Monday, April 4, 2011

Red - Retired Extremely Dangerous

Red - (4 Stars)*
What happens when you get Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren together and give them guns? A funny, over-the-top action comedy with bullets, explosions and laughs a plenty. "Red," based on the comic book by the same name, follows Frank Moses (Willis), a retired CIA agent who discovers that somebody wants him dead and decides to figure out who. Along the way he picks up several of his old friends and contacts to assist him, as well as the customer service girl he's interested in.

"Red" is equal parts comedy and action. When the shooting begins, a lot of bullets fly, but in a not entirely realistic sort of way. But the movies doesn't try to pretend it's something that it's not. There are several scenes that if the viewer didn't realize the movie wasn't serious, they'd have a headache from rolling their eyes. But, the movie isn't serious, so everything that happens is great fun. The cast is top notch and really seem to enjoy goofing around and hamming it up as well, which further adds to the enjoyment.
(111 minutes - Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language - 2010) (Netflix

New Things, Old Things

Red - (4 Stars)
The Switch - (3 1/2 Stars)
Hereafter - (2 Stars)
Inside Job - (3 Stars)
Morning Glory - (3 1/2 Stars)
The Next Three Days - (3 Stars)
Skyline - (1 Star)
The Tourist - (2 Stars)
How Do You Know - (2 1/2 Stars)
Yogi Bear - (2 Stars)
Black Swan - (3 1/2 Stars)
Fair Game - (4 Stars)
Salt - (3 1/2 Stars)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Superman Fighter

Alright, here are two very different movies: an Oscar nominated movie based on a true story, and an animated Superman movie. I enjoyed both, but there's really no comparison between the two. I've also been tweaking my list of favorite movies for last year. The hard part is that any movie released later in the year (November or December) doesn't get released on DVD for a couple months into the next year. So, once I finally see all of the Best Picture nominees I will create my list. Until then...

The Fighter - (4 Stars)*
Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Dicky's professional boxing career. Managed by his mother (Melissa Leo) and coached by Dicky (Christian Bale), Micky's time spent practicing is more about reminiscing on Dicky's accomplishments rather than actual training. However, things begin to change after Micky meets Charlene (Amy Adams), who pushes Micky to go after the things he wants.

The Fighter"The Fighter" is a good inspirational story, with just enough boxing to appease fans of the sport, but with more of a focus on the family of characters and story around the boxing. Wahlberg shines as the lead Micky who is torn between his new girlfriend, his family and boxing and Christian Bale earns his Oscar with every bit of screen time he has. The cast as a whole is very strong which helps make the movie, focused on characters, such an enjoyable treat. The fact that it's based on the true story of boxer Micky Ward's early years boxing makes all the more entertaining.
(115 minutes - Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality- 2010) (Netflix)

All-Star Superman - (3 1/2 Stars)
What if Superman was dying? That's the premise in the latest of DC's animated feature "All-Star Superman," adapted from the very good Grant Morrison story. After taking a super-sized dose of solar radiation by flying too close to the sun (all set up by Lex Luthor, of course), Superman discovers that his cells have begun to break down. So he sets about making everything right in his world, including his relationship with Lois Lane. But just because he's dying, doesn't mean he has it easy.

All-Star SupermanThe story and art is adapted well and really captures the essence of the original comic story while jettisoning some of the story bits that felt out of place or extra. As a whole, the story is full of action,  classic villain encounters and as much poignancy as you're likely to get out of a comic book. I'd recommend this highly to anyone who has read the story, is a fan of the character or comic books in general.
(76 minutes - Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, language including brief innuendo, and some sensuality - 2011) (Netflix)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Get Unstoppable!

The theme for this post seems to be "based on a true story." Both of the movies are in one way or another based on a true person or event. In each case the movies are a good blend of truth and Hollywood embellishment, albeit completely different genres.

Unstoppable - (3 1/2 Stars)*
Some action movies are so predictable and formulaic, that they end up being quite enjoyable. This is "Unstoppable." Denzel Washington is the veteran railman worried about his job's future, Chris Pine is the rookie fresh out of training paired with him. But, the movie doesn't start with them. First the story has to be set up, the problem established. This comes in the form of a lazy, overconfident conductor. In fact, the movie really could have been over after 5 minutes if this guy had done his job. Alas, there's no fun in that and the train gets a rollin'.

UnstoppableFrom the beginning of the movie onward, I more or less predicted everything that was happening. But it was because of this predictability that it was so fun. Denzel reteams with Tony Scott, who's last movie also involved Denzel on rails in the Subway thriller "Taking of Pelham 123." This time around, the suspense and action are a lot more enjoyable. The story is based on an actual event that happened in (wait for it Ohio friends...) Walbridge, Ohio. Of course the movie transports the story to Pennsylvania and drums up the suspense and action.

