Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Breakdown: Favorite Comedies

**Breakdown is a new section where I take a genre or topic or theme and list my favorite examples of such**

Comedies are something I’m pretty picky over. Some high brow movies go right over my head where others grab me and I love them. Some immature comedies endear to me for some bizarre reason. It may be the quotability or the sentimental vibe it gives me. But the biggest thread connecting these movies is this: When I’ve seen the movie enough times to where the jokes are no longer funny, I still love watching the film. Here is my top 10 films below. Though some newer movies are definitely great (Get Him to the Greek or Step Brothers), I picked movies I’ve seen too many times to count. They are numbered but not ranked.

1. Hot Rod– The first time I saw this film, I was hopped up on Mountain Dew, a rarity for me. I loved the non-sequitur quotes and stupid plot. Key scene: Rod’s over-pronounced use of whiskey.

2. High Fidelity– I have no idea how I learned to love this movie. I think it was one that I always caught on TV and loved on the third or fourth view. My all-time favorite movie. Key scene: Jack Black’s entrance and discussion of Monday morning tapes.

3. Private Parts- The first time I watched this was merely for shock value. But the last couple of times I’ve watched it, I fell in love with Howard Stern’s character and sense of humor. Key scene: When he starts a new job and makes up a anti-white traffic reporter.

4. Hamlet 2– For anyone and everyone who has ever been in a high school musical, this is literally worst case scenario. I’ve loved Steve Coogan’s work for years, and here he does his best American film yet. Key Scene: The song “Rock Me Sexy Jesus”

5. 40-Year Old Virgin– Steve Carell and the Apatow gang are at their peak in this. I associated with this movie more than I’d like to admit. And it was hilarious. Key Scene: “Age of Aquarius”

6. Waiting…– Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, and Anna Faris take a simple concept and make it relatable and uncomfortably funny. Being a cook when I saw this came out made it that much funnier. Key Scene: When the woman sends her food back.

7. BASEketball– This was filmed after the first season of South Park, when Matt Stone and Trey Parker thought they would be unemployed. I saw this in high school on Starz with a friend and I loved quoting it. Key Scene: The Montage showing most of the teams in the league.

8. Major Payne– As a rule, I hate almost everything the Wayans do on principle. They occasionally produce something fun, but nothing was as good as Damon Wayans as a combat hungry soldier forced to run JROTC. Key Scene: Major Payne’s rendition of “The Little Engine That Could”

9. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang– Another one of my all-time favorites starring Robert Downey Jr. as a petty thief and Val Kilmer as a gay detective. The film, written by the writer of Lethal Weapon, hits almost every joke. This started my fascination with Downey. Key Scene: The definition of idiot

10. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy– The first time I saw this, it didn’t really sink in. But everytime I’ve watched it since then, I’ve loved quoting it. I re-watched it a few months ago and it not only held up well, but it was literal “Isn’t that?!” game. Key Scene: The deleted scene of a “glass case of emotion”

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Favorite or Best

The best thing and your favorite thing are not always the same. In fact, many times they are different. Since I started this blog a little over a year ago, I knew that I needed to differentiate. It isn’t always for me. For example, I loved The Mechanic (previous post) but the movie quality and execution was ok. A good critic can put aside their preferences to be objective, since few, if any, people do that, I try not to sweat it too much when I do.

Let me break it down more simply. The best movie I ever saw was Citizen Kane. At first I didn’t like it, but understood its significance. I have since come to love that movie and I often cite it as the best movie I ever saw. But despite this title, it is not one of my favorites. That isn’t a slight against it, I just have a small list of my favorite films (10 total, which I will write for the Off the Beaten Path section over the next months) but I do own Citizen Kane. And for me to own a movie is to appreciate and love it.

So from here on, I will try my best to differentiate between quality and preference. If the line ever becomes blurred, take my opinion at face value. But if you are reading this, you are already curious as to what I think, so there you go.

The Mechanic

Finally, CBS Films releases a movie that isn’t a big piece of garbage. After duds like Faster, Extraordinary Measures, and The Back-up Plan, they have released a film that just might make money.

The Mechanic stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster. Statham plays Arthur, a gun for hire. After he’s forced to kill a mentor and friend, he starts to work outside of the network trying to control him. That’s when Steve (Foster), the son of the friend he killed, comes to ask for a job. Arthur reluctantly lets him shadow him on a few missions, each one being complicated by his new apprentice. When the company that hires Arthur learns of Steve’s involvement, Arthur goes from gun for hire to target.

