Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"Blade Runner: The Final Cut" Blu-ray Review

Do I really need to review this? Duh.

Score: 10/10. Buy it.

Two thoughts about the vision of November 2019 as viewed from 1982:

1. It's not gonna happen. We're eight years away and I don't think mass-produced Daryl Hannah sexbots and Off-World colonies are going to happen by then. Did they really think that 37 years from then all this would happen? Really?

B. It's amusing to see old movies presenting a vision of the future with interstellar travel, but all the computer monitors and TVs are big old CRTs. It's doubly ironic when watching on a giant flatscreen.

"The American" Blu-ray Review

George Clooney is an assassin on the run after being ambushed by Swedes on a frozen lake (that looks like it's across the lake from where Hanna and her dad's place; heh) in The American, the latest effort from noted (and IMO totally overrated) photographer Anton Corbijn.

After the attack kills his lady friend - though you'll be shocked by the circumstances of her death - he is directed by his boss to head to an isolated mountain village in northern Italy to await his next mission: To construct a custom rifle for a woman who is planning a hit of her own. While marking time, he seeks companionship at a brothel and (of course) falls in love with his favorite whore, Violante Placido, who looks like this:

I know that the guy falling for some babe whom he met the way she meets all the other guys she's boinking - by paying her - is a hoary (heh) trope, but to believe that Clooney, even with his charisma dial turned all the way to the left, needs to pay for women makes disbelief suspension difficult. Yes, he's a loner under instructions to "not make friends" and all glowering and taciturn, but it's not like he's Patton Oswalt. (Never mind the whole conceit that prostitution is a good way for women to meet nice guys who'll take them shopping, as Bongwater once observed on their The Power of Pussy album.)

With very little action, The American is a languidly-paced film to the point of bordering on boring. What keeps you awake is the lovely cinematography and compositions that are well-represented by the Blu-ray as well as copious amounts of skin from Placido. (She'll be in the Ghost Rider sequel, but I don't think she'll be as naked there.) As far as plot, it's pretty much slight enough to fit on a business card and lacking in surprises overall. Corbijn keeps the mood going, but there's simply not enough to latch on to here as the story chooses skeletal inferences over engaging characters and exposition.

As I noted above, the Blu-ray looks great, but as far as extras go, it's only got some deleted scenes (most are just extended versions) and a brief making-of featurette; I didn't listen to Corbijn's commentary track.

Score: 5/10. Rent the Blu-ray if you're inclined; otherwise catch it on cable.

Oh, those wacky Canuckians.

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" IMAX Review

Tom Cruise is back in action with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, a summer popcorn flick being released for some reason at Christmas. This also marks live-action directorial debut of Brad Bird, whose animated work includes The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

Opening with a brief confusing prologue with Josh Holloway (in what's barely a cameo) and then a rousing prison escape sequence to spring Cruise from a captivity (whose reason is doled out throughout the plot), the IMF trio of Cruise, a returning Simon Pegg, and new face Paula Patton (she was the teacher in Precious) are on the move to Moscow to sneak into the Kremlin to find out who is behind the McGuffin of stolen Russian launch codes. But the bad guys are already there and the USA is framed for blowing the place up, leaving the IMF totally disavowed and on the run. To save the world and clear their names, the three and Jeremy Renner trek to Dubai and Mumbai - it's the *bai World Tour! - to stop the bad guys (and girl) from whatever they're up to.

And that's the problem with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the same issue weak James Bond movies have: lame villains. I think the head baddie is trying to end the world for some vague pseudo-scientific reason and the sidekicks are hired guns, but why are they helping a guy bent on triggering global thermonuclear war when they'll have to live on the ruined Earth? One scene implies that one bad guy is disguised as another bad guy, but it makes no sense. Other than a oblique video clip, we never get much sense of who the bad guy is and what he wants to do. I know it's a trope to have the mustache-twirling bad guy monologue about his schemes, but M:IGP could have benefited from a bit of expository detail. (No, that's not something you stick up your butt.)

Bird's action set pieces are quite good, especially Cruise's climb up the tallest building in the world and subsequent chase in a dust storm and the final fight in an automated car-parking tower. There isn't much shaky-cam, but they could've backed the camera up to capture the geography a little. The performances are adequate, but Pegg steals every scene he's in.

I'd heard good things about the IMAX presentation and was considering dropping the $13.75 to see it at the Henry Ford IMAX Theater, but I'm sure glad I didn't.* I sat dead center about four rows from the front and the normal frame most of the movie is in was so large that when it popped to the full 1.44:1 IMAX ratio, it was well above and below the the eyeline; it didn't feel like it was drawing me in more. Perhaps if I'd sat in the back - I was in the back of the line, so those seats were taken when I got into the room - the effect would've been more acute, but seeing it in a nice big normal movie theater will suffice.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a quite acceptable action flick that puts more emphasis on the spectacle than the story and thus renders it superfluous. If you're missing the warmth of summer and want some cheap thrills, accept the mission to see it, but don't pay $14 for the ride.

Score: 7/10. Catch a matinee or dollar show at a big-screened theater.

* Because it was a free preview screening, they ran the film ahead past the previews and, most importantly, the hotly anticipated prologue from The Dark Knight Rises introducing Bane. Thanks for nothing, killjoys.

"(Tim Burton's) Alice in Wonderland" Blu-ray Review

My review for the theatrical release is here and it stands; this review covers the Blu-ray.

After our beloved PimpVision® - a 51" Sony RPTV - blew its convergence circuits two weeks ago to the day, it was time to upgrade and we ultimately went with a 60" Sharp LED set which arrived today and after some calibration looks downright snazzy. After checking out some bits and pieces of Avatar, it was time to christen it with a movie and since the lion's share of Blu-rays were at home we cracked open the Blu-ray of Alice in Wonderland. We'd seen it in 3D at the show and frankly this is the first time we properly saw it. Without having to contend with the blurry image that fast action and post-conversion brings to the tea party, details we'd totally missed before like monkeys being used as candelabras in the Red Queen's castle were noticed. It looks great. On the extras front, it's a little lightweight, but generally informative especially on the special effects front where you can marvel at how little in the way of actual sets were built. There's a whole lot of green to be seen.

If you liked the movie, definitely pick up the Blu-ray.

"Red State" Review

Kevin Smith says he's retiring after his next movie, the hockey flick Hit Somebody. Frankly, he should've quit two movies ago, thus sparing his former fans the one-two letdowns of simply awful Cop Out and now the jaw-droppingly terrible Red State. This has been Smith's passion project for over five years, something he always said was next after whatever he was making or promoting. Supposedly a horror film, the only horror is how bad it is.

A trio of horny high school boys seeking to hook up with a 38-year-old woman one met on the Internet walk into the most obvious trap ever and find themselves held captive by a family of religious weirdos with a ton of guns. (Think: Fred Phelps' godless hate mongers crossed with the Branch Davidians of Waco massacre infamy.) When a sheriff's deputy is killed at the cult's compound, the ATF arrives on the scene and things rapidly degenerate into what can only be described as government-conducted genocide. It's so unrealistic that even as satire, it stretches disbelief suspension beyond the breaking point.

Until these last two flops, my least favorite Smith film was Dogma in which I thought his ambition outstripped is directorial skills to manage his sprawling thesis, but that was his fourth movie; Red State is his tenth and other than some trademark potty talk, there is nothing which indicates this movie was made by Smith. The action direction is haphazard and mistakes shaky camera and narrow-angle shutter for kinetic technique and he is so in love with his script, he allows the sermons by Michael Parks (magnetic as the cult leader) to prattle on until I started nodding off. Less successful are the supporting performances, especially a shrill and unrecognizable Melissa Leo as one of Banks' daughters.

After the shenanigans Smith pulled at Sundance this year - retaining the distribution rights for himself to exhibit it on a road show basis to cover for the fact that no studio wanted to put it out, including longtime backers the Weinstein brothers - and the buzz about the clumsy religion-bashing, I'd been unenthusiastic about watching Red State, but nothing could've prepared be for just how bad the whole thing is.

There were several spots where I wanted to just shut it off, but gutted it out to see just how far down the elevator went. (Do I get a medal?) The characters never quite make it to being two-dimensional and thus with no one to root for and no understanding of the villains other than they be crazy inbred Jeebus rednecks,  it's just a grating endurance test. It's sad to see that Smith has crawled up his own fat ass and died, insulated from the need to make competent movies by millions of Twitter followers who will lap up whatever he gives them. Robert Rodriguez has been slipping as of late, but he hasn't slid off the cliff like Kevin Smith. Yet.

Score: 1/10. Skip it. Seriously.