As I've already hammered home, everything about this movie is predictable from Denzel's acting/character to Tony Scott's directing (the classic "flash flash slow-mo dramatic" shot) to basic tenets of any action movie you'll ever see. But, that's exactly why it works. It's a fun, sometimes tense, and always action-packed movie that won't disappoint. Unless, of course, you're expecting to be surprised.
(98 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language - 2010) (Netflix)

Get Low - (3 1/2 Stars)
Robert Duvall is Felix Bush, a hermit of local repute who decides to throw a funeral party for himself that he'd like to attend while alive. He turns to the local (and struggling) funeral home run by the slightly dubious Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his young partner Buddy (Lucas Black). Bush, however, has quite the reputation around town, the specifics of which change depending on who is telling the story. These stories are exactly what Felix is hoping people will share at his funeral party, but it's his own story he knows he must tell at some point.

Get LowRobert Duvall and Bill Murray shine in their respective roles. Both roles are familiar for each actor with Duvall often being cast as the cranky old codger and Murray as a sardonic swindler, but that doesn't diminish their performances in any way. The story is light and whimsical at parts, like a folk tale, but with a darker edge to the story just below the surface that comes to a head by the end. "Get Low" is a great story that is equal parts humorous and touching that delves into the idea of atonement and forgiveness.

Felix Bush did actually exist (as Felix Breazeale) and did hold a funeral party in 1938, but the real reasons for doing so were unknown. As is usual with Hollywood adaptations, character connections and motivations are also tweaked for the sake of the story, but the heart of everything remains true.
(103 minutes - Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content - 2009/2010) (Netflix)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles - Alien Invasion By The Numbers

Battle: Los Angeles - (2 Stars)
Going into "Battle: Los Angeles," I made sure to keep my expectations low. First of all, there hasn't been a whole lot of hype for the movie. Secondly, apart from Aaron Eckhart, there aren't too many well known people in it. Lastly, there are a lot of pretty decent alien invasion movies out there already, so, what could "Battle: Los Angeles" possibly add? Not much. In fact, the movie takes it cues from many other movies without adding anything to the genre itself.

Battle: Los AngelesAaron Eckhart plays Staff Sergeant Micheal Nance, who after 20 years of military service is finally ready for his retirement. However, when a series of unexplained meteors begin to fall outside major coastal cities around the world, he's called back in to service to help lead a platoon of young marines, albeit as second-in-command to a Lieutenant fresh out of the academy. Nance has some baggage and the movie does its best to try to give each marine some back story so we have an emotional connection when/if they don't survive the invasion. The only problem is that since they are all wearing uniforms, and everything was filmed with the "shaky cam," it's hard to keep track of who's alive and who's dying.

"Battle:LA" is definitely one of the louder movies I've been to in awhile. The movie is rife with gunshots, explosions and other loud noises. It didn't hurt my ears or anything like that, but it was noticeably noisy. The movie itself is a pretty basic invasion story mixed with a pretty basic military movie. Our group of marines are tasked with going to an arbitrary location. Once there, they are forced to hole up for a bit and then make their way back to safety before bombs drop. Along the way, some live and some die. But overall, nothing done in the movie is really original or stands out as being different from any number of other movies.

If you tend to enjoy action or military thrillers no matter how unoriginal the story is or how bad the dialog can be, you'll probably find "Battle: Los Angeles" at least enjoyable enough to watch once. If you are looking for a deeper, more original movie you're better off looking elsewhere. To me it seems that part of this movie was simply made for us to root for our home-grown marine heroes against an unnamed, unprovoked alien encroachment. In fact, many marines were present at the showing I attended. So, in some ways, I guess that's a positive. But overall, I just wasn't too thrilled with "Battle:Los Angeles."
(116 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language - 2011) (In theatres starting 3/11/11) (Netflix)

Monday, March 7, 2011

127 Hours - The Importance Of The Buddy System...

127 Hours - (4 1/2 Stars)*
I'm always fascinated by movies that are based on true stories. Some movies truly do capture actual events, while others can only claim vague inspiration for their events (I'm looking at you Open Water). "127 Hours" is probably going to be one of the most factually accurate movies you'll see based on true events, which makes it even more of an emotionally charged movie.

127 HoursAron Ralston (James Franco) is a twenty-something engineer who enjoys hiking, climbing and any other outdoor activity you can think of. One weekend he decides to head to Blue John canyon to enjoy the weekend, but does so without telling anyone where he is. After a brief encounter with some other people, Aron goes off on his own and becomes trapped when a boulder he is using to climb down with gives way and pins his arm at the bottom of the canyon.

This movie is effectively a one-man movie. Aron encounters a few people and hallucinates/remembers others, but the focus is entirely on him. James Franco's performance is what makes or breaks this movie, and he does not disappoint. His performance as Aron is definitely deserving of his nomination for an Oscar (if not deserving of a win), and is his best to date. Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) also does a fantastic job with directing. If this story didn't have the right actor or director, it could easily have been boring or too sensational.

