Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Losers

I’m surprised by how good this movie is. I was expecting a simple quick and painless action/comic book movie, what I got was much more. I’m buying this for sure.

The Losers is about a team of mercenaries who get framed on a mission and end up stuck in Bolivia. The plot of the film is how they a) get back to America b) kill the bad guy and c) clear their names. The plot is obviously cookie cutter, which could lead to a mediocre movie at best. But instead, each actor finds humor and humanity in their characters. I’m a big Chris Evans fan and I’ve been becoming a fan of Columbus Short and Jeffrey Dean Morgan over the last year or so. The biggest surprise is Jason Patric’s Max, who walks the fine line between campy-kooky, and true villain.

Every actor brought their A game, including Zoe Saldana and Idris Elba. As the credits rolled, I noticed Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Hancock) helped write the script, it shows. In a good way, this is classic Peter Berg. One scene in particular incorporated Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” being butchered by Chris Evans’ character only to have it be played over the brief chase scene afterward. I look forward to seeing how awesome Evans’ will be as Captain America, Marvel made a good choice on that one. All in all, this is a solid action movie with clever comedy and some great action sequences. If you liked The Italian Job with Mark Wahlberg, you’ll like this. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Europeans have a lot more patience when it comes to films and their lengths. It takes an attentive American to enjoy European cinema. Most of us complain about subtitles, pacing, and violence, but for us few who go the distance, we are rewarded. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of those rewards. I’m glad I stuck in there.

Based on the best-selling book by the same name, it follows Mikael Blomkvist, a journalism recently convicted of libel against a major company. He is met by a man who has a job for him. Since Mikael has 6 months before he begins his sentence in prison, he is offer the job as a way to kill the time before he goes. A rich man wants to know who has killed his niece in 1966. The girl with the tattoo is Lisbeth, a 24 yr old hacker who works for a security company while on probation. She’s hired to investigate Mikael, but ends up working with him when he catches on to her following him. What unravels is a classic murder mystery, one where the closer they get to the truth, the more resistance.

Like many other films based on the written medium, there are dead spaces. Spaces that would be enriching as a reader end up boring to some watchers. This is usually those moments in the film when narration or montage is ideal to keep the audience engaged. The biggest thing that disappointed me was that the title character was not the lead character, I found that rather perplexing. The center of the film is on Mikael and his investigations into the murder/disappearance. Another thing that plagued me was the Lord of the Rings ending style. It seemed to wrap up things 5 different times before the credits rolled. Of course, I knew that this was only 1 film in a trilogy, so my idea of leaving unanswered questions may have been asking a bit much of the first in the 3 films. Nevertheless, it succeeds where it counts.

The woman who plays Lisbeth embodies her role so well that I will have trouble thinking of her as anything else. Her awkward beauty and lack of back-story made her a joy to watch. In every scene she has, we look to see if she’ll finally open up to someone. The violence in the film, though sparse, is quite dark and visceral. Not necessarily graphic, but emotionally heavy. The way she handles the injustices of her parole officer had me cringing and cheering simultaneously. As a whole, it’s a good movie. Being in Swedish may dissuade some, but this is going to be 10 times better than the inevitable American remake. A good movie to coerce people into being more accepting of foreign language films. 3 out of 5 stars.

Where My View of Life Comes From…

After a recent attempt to get some advice from my friends and getting none, I chose to consult my psychologist. It’s not an actual psychologist, but a list of movies (otherwise, this wouldn’t be on this blog!). Below are collectively the movies I take relationship and life advice from. They may not be the most sound avenues for guidance, but I’m not the most conventional person. In fact, some of these are how I measure the success/failure of my life. So without further ado, here are my therapy sessions.

Elizabethtown– The movie dealt with loss and finding someone. I saw it a mere couple of hours before my aunt passed on. Though Orlando Bloom isn’t a great actor, he almost nails this one. Director Cameron Crowe really speaks to me in all his films, his portrayal of relationships is realistic and palpable.. This definitely gives you a sense of optimism

High Fidelity-My all-time favorite movie. When I was in high school, I wanted to be Rob Gordon. Most of my decisions of junior and senior year of high school were motivated by WWRD? (What would Rob do?). It talks about rehashing and exploring past relationships and holding on to the current one. Plus, owning your criticisms and showing that finding other elitists is the key to having pretentious taste.

One Hour Photo-Robin Williams plays a lonely photo-tech who reaches out for a connection in one of the worst ways possible. When he realizes his idea of the perfect family shows to be less than perfect, he snaps. His disappointment with perfection being ruined is something we can all associate with. His isolation and disconnect is something very familiar with me from years past. This puts all good and bad in perspective.

Lost in Translation– Another favorite from high school. It shows the fragility and beauty in a simple friendship. I found myself telling people I wanted friendships like that. Fortunately, I’ve found some in the years since. Plus the film revolves around being lost in an environment and looking for complacency.

About a Boy-Like High Fidelity, it’s based on a Nick Hornby book. The voiceover about “The Will Show” is exactly how I feel in similar situations. Hugh Grant plays a loner who takes a young boy under his wing and they teach each other about life.

All the Real Girls-Arguably, the best Zooey Deschanel movie ever, revolving a small town womanizer who falls his best friend’s sister. He tries to mature with her, only to have it blow up in his face. This shows the aftermath of a beautiful thing broken. It breaks my heart and infuriates me every time I watch it. I see myself in many of the characters, making me analyze myself as I watch.

Peaceful Warrior-This movie snuck up on me. In a nut shell, philosophy in movie form. It’s about a gymnast finding his place in life and discovering true tranquility. A must see!

Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind–  You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone; Have no regrets. This follows a man trying to erase a past relationship only to find he doesn’t want to forget it. The first time I saw this, it scared me. All my past relationships were manifested in some way in this film. After a second viewing, I saw the beauty of a meeting someone and the good AND bad that comes with it.

Vanilla Sky-Probably my favorite Tom Cruise movie. A playboy magazine mogul upsets his “f*** buddy” and she almost kills them both. What follows is a study of friendship, love, and paranoia. Another Cameron Crowe movie that made a connection with me.

Kick-Ass

Another comic book themed movie. With Nicolas Cage?! really? Well, naysayers be prepared to swallow your words. Kick-Ass is a well crafted and stylish film. Despite a few hiccups, it connects with the audience and surprises them.

The movie is an origin movie, in that we learn all about how Kick-Ass becomes a superhero. Aaron Johnson does a great job of embodying both Kick-Ass and Dave, the boy who thinks the idea of being a superhero up. The film also features Nicholas Cage as a slightly campy (in a good way) Batman look-alike called Big Daddy, whose sidekick is his foul-mouthed 12-year-old daughter (Hit Girl). Anyone who has seen the movie knows that Hit Girl steals every scene she’s in. Hostel director Eli Roth said on his twitter that she deserves an Oscar for the role. After seeing the film, I agree. She was definitely the best part of the movie for me.

The villain is played by Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes). Why can’t this guy play a good guy, I think he’d be great at it. He’s a gangster of sorts who, once Big Daddy and Hit Girl upsets one of his schemes, to eradicate them and Kick Ass to flex his power over the city.

The film feels a bit long in some points, more than likely in attempts to take the written original material and doing it justice. Overall, it’s a good action flick. There is humor for many different ages, and well crafted stunts. Definitely not a waste of money to go see. 3 out of 5 stars.

The Joneses

The Joneses is a brilliant new take on the American Dream. Instead of going after it, a company employs people to act as a family and sell the luxury of it themselves. They set up in nice neighborhoods and literally everything including the kitchen sink. It’s kind of similar to how they did product placement in The Truman Show. But in this case, the “family” sells everything but their personal testimonials and showcasing the product first hand.

David Duchovny stars as a rookie seller, a charismatic car salesman plunked for selling a whole new idea. Demi Moore plays his boss and pretend wife. Gary Cole and Gleene Headly play envious neighbors (read as optimal clients). The actors do a great job of conveying all aspects of this situation. With Duchovny being the moral center, we see him use the same charm and wit that he does in Californication. The film follows his beginning months struggling a bit only to set the curve as he gets the hang of it. But, like all movies, it doesn’t last.

First time director does a great job of showing how this type of job would work. It is so convincing, I found myself rethinking some of the things I’ve bought lately. Did I get this for myself or based on someone else’s preference? Do these type of jobs actually exist? It was that convincing. Though the script gets a bit thin in the last 20 minutes or so, the cast steps up to cover most of the ground the script missed. The ending is a bit too ambiguous for most people, but it feels true to the story. Some great laughs. 4 out of 5 stars.

