Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Did You Hear The Young, Crazy Superman in the Air got Tenure?

This is a double week of movie reviews, although it's about the same as some of my previous week's worth. It's a modest bunch of movie, none of which truly stand out, but since it was nominated for several awards (and I enjoyed it, along with the director's previous works), I selected "Up in the Air" as my pick of the week. "Tenure" was close, but I think I need to watch it again to see where I stand on it. I also don't think it would appeal to many. Next week's movies are quite the beast. I will finally watch and review "Avatar," which I will try to do as objectively as possible (I'll also pretend I'm watching it on a big 3-D screen for full effect). But, that's next week...here are this week's movies (Side-note: I really like my title this week):

*Up in the Air – (3 ½ Stars)
Up in the AirGeorge Clooney is Ryan Bingham, whose job it is to fire people when their own company doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do so. He spends his days literally up in the air flying from point to point on his seemingly cold-hearted endeavors. However, in an effort to save money, Ryan’s company takes the advice of its inexperienced recent hire (Anna Kendrick) and begins to implement a new means of firing people. Feeling his way of life being threatened, Ryan tries everything he can to stay in the air, which leads to Natalie (Kendrick) accompanying him on his journeys.

“Up in the Air” takes the viewer on a tough journey. Due to the nature of Ryan’s job, we are witness to a number of individuals at their lowest. But there are plenty of light moments to lift the mood as well as many funny moments. Ryan’s slow turn from the detached, disconnected (albeit charming) loner who spends most of his time on the road is engrossing and the interactions between Natalie and Ryan are often amusing and insightful.
(Netflix) (109 minutes – Rated R for Language and some sexual content – 2009)

Crazy on the OutsideCrazy on the Outside – (2 ½ Stars)
“Crazy on the Outside” finds Tommy (Tim Allen) released after a three year stint in jail. Fully intending to turn his life around and restart his father’s painting business, he runs into some snags in the form of his parole officer, a zany sister and his old partner in crime. Allen’s directorial debut is a well-meaning comedy with some funny moments, but it just doesn’t quite deliver what it could have.
 (Netflix) (96 minutes – Rated PG-13 for Sexual content and language – 2009)

The Young Victoria – (3 Stars)
The Young VictoriaVictoria (Emily Blunt) is the only heir to the throne of England. Unfortunately, nobody seems to really think she is fit for the job. “The Young Victoria” chronicles the early life of England’s longest serving monarch including her romance with her future husband, Prince Albert. The movie is a great looking period piece with pretty good acting all around. However, the directing leaves something to be desired. “…Victoria” shows signs of being an excellent movie and perhaps in the hands of a better director it would have been. But clunky cuts and strange transitions bring an otherwise entertaining movie down.
 (Netflix) (105 minutes – Rated PG for Some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking – 2009)

“Did You Hear About The Morgans?” basically ended up being exactly as I had expected. Take two of the most annoying “romantic” leads in movies (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) and have the bicker and argue. Mix in a typical “witness protection” storyline that throws them into the middle of nowhere and you have the “big city/country” angle. There are some moments that are funny, and the movie does have a redeeming quality about it, but I just couldn’t get past most of everything else to really enjoy the movie.
 (Netflix) (103 minutes – Rated PG-13 for Some sexual references and momentary violence – 2009)

Tenure – (3 Stars)
Tenure“Tenure” stars Luke Wilson as college professor Charlie Thurber, who has never been able to gain tenure, despite being an intelligent and well-meaning guy. He seems to finally be on track to gain tenure at Gray University until a new Yale educated professor is hired into the department as direct competition. With his Bigfoot-obsessed colleague at his side (David Koechner), Charlie sets out to show that he has what it takes to earn tenure. “Tenure” is not as funny as it could have been (and this is its biggest drawback), but there are a lot of good moments throughout. Perhaps I enjoyed the movie more because I identified with Charlie’s plight, but I enjoyed tagging along on the journey.
(Netflix) (89 minutes – Rated R for Language, some sexuality and drug content – 2009)

What do you do if your arch-enemy becomes the President of the United States? Based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb of the same name, “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” has DC’s greatest superheroes team up to stop Lex Luthor in his latest bid to take over the world. Or has he finally turned over a new leaf? As a comic, the story works a lot better. There are certain intangibles that just don’t translate from comic to screen and this is the case with “…Public Enemies.” The movie is good, the comic is better.
 (Netflix) (75 minutes – Rated PG-13 – 2009)

Upcoming Movie Reviews:

