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2010 Review Roundup Roundup

For ease of access, here are the monthly review roundups for every month of 2010. (You can also find these by clicking the Roundup tag.)

January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010

They were 81 reviews out of the 103 movies I watched, with a span from Sept. thru Nov. where I really slacked off.

December 2010 Review Roundup

Things picked up on both the watching and reviewing front.

Dec. 6 - Showgirls Blu-ray Bitchy Commentary
Dec. 13 - Altitude (4/10)
Dec. 14 - Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (4/10)
Dec. 15 - The Town (7/10); Rammbock (4/10)
Dec. 20 - Black Swan (5/10)
Dec. 21 - Devil (4/10)
Dec. 22 - TRON: Legacy (5/10)
Dec. 27 - Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball (4/10); Push Blu-ray
Dec. 28 - The Runaways Blu-ray Commentary

Month's Movies Watched: 14
Previously Unseen: 10
Theatrical: 2
Home: 12
Year-To-Date: 103
YTD First-Timers: 88
YTD Theatrical: 26
YTD Home: 77

"The Runaways" Blu-ray/Commentary Review

I've already covered The Runaways when it limped onto screens last April, so I'm just going to talk about the transfer and extras here.

The centerpiece is the feature commentary with Joan Jett, Kristen Stewart (who played Jett), and Dakota Fanning (who played Cherie Currie) and it's a disappointment as none of them are very talkative, mostly limiting their comments to how hot it was during the summer shoot and factual errors. Since Jett was an Executive Producer who was on the set at all times, why didn't she step in to straighten things out, like the fact that she says she NEVER wore leather pants like Stewart sports throughout the movie. (Might as well give her a boyfriend if you're going to take such liberties. Just goes to show that based-on-true-story biopics are less reliable than Wikipedia, such as The Social Network showing Mark Zuckerburg drinking appletinis, something he says he never had.) Fanning doesn't offer much and seems uncomfortable discussing her racier scenes.

Seriously missing from the commentary is Currie, whose book Neon Angel was the basis for the script, and toured doing Q&As. Heck a solo track with just her would've probably been nice. She does show in a 15-minute long making-of PR piece while Jett goes missing other than a couple of stills of her with Stewart. Odd.

The transfer looks good, but it's not a great showcase for Blu-ray due to the period-accurate Seventies look which goes for a darker, flatter contrast range and there is light grain owing to the Super 16mm film format. (Though it looked like digital cameras in the making-of. Had to look it up.) You could probably get a good enough look from the DVD if you aren't particular.

The one sorta neat thing exclusive to the Blu-ray is a feature called MovieIQ which Sony has reportedly been threatening to roll out for four years. Using BD-Live, it streams in trivia info and filmography info for most of the actors in the scenes and lists the soundtrack, offering to send you a playlist of the songs via email. (I didn't test this.)

One nifty gimmick is the ability to move this menu to your smartphone by browsing to a website and entering a five-digit code which then puts your phone in sync with the film's playback. I paused a few times for breaks and was watching at 1.5X playback speed and it kept up for the most part. It's superfluous, but a neat trick. The site's system requirements imply that this is iPhone/iPad only, but it worked on my Android EVO with Miren browser just fine.

The Bottom Line: Overall, while it's nice to have a bit better picture with Blu-ray and the added bell and whistle of MovieIQ, casual fans of the film would probably be satisfied picking up a used copy of the DVD.

One knock against Sony, though I've seen others starting to pull this crap as well: STOP PUTTING FORCED TRAILERS THAT WE HAVE TO MANUALLY SKIP PAST TO GET TO THE MENU!!! There are a half-dozen or so you are potentially looking at 15 MINUTES of ads before you're allowed to watch the movie. STOP IT!!!!

"Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball" Review

If the trailer and Wikipedia page didn't say so, there is no reason to think that Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball was in any way connected to the original 2007 film and other than that film's director being a producer and given "characters by" credit, I still don't see the connection other than a bunch of assassins are trying to kill the same guy and a lot of shooty-shooty-bang-bang occurs.

Tom Berenger stars as Walter Weed, a mid-level FBI agent in a wheelchair who is informed that he has been targeted with a contract that requires him to be dead by 3 a.m. April 19th. Who and why he's wanted dead is unknown, so the FBI mounts an elaborate protection operation to keep him alive until he's worthless to kill. They take him to a hidden bunker under a FBI front Chicago jazz bar and figure he's safe there. Of course, they're wrong as four assassins - Vinnie Jones, some hot Mexican babe, a creepy guy who makes death masks of his victims while they're alive, and a family of Southern redneck idiots and one hot crazy chick (Autumn Reeser) - all manage to show up at the club. Mayhem ensues.

The first film was an so-so wacky actioner with some surprising casting, but this one is mostly stylized mayhem over substance. All the killers are giving splashy intros and there is some witty bantering while they're killing time until it's killing time, but I was able to guess how it was going to play out about two minutes in, so it was just a countdown to the inevitable, Knew it," moment. The mayhem is unrealistic, but that's not the problem; it just seems so...needless. Sure, it's fun to see dynamite-loaded circus clowns used as munitions, but the fake explosions undersell the potential.

More problematic is the ending which appears to show people we saw killed sneaking away from the scene. Very weird. Oh, wait a second...I get it now, one of the killers goes on to be in Smokin' Aces. (I looked it up; I never would've made the connection because it's such an obscure player. Fail.)* Also, since when have prequels had a higher number than the original? Shouldn't it have been Smokin' Aces 0: This Isn't Necessary?

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

* UPDATE: After posting this review, I watched the extras and discovered that several of the characters were in the original movie, including one of the Tremor Brothers, the crazed trio of Road Warrior-looking guys who were one of the few memorable things about that movie. That I didn't realize this was the same gang really shows how this prequel/sequel/NyQuil is really for hardcore fans of the original only.

"30 Days of Night: Dark Days" Review

The original 2007 30 Days of Night was a good adaptation of the graphic novel, making the most of its premise of vampires attacking a Northern Alaska town during the month in winter the sun never rises. This direct-to-video cash-in is probably totally unrelated to any of the subsequent novels and has the distinct feel of a generic vampire flick with enough tweaks to tenuously tie it to the original, according to a reader who wrote, closely related to the second book in the series, which makes its poor execution even less excusable.

Stella, the wife of the the Josh Hartnett character played originally by Melissa George, now Kiele Sanchez (me neither), has been touring the country telling her story of what happened to disbelieving audiences. In L.A., she is met by a group of vampire hunters who, like her, have lost loved ones and are hunting the queen responsible for the Barrow events, Lilith (Mia Kirshner), in town. Stupidity ensues.

Whether it's dumping her shotgun when she's out of ammo - you can reload those, you know? - leaving her bra on during the requisite desperate situation sex scene, or being a general twit, Stella's certainly no stellar student in vampire hunting and just about every beat, twist and both endings are foreseeable from the opening credits. I'm sure the filmmakers were thinking they were clever. They weren't.

Score: 2/10. Skip it and go buy the original 30 Days of Night.

"2010: The Year We Make Contact" Blu-ray Review

It's been ages since I've seen 1984's 2010; I wouldn't be surprised if it's been nearly that long since I've seen it, but I've always remembered it for the dated Cold War aspects. Upon rewatching it Blu-ray, it's even worse than I remember, bogging down an adequate follow-up to the grossly overrated Stanley Kubrick "classic" 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that I revisit every five years or so to see if it still sucks, which invariably it does.

Starting several years after 2001 (heh), Dr. Haywood Floyd (played this time by Roy Scheider) is approached by the Russians with a proposal: They know the USA is planning on sending a mission to find out what happened to the Discovery, but have a ship ready to leave now and would get to Jupiter a year sooner and are offering to take Floyd, the chief designer of the Discovery (John Lithgow), and Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), who programmed the psychotic computer HAL-9000, who killed everyone by Dave Bowman (Kier Dulea). Complicating matters are simmering tensions between the Soviet Union and America over Central America. When they get to Jupiter, they discover the giant monolith shown at the end of 2001 and then things get a little crazy.

When you strip out the preachy "We've got to trust each other; damn the politicians" claptrap that firmly roots this futuristic story in the Reagan years of 26 years ago and the somewhat slow pacing - though meth-fueled compared to Kubrick's glacial snoozer - you have a fairly straightforward space exploration tale with above-average special effects and production values. The sets and style are very reminiscent of Alien and it's a hoot to see Helen Mirren as the Soviet commander.

The best aspect of the film - which I actually forgot - concerns the reactivated HAL (again voiced by Douglas Rain) and whether he's truly in control now, what drove him to murder before, and whether he can be relied on when the mission has to escape from Jupiter space four weeks earlier than planned. Even though I knew how it was going to turn out, having read the source 2010: Odyssey Two novel and seen the movie, it was still effective.

As for the Blu-ray, the transfer is OK, with good, but not impressive detail due to the grainy source. Black levels are weak, causing a washed-out look to the live-action while the FX (which we shot in 65mm) look good, though you can spot some matte glow like the first time you saw Star Wars on tape before Lucas cleaned everything up. The only extra is a 9-minute long promo piece from when it came out. It's as informative as you could hope in such a brief time, but it's clear this minor movie didn't merit a major package to the studio.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

"Despicable Me" Review

Steve Carrell voices Gru, a super-villain whose scheme to steal the Moon is complicated by his adoption of three little girls, in this cute, albeit predictable animated movie. It's got some cute gags and details and I liked it; it's just not as awesome as some of the reviews gushed.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

Yeesh, they give away half the gags here.

"TRON: Legacy" Review

Most of the reviews I've seen for TRON: Legacy have been BRUTAL - like, "It sodomized my goldfish and parakeet!" levels of upset. The amount of nerd rage seemed to ratify my negative impressions from the sneak preview Disney put on a couple of months ago. Take a moment to go read that before continuing this review. I'll wait...

Back? Good. The short of it all is that TRON: Legacy isn't as bad as the haters have said; it's a better movie than its predecessor; however, it's not that good a movie for most of the reasons I laid out in the preview. While everything we were shown in that sneak happens in the first 40 minutes or so, the rest of the movie doesn't really hold much more in the way of surprises or thrills.

What's Hot:

• Two words: Olivia Wilde. As I noted, she was the most interesting thing in the preview and she's the best thing about the movie and I don't mean just because she looks like this:

No, she's the most ALIVE thing in the movie despite being a program. Wide-eyed, inquisitive, compassionate and fierce, she's the closest thing to a real PERSON in a movie full of archetypes and cardboard cutouts. That she's as hot as an overclocked CPU and one of only two women in this sausagefest doesn't hurt either.

What's Warm:

• The look of the movie, all dark and cloudy and electro-luminescent. I saw it in digital 2D (the sneak was LieMAX 3D) and frankly I don't see how it can benefit from wearing sunglasses that will make things darker. (A friend saw it in full bore IMAX 3D and tried to convince me it was worth the $9 upcharge from the twilight show I saw and to him I say, "pfffft.") The upgraded Recognizer and Solar Sailer (now some sort of freight train) are cool, but again are only meaningful to those who saw the original.

• Jeff Bridges is cool, but he's waaaaaaaaaaay too much like the Dude from The Big Lebowski for my tastes. The digitally youngified version for flashbacks and as the evil Clu program are OK, but no match for the flawless work in Benjamin Button and Avatar. It never looks natural, but like a really good special effect. Now, this lifeless version on Clu makes some sense - he's a program and only can simulate emotions - but when the other programs aren't similarly stilted, well, then it's just poor FX work.

• There are actually a few moments where the movie almost has some semi-deep things to say, but it gets buried in the gobbledygook and shiny stuff, so it doesn't matter much in the end.

Now a pause for more Olivia Wilde:

What's Cold:

• Also as predicted, Garrett Hedlund is a total stiff as Sam Flynn. As I remarked to my sidekick, McHatin, after the movie, "With all the pretty boy emo actors femming up Hollywood these days, why couldn't they find someone with some ability to emote on screen?" Hedlund is stiffer than armor panels in his suit with a constant look of inappropriate bemusement on his blank mug. That he looks nothing like his old man doesn't help, but he makes poor Hayden Christensen look like Ewan McGregor in the thespian department. I didn't like him, couldn't relate to him, didn't care a whit about him or his story. That's a hat trick of fail there.

• I've never understood the logic inside the TRON Universe and it doesn't get any clearer here. The programs act as individual people with personalities, but what is the real world (pardon the pun) analog to this? Does your Excel or Firefox exhibit any personality; what are the programs then? No one is walking around saying they're a ATM security protocol, you know? Users are treated as something more special - deities of a sort - as when Sam is nicked in a battle and bleeds instead of dropping crystalline pixels like a shattered disco ball and his opponent stops trying to kill him. Which leads to another problem: In the first movie we see Kevin Flynn (Bridges) scanned and disassembled by the laser and then re-assembled on the Grid. Here, the picture just blacks out and Sam's not in Kansas - or Vancouver - anymore. (Again, if you haven't seen the first movie...) Accepting that he's been converted into a digital entity in the computer, why is he still bleeding? Does this mean he can't be de-rezzed?

Time is explained as moving differently in the Grid - Flynn explains at one point that hours inside were mere minutes outside - so considering he's been trapped for 20 years and has aged like his son, how long in digital dog years has it been? The need for TRONland to be an alternate universe disconnects it from being a glimpse into what you're computer is doing. Another plot point involves programs going missing; it's revealed they're being converted into an army by Clu, but does that mean when I want to play Bejeweled one day it won't work because it's been conscripted to join an army meant to invade our world. It. Doesn't. Make. Sense. The Matrix got crazy in the sequels (e.g. If humanity is all locked up in the power plant pods, why are there massive gun emplacements to hold off attacking ships?), but the fundamentals had some sussable logic to them.

Compared to the original, benefiting-from-nostalgia-and-fading-memories TRON, TRON: Legacy is less cheesy and hella slicker, but doesn't bring anything compelling to the table. You don't need to see it in 3D; the plot is irrelevant and in the end a little confusing; it's obviously meant to be a giant set-up to a franchise but doesn't imply that there's anything interesting to explore on the Grid; it's just there and unlike the fervent nerd ragers venting on the Intartoobz, I can't get too worked up about it. It's just too meh to provoke much emotional response at all.

End of line.

Score: 5/10. Rent the Blu-ray if you've got a nice home theater, otherwise catch it at a dollar show.

One more for the road:

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Another unexplained thing is how stuff gets into the Grid like the shelf full of antique books Flynn has in his 2001 bachelor pad. When you see how he got stuck in there, it begs the question, "Where did the books come from?"

Another scene has father and son discussing what's changed about the world. The usual liberal crap - war, improper distribution of wealth - gets name-checked (for social relevance, don'tchaknow?) but the very method that's bringing these complaints to your eyes - the World Wide Web - goes totally unmentioned. Dumb.

"Devil" Review

It's a sign of just how fed up the moviegoing public is with M. Night Shyamalan - I'm not even going to bother checking if I spelled that correctly - that when the trailer for Devil appeared last summer, the mere sight of his name being connected with the project was greeted with snickers and murmurs of, "Well, it's safe to miss this one." Even though he was only producing and providing the story to another writer and director to execute, his precipitous decline from his debut tag-team of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable had made him a laughingstock, especially on the heels of his generally panned live-action version of The Last Airbender. Are the sins of the father to be visited on the cinematic progeny?

The premise of Devil is straightforward: Five people get into an elevator that gets stuck and then bad things happen because one of them may see this coming...may be...wait for it...the DEVIL!!! (Dun-dun-DUHN!!!!) With a security camera that can see in, but the intercom not allowing for the passengers to be heard, a police detective with a lot of personal baggage that will of course be relevant to the plot twists and turns - no, he's not already dead or a super villain - races to free them and catch the killer who is (SPOILER ALERT!) whacking the occupants one by one.

For the first part of this brief (80 minutes) movie, I was having great sport yelling unheeded advice at the brain-dead doofs in the elevator (e.g. no one thinks to use their cell phones as flashlights until the cop suggests it) and until the detective gets into the game with his Sherlock hat it felt like our intelligence was going to be insulted, but it gets better though it's pretty obvious if you've seen a couple of these movies who the ultimate villain will be. There is an interesting angle of spirituality at play, but Night's puppets choose to hammer the point home in a voice-over narration to the point where whatever profundity may've been found is rendered trite.

If you don't go in expecting too much, Devil is an adequate popcorn muncher that manages to be more satisfying than anything its creator as put out in a decade, yet too slight to be really recommendable.

Score: 4/10. Catch on cable.

"Black Swan" Review

The reviews for Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan have been all over the map; topping some year-end best-of-2010 lists and making some worst-of lists as well. Going in I figured it would be a love it or hate it situation - instead I managed to land in the middle as I don't think it really works out.

Natalie Portman is painfully intense as Nina, a ballerina who is tapped to play the lead in Swan Lake. Her years of tortuous practice - the physical toll taken on ballerinas is graphically illustrated - goaded on by her stage mother from Hell (Barbara Hershey) and driven her to seek perfection and probably mad in the process. It doesn't help that the smarmy director of the ballet keeps complaining that while she is technically perfect, she lacks the soul that a newcomer, Lily (Mila Kunis), possesses which would make for a better performance as the Black Swan portion of the ballet. Lily lacks Nina's technique, but has a free spirit (read: she's sex on wheels) that the tightly-wound and crazy repressed Nina seems to lack. As the pressure and paranoia mounts, Nina's grip on reality seems to slip away.

Where Aronofsky errs in my mind is to use the flat, ugly, documentary cinematic style of his previous film The Wrestler here. Why he went gritty instead of artistic for a fantasy film like this is odd since he's done that with his prior films The Fountain (which I think is an overlooked gem with an Oscar-nom worthy performance from Hugh Jackman; check it out) and Requiem For A Dream.

The second problem is Portman's performance. Mind you, she's excellent and likely to score an Oscar out of it and wipe away all the bad memories of her stiff Star Wars prequel performances, but she gave me a headache almost every moment she's on screen. Other than a girls night out sequence with Lily - leading to the widely-reported canoodling - it's almost unremitting misery. Yes, that was the idea; it's just hard on the nerves.

Kunis, Hershey, and Winona Ryder as the former prima ballerina being pushed aside due to age are all good, but they're all trapped in Aronofsky's hermetically sealed chamber of horrors. There are small glimpses of interaction with the other dancers, but there's no sense of life outside of the dance studio. Even the most dedicated pros take a breather, which again is the point about Nina, but without context, it all seems contrived. Perhaps if Aronofsky had backed away from the trees a little to see the forest.

Score: 5/10. Rent the DVD

In counter-point, my girlfriend really liked it - she would've given it an 8 or 9 score - and compared it to Carrie, which I've never seen, so I can't relate.

"The Town" Review

Ben Affleck has never been taken very seriously as an actor. While he's had some good performances in films like Chasing Amy and most recently in the little-seen-but-so-so Hollywoodland (as the doomed Superman, George Reeves), he's typically come off as callow and shallow - his "Just get me into a cockpit! bits in Pearl Harbor still amuse - and it's easy to forget that he does hold an Academy Award for co-writing with Matt Damon (say it like Team America!) Good Will Hunting and suspect he was the lesser half of that partnership.

Probably sensing his leading man days were numbered, he stepped behind the camera to direct the pretty good Gone Baby Gone, which was marred by a flat (and mysteriously overpraised) performance by his brother Casey. Now he's calling the shots again as well as starring and co-writing The Town and based on what works and what doesn't, I still think Damon was the brains of the writing department, but Affleck clearly has strong directorial chops.

The titular town refers to the Charlestown neighborhood of North Boston (Affleck's hometown) where reportedly a crazy percentage of bank robbers hail, including Affleck, The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, and a pair of guys who are so secondary to the gang that no-names play them and I don't recall their names. After an opening heist where they take a hostage (Vicky Christina Barcelona's Rebecca Hall) that may or may not be able to identify one of the gang, Affleck strikes up a relationship with her, first to make sure the gang's in the clear, but then because he's falling for her.

While the gang perpetrates a couple more heists, FBI agent Jon Hamm is hot on their trail and that's where the script problems begin to sap the tension. Right off, seeing Renner's tightly-wound robber, you're on safe ground to assume he's not going to end up dying of old age and when Affleck is forced into doing the One Last BIG Job, all that is unknown is how he's going to end up - dead or alive or imprisoned or miserable or some combo of those. (If you're surprised about what happens with the run-down hockey rink, you really need to have you're diapers changed because you're about two years old and shouldn't be watching these kinds of movies.)

While the script with two other writers is meh, Affleck really shows solid directorial chops. The crimes and chases are clear and kinetic, not marred with tired shaky-cam and spastic editing. All the performances are solid, including his and Gossip Girl wet blanket Blake Lively as Renner's slutty, druggy sister, and he keeps the pace and tension taut. It's just that caper flick formula is so second nature that it's too bad that he didn't subvert any of our expectations in the storytelling. No matter how intense things may get, we're pretty sure we know how things will pan out and they do.

Score: 7/10. Rent the DVD.

"Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" Review

I've always had a fondness for the 2001 talking cat and dog spy flick Cats & Dogs which revealed the hidden war between the evil felines and humanity's canine protectors. Powered by the manic vocal of Sean Hayes as Mr. Tinkles who had such great, quotable lines such as, "Evil does not wear a bonnet!", and as he tells the mouse army his evil plan, "With the dogs out of the way, cats will overthrow the humans and you will receive your just reward: sixteen pounds of Monterey Jack and the continent of Australia." Awesome stuff, but pretty cult humor in my appreciation.

Flash-forward to 2010 and I'm standing in a theater lobby watching trailers when I'm surprised to see that a sequel was finally made, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore:

Definitely more kiddie-oriented in humor, but the actual movie does have some of the stuff that will make grown-ups smile starting with Dame Shirley Bassie's take on Pink's "Get The Party Started" over a slick James Bond-looking credits sequence and some throwaway gags, but overall it's clearly aiming low and going for today's Ritalin kidz with several frenetic action sequences - this must've sucked in 3D - and a general dumbness which makes scenes like The Silence of the Lambs cells with a crude animatronic Mr. Tinkles strapped up like Hannibal Lecter odd since the rugrats aren't going to - or sure better not - get the reference.

The voice cast top-lined by James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate, Bette Midler and featuring the likes of Roger Moore as Tab Lazenby (Get it? Only if you're not five.) is very good and some of the talking animal effects aren't too creepy, but the overall effect is still slapdash compared to the more original original movie. It's not particularly bad as much as not so good. (There's a quote for the DVD box!)

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable. Better yet, rent or buy the original Cats & Dogs

"Altitude" Review

For most of its run time the dumb-teens-on-a-small-plane-in-trouble flick Altitude is a constant stream of dumb contrivances, on-the-nose writing, and annoying characters consistent with a low-budget B-movie, but in the last five minutes it almost becomes something pretty neat.

After a Very Important Prologue in which we see a horrifying mid-air collision between two small planes, we meet our dead meat, er, plucky characters led by rookie pilot Sara, who looks like a cross between Neve Campbell and Amanda Peet. Her mother died in the prologue and she's secretly learned to fly and is taking her four stupid, er, best friends to a Coldplay concert. (Yes, a Coldplay concert. They all deserve to die.) There's a meathead jock (signified by his varsity jacket, constant brewski guzzling, and general stupidity); his filmmaker girlfriend (she has a video camera and tells us she's a film major); and two emo guys, one a musician (he has a guitar) and the other being Really Creepy and Probably Harboring a Secret About What Really Happened to His Parents. (Hint hint hint!)