Date Night

Finally Steve Carell and Tina Fey have teamed up! Unfortunately, the writing and directing doesn’t deserve such a grand pairing. Shawn Levy, known for Night at the Museum, doesn’t step up to the challenge of capturing these comedic geniuses. As I watched, I kept wishing Peter Berg (Hancock) or Peter Segal (Get Smart) would have taken over.

The film revolves around the Fosters, a happily married couple of two who have a weekly date night. After hearing that a fellow couple is divorcing, they decide to spice things up and move their mediocre date to NYC for a big night. What follows is mistaken identies, dirty cops, and a topless Mark Wahlberg as a black ops operative who helps them out of a jam. The film leans on Carell and Fey’s shoulders a bit too much. They can hold their own, and they do a great job playing off of each other, but the script feels like it’s caging them. If any other two actors would have taken these roles, this movie would have sucked. Carell and Fey keep it afloat, but just barely.

The strength of the film is allowing the two leads to play off each other and improvise. It makes the bumpy ride a little bit smoother. The best scenes all involve them acting like a real married couple, which they pull off swimmingly. The CGI is almost non-existent but all the visuals were believeable. If you are a fan of The Office and/or 30 Rock, you might enjoy this. It isn’t bad, but with Carell and Fey in it, I was hoping for more. 2.5 stars out of 5

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?

Ever since he burst onto the big screen with Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Tyler Perry has delivered consistent family friendly fare. This far into his career as film director/actor/producer, his schtick is starting to lose its steam. Fortunately, his target audience doesn’t care and is very loyal to him (myself included). Like Steven Seagal or horror, Tyler Perry has become a niche commodity. And like both horror and Seagal, there is no sign of him stopping.

WDIGMT? (I shortened it for typing cramping purposes) picks up less than a year after the first film. This time, their annual couples retreat is in Nassau and not Colorado. Much like the first film, this has three distinct acts. Act 1 is the retreat; Act 2, after effects; and Act 3, where the big problems are confronted and resolved. This unspooling technique allows the audience to follow along without any knowledge of the first film, a stand-alone sequel. This film however features Louis Gossett Jr. in a brief role and a surprising cameo in the final shot.

WDIGMT? does a great job of balancing drama with life lessons and comedy. This film is one of those melodramatic movies you know what you are getting into going in. I mentioned in my Black Dynamite review Michael Jai White being in good films, this definitely counts. His character Marcus and his onscreen wife Angela get some of the biggest laughs of the whole film. The jokes about the airport and terrorism are truly laugh out loud (you have to see it to understand). Tyler Perry again does a good job of acting his role while not being front and center. I’m curious if there will be another film in this franchise, but in the franchise that is Tyler Perry, he has once again scored. 3 out of 5 stars

Black Dynamite

** This is a continuation of a new feature on my blog, the off the beaten path reviews. This is a film already on DVD and Blu-ray that still deserves your attention. **

One of the first movies I ever saw with Michael Jai White was the deplorable Spawn. My dad and I still talk about how much we hated that movie. Ever since, when I see White, I think of that horrible film. Nothing else I’ve seen him is has been bad, in fact, he’s been in some really good movies since. Including Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, its sequel, The Dark Knight (as Gamble), and now Black Dynamite. And after watching Black Dynamite, I’ll never think of him as anyone except Black Dynamite from now on.

The film stars White as Black Dynamite, an ex-army, ex-CIA man you don’t mess with. When his brother gets killed and drugs flood his streets, he decides to clean up the streets. The plot is very straight forward, but that’s only the surface. The film is actually a parody of blaxploitation films from the 1970s. Everything from the brilliant one-liner heavy dialogue to the lingo is straight out of the 70s.

If you have any knowledge or affinity for blaxploitation films, give this one a look. The screenplay, co-written by White, knows its strengths. And when it fails, it fails on purpose, showing how they did it back in the day. Boom mikes peak in from time to time. Two takes of one shot diced together rather than getting one good take. Dialogue that will make people from the time blush for saying such things. This movie goes right up there with Bronson in terms of a character so unabashedly badass that you feel cooler just knowing him. sprinkled in are cameos of famous African-American actors/icons, such as singer Bryan McKnight and comedians Arsenio Hall and Nicole Sullivan (from MADTV).

A great surprise and a great send up of a genre that gave us the likes of Shaft, Superfly, and Foxy Brown. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t recoup its expenses during its theatrical run, as it is a good comedy, a good parody, and most importantly, a really good movie. 4.5 out of 5 stars.