Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Secretariat: A Horse (and movie) of a different color

Secretariat - (3 1/2 Stars)
Whenever I watch an "inspirational sports film" I always go into the movie skeptical. It can't be helped. How many movies like Secretariat out there recycle a similar sports story and, despite the fact that they are based on true stories, still utilize the same tired plot points? There are many. So, going into Secretariat, I had my concerns.

SecretariatFor one thing, this movie is about a horse and not a person. Horse racing isn't exactly at the top of my list of "Must Watch" sporting events. Secondly, perhaps the biggest concern, I knew how the movie was going to end, or rather, how the story ends. My concerns weren't allayed at first. The movie starts as you would expect, with a dramatic voice-over quoting something or sharing an anecdote complete with your typical dramatic sports story music (compare soundtracks to sports movies sometime, they are quite similar). But where Secretariat goes from there is much better than I expected. In fact, it delivers a very entertaining story that, while following the exploits of a horse, also has a very human aspect to it in the story of the people who owned and trained and rode Secretariat.

The cast is top notch. Diane Lane does a pretty good turn as the tough, not-going-to-back-down Penny Tweedy nee Chenery and John Malkovich is always entertaining, and does a great job bringing his charisma to the cast. As for knowing how the movie ends, "Secretariat" still does an excellent job of building and maintaining suspense throughout the movie. I found myself several times questioning what I knew to be true. In the end, "Secretariat" delivers a well-acted, solidly entertaining inspirational sports movie. While it's not groundbreaking or anything particularly new, it's definitely worth a watch.
(123 minutes - Rated PG for brief mild language. - 2010) (Netflix)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Last Greenberg Apocalypse

In a move reminiscent of Christopher Nolan, I have some movie reviews that are out of chronological order with my other posts. I watched them all before I watched Inception (but I mentioned at the beginning of that review, referring to an "endless quagmire of mediocre or sub-par movies"). Nothing that stands out in this bunch, unless being very bad stands out.

The Last Song - (1 Star)
The Last SongWithout even putting the DVD into the player, this movie had two strikes against it: Nicholas Sparks and Miley Cyrus. Some will probably say that it's a little harsh/biased to go into a movie thinking that. Trust me, in this case, it's not. "The Last Song" is another typical Nicholas Sparks movie that includes all of his usual gimmicks. The acting gets pretty bad at some points in the movie, especially the first introduction between Miley Cyrus' character and her eventual love interest, Liam Hemsworth, where it literally felt like Miley was reading cue cards behind his head. Probably enjoyable for younger teenage girls, a demographic to which I obviously don't belong.
(107 minutes - Rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language - 2010) (Netflix)

Superman/Batman: ApocalypseSuperman/Batman: Apocalypse - (2 1/2 Stars)
A follow-up to the previous Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. As someone who has read the source comic book, I can say that it plays like a mediocre adaptation. It doesn't really change much or bring anything new to a story that was just kind of okay to begin with. Still enjoyable if you're looking for an animated superhero movie, just nothing special.
(75 minutes - Rated PG-13 for violence and brief sensuality - 2010) (Netflix)

Greenberg - (2 Stars)
GreenbergInstead of being awkwardly funny or awkwardly touching it's just awkward. The film is more of a character study in that it basically follows Ben Stiller's character, Roger Greenberg, who's neurotic and often socially inept. I wasn't a fan of Noah Baumbach's previous movie, "The Squid and the Whale," but I enjoy his contributions on Wes Anderson's movies (then again, that might just be due to Anderson). Stiller does do a great job with the role, but it's not enough to make the otherwise aimless movie worth watching.
(107 minutes - Rated R for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language - 2010) (Netflix)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Due Date: Planes, No Brains and Stolen Automobiles

*See the bottom of the review for more information about the idea proposed in this month's poll.*

Due Date - (2 Stars)
The first thing I thought when I saw the preview for "Due Date" was that it looked like an updated version of the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," as I'm sure many other people did. The movie was basically marketed as "Planes..." meets "The Hangover." Fans of "The Hangover" will be much more interested than fans of the "Planes..." (in fact, Todd Phillips directed both "Due Date" and "The Hangover"). Although, even they might not find it too funny. I was not particularly amused.

