made my blood boil was ‘made up for dramatic effect’ that it didn’t really happen, especially the way they say it did in the film... I’m debating to myself whether or not revealing the circumstance would be too much of a spoiler, so I’m better off just moving on...

The first half of the film is spent setting up the dramatic second half (In other words, don’t quit on it if it seems boring to you) Multitudes of characters channel in & out of scenes as the filmmaker tries to sum up Valerie’s 18 year career as a C.I.A. agent and what led to her being asked if her ex-diplomat husband would be interested in going to Niger to act as an ambassador to the U.S. and report on a rumor that the government had sold 50 tons of yellow-cake uranium to Saddam Hussein.
Joe Wilson’s report declares there is ‘almost’ a 0% possibility that this event took place.
This does not please the White House, so they garner ‘different’ data that backs the sell and leak the info to the press. When Joe reads this he tries to find out why they would come to this unlikely conclusion (& why the hell did you guys send me over there then?)
Joe is shut out. So he writes his own column and the White House responds by ‘outing’ Valerie as an Intelligence agent; Karl Rove is credited with first saying Valerie was ‘fair game’ and they had every right to mention her by name. They did not. And so ‘Scooter’ Libby was dismissed as the fall guy.
This is when the film takes off; Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, in their third film together, shine as Valerie and Joe – though with Sean, it seemed he was playing ‘himself’ at times. So even though he’s my favorite actor, I have to say he can’t really be a shoe-in for an Oscar nod. The reason I love Sean is due to his ability to become his character (My #1 criterion for great acting) but here, I never lost sight of Sean Penn because I’ve seen him behave the same way & say the same things that he was saying as Joe Wilson. Still, two scenes stand out – One, where he calls a female reporter that disrupts a business meeting he’s holding, a ‘hack’ and one where he argues with Valerie over whether or not they should ‘fight back’ against the Bush administration; “If I talk LOUDER than you, Valerie – Does that make me right?”
But this excellent film is carried by Naomi Watts. She does seem to bring her ‘A’ game when working with Sean. Believable as a tough talking C.I.A. agent in the first part of the film as well as the housewife on the verge of a nervous breakdown after the White House destroys her career; which leads to a major strain on her marriage, relationships with family and friends as well as having to deal with ‘death threats’ from morons who believe politicians don’t lie to get what they want. Why Naomi isn’t being touted as a major contender for Best Actress baffles me – She’s my runaway pick right now.
As far as the section of the film that irked me so? We can discuss it in the comments section for those of you that have seen ‘Fair Game’. For those of you that have not – See it. See it & then tell me these war mongers are the kind of people you want running our country. Because THAT part of the film we KNOW actually happened. . .


“CONVICTION” (Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell & Minnie Driver)

This is a good film that was hard to like. There’s only one likeable character (Minnie Driver’s Abra Rice) and she’s not a major player. This story centers on a love affair between Kenny Waters and his sister Betty Anne. I’m sorry, there’s no better way to describe it than that – it’s the reason I found the movie hard to like – it make my skin crawl and left a distasteful flavor of incest in my Puritan throat. (Do I hear snickering?)

Well acted, because I hated Kenny and found his sister to be excessively creepy, and well told – they didn’t hold back any punches in making Kenny look like the disgusting alcoholic criminal he was – and yet I walked out of the theatre not caring for it all that much.

Basic plot; Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is arrested for murdering an elderly woman due to his history of arrests for violent behavior & two witnesses that come forth & say that Kenny told them he killed her. When Kenny is found guilty & sentenced to life in prison, his devoted-beyond-reason sister, Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) a high school drop out, decides to go to law school, become a lawyer & get his conviction over-turned.
For me, there was that gnawing feeling that Kenny actually killed the woman & even if he didn’t, the world was a safer place with a hot tempered a**hole like Kenny behind bars.
In the opening scenes Kenny brings his infant daughter into a stink-hole bar, gets drunk and belligerent, fights with a guy that HE bumps into and then gets up on stage and strips totally nude with his baby daughter & adoring sister looking on. Kenny is scum.
When he makes the statement “Cops are drawn to me like bees to honey.” I laughed out loud. Kenny has no remorse – He isn’t the reason he keeps getting arrested for violent acts perpetrated upon innocent people that happen to get in his way – the COPS are just ‘out to get him’. I was glad to see this scum put away & I didn’t care if he was guilty or not.
Although Betty Anne is basically a nice person, she does come across as being simple trailer trash in many scenes. Her unhealthy attachment to Kenny notwithstanding, Betty Anne eventually neglects her own family (2 sons and a husband) to fight for her douche bag of a brother. When she applies for law school she uses ‘Waters’ for a last name instead of her married name – I could only surmise that she did this because she ‘wishes’ she were married to Kenny.
At law school, fellow ‘elderly’ student Abra (Driver) befriends her – In fact Abra goes above & beyond the call of duty in helping Betty Anne get through school and with gathering information on Kenny’s case. When Abra merely ‘suggests’ that she not get her hopes too high because the evidence might prove Kenny's guilt, Betty Anne orders her to leave. It made me wonder what she would have done to me, because I wouldn’t have ‘suggested’ anything, I’d have told her to give it up because he WAS guilty & prison is where he belonged!
At one point Betty Anne makes the statement that Kenny had been in prison for 6 years and ‘MY family really wants him home’. No, they didn’t. Her family abandoned her because of her obsession.
When Betty Anne tries to enlist the help of Kenny’s daughter, Mandy (the baby he took to the bar) I wanted to hogtie her & throw her in the mud. This young girl was obviously better off without an alcoholic violent father in her life – leave her alone!
So I didn’t like the Waters; I could care less if Betty Anne could find a loophole that would gain Kenny’s release – I wanted that jerk to stay in prison. Which, I guess means, congratulations to Swank & Rockwell for ‘becoming’ their characters, but I can’t recommend this film because I just didn’t find much to like about the ‘subject’ matter.

Friday, November 12, 2010


“MORNING GLORY” (Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford & Diane Keaton)

