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!

January 2010 Review Roundup

A pretty good batch of movies to kick off the year.

Jan. 1 - Paris, je t'aime (7/10)

Jan. 2 - The Cat Returns (9/10)
Jan. 5 - Nine (7/10)
Jan. 11 - Whip It! (7/10); Whiteout (1/10)
Jan. 15 - Bitch Slap (4/10)
Jan 23 - The Invention of Lying (6/10)
Jan. 24 - Daybreakers (7/10); Legion (1/10)
Jan 25 - The Hurt Locker (7/10)
Jan. 31 - Up In The Air - (6/10)

Movies Watched: 11
Previously Unseen: 11

Year-To-Date: 11
First-Timers: 11

Theatrical: 3
Home: 8

"Up In The Air" Review

The latest film by Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) attempts to show the lighter side of corporate downsizing via George Clooney's charming commitmentphobe who traipses across the country axing employees - he used to be Batman; now he's the Terminator! - for his downsizing firm. Saddled with a fresh-out-of-college rookie (Anna Kendrick) with radical ideas for making this dehumanizing process even more depersonalized, he manages to avoid getting tied down by constantly staying Up In The Air.

The first two-thirds of the film are breezy in the style of Reitman's previous works. The scenarios are familiar - the new kid, lacking people skills and real-life experience, doesn't know how to give the fired workers an easy letdown - but they lead to showcases for Clooney's ace skills. The scene where he convinces a depressed worker that he hasn't lost his career and meaning in life, but rather has been given an opportunity to stop messing around and get back to what he always wanted to do, just sings. His passing relationship with a fellow road warrior (Vera Farmiga) is also more mature than most movies care to portray.

After a peppy and joyous first two acts, it takes a disappointing turn into predictability in the third as he travels home for a family event. The tone is off and it goes rapidly downhill with the last three supposedly major plot twists being easily foreseen. By this point, we're filled with as much ennui as Clooney and that's not what we signed up for.

As much of a letdown I felt at the end, the more I thought about it the next day, the less I liked Up In The Air. The capper was when over dinner that night, my girlfriend and I simultaneously voiced what was most appalling about the conclusion of the film. I'm knocking another point off the score for this and when a nationally-known film writer mentioned on his Facebook that he thought it was the best movie he saw in 2009, I replied, "What was the other movie you saw if this was the best one?" (Didn't get an answer.)

Clooney is good, but he was better in Michael Clayton, but that was a better film. In addition to the faceplant in the back stretch, we're never really told why he's such a rootless wanderer and why a ax-swinging drone for a company he's not even the boss of would be such an in-demand motivational speaker when what we see of his talks doesn't make much of an impression. I've heard allusions that Reitman butchered the original writer's script but this article debunks that aspect. Even if Reitman made Up In The Air a much better film, it's not flawless by a long shot.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on DVD.

"The Hurt Locker" Review

Kathryn Bigelow's bomb-defusing thriller The Hurt Locker has been an Oscar favorite throughout most of awards season - nominations are announced Feb. 2 - and it topped many critics lists with only the unequaled success of (her ex-husband) James Cameron's Avatar appearing as a spoiler to her becoming the first female director to take the Best Director prize. While Cameron won the Golden Globe, Bigelow won the DGA.

But how is the first movie set in the Iraq War that isn't a Bush-bashing/soldier-bashing/anti-American Hollyweird screed? Very good, but ultimately flat and unsatisfying. Focusing on the seemingly reckless thrill-junkie bomb tech played by Jeremy Renner, Bigelow keeps the tension on as he and his crew deal with the explosives literal and metaphorical. The inability to know if the locals are just watching or are waiting to trigger the blast and put it on JihadTube ratchets the screws tighter.

Using a pseudo-documentary shaky-cam style, the situations feel realistic even when the situations start getting a little unrealistic. I've seen some sniping online by people calling out various inaccuracies and impossibilities, but they're misplaced because The Hurt Locker is more about the psyches on the battlefield than the battle tactics shown. The thesis is spelled out from the start with a quote about war being a drug. I was surprised to see the screenplay was by Mark Boal, whose previous work was co-writing the story for Paul Haggis' profoundly dishonest and military-smearing In the Valley of Elah; here he is more fair without Haggis' trademark tilt and bias which made his Crash such a toxic mess.

My biggest problem with The Hurt Locker is that it doesn't really go anywhere story-wise; it doesn't have much arc and even the surprise deaths aren't that surprising. Just being tense isn't enough for me, no matter how well they tighten the screws.

Score: 7/10. Rent the DVD.