Due Date"Due Date" uses the tried and (usually) true method of pairing two mismatched people for comedic effect (call it an odd couple, or the "jerk and the moron" or even a variation of the straight man to the funny man). The problem is that most of the time you really don't like the "jerk" or sympathize with the "moron." I'd like to say that along the way their characters grow and get better, but they really don't.

The aspect of the movie that bothered me the most and really put me out of the movie-going experience was that "Due Date" wasn't a realistic, sincere type of comedy. Now this wouldn't be a bad thing except that it's not on the opposite end of the spectrum, a ridiculous, funny slapstick style of comedy either. The movie starts out believably enough (and enjoyably enough as well) but quickly begins veering more towards stupidity and away from being funny or believable.

One of the reasons I wanted to like this movie more than I did was that I have enjoyed Robert Downey, Jr.'s performances of late. I was more than a little disappointed when I saw that he was going to be in this movie, but held my breath that perhaps he and Galifianakis could pull it off. However, Galifianakis seems to be playing a vaguely similar character to his Hangover counterpart, who I didn't enjoy the first time around and Downey is channeling a more smarmy version of Tony Stark, his character from "Iron Man." Except where Tony Stark's character is a likable character with some personality flaws, Downey's character in "Due Date" is just completely unlikeable.

In the end, there were definitely funny parts throughout the movie, but many of them also showed up in the trailers. "Due Date" never hits any real comedic stride and really peters out by the end. In fact, as the movie went on I found myself wondering how long it was. While it officially clocks in at 100 or so minutes, it feels closer to north of 2 hours.
(100 minutes - Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content - 2010) (Netflix - February 22)

I'm toying with a new idea and have added a poll to see what people think. I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, but I often have more to say. What I'm thinking of doing is creating a series of posts that would be extra, spoiler-filled commentary for people to read after they have seen the movie. For example, there are several things from this movie I wanted to elaborate on but didn't want to spoil anyone as to what specifically occurs in the movie. There was also a lot in Toy Story 3 and Inception as well. Please take the poll and let me know what you think about this idea!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Train Toys for Inception

After what seems like an endless quagmire of mediocre or sub-par movies that I've been seeing lately, these are some of the best movie options of the year. There are two animated movies, both of which are wonderful for both kids and adults alike, and a movie that I may end up considering one of my personal favorites. I can tell you right now that I recommend that you check out all three of these movies. So, before I go ahead and make the actual reviews superfluous, I better just stop typing...

Inception - (5 Stars)
First thing I will say: this is the best movie I have seen all year. Second thing: This may be the best movie I have seen in a while. I am and have always been a huge fan of all of Christopher Nolan's movies. As soon as I see his most recent movie, I'm looking ahead to see what he has coming up. Memento was the first of his movies that I saw, and it blew me away. His takes on Batman have been equally brilliant (with the Dark Knight considered by many to be the best comic book movie out there) and The Prestige is one of my favorite movies of all time.

InceptionSo what did I expect going in to Inception? Nothing short of brilliance again. I don't really want to go into what happens in the movie as it is definitely one that needs to be watched for oneself, but I will say that despite my really high expectations, it delivered way beyond what I had hoped for. The story is smart, engaging and a little bit puzzling (in a good way). The scenery/imagery is fantastic. There were several scenes in the movie where I was blown away. They were the kind of scenes that are iconic (some of which have, unfortunately, been in the trailers). Hans Zimmer also delivers a haunting, reverberating (literally) score that pairs wonderfully with Nolan's vision. Perhaps the aspect that works the best about this movie is its phenomenal ensemble cast. Every person, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Tom Hardy to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, fit perfectly into the puzzle without a piece missing or out of place.

