Tuesday, May 25, 2010


“LETTERS TO JULIET” (Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave & Christopher Egan)

As chick flicks go, this is one of the better ones & I think I’ve figured out the reason why – But first, let me ask any female that reads this – Don’t read another word from the end of this sentence until you’ve seen the film . . .

Okay, you’re back. How was it? Did you like it? Were the characters realistic?
Was there just enough sappy romanticism to make you sigh & go ‘awww’?
Yes, surprisingly enough, I felt the same way – it was well written, well acted & only a few scenes delved down into the level of ‘typical awful chick flick smaltz’.
& here’s the secret I’ve discovered about chick flicks that work – It was written by males & directed by a male. I’m going to generalize, which I’m sure will cause movie luva to let out a frustrated grunt as she reads this, but I seem to have noticed that chick flicks that are written, or directed by women don’t work because women (in general, m-l, there are exceptions, of course) can’t write believable dialogue for their male characters, whereas men not only CAN write a realistic female character, but often can do it better than your ‘typical smaltzy chick flick author’.
The two lead characters here are Amanda Seyfried’s Sofie & Vanessa Redgrave’s Clare & they are both very believable – Likable, but not perfect – When Clare realizes she’s about to see the man she ‘left behind’ 50 years ago, she turns pale & wants to leave because ‘she isn’t the 15 year old girl he fell in love with’ a half century earlier. The film makes you feel sorry for Amanda’s Sofie because Victor, her fiancĂ© is only interested in what affects his life & livelihood & couldn’t care less about Sofie’s / However, once she goes off with Clare & her grandson to find the elusive Lorenzo Bartollini (AKA ‘El Bart-O’) Sofie seems to forget that Victor exists as well.
Victor is about to open his own Italian restaurant, so as an engagement/pre-wedding present he takes Sofie to Italy. Victor, whom Sofie already knows is consumed by a fascination with food, wants to spend all of their ‘vacation’ time in wine cellars & kitchens – while Sofie wants to see the sites. They agree to go their own way so they can both enjoy the trip.
Sofie discovers the ‘Letters to Juliet’ (Of “Romeo AND...”) wall where desperate women write an imaginary character for advice on their love lives... Okay, yes, this hokey dingbat plot turned me off at first, but then the reality of it struck me – Women, especially the ones that can be described as ‘desperate’ would actually do something that... ridiculous.
When she sees a woman collect all of the letters & take them home to write responses to the desperately love lorn (with 4 other women assisting) aspiring writer Sofie is sucked into their circle & joins them.
While collecting letters the next day, Sofie accidentally finds a letter that was written 50 years earlier by a young girl named Clare – asking Juliet if she should go back to England with her family or stay with the boy she loves, Lorenzo. Sofie responds to Clare & before you can say ‘How long IS this vacation suppose to last?’ Clare & her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) are in Italy, looking for the person who pretended to be Juliet.
Charlie is infuriated by Sofie’s actions by getting his ‘Gran’ excited, only to set her up to be disappointed or devastated (Since he feels Lorenzo is more than likely deceased)
As they travel across Italy tracking down the 70-something Lorenzo Bartollini’s, the film drags – but in the end I realized it had to be that way in order to make the chemistry that grows between Sofie & Charlie believable. So they sacrificed a boring stretch for the sake of realism & I can’t argue against that decision.
Charlie, a pompous Brit, who is more than just a twit concerned with his beloved Gran’s well being, wins Sofie over by being... well, like me – an honest, pompous smart-alec; “Gran took me in as a young boy and turned me into the unpleasant person you see now,” he tells Sofie exposing his honesty.
I was a little disappointed that the pseudo-lesbian relationship that Clare & Sofie slowly develop didn’t come full circle, but my wife told me that was just wishful thinking by a deranged pervert. I’m sorry but any guy that watches the elderly Clare as she gently combs young Sofie’s long cascading hair is going to feel a little tingle in his sprinkler anticipating the robes coming off & the nude March/December lesbian lovemaking scene to begin...
The ending stoops to ‘typical’ chick flick fare, but by then the characters have won you over, so you don’t care that it has a smaltzy finale with a tiresome twist that’s been seen hundreds of times before. I was shocked that ‘Letters To Juliet’ still managed to make me feel as though I not only didn’t waste my money, but was actually entertained by it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


“ROBIN HOOD” (Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett & Mark Strong)