"24 S8.5" Recap – “It’s A Man’s World”

Welcome to the DirkFlix 24 Recaps. A few notes for newcomers to these:
• I don’t rehash the plots; I provide running comments as the show goes on. Unless you’ve seen the episode, you won’t know what I’m referring to. Come read these AFTER viewing the episodes.
• I frequently nickname characters based on previous roles the actors have played, their names, or character traits. (e.g. Bob Gunton played Junction Jack on Greg the Bunny.)
• Most characters fall into one of two categories: Hardcores and Little Bitches. Hardcore characters exhibit badass behavior; Little Bitches are weak victims.
• Jack’s death toll is tallied with the Jack Bauer Body Count (JBBC).
Buckle up! Here we go!

24 S8.5 – “It’s A Man’s World”

• Things are fast and furious in the first segment with Schwartzman calling some general back home in Kreplochistan to say not to worry about Regis rounding up all his opponents because he’s gonna do the deal with Das Boot.
• Sark gets to take his radioactive broham to the country house. Who cares?
• The nice part about doing weapons deals with the Ruskies? Complimentary whores!
• Meanwhile, Jack is simultaneously disgusted and totally embonered at how Agent Red has gone all Jack on Ivan One-Thumb. Awesome phone call with Chloe about how it went.
• OK, this Lifetime Starbuck plotline is pure manure. This yahoo has her dancing at his command, ditching out of work to rush home lest he rat out her real identity which is only an issue because, as I’ve said before, CTU HAS THE WORST FREAKING BACKGROUND CHECKING SYSTEM IN THE WORLD!!! You can’t get a job delivering pizzas without jumping thru higher hoops than all the moles and crooks on Uncle Sam’s payroll. Who wants to bet money that Starbuck burning beds the ex?
• Prez Cherry is still the same old fuddy-duddy about appearances and all that hippie touchy-feely peace crap. She must think she’s a president on Star Trek and not 24.
• Regis’ wife leaves him. She says it’s because he cheated on her, but we all know it’s because he spent more time on doing his Elvis hair than tending the camel, ifyouknowwhatImean.
• Gee, what could be the horrible thing Vladimir did to Red in their past? (I’m guessing he used her toothbrush.)
• Just when you thought Lifetime Starbuck couldn’t get lamer, it gets waaaaaaaaay lamer. Now there’s another Bubba who is such a gentleman he doesn’t even blink (or offer to assist) when she’s getting slapped around. What makes this so galling is the casting: who books the actress who made Battlestar Galactica fans forgive that Starbuck was now a chick and still a totally kickass starfighter pilot to play the Ashley Judd part?!?
• Agent Red wins Vlad’s game of “Who Wants To Be A Nuclear Fuel Buyer?”, but gets stuck in the trunk of the new car. Bob Barker never did this.
• Sark gets Radiobro to the doctor. Yawn… I don’t see this going anywhere interesting. It’s a digression.
• Jack got punked – DAMMIT!!!!! – by the decoy car, but Red’s got the situation under control because she’s freaking suicidal. Damaged goods barely begins to describe what a mess she is.

Thoughts: So-so episode where all the women are victims, even when they’re being hardcore. Red got whupped-up in the past; Starbuck’s getting beat down now; even Mrs. Regis – who’d be totally hot if she got her nose profile straightened – is a wronged wife. Prez Cherry is her own victim. Speaking of which, I just remembered that President Evil Little Bitch (PELB) is supposed to come back sometime this season. WHY?!?!?

Hardcores: Agent Red.

Little Bitches: Starbuck.

Up Next: Agent Red takes a shower for next week’s episode of Lifetime 24.

Episode Score: 6/10 – only rated this high because the end was so intense.

JBBC: Steady at 2. Yawn. Kill someone already.

"Legion" Review

The best thing I can say about Legion is that I didn't have to pay to be bored. (Such are the benefits of the "impromptu double-feature.")

The "plot" in a nutshell: God has lost faith in mankind and is sending an army of angels to wipe us out, presumably because water rates have gotten too expensive for the usual deluge. One angel, Michael (Paul "Mr. Jennifer Connelly" Bettany), bucks the plan, drops down into Los Angeles, chops off his wings, gets a ton of guns, and heads out into the desert where a lonely diner staffed and patronized by every dull stereotype - Dennis Quaid, Roc, the guy from Tokyo Drift, a token black dude with a gun that frightens the white folk, some rich snobs, and the pregnant waitress who is carrying the Messiah it seems. While there, he helps them fight off all sorts of creepy people whose shock value is mooted for anyone who's seen the trailer.