Most people know how the story ends, but I'll still remain purposely vague on the specific details about the climactic scene towards the end except to say that it is definitely graphic and realistic. That being said, Boyle doesn't film it in a way that is going shock value. It is a part of the story, but not the centerpiece. The real story lies in the emotional struggle of Aron Ralston.
(94 minutes - Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images - 2010) (Netflix)
full disclosure: I stole the review subtitle from my wife.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Me And The Distance Conviction

Have a lot of movies coming up, so I'm going to try to churn out a couple of posts this week and next. Here we have an overlooked drama, an overlooked coming-of-age story and a "should be" overlooked romantic comedy.

Conviction - (4 Stars)*
ConvictionA well acted, emotional true story of how far one person was willing to go to free her brother. Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell give award-worthy performances as the  Waters siblings torn apart by a false conviction for murder. The story does a good job of drawing the viewer into the lives of the Waters. The movie is also paced well and is suspenseful enough (despite being a true story) to keep you wondering about the case. Melissa Leo (this year's Academy Award winning Supporting Actress) has a small, but integral role as well.
(107 minutes - Rated R for language and some violent images - 2010) (Netflix)

Going The Distance - (1 1/2 Stars)
Going the DistanceGarrett and Erin (Justin Long and Drew Barrymore) meet in New York and quickly begin dating. However, Erin is only an intern and soon has to move back to California forcing the two to start a long distance relationship. "Going The Distance" takes this premise and creates an unfunny, crude "romantic comedy." I put both words in quotation marks because there wasn't much romantic or funny about the movie. Most jokes are  along the lines of awkward situational humor or some crude remark or joke from one of the couple's friends. If I wanted to end this review with a one-liner that sums it up, I'd say to keep your distance from this one.
(102 minutes - Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity - 2010) (Netflix)

Me And Orson Welles - (3 Stars)^
Me and Orson WellesOrson Welles was one of a kind. Equal parts brilliant and egocentric, Welles is responsible for Citizen Kane, a movie that makes many "Top Movie" lists. But, "Me And Orson Welles" focuses on (and fictionalizes) an earlier time in Welles' life. It also doesn't follow Welles, but rather 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron). The movie uses Orson Welles' landmark production of Julius Caesar as a backdrop for a coming-of-age story.

The movie has its moments, but is overall a bit slow. Being a fictionalized account of a true event also makes it hard to determine what really happened and what was invented just for the story. The real star is Christian McKay as Orson Welles. His performance is superb and his presence is felt even when he isn't on screen. Overall, an interesting watch, but one that doesn't leave a lasting impression apart from McKay's Welles.
(114 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sexual references and smoking - 2009) (Netflix)

^Netflix Watch Instantly

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscar Predictions - 2011

It's that time of year again: when all the movies I want to win awards, don't. Ok, some of the time the movies/actors I like win, but mostly not. This year I'm pretty certain my favorites aren't going to win, but unlike some years, there are a lot of good nominees that I wouldn't mind winning as well. I highlighted the movies I've seen in blue. For a full list of movies I've reviewed, click here. On with the predictions:
UPDATED: I updated the highlighting on movies I've seen. Also noted who actually won.

xWho won
*Who I think will win
^Who I wish would win
Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Academy always seems to pick movies like "The King's Speech" and I've heard it's fantastic, but I simply enjoy Inception too much to pick anything else.

127 Hours (2010): Christian Colson, Danny Boyle, John Smithson
Black Swan (2010): Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver, Scott Franklin
The Fighter (2010): David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Mark Wahlberg
^Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
The Kids Are All Right (2010): Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray
X*The King's Speech (2010): Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin
The Social Network (2010): Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Ceán Chaffin
Toy Story 3 (2010): Darla K. Anderson
True Grit (2010): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin
Winter's Bone (2010): Anne Rosellini, Alix Madigan

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
I've seen 2 of the 5. Colin Firth has been unstoppable at every other award show.

Javier Bardem for Biutiful (2010)
Jeff Bridges for True Grit (2010)
Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network (2010)
X*Colin Firth for The King's Speech (2010)
James Franco for 127 Hours (2010)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
I like Natalie Portman, and she too has been unstoppable at the other award shows, so I'd like to see her win.

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole (2010)
Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone (2010)
X*Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010)
Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine (2010)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale deserves some Oscar recognition. Haven't seen this yet, but I've heard good things.

X*Christian Bale for The Fighter (2010)
John Hawkes for Winter's Bone (2010)
Jeremy Renner for The Town (2010)
Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Geoffrey Rush for The King's Speech (2010)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Same deal as every other acting award, all runaways (supposedly). But, Hailee Steinfeld deserves
some recognition ESPECIALLY (but not solely) since it is her first big role.

Amy Adams for The Fighter (2010)
Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech (2010)
X*Melissa Leo for The Fighter (2010)
^Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit (2010)
Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (2010)

Best Achievement in Directing
In reality, I think Christopher Nolan deserves this for Inception. But, Fincher is a great director. That being said, I think "True Grit" really shows how great the Coen brothers are at tackling genre filmmaking.