Shortly after takeoff, a bolt comes loose, jamming the controls and forcing the plane to climb higher and higher into a storm front. They lose contact with the tower, the instruments go haywire, and are running out of fuel because Little Miss Spunky Pilot forget to check the gas gauge. Oh, did I mention the monster that may be hunting the plane, too? Yeah, that's a problem they have.

When the stupid people aren't doing stupid things and screaming at each other (stupidly), they're getting knocked off one-by-one and while it's always fun to see Coldplay fans die, anyone with a passing knowledge of how horror movies work can predict who the final survivor(s) are likely to be. (Nudge, wink.)

Where Altitude manages to do a little something different is at the very end when what's causing the situation and how it resolves itself plays out. I kind of predicted the cause, but the punchline was novel and almost redeems the dumb stuff that fills the other 95% of the movie. Almost.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

Jeez, they actually pretty much give away the twist in the trailer, so not quite.

November 2010 Review Roundup

Hardly saw anything; wrote even less.

Nov. 8 - The Social Network (9.5/10)
Nov. 20 - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (7/10)
Nov. 26 - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (5/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 3
Previously Unseen: 3
Theatrical: 0
Home: 3
Year-To-Date: 89
YTD First-Timers: 78
YTD Theatrical: 24
YTD Home: 65

October 2010 Review Roundup

Slow month without any reviews. Need to figure out why the Let Me In review didn't get posted when it looks pretty done in draft.

Oct. 2 - Let Me In (8.5/10)
Oct. 4 - Iron Man 2 Blu-ray (7/10)
Oct. 11 - Easy A (8/10)
Oct. 17 - After.Life (7/10)
Oct. 18 - Knight and Day (4/10)
Oct. 24 - Hollow Man Director's Cut Blu-ray (7/10)
Oct. 25 - Push Blu-ray/Commentary (?/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 7
Previously Unseen: 4
Theatrical: 2
Home: 5
Year-To-Date: 86
YTD First-Timers: 75
YTD Theatrical: 24
YTD Home: 62

"Tron Legacy" Preview Thoughts

Tonight, Disney held a 23-minute preview for Tron Legacy in order to whip up some interest for the December release. As was done last year for Avatar, it was held at the LieMax pseudo-IMAX theater, but unlike the teaser for James Cameron's Biggest Movie Evar, I came out of this decidedly meh about it.

For starters, the Disney Gestapo wanded the audience and forced us to check our cell phones because they were afraid we'd use them to videotape the 3D IMAX picture and post it online. Morons. But what was more problematic was that after they announced we were the first people ever to see 23 minutes of 3D footage, the actual presentation opened with 8-9 minutes of 2D footage. A title card said the first scene was in 2D, but as it went on and on and on, I realized too much of this "3D" experience wasn't going to be that way.

Quick impressions:
  • The kid playing Sam Flynn (I'm running out the door to a thing and don't have time to look him up; Garrett something) is stiff and not very compelling. The build-up to him being zapped into the Grid was slack and more a nostalgia kick for 40-somethings; I think today's kids are going to be restless waiting for something to happen. Using Journey's "Separate Ways" is a little on the nose.
  • Once in the Grid, the Recognizers and tanks have been updated, but again, it relies on seeing the first one to be appreciated.
  • The scene where four Galtier-looking models/programs slice off his clothes and replace them with GridWear is airless and the choreography distracting.
  • Once outfitted, he's forced to play Killer Frisbees (or whatever) and of course wins because the movie would be over otherwise.
  • The next scene has him escaping the Lightcycle game grid in a Lightcar driven by Olivia Wilde and she's pretty hella hot with a mischievous air. She was the most interesting anything in the whole preview.
  • She takes him to meet his father, Jeff Bridges, and they have a tearful reunion which didn't move the care needle an iota with me. Perhaps there's stuff from the intervening scenes that makes this resonate, but it just plays too slowly and we know from the moment they get there who the man sitting facing away from the camera is, so teasing it out is annoying.
  • Then they had a quick montage of bits that we've seen before in trailers and the recent Daft Punk soundtrack video.
As we left, a girl with a Flip camera asked the crowd if they'd like to tape testimonials. As I passed by I said, "You don't want my testimonial about this." After reclaiming our cell phones - why am I getting texts back from Chris Hansen? - another rep with a notebook asked if we had our comments. This time I shared that "It was underwhelming. For all the talk about 23 minutes of 3D we got a third of that in boring backstory. The kid can't act and the 3D wasn't that impressive. Last year when we saw the Avatar sneak peek, I couldn't wait to see what the rest looked like. This time, I'm thinking I don't need to see it in 3D and I'm not as excited as I was when I went in. Tell your masters that this didn't do them any favors." I'm sure Disney is crapping themselves over my feedback. Psyche! No, they're building another Scrooge McDuck-class vault for all the Gen Xer and their kids chedda they're going to stack when this comes out.

In the haze of nostalgia, people forget that for all the then-groundbreaking visual effects, Tron wasn't a very good movie. It was OK, but cheesy. The new darker look world reminded me of what I pictured the Metaverse in Snow Crash would look like when I read it back in 2000, but now it just seems...there. Why are their clouds over the dark cities in a COMPUTER? The 3D was alright, but after Avatar and even Step Up 3D, it didn't impress me much. They've been working on this for about 3 years and I think the tech has blazed past where they are here. After you've seen photo-realistic Thundersmurfs in a jungle, what's impressive about hard surfaces and neon?

While it remains to be seen how the full Tron Legacy plays out like, the "Tron Night" non-event didn't stoke that much interest in me. I can't declare it DOA (yet), but I'm not setting up a countdown clock here either. And whoever decided to have only one shot of the youthful CGI Bridges as the now-evil Clu - again snipped from the trailers and far less than the trailers show. There were grumbles on teh Intarwebz that it looked fake and this would've been a good means to knock them down. Instead, we're still wondering.

"Let Me In" Review

Film nerds gnashed their teeth in horror when it was announced that the pre-pubescent vampire movie Let The Right One In was being remade. "Stupid Americans won't read Swedish subtitles! Stupid Hollywood is gonna make the kids teenagers and have them be like Twilight! Stupid guy who made Cloverfield is going to film it in ShakyCamVision®! They won't be able to match the swimming pool scene! It's going to suck and be stupid! Waaaaah!!!" The casting of Kick-Ass's Chloe Moretz and footage shown at Comic Con eased some nerd fears, but doubts remained. Now that it's here, while reviews have been kinder, you still see the word "unnecessary" thrown around which is too bad because I found it more enjoyable and more than equal to the original. 

Writer-director Matt Reeves has set Let Me In in 1983 Los Alamos, NM and while there are several visual cues borrowed from the original like a snow-covered jungle gym in the apartment complex courtyard, it's clear that this is less a remake than an alternate take on the source novel. Thanks to Reeve's deliberate, tension-ratcheting direction which uses long lenses with shallow depth of field to isolate the subjects and amp up the isolation, this version feels more immediate without being too "Americanized" as the haters would say. (One notable detail is that we never really get to see Owen's mother - she's always out of focus, decapitated by the frame, or obscured by distance or obstruction.) 

It also helps that his youthful cast - Moretz and Dylan Minnette (who plays the bully and was Jack's son on Lost) are now 13, Kodi Smit-McPhee is 14 - are spot on in their performances with none of the "kiddie actor" tells. Moretz already had a fan club for her awesome turn as Hit Girl, but this cements her place in the Pantheon with freakishly precocious actresses Jodie Foster and Dakota Fanning. A lot of ADULT actors would choke on the subtleties these children portray without a lot of dialogue; very nice work all around. Richard Jenkins as the vampire's caretaker and an unrecognizable Elias Koteas as a police detective investigating the killings are also solid. 

 If there is one knock I can lay against this movie is the use of really bad CGI when Abby is in killing mode. Considering the seamless FX work in Reeves' last film, Cloverfield 

As I'm writing this a couple of days later, the movie has already bombed at the box office, opening 8th with $5.3 million, a shade behind dreck like the Case 39 and You Again. In a time where vampires are hot to the point of overexposed ubiquity, no one went to see the best, creepiest, and smartest take on vampires in ages. Was the movie marketed incorrectly? Did people think it was just another teeny-bopper vamp flick like the execrable (and obscenely lucrative Twilight series) and give it a miss - though how they could get that impression from the trailer escapes me - or did the Internet haters dissuade them from seeing it? (OTOH, Internet fanboyism didn't really put butts in seats for Snakes on a Plane, Serenity, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, so perhaps their influence is greatly overrated.)

 Score: 8.5/10. Catch a matinee. (I'll be buying the Blu-ray when it comes out.) 

September 2010 Review Roundup

OK month of movie watching that unfortunately marked the start of a three month slack off on getting reviews posted. I'm hoping to backfill some of these if/when I get a chance.

Sept. 4 - Samurai Princess (2/10)
Sept. 5 - Breathing Room (6/10)
Sept. 6 - Machete (6/10); How To Be A Serial Killer (4/10)
Sept. 8 - Starship Troopers BD (6/10)
Sept. 11 - Sex Drive (8/10)
Sept. 16 - Galaxy Quest BD (9/10)
Sept. 27 - Teenage Paparazzo (8.5/10)
Sept. 29 - The Expendables (5/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 9
Previously Unseen: 6
Theatrical: 1
Home: 8
Year-To-Date: 79
YTD First-Timers: 71
YTD Theatrical: 22
YTD Home: 57

"Sex Drive" Review

The "young virgin guy takes road trip to get laid" genre has be around for ages and includes films such as The Sure Thing and Losin' It. Since the plot is pretty obvious, what matters is the writing and execution and Sex Drive does a nice job of cutting what could've been just stupid raunch with some sincere sweetness.

Josh Zuckerman stars as your typical Dweeby Virgin. He's in love with his best friend, Amanda Crew, who can't think of him in "that way" since they've known each other forever, and is envious of his friend Clark Duke, who despite being a doughy fellow of questionable sartorial tastes manages to bag the babes and exhibit Jedi-level people skills. When a hot blonde he's met online offers to sleep with him if he comes to her (no pun), he borrows his brother's GTO and heads out on the highway for wild adventure.

What makes Sex Drive work is that it manages to walk the fine line between clever and stupid, outlandish impossible situations (e.g. a wild Amish barn party with Fall Out Boy playing) with heartfelt emotional moments. Rest assured, the laughs stick on the more juvenile side of things - with boobies! - but it's not as condescending or offensive as it could've been in lesser hands.

The director and writers went on to be involved with She's Out of My League (which was so-so) and Hot Tub Time Machine (pretty good with heart), but the best of their work is this gem that no one saw. When I described it to people, I just got blank looks until I mentioned the bit with Seth Green as a sarcastic Amish stunning them with his knowledge of cars - it's in the trailer below - at which point they had their bells rung a little.

Score: 8/10. Rent the DVD at least.

"Starship Troopers" Blu-ray Review

Picked up a used Blu-ray of this for six bucks and decided to give it a spin to see if time has been kinder to my memory of it being a mixed bag of action and silliness. It hasn't.

I read Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers back in high school and barely remembered much of it in 1997 when Paul Verhoeven's goofy film version came out. Verhoeven was returning to the sci-fi genre of his prior films Robocop and Total Recall after a detour into Joe Eszterhasville with the tag team of Basic Instinct and Showgirls.

The brightly-lit cheesiness of ST with big-teethed stars Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards along with a closer-to-Doogie Howser-than-Dr. Horrible bugged me (no pun) back then and it hasn't gotten better with time. The core problem I've always had with the movie is the utter stupidity of the military tactics: When you're fighting a monster foe on a barren planet with no cities or resources to preserve, what's the smart part of the idea that instead of just nuking the place from orbit (it's the only way to be sure) you should send legions of foot soldiers down there to shoot it out with a fast-moving, swarming, armored enemy that requires a clip of ammo to be emptied into their bodies to bring them down? Less cinematic, to be sure, but hella more sensible.

My comment about Richards when I saw the film in 1997 was, "We're supposed to believe she's this awesome starship pilot when she looks like she couldn't get the family's LeBaron station wagon out of a mall parking lot without denting the fake wood paneling." Put it this way: She makes Jessica Alba look like Helen Mirren in the acting department. Watching it now it confirms that her best performance was in Wild Things because all she had to do was be dumb and look good naked.

The Blu-ray is pretty good with a clean transfer and suitably booming sound. What's interesting to see in the clarity of high-def is how cheap the sets look. I watched Galaxy Quest a week later and what was supposedly a comic spoof had better production values. The bug special effects haven't aged that well, but are still pretty good by contemporary standards - it's just that the bar has been raised so high by films like Avatar and Transformers.

Score: 6/10. Buy it if you're a fan of the film, otherwise rent.

Note: The extras were done for a 2002 Special Edition DVD and really play up the liberal cast's take that the fascism they thought the film portrayed was being whipped up by the government post-9/11. I only started watching them, so if there's more to be gleaned, I'll update this section.

"How To Be A Serial Killer" Review

This black comedy starts off promisingly with an infomercial encouraging viewers to "stop ignoring the voices in your head" and attend the motivational seminar put on by Mike (Dameon Clarke, who's like a TV version of Edward Norton) and setting up the premise that he is willing to help a greasy video store clerk learn the dark arts of serial killing.

Using a mix of seminar snippets, straight narrative, and to-the-camera interviews with a criminal psychologist, Mike's girlfriend and the protege, it's not bad for the first 20-30 minutes and then starts to drag and lag before it gets frenetic and messy at the end. Perhaps it would've worked better as a short film of half the length.

Score: 4/10. Watch on a friend's cable.

"Breathing Room" Review

Another of my 50 cent Hollywood looting pickups, all I knew about Breathing Room was this cover...

...and the premise on the back cover. (Watch the trailer below which sets it up nicely.) For those unwilling/unable to click, a young woman (Ailsa Marshall, who looks like a prettier, more girly Katee Sackhoff) arrives naked (no skin, sorry) in a room that looks like a warehouse with 13 other people, none of whom know how they got there either. She's given a numbered jumpsuit and signs on the walls and floor warning of dire consequences for breaking the rules. Why are they there? Is this tryouts for a Slipknot tribute band or a struggle for survival in which all but one are promised to end up dead? (Survey says.....B!!!)

Shot for what looks like $50 with a camcorder - the actual budget was $25,000 according to Wikipedia and the camcorders were prosumer grade - Breathing Room benefits from having a decent, albeit unknown, cast with the ability to breathe some life into their thin-due-to-numbers characters. While you'll probably be able to figure out how it ends (though the final twist was a little less expected), the co-writing/directing team of John Suits and Gabriel Cowan pace things well and don't turn it into the Saw knockoff it could've been and it appears to be marketed as. I hate "torture porn" movies, so I'm glad to say this wasn't one in that sense.

While there are a few logical lapses - while there's a bathroom, no food or water is ever given and no one seems to complain about hunger or thirst; one player is killed and no one seems to notice their absence; people act like ninnies instead of trying to solve the puzzle of their confinement - it's to Suits' and Cowan's credit that I wasn't yelling, "Yeah, right!", more than a couple of times. While it's not a mandatory film to check out, it's far better than it could've been and it's worth checking out if you come across it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable if it ever gets shown.

"Samurai Princess" Review

While I was looting a going-out-of-business Hollywood video, I picked up this DVD for 50 cents:

I overpaid by 50 cents and 85 minutes of my life.

With the success of gonzo mutilation Japanese horror splatter flicks such as The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police, it's natural that their would be more, but unfortunately all the creativity is going into the yucky effects at the expense of the story, characters, comprehensibility and anything that would make it more than something to be cut down to a YouTube highlights reel.

Since I don't care to waste time on this, here's the plot from Wikipedia's page:
A band of criminals who have raped several school girls is attacked by the Samurai Princess. She is a cyborg, created by the scientist Madness from the parts of the gruesomely murdered girls. The criminals maintain they didn't kill them, but the princess kills them anyway. She now sets after the responsible Red Dragon and Butterfly, who see their murders as artistic.
The star, Aino Kishi (me neither), wasn't hired for her acting or martial arts skills and isn't all that hot. (BTW, she never wears the outfit on the cover.) The style of the film is utterly random: it starts off in "the Infinite Woods" with what appear to be medieval warriors, but they have video cameras, chainsaws, boob grenades (not making this up), and cybernetic enhancements. Suddenly, the two good guy characters are in what appears to be a empty hotel conference room before going into a lackluster soft-core sex scene. The end of the film ends up in warehouses.

It's all a boring mess and I wanted to shut it off several times but kept slogging on in hopes that something, anything, either really awesome crazy or hot would happen, but it never did. I've put it into my sell box. Even if you like this genre, don't waste your time on the Samurai Princess.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

August 2010 Review Roundup

While it was a higher than average month in the terms of movies watched, it was probably the worst on average as far as quality went. Had to go to the theater to see something above-average.

August 1 - Cop Out (1/10)
August 2 - Repo Men (3/10)
August 9 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2/10)
August 15 - The Book of Eli (5/10)
August 16 - Stolen (4/10)
August 21 - The Other Guys (7/10); Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (8/10)
August 22 - Saving Face (6/10)
August 23 - Brooklyn's Finest (7/10)
August 29 - MacGruber (2/10); Kissing Jessica Stein (6/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 11
Previously Unseen: 11
Theatrical: 2
Home: 9
Year-To-Date: 70
YTD First-Timers: 65
YTD Theatrical: 21
YTD Home: 49

"Kissing Jessica Stein" Review

This 2001 film gets lumped in with other lesbian indie films like Go Fish when it's more about finding mutual companionship and sexual intimacy between two people, regardless of what's filling their underwear.

Jennifer Westfeldt (last seen playing the reporter dubbed "Blonde Ambition" in my 24 S8 recaps) stars as the titular Ms. Stein, a stereotypical hyper neurotic New York City Jewess. In a rapid montage we see her having a half-dozen of the worst dates with guys and we get it: maybe it's time to try chicks.

On the side is Helen (Heather Juergensen), a over-sexed straight art gallery manager who has different men to satisfy her different moods, but decides that it's time to broaden her horizons. With the help of a pair of gay friends, she writes up a personal ad that catches Jessica's attention, though she's clearly too skittish at first.

Once you get past the overly wordy script by the stars that betrays its off-Broadway origins and need to allow the writers to show how they'd act the heck out of it, there's a surprisingly chaste tale that's hardly about gay soapboxing as one might expect. Both women start off straight and by the end, one still is and the other isn't, but could probably revert. The conflicts and "Oh, no! No one can see us together!" moments on Jessica's part could happen if the pair were rich/poor, black/white, conservative/liberal, whatever/whatever. There's no sex or nudity shown - unlike the happy skin bomb in the middle of Saving Face - though that leads to one of the biggest laughs as a hard-up Helen grouses, "Who do I have to blow to get some p*ssy?"

Since both writer-actresses are straight - Westfeldt has been partnered with Jon Hamm since 1997 and Juergensen is married - that may explain the slight remove the story is viewed from as well as the appreciated lack of "gay experience" sledgehammering that so option grinds these movies to a halt. (The problem is that many gay filmmakers frequently think the most important part of gay characters is their sexuality, not what they do outside of bed. Tip: No one watches straight characters and wishes that the story stop so we can watch them muse on their hetero-ness.) I also wasn't too crazy about the sub-plot about Jessica's editor which is really amped up in the trailer, but feels crammed in during the movie itself.

Score: 6/10. Rent the DVD.

"MacGruber" Review

[Sing along, kids.]


They've taken the Will Forte SNL sketch and made a feature movie!


It bombed at the box office and it easily to see-a why-eye!


It's raunchy, foul-mouthed, tedious but only rarely funny!


Score: 2/10. Skip it.

Note: The best thing about it is the rich, colored lighting and cinematography. It looks like a vintage music video, but so what?

"Brooklyn's Finest" Review

Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington to an Oscar in Training Day, comes back to the gritty cop genre with Brooklyn's Finest, a film which takes a little too long to get to a bewildering and somewhat unsatisfactory ending.

It intertwines a trio of plots involving Richard Gere as a burned-out, undistinguished patrolman a week from retirement; Ethan Hawke as a stressed-out family man with a wife and four kids in a moldy house and twins on the way; and Don Cheadle as a deep undercover operative in a drug gang whose real life is disintegrating and is looking to get out of his cover and get behind a desk. Gere is apathetic about everything; Hawke (looking pretty haggard; I thought he was Kevin "Johnny Drama" Dillon at first) is trying to steal drug money to pay for the down payment on a new home; Cheadle is torn between taking down the drug lord (a very good Wesley Snipes basically playing a later-life Nino Brown from New Jack City) who saved his life when he was undercover in prison.

Other than a couple of coincidental brushes during the story, the three never cross paths until the very end and even then don't interact. The ending was a mess because one cop's tale doesn't make much sense from a motivational standpoint and another's is rather predictable; the third's is a really heavy-handed bit of irony. Fuqua spends too much time showing the characters thinking and not enough time showing them acting out. It's too bad because the performances are all better than the underbaked script would provide lesser talents to work with. It's for the performances that I recommend watching Brooklyn's Finest.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Saving Face" Review

For once, I'm smart enough to look at the trailer before before spending the time to synopsize a movie's plot, so watch this:

Joan Chen is a 48-year-old divorcee who comes up pregnant and is thrown out of her father's home in Flushing (which is apparently a big Chinese enclave in NYC), showing up on her surgeon daughter's doorstep. Meanwhile, super-cute lesbian Michelle Krusiec is being pursued by Lynn Chen (no relation AFAIK), a ballet dancer whose father is Michelle's boss at the hospital. (Much is made of the tight-knit community, but come on.) Culture clash hijinks ensue.

Saving Face is a pleasant-enough, slight, light sorta romantic comedy/culture clash movie with a distinct Asian flavor, down to being almost half in subtitled Chinese which makes the presence of Will Smith (yeah, THAT Will Smith) as a producer a surprise. What's odd and earns the film its R-rating is one rather explicit - and totally awesome! - scene of the young, nubile, beautiful lovers canoodling topless. It's not that explicit - we're not talking Bound or Chloe-grade hands-on action - but it comes from nowhere to transform an overall innocuous movie into THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE!!! (If Prop 8 opponents were smart, they would've run a clip of this scene and asked, "Do you really want to prevent this?") Not that I'm complaining - believe me, I'M NOT COMPLAINING!!! - but it does come from left field. Beware watching with children.

Score: 6/10. Rent the DVD.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" Review

The balance sheet going into - OK, sneaking into; I made this the back half of an impromptu double-feature - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was this: I like Edgar Wright's work (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz); I hadn't read the graphic novels it was based on; I'm a regular visitor to Toronto and photographed a New Model Army show at Lee's Palace last year; I "get" the videogame and anime aesthetic that the trailer showcases; and I'm on record as thinking Michael Cera is an empty hole on the screen.

It's a testament to Wright's skill that he is able to make a visually dense pastiche that holds together and holds our interest despite two factors that would normally kill a movie dead: a leading man who is not plausible as a hero and a leading lady without any discernible qualities that make her worth fighting 7 Evil Exes over. Other than her changing hairstyles, Ramona Flowers is a self-involved snot. Newcomer Ellen Wong as Scott's platonic girlfriend Knives Chau is a burst of sunshine and energy and for a moment it appeared they'd put him with her, but the Hollywood formula that made Pretty In Pink faceplant at the finish line is at work here.

Perhaps the point was that Scott is projecting something interesting on her, but that doesn't work because Cera's such a mousy drip, just as he always is. While there are moments here where he breaks out of his default mode, he spends most of the movie playing the same character he always plays. The movie bombed at the box office primarily because he is poison. By all rights, his career should be pretty much over. Time to go to college, Mikey.