The film succeeds at being exactly what it is advertised to be. The action is fast and the plot is shaky, but Foster and Statham keep the film from going off the rails. Statham is still in action mode. But despite not having a rich script to drive the film, he still finds enough depth to make a good anti-hero. Foster, too, does a great job of embodying his role. It doesn’t require a great deal of acting, but he still makes Steve a fun character to watch. If it wasn’t for these two, the movie would have easily failed. They elevate a decent film into a fun, action-packed, revenge film. Recommended for fans of Statham and simple action movies. 3 out of 5 stars.

The Rite

Let’s get one thing straight, Anthony Hopkins is a very talented actor. Unfortunately, he has spent most of the years since Silence of the Lambs playing the same character type. Here, it is tried far beyond its shelf life.

The Rite is about Michael Kovak, a young man trying to figure out what to do with his life. Rather than continue in his father’s footsteps as a Mortician/Funeral Director, he decides to become a priest. But as a man of questionable faith, he doubts the whole process. When he attempts to give that up and move back home, he instead is asked to attend a class in Rome regarding the Exorcist ritual. There he meets Hopkins’ Father Lucas. Lucas, a priest of unorthodox methods, attempts to teach Michael about faith and devil.

There seems to be a resurgence of religious horror films as of late. But where The Last Exorcism succeeded with a micro-budget and suspense, The Rite squandered with cheap effects and no arc. The latter is too heavy-handed to do much of anything. At the end of the film, nothing new has been discovered and no real change has been made. It also didn’t benefit from a horror film rating of PG-13, which in those genre terms means crap more often than not.

I admit to going in to the film with a bit of curiosity. The execution of the effects, what little there are, don’t do anything to add to the film. It focuses on the tension and suspense that the neither the cast nor the script can provide. Having someone like Mikael Håfström, who did the cramped horror success 1408, can’t get lightning to strike twice. This is a dud of a movie in one of the most dud friendly parts of the movie calendar year. Skip this. .5 stars out of 5

The Death of the Epic

Having just finished watching Spartacus, I felt the need to express my concern at the lack of today’s modern epic. Now, by epic, I mean a massive film. A film at least 2 1/2 hours long. But studios are releasing these in fewer and fewer quantities. Why? Is the American public becoming too tired to watch a movie longer than a football game? Is our attention spans shrank to such a degree that a movie of that length is too much to undertake?

In 2010, we saw Avatar become the highest grossing movie of all time. A movie that’s run time was just shy of 2 hours and 45 minutes. 3-D aside, why did people keep coming back to this particular film? The plot wasn’t very original. The special effects perhaps? I’d like to think it was the world’s way of declaring Avatar the epic of modern times. But where Avatar grossed $2.7 billion, not every attempt in recent history has fared so well.

Back before my time were big time, grand epic films. Gone With the Wind, Ben-Hur, and many others delivered a film that was grand in scope, but valued its characters. The longer run time allowed for a more live theatre based feeling. There was an Overture and an Intermission as a means to set the stage. Though Jaws is considered the original event movie, these films were endeavors not to be taken lightly. Those long hours took you on a journey that felt like a lifetime, and in some of the films, it was. But where today’s films fail to measure up, is the focus on secondary elements of the experience rather than on the core necessities.

I try my best not to let run times of films get me down. Some 90 minute movies can feel like forever, whereas some bigger films feel like they are over in a heartbeat. For every modern-day epic success, we get a film like Alexander. History of the cinema has taught me to always be leery of passion plays, or films the directors’ have been nurturing along for years. Alexander was one of Oliver Stone’s such passion plays. At a budget of $155 million and a runtime five minutes shy of 3 hours, it lost most of its American audience from the get-go. It didn’t help that the film itself wasn’t that great. The movie limped along and meandered every step of the way. But not all recent epics have been duds.

TitanicAmadeusBraveheart, and Dances with Wolves are all examples of an epic done right. Granted, all of these films are both historically based and Academy Award Winners for Best Picture. Each of these films succeeded by falling the epics of generations before. Each one contained a simple plot with a few characters, but a plot with enough of a journey to sustain the runtime. I love each of these films for different reasons, but the one thing that best suited them was the quality of the film.

The Lord of the Rings movies…not even gonna get into that. That’s a whole other post, but the mere mention of the trilogy is to prove that America does have the stomach for it.

Despite the successes, or failures, of recent epic, long running films, we begin to see an emergence in films clocking in around 2 hours 40 minutes. Though not much different from a movie running 2 hours 30 minutes, studios feel more confident with the latter. Two of David Fincher’s recent masterpieces, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, fall under this spell.Zodiac was a character study and one that was surprisingly good considering the subject matter. It follows the story of a reporter, a cop, and a cartoonist as they all individually obsess over the Zodiac killings that plagued California in the 1960s and 1970s. TCCoBB follows a man who ages in reverse. Though this film lost to Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars that year, I still feel that this film was the better film. But that aside, this film was astonishing in how it took the life of an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift and watched him live his life. Though both of Fincher’s films could have been shorter, the scope and quality would have been diluted. They stand strong as great modern-day long-runtime films.