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan (2010)
^Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for True Grit (2010)
*David Fincher for The Social Network (2010)
XTom Hooper for The King's Speech (2010)
David O. Russell for The Fighter (2010)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
"Inception" deserves to win for it's originality. Even though it's not based on a book, "The King's Speech" is still based on true events, so that takes it down a bit for me.

Another Year (2010): Mike Leigh
The Fighter (2010): Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
^Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right (2010): Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
X*The King's Speech (2010): David Seidler

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
I'd definitely say that if you can write a screenplay based on the founding of a social networking site and make it work, that's some pretty good writing.

127 Hours (2010): Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
X*The Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 (2010): Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
True Grit (2010): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone (2010): Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Pixar is in their own league when it comes to animation. This year did see a lot of very good competition, but it still wasn't a contest.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010): Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
The Illusionist (2010): Sylvain Chomet
X*Toy Story 3 (2010): Lee Unkrich

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Haven't seen any of these, just kind of went with a guess based on buzz I've heard.

Biutiful (2010): Alejandro González Iñárritu(Mexico)
*Dogtooth (2009): Giorgos Lanthimos(Greece)
XIn a Better World (2010): Susanne Bier(Denmark)
Incendies (2010): Denis Villeneuve(Canada)
Outside the Law (2010): Rachid Bouchareb(Algeria)

Best Achievement in Cinematography
This was a tough one. "Inception" has amazing cinematography, but so does "True Grit." In the end, I went with my gut.

Black Swan (2010): Matthew Libatique
X*Inception (2010): Wally Pfister
The King's Speech (2010): Danny Cohen
The Social Network (2010): Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit (2010): Roger Deakins

Best Achievement in Editing
"The Social Network" was a very clean, well put together movie (and the only one I saw off this list).

127 Hours (2010): Jon Harris
Black Swan (2010): Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter (2010): Pamela Martin
The King's Speech (2010): Tariq Anwar
X*The Social Network (2010): Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall

Best Achievement in Art Direction
"Inception" is simply visually stunning.

XAlice in Wonderland (2010): Robert Stromberg, Karen O'Hara
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
*Inception (2010): Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Douglas A. Mowat
The King's Speech (2010): Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
True Grit (2010): Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

Best Achievement in Costume Design
"Alice in Wonderland" has fantastically over-the-top costumes. But "True Grit" has some great, gritty (yes, I went there) western duds.

X*Alice in Wonderland (2010): Colleen Atwood
I Am Love (2009): Antonella Cannarozzi
The King's Speech (2010): Jenny Beavan
The Tempest (2010/II): Sandy Powell
^True Grit (2010): Mary Zophres

Best Achievement in Makeup
They actually did use makeup effects (and some CGI) for "The Wolfman," which was kind of a nice touch considering the original.

Barney's Version (2010): Adrien Morot
The Way Back (2010): Edouard F. Henriques, Greg Funk, Yolanda Toussieng
X*The Wolfman (2010): Rick Baker, Dave Elsey

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Everyone seems to love Reznor and Ross' soundtrack. I enjoyed it, but wasn't completely wowed. Inception, however, was Zimmer's grandest soundtrack in awhile.

127 Hours (2010): A.R. Rahman
How to Train Your Dragon (2010): John Powell
^Inception (2010): Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech (2010): Alexandre Desplat
X*The Social Network (2010): Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Haven't really heard any of these. Randy Newman always sounds the same to me, so I ruled out the one movie I've seen. 127 Hours won at another award show, but lost to the not nominated "Burlesque" at the Golden Globes.

*127 Hours (2010): A.R. Rahman, , Dido("If I Rise")
Country Strong (2010): Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges("Coming Home")
Tangled (2010): Alan Menken, Glenn Slater("I See the Light")
XToy Story 3 (2010): Randy Newman("We Belong Together")

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
"Inception" is just one of those movies that isn't fully experienced unless it's in digital surround sound.

X*Inception (2010): Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick
The King's Speech (2010): Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen, John Midgley
Salt (2010): Jeffrey J. Haboush, William Sarokin, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell
The Social Network (2010): Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Mark Weingarten
True Grit (2010): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
I'm not such an expert that I can explain the specific differences between mixing and editing.

X*Inception (2010): Richard King
Toy Story 3 (2010): Tom Myers, Michael Silvers
TRON: Legacy (2010): Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Addison Teague
True Grit (2010): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey
Unstoppable (2010): Mark P. Stoeckinger

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
All have very good effects, but Inception's are more subtle and realistic.

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas, Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz, Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter (2010): Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky, Joe Farrell
X*Inception (2010): Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, Pete Bebb, Paul J. Franklin
Iron Man 2 (2010): Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright, Daniel Sudick

Best Documentary, Features
I think "Exit..." but I'm not 100% sure since the Academy seems worried about what Banksy might do...

*Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): Banksy, Jaimie D'Cruz
GasLand (2010): Josh Fox, Trish Adlesic
XInside Job (2010): Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs
Restrepo (2010): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger
Waste Land (2010): Lucy Walker, Angus Aynsley

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Complete guess.