Nothing goes right in Legion. The "character development" scenes are boring; the action is shot in near darkness with no sense of geography (it's almost as bad as Alien vs. Predator: Requiem); we don't give a damn who lives or dies and, most appallingly, they refuse to explain what's so important about this baby and why it's being born on Christmas Day - NUDGE, NUDGE, WINK, WINK! This whole movie is meant to serve as a launching pad for a franchise, but no one thought to make it even vaguely interesting in the first place. It's as if they expected us to be so tantalized by the sketchy nature of this first taste that we'll eagerly pony up more cash to see what comes next.

Stupid question: If God is sending his angels to smite us, why are all these people attacking the diner just red shirt civilians who are possessed while Michael and....wait for it.....can you guess who the other angel is? Did you say "Gabriel" because he's the only other angel you've heard of?!? WINNER!!! Anyway, why are these two angels the only ones fighting in their true forms? Because it's cheaper than kitting out a whole bunch of guys to look like the bird men from Flash Gordon?

For some unfathomable reason, my girlfriend liked it fine, but she doesn't have a blog so her opinion is moot as well as wrong.

Score: 1/10. Watch it on your friend's cable (if you must.)

"Daybreakers" Review

Coming with a neat premise - in the near future almost the whole world has become vampires and humans and their blood are in short supply - Daybreakers almost manages to overcome its modest budget to make a minor genre classic. Some of the characters are a little too familiar - a self-loathing emo vampire (hello, Louis from Interview with the Vampire) who refuses to drink human blood and what is it with only rednecks being able to cope with the various Apocalyses (Apocali?) - but the style and world-building are cool. However, with all the potential for exploration, it feels a little short in length and could've benefited from another 10 minutes of run time.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on DVD.

"The Invention of Lying" Review

The mysteriously excessively acclaimed Ricky Gervais co-writes and co-directs (with Matthew Robinson) The Invention of Lying, a comedy that takes a deceptively simple, yet brilliant, idea and then sort of meanders into inconsequential nowhere after Gervais gets around to what's really on his mind.

Set in an alternate world where no one ever lies - which means the entertainment options are limited, since no one has the capability for creating fiction - Gervais is a schlubby historical screenwriter who is saddled with the unpopular 13th Century; no one wants to watch about the Black Plague. He has the hots for Jennifer Garner who agrees to go on a date with him and then proceeds to diss him for his lack of looks and prospects compared to her. She's not being mean, because in a world where no one even has the capacity to be dishonest, even to spare someone's feelings, the inconvenient truths are all there are.

One day he discovers he can say something that's not true and he's off to the races since no one even understands what he's done when he tries to tell them. While this section has its share of witty bits, the party somewhat ends when Gervais gets to his real thesis in the wake of trying to console his dying mother with tale of a wonderful place where we spend eternity with our loved ones in a mansion. Confronted with a crowd clamoring for more answers, he invents a "Man in the Sky" and a system of rewards and punishments in order to get to that magical place.

After this midpoint, there is little in the way of dramatic tension or comedic relief - other than whether Garner will marry a self-absorbed handsome jackass (in on the joke Rob Lowe) for his high genetic qualities - because no one else catches on to his scam, tries to horn in on his action with competing lies, and they don't explore what should be a radically changed world after this revelation.

The basic problem with The Invention of Lying is that the atheist Gervais' real point - there is no God and religion is silly - isn't a very marketable concept (even for anti-religious Hollyweird) and the sold premise - how much fun can be had if you're the only one who can bamboozle everyone else in the world? - eventually runs out of steam well short of a feature film's length. No one changes and the pacing turns as flat as the rather ugly cinematography. Because his character isn't a ruthless man looking to exploit his advantage and no one else evolves from their childish naivete, the story stays stuck in neutral. If Gervais and Robinson's point is that only a moron could believe such a preposterous idea as a Man in the Sky, they seem to have forgotten that they've established a milieu where everything is as it appears to the inhabitants. With no such thing as myth, why should this one trigger suspicion?

However, the cast is good; Gervais is much better here than the even duller Ghost Town and Garner has somehow developed into an effective actress in films like Juno (for which she was robbed of an Oscar nom; seriously) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Advertised co-stars Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, and Jonah Hill are good, but there are several cameos that are too good to spoil. (Gervais has pull with his acting brethren, as his series Extras showed.)