So with all this in mind, I still feel the end of the long run film is upon us. If studios were to quit griping about the length and focus more on the quality, we would get more films like Kill Bill as one film and fewer films like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End or Gods and Generals, a four-hour prequel to a four-hour box office bomb/critic darling about the American Civil War.

 

Buried

**This is new to Blu-ray and DVD this week**

Rodrigo Cortés may just be the new Hitchcock. With a simple premise and a very simple setting, he manages to make a gut wrenching film. Ryan Reynolds, taking a break from rom-coms and comic book movies, delivers something powerful.

Buried stars Reynolds as Paul Conroy, an American contractor working in Iraq. He wakes up in a coffin. He doesn’t exactly know why or where he is, but it quickly becomes apparent that he is buried alive. With just a cell phone, a lighter, and a few other things, he is trapped and hopeless. By using the cellphone, he attempts to find where he is, get his ransom paid, and/or get out of the coffin before the air runs out.

It sounds like a simple premise, and it is. But what makes this film work is the story. The script, and Reynolds literally acting alone, the film finds a way to build tension from the first flash of the lighter to the final moments. Small bits of action keep us on edge and begging for his release. I want so much to explain some of them but I make these reviews as spoiler free as possible. I can say that rather than resting on cheap gimmicks, we explore this tiny set that becomes the entire movie. We are trapped with Paul as he tries to survive.

The film made me think of the similar scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 and magicians who escape from coffins for entertainment. But you don’t realize just how dire the situation is until you try to really think things out. The film takes a slow boil approach to the conflict; Reynolds takes us through the 5 stages of loss as we navigate his fear. When the final half hour kicks in, the film becomes almost unwatchable as one thing leads to another in an escalation that reaches a climax that will linger with you. A brilliant film and a great example of the “one tiny setting” sub genre (1408, 127 Hours). 5 out of 5 stars.

Green Hornet

Anytime a film gets delayed, the audience gets a bit weary. Do it more than once, and the likelihood of a hit is even more far-fetched. Convert it to 3-D in post-production, well, you got yourself one hell of a mountain to climb. Green Hornet is attempting to make that climb, but will it make it?

The film stars Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, a newspaper heir, who basically lives life by the rules of Playboy. Parties, women, drinking, sky is the limit. But when his father dies of mysterious circumstances, he decides to try to take over. Not the newspaper; not at first. Instead, Britt decides to pose as a villain as a means to smoke out other villains and arrest them using his father’s newspaper to generate publicity. With the help of his assistant/tech guru/martial arts expert Kato, they begin to fight crime from the inside out.

The film isn’t a bad film by any means. Rogen does a surprisingly well job in the lead role by bringing humor to the film. Christoph Waltz likewise plays a villain more eccentric than diabolical. But despite the cast, the film doesn’t achieve anything higher than mediocrity. Waltz’s character feels like a rehash of his Inglorious Basterds role and Cameron Diaz seems to waste what little role she is given. But it isn’t the fault of the cast, the seem more intent on having fun. Usually that isn’t a bad thing, but in this case, the script by Rogen and Goldberg falls flat.

The 3-D post-production conversion is a lack of patience. Whenever a film does this, the film starts to flaunt its gimmick and increases its profit margin a bit. Having seen it in 2-D, I saw no aspect of the film that would have benefitted it with the extra dimension. Not bad, but easily forgettable. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Season of the Witch

Nicholas Cage has made some crap decisions career-wise as of late. With the exception The Weather Man and Adaptation, his last decade’s worth of “acting” has been a waste. And here, he takes it to new heights.

Cage plays Behmen, a warrior during the crusades. When he comes to witness a massacre of women and children, he defies the church and leaves the legion of crusaders with his loyal friend Felson. After months of avoiding any repercussions for their actions, they are forced once again to help the church.

With the Black Plague taking over the land, the church believes that the cause comes from one woman, a heretic, a witch. So despite every attempt to turn it down, Behmen, Felson, and a small group of people take her to the last known church with the means to eradicate the witches powers.

The film suffers at everything. Cage seems intent on looking exactly like the frontman of Nickelback. The plot doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie it is. At parts it’s a medieval film, others a horror movie, but the inconsistent story doesn’t commit to any one genre particularly. The film, despite an almost promising SyFy channel movie, the film is a complete dud. Cage can’t even say his character’s name and all the names and places seemed to be generated randomly and intentionally hard to pronounce.