It doesn't help Cera that he is spanked by Kieran Culkin as his gay roommate in every scene. (Pun intended.) About halfway through I stopped trying to imagine how Jesse Eisenberg would've been better and started wishing Culkin was playing Scott. (I'm sure the producers felt the same way on Monday morning after its opening.) The evil exes are good, especially a fun Chris Evans and almost unrecognizable Brandon Routh as an ex who is a current with Scott's old girlfriend and is such a strict vegan that he has superpowers.

But the ultimate star of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is Edgar Wright who hopefully won't suffer too many career repercussions from having an empty hole in the middle of his lively frames. I'm looking forward to picking up the Blu-ray to soak up the details that whizzed by at the show. If you're looking for fizzy fun, you'll find it here; you just won't get much intellectual soul or emotional meaning.

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee.

BONUS: Check out the official trailer (below) and then the absotively BRILLIANT mash-up that some masterfully put together (really below) using the same audio, but cutting in Matrix footage. Genius!

"The Other Guys" Review

The only real question that needs to be asked and answered about the latest collaboration between Will Farrell and writer-director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Stepbrothers) is whether it's funny or not? Answer: It is, sometimes hilariously so, but overall it's only slightly above average as the story interferes.

After supercops Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock are knocked out of commission, it's left to "the other guys" to step up and attempt to fill their shoes and the odd couple of Will Ferrell and Marky Mark try to get to the bottom of things while clashing in personality and methods. As with previous McKay-Ferrell collaborations there are plenty of oddball bits, many of which hit (e.g. a surreal argument involving lions and tunas killing each other; Ferrell's college activities and a running gag about the kind of women he attracts) and quite a few miss (e.g. another running gag in which their captain, Michael Keaton, keeps quoting TLC lyrics while claiming to not). Eva Mendes is hot and funny as Ferrell's wife, but Steve Coogan is wasted, not that he's a comic titan that was misused.

While I laughed a lot, as I was walking down the hall to sneak into Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I found the experience evaporating from my memory with every step. It's no Anchorman, but it's worth a rental.

Score: 7/10. Rent the DVD.

P.S. There is a really weird bit of heavy-handed liberal politics during the end credits when people heading for the exit are lectured via animated charts about how much CEOs make compared to the janitors - who needs a blooper reel? - but since no one is paying attention or there for a Huffington Post screed, it's just McKay stroking himself. Wank, wank.

"Stolen" Review

Stolen (aka Stolen Lives) is one of those movies with so many recognizable names that you wonder why it never got released? Then you see it and it's not that it's really bad as much as not really good.

Jon Hamm stars as a police detective whose young son disappeared eight years before when he ducked into the bathroom at a diner during a fair. Understandably tormented, he's obsessed about the case and grown distant from his wife Rhona Mitra until one day the badly decomposed body of a young boy is discovered in a toy chest at a construction site. When it's immediately determined not to be Hamm's son, the mystery of who this kid was and how he got there takes over.

We flash back to 1958 where struggling family man Josh Lucas is begging the bank not to foreclose on his house while his wife is hanging herself at home, leaving the now-widower with three sons. A sister-in-law's family takes in two of the boys, but the third, a sweet, mentally-challenged boy is sent along with Lucas who struggles to keep his day laborer job while tending the kid. One night, while having a tryst with a smoking hot Morena Baccarin (Firefly, V), the boy is taken from his car and meets his inevitable fate as the boy in the box.

Director Anders Anderson uses a slightly disorienting transition technique to bounce us back and forth between time periods (e.g. Hamm is in a bar and we see a bar maid take a tray of drinks and as she walks toward the other end, we're back in 1958 with Lucas and company), but never manages to orient the audience to the drama of the situation. Since we know early that the little boy is doomed, we're just left to trudge to the point where we find out who put him in the box and how it connects to Hamm's story. With just flat melodrama to fill the felt-longer-than-it-was running time, it never pays off. If you're a fan of Mad Men, the most interesting thing is to see Hamm with his hair messier than it gets after one of his numerous illicit shags.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Book of Eli" Review

Watch this:

Done? You've pretty much seen all there is to see in The Book of Eli. There's been an Apocalypse that has washed all the color out of the world and a lone badass walks the land with a Bible that a bad guy wants. Stuff gets blown up, people get shot, and we're wondering how Mila Kunis looks so fresh and babalicious in the dirty ruins. Some have praised the spirituality of the film, but I didn't really see much along those lines and the final "twist" wasn't. Overall, it's an OK movie, but nothing we haven't seen many, many times before.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

OK, with that out of the way, can we talk about how trope-bound this genre is? EVERY post-Apocalyptic movie seems chained to the same checklist of bullet points: biker gangs who have gas for their choppers when no one has water; the good guys have almost no ammo while the bad guys seem to have cleaned out Cabella's; cannibals; smoking ruins; no animals except for an isolated cat or dog; few, if any, children and only a handful of people who remember "the way it was before"; after decades, water is precious but the bars still have booze; the cause of The End is never really specified nor the time frame. After The Road and news of a new Mad Max-universe flick, Fury Road, I'm ready for a new vision for the end of the world. I just wonder who'll be bold enough to present one?

Attack of the Johnny One-Notes! (Commentary)

Johnny could only sing one note
And the note he sings was this

Poor Johnny one-note
sang out with "gusto"
And just overloaded the place
Poor Johnny one-note
yelled willy nilly
Until he was blue in the face
For holding one note was his ace

"Johnny One-Note" from Babes in Arms by Richard Rogers and Lorez Hart.

There used to be a time when actors deathly feared being "typecast," meaning that as much as they may've wanted to or been able to play different kinds of parts, they were only offered variations of the same thing - i.e. Mafia tough, ditzy blonde, etc. I'm not talking about roles which they're most identified with like John Wayne as a cowboy, Humphrey Bogart as a guy in a trenchcoat or George Clooney as a very handsome man, but those who get stuck in the Danny Trejo rut (i.e. because he always plays ditzy bimbos, wait, what?) though they went to Julliard or studying with Lee Strasberg. Occasionally an actor pigeon-holed into one type is able to rattle the preconception cage and surprise us with an unexpected performance that they probably had to beg to play - think: any gorgeous actress who gets ugly, fat and/or beaten for a dramatic role (right, Farah, Charlize, and Nicole?) - but few are that lucky.

The past decade or so has seen a major uptick in actors so limited in their range, seemingly happily so, that they fall into a couple of categories: those who we know by name regardless of the character's name and those who we know only by their seminal character's identity and then proceed to call them that for the rest of their lives. How does this work? Quick: Who's co-starring with Will Ferrell in The Other Guys? If you said, "Marky Mark," you're living what I'm saying. How about this: who are Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Seann William Scott? Ring any bells? OK, who are the actors who played McLovin in Superbad and Stifler in American Pie? (For the answer, please look back three sentences.)

While there are still versatile actors like Will Smith and Angelina Jolie who play all sorts of roles equally well and have (and will have) long varied careers, where do Stifler, McLovin, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera go from the roles they've always played? Does anyone seriously see them playing anything but what they always have? Even Ethan Hawke took a plausible stab at Hamlet. Hell, JACK BLACK, has attempted to not be his tubby slacker self a little.

What prompts this long simmering commentary is the opening today of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World starring the non-entity called Michael Cera. After enduring his same meek mouse act in I can't say how many films, I described him this way on Facebook: "Michael Cera is an empty hole in the middle of the screen whose presence is only discernible by the surrounding environment. Just as a donut hole is defined by the donut around it, we only know Michael Cera exists because everything else is around him. I wouldn't be surprised if his scripts come with his character named 'Michael Cera.'" Mind you, it's not that I hate Cera - I have more opprobrium for humidity - but he is such a rangeless actor that as snazzy as it looks and liking Edgar Wright's other films (Shaun of the Dead; Hot Fuzz) and the concept (haven't read the books), I feel that the whole endeavor is going to be crippled by putting the drippy noneness of Cera at the center of everything.