"Another Earth" Review

What is an actor to do if they aren't getting good roles? They write one for themselves to star in, frequently leading to fruitful careers. Sylvester Stallone created Rocky; Matt Damon and Ben Afleck co-wrote Good Will Hunting and won an Oscar; Nia Vardalos wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding which went on to be one of the biggest indie movies of all time. Now you can add Brit Marling to the list as the Sundance Audience Award-winning film, Another Earth, that she co-wrote with director Mike Cahill has launched her career into orbit. She's filming Robert Redford's next movie with more Oscar-winners and nominees to mention; another movie co-starring Ellen Page; and has Arbitrage, co-starring Richard Gere, already in the can. Talk about making your own breaks!

Marling stars as Rhoda, a brilliant young woman - she was accepted to MIT at age 13 - who gets drunk at a party and crashes into another car, killing a pregnant woman and young child, leaving the composer husband in a coma. She gets four years in prison and when she gets out requests a menial job as a high school janitor. She's isolated from the world, but decides to reach out to the man whose life was destroyed by her careless driving. She intends to apologize, but chickens out and pretends to be offering a home cleaning service trial. Over time, she brings order to his life as well as his house, but he doesn't know who she is - as a minor, her records were sealed.

Lurking overhead is the weakest aspect of the movie, the titular other Earth. If you watch the trailer below, you'd think that this mirror planet and the possibility of duplicates of us all is the major plot, but it's a fraction of the story that if it wasn't around, would hardly change the main story of redemption and healing. I wonder if some of the acclaim Another Earth has garnered is because of this superfluous detail, much as the Oscar-nominated nothingburger The Kids Are Alright glossed over its banal plot by making the leads boring lesbians instead of boring heterosexuals. (If you've seen it, I explore the biggest goof the other Earth premise doesn't handle below.)

I had a hard time warming up to Another Earth, but my girlfriend really loved it. I didn't think the relationship between the man - well-played by William Mapother (who will always have "Tom Cruise's half-brother" tag following him around) - and Marling really felt right and the contrived way he doesn't know this woman killed his family makes the inevitable revelation feel formulaic. The look of the film belies its low-budget origins a little too much as well. I also found the way the planets contact each other to be ludicrous. If you knew this other planet was there, you wouldn't try to contact them or send probes for YEARS?!?

While I seem hard on Another Earth, it's not because it's a bad movie but rather because I didn't connect with it; it's just too slight when it could've been more profound. It's a little movie, but that's no excuse for not having bigger ideas.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.


The theme of the movie is that the mirroring of the two Earths diverged when they became aware of each other as shown in the very last shot as the other, clearly more successful Rhoda appears. Now if that means the other Rhoda didn't ruin her life with a car crash AND still had the winning entry in the contest (what would've been her essay?) and came here, then it follows that Mapother's family is intact over there, INCLUDING DADDY! What's going to happen when he travels over to be with his not dead family and finds that they already have a father in the form of their version of him?

"The Ides of March" Review

The Ides of March had Oscar-bait written all over it: Directed and co-written by Oscar-winner George Clooney, starring fellow winners Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and nominees Ryan Gosling (who has starred in one of every three movies released in 2011) and Paul Giamatti, it should've been a slam dunk for nominations, but pretty much sank without a trace at the box office, shrugged off by the critics? What happened?

Gosling is a hot shot campaign consultant to Clooney, the Democrat (what else?) governor of Pennsylvania who is running for President and whose campaign is working on Ohio. Clooney's candidate is such a paragon of liberal tropes that he makes Obama look like a grubby Republican and if a conservative filmmaker was making this movie, it would've been an obvious satire of the Utopian blather Democrats spew. (e.g. Clooney says that we can prevent wars in the Middle East by having cars that don't use oil, so if elected he will command that all cars in a decade be alternative energy only, as if all that's holding this magical rainbow and unicorn fart-powered dream cars from happening is a lack of some emperor-wizard decreeing it be done.) For all his awesomeness, though, the nomination isn't in the bag as his undefined primary opponent whom we're told no one likes is still challenging, so he desperately needs the endorsement and delegates held by Jeffrey Wright, who isn't letting them go without extracting a plum gig for himself.

Gosling adores Clooney - he's a True Believer - but he's getting nibbles from the opposing camp and takes a meeting with Giamatti, which pisses off Hoffman and sets off a chain of events that intertwine with a scandal skeleton in Clooney's closet that eventually leads to an actual body being found. As Gosling sinks into the mud, his determination to drag everyone else down with him leads to an underwhelming conclusion.

The problem with The Ides of March isn't it's lefty politics - to hear howlers about how the poor decent meek Democrats need to learn how to fight dirty like the mean old Republicans and for left-wing looney bin MSNBC to be shown as a legit news outfit was to be expected going in - but how dull the scandal is and how it reflects on the characters. I suspect that Clooney and company wanted to make a statement about how politics corrodes the souls of good men, but they're too in love with government and power to make the indictment stick. (It's be like me trying to make a movie about how pizza and hot Asian babes are killing baby pandas and that's a bad thing.) A scorched-earth artist like Paddy Chayefsky (whose Network is my 2nd favorite film of all time and still rings true 35 years later) would've argued that evil men go into politics because they're too fat for robbing gas stations.

The performances are all top-notch, if not Oscar-grade, though I'm still baffled as to why Gosling is so adored. He just comes off too blank for me. Clooney is a good director and the script adapted from a play is OK, but the way the story loses gravitas when it should be upping the stakes and the makers unwillingness to really put their politics under an unbiased magnifying glass just makes the compelling parts of the plot less so.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Act of Valor" Review

Act of Valor is getting a lot of push well ahead of its Presidents Day weekend release next year - February 17 24, 2012 - from conservative media and it's easy to see why. The military for the past decade has been almost universally smeared by Hollyweird as crazed Rambos, stupid redneck racist gun freaks, poor minorities and general victims of the corporations that supposedly pulled Dubya's strings to go to war for oil or whatever madness the Left spews. Other than Michael Bay, who (in the words of an AICN writer) "shoots military hardware like porn" and makes icons of our soldiers, we've been treated to a decade of screeds like In the Valley of Elah and Redacted which used our fighting men and women as props to vent their hatred for America. (It must do some grunt proud to know he's wearing 80 lbs. of gear in 120F heat in Jihadistan so that Susan Sarandon can sit comfy in Manhattan believing that he's a time bomb waiting to go off.)

What makes Act of Valor different is that instead of the usual running actors through a mini-boot camp to get them into a semblance of looking and acting like soldiers, the filmmakers have used actual Navy SEALs to portray a fictional story and the result plays out like a fusion of Tom Clancy novels and the Call of Duty video games. Frequently slick and exciting, but somewhat awkward dramatically, Act of Valor has to be graded on a slight curve.

After a terrorist bombing in the Philippines kills the U.S. Ambassador, a female CIA operative in Costa Rica is abducted by a Chechnyan drug and weapons runner's outfit and brutally tortured in the jungle. The SEALs rescue her in the film's best action sequence and uncover evidence of a much larger, scarier plot to infiltrate jihadists with new undetectable suicide vests through drug smuggling tunnels on the Mexican border. As the plot grows, the SEALs trot the globe to hunt down the bad guys and save America.

The action scenes are the best as the SEALs precisely execute their maneuvers while coping with sometimes incredible odds. While I don't doubt the mad skillz of SEALs, the bad guy body counts and sheer percentage of head shots is more videogame than anything. The Call of Duty parallels continue with some nifty first-person views where we see the view through the holo sights and they use graphics to mark the transitions from place to place. If you've played the games, you'll recognize the style.

Where the movie suffers is in asking the SEALs to act in service of some of the hoariest tropes. The lieutenant looks like Peyton Manning and acts about as well as Manning does in commercials. The Charlie Sheen spoof of Top Gun, Hot Shots, made fun of Goose's doomed fate with a character named "Dead Meat" and it's unfortunate that we are able to predict immediately who is going to die. It's not spoiling when if you've seen one movie about a soldier with a baby on the way back home, you can tell what's going to happen. They even have a bit referring to foreshadowing which is too meta for the material.

This is where Act of Valor frustrated me: On one hand, the action is visceral and thrilling - I told the girl taking comments afterward that it was more exciting than Chicago being destroyed in the last Transformers movie - and allowing for some Hollywoodization, it's interesting to see the cool efficiency of the SEALs. (Unlike another Charlie Sheen movie.) The story is Clancyesque, but there are some intriguing aspects to the relationship between the bad guys as childhood friends grow radically apart. That said, the movie rides a wobbly line between pseudo-documentary grit and slick popcorn audience-pleasing and somewhat mawkish emotion in spots. Much of the cinematography is beautiful - really lovely and worthy of a Bay film - and the direction and editing is clear, but there were places that I wished a more traditional storytelling hand was steering things.

One thing that may've slanted my perceptions was at the screening there was a short introductory clip from the directors discussing the movie and how a few bits were done. I love behind-the-scenes stuff on DVDs, but seeing it before the movie made me think throughout about how what I was seeing was made and wondering what was really realistic and what was pumped up for entertainment. There were also no end credits or music; the film just ends. The film may undergo some final tweaks in the 2-1/2 months before it releases, but it looks finished to me.