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Reviews Later This Week

Last week was kind of slow for movie watching, so I've decided to combine the two weeks into one post. I'll more than likely post them sometime tomorrow or Wednesday. There is no way I'd be able to focus enough to write them today as I am still constantly running through the phenomenal Lost Series Finale in my head. So, as soon as I am able to focus on anything but Islands and Candidates, I will get to the movie reviews. Thanks for your patience and Namaste!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Complicated Imaginarium of Watchmen Broncos

This week's theme seems to be the difference a director can make. Two of the movies ("Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" and "Gentlemen Broncos") have directors that are less mainstream, but are very focused on an idea of what they want their movie to be and who it will appeal to. The other movies ("It's Complicated"  and "Watchmen") have more mainstream directors that more or less have churned out two predictable, mediocre movies. As for my pick for the week, I enjoyed Gentlemen Broncos more, but feel that Imaginarium was a better overall pick in terms of a "must-see movie" due to circumstances surrounding the movie.

As many people know (and if you don’t, you do now) this is Heath Ledger’s last movie. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell were called in to finish up bits of his role so that his final work would see the light of day. This ends up being one of the hardest things about this movie. The last time we saw Ledger, he was devouring the scenery as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” So going into this movie after that tour de force is a little bit of a let down. It’s not a bad performance, but the Joker is a tough act to follow.

The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusDoctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) believes that the world is kept in motion due in part to the stories we tell and our imagination. It is this belief that leads him to meet ‘The Devil.’ I want to pause here and say that while I enjoyed the performance of Tom Waits here, he wasn’t exactly the “root of all evil” kind of person you would expect, although this could have been the intention. ‘The Devil,’ or Mr. Nick as he is referred to by Parnassus, loves a good wager. It is through these bets that Parnassus gains immortality and eventually his Imaginarium, a place where ones imagination manifests in a fantasy world that ends in a choice between good (Parnassus) or evil (Mr. Nick).  The problem is that Parnassus, who is a definite candidate for Gambler’s Anonymous, has inadvertently wagered his own daughter. Losing hope quickly, things begin to look up when Parnassus and his motley crew discover a mysterious stranger who may be able to help turn things around (Ledger).

The prevalent idea throughout the movie is choice. Everything that occurs is the result of one or another person’s choice. More often than not the better choice is also the more difficult one. “Imaginarium…” is a fantastic looking movie. Due to the extraordinary nature of the Imaginarium, Terry Gilliam was able to utilize Depp, Law and Farrell as Ledger’s “through the looking glass” alter-ego. This dynamic works amazingly and improves the fantasticality of the movie. While there are many things that work, there are also many that do not. The story is very convoluted and it is very likely you may walk away from the end a bit befuddled. However, the movie lends itself to another viewing if only to peel apart some of the various layers of the movie’s message and narrative.
(Netflix) (122 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking - 2009)

It’s Complicated – (2 Stars)
It's ComplicatedJake (Alec Baldwin) and Jane (Meryl Streep) have been divorced for 10 years. They have finally reached a point of catharsis in their relationship. But when something rekindles the long-lost passion in their relationship, an affair ensues. “It’s Complicated” is everything you’d expect it to be. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve more or less seen the movie. The movie has its funny moments, but just isn’t anything special or new.
(Netflix) (121 minutes - Rated R for Some drug content and sexuality - 2009)

Gentlemen Broncos – (3 ½ Stars)
“Gentlemen Broncos” is the latest zany comedy/coming-of-age story from Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre). If you are familiar with Hess’ campy, low budget, dry as a bone humor style of filmmaking you will know what to expect from this movie. Hess’ movies are not for everyone but if you enjoyed his previous two entries, then this one will more than likely appeal to you as well.

Gentlemen BroncosBenjamin (Michael Angarano) is a homeschooled loner who enjoys writing Science-Fiction stories. He is meek and mild-mannered which tends to lead to him being taken advantage of by others. Benjamin’s only real friend is his mother, who designs and sells nightgowns for a living. When Benjamin steps out a bit to go to a writing workshop, he gets a chance to meet his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). However, Benjamin quickly discovers that Chevalier is full of himself. To make matters worse, Chevalier steals Benjamin’s story “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years” and sells it as his own.

Benjamin is definitely a likeable character and it is because of this that “Gentlemen Broncos” works. The viewer gets to ride along with him on his journey of self-discovery and meet all of the strange characters he meets along the way. Characters that you come to expect from a Jared Hess film.
(Netflix) (89 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Some crude humor - 2009)

Watchmen – (2 ½ Stars)
Watchmen“Watchmen” is based on the graphic novel of the same name and is directed by Zack Snyder (300, the unnecessary Dawn of the Dead remake). The graphic novel is a darker, grittier version of a super-hero story full of well-woven storytelling, moral dilemmas, philosophical ponderings and a lot of interesting visuals. Snyder’s version is more of a copycat eye-candy version of the story. It manages to wonderfully capture the imagery of its source, but without really capturing the essence of it. In many cases the movie seems to be trying too hard to look just like the graphic novel that it’s painfully cheesy. Snyder just doesn’t seem to understand what exactly he was working with and the immense scrutiny he would face by fans of the graphic novel (which is definitely worth a read).
(Netflix) (163 minutes - Rated R for Strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language - 2009)

Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Did You Hear What Happened to the Morgans?