I was drawn to this film for the cast and nothing else; didn’t have a lot of interest in seeing another re-make of an oft told tale. I like the idea of ‘Robin Hood’ – robbing from the rich to give to the poor – but I’m not big on period pieces, especially those involving foreign countries (& yes, despite the fact that England did eventually give us The Beatles, I find the idea of their ‘monarchy’ to be idiotic & have never understood why the people have put up with it for so many centuries)
This version of Robin opens at the turn of the 12th Century as King Richard, The Lion-Heart (Danny Huston, horribly miscast) is concluding his 10 year ‘crusade’; specifically as his men are storming a French castle. Among those men is an archer named Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe)
Robin and 3 of his carousing co-horts (Little John, Alan A’Dayle & Will Scarlett) are placed in stockades when Robin ‘disrespects’ the King by speaking the truth. “When I am released, I am gone from here,” Robin tells the others. When they ask if they could come along, Robin smiles & says, “The more the merrier,” & thus the legend begins.
It’s a familiar story, so I won’t go into detail as to how Robin comes to reluctantly impersonate Sir Robert Loxley of Nottingham, but thanks to the acting prowess of the 3 lead actors mentioned with the title, this tale of the ‘origins’ of the legend is, for the most part, an enjoyable ride.
That’s not to say they don’t encounter a few bumps in the road – Like with Mark Strong’s evil bad guy, Godfrey – A Frenchman posing as an Englishman in order to bring down the British empire – Strong, head shaved to attract the NBA fan crowd(?) relishes the role & he is very adept at playing someone you love to hate. I didn’t have any problem with Mark’s performance, but it did bother me that they gave him a large ugly scar at the corner of his mouth – It immediately brought to mind Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’... Dumb idea; you lessen the impact of Strong’s Godfrey by reminding us of one the most memorable villains in history.
I particularly got a kick out of the homage that was paid to ‘Monty Python & The Holy Grail’ where Robin’s hooded visage blocks the path of Godfrey’s men & he sternly warns them that ‘none shall pass’, followed by a smirk from Crowe.
The film’s take on the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfayden) is an unusual one as he is shown as a somewhat cowardly bumbling boob – not exactly a worthy adversary for the cunning archery expert as they prepare to lock horns in the next installment of this planned ‘trilogy’. Or maybe that’s a good omen – making the sequel more playful would actually be an excellent idea as this film was a bit laborious at times; which is the problem I have with period pieces – they spend so much time setting the mood of the era they detract from the storyline.
Cate Blanchett’s Marion isn’t one of her more memorable performances, but she’s one of the best actresses alive so it is nearly impossible for her to hit a sour note.
William Hurt & Max Von Sydow add to the impressive cast & Oscar Isaac’s take on King John took a little getting used to, but he won me over in the end.
Oh, and the reason Danny Huston failed to connect with me as a realistic King Richard?
He supposedly was on the tail end of a 10 year crusade but he was so fat his horse appeared to be struggling to carry his lard butt across the battlefield. In other words, he just didn’t look very ‘kingly’ & I simply felt that a man who had been on a decade long quest of conquering should have been quite a bit leaner than Danny.
I’ve read where some have complained that this is more like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ than a re-telling of Robin Hood & His Merry Band Of Thieves – Well, the only similarity to ‘Ryan’ is the gritty way the battle scenes were filmed, but come on, there’s a huge difference between being shot by an enemy you can’t even see & the hand-to-hand combat & crude weaponry that was used in the 12th Century. And I didn’t want the same old ‘Robin Hood’ looking dashingly gay in his green tights – At least Russell Crowe’s Robin of the Hood looked believable when he embraced & ‘Maid’ Marion.

Monday, May 10, 2010


“IRON MAN 2” (Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Gwenyth Paltrow & Scarlett Johansson)

Two years ago I proclaimed ‘Iron Man’ the best comic-book movie ever – Mind you, this is coming from someone who hasn’t read a comic book in 40 years & doesn’t normally like comic book movies. When it was announced that Mickey Rourke would play the villain in the sequel, I was disappointed – I don’t like Mickey Rourke – his acting, or his personal persona. When ‘The Wrestler’ came on HBO last year, I taped it & watched it, using the FF button on my remote liberally. The one thing that stood out, viewing that awful movie in that fashion was the numerous shots of the back of Mickey Rourke’s head as he entered the wrasslin’ ring. How that film & Rourke’s performance gained critical acclaim, I will never know – it was a piece of s-peaking of bad acting; Scarlett Johansson was also added to the cast. But I don’t mind Scarlett because she is awfully easy on the eyes – but when I saw that she was costumed so that very little skin was showing, well, my expectations of enjoying ‘IM2’ plummeted even further.
Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard didn’t bother me nearly as much as it should bother Mr. Howard. You weren’t a major character, Terrence, you didn’t deserve a huge raise in pay to do the sequel – You take the fact that you’re in a blockbuster that will make many multi-millions & use that to further your career with ‘serious’ acting roles.
But enough of my pre-viewing thoughts – Here’s the shocker – I loved this film almost as much as the first. I came out of the theatre thinking, “That just might be the best sequel ever.”
I don’t know how much of my negative mind set going in has to do with the pleasant surprise I received (To the point were I was able to overlook some of the flaws) but ‘Iron Man 2’ is an excellent movie going experience. Still, the packed house that we viewed it with didn’t seem to react as positively as I did. Were they expecting more? I found Robert Downey, Jr.’s second take as Tony Stark to be as impressive as his first – the quips were witty, the smart-ass devil-may-care attitude intact & fully blown & the serious scenes aren’t unwelcome (Tony discovers the toxicity in his blood is rising at an alarming rate & will eventually kill him)
I like movies that give you a variety of emotions to wade thru, the only time they lost me was during a dueling Iron Man suits display between Stark & his best friend, James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Cheadle replacing Howard) I thought that sequence was dumb & I feared that the film would go downhill from there – but it bounced back - & what made it successful? Well, I’m going to have to give credit where credit is due & admit that Mickey Rourke was a major factor in my enjoyment of this film. As Russian villain Ivan Vanko, Rourke was matched with the perfect character for his mumbling, unlikable acting ‘style’. His interaction with Tony Stark competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) are some of the more memorable scenes – Credit to Rockwell as well, in fact, he, aside from Downey was clearly the second best actor in the film. When he loses his temper at Vanko & yells, “In case you haven’t noticed by now, I DON’T SPEAK RUSSIAN!” I held my breath for a second wondering how the muscle bound, clearly insane mutant was going to react to such an outburst. That was the cleverness of that pairing – Two loose cannons with the same goal (Bring down Tony Stark & Iron Man) who could implode upon each other long before they come to an agreement on how to go about achieving that goal.
Garry Shandling’s cameo as Senator Stern had me concerned from the preview, but the pay off will make you smirk, at the very least.
For the most part, everything worked, & worked well, but those of you who have read some of my past reviews know that there’s going to be some nit-picking (It’s what I do best) & my biggest complaint comes from the fact that there are no human casualties. Buildings, cars & property are blasted to smithereens but not a single of the thousands of innocent bystanders are even seen being injured, let alone crushed are blasted to oblivion by the incredible firepower of Vanko’s army of Iron Men drones. Call me a sick-o, but I would have said this movie was better than the first if they had just had the drone that took aim upon the little boy in the Iron Man mask & disintegrated the tyke.
& the big confrontation near the finale where Stark & Rhodes are surrounded by drones did become a little bit silly (I was reminded of Rock’Em, Sock’Em Robots from when I was a kid) but the end result was fairly satisfying, & this is something I don’t say very often, kind of ‘awesome’.
But this franchise works mainly due to Robert Downey’s acting talents – He raises the level of ‘comic book’ movie actors - & considering that Heath Ledger will unfortunately never be able to grace us with a follow-up Joker portrayal, Downey is the cockiest rooster in the comic book movie henhouse.
Oh, & Scarlett’s annoying habit of looking like she’s trying really hard to remember her lines as she speaks, doesn’t really stand out here because she doesn’t have that many lines. Despite not showing any skin, she still looked hot as she vanquished Hammer’s security guards whilst making her way toward Vanko’s secret hideaway... But I DO prefer her as a blonde (Note to Jon Favreau for ‘IM3’)
Yes, it gives a little bit for everyone – because I so enjoyed the first half of the film – very little ‘action’ sequences but lots of Tony Stark being a smart-alec jerk – I was able to accept the mindless ‘chase’ scenes & shots of items being exploded in huge balls of fire that invaded the second half. Even my wife, who wanted me to see this film by myself, was entertained by it. Funny thing is we were going to see her pick, ‘Furry Vengeance’ but the paper printed the wrong start time, so we opted for IM2 instead...
As Tom Petty once sang, “You Got Lucky, baby!”

Friday, May 7, 2010


“REPO MEN” (Jude Law & Forest Whitaker)

When I saw the preview to this it looked like an interesting concept – one that I knew my wife wouldn’t be interested in, so I waited until it came to East Valley for $3. Glad I waited. Though it isn’t bad, it IS at the very least interesting, but I was hoping it would be campier. I was also reluctant to see it when I found out it was a remake of a recent Paris Hilton ‘musical’ – one that was placed on several ‘worst of the year’ lists.
Jude Law plays Remy & Forest Whitaker, Jake. They’ve been friends since grade school & now they’re ‘Repo Men’ for a company called The Union. As Remy explains in the opening voiceover, “If you don’t make your car payments, they take your car back; if you don’t make your house payments, the bank takes your house; so it makes sense that if you miss payments on your replacement organs, they should be repossessed as well.”
It was made a little more plausible in that The Union manufactures mechanical organs, so anyone with a scalpel can cut into a ‘deadbeat’ & remove the property so it may be returned to the company & re-used. Liev Schrieber plays Remy & Jake’s boss who berates Remy for bringing in his repo containers in front of prospective customers; “When they realize what’s at stake they make damn sure they keep up with their payments; if they pay, we don’t make money.”
Remy’s grumpy wife Carol (Carice van Houten) wants him to quit his job & go into sales. After Jake performs a ‘repo’ on a guest at their house, Carol kicks Remy out.
When a faulty defibrillator stops Remy’s heart, he takes a desk job, but his inability to be dishonest prevents him from making a career as a salesman.
This is where the plot goes awry – Remy was injured ‘on the job’ by a mechanical failure, yet we’re expected to believe that Remy has to pay for the new heart The Union places inside him to save his life... I’m sure even in the future this kind of injustice wouldn’t be allowed.
Remy is forced to go on the run, meeting up with Beth (Alice Braga) a multiple mechanical organ recipient. As the couple try to dodge the repo men sent after them, Remy devices an escape plan that almost works, but like every other scene in this film it ends with gory violence where gallons of blood are spurted & spilled.
I wanted to like ‘Repo Men’ for it’s originality (Despite being a re-make) but it reached a new level of stupidity when Remy & Beth are searching for the mysterious ‘Pink Door’ inside The Union’s headquarters & they discover it when they see a sign that says ‘Pink Door >’
It saves itself a little with a clever ending, but overall, I have to give Repo Men just an average grade simply because it took itself way too seriously.

Monday, May 3, 2010


“SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE” (Jay Baruchel & Alice Eve)
I didn’t have high expectations of being entertained by this film so I was pleasantly surprised when I was. (Hot Tub Time Machine also falls into this category)
From the trailer, ‘She’s Out Of My League’ appeared to be just another geeky guy gets gorgeous girl ‘fantasy’ flick aimed at teenage boys, and though it has it’s juvenile moments, it succeeds because behind the gross humor & some extremely gay scenes involving supposedly heterosexual men, the film has a sweetness about it that I found appealing; not to mention the very delectable Alice Eve – who is quickly becoming a Scarlett Johanson who can act. Alice is English, but there isn’t a trace of an accent as she plays Molly, a one-time lawyer who gives up her career in law to become a party planner. Molly loses her cell phone at the airport & so her friend Patty calls her number & reaches TSA employee Kirk (Jay Baruchel) who promises to bring the phone to Molly’s next ‘party’. Kirk is a skinny, plain looking dude with a dead end job & not much of a personality, though he does display a wry sense of humor at times. Molly just sees a nice guy who did her a favor & decides to throw him a bone & ask him out on a date. Things go well until their first make-out session is interrupted by the appearance of Molly’s parents. Kirk has had a premature accident in his pants with evidence of the culprit of the stain still noticeable, so he refuses to rise to shake Molly’s father’s hand. So Kirk is back in Loserville until he figures ‘what do I have to lose by telling her the truth?’... Does it work? Well, of course it does, I’m not spoiling anything with that revelation - this is a romantic comedy after all.
The hit & miss portions of the film come from Kirk’s inner circle of unrealistic friends & his bordering on ‘trailer trash’ family members & ex-girlfriend, Marnie.
I call his buddies unrealistic because although these 3 guys might be friends with someone like Kirk (A very tolerant soul) they would never hang with one another.
A scene where the only married member of the group (& the gayest by far) helps Kirk to... ummm... prune his trouser plums was humorous, but, I’m sorry, no straight dude would ever shave another guy’s dangling participles.
Yes, there is a lot of the typical ‘low brow’ comedy you’d expect to find in a ‘B’ comedy about classless guys & bitchy gals, but this movie worked for me because even though you KNOW there’s no way a girl that looks like Molly is going to give a guy that looks like Kirk a chance, let alone a second chance, they succeed by making those two characters believably human. And when Kirk’s closest pal, Stainer (T.J. Miller) comes to a realization at the end of the film, even his disgusting character becomes a decent guy. Plus, it made me laugh (A 25 on my laugh-o-meter)
Maybe it is due to the fact that I haven’t seen a decent comedy since ‘The Hangover’ & I’m starved to find something worth laughing at, but I liked “She’s Out Of My League” & “Hot Tub Time Machine” while disliking the more anticipated ‘Date Night’ & ‘Death At A Funeral’ remake.
Since we’ve reached the Quarter Pole here in 2010 – here are my Top 5 films so far;