The boosters of Act of Valor are pushing the great respect our brave fighters are shown. As I said, a decade of bashing has made it long overdue for some positive portrayals of the warriors who keep film critics like me safe to watch movies, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't have some rough edges. I suspect the liberal media will bash it as jingoism and the conservative media will hail it as the Greatest. Movie. Ever. If you want to make a statement of support for movies that don't hate the troops, then by all means hit a matinee and tell Hollyweird what you're willing to shell out your hard-earned cash for, not that they care. If you're less motivated to activism, it's worth watching later.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

"Midnight In Paris" Review

Woody Allen had the biggest hit of his career with the winsome Midnight in Paris, a winsome fantasia about nostalgia and artistic angst.

Owen Wilson has the Woody surrogate role as a successful Hollywood screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his shallow harpy of a fiance (Rachel McAdams) and her rich parents. He's struggling with writing a novel about a man who works in a "nostalgia shop" selling vintage knick-knacks. One night, while lost trying to find his way back to the hotel, he is picked up by a classic motor car and when he gets out, he finds himself in the 1920s, hanging out with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston, Loki from Thor, and Allison Pill, the drummer of Sex Bob-omb in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), and many more. If you're an art or literature buff, it's a hoot. During his return visits, he is beguiled by Marion Cotillard because, well, she's Marion Cotillard and, unlike McAdams, she's not a grating beyatch.

I had a hard time getting into Midnight in Paris at first because of the typical Woody dialog in which everyone sounds like Woody - all hyper-literate and unrelated to natural vocal cadences. However, when Wilson starts time-tripping it mellows out and becomes a nice ride. It's been compared to his 1985 classic, The Purple Rose of Cairo, in it's conceit of impossible co-mingling but this isn't as good because the modern "reality" is clearly so deficient to the Roaring Twenties, but Woody addresses this in an insight late in the picture.

Woody will be turning 76 in a few days and he'd probably benefit from cutting back from his annual release schedule in favor of alternating years because for every little gem like Midnight in Paris or 2008's Vicki Cristina Barcelona - I still need to catch up with 2005's Match Point (are you noticing the pattern here?) - he's had twice as many facepalms that are watering down his legacy. (He will burn in Hell for Annie Hall winning over Star Wars, though.)

My girlfriend actually liked Midnight in Paris more than I did because she appreciated some of the references more than I did. (I had to pause the movie and have a lengthy riff involving a Jean-Paul Sartre play explained to me. Sue me; I went to public school.) It's not profound, but it is a nice light treat and worth a look.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

This trailer is TERRIBLE! It focuses on the worst part - the modern day stuff - and consigns the magic to a few quick flashes. It's a miracle anyone wanted to see this movie based on what's here.

"Trespass" Review

Peruse the shelves of your video store - whoops, I'm showing my age, I mean browse Netflix - and you'll see loads of movies starring Big Name Movie Stars that you've never heard of. I'm not talking Wesley Snipes either. How does a movie starring a pair of Academy Award-winners, directed by the generally competent Joel Schumacher get dumped straight to video and VOD? How did producers spend an estimated $35 million producing a movie to gross about $16,000 in theaters? Is Trespass - no relation to the Ice-T/Ice Cube flick from the early-Nineties - really that terrible?

No, but it doesn't mean it's all that good. Nicolas "Will meals be provided?" Cage and Nicole Kidman star as a rich couple with a minor problem. No, not their cherry bomb teen daughter who wants to go to a party but the gang of masked gunmen who want the millions in diamonds and/or cash they believe are in the safe. Hijinks ensue and by hijinks I mean lots of yelling and screaming and injury and yelling and screaming and "shocking" plot twists. Oh, and more yelling and screaming.

The script relies too much on red herrings and revelations to keep things moving, but by the end there have been a few too many double-crosses and crazy people delusions to keep things grounded. (On further reflection I realized that one revelation moots a whole bunch of other stuff they've shown us, so I'm not really sure what the heck was happening and I'm wondering if the filmmakers knew either?)

Schumacher hustles everything along and it's only 90 minutes or so, but at it's core, if it had less swearing and starred Ashley Judd and Bruce Boxleitner, it could've been a Lifetime movie. Cage's readiness to make anything for a check is legendary, but what was the attraction to Kidman? Did she see this as her chance to make a Panic Room, the movie she started shooting and had to drop out of after being injured early in shooting and being replaced by Jodie Foster? What happened to her career? She still looks good; can't Julianne Moore spare a part for her?

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sleeping Beauty" Review

My one-sentence review for Stanley Kubrick's dying film, Eyes Wide Shut, was that he somehow managed to make a movie featuring naked Nicole Kidman and rich weirdo orgies boring. As ridiculous as that mess was, there's a new opaque hunk of supposedly erotic art house weirdness in town that manages to suck any remaining molecules of atmosphere from the already airless genre: Sleeping Beauty. No, it's not anything like the fairy tale.

Here's the major selling point of this thing: Emily Browning (Sucker Punch's Baby Doll) spends half the movie totally naked. That she's (willingly) drugged unconscious for wealthy old guys to paw over is the gruesome price you pay for seeing the goodies. While she's beautiful and so porcelain-complexioned that she looks like she's made of china, the movie is so listlessly skeevy and her character so poorly-defined that there's nothing to grasp on to. The Internet was invented to grant access to the "good parts" without have endure the aimless non-plot, so get to Googling, kids, cuz there's hardly anything to discuss about this as a movie.

Browning is a student who apparently needs to work several jobs and volunteer for medical research when she's not possibly whoring at an upscale bar when she answers an ad for a job that entails wearing lingerie while serving creepy old rich people. That the other girls are way more naked isn't really explained. Then she's offered a promotion: For more money she will be drugged into a deep sleep for guys to molest as they see fit short of penetration and the main thought I had while watching these scenes was how she managed to not react to the abuse she gets from one John in particular.

The problem is that we have as a non-perv audience is that we have no effing idea what Browning is about. There are allusions to her tramping, but no details as to what she's actually up to. She gets evicted by her roommates for non-payment of rent, but goes and rents a luxury apartment with her new income. Worst is when she lets a friend commit suicide rather than try and help him, ironically showing the most emotion in the whole piece. For a moment it seemed like writer-director Julia Leigh was going to fill in the blanks, but alas she doesn't. There is so little substance to Sleeping Beauty that I think most critics who are praising it simply projected their views of exploitation of women and other bogeymen upon the blank whiteness of the frame and read the imagined Rorschach. (I also think if a man had made this exact same film, he would have been pilloried. Somehow, having a woman calling the shots makes it all better.)

Unless you want to marvel at the naked, nubile Browning tossed around like a sack of grain without flinching, there's nothing here worth waiting for nothing to happen when you could spend the time watching an exciting muddled mess of a musing about exploitation of women, namely her Sucker Punch. She's a lot hotter in her little sailor girl outfit slaying dragons than totally nude here.

Score: 2/10. Skip it. Watch Sucker Punch twice instead.

"Tower Heist" Review

Competently made but generally pointless, Tower Heist is a cut-rate Ocean's 11 wannabe that is so vanilla, it's hard to get to get worked up about it. I'm just glad I snuck into it.

After a sleazy Bernie Madoff-type Wall Street (Alan Alda) loses the pension funds of the workers of The Tower, a ultra-high-end NYC apartment skyscraper on Central Park West, the general manager (Ben Stiller) who asked Alda to manage the funds devises a complicated scheme to break into a safe in Alda's penthouse they believe holds $20 million. Needing some profession criminal advice, Stiller recruits his neighbor, Eddie Murphy. Hijinks ensue somewhat.

Tower Heist is a well-made movie with nice cinematography and some subtle character moments at times, but it never rises to anything remotely resembling rousing. Murphy just recycles three-decade old Reggie Hammond motormouth schtick unaware that no one says the n-word anymore in movies (other than Evil White People), but it could've been Chris Tucker, so we should be minimally thankful for that.

There are a few good laughs, but little ambition here. If it comes on cable on a rainy afternoon and you're not particularly motivated to surf around for something else, it won't make you suicidal to watch. (There's a quote for the DVD box!)

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Paul" Review

You probably recognize the nerd stars, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, of the disappointing sci-fi comedy Paul from their pairing in cult genre comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so it's a little curious as to how flat Paul turns out despite the how it should have been with its pedigree. The story of a pair of British geeks who start off at the San Diego Comic Con and travel the Southwest in an RV and then encounter an honest-to-goodness alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) could've been a hoot, but ends up a slack - not slacker - yarn laden with cliches.

I think the problem begins with the script by Frost and Pegg. Pegg co-wrote Shaun and Fuzz with those films' director, Edgar Wright, but the swap of Wright for Frost and then having the pages directed by Adventureland and Superbad shot-caller Greg Mottola just never catches fire. Too many of the gags are really obvious Star Wars references and there's more interest in bashing Christians as ignorant clowns than really tweaking the foibles of the Nerd Nation who can take a punch and would revel in some humor that's smarter than a honky-tonk band playing the "Cantina Theme."