Killing in the Name (2010): Jed Rothstein
Poster Girl (2010): Sara Nesson, Mitchell Block
XStrangers No More (2010): Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon
Sun Come Up (2010): Jennifer Redfearn, Tim Metzger
*The Warriors of Qiugang (2010): Ruby Yang, Thomas Lennon

Best Short Film, Animated
Mostly a guess, but it's the Pixar short, so it should be a good guess.

*Day & Night (2010): Teddy Newton
The Gruffalo (2009) (TV): Jakob Schuh, Max Lang
Let's Pollute (2011): Geefwee Boedoe
XThe Lost Thing (2010): Shaun Tan, Andrew Ruhemann
Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2010): Bastien Dubois

Best Short Film, Live Action
Complete and total guess.

The Confession (2010/IV): Tanel Toom
The Crush (2010): Michael Creagh
X*God of Love (2010): Luke Matheny
Na Wewe (2010): Ivan Goldschmidt
Wish 143 (2009): Ian Barnes, Samantha Waite

List gathered from IMDb

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Other Despicable FreakoGruber

Alright, I've been sitting on a couple of the reviews here for awhile so I thought it was time to get them out there. I've been also slowly working on my Oscar picks and Favorite Movies of 2010 list, so those should be out here, soon. But for now, here are three movies and one failed attempt at stretching one joke into a feature length film:

Despicable Me - (3 1/2 Stars)
There have been a lot of animated movies released in 2010, of which a surprising amount have actually been pretty good. Despicable Me is just another example of what a great year 2010 was for animation.

Despicable Me
Gru (Steve Carell) is a super-villain. In fact, he's the best (worst) super-villain of them all and he's saved his best heist for last: to steal the moon. But, when another clever villain steals the Great Pyramid, the villain community begins to lose faith in Gru, which leads him to finally put his big plan into action. Along the way, Gru encounters a young group of orphans who vie for his attention. In fact Agnes, the youngest, steals most of the movie.

The movie is funny, well cast and endearing at parts. But at other times it felt like a mash-up of Incredibles and Monster's Inc. Mostly due to the atmosphere and feel of the movie, not from borrowed plot devices or characters.
(95 minutes - Rated PG for rude humor and mild action - 2010) (Netflix)

The Other Guys - (3 1/2 Stars)
There are certain movies out there that are so dumb, they're funny. The Other Guys fits right into this category. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are partners Gamble and Hoitz at the NYPD. They don't really get along and are always being overshadowed by two other larger-than-life cops. But, when a change at the department leaves a void, Gamble and Hoitz attempt to fill it.

The Other Guys
"The Other Guys" is a lot of what you'd expect from Will Ferrell and his director buddy Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights). There are plenty of laughs and one-liners. Ferrell does his usual bit, and it works. Wahlberg works well against Ferrell as well. Michael Keaton as the Captain is particularly funny, stealing a couple scenes from Ferrell and Wahlberg. Keaton seems to have found his niche in funny, supporting parts (he was also great in Toy Story 3 as Ken).

As with most other movies of this type, the laughs do slow down a bit towards the end when they have to wrap up the storyline, but there are enough other laughs throughout to make it worth watching. 

(107 minutes - Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material - 2010) (Netflix)

Having had the books recommended to me, I went to my local library last year and quickly read both Freakonomics and its "sequel" SuperFreakonomics. I was excited, or at least had my interest piqued, when I heard they were attempting to make a documentary out of the books utilizing various filmmakers, such as Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), who's work I also enjoy, among others. While the end result is not bad, it's doesn't particularly add anything to the books.

FreakonomicsThe movie includes both of the authors, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, as narrators of sorts for the whole movie. They also fill in the gaps between the various segments. Each segment takes its inspiration from chapters from both books and are written and directed by a different documentary filmmaker. The problem becomes that out of two books that were already packed to the brim with information, we end up with four full "chapters" and various short segments that just don't do enough justice to the books. Basically, just go read the books.
(93 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Elements of violence, sexuality/nudity, drugs, and brief strong language - 2010) (Netflix)

MacGruberMacGruber - (1 1/2 Stars)
I mentioned before movies that are dumb, but funny. MacGruber is just dumb. I did laugh at some parts, but overall the rest of it was the big equivalent of a fart joke. Not much else to say for this SNL spin-off.
(90 minutes - Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity - 2010) (Netflix)

^Available on Netflix Watch Instant

Friday, February 11, 2011

Just Go With It - It's an Adam Sandler comedy...

Just Go With It - (3 Stars)
In Adam Sandler's latest comedy he plays his usual likable, slightly schmucky version of himself, this time named Danny Maccabee. Danny is a plastic surgeon who, after a failed wedding, finds himself carrying around a wedding ring as a way to get women to sleep with him. The plan works great until he meets the attractive Palmer, played by model Brooklyn Decker, (I never figured out if this was supposed to be her first or last name) who is instantly attracted to him, but instantly disgusted when she finds the wedding band and believes him to be married. Enter Jennifer Aniston as Danny's assistant, who he tasks to be his fake ex-wife asking her to "just go with it."