If they had tweaked this just slightly they could have gotten away with calling it “The Mary Tyler Moore Show Movie”. And that isn’t a bad thing - ‘MTM’ was one of the best TV series ever. But Rachel McAdams’ Becky could just as easily been called Mary Richards; Harrison Ford’s Mike Pomeroy could have been grumpy Lou Grant & weatherman Ernie (Matt Malloy) becomes Ted Baxter. Make Diane Keaton slutty Sue Ann Nivens & Patrick Wilson writer Murray Slaughter & there you go! Of course seeing Mary sleeping with Murray would have been a little hard for us older folk to handle, but hey, if Uhura can sleep with Spock then anything’s possible.
In fact, this film came so close to resembling ‘MTM’ that I thought they should have included a scene where Mike Pomeroy smiles at Becky and says, “You’ve got spunk!”
Then frowns as he adds, “I hate spunk!”
This works as a rom/com becomes it isn’t much of a rom/com – like MTM it’s the story of a newsroom (Or in this case ‘studio’) that is taken over by a young, spunky executive producer (Becky) It then becomes about her life; the fact that she falls for a producer that works on a different show (Patrick Wilson’s Adam) is almost incidental. The meat here is her relationship with the grouchy Pomeroy.
Shortly after being hired by Jerry (Jeff Goldblum) to revitalize morning show ‘Daybreak’, Becky is told that she has to get the ratings up quickly. She makes a major change her first day on the job & then pulls legendary ‘hard news’ reporter Mike Pomeroy into the co-host seat where he doesn’t want to be – but his contract doesn’t contain the loophole needed to get out of the job. Unfortunately for Becky the off air banter between Mike & long-time hostess Colleen (Diane Keaton) is more lively than the on air babble (Mike answers Colleen’s first question by saying, ‘Yes’)
The entire cast plays together well, but Matt Malloy’s dorky weatherman Ernie steals the show when Becky decides to stop playing it safe by putting Ernie in undesirable positions; his first, going for a ride on the world’s fastest roller coaster is absolutely hilarious. Then Colleen tells Becky she wants in on the goofy antics as well & the show’s ratings begin to climb – but will they rise fast enough for everyone to keep their jobs? That, as expected, comes down to whether or not Becky can get Mike to play ball. Just when she thinks she has him in the right frame of mind, he turns the tables on the young producer by coming up with a ‘hard news’ story.
Patrick Wilson plays Becky’s love interest with just enough sarcasm to make him likable & ‘real’. When Becky happens to bump into Adam & Mike in the elevator after her job interview & she gushes over Pomeroy, Mike asks, “Is she one of yours?” & Adam responds, “No, I’m just here to show her how to work the elevator.”
Adam & Mike have a history; Adam repeatedly calls him ‘The Third Worst Person In The World’.
Sure, it’s light & breezy & Rachel plays Becky like someone who could turn the world on with her smile, but the dialogue is often witty & when you see half of Becky’s naked butt poking out from her lingerie you realize this is one chick flick that us dudes can appreciate as well.
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a Rachel McAdams project this much, but with “Morning Glory” I’d sing to her – “You’re going to make it after all” . . . .


Monday, November 8, 2010


“YOU AGAIN?” (Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis & Sigourney Weaver)

Let’s take a look at the leading candidates for WORST MOVIE OF 2010, shall we?
The films I gave ‘D’ ratings to are; “The BOOK Of ELI”, “The BOUNTY HUNTER”,
Add “YOU AGAIN” & you have 6 nominees.
Now the question is – who is the leading candidate?
Not ‘ELI’ because Mila Kunis was in it & she was enjoyable to look at.
Not ‘BOUNTY HUNTER’ though it was total crap, but Jennifer is still enjoyable to watch.
Not “SHREK 4” because Donkey was in it & I DO like looking at a nice ass.
That leaves Inception, A-Team & You Again. I know the masses would howl if I picked ‘Inception’ but it’s because that crummy film was hailed as being great that I came to loathe it more & more.
So it’s down to ‘The A-Team’ & ‘You Again’. Makes sense - they’re the only two I gave D-minuses.

I don’t want to hear from the guys chastising me for going to see it in the first place, it was one of those my wife wanted to see & I’ve already played the “let’s wait until it’s at East Valley” card too many times this year. And then the film doesn’t come to the $3 theatre & my wife is disappointed. So it was either this, or the Katherine Heigl ‘baby’ flick.

I don’t know what it is with Kristen Bell – she’s not unattractive; the thin nose makes her look cross-eyed sometimes, but I’d still say she was ‘pretty’. But she is quickly becoming the Queen of disaster flicks – Just recently seeing ‘When In Rome’, which I gave up on after 15-20 minutes – I felt the same way about ‘You Again’ but I’ve never walked out of a film in a theatre & I’d like to keep that record intact.

The premise was semi-intriguing; Marni (Bell) returns home for her older brother’s wedding & discovers he’s marrying the b*tch that tortured her throughout high school. They explain that Joanna went by ‘J. J.’ back then so Marni is caught off guard.
Then Joanna’s Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) shows up & we discover that she & Marni’s mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) were best friends as children but had a blow-up in high school that separated them. Throw in Betty White as Grandma Bunny & you actually have a promising set up. But instead of being a little dark, they go a lot stupid and make J. J. over-the-top mean in both flashbacks & in the way she treats Marni behind her family’s backs.

The reason this movie sinks even lower than your normal crappy chick flick is the soundtrack – Never have I been so disappointed that I didn’t have to go take a whiz as when J. J. started rapping in her old cheerleader costume – that wins most annoying scene of the year hands down... well, Robert Downey, Jr. spitting on a defenseless dog was disgusting, but ‘Due Date’ was an otherwise ‘decent’ film.
When the bride & groom-to-be started caterwauling “Kiss On My List”, I prayed that I would go temporarily deaf. In a desperate attempt to connect with one of my favorite chick flicks, “(500) Days Of Summer”, where “You Make My Dreams” was used perfectly, You Again’s use of a Hall & Oates song is irritating.

And let’s stop putting Betty White in movies – she works on TV – she’s one of the best TV actresses of all-time; if you haven’t seen “Hot In Cleveland”, try to catch it – In almost every episode Betty comes up with at least one funny memorable line. But even the cameo of another Mary Tyler Moore Show cast member couldn’t save ‘You Again’ from being one of the two leading candidates for worst film of 2010.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


“DUE DATE” (Robert Downey, Jr. & Zach Galifianakis)

There are almost enough funny lines and sight gags in “Due Date” to make up for what is wrong with it. . . I said ‘almost’.
Robert Downey, Jr.’s character, Peter, is such a despicable human being that anyone who likes or relates to him obviously has acute character flaws. So ‘Due Date’ is a great date movie if you’re going out with a guy you’re just not sure about. It’s okay to say, ‘that movie was pretty funny’, but if they say Peter’s behavior was acceptable – dump him, he’s a turd.
I’ve read two reviews that go on & on about how tired they already are of Zach Galifianakis. I didn’t have a problem with Ethan (Zach’s character, a wanna-be ‘Hollywood’ actor) he was annoying, but had a good heart. Peter, if you’ll pardon the expression, was a dick.
Unfortunate comparisons must be made to two comedy classics; “The Hangover” & “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” because this film was co-written & directed by Todd Phillips (of ‘Hangover’ fame) & the premise is – It’s Tuesday and Peter is in Atlanta. His very pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) is in L.A.; her ‘due date’ is Friday. Even though Peter is boarding a plane on Tuesday to take him back to L.A., the expectant mother calls him, worried that he won’t make it home on time. A series of screwy, unexpected events leads to Peter being forced to drive across southern America with an effeminate, would-be actor (Ethan Tremblay) along with his masturbating French Bulldog, Sonny, and a coffee can containing the ashes of Ethan’s recently deceased father. So it is virtually a ‘remake’ of ‘P, T & A’ (A good looking businessman needing to get home to his attractive wife by a certain day & an overweight, over-bearing but likeable misfit who carries the burden of a recently deceased loved one – Ethan even secretly uses Peter’s credit card to pay for the used car they drive in the beginning of the journey)
‘Hangover’ was great because it was not only hilarious, it was also a mystery; what on earth happened to Doug? The only mystery in ‘Due Date’ is; will Peter ever stop being such a turd?
In ‘P, T & A’, one of the many funny bits is how the pair of traveling companions gradually destroy the used car they’re driving; In ‘D D’ the car is fine until a horrendous, unquestionably fatal crash totals the rental in the blink of an eye (or 40 winks, as the case may be) With Sonny (the dog) sitting on the back seat, Ethan falls asleep at the wheel; when they land, the back of the car is completely demolished so naturally we reach the conclusion that the little mutt that enjoys pleasuring himself has been crushed to death. As far as the humans go, it would be highly unlikely that both would survive. But no, we forget that this is a ‘comedy’ so the gratuitous crash scene was simply added to enhance the premise by putting another obstacle in the trio’s path.
At times the humor sinks to ‘dumbed down’ levels as well – Not to say that there was anything ‘high brow’ about ‘The Hangover’, but the way it was set up worked to perfection. Here, when wheelchair bound Danny McBride beats ‘customer’ Peter with a club, we’re suppose to find that humorous?
Where this film goes wrong is easily traceable to Peter – not Robert Downing, Jr. – Peter.
He has a quick temper which, when it flares, is downright abusive. Being a dog lover, I was appalled when he gathers up a wad of mucus and spits in Sonny’s face while the ‘injured’ pup is wearing an Elizabethan collar (after the near death experience in the rental car) Peter is mean. Peter seems to live for moments when he can lash out & hurt someone in any way he can. He goes off on a shouting rant at Ethan for saying he wants to go to ‘Hollywood’; “Nobody calls it Hollywood! It’s freaking L.A.!” Peter, as I concluded early on in this film & review, is a dick. So anything bad that happens to Peter is well deserved and thus the humor takes a backseat to our dislike of the lead character. Knowing his hair trigger temper explodes in violent outbursts I worried about the safety of his wife & child when they finally reach their destination. If you view this film & you feel all warm & gooey over Peter’s determination to be there to witness the birth of his first child – think about what an ass he has been to Ethan & Sonny – How could anyone want this turd to have a happy ending? If he had redeemed himself at the closing by saying he’s decided to go to anger management class, I’d still wonder about his sincerity. Phillips goes the route of ‘we’ll make him likeable by injuring him severely’ . . . Doesn’t work, Todd – I’m in my 50’s now & I’ve been saying this for over 30 years because it has always rung true – Once a dick, always a dick.
But it DID make me laugh frequently... weird, huh?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


“NOWHERE BOY” (Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas & Anne-Marie Duff)

Confession time. When I was growing up my two best friends were my dog Laddie & someone I had never met in my life. Weird kid, right? My other best friend was John Lennon. I knew quite a bit about John’s life & he knew nothing of mine. So he wasn’t the greatest friend in the world, but I still admired the guy – Even when he started acting goofy during his peace protests with his even stranger Japanese wife, I was in simpatico with the message he was sending out – War Sucks, Give Peace A Chance.

I know his story from interviews and genuine autobiographies. Not after-the-fact tabloids written by someone just trying to make a buck off of his name.
I have always said, no matter how old I’m getting to be, I’m grateful to have been born in 1955 since I was alive when The Beatles came to America (I was 8) I was able to witness the phenomenon, & quite frankly was confused by it – Yes, the music was different, but I never understood the ‘mania’; I never attended a Beatles concert because I wanted to hear the music, not a din of maniacal screaming girls.
So I bought the records. The first song I bought was “A Hard Day’s Night”, the first album I bought was “Revolver” & the first book I bought was the Authorized Biography of The Beatles by Hunter Davies which came out in 1968 when they were still together. It delved deeply into each member’s childhood, especially John’s. Reading it, I saw similarities between John’s childhood and mine. He was my favorite Beatle because I liked his songs the most & obviously ‘something’ about him came across the airwaves that I connected with – after viewing this film I realize now what it was – sarcasm.
One of those things that can’t be taught – you either have it or you don’t. Something unusual that John & I shared. Maybe that’s why I made him my ‘real, yet still invisible’ best friend.
I tell you all of this to help you understand why I was reluctant to see this movie. I thought for sure they would get it wrong – they would ‘make up’ crap that didn’t happen to sensationalize the story when, if they did it proper, it would be a powerful ‘family’ drama and an insight into what made John Lennon an icon. I’m here to tell you that they did this story proper – as uneasy as it was to watch at times, it is a great film – and remember I’m speaking as a disciple of Johnny & The Moondogs & The Quarrymen. I would be very interested in hearing what you youngsters think of this movie – I hope you’re able to catch it because I’d like to know if it hits any of you like I think it might – It is simply a heartbreaking story of a young man who is made to feel ‘unwanted’ by his own family. Even if you can’t relate to that, I think you’ll feel empathy for the lad. My wife is not a Beatles fan so I went to ‘Nowhere Boy’ alone. I wish she would have come with me because I think she would have related to his childhood as well & would appreciate his music more because of it. She’ll see it eventually, but it would have been nice to share the first viewing together. & we would have had the theatre all to ourselves as I was the lone audience member. On the plus side, it was as if I was getting to know my old buddy all over again; Just me & John. Pete & Ivan. & those two little guitar playing twerps, Paul & George.
I’ll start with the negatives & get the nit-picking out of the way. It bothered me right off the bat that Aaron Johnson (Lennon) had blue eyes – that should have automatically dismissed him from the role, but the rest of the 1950’s Lennon-look he had down pat, so I was able to put that annoyance behind me. They sugar-coated his temper - Which made sense because you do need your lead character to be likable; hence they heavily leaned on John’s sarcastic side. For some reason they renamed John’s father ‘Alf’ (It was Fred) For most of the film I thought they made John’s Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) too mean – To make John look better, I thought, & I didn’t like that angle. But in the end you understand why Mimi acts the way she does – when the flashback to when John was 5 & his parents made him choose between them is shown, Mimi becomes the heroine. & if that scene doesn’t bring moisture to your eyes, then I don’t think anything can. I knew it was coming, of course, but I realized as I watched these actors playing it out in front of me that I’d only pictured it in my mind – it packs a powerful emotional impact when you see it ‘for real’ on the big screen. And it stirred flashbacks from my own childhood, just to let you know why it got to me.
Sounds like I’m through nit-picking since I’m singing its praises now, so here’s what I loved about ‘Nowhere Boy’... Oops, one more complaint – I hate that title, basically because John dismissed ‘Nowhere Man’ as ‘crap’ & a much better title would have been ‘In My Life’. Also, the omission of eventual first-wife, Cynthia Powell, was a bit of a mystery, but then again to add her into the later stages would have been overkill, so I don’t have a problem with it, just a little curious as to why she was left out. It was refreshing to see something about John that didn’t have Yoko’s greedy handprints all over it!
What I loved most was Anne-Marie Duff as John’s mother, Julia. An incredible performance of a difficult role – Julia was an enigma; a ‘hot mess’ (as they would say today) of a mother, but a woman who outwardly seemed to have a fervent love for life &, when John comes back into her life in his teens, a rather uncomfortable feeling for her son – to call it borderline ‘lust’ isn’t stretching the truth at all (She calls him her ‘dreamboat’) In a year where Supporting Actress roles are even slimmer than usual, I’m declaring Ms. Duff MY winner in this category.
The name ‘The Beatles’ is never mentioned; this story takes place during The Quarrymen years – John’s meetings with Paul & George are displayed accurately & I appreciated that. The fact that they have him giving jealous, almost scornful looks toward Paul & George as they play onstage were exaggerated, but since they toned down his temper it was an appropriate addition to help capture the ‘essence’ of John.
Kristin Scott Thomas deserves recognition as well, but her role was much easier to portray since Mimi is pretty much a cold fish throughout the film, but she is superb at relaying the fact that she seems to hate the fact that she has to be that way in order for John to have a ‘proper’ upbringing – You realize after the film that if it wasn’t for Aunt Mimi, John may have never formed a band & that would have left me without a make believe, yet human best friend during my childhood.
I don’t know if this was filmed in sequence, but it seemed as though Aaron Johnson ‘became’ John Lennon as the story progressed. I liked the little nuanced clips relating to The Beatles; John rides his bike past the orphanage ‘Strawberry Field’, under-aged John tries to sneak past the bouncer at The Cavern Club and is told to ‘beat it’; on a couple of occasions they have Johnson ‘pose’ in ways familiar to those of us who were members of the fan club & had seen the pictures they were recreating (& when far enough away to not tell that his eyes were blue, looking eerily like the real thing)
With all the junk that’s been written about John since his murder I never thought a film like this could be made, but thank you, Sam Taylor-Wood for the fairly accurate depiction of the fifteen year old in Liverpool who would eventually go on to change the world by asking if he could ‘hold our hand’ and made ‘goo goo ga-joob' sound like a phrase that actually meant something...