I've seen some people who had real problems with Gervais' anti-religious take and I was a little leery going in, but it's dealt with lightly and certainly not able to browbeat anyone to jettison any religious beliefs they have. (He's no violent God-hater like Bill Maher.) No, The Invention of Lying's greatest sin is not having enough content for its concept, no matter how briefly nifty it is at the start. Maybe if he really wanted to make a movie about that subject instead of sharing his theocratic issues?

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Bitch Slap" Review

"It's a fine line between clever and stupid." - This Is Spinal Tap

A friend basically commanded me to check out Bitch Slap, a wannabe grindhouse-styled grrlploitation flick. It's been getting some buzz around the film nerd sites, but having been there, done that, and seen the wet t-shirts, it's more a big miss than Miss Right.

It kicks off semi-promisingly enough with enough tough girl decolletage to resurrect Russ Meyers and an energetic "we know this is crap we're spoofing" vibe as we meet a trio of fatal femmes (named Hel, Trixie, and Camero), as they arrive at a trailer in the middle of the desert with a guy with Jason Statham's voice in their trunk and a heap of flashbacks in their future.

While I love babes, boobs, and bloody brawls as much as the next borderline reprobate, it quickly got dull because Bitch Slap tries to have its spoof and play it straight, too. The first time we see "scenery" other than the desert, it's clearly cheaply done greenscreen work meant to give a no-fi Sin City-esque patina to the proceedings and it's a gas, but the real problem is that in between the scenes of the babes tossing water on each other in slow-motion - a gag that bookends a flashback! - and faux lesbian nookifying (oddly, none of the stars ever get actually nude), there is an apparently serious attempt at a plot which is at odds with the otherwise goofy tone.

And the inconsistent tone is where Bitch Slap gets, well, bitch-slapped. There are moments of sublime awesomeness in poses and camera angles, but it would take a fusion of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez combined to have a prayer of pulling this goulash off and Xena: Warrior Princess vet Rick Jacobson just doesn't have the chops. At 105 minutes, it's at least a half-hour too long, too.

Even if you're a maven for cheesy pneumatic bitch-slapping bimbo B-movie bozoness, Bitch Slap manages to sail past the so-bad-it's-good zone into the how-did-they-make-boobs-and-bitchy-babes-boring realm previously charted by Coyote Ugly. No amount of raging hormones and hornyness can make Bitch Slap worth slapping your, um, bitch up over.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable in small doses.

"24 S8.3-4" Recap – “Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights”

Welcome to the DirkFlix 24 Recaps. A few notes for newcomers to these:

• I don’t rehash the plots; I provide running comments as the show goes on. Unless you’ve seen the episode, you won’t know what I’m referring to. Come read these AFTER viewing the episodes.
• I frequently nickname characters based on previous roles the actors have played, their names, or character traits. (e.g. Bob Gunton played Junction Jack on Greg the Bunny.)
• Most characters fall into one of two categories: Hardcores and Little Bitches. Hardcore characters exhibit badass behavior; Little Bitches are weak victims.
• Jack’s death toll is tallied with the Jack Bauer Body Count (JBBC).

Buckle up! Here we go!

24 S8.3-4 – “Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights”

• You’d think that a cop would be smart enough to realize that after helping the guy who was holding them hostage it’s highly unlikely that he’d be left alive to squeal, all promises aside.
• They need to decrypt the files on the big screen.
• Nice staredown between Jack and the ballers. C-note for info.
• New York’s finest are going to think that Jack’s a cop killer when he didn’t cap the cop outside whom he had the drop on?
• WTF is this plot with Starbuck and her hick boyfriend? Nevermind that this seems to have happened in a prior season, if she has such a dark secret past that this clown can blackmail her, how did she get employed at CTU? Why doesn’t she just tell him to bugger off? Starbuck ain’t no abused Lifetime character!
• Bullethead cop is beating up Jack without bother to ask why he did it. Stupid.
• Bubba gets Blonde Ambition to admit the affair, but no one believes her.
• Regis cops to the affair, pissing off Schwartzman, but Bubba won’t send someone to look for Jack, making Chloe scowl. (More than usual, that is.)
• Bullethead discovers that handcuffing Jack to a chair is useless against him beating his ass. Let’s hear it for the rookie.
• Wondering about that faint scar on Starbuck’s throat? Apparently Katee Sackhoff had thyroid cancer last year and that’s from the surgery.
• The file’s decrypted and everyone thinks the UN is gonna get bombed – would that really be so bad? – but it’s just a scheme to get people out onto the street where the real manhole cover bomb is.
• Jack’s story checks out (duh) and the rookie takes him to the UN. Damp Boy tries to save the day and gets