Just Go with ItOut of the gate, "Just Go With It" is definitely funnier than Sandler's last movie "Grown Ups," which felt more like a filmed chance to hang out with his buddies than a movie. This is due in part to two things. First of all, Sandler didn't write this one. It's actually based off of an old movie called "Cactus Flower" which is actually based on a stage play. Sandler's influence is definitely still there in the script as everything still has the same feel as his other movies. Secondly, Aniston is there to play off of instead of a group of comedians. She does a decent job of being a foil to Sandler's antics and even holds her own in terms of comedy.

The story itself is pretty predictable, as is the norm for this type of movie (Not really a spoiler alert: I guessed the ending the first time I saw the trailer). The comedy is mostly a combination of sight gags (mostly not funny) and one-liners, all of which got a good reaction out of the audience I was watching the movie with. It also has elements of romance to it, but in the same vein as Sandler's other similar works ("The Wedding Singer," "Click"). Once the movie got into "ending mode" (this is what I like to dub the point in a comedy where they realize they have to wrap up their story and not just do endless gags) things got less funny, and felt a bit rushed. It all ends rather abruptly with most of the resolution appearing off-screen.

The bottom line is that those that liked "Grown Ups" will like this even better. Those that like Adam Sandler in general will enjoy it and anyone that hates Adam Sandler and still saw "Grown Ups" and didn't like it, well, they probably won't enjoy this one either (although, I'm not sure why anyone who doesn't like Adam Sandler would still be seeing his movies). Much like the character's in the story, the audience's best chance at enjoying the movie is to "just go with it" and try not to think too much about it.
Soundtrack Note: It felt as if almost every song in the soundtrack was either solely by Sting and/or the Police or was a remix/mash-up of their work. Nothing to this observation, I just found it interesting.
(116 minutes - Rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language- 2011) (Netflix)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World - What's the website for

After spending most of his directorial career working with his friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Edgar Wright comes out with his first movie without either one of his go-to stars in the graphic novel adapted "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." While it's not as sharp as his previous two movies (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead), it's still a geektastic, comedic thrill ride through the world of indie/nerd culture.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldScott Pilgrim is dating a high school girl. He's in between jobs and lives with (and effectively contributes nothing to) his friend Wallace. So, to Scott, things seem to be going pretty good until he meets the girl of his dreams (literally) in Ramona Flowers. But, in order to date Ramona he's going to have to defeat her seven evil exes.

"Scott Pilgrim..." is one of the most visually appealing movies of the year chock full of visualized sound effects, dream sequences and crazy video game style fights. This movie is for anyone who has either enjoyed Wright's previous works or is an avid video game player, comic book reader or just straight pop culture aficionado. Or, if you read between the lines: nerd. But, I that's not to say everyone else will dislike it. At it's surface, the movie is a funny, highly exaggerated and over-the-top take on the romantic comedy with a lot more focus on the comedy.
(112 minutes - Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references - 2010) (Netflix)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Easy Schmucks

Well, the movies are starting to come in quickly so I'm doing my best to watch and review them and get it posted. The latest batch is a pretty decent group that offer some good laughs and stories that, while not entirely original, are still enjoyable. I actually have about 3-4 other movies already rated, but the reviews aren't quite ready so I'll get you started with these two reviews that are:

Dinner For Schmucks - (3 Stars)*
The idea, taken from another foreign movie, is that Tim (Paul Rudd) wants to move up in his company. In order to do so, he must find and bring an idiot to a dinner in order to impress his boss. However, his girlfriend is not to keen on this idea. So, Tim is stuck until he runs into Barry (Steve Carell). What follows is one awkward moment after the other as Barry slides his way into every aspect of Tim's life.

Dinner for SchmucksThe movie is decently funny, with many lines that are definitely quotable. But, it's not going to go down as the funniest movie of 2010. With that being said, I found myself more enjoying Tim and Barry's journey. It's a pretty typical "by numbers" type of character growth, but it's still enjoyable because of the outcomes. Carell plays well off of Rudd's Tim with his sometimes endearing oft-times annoying Barry.