I realize that I haven't really explained what the movie is about and for the sake of those of you who may be on the fence about seeing it, think of it as a con/heist movie that takes place within the mind. There's action, suspense, some funny parts and some real emotional moments as well. Definitely worth seeing (several times).
(148 minutes - Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout - 2010) (Netflix - Dec. 7)

How to Train Your Dragon - (4 Stars)
When it comes to animated movies, I'll admit that sometimes I'm a little biased towards Pixar movies. That's not to say that I'll only watch their movies or that I turn my nose up at Dreamworks or other studios movies, it's just that when your track record is as good as Pixar's it's hard not to be jaded towards the competition. That being said, 'How to Train Your Dragon" is by far the best movie Dreamworks Animation has put out.
How to Train Your Dragon

Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, "How to Train Your Dragon" follows a young viking by the name of Hiccup. He lives in a world where vikings and dragons are engaged in a constant battle against each other for existence. The vikings believe that all dragons should be killed on sight and the dragons, well...what would you do if you saw a big, hairy guy swinging an ax? However, when Hiccup encounters a young, injured dragon he begins to learn that things aren't so black and white when it comes to the scaly beasts.

"Dragon" has a pretty decent voice cast, smooth animation and a good story that makes Madagascar look even more like it was written by a group of chimpanzees (sorry, sorry...but it's true...Madagascar is a mess). It's also reinforces that not everything is always as it seems (or don't judge a book by its cover). Hopefully, though, it doesn't also give kids the idea to walk up to the nearest scaly reptile and attempt to pet it. Overall, "Dragon" is a solidly entertaining movie that both kids and adults should enjoy. It's not as funny as I thought it would be, but it's still a great time.
(98 minutes - Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language - 2010) (Netflix)

Toy Story 3 - (4 1/2 Stars)
Inception's challenge was all about whether or not Christopher Nolan could top his previous movies and How to Train Your Dragon's was whether or not Dreamworks could put out something decent and on almost on par with Pixar. Toy Story 3 probably has the biggest challenge of the three: How do you create a sequel, more than ten years later, to one of the most beloved franchises of all time? The movie itself is the answer to that question. Pixar has outdone themselves with Toy Story 3 by creating a movie that is both fresh and nostalgic and is a sequel that doesn't just retread old territory but provides a proper send-off for some of animation's most beloved characters.

Toy Story 3Toy Story 3 picks up about 10 years after the last Toy Story (so, just about as long as it was in real life). Andy is getting ready to head off to college, and his favorite toys are starting to get nervous because they haven't been played with in a long time. Eventually, due to a mix up, the gang ends up in a daycare center. This provides the opportunity for a lot of new characters to be introduced. However, at no point does the amount of toys get confusing or detract from the main story.

Once again, sticking with my usual stance, I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't like spoiling what happens (hopefully my explanation above only covers what was in the previews). I will say that there were parts that I did feel where a bit rehashed or tired (although, I will admit that when I watched the movie I was in the midst of an annoying cold and was a bit more irritable about stupid stuff) but by the end of the movie I completely forgot about them and was fully engaged and emotionally invested in the story. Pixar shows that, once again, they are the masters of animated storytelling and that they know how to properly end a story as cherished as Toy Story.
(103 minutes - Rated G - 2010) (Netflix)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween B-sides

As I was working on my list of my personal favorite Halloween movies, I found myself having to leave out several movies in order to keep it to 5. I also wanted to keep my list to those that have a great October creepy feel (with the exception of Nightmare Before Christmas). So, that means that I was left with several great Halloween comedies that didn't make my list (but are definitely worth watching). Consider these the lighter alternative to my previous list: the B-Side. A way to laugh away any lingering creeps you may have left over from Halloween. Click on through to view the list (note: there are parallels to some of the titles on the previous list):