I lost faith in Cage long ago, but Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy) could have done a much better movie. Yes, he’s a character actor, but this film’s sole good quality is Perlman’s involvement. This movie will easily be forgotten and I, for one, am happy for that. 0 out of 5 stars

Vanishing on 7th Street

Director Brad Anderson has directed some great films. Session 9 is one of my all-time favorites and The Machinist was nothing short of amazing. Here, he continues down the thriller/horror route, making up for some of the ground lost in Transsiberian.

Vanishing on 7th Street tells the story of massive blackout. At one moment, everything is fine; the next, the electricity is out all over the city and almost everyone is gone. Only a few scattered people remain. We follow Luke, played by Hayden Christensen, as a reporter turned anti-hero. The survivors know that the darkness holds something sinister within it. Luke and the others attempt to keep the darkness at bay as the sun rises later and sets earlier each day.

Vanishing is a classic B-movie plot that is reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone”. The darkness is the enemy, so the film plays with off-screen violence and builds tension by using shadows. The film could have easily been PG-13 had the swearing been lessened a bit, but the freedom of the R rating allows the film to explore the suspense and frustration of these characters. Hayden Christensen does a solid job of centering the movie, with Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo backing him up. Though the ending feels a bit contrived, the journey is still an interesting one. Recommended for people who like a smarter type of horror film. 2.5 out of 5 stars

Country Strong

It seems like Hollywood is gonna release a movie about country music every year now. About a  year ago was Crazy Heart, and a few years before that was Walk the Line. But where these films became Oscar darlings, Country Strong was released in January, the studios’ dumping grounds for films of little faith. Just by that measure, we know that it wasn’t give too much attention, and unfortunately, it shows.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a country superstar taken prematurely from rehab and out on tour. With her manager/husband calling the shots, she never really gets a chance to breathe. She finds solace and friendship in Beau, an aspiring singer who works at her rehab clinic. When she sets out on tour again, she brings him along. And so begins Kelly’s comeback tour.

The elements are in place for a fun film, but the script is DOA. The film plays directly to its audience, with each and every cliché happening on schedule. There are no surprises, the plot plays out like a made for tv movie. The strength of the film is the music. Though it isn’t as profound or as other recent movie soundtracks, a few songs linger with you afterward. Those are the ones when the actors not only sing their own parts, but put emotion into every word until it does infinitely better than the movie does. Only for those who really want to see it. 1.5 out of 5 stars

Gulliver’s Travels

Jack Black is back on the big screen and bigger than ever, pun intended. Here is the inevitable 3-D update of Jonathan Swift’s classic story. But where the original took us to magical lands, this film gives focuses on one.

Black stars as Gulliver, a mailroom worker for The New York Tribune. His life is a dead-end and his crush ignores him. His attempt to ask her out ends up with him having to prove himself as a writer. With the help of an obviously shameful con, he gets the chance to write about Bermuda. On his journey, he ends up in The Bermuda Triangle and ends up in the strange Lilliput where he is hundreds of feet taller than all the other residents. First considered a beast, and then its protector, Gulliver becomes a resident and commander of the Lilliputian Army.

Where the original story had Gulliver explore four vastly different worlds, here the focus is just on the first one. With its PG rating, the film is clearly geared towards children. The family friendly nature does cramp Black’s style a little bit, but the film is mostly an easy going and enjoyable experience. Like when Disney remade Around the World in 80 Days, the execution pales in comparison to the original piece, but the film satisfies the basics. The 3-D conversion doesn’t really enhance the picture. Had the film done more with it, or taken us on all of Gulliver’s Travels, this would have been a lot more exciting. A decent film for the family, 2.5 out 0f 5 stars.

Unstoppable

Tony Scott movies are hit and miss. His slapdash and jerky camera style can either build tension or reduce a movie to a motion sickness inducing attempt to feel urgent and failing. In Unstoppable though, he works.

Denzel Washington plays Frank Barnes, a railroad veteran, and Chris Pine plays Will Colson, the rookie. Looking past the obvious buddy cop pairing of the two, the movie is anything but. While they are moving cargo, a runaway train is heading towards a populated area. Stocked with 4 cars of highly combustible chemicals, the unmanned train has to be stopped before it derails or the chemicals explode, causing a massive disaster. Enter Frank and Will, who ignore orders and head after the train. Attempt after attempt fails, putting more pressure on Frank and Will to catch up to the train and bring it to a stop.

Now, despite sounding a bit simplistic in plot, don’t be fooled. Unstoppable is an extremely intense film where the tension starts quick and gets almost unbearable at its climax. Scott does an excellent job keeping the story fresh and letting the story paint the backstory of these men. Where many films explains the characters in the first five minutes, we instead learn of them and their circumstances as the movie unfolds. Pine and Washington understand this and commit to letting things come about like they would in reality, putting us in an environment that is relatable and in danger of beginning demolished by a runaway train. Very intense and great fun, 3.5 out of 5 stars