This has been a problem for Cera in movies like Youth In Revolt*, Juno, and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist as we've been expected to believe he was the dream guy of otherwise intelligent females. Juno was a whip-smart 14-year-old boy (note: obligatory Ellen Page crack) and we're supposed to believe that she wanted this void to fill hers? The most ridiculous conceit of N&NIPL is that Kat Denning's character had never orgasmed until the Mightly Hand of Cera gets on the case. (I turned to my girlfriend at that point and said, "So this is a science fiction film?") So wussy is Cera that the heavy ex-boyfriend of Norah was played by Jay Baruchel of She's Out of My League and Undeclared semi-obscurity. Perusing the reviews for Scott Pilgrim, even the most laudatory only assign faint praise to Cera's portrayal and it sounds a lot like those who didn't think Ben Affleck ruined Daredevil.

Final quiz item about Michael Cera: Name one of characters he's played in movies - not TV, cuz the fact he was named George Michael on Arrested Development is a gimme - that isn't in the movie's title, meaning "Scott Pilgrim" or "Nick" aren't acceptable answers. I'm waiting...

The next actor-known-only-by-his-name due a beating is Jonah Hill, aka "that fat annoying guy in all those movies." As my Get Him To The Greek review said, "Jonah Hill plays a variation of the same fat guy he plays in everything." Amirite? Since he's never had a title character like Cera, I honestly couldn't tell you what the name of his character has been in anything he's done. Even Judd Apatow didn't bother, naming Hill's part in Knocked Up "Jonah." (Probably to ensure he'd respond when spoken to when the cameras were rolling.) I hear he's good in this Cyrus movie, but as with Cera and Scott Pilgrim, I don't even pretend to believe he's going to be any different.

Now the other variant on this theme are the known-by-their-role actors like McLovin and Stif...whoops, see what I mean? Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Seann William Scott. Those guys. Remember? Jeez, we just talked about them a few paragraphs ago! OK, McLovin and Stifler it is. While McLovin showed a little growth as Red Mist in Kick Ass, his part in Role Models was so similar to his Superbad role, I'm wondering if it wasn't McLARPin in the script. He seems like a nice kid, but I hope he's investing his earnings with his broker, Urkel.

As for Stifler, well, playing the role in three American Pie movies and falling back on the persona in flicks like Bulletproof Stifler (ne Monk) and The Rock and Stifler in the Jungle (bka The Rundown) pretty much seals his fate, doesn't it? He did do a good job with a dual role as twins in Southland Tales, but the movie was an epic mess of effed-upness that no one saw. Most recently endured in the execrable Cop Out, where he played someone who may as well have been named "Shitfler," I'm not betting on any big transformations coming in his future.

Looking over this rogue's gallery, I'm struck by the lack of women on it. Is it because there are so few female stars with even archetypal characters? Bonnie Hunt usually shows up as the sardonic tart sister or friend; Anna Farris typically plays bubbly comic parts, but has done other stuff. Some might be tempted to suggest Summer Glau whose Hottie Terminator on the show of the same name (in my mine; my g/f called it "Sarah Chonic") was just a mechanized verson of River Tam from Firefly/Serenity but as similar as they were, along with her part on Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, I caught her on an episode of The Unit and she was so different it didn't seem like her.

While the fates of a quartet of one-note actors doesn't add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world (as Sam Marlowe would say, wait, what?), it's odd to see that instead of fleeing typecasting as actors past would've, they've basically embraced it for immediate reward vs. having a future. (When Michael Cera wants to get his Olivier on and perform Othello - HA! Yeah, right! Like cross-racial performances like that would ever happen these days! - who's going to do anything but stare at him, give him a noogie and tell him to get outta here?)

The problem for movie makers is that in casting these Johnny One-Notes, they're polarizing the potential audience pool because some people won't even entertain seeing films featuring them because they JUST KNOW that so-and-so will "suck and be no different than he is in everything else." Surf around and read the nerd-rage comments on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - many who may've been interested because they've read the books or like the director are loudly announcing they're not interested because Cera's in it. As audiences reject his boy-boyish-man persona over and over, how long will it be until no one wants to hire him to sing his single note?

I was going to link to my Youth In Revolt review, but to my surprise I never even logged when I saw it, much less wrote a review sometime in June. It wasn't that bad, but I can't believe I didn't notice it got left off. Says a lot, doesn't it?


UPDATE: Two days after writing this, Scott Pilgrim's opening weekend B.O. was a meager $10.5 million, opening #5, and this HitFix piece mulls over why it flopped. Of particular note was this:
Hollywood and the media still thought Michael Cera was a star then, which brings us to the first problem:

In 2010, Michael Cera hurts you at the box office.
After "Superbad" and a supporting role in "Juno," many mistakenly believed the "Arrested Development" cast member was the next quirky, unexpected star who could relate to the millennial generation. Well, not so much. His follow ups either were puzzling, but quality misfires ("Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist," "Youth in Revolt") or outright bombs ("Year One"). That string of negative results basically stung Cera's likability with audiences. Unfortunately, he'd already been selected as the lead and shot "Pilgrim" before the biggest turd, "Year One," even hit theaters. Universal quickly realized the problem, but while they could hide his face on the poster, it was hard to take Scott Pilgrim himself out of the trailers or TV spots. And frankly, if you're Cera's agent, you better be hoping that "Arrested" movie actually gets off the ground or HBO comes calling about a TV series after this weekend.
You heard it here first.

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" Review

Here's all you need to know about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: the original Swedish title is - I'm not kidding - Men Who Hate Women and the movie is 2-1/2 miserable, boring hours of that theme. I haven't read the book, but it'll be interesting to see how the slated David Fincher-helmed, Daniel Craig-starring remake handles the seething brutal misogyny of the source if it's anything like this Swedish film.

For all its running time, the plot is rather sparse: A disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is hired by an uber-wealthy industrialist to solve the disappearance of his niece off the family's island - accessible only by one bridge that was blocked by an accident that day - 40 years previously. While he digs into the case, we see that he's being monitored by a mysterious goth hacker, Lisbeth Salander, who was hired to vet him before his retention and remains interested in his doings. When she gives him crucial hints based on documents he's scanned, she makes it easy for him to track her down and he enlists her in his quest to uncovered the sordid secrets surrounding the missing girl's fate.

While this all sounds capery and Lisbeth has been turned into a minor pop culture icon with Ellen Page leading the speculation for remake duties - a sign of how lazy and unimaginative Hollywood is in casting (not that Page isn't a good actress; she just looks like the Swede in the original) - what isn't obvious from the hype and marketing is what a punching bag Lisbeth is. I don't usually spoil on movies, but you should know that within the first 45 minutes you will be treated to her being beaten up by subway hooligans; forced to perform oral sex on her court-appointed guardian (we don't know why she's beholden to him until near the end of the movie) in order to get her own money; and then her brutal beating and rape by the sadistic creep when she tries to get more cash. Since we don't know who she is as a person - we barely do by then end - we're forced to watch her punched in the face, handcuffed to a headboard, tied spread-eagle with electrical cords, sodomized and then staggering home. (Don't forget to make some popcorn for the boisterous fun!!!) While this leads to a supposedly awesome turnaround on the guy - she secretly videotaped her two-hour ordeal - it's just ugly. Not Monica Bellucci getting raped in Irreversible ugly, but nasty and unnecessary enough.

What makes these early scenes bewildering is that while she is shown bedded down with another woman at home, she promptly hops on Mikael's junk for a ride, hopping off and going back to her room the moment they get off. Deceased author/journalist Stieg Larsson clearly viewed Mikael as his alter-ego, so that he thinks that a troubled lesbian wants nothing more than to take dictation - ifyouknowwhatImean - from Mr. Reporter Man suggests that he didn't have to dig to deep to find issues with women to project upon the characters. And if you think the origins of Lisbeth's back-covering tattoo are discussed, even in passing, forget it; as I said up front, the tattoo isn't in the original title. It's savvy, if cynical, marketing. Who would pay money to watch Men Who Hate Women (and Beat, Rape, and Murder Them)?

Score: 2/10. Wait for the remake in case they delouse the plot.

Check out the difference between the trailers and note what's not mentioned in either.

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