Thursday, October 28, 2010


“HEREAFTER” (Matt Damon & Cecile De France)

I’ve enjoyed Clint Eastwood more as a director than an actor. In other words, I like elderly Clint much more than Spaghetti Western Dirty Harry With An Orangutan Clint. His first match-up with Matt Damon was the rather disappointing ‘Invictus’, but ‘Mystic River’, ‘Gran Torino’ & ‘Million Dollar Baby’ are among may favorite films of the 21st century. I guess I’m setting this up because I have mixed feelings about ‘Hereafter’; parts of it I liked - parts of it I did not.
I don’t believe in a ‘hereafter’, but I do enjoy a good fantasy tale if woven intelligently. ‘Hereafter’ is woven intelligently but that doesn’t mean it works in every aspect.
Time for another set up; I don’t go to the movies to read. I read in bed to prep my mind before attempting to shut it off. So when a film forces me to read the dialogue, my brain thinks it’s sleepy-by time & starts to doze off.
Warning – 1/3rd of ‘Hereafter’ is in French & 1/3rd of it is in that ‘Cockney’ British language – they provided subtitles for the French third / none for the Cockney.
Now, to the actual film. It opens with a fairly impressive tsunami sequence which makes you think you’re about to see another '2012'. I remember thinking, “I never expected to see anything like this in a Clint Eastwood film”.
Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) a French woman on vacation with her boyfriend/boss is swept away by the catastrophic waves and drowns. So much for Marie’s segment.
George Lonnegan (Matt Damon) is a construction worker who looks a little too clean & polished to be an actual construction worker. That’s because George is trying to lead a normal life after spending too much of it contacting dead people... Think of George as Haley Joel Osment from the ‘Sixth Sense’ all grown up. 2 TV actors show up at George’s doorstep (Jay Mohr & Richard Kind) George’s brother, Billy (Mohr) begs him to give the guy who’s had to settle for a career in commercials a break by contacting his dead wife.
The third plot is set in England where young twin brothers Marcus & Jason (Frankie & George McLaren) ‘care’ for their drug addicted mother by trying to keep Child Protection Service workers from removing from the hubble that passes for the apartment they live in. Death pays a visit to the twins as well, thus setting up the trilogy of stories that take place simultaneously during ‘Hereafter’.
The part that didn’t capture my interest at all is the one with the most intriguing opening; after Marie’s near-death experience she decides to write a book about it that no one seems to be interested in. I don’t blame them, this segment is what causes the story to drag.
The one I liked the best throughout most of the film was George’s (Maybe due to the fact that it was the only one I could understand, thanks to the characters speaking in American) But no, it wasn’t just that - I was extremely impressed with the pairing of Damon with Bryce Dallas Howard – two actors that I never would have called ‘impressive’ prior to this. Adequate, competent, but not ‘great’. Their chemistry sparkled in every scene they were in and I had never seen Howard more relaxed and natural in any previous role.
George meets Melanie at cooking class where the teacher (‘The Sopranos’ Steve Shirripa) matches them as class partners. When Melanie turns to shake George’s hand, he pretends not to notice the move since touching someone’s hands is how George makes a connection to their dead loved ones. When Melanie discovers this, she thinks it would be ‘fun’ to have him ‘do’ her. You soon learn that Melanie was thinking George’s ‘reading’ would be a hoax; “You will meet the man of your dreams in cooking class...”
But the storyline that slowly becomes the most effective belongs to the English twins. It is downright heartbreaking to watch what Marcus goes through.
Despite a very hokey intertwining at the end, I still felt ‘over-all entertained’ by ‘Hereafter’ for some rather odd reasons – It didn’t follow the path I expected (which has been a staple of Eastwood’s better films) and at first I was disappointed, but soon realized that by not following the formula, Clint has created something unique. Even though he does take the route to hokum-ville to wrap the three tales together, But by the time he does that, I was thinking, “Well, I never expected Eastwood to do something as corny as that!”
So once again, he threw an unexpected twist at me by playing the time worn intersecting trilogy ploy...
In a very weak year, I have 'Hereafter' in my Top 5, but I don't expect it to stay there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


“SECRETARIAT” (Diane Lane & John Malkovich)

I was going to like this movie no-matter-what. I was on the verge of turning 18 in May of 1973 when Secretariat began his historic run to the Triple Crown & had been a horse racing fan for a little over a year. What has bothered me about other reviews I have read has been that they tell the reader in detail ‘how’ he did it (& no, it wasn’t ‘Impossible’ as the ad campaign emphasizes because he DID IT, you morons) Like everyone planning to see this movie was alive & cognizant in 1973 & knows all the details of Secretariat’s amazing feat. True, I knew & it didn’t bother me ‘BECAUSE’ I witnessed it as it happened – what Secretariat did in the Belmont was, to this writer, the most incredible athletic feat I have ever seen in my lifetime & I’m relatively sure I’ll never see anything close to topping it. That was all that needed to be revealed to those who only knew the name ‘Secretariat’ was one of the most beloved in all horseracing.
To the movie itself – I was apprehensive about 2 things; it being a ‘Disney’ production; and the fact that John Malkovich would be acting in a ‘Disney’ production (The 2 just didn’t seem to go hand-in-hand, if you know what I mean)
Malkovich playing disagreeable trainer Lucien Laurin would seem to be a good fit in an R-Rated version, but ‘Disney’? John pulls it off though, he is the obnoxious, bull headed, do it my way or the highway French Canadian trainer without resorting to colorful curse words & phrases. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been a better film with them, but Malkovich’s performance almost makes you certain that he did drop several expletives during the film.
Pretty much everyone else is cookie-cutter characterizations & that suits this story just fine – the stars are the horse & the owner & in that this movie hits the mark to perfection.
Diane Lane as Penny Tweedy should get an Oscar nomination – Not that she showed outstanding acting abilities but because she ‘added’ to the story instead of detracting from it by being the ‘simple homemaker from Colorado who takes over her dad’s horse breeding farm once her mother passes away & dad begins to lose control of his mental faculties’. Even though I thought the film should have been called “The Penny Chenery Tweedy Story” instead of “Secretariat” for the first hour or so – Once the gates open for the Kentucky Derby & Secretariat ‘does what he was born to do’ the film will bring back grand memories for all of those who witnessed it originally & hopefully for those who weren’t around, they’ll get an idea as to what a marvelous experience it was.
‘Big Red’ wasn’t ‘just another racehorse’ in the same sense that Muhammad Ali wasn’t ‘just another boxer’ – when they say in the movie that Secretariat is ‘posing’ for photos, that isn’t made up – that’s exactly what he would do. Other horses would trudge out onto the race track – Secretariat ‘strutted’ onto the track with his head up high & ears pricked.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss people who say, “Secretariat KNEW what the Triple Crown was - & he KNEW how important winning the Belmont Stakes was. I believe he did. I also believe he is the only horse to EVER know those things, so I’m not just some horse lover that thinks they’re ‘special’ animals – just THIS ONE was.
And the irony of it all is that I have no interest in horseracing anymore. Haven’t for many, many years, though I spent a great deal of my late teens & early twenties at Longacres (Where I witnessed the Belmont in 1973)
There were a few instances that soured me on the sport of kings, but I believe one of the reasons I stopped attending the races is due to the fact that I knew I had seen the greatest horse run the greatest race of all time and there was nowhere to go but downhill from there. And the one thing that makes this film spectacular are the recreation of those races, especially the Belmont – it was eerily similar to what was going on in the lower clubhouse at Longacres as everyone crowded around the television sets to witness history. The comments from the crowd in the movie were the same that were made in the clubhouse. When the crowd went silent in the movie & jaws began dropping open; ditto the clubhouse. Jaws dropped. Followed by tears of joy. And guttural screams that one emits when one has witnessed something miraculous. It was one of the most memorable days of my life – and trust me, THAT horse knew what he was capable of doing. And he did it. Impossible? No. Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. Insurmountable. UNFORGETTABLE? Indubitably.


“IT’S A FUNNY KIND OF STORY” (Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis & Emma Roberts)

Good title. It IS a funny kind of story. Funny on different levels though. It isn’t funny that the lead character, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a teenager who contemplates suicide on almost a daily basis so he checks himself into a mental ward instead of riding his bike to the bridge and jumping off like he planned that morning. But it IS funny when the first person he comes in contact with is a scruffy looking doctor whose questions become more odd as the ‘interview’ proceeds. When said ‘scruffy’ doctor turns out to be a patient named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) you realize that you’re not going to be viewing your ‘normal’ teenager-with-an-I don’t-fit-in-complex tale.
Craig, put in with the ‘mentally disturbed’ adults because the teenage wing of the hospital is being renovated, quickly decides he made a poor choice & asks to leave. He is informed that once you check yourself in as a potential suicide victim, you’re locked in for five days. “But I have an important test at school tomorrow,” Craig whines. “Should have thought of that before deciding to end your life,” his ‘Doctor-while-committed replies.
Without going into detail, I can relate to this situation – not having suicidal tendencies, but being labeled ‘emotionally disturbed’ when I was 15 & being sent to a ‘home’ for such – So I enjoyed this film quite a lot, though I could easily see where ‘normal’ people may not be able to relate to it as well. So as I go singing the praises of everything about it, keep that in mind – I don’t want anyone telling me ‘you’re nuts for liking this movie so much!’ – I’m already aware of that fact, thank you.
Emma Roberts plays Noelle, another suicidal teen kept in the adult ward, who bonds with Craig after the boy makes a generous offer in an attempt to help Bobby. She mopes and does her best Kristen Stewart impersonation, but then she actually snaps out it and becomes sweet & likeable (Which is why they didn’t hired ‘one-note’ Stewart for the role)
Lauren Graham & Jim Gaffigan play Craig’s parents, who, if anything, are the complete opposite of the type of parents you would expect to raise a suicidal kid.
The only actor that didn’t impress me much was the Oscar nominated (for ‘Doubt’) Viola Davis. She plays Dr. Minerva, the in-house psychiatrist and I thought she misfired on practically every scene she was in. Inappropriate grins are what annoyed me the most. Okay, WE know ‘it’s a funny kind of story’, but as a shrink dealing with people that have suicidal tendencies, you shouldn’t be so amused by your clients when they’re spilling their guts out to you... Another of those little tidbits that bugged me.
I actually believe that Zach Galifianakis will receive an Oscar Nod for his performance here; not that he stood out all that much, but SOMEONE from this cast HAS to get a nomination & he was the best of an excellent bunch.
And Gilchrist will be interesting to watch – this is HIS movie and the kid held his own, though Craig doesn’t change all that much, it’s the people he comes in contact with that make him see his worth – for a young actor to carry a good film in virtually every scene is impressive.
To express the one thing that I felt the film lacked would be a complete spoiler, so it’s best that I leave that criticism out. Just remember, I liked this film a lot... but I was also once cuckoo for Coco Puffs...



While I thought ‘Marmaduke’ was unfairly bashed by critics, this one pretty much deserved the trashing it took. The original was a heartwarming story with a cute puppy that finds himself in the middle of a dog vrs. cat war that secretly rages on without human awareness. The remake offers Chris O’Donnell instead of a young boy and instead of an adorable beagle puppy, the hero is an adult German Shepherd... loses major points in cuddle-ability with that switch.
Although I liked it, the original was only brought back to mind by viewing a replay on TV – Oh yeah, NOW I remember, the one where Jeff Goldblum played a scientist that was trying to find a cure for dog allergies! It was then I realized that the villain cat was called Mr. Tinkles, not Kitty Galore – So the title of the sequel confused me.
Mr. Tinkles has a cameo in #2 which only served to remind me how much better at being annoying he was than Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler)
Next to nothing works, even on a kiddie-flick level here – the dogs aren’t ‘cute’ because they’re almost totally CG’d – ‘Lou’ the original beagle is back, but they didn’t put any effort whatsoever into making him look like the dog from the first movie – they didn’t even try to get someone who even vaguely sounded like Tobey McGuire to voice him.
& speaking of voices – Nick Nolte as Butch, the lead spy dog, sounds like he should be in a rehab kennel detoxing instead of saving the world from a bald pussy. A new character is a ‘stool’ pigeon that acts so 1940’s ‘Negro’, there should have been 2 of them & they should have been called Amos ‘n’ Andy – it was that embarrassing to listen to.
The cuteness factor they decided on was to have Diggs, the German Shepherd (A washed out police dog that is given a second chance as a spy) partner with a female cat – the premise being dogs & cats must join forces to stop the dreadful Kitty Galore (A shaved pussy owned by an inept carnival magician) Being a ‘dog person’ I can tell you straightaway – it doesn’t work – it should be dogs vrs. cats & never the twain shall meet...
The fact that they end with a ‘Silence of the Lambs’ parody which hints there will be yet another sequel showed that the filmmakers were optimistic about #2’s success at the box office (I wonder if those plans have been squelched yet?)

Thursday, September 23, 2010


“The TOWN” (Ben Afleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall & Jon Hamm)

The promos bragged, from ‘acclaimed’ director Ben Afleck... ‘Acclaimed’?
For one ‘okay’ film that didn’t live up to the promise of the source material? (Dennis Lehane’s “Gone Baby Gone”)
Well, I’d say acclaimed director Ben Afleck takes a bit of a step backward with his second effort. The problem is, I can’t really discuss why this film falls a little short without giving too much of it away. So here’s the set up –
Afleck plays Doug Macray, a bank robber. His best friend James (Jeremy Renner) is also a bank robber. They have two other accomplices but they weren’t very good actors so they didn’t get very many lines (One, some overweight goober calling himself ‘Slaine’ has been in 3 films – 2 of them directed by the much acclaimed Ben Afleck... wonder what he has on old Ben that he doesn’t want us to find out?)
The foursome’s M.O. is to don masks (skeletors/nuns) The electronic wiz knows how to shut down alarm systems, the chubby guy is the world’s greatest get-away driver, Doug knows how to sweet talk his way into a vault & James is the violent hothead that strikes fear into the hearts of everyone unfortunate enough to be present during one of their heists.
When a silent alarm is tripped during the film’s opening robbery, they take a hostage, bank employee Claire (Rebecca Hall)
When they make good on their escape, they release Claire but keep her driver’s license.
Doug, obviously impressed with how Claire handled herself under pressure begins stalking her under the guise of ‘making sure she doesn’t tell the cops anything that might give away their identities’. After Doug worms his way into her heart, she reveals to him a detail that she forgot to tell the police – a tattoo on the back of the neck of one of the robbers. The only time in this film that I felt anything resembling a ‘tense’ moment is when James interrupts Doug & Claire’s lunch date & Doug has to keep James from showing Claire the back of his neck.
Jon Hamm plays FBI Special Agent Frawley who both hunts down the criminals as well as connects Claire to Macray. He’s serviceable. Meaning, I have no complaints, but neither did he do anything to stand out from any other actor to ever play a special agent for the FBI.
Chris Cooper has only one scene, but he is, as usual, flawless. Playing Doug’s imprisoned for life father he seems to care more about his relationship with the guards than he does his son. Even for a small part, Cooper immerses himself in his character – which made me wish the acclaimed director had included more scenes with Doug & his father... Perhaps the non-acclaimed actor felt intimidated by being seen onscreen with a true pro?
A big surprise was Blake Lively who plays Jim’s floozy sister Krista. True, the only exposure I’ve had of Ms. Lively is when my wife dragged (& drugged) me to see ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 – the Way the Pants Would Have Wanted It’ so I never would have thought her capable of playing a sleazy addict like Krista. When Krista jumps on Doug’s lap for a quickie & shoves her ample cleavage into his face, I wondered if she was wearing the well worn ‘traveling pants’ (obviously frayed in the crotch area) & if this was indeed the way they wanted it.
But my complaint against ‘The Town’ is the lack of ‘surprises’ – there are none. Everything plays out pretty much the way it’s set up, & to me, that made it a little dull & somewhat predictable.


“EASY A” (Emma Stone)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” takes it on the chin in this High School centered rom/com, but thanks to another young actress that continues to score high in ‘likeability’, Hawthorne’s body shouldn’t be rotating at a very fast clip.
Emma Stone plays ‘nobody’ high school student Olive. The movie is told as a flashback while Olive presents her story on her blog.
In order to get out of spending the weekend with her best friend’s hippy parents, Olive lies & tells her friend she has a date with a college guy. When Rhiannon (the best friend, played by the absolutely gorgeous Alyson Michalka) presses Olive for details, Olive lets her imagination run away & soon the story of how Olive lost her virginity to a college ‘man’ is all over school. Olive becomes popular overnight. A fame she at first enjoys, but soon regrets.
When gay Brandon (Dan Byrd) asks if she’d tell people THEY slept together she refuses. He offers payment & she slaps him. Brandon then breaks down & cries & Olive succumbs to his wishes. They set up an elaborate scene at a crowded party & pretend to have sex in the hostess’ bedroom.
Then the chubby kid wants her to pretend sleep with him. Then the nerdy kid from India. Then every shy geek in school lines up to get a ‘pretend’ date with easy Olive.
Since her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) is having them read “The Scarlet Letter”; Olive adapts the premise of the novel & sews big red A’s onto all of her blouses.
The best part of the film, however, is also the most unrealistic – Olive’s parents, played by Stanley Tucci & Patricia Clarkson are the most understanding, fair, humorous and simply adorable parents ever presented onscreen. So I liked them, especially seeing two 'more than above average' actors in a rather low-rent film, but their characters weren’t ‘believable’...
Amanda Bynes (Didn’t she retire from acting?) plays Uber-Christian Marianne who successfully turns Olive’s celebrity into shunning.
It is hard for me to fathom how Lisa Kudrow keeps getting acting jobs – she is one of the worst actresses alive. As the school’s dim-witted student advisor she once again plays the same person she played on Friends. Come to think of it, is there anybody on that show who could play someone other than the character they played on TV? But Lisa is the worst - & I only say that because Matt LeBlanc has disappeared (thank goodness!)
The most mis-cast character however is Alyson Michalka as Rhiannon – She is the most beautiful girl in school & yet they have her playing an unknown who can’t seem to find a boyfriend (Hence, she spends weekends camping with her hippy parents) Alyson reminds me of a young Scarlet Johanson. Let’s just hope she develops better acting skills. If she does, I predict that this young cutie will become very well known in the near future. Heck, even if she doesn’t, she’s gorgeous - she’ll have a career in films off that alone!
But for acting chops, I’m liking Emma Stone more and more – Hey, anyone that was in ‘Zombieland’ gets an extra star from me.
So ‘Easy A’ isn’t great – it’s entertaining for a fluffy high school piece. It’s worth seeing, if just for Clarkson & Tucci’s performances as the perfect ‘mom & dad’ & Alyson’s Rhiannon rings like bell thru the night & wouldn’t you love to love her? . . .
Uh, that last line was for the male readers... oh, & lesbian Fleetwood Mac fans.


“The SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” (Nicholas Cage & Jay Baruchel)

I’m going to give this film a decent review, but it must be taken into affect that I waited until it came to the bargain $3 theatre – so when I say it’s a decent movie, I mean for only having to spend $3 to see it.
It’s #1 endearing quality & one I didn’t expect is an excellent sense of humor –
it rarely takes itself too seriously. Jay Baruschel (as the title character) plays the exact same role as he did in “She’s Out Of My League” – including the hitting on & capturing the heart of a chick that’s w-a-y out of his league – but Jay has a high likeability quotient, sort of like a young, homely Paul Rudd. It is Dave, Jay’s character that makes this film work - & it doesn’t hurt that Nicolas Cage (As Balthazar, the Sorcerer that takes Dave under his wing in order to save all of mankind) shows a playful, campy side as well without coming off as a jerk.
The tale, as presented in the opening sequence, concerns the 3 most powerful apprentices of the mega-wizard Merlin. Knowing that an evil sorceress named Morgana
(No, she doesn’t race into sporting events looking for superstars to smooch) had become powerful enough to defeat him, Merlin divides his powers up between the 3 apprentices.
Unfortunately Bath-whore (Alfred Molina) turns against Merlin & joins forces with the dark side. With a name like Bath-whore, Merlin should have seen it coming, but it just proves that wizards aren’t soothsayers. As Merlin lays dying he presents Balthazar with a dragon ring which will tell him whom his successor & the only sorcerer with enough power to defeat Morgana will be.
Balthazar imprisons Morgan in a nesting doll but his lover, & the 3rd apprentice, Veronica sacrifices herself in the process. Balthazar also captures Bath-whore along with some other villains inside the doll & then sets out on a world wide journey to find Merlin’s successor. 1,000’s of years pass but Balthazar doesn’t age due to a spell Merlin cast before his death.
We then slide effortlessly into New York in the 1990’s & meet Dave, a goofy kid that has a thing for a cute classmate named Becky. Dave accidentally enters a curio shop run by Balthazar. On a hunch the sorcerer offers Dave the dragon ring & it comes to life, wrapping itself around his finger. Dave then accidentally allows Bath-whore to escape from the nesting doll & Balthazar ends up being imprisoned himself while recapturing Bath-whore... Are you still with me?
Well, forget everything I’ve just written because nothing happens for another 10 years. Dave is now a grown up (Baruchel) & Becky (Teresa Palmer) is a
D-J for her college radio station. When Dave keeps showing up at the radio station, Becky asks, “Are you stalking me?” Dave mumbles, “Yeah, but not in a threatening way – so that’s good, right?”
Dave impresses Becky with his engineering skills & so she throws her former classmate a bone by agreeing to a date. When Balthazar & Bath-whore are released from their prison (A Russian urn) all heck breaks loose & the fun begins. Balthazar needs Dave to learn the ropes of wizardry quickly & Bath-whore needs his ring to bring Morgana back to life.
The special effects are kind of cool (The main reason I wanted to see this in a theatre) Bath-whore turns a Chinese ‘parade dragon’ into the real thing & it chases Dave relentlessly thru the streets of N.Y.C. Balthazar brings a giant eagle statue to life for transportation & a life-sized bronze statue of a bull presents the good sorcerers with an imposing predicament.
I liked it fine, but it isn’t ‘terrific’ – the homage paid to the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (Mickey Mouse) is a dumb waste of 10 minutes – but if you can overlook the silliness of the script & the fact that Morgana instantly knows how to use modern technology in order to bring ancient darkness back to life, it’s a worthy effort, due mainly to a genuine sense of humor. I laughed frequently and that made the movie enjoyable to me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


“The AMERICAN” (George Clooney)

After starting with a bang (literally) ‘The American’ dissolves into a bland movie where absolutely nothing happens. It’s like ‘In Bruges’ without Colin Farrell’s character, just Brenden Gleeson walking around being grumpy.
And then the unanswered questions – mainly, why did he do what he did in the opening scene? Did he think the girl led the assassins to him? Was it just the ‘rule of the job’ to leave no witnesses? Or did she give bad head?
George Clooney plays ‘Jack’, an American hitman in Europe. For the longest time I thought the purpose of this film was to make fun of the fact that European hitmen are stupid and only American hitmen can get the job done – thus the change from the title of the book it was based on, “A Very Private Gentleman” to “The American”.
Normally, going to a George Clooney film means you’re going to see something well worth viewing, so I was anticipating seeing another Oscar caliber movie – This isn’t. It’s not as bad as ‘Syria’ because it’s just the opposite of that convoluted mess – there was too much going on in ‘Syria’ – there’s nothing going on in ‘The American’.
I could, if I wanted to play spoiler, tell you the entire story in 3 or 4 sentences.
Most of ‘The American’ is void of dialogue – if you like looking at scenery you might enjoy this jaunt through the snow of Sweden & countryside of Italy. Scenes of Jack driving, walking, drinking coffee & putting together a rifle for a fellow assassin to use dominate the running time.
The only refreshing change I enjoyed was the addition of female nudity (Woo-hoo!) when Edward (The name Jack uses in Italy) engages an exclusive relationship with a prostitute named Carla (Violante Placido)
The only other positive I can come up with is that in its sluggish redundancy there was an underlying tension that builds slowly as you wonder who is going to try to kill Jack – Is he the mark his fellow assassin has been assigned to take out - Or will it be someone unexpected, like Carla? But unfortunately, you can pretty much see the ending coming from a mile away, so instead of leaving you with a breathless ending to make up for all the boredom, the finale fizzles like the rest of the film.


“SALT” (Angelina Jolie & Liev Schrieber)

Saw this on Labor Day after viewing “The American” & there’s no question that 'Salt' is the better film. Why? Because, if anything, there’s too much going on in ‘Salt’ whereas nothing happens in ‘The American’.
I liked Salt because the plot was intriguing; the action scenes, though far-fetched as most action scenes are, still held my interest & that’s not easy to do. But what separated Salt from the usual spy flick is despite the confusion & the twists & turns in the plot, if you paid close attention to the little details, you could figure it out. So I appreciated that my diligence in noticing those details paid off & that there was only one twist that I didn’t see coming – when it came, I was a little disappointed in the overkill of Russian spies, but what the heck, it was an enjoyable ride watching this unique yarn spin itself out.
From the trailer you know that a former member of the Soviet Union (Daniel Olbrychski as Vassily Olov) surrenders to the Americans and while being interrogated by agent Evelyn Salt he tells her that she is going to assassinate the Russian president because she is a Russian spy.
Salt’s major concern from the moment this revelation comes to past is toward her German husband who rescued her years earlier from a Korean prison when she was caught spying & subsequently tortured.
C.I.A. agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) goes a little overboard in trying to keep Salt contained & then recaptured when she escapes - as Evelyn leaps from vehicle to vehicle on a busy freeway, Peabody shoots at her, obviously not caring if a stray bullet hits an innocent driver whose auto could then spin out of control killing several more – or my favorite is when he shoots at her whilst she balances atop a tanker truck. My wife’s explanation for this was “He probably figured the tanker was empty.”
Just before leaping onto the freeway, Evelyn proclaims, “I’m being set up! I’m innocent!” Yet, she still makes her way to where the Russian president will be attending the funeral of the American Vice President.
Like everyone else, I was thinking she was going there to try & prevent the assassination but that doesn’t seem to be her purpose as she devises a way to be alone with the Russian leader & doesn’t try to hide what her intent is.
I don’t want to give too much away, like I said there are twists aplenty – although I knew why Salt was doing what she was doing by paying attention – Just keep asking yourself, “Why is she doing that?” & you’ll figure it out as well. And I liked that – too many films throw twists in from out of nowhere just to make themselves look clever. I think it makes them look stupid – If you don’t give us any clues, how can we figure it out, dumb-ass?
There was one major continuity problem – Evelyn escapes her apartment via the fire escape with her dog in a backpack – one second the dog is seen & the next second the backpack is zipped up with no dog in sight.
Liev Schreiber plays Evelyn’s supervisor, Ted Winter, who keeps telling the C.I.A. she’s innocent until she proves him wrong – then he wants to track her down & kill her more than Agent Peabody does.
The final scene was totally unnecessary as the U.S. President (played by a white guy for some reason – I guess they wanted us to think that it was Cheney who died) could have explained who did what. But I guess they felt they needed one more outlandish stunt to go out on. Still, I was very entertained by this film, even though the idea of rekindling the Cold War with the meek & mild Russians is more than a little idiotic, but the premise, the idea that is presented isn’t far-fetched, especially if you’re one of those conspiracy theorists – you’ll actually believe something like this is GOING to happen. & soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The A - TEAM

“The A-TEAM” (Liam Neeson & Bradley Cooper)

Never watched the TV series but I heard some decent things about this big screen version so I coughed up $3 & checked it out... To the three people that told me this was worth seeing? You each owe me a dollar.