Overall, "Dinner for Schmucks" is just a fun movie that has you rooting for the poor unwitting idiots brought to dinner by the real schmucks: the business executives.
(114 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language - 2010) (Netflix)

Easy A - (3 Stars)
Emma Stone stars as the smart, witty Olive Penderghast who has problems being noticed at school until a rumor about her losing her virginity is circulated around the school. Realizing the benefits, she begins to perpetuate the rumors in order to help herself and others succeed. However, she quickly learns that there are consequences to her choices.
Easy A
The movie starts out rather quickly and with a good amount of laughs. Stone is a natural as the verbose, well-read teen. It makes it very easy to root for her as she goes about the school. Perhaps the funniest parts involve her parents, played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. However, things get a bit tired after awhile when the film doesn't really seem to know where to go with itself. I found myself enjoying most of the movie up until the ending, which seemed a bit anti-climactic.
(92 minutes - Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material - 2010) (Netflix)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

True Grit - bold talk with a one-eyed fat man

True Grit - (4 1/2 Stars)
Remakes, sequels and reboots. It seems that about 90% of everything Hollywood puts out is one of these, or maybe even a "re-imagining." With that in mind, the Coen brothers (directors of movies such as Fargo or No Country For Old Men) try their hand, but don't call it a remake or a reboot  with any venom in your tone. The Coen's "True Grit" goes back to the source material for its inspiration: the novel.

True GritHaving not read the novel myself, I can't say whether or not this version is closer than the John Wayne version. It's also been awhile since I've seen the older version of the movie. So, I'm mostly going to speak about how the movie stands on its own. It is important to always do this when it comes to any "re-movie," so that you aren't viewing the movie from a biased standpoint or expecting too much (or too little). How does the movie stand up? Very well. The Coen brothers have crafted an excellent western that the fits among the best of the genre and includes fantastic performances from many of its stars.

When her father is murdered, stubborn young Maddie Ross seeks vengeance by hiring a grizzled, old U.S. Marshal by the name of "Rooster" Cogburn to lead her after the murderer. Jeff Bridges brings his own surly take on Rooster, without trying to do a John Wayne impersonation and Matt Damon continues to demonstrate his versatility as an actor as LaBoeuf, a dandy of a Texas Ranger. Even Josh Brolin delivers in his relatively short screen time. But the real standout is Hailee Steinfield as the young avenger, Maddie Ross. She exudes a confidence and ease that would be expected of someone more than twice her age. This is spectacularly displayed early on when she negotiates (as she does so well throughout the movie) over some animals her deceased father had previously purchased. Steinfield was unfortunately snubbed (as was the entire movie) by the Golden Globes. It would be a crime against movies everywhere if she isn't at least given a nod at the Oscars. That being said, I fully believe she deserves to win.

Besides the phenomenal casting, almost every other aspect of the movie is executed perfectly. The scenery and cinematography are perfectly bleak and fitting of any of the best westerns. The dialogue is also funnier than most comedies I watched all of last year, without detracting from the overall seriousness of the movie. All in all, "True Grit" is the complete package and one of the best movies of 2010.
(110 minutes - Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images - 2010) (Netflix)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Social Town

The Town - (3 Stars)
The TownBen Affleck stars and directs this predictable but enjoyable crime movie where, once again, we are tasked with following and tend to find ourselves rooting for the bad guys instead of the good guys. . Of course, this isn't really the kind of movie where good and bad are black and white anyway. "The Town" felt like shades of "The Departed" meets "The Outsiders" meets any movie about robbing banks. It didn't blow me away, but I enjoyed it. This was mainly due to the fact that despite it doing nothing new, everything, from the acting to the writing to the directing, is executed really well. The movie gets bonus points for featuring some scenes at Fenway Park (and tons of wicked awesome Boston accents).
(125 minutes - Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use - 2010) (Netflix)

The Social Network - (4 Stars)*
Everyone and their mom seems to be using Facebook these days. I'm not trying to exaggerate (well, I'm slightly exaggerating). But what's the story behind "The Facebook?" Well, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have the strange, sordid (well, slightly sordid), and partially fictitious answer in their movie, "The Social Network."

The Social NetworkThe movie is an engrossing, character driven tale that follows Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from a messy break-up, through Harvard and on to the eventual founding and expansion of the most popular social networking site currently online. The movie doesn't have a lot of action, since it revolves around the founding of a website, so some won't find much appeal. However, Fincher really has a gift for pacing his movies and keeping things moving.

In all honesty, I was reminded a lot of the little seen "Shattered Glass," with its focus on an interesting, but not well liked main character and the people in his life that he interacts with. Most of these interactions are not very positive. In fact, most will sympathize with his best friend and co-founder Eduardo (Andrew Garfield, who everyone will get to know soon as the new Spider-man) who slowly finds himself less and less a part of Facebook.

The biggest theme to me that resonated throughout the movie was a sense of tragic irony. Mark founds Facebook, at least according to the movie, as a way to get back at a girlfriend who dumps him. Along the way he alienates himself from many people and loses friends. Mark eventually finds himself the creator of the biggest social networking tool whose sole purpose is keeping up with and making friends, and yet he doesn't seem to have any friends of his own.
(120 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language - 2010) (Netflix)

Note: I highly recommend checking out Shattered Glass if you haven't seen it: Netflix

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ramona, Knight and St. Cloud (Attorneys at Law?)

Well, finally a batch of movies in which I can recommend every one. Each one was enjoyable in its own way and I even brought back my * to denote my must watch movie of the batch. I haven't been using it because lately it's been pretty obvious which ones to watch and which ones not to (as in they mostly stunk). I haven't updated in a bit as I still feel like I'm catching up from the holiday season and not quite in a rhythm yet. Hopefully things should get going again soon.

Knight and Day - (3 1/2 Stars)
Knight and DayAfter watching the trailer for "Knight and Day," I wasn't too thrilled to see it. I usually enjoy Tom Cruise, but Cameron Diaz is a completely different story (I mentioned my dislike for her briefly in my previous review of The Green Hornet). However, I was pleasantly surprised with the over-the-top action/thriller. The movie from the start seems to wink at the audience and acknowledge that it's going to be a goofy, but action-packed, ride which is why it works. A movie that purposely attempts being ridiculous is always better than a movie that doesn't try and ends up that way due to poor writing or acting. This is a great example of a good popcorn movie that you know not to take too seriously and just enjoy.
(109 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language - 2010) (Netflix)

Charlie St. Cloud - (3 Stars)
Charlie St. CloudWent into this one with an open mind and I was rewarded with an enjoyable experience. The movie, though starring Zac Efron, is not a romantic comedy or teen romance movie. There are elements, very slight, but overall the story focuses more on loss. Overall I found "Charlie" to be pretty likable and engaging. Granted, at some parts it got a little strange or overly sappy (and one or two "suspend your disbelief" moments as well), it was still definitely worth watching.
(99 minutes - Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality - 2010) (Netflix)

Ramona and Beezus - (4 Stars)*
I remember (vaguely) reading and enjoying the Henry Huggins books, and in turn, the Ramona books. I was also a big fan of the Ramona TV series that ran in the 90's starring Sarah Polley as Ramona. So, I had some lofty expectations for this new incarnation of Ramona and I was not disappointed.

Ramona and BeezusFrom the start, if you were a fan of the old TV series, you need to distance the two and not try to make comparisons. It's the same with any remake/revision: don't try to compare it with the old one, just watch it and judge it on its own merits and not how it stands up to its predecessor. With that being said, I really enjoyed Joey King's Ramona. She was funny and quirky and definitely brought to life the character very well (with many memorable lines). Selena Gomez, who I was really worried they'd use too much because of her star power, gets about as much screen time as Beezus should. The books were written awhile ago so the movie takes some liberties with modernizing which I think is probably shown most in Beezus' casting.

"Ramona and Beezus" is basically what one would expect: a funny, sweet and enjoyable family film. But it also delivers more than that as a solid retelling of the classic Ramona stories with a solid cast. The movie is genuinely funny as well, not just for kids, but for adults as well. For some it might seem sappy or sentimental. But those who find it to be too much for them, probably aren't the people who enjoy this type of film anyway (or they are just trying to exude a little too much machismo).
(103 minutes - Rated  G - 2010) (Netflix)

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Green Hornet - or the Green Bee if you think that sounds better...

The Green HornetThe Green Hornet - (4 Stars)

When first we meet Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) he is a spoiled playboy. While his father operates the respectable and integrity filled newspaper "The Daily Sentinel," Britt parties and acts the all-around fool. However, when his father dies, everything changes for Britt and he becomes the Green Hornet in order to seek vengeance. At least, that's how you'd expect it to go if this were a typical superhero movie. Instead, Britt is shaken up but not particularly sad. In fact, instead of trying to honor his dead father he seems to go the complete opposite direction. Green Hornet is not your typical superhero movie.

Hornet plays mostly against genre norms by changing our expectations for things such as the hero's origin, his motivations and even his skill level. In fact, for the most part, Britt Reid starts out as a very selfish "superhero." Bruce Wayne he is not. But this is why the character works so well.

Co-written by Rogen and directed by Michel Gondry, Hornet is the funniest movie I've seen all year* and contains some of the better actions scenes as well thanks to Gondry's direction. Rogen brings his usual type of humor (minus the drug references) but instead of being the likable loser, he's more of a selfish jerk. Think Tony Stark, but not as capable. Jay Chou complements Rogen extremely well as the sidekick Kato and the two play comically well off of each other. After his fantastic performance in Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz is once again playing the quirky villain. Chudnofsky is shades of Hans Landa, but a little less secure in his ability to make an impression. Cameron Diaz is the only casting misfire. I really wish they had cast someone else. I've never been a fan of her, and her role here didn't change my mind any.

The movie is a great example of an action comedy as it balances the line between serious and ridiculous perfectly, keeping the story interesting and the jokes natural. The fighting and action is over-the-top, but it fits the film and it's not the blatantly fake, obvious green screen type of action where it looks like actors in the middle of a computer game. With all this being said, don't go into the movie expecting to be cinematically blown away like "The Dark Knight," but rather enter on the prospect of simply having a fun time with a movie that is equal parts humor and action.
(108 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content - 2011) (Netflix - Estimated for May) (Release Reminder - VideoETA)

*I saw this in 2010, remember, so I'm not trying to make a joke relating to the beginning of the year.