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)

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