I should just let it go at that – but just in case you’re one of those who didn’t think this would be something you’d care to see & you have a friend or two that told you it was good, I’ll go into more detail as to why it sucks so you won’t be taken in like I was.
All I remember about the series is George Peppard played a guy who smoked cigars & Mr. T played a guy with a Mohawk who pitied fools (Like those who watched TV shows about jerkholes who smoked cigars & wore Mohawks)
The big screen edition opens in Mexico with Liam Neeson as the cigar smoker (Col. Hannibal Smith) handcuffed to a chair in a barn being tortured. When the Mexican police officers come to the conclusion that their prisoner isn’t going to talk they decide to let their dogs eat him for lunch. Two Rottweiler’s come charging into the barn & disappear into the darkness behind the chair. They come out seconds later ‘handcuffed’ to each others’ collars. You don’t see how the Colonel performed this amazing feat in a matter of seconds – stopping two huge attack dogs & cuffing them together without getting bitten. They don’t show it because it was an impossible feat to accomplish – I rolled my eyes while the dozen or so people in the theatre laughed... I knew I was in with the wrong crowd.
The movie then spirals downward as they simply roll out one improbable stunt after another while numbing my mind with ‘sophomoronic’ dialogue and painfully unfunny punch(less) lines. To give you an example – Col. Smith, in all seriousness states, “General Morrison is not deceased – he was murdered.” No, this wasn’t meant to be funny, but it was the only line that made me smirk.
Want to know what else wasn’t funny? While showing a 3-D movie in an insane asylum, a jeep drives toward the screen – then in reality, the A-Team drive their jeep thru the wall of the asylum at the same time – the nut jobs are very impressed with the realistic 3-D effects. Of course, being sane, I found it to be just plain stupid – throw in the fact that the jeep is only slightly damaged & is able to back up & drive away & you understand why I used the word improbable to describe the stunts.
Shortly after the jeep scene, the military aircraft the A-Team has stolen is shot down & the boys find themselves falling from the sky in a tank that just happened to be equipped with a parachute. B.A. asks, “Are we flying a tank?” Hannibal responds, “Technically, we’re not flying.” B.A. yells, “But we fallin’, fool!” Again, the rest of the audience cracked up at this while I pondered whether or not I really needed to see how this mess ends. Oh, & B.A., I was surprised to learn, does not stand for Bad Actor.
Since this is an updated version if tired old material, the ‘plot’ concerns a group of Iraqi’s who have stolen some U.S. $100 plates so they can make their own counterfeit useless money. Clever, eh?
Bradley Cooper (playing someone called ‘Face’ – probably because he has so many Facebook friends) is wearing out the warm & fuzzy glow I had for him from ‘The Hangover’ & is quickly sliding back into the ‘hack’ zone.
I’ll give Shaltro Copley some credit for playing a completely different character from the dweeb he played in ‘District 9’ – Still, his Murdoch isn’t nearly as funny as he thought he was; most of his attempted comic lines fell flat but I’d blame that on the sh*tty material rather than the actor.
Jennifer Biel, who is nice looking, but not gorgeous, kept her business suit on throughout the film, so she added nothing to help ease this unpleasant experience. & Patrick Wilson as a smarmy C.I.A. agent was simply dull.
If the A-Team TV show was filled with bad dialogue, humorless jokes & dumb stunts, then these guys did a great job of copying that formula, but for me, I’ll be skipping ‘The A-Team 2: More Outlandish Stunts & Stupidity’.

Webster’s definition of a ‘sophomoronic’; someone who laughs at childish humor like that seen in the movie ‘The A-Team’...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


“THE SWITCH” (Jason Bateman & Jennifer Aniston)

To call this a typical ‘rom-com’ is a mistake – there really isn’t much ‘rom’ – The lead female character has a child via a sperm donor – how romantic is that? & there isn’t much ‘com’ – But is there EVER in any typical ‘rom-com’?
This is the story of two friends; Wally (Bateman) & Kassie (Aniston) They have been best friends for several years, much to Wally’s chagrin, but he’s grateful to have been placed in the ‘friend-zone’ by Kassie so at least he’s a part of her life.
Wally isn’t easy to like, which is another reason he’s grateful for his position with Kassie. When Kassie tells him she plans to have a child out of wedlock by finding a sperm donor, he suggests she use his baby making fluids. She laughs in his face, saying, “You can’t be serious?” Among his many detriments, Wally is a hypochondriac who hums seductively when eating a scrumptious meal.
Instead Kassie finds Roland (Patrick Wilson) a good looking married father of two & the ‘conception’ is to take place at Kassie’s best female friend’s apartment. Why? Because Wally couldn’t exchange his specimen for Roland’s if it were done realistically.
Speaking of unrealistic set-ups, this film is hampered by an unrealistic character – the offspring of Kassie & Wally’s non-coital union, Sebastian. The kid comes into the picture at the age of 6 when Kassie moves back to New York – his first meeting with ‘Uncle’ Wally is so contrived & unbelievable, I hated the kid & brought my hopes that this film might be better than advertised crashing down so hard it smashed them to smithereens. Sebastian enters spouting medical terms that only ‘specialist’ doctors would know how to pronounce – of course, this intense intelligence is given to the 6 year old via the internet, so that makes it believable. A few scenes later, during an excursion to the aquarium, Uncle Wally tells Sebastian he has hypochondria. “What’s that?” Sebastian queries... This, from the kid who knew every disease & disorder known to mankind!
Jeff Goldblum, whom I haven’t seen for a few years, was providing his usual schtick as Wally’s boss & buddy, Leonard. And Leonard was quite humorous – Was it because I wasn’t expecting to find anyone funny in a ‘rom-com’, or the fact that I hadn’t been numbed by Goldblum’s ‘deja vu’ acting style so I found his quirky delivery refreshing for a change?
But eventually, ‘The Switch’ grew on me & I would say that it was mainly due to Bateman’s performance – he gets better as the story progresses – even his relationship with Sebastian becomes more realistic; Walking with the boy, he says, “Tell me about your new school.” “Why?” Sebastian asks. “Because you’re a kid and there’s nothing else to talk about.” It’s those believable little moments that turned this from a disaster into something likeable.
The finale gets wrapped up into a neat little ribbon way too quickly, but I’m guessing that’s the fault of ‘preview’ audiences who insisted upon a happy ending – it would have been better without it, but ‘The Switch’ isn’t a bad film – It is if you go in thinking you’re going to see a ‘rom-com’ (&, like my wife, you’re a fan of those generic wastes of time) but this is simply a sweet little story of friendship & how horribly wrong things can go when people start bringing more children into the world... Just my opinion, I could be wrong... but I’m not.