The CGI effects integrating the alien into the scenes are seamless and the performances are uniformly OK, especially Kristen Wiig as an aforementioned Bible victim who cuts loose; she manages what was written as a really nasty stereotype and manages to make it somewhat sympathetic. It takes a bit to get used to Rogen's basso voice coming out of the skinny alien body, but you'll eventually roll with it.

Proving far less than the sum of its parts, Paul isn't a so much a bad movie as movie that's not very good.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

Trailer is here; they didn't allow embedding.

October 2011 Review Roundup

Another slow month as TV ate up too much time.

Oct. 2 - Wayne's World (8/10)
Oct. 4 - Footloose (2011) (4/10)
Oct. 12 - We Are The Night (6/10)
Oct. 15 - The Empire Strikes Back (10/10)
Oct. 16 - Real Steel (8/10)
Oct. 31 - The Crow (8/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 6
Previously Unseen: 3
Theatrical: 2
Home: 4
Year-To-Date: 92
YTD First-Timers: 76
YTD Theatrical: 33
YTD Home: 59

"The Crow" Blu-ray

The Crow has always carried with it a macabre mystique due to the tragic accidental shooting death of star Brandon (son of Bruce) Lee during production. (It's really easy to spot when they use a body double: If you aren't seeing his face, it's the double.) But there is more to its lasting appeal than Lee's death that's made it a lasting cultural touchstone which lead to even South Park making this crack a dozen years after its 1994 release:

Killer, huh? (In case you haven't seen the full episode, Satan shows up dressed as The Crow.)

Anyways, it's been ages since I've watched the whole movie straight through and I'd forgotten how briskly paced, almost impressionistic the first half was in spelling out the scenario of Eric Draven and this fiance, Shelly, being murdered on Devil's Night, the day before their Halloween wedding and how Eric crawls from the grave a year later and with the invulnerability that a crow grants him hunts down and kills his and Shelly's killers. There is very little extraneous stuff in the first half, though it slows a bit as the original gang of knuckleheads is dispatched and the focus switches to their master, Michael Wincott, and his half-sister (Bai Ling in her American film debut) and their interest in this interloper with mystical powers.

Director Alex Proyas followed The Crow up with the similarly dark and moody Dark City in 1998, but the new millennium saw him making lackluster films such as Big Willie vs. the Evil Robots, er, I meant I, Robot and the Nic Cage Doomsday bum-out Knowing. The rain-soaked, monochromatic nighttime setting is pretty well rendered in this Blu-ray transfer. There was a little noise in the reds of the first optical shot showing the crime scene in the miniature's window, but it was isolated to there and it generally looks good and clear with all the black and black imagery. The audio was less impressive, but more a limitation of the source track than a problem with the disc.

On the extras front, I didn't listen to the Proyas commentary yet or watch the 33-minute interview with a seriously twitchy creator James O'Barr, but the archival interview behind-the scenes was interesting and sad as you realize how articulate and intellectual Lee was. The Extended Scenes are better described as Rough Cut First Edit Scenes as they feature much more violence, especially the addition of a poor woman at the arcade T-Bird and boys are introduced blowing up who is terrorized and left trapped in the exploding building.

The Crow isn't a flawless or unqualified "great" movie, but as a mood piece and Goth-comic touchstone it's got its merits. This new Blu-ray is available for around $10-$12 if you know where to shop, so there's no reason for fans to skip adding it to their collections.

Score: 8/10. Buy it.

"Real Steel" Review

Imagine what a movie about a down-on-his-luck robot boxing fighter stuck with an 11-year-old son he barely knows from an ex-girlfriend who has passed away who finds a gutsy old sparring bot that the kid spruces up and they take to a title fight against the World Robot Boxing champ would be like? Got it in your head? Congratulations, you've just plotted out Real Steel! However, the movie manages to pull of a super neat trick: Despite not really having a single surprise in its entire story, it manages to be a rock 'em, sock 'em good time without insulting your intelligence.

It really could've been a corny, treacly mess, but the kid, Dakota Goyo, is cute and precocious without you wishing a robot would fall on him. He's bright and behaves exactly as a kid who has a robot that can mimic him dancing would act. Jackman is excellent as the shifty hustler who learns to have some integrity. (Awwwww...) And the robot fights benefit from having seamless digital effects and a clear sense of pacing and geography, not relying on shaky cam and edit fu to provide energy. I've managaged to miss all of director Shawn Levy's previous movies (both Night at the Museum flicks; the Steve Martin Cheaper by the Dozen and Pink Panther remakes) other than last year's nice Steve Carrell/Tina Fey comedy Date Night, but this is a slick bit of kit.

"Predictable" is usually a pejorative and it would apply to Real Steel if it wasn't just so well done. I saw a review that dubbed it ROCK-E and that's right on the money; the crowd at my showing was cheering and clapping. (The time I saw Rocky IV at the old Americana theater with an opening weekend crowd going nuts was a singular experience.) Even my girlfriend, whom I pretty much dragged along and went in expecting to hate it, grudgingly admitted to liking it. When family-friendly is considered another pair of dirty words, it's cool to see something for kids of all ages that doesn't make the older half feel dirty for being there.

A couple of quibbles: The kid doesn't seem to be too affected by the death of his Mom - if Disney flicks have no problem with whacking Mom, why so shy here, especially when it could've led to the improbably cute roboboxer mechanic Evangeline Lilly balking at being a surrogate mother. I suppose they didn't want to go too heavy on the maudlin. Also, for a movie set in 2027, the product placement is pretty 2011 - Sprint will still have the same slogan, Bing will have stadium naming rights, and Microsoft will only be up to the "Xbox 720" with the same logo design as the Xbox 360. Other than a few futuristic-looking cars and the cell phones and computers having transparent glass screens (have you ever tried to use a computer where the windows have transparency turned on so you can see through them? Then you know clear screens wouldn't work) there is little to indicate this is the future.

However, all told, unless you're a cynical indie hipster hater opposed to having fun at the movies, Real Steel is the real entertainment deal. Also, if you're in Detroit, it's fun to play "spot the locations."

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee.

"We Are the Night" Review

It's safe to say that vampires in pop culture these days are ubiquitous to the point of obnoxiousness. Whether in goth fashions at the mall to movies and TV shows populated with them, it's hard to swing a dead rat without hitting some sort of undead thing. While the various stories put their own twists on the genre - e.g. Twilight's abominations don't blow up in the Sun while The Vampire Diaries uses magic rings to grant daywalking privileges - it's hard to find new story blood in the old blood-sucking stones. In search of a different spin, we head to Berlin for We Are the Night, a slick German (I watched an amusingly dubbed version) production with a few twists before collapsing into convention.

Lena (you haven't heard of any of the actresses, so I won't bother) is a scruffy street urchin pulling petty crimes. One night, at a rave, she encounters Louise, who as we've seen in the prologue possesses some superpowers; she and her two younger companions have killed all the passengers and crew of an aircraft and flee the scene by merely hopping out the door in mid-air. She bites Lena, sending her on the path to vampiredom. On Lena's trail is a young cop who had encountered her before and is investigating the vampire gangs' crime scene. He realizes that she's mixed up in the hijinks and her forbidden attraction to him leads to the predictable complications for the vamps (see what I did there?) and him.

Where We Are the Night is best is in its edgy German energy and gritty, stylish visuals. (The way Lena's transformation is shown in one seamless CGI-enhanced shot is nifty. You can glimpse it at :51 of the trailer below.) While not as over-the-top as Run Lola Run, its use of European beauty sensibilities actresses immediately sets gringo viewers off-kilter. The rules of the world are mix of the traditional (e.g. fire BAD!) and novel (i.e. there are only female vamps and they have the ability to walk on walls and ceilings) and while that's cool, the story beats eventually slip into the trope rut leading to unsurprising developments. There is also some confusing inconsistency as to when they can eat people as one victim is offed, but their companion is somehow off-limits.

Perhaps all these vampire tales are doomed to run into the same sorts of plot ruts because there are only so many ways they can play out. But if you're bored of angst-filled glittery mopey vampire bohunks and willing to try some grrrl-powered Teutonic trollops, give We Are the Night a tumble.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Footloose (2011)" Review

Have you seen Footloose, the 1984 kids-gotta-dance movie starring Kevin Bacon? Sure you have. After some hayseed Southern town suffers a tragic auto accident that kills several high-schoolers, the town - at the urging of Rev. John Lithgow - bans dancing. In comes Bacon from out of town where he can't believe the yokels are so backwards, but he makes friends with Chris "Sean's brother, sorta like Jim Belushi" Penn and attracts the eye of Rev. Lithgow's wild rebellious daughter, Lori Singer. After several iconic Eighties pop tunes and montages, Bacon restores dancing to Yokelslavia and everyone buys the soundtrack cassette. The end.

Well, replace Lithgow with Dennis Quaid; Singer with some girl who looks a little like Jennifer Aniston and has really blue eyes; Penn with a hillbilly John Cusack; the friend played by Secretariat Jessica Parker with a black girl; and Bacon with a discount store Skeet Ulrich (himself a discount Johnny Depp); and toss in some modern country and Dirrrty South hip-hop and you've got the new - strike that - you've got the utterly recycled and unnecessary Footloose (2011 Edition). I'm not sure what co-writer and director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow; Black Snake Moan) was trying to accomplish other than make a "green" movie because just about everything is recycled from the original.

Not only is the plot almost beat-for-beat ripped off (relive the Bible quotations scene again!), but they use Kenny Loggins' title tune (twice) and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It For The Boy" during the training-the-hayseed-to-dance scene. Just as there's a fine line between clever and stupid, the line between homage and laziness isn't blurred into irrelevance. (See below.) Really early on, I was bored and with a few exceptions, I never thought I was getting much out of this other than delaying getting home to do my laundry.

There is just no need for this movie to be remade now or ever. I saw it a quarter-century ago and haven't given it another thought since. It's not poorly made - the cast is OK and the stereotyping is kept under control - but other than showing the near-Utopian racial harmony (break dancing and boot scooting co-exist, though how in a town where dancing has been banned do they get the mad skillz to compete in a Step Up movie is a mystery), there's just nothing new here. It's just all so....unneeded.

I heard a young boy, perhaps 12, in the theater hall afterwards exclaiming that "it was awesome," so perhaps I'm just being an old fuddy duddy, but it's more likely that having been there and seen it the first time around, I don't need this lazy nostalgia trip.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable if you've never seen the original before.

The feedback loop of the original and its place in the cultural timeline can be summed up by this video. The first half is the scene in the original where a frustrated Bacon blows off steam in an abandoned factory. (I'd forgotten the car; Skeet Jr. drives the same VW in the remake. More laziness.) What made me smirk during the movie tonight was the second half, from Hot Rod where Andy Samberg "punch-dances out his anger." The new Footloose unironically apes the first one's scene (this time with a greasy White Stripes tune), but after it's already become a punchline.

September 2011 Review Roundup

An absolutely terrible month which proves that Hollywood's fear that television would kill movies was justified. A slew of new shows started that interested me and I was racing to plow through the second season of The Vampire Diaries in order to be ready for the third season's beginning. Despite my slamming it as Twilight: The Series when it started, my girlfriend was a big fan and was begging me to watch it for two years. She'd been right about Supernatural and once the show got past its more teeny-bop tendencies in the first 6-8 episodes, it's been pretty good stuff; check it out sometime. Regardless, movie watching lost out to the boob tube in September and nothing got a review finished. Fail.

Sept. 21 - Star Wars (10/10)
Sept. 27 - The Lincoln Lawyer (6/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 2
Previously Unseen: 1
Home: 2
Year-To-Date: 86
YTD First-Timers: 73
YTD Theatrical: 31
YTD Home: 55

August 2011 Review Roundup

Another decent month of viewing, up one from the previous month.

August 3 - Disturbia (5/10)
August 5 -Unthinkable (8.5/10)
August 6 - Bad Teacher (5/10); Super (3/10)
August 7 - Crazy, Stupid, Love (7/10)
August 7 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes (7/10)
August 8 - Blitz (4/10)
August 14 - Final Destination 5 (8.5/10)
August 15 - Green Lantern (0.5/10)
August 24 - Spread (3/10)
August 25 - Columbiana (4/10)
August 28 - Wet Hot American Summer (3/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 12
Previously Unseen: 12
Theatrical: 5
Home: 7
Year-To-Date: 84
YTD First-Timers: 72
YTD Theatrical: 31
YTD Home: 53

"Wet Hot American Summer" Review

From time to time there are movies that when you look back in retrospect are amazing for how many actors in them went on to Big Time Stardom or at least significant careers. American Graffiti had Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Mackenzie Phillips, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, and Suzanne Somers. The Outsiders had Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, and Emilio Estevez. Big groups of talent, all in one place, in service well-regarded movies beyond their casts.

Which brings us to 2001's Wet Hot American Summer, a low-budget indie comedy with a cult following that was featured a couple of months back in Entertainment Weekly, marking its 10th anniversary. Check out this cast: Bradley Cooper (Limitless), Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks (both in Our Idiot Brother which opened this weekend), Janeane Garofalo (before she became the insane liberal hater she is today), David Hyde Pierce (Niles on Frasier), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order SVU), Amy Poehler and Molly Shannon (SNL), Judah Friedlander (30 Rock), and Michael Ian Black (all those VH1 retrospectives). They all seem to have loved making it and would be open to doing a sequel, but I have to ask one question: Why when the first movie is such a mess?

Set on the last day of summer camp in 1981, WHAS focuses mostly on various pairs of the camp counselors trying to hook up while egregiously ignoring their charges. (So many kids drown on Paul Rudd's non-watch that I'm surprised Camp Firewood didn't spawn more machete-wielding killers than Camp Crystal Lake.) While there are a few narrative threads, most of the film feels like they had index cards with ideas on them like, "Crazy 'Nam vet thinks a can of beans is talking to him; ends up humping a refrigerator," or, "Woman going through a divorce is comforted and finds love with 10-year-old boy." Part of this random non-continuity is deliberate, but some segments feel like they sprinkled PCP on their weed for breakfast and then made movie under the influence. There's a chase which culminates with a single bale of hay in the middle of the road acting as a roadblock which just made me scratch my head. Then there's the scene where the counselors run into town with a montage that starts off with them getting ice cream and beer and then rapidly descends into purse-snatching and shooting smack in a dope house before showing them returning to camp within an hour, none the worse for wear.

I like oddball humor, but too much of Wet Hot American Summer feels like the cast enjoying themselves - hey, it's like Cannonball Run II! - and we're on the outside looking in at all the familiar faces. I'd missed it when it first came out and I was still digging on Janeane (man, she went nuts; so sad) and had always been meaning to catch up on it. Having done so, I'm genuinely baffled at the cult fave regard it's held in. It's simply not that good other than as a good hub film for 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Score: 3/10. Watch it on a friend's cable so you can both go, "Hey, is that...?"

"Columbiana" Review

Hollywood loves sequels. However, for every Crazed Torture Porn Next Higher Number and Formula Katherine Heigl Rom-Com 2011 we get, there are plenty that we don't get. Where's Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League? More importantly, where is Matilda: The Professional in which a grown-up Natalie Portman reprises her debut role as a grown-up hit woman? Every so often, you'll hear teases of rumors that Natalie and writer-director Luc Besson would reteam, but nothing comes of it. Until now. Sort of.

In spots, Columbiana has imagery and themes which reminded me of Besson's Léon (bka The Professional) and his role as producer and co-writer are surely relevant, but it simply doesn't add up to tell a a consistent tale of hot babe murder and revenge.

Opening in 1992, we meet young Cataleya, a 10-year-old girl whose father is involved with a Columbian crime kingpin. He's leaving the boss' service and it seems amicable, but the father knows the boss will send people to kill him and he's right. He gives a SD card to her and is then promptly murdered with her mother. A bad guy tries to get it from her, but she stabs him and takes off in a parkour-style chase (ripped off from Casino Royale and Besson's District B-13), making her way to the American Embassy and safety in the USA with her uncle.

We then jump ahead 15 years (which makes no sense because that would be 2007 and she's been on the warpath for four years, it's revealed) when she crashes her car into a cop car and stumbles out looking like Halle Berry's crackhead in Jungle Fever. They toss her in jail and she proceeds to sneak through the jail to kill an associate of the crime lord's who is conveniently being held overnight in another area. How does she know all this? How come everything works out flawlessly? Just 'cause.

Her calling card left at the scene of her hits has a diligent FBI agent on her tail (a very good Lennie James) and eventually the kingpin realizes who's after him, so he sends minions to kill those close to her and she's got an artist guy who she goes and shags before leaving and he knows nothing much about this hot girl - to be fair, if Zoe Saldana showed up at my place looking for nothing but sex, I'm not gonna complain about not knowing her real name - and then there's um something and it gets slow and.....whatever.

Luc Besson is an assembly line for these action movies and it's really wearing thin. This is the same writing team and director (the awesomely-named Olivier Megaton) behind the franchise-killing Transporter 3 and while the ads tout that they wrote the badass Taken, the problem Columbiana suffers from is Megaton's weak pacing during the non-action scenes. Characters are tissue-thin caricatures and while it's a slight change-up to make your lead oblivious to the collateral damage she causes, there's not enough depth to get worked up over it.

Zoe Saldana is a hottie, but she's too thin to be credible as an ass-kicker. There are a few stylish shots and a handful of semi-interesting ideas, but it's just all done too half-assed and disinterestedly to really recommend things. Megaton's simply not visually innovative enough to grant a pass to the storytelling weakness in his game (he's no McG) and with a lackluster cut-and-paste script, there's even less for him to work with.

I like revenge movies. I love hot kickass babes with guns. This movie was starting off with an 8 before the lights went down and it just shed score all the way down. Pity. (Zoe, call me!)

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Green Lantern" Review

Dear gawd this was awful. Simply miserable. Tedious, dull, stupid, boring - about halfway through I looked over at my girlfriend and she looked miserable and I half-expected her to look at me and beg to go and I realized I didn't have a strong argument against getting up and leaving. We stuck it out because we'd paid our money and to see if anything interesting eventually happened.

It didn't.

The script is dull; the plot vapid; the direction listless; the action scenes inert; Ryan Reynolds is not believable; Blake Lively is almost passable in the beginning before the script gives her nothing to do; the villains suck though Parallax thankfully doesn't have daddy issues. Usually even terrible movies have a couple of good bits, but Green Lantern only almost gives hints of a possibly having a fragment of a good idea in a couple of fleeting spots.

I was miserable the whole time I was in the theater and when we got back to my girlfriend's place, I told her father, "Green Lantern blew goats. I will not be buying the DVD or Blu-ray. I will not be downloading it, so you'll be waiting for it to show up on cable before you see it and I implore you to not bother." He'll probably look at it to see if it's as bad as advertised.

It is.

Score: 0.5/10 (that's a half-point). Skip it. I'm not kidding. RUN AWAY!!!

I'm not bothering posting the trailer. Bah.

UPDATE (12/18/11): I picked up a used copy of the Extended Cut on Blu-ray to see if the extras explained why this movie was so terrible. About 30-40 minutes into the PIP mode, it seems like they're pretty satisfied with how it turned out. Self-knowledge was in short supply, it appears.

"Final Destination 5" Review

After too many Freddie/Jason/Michael-type horror slasher flicks, the original Final Destination was a nice surprise because instead of a masked, invincible killing machine whacking kids, it was Death itself claiming the survivors of the movie-starting disasters. In case you've never seen one of these, the formula is the same: A gruesome accident that kills a bunch of people spectacularly is revealed to be a premonition by one character who then tries to warn everyone away. While he's able to save a handful despite their thinking he's crazy, the accident occurs and people die and they're still alive, thanks to him. At least until the survivors start dying off, one by one in the order they would've originally, in bizarre Rube Goldberg-worthy accidents.

The first film was clever. The sequel had a great opening crash chain reaction, but the subsequent kills were too obvious in setting up the mouse traps. The third entry was even worse as we could see the dominoes being obviously set up in preparation for the hapless victim's demise. It was getting so weak that I totally skipped the fourth film, The Final Destination, which hinted it would the last one of the series. HA! Fat chance! There's money to be made and thus we have Final Destination 5, or as I shall call it, Final Destination OOOOHHHH!!!!!!, because that what you're going to be saying. A lot!

It opens with a corporate retreat with a group know what? Who cares? Here's what matters:

• The opening disaster is the best since the highway crash in FD2. You will exclaim, "OOOOHHH!!!!", and laugh three or four times in this part alone.

• The survivors are barely two dimensional nobodies played by cheap talent you probably won't recognize beyond the boss. Who were they? A guy whose cute girlfriend (she looks like a cross between Sarah Polley and Anna Faris) has dumped him; another guy and his not-that-cute girlfriend; an annoying dork; the a-hole boss; a hot chick; and a token black guy who looks like Mos Def. Names? Didn't notice. Care whether they survive or not? Not really. The reason?

• In Final Destination flicks, it's ALL about the killings and FD5 really brought its a game. I'm deliberating NOT including the trailer below because it gives away too many setups and payoffs. It'll be more fun to just go and see it.

What makes it work this time is that while we see the elements of the dominoes/killing mousetrap machine individually, but aren't sure how it all goes together until it is set in motion. There are some red herrings and a couple of the coup de graces are foreseeable, but for the most part they're wonderfully grisly in a Grand Guignol manner and usually have a bonus OOOOOOHHH! for good measure.

I wasn't that enthused to see Final Destination 5, but I'm glad I did. If they can keep this level of mayhem going, bring more on.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch a matinee.

We didn't see it in 3D, but could tell that several of the shots were totally cheesetastic stick stuff in the audience's faces stuff to the point I almost wish I had gone with 3D. It's not mandatory, though.

I hate when people hint at twists because you're always trying to see them coming, but I'm just going to say that there's a reason why everyone seems to have crappy old cell phones. Heh.

"Blitz" Review

You expect certain things from a Jason Statham film: gruff, bald bloke beats the crap out of everyone; perhaps drives a car fast, too. With only a couple and rather notable exceptions - scenes that feel like someone felt obliged to have him clobber someone as fan service - the extremely British crime drama Blitz doesn't meet the minimum expectations. (BTW, I've tagged it foreign because it's really English. Perhaps not Attack the Block English, but definitely not geared for Yankee consumption; even more so than most Guy Ritchie movies.)

Statham stars as a cop who is a little too rough with the customers - though judging from the current riots in England, perhaps he's what the bobbies could use about now - in the rough Southeast section of London. When a psychopath calling himself "Blitz" starts murdering cops, he teams up with a new commanding officer, who isn't respected by the beat cops because he's gay, to track down the killer.

Blitz is a very oddly-paced movie, taking numerous side streets with subplots involving a lady cop who's fresh out of rehab, a young street thug she's trying to get out of crime, a squirrely informant who figures out who the killer is, a tabloid reporter who doesn't readily share what the killer is telling him with the po-po, and the original watch commander on leave because his wife as died. Instead of it all adding up to a rich tapestry, it feels like random plot arcs from a TV series spliced together badly.

The villain, Aiden Gillen, reminds me of a cross between Tom Waits and Michael Wincott channeling young John Hurt mimicing Gary Oldman's Sid Vicious. (I see he was Petyr Baelish, the Caesar-cut adviser on Game of Thrones whom Stupid Ned Stark didn't heed when he said not to trust him. Didn't recognize him here.) His reasoning for killing coppers is a little murky and the implication that Statham set him off somehow is sketchy. Statham is OK, but wasted in a narrow role.

If there's something to recommend Blitz it's the surprisingly arty cinematography and shot composition. It looks like a Wes Anderson film at times and the omission of all the usual London landmarks - Big Ben, the Millennium Bridge and Wheel, Parliament, that giant glass football building - makes the grit more visceral. Too bad the story wanders all over the place in between spots of the ultra-violence.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Review

One of the lingering questions of the entire Planet of the Apes series has been how the monkeys managed to take over the asylum. How did they get so smart and mankind so dumb? Taking a plausible stab, albeit in an implausible manner, at explaining how it came to pass is Rise of the Planet of the Apes or as I call it, Rise o' da World o' da Monkees.

James Franco is a medical researcher trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's with a personal stake: his father, John Lithgow, is slipping away from the ravages of the disease. Thinking he's made a breakthrough, he is presenting his results to the Evil Big Pharma Company's board when the chimp he'd treated bursts in, gone crazy, and is shot dead by security. Game over. No more research - buy they give up easy - and the rest of the test animals are to be put down. (As in killed, not called names.) They discover the reason for her freak-out, she'd carried an undetected pregnancy - real sharp observers at this lab, eh? - and the baby was what she was trying to protect. Whoops.

Franco takes it home, names him Caesar, and discovers that he's inherited his mother's enhanced intelligence. He also treats his dad with the drug, apparently curing him. Things are fine for 8 years by with time Caesar has grow, both in size and smarts. However, when Lithgow starts to regress, Caesar's ill-conceived plan to protect him from a crappy neighbor results in him being shipped off to a primate preserve run by Col. Stryker from X-Men 2 and Draco Malfoy. Yes, it's a crappy place with plenty of abuse, but it's also where Caesar decides to make his own fortunes. Monkeyshines ensue.

The power of RotPotA comes from motion capture performer Andy Serkis (aka Gollum and King Kong for Peter Jackson's films) and the FX wizards at Weta who take the series past the limitations of the stiff rubber prosthetics of the first five films (and the ill-considered Tim Burton "re-imagining") into fully computer-generated chimps, gorillas, and orangutangs. With Serkis' on-set performance being capturing by motion and facial-tracking cameras, he has been transformed into Caesar, a completely realized character, not merely a special effect. There is talk that this may finally cause the Academy Awards to come to grips with the reality that these performance capture-driven CGI entities need to be considered as ACTING and not merely animation. Some idiot at Entertainment Weekly had a rant about why Avatar's actors didn't deserve consideration and it's still BS. Remember that Serkis got snubbed for his work as Gollum a decade ago. Perhaps the Actor's Branch needs to be forced to watch this:

There are a few instances where the monkeys look rubbery and the swirling camera movements make you aware of their physical impossibility, but for the most part you believe these are real, thinking creatures. So well executed are the apes, the people come off uniformly flat and underwritten. Franco is miscast, he's never plausible as a scientist; Frieda Pinto (from Slumdog Millionaire) is lovely, but just there to be a female character in an otherwise sausage fest movie; Brian Cox and Tom Felton are cliches; only Lithgow is slightly better off, but that's because he's playing a disease and not a person.

There are also several glaring logic and execution gaps starting with the passage of 8 years feeling like 8 weeks because there's no outward sign of the passage of time - no one grows older or changes hairstyle or changes jobs or anything. The company gives up instantly on developing the drug, but when Franco comes up with an improved version (and inadvertently setting off the extinction of the human race in a ham-handed scene), they immediately rush it into production without proper testing. When Sock from Reaper starts sneezing blood, he doesn't really make much of an effort to let anyone know that he's Patient Zero for the annihilation of the human race. Dumbass.

But when we're in the presence of the soon-to-rise apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is sublime. Everything cool about this movie stems from the artistry of Serkis and his fellow performers with Weta pushing mountains of realistic pixels to skin the acting in realistic fur. Everything lame involves the real living people. Kudos to director Rupert Wyatt for making what's almost a silent movie - I'd like to see the screenplay to see how it was originally written and structured.

Score: 7/10. Catch a matinee.

"Super" Review

Hoo boy, this was a letdown. Hyped up in the nerd film blog world as being an even more subversive take on the do-it-yourself superhero genre (think Kick-Ass), Slither director James Gunn's Super was supposed to be an even darker indie take with The Office's Rainn Wilson as the Crimson Bolt and Ellen Page (taking a break from her past roles playing really smart 14-year-old boys) as his "kid sidekick, Bolty." Unfortunately, it looks and feels like a micro-budget indie production that would've starred people last seen as extras in Clerks if not for the presence of Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion, Linda Cardellini, William Katt (get it?) and Michael Rooker.

Wilson is a schlubby diner cook married to Tyler. When she leaves him for Bacon - and who doesn't like bacon, mmmmm, wait, what? - he snaps and inspired by the adventures of the Holy Avenger (Fillion, who starred in Slither) on the All Jesus Network fashions himself into the Crimson Bolt with the hilarious catchphrase, "SHUT UP, CRIME!" With comic book store clerk Page as his sidekick, they proceed to literally crack heads (with a pipe wrench) on their way to assaulting Bacon's mansion.

Put simply, Super isn't. It's pacing is leaden, the look is cheap, the stars were obviously paying back favors and appearing because they could be in and out in a day or two, and the tone never quite works as we're supposed to laugh at the brutal overkill - does cutting in line merit having your head smashed in? I mean, talking in a movie, sure... - and/or be freaked out by this increasingly out of control dork.

Ellen Page is the best thing in the movie as the manic sidekick. To see Juno basically raping Dwight Schrute and cackling as she crushes bad guys with a car while in her underwear is a hoot, but it's almost as if she decided to make her own fun. All the other performances are adequate, but they're lost in Gunn's barrel of mediocre meandering. Too bad.

Score: 3/10. Skip it and watch Kick-Ass again.

It's weird seeing Page play a girl, huh?

"Bad Teacher" Review

Cool. The trailer saves me the trouble of synopsizing the plot. Watch it:

That's pretty much it. Gold-digger Cameron Diaz is a cruddy teacher looking for a man to take care of her and is only working to by the boob job she thinks is the key to achieving this goal. Hijinks ensue.

While it's clear the producers are trying to catch some of the aura of 2003's black comedy (as in dark humor, not Tyler Perry) Bad Santa in the title here, the key difference is that Billy Bob Thornton's thieving Santa was a moral degenerate and generally reprehensible lowlife and Diaz is just a goofy dame who is so close to being acceptable that she can clean her act up in an instant. Nothing wrong with that, but instead of calling it Bad Teacher, something like Classless Teacher would've sufficed.

Diaz is cute and funny as are Timberlake and Segel, but the consistent standout isn't Lucy Punch as many reviews have singled out, though she's fine, but Phyllis Smith (from The Office), as the timid portly teacher who befriends Diaz despite her shallowness. She puts a spin on her performance that makes it magnetic to watch, more so that the more familiar take Punch applies to her rabid Miss Squirrel.

The problem with Bad Teacher is that it's just not bad enough. But, it's OK.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Disturbia" Blu-ray Review

Since Hollyweird has run out of original ideas and remade classic novels in updated forms (e.g. The Taming of the Shrew became 10 Things I Hate About You; Emma became Clueless); remade horror films that aren't that old (e.g. Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, A Nightmare on Elm Street); along with endless sequels, reboots, cartoons, whatever, it was only a matter of time before classic movies from a half-century ago got the update treatment. Thus Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 thriller Rear Window (starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Raymond Burr - Ironside!) becomes 2007's Disturbia (starring the kid from Transformers, the Asian guy from 21, and a cute girl who looks like a less-inflated Blake Lively w/0 the face mole).

Shia LeBeouf stars as a boy who, after his father is killed in a tragic auto accident, becomes a sullen, detached zombie who punches out his Spanish teacher. Confined to house arrest for three months on a tether which will summon the cops if he strays more than 100 feet from the base station. After his mom (Carrie-Anne Moss - Trinity's a mom?!?) yanks his Xbox Live and iTunes accounts, he entertains himself by spying on his neighbors, all of whom have nice big windows without curtains and one of which belongs to new neighbors, including hottie Sarah Roemer, who looks like this...

...and after catching Sam Witwicky and his pal, Aaron Yoo, watching her swim, actually joins in on their stakeout of a creepy neighbor (David Morse) who they suspect of being a serial killer. As usual, hijinks ensue.

The fundamental problem that Disturbia has is that it has a generally unappealing protagonist, a bunch of gaping plot holes and illogical missteps which cause the killer to be both supremely uncatchable and totally incompetent at basic murder-hiding, and it just marks time until the "thrilling conclusion." (Director D.J. Caruso and LaBeef reteamed on the substantially better Eagle Eye, though ironically that fell apart at the end after a strong start, the opposite of Disturbia.) There are sporadic moments between the kids that ring true, but they're sparse. Roemer is cute, but who isn't in Hollywood these days?

I hadn't seen this and my girlfriend said it wasn't anything much and she was correct. The Blu-ray's picture quality is sharp and colorful without many problems spotted - it is a good-looking, well-photographed and lit film - and the surround sound is OK, showing off most during the conclusion. The 15-minute making-of featurette is the usual mutual appreciation festival in which everyone loves everyone else's brilliance and blah-blah-woof-woof.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

I couldn't find an embeddable trailer, so you'll have to go here to see it.

July 2011 Review Roundup

After a slow start, things closed with a bang including five big-screen flicks in the final eight days of the month. The 7-4 theatrical-home split was a change from the usual, too.

July 3 - Transformers: Dark of the Moon (7/10)
July 4 - X-Men: First Class (9/10)
July 10 - Hall Pass (5/10)
July 11 - Unknown (6/10)
July 23 - Captain America: The First Avenger (9/10); Mean Girls
July 25 - Drive Angry (3/10)
July 26 - 30 Minutes or Less
July 27 - The Change-Up (5/10); Friends With Benefits (8/10)
July 31 - The Hangover Part II (7/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 11
Previously Unseen: 9
Theatrical: 7
Home: 4
Year-To-Date: 72
YTD First-Timers: 60
YTD Theatrical: 26
YTD Home: 46

"The Hangover Part II" Review

The Hangover (reviewed here) was a modern comedy classic. The Hangover Part II is an unneeded but totally expected cash-in on the mega-success of the first. If you think it's going to be pretty much the same movie, but in a new location with a few twists, you're right.

This time the Wolf Pack is in Thailand for Ed Helm's wedding to Jamie Chung. How the dopey dentist scored such a hot babe isn't explained and frankly doesn't make sense. Whatever. Her dad hates Ed and insults him at the welcoming dinner. If this guy is so rich, why is he allowing his little girl to marry Ed. (No, I don't hate Ed. I'm just saying.) One thing leads to another and the trio wake up in a seedy Bangkok hotel room with a shaved head (Zach Galiafinakis or however he spells it), a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face (Ed), and otherwise looking dashing and handsome (Bradley Cooper). They're also missing the bride's little brother, but they've got his finger, so that's a start. Wait, what?

The element of surprise in the first one is missing this time. What made the original so clever was that the audience found out what was going on as the guys did. This time, others always seem to have the answers so if anyone had wanted to stop them and explain what had happened, well, there wouldn't be a movie, would there? As a result, beyond the new setting, director Todd Phillips and gang resort to a darker, meaner brand of humor which strays into disturbing territory enough that it gets a little scary which makes it less funny. We're down with watching these idiots get run through the wringer, but some of the stuff that happens gets pretty dark.

I saw a review bagging on Zach's performance and the character of Alan in general; basically saying that Zach is obviously so dangerous and stupid that there is no way in hell anyone would willingly hang out with him, especially with his track record of mayhem. That's pretty much right, because Zach has been really milking his time in the spotlight to push his weird humor. While that's always been his bag, I'm starting to sense he thinks it's really impressive when the charm before was he didn't seem aware that he was odd and that's what was funny about him.

On the plus side is Ken Jeong who is back as the manic Chow, the naked guy who jumped out of the trunk in the first one. He's still having clothing issues and I hope for his wife's sake he's not really hung, as Detroit punk poet Jimmy Doom would say, like a startled hamster, but he brings a zany angle that somewhat balances the meaner tone elsewhere. Jeong too has used The Hangover to springboard to bigger things (like Community on NBC), but he's lovably daffy unlike Zach's "keep the taser handy" comedy.

Ultimately, The Hangover Part II isn't a disaster - I laughed a lot - but it's just so lacking in ambition or purpose that it's hard to recommend it heartily. There is no real reason for it to exist other than make some more money and with an opening weekend gross of $135 million during the five-day Memorial Day weekend and a current worldwide take of $563 million, that's a big mission accomplished.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Friends With Benefits" Review

Rom-com. If there are six letters that sum up a genre more devoid of originality and surprises than the abbreviation of "romantic-comedy", I can't think of them. (Granted, I'm writing this at the bar while on my 4th beer of the night, but...) The genre is so pitiful that even the trailers spell out every beat of the movie, thus saving you the time and money to bother seeing them. Is there ever a real question whether the couple who initially hate each other won't fall madly in love by the last reel? Exactly.

In a bonus dose of uncreativity, Friends With Benefits as the disadvantage of coming a half-year after the dreadful (according to my girlfriend who says she hates rom-coms yet watches any I download for her) No Strings Attached (starring Ashton Kutcher and Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman; yeah, that happened), but somehow turns out not only tolerable, but enjoyable. (The fact we saw it free after strolling in after a screening of The Change-Up can't have hurt.)

The setup is the usual: A pair of beautiful people (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) decide that since they can't find anyone meaningful - yeah, it's partly sci-fi movie - they decide to have a sex-only relationship. Will they end up falling in love by the end? It would be spoiling to tell, but let's just hint that YES THEY DO!!!!

When the conclusion is foregone, how you get there is what counts and where FWB succeeds in having very appealing stars enabled by a knowing script and the director of Easy A, Will Gluck, to keep the familiar feeling fresh. There are scenes with the couple watching a terrible fictional rom-com starring an uncredited Jason Segel and Rashida Jones and riffing about how awful it is. Even when the film ranges through the part late in the second act when all these movies find a way to break the lovers apart, it does so with a subtext saying, "Yeah, we know this is crap and a waste of time, but it's Hollywood rom-com law that we do it otherwise we lose our discount at Starbucks, man." A heavy subplot involving Justin's father having Alzheimer's is salvaged by having dad played by Richard Jenkins and allowing it to illuminate Justin's dilemma. That the movie didn't crash and burn there is a minor miracle.

It also helps that there are colorful supporting turns from Patricia Clarkson as Mila's a-little-too-free-spirited Seventies love mama; Woody Harrelson as the gay sports editor of GQ magazine; Jenna Elfman as Justin's single-mom sister taken care of Dad; and Emma Stone as the John Mayer-obsessed girl who dumps Justin in the beginning. Gluck plays everything fast and light and manages to hit all the tired cliches of these flicks without making us hate them as we should.

Will Friends With Benefits change your life or rehabilitate the tired rom-com genre? Heck to the no! But what it does do is not make you wish you were cleaning your place or getting your kneecaps sandblasted instead of watching this. It's frivolous, unsubstantial and otherwise unnecessary, but it's fun and doesn't actively insult your intelligence and that's a minor miracle these days.

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee or pay full price for date night. (So says my girlfriend.)

"The Change-Up" Review

Summarizing The Change-Up is easy: It's Hall Pass meets Freaky Friday with dudes. Jason Bateman is a happily-married father of three who is on the verge of becoming partner at his law firm. (He's Owen Wilson's Hall Pass character crossed with his part in Horrible Bosses.) Ryan Reynolds is a stoner slacker, a permanent man-child who's been Bateman's best friend since 3rd grade (as the script helpfully tells us.) One night, after drinking and having a mutual case of grass-is-always-greener-over-there-itis, they pee into a magic fountain while wishing they had each other's lives and wake up in each other's bodies. Hijinks ensue.

I was never really able to get on board with The Change-Up for some reason. The whole time it felt off-kilter and choppy and frankly I'm bored stupid with poop humor. In the first minute we're treated to a close-up of a baby boy's CGI-enhanced farting butt presaging a torrent of chocolate pudding poo blasting all over Bateman's face. So funny. Not. (Has any movie with a baby-changing scene passed up having some hapless chump peed/pooped upon? Grow up, Hollyweird!) It goes slightly uphill from there, but it never strays far from the toilet. What ever happened to people getting punched in the junk? That's still slightly amusing.

The episodic nature of the "story" isn't helped by the overall familiarity of the bits. Will Ryan in Jason's body screw up the big deal, but redeem himself? Duh. Will Jason in Ryan's body be appalled at the Skinemax "lorno" movie he has to perform in? (BTW, if it's fake porn, why does he have to stick his thumb up the terrifying actress' butt?) When Jason/Ryan gets to go out with the smoking hot Olivia Wilde, a law associate at his office, will he ultimately punk out because he misses his wife and family? Yawn...

There is one scene where they attempt to tell Jason's wife, Leslie "Mrs. Judd Apatow" Mann, about the body switch when they try to use the "Ask me something only I'd know" gambit and (surprise!) Jason doesn't know his wife while silly Ryan/Jason knows. That this predictable bit happens isn't the problem; that a while later Leslie cries to Ryan/Jason about how weird Jason/Ryan is behaving and she's afraid he doesn't love her and never stops to think that it may be because THEY'RE IN EACH OTHER'S BODIES is a problem. It's as if no one read the whole script and spotted that nothing aligned. Another problem is that the performances aren't as defined as they need to be. When we look at Jason and Ryan, we never really think we're seeing Ryan and Jason's characters.

All these complaints make it sound like I hated The Change-Up, but I didn't. I just found it lumpy, lazy and mostly obvious. What is good? Olivia Wilde's hottie hot girl co-worker. When she goes out on non-date with Ryan/Jason and suggests that they keep doing stuff because it's still early, I was hoping she'd suggest they go kill hobos because that would've been HAWT!! (Ahem.) Like she did in TRON Legacy, Wilde manages to make a flatly-written character fascinating. Mann is also good, though there's no way she did that nudity; she's never done it before and while she's a very attractive woman, the boobs they CGI onto her body are from a girl half her 39 years. CGI is also utilized for some funny stuff involving Jason's babies. However most of the humor is mostly shock-based. (I guess simply writing funny stuff is too difficult for Hollywood these days.)

I've given an extra point to the score for Olivia Wilde and to compensate for any possibility I may've been out of sorts and thus not appreciating the true awesomeness of The Change-Up, but no matter how you slice it, it's a wait for cable flick.

UPDATE: After further consideration, I've decided to knock it back down a point to an unadjusted 5/10. It's just too much of a mess.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"30 Minutes or Less" Review

If something about the setup of 30 Minutes or Less seems familiar, it's because you're thinking of the weird case in 2003 where a middle-aged guy in Pennsylvania walked into a bank claiming he had been jumped and fitted with a bomb shackled around his neck and if he didn't get money for his attackers, he'd die. Captured by the police after failing to get away, he was sitting on the pavement waiting for the bomb squad to arrive when the bomb went off, killing him. Who did this to him and whether he was party to scheme was a mystery and even though there were eventually people held accountable, there is still some speculation whether the masterminds were actually punished.

Fortunately, director Ruben (Zombieland) Fleischer's movie downplays the grimness and merely uses the bomb vest device in a totally unrelated story. Danny McBride is a moron (no typecasting here!) who hates his father and concocts a scheme to have him killed in order to inherit the rest of his Lotto winnings. In order to get the money for a hitman, he and his dim-but-technically-savvy buddy lure pizza delivery guy Jesse Eisenberg to an isolated spot where they jump him, chloroform him, and strap a bomb to him. With orders to get $100,000 within 10 hours or BOOM!, Jesse goes to his best friend, Aziz Ansari, whom he's on the outs with after admitting he'd slept with Aziz's twin sister years before. Hijnks ensue.

Fast-paced at only 83 minutes long, 30 Minutes or Less delivers plenty of profane, low-brow laughs along with some sly observational gags (e.g. McBride's riff on proper mix tape construction for crime) and it's obvious that there was plenty of improvisation happening. If there's a flaw with the movie, it's that the characters don't arc much even within the limits of a movie that all takes place in one day. The performances are all good and Eisenberg continues to make anyone who thought Michael Cera deserved a career regret their naivety. (Judging from Cera's IMDB page, the failure of Scott Pilgrim, Hollywood has finally discovered he is box office poison.)

Compared to Zombieland, which had a much better script, 30 Minutes or Less feels a tad slight. It's worth seeing, just not trekking to the theater for.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

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