For a full list of upcoming reviews, click here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gran Education on Moon Parenthood

This week I again had a hard time deciding which movie would be my "pick of the week." I decided on "Moon" but it was so close, you should just watch "Gran Torino" while you're at it. Both are fantastic movies with Oscar-worthy performances from their leads (maybe a bit of carry over from last week). Rounding out the mix are two movies that ended up being pleasant surprises mostly in part to their wonderfully wrapped-up endings. I didn't quite have as many words in the titles this week to compose a proper title, but did the best I could with what I had (and an extra "on"). Also, for the first time, some of the movies are "Watch Instant" movies on Netflix (you can stream to your computer, game system, or other compatible device). I have denoted these movies with a ^.

Gran Torino – (4 ½ Stars)
Gran TorinoClint Eastwood is the epitome of a tough guy. “Gran Torino” sees Eastwood as aging Korean War vet Walt Kowalski, who still lives in his old neighborhood despite its change in residents and frequent gang activity.

After his wife passes it becomes apparent that Walt’s children are more interested in what Walt might leave them when he passes than getting to know him better. When Walt steps in and assists the next door Hmong family in their gang trouble, it sets off a change in Walt and the beginning of a friendship between himself and the family.

Despite Walt’s many flaws, he is an inherently likeable character and Eastwood brings a lot of emotion through his direction and portrayal. “Gran Torino” is another fantastic, emotionally-charged film from the master director.  
(Netflix)(116 minutes – Rated R for Language throughout, and some violence – 2009)

An Education – (3 Stars)
An EducationJenny (Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan) is a 16 year old with hopes of attending Oxford once she graduates with her father providing the biggest push. But when a chance meeting with the older David (Peter Sarsgaard) leads to more than a casual friendship, she begins to question her plans and direction in life.

I went into “An Education” with some skepticism, wondering what direction they would go in regarding the relationship between Jenny, the teen, and David, the older “playboy.” However, by the end, I was pleasantly surprised by overall direction of the film. Jenny receives quite the education (yes, I know!) from her experiences with David and his friends and learns some valuable life lessons.
(Netflix) (95 minutes – Rated PG-13 for Mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking – 2009)

*^Moon – (4 ½ Stars)
I wanted to start this review off with a confession: I am a sci-fi fan. No, I don’t go to the extent that some people do (Dressing up, naming pets/children after characters, writing fan-fiction, etc.) but I am nonetheless a sucker for a good future/space story (key word: good). I realize that not everyone is as much a proponent of the genre that I am, so I take off my sci-fi hat and switch it out for a hopefully more objective post.

Moon“Moon” takes place in the semi-near future. Earth has found a clean, renewable source of energy in Helium (He3) harvested from the surface of the dark side of the moon. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the lone worker assigned to the Sarang mining station for a 3 year period. Sam is down to his final 2 weeks aboard the station, and it is clear from the start that it couldn’t come soon enough for the worn down astronaut. He begins to hallucinate and doubt begins to creep in as to whether he will get to go home after all and what is really going on at Sarang.

The movie is basically a one-man show (unless you count GERTY the robot, voiced by Kevin Spacey) and Rockwell does an excellent job channeling the loneliness and paranoia that Bell is experiencing. The more that he finds out, the more the tension builds. Clint Mansell’s (The Fountain) score perfectly compliments the action on screen and helps drive home the emotional impact of Sam’s inevitable decision regarding his status on the station. An intellectual sci-fi thriller that should appeal to more than just fans of the genre, as it is firmly rooted in the realm of possibility and not the extraordinary.
(Netflix)(97 minutes – Rated R for Language – 2009)

^Parenthood – (3 Stars)
ParenthoodSteve Martin is no stranger to the neurotic, yet loveable, father role. Whether it’s the “Cheaper by the Dozen” movies or “Father of the Bride 1 & 2,” Martin knows how to appeal to both the heart and the funny bone. However, before there was George Banks or Tom Baker, there was Gil Buckman. “Parenthood” follows the Buckman family and their parenting exploits. The movie maintains a decent balance of humor and heart, sometimes dragging a bit at times, but manages to overall stay true to its message and wraps everything up in a very satisfying way.
(Netflix) (124 minutes – Rated PG-13 – 1989)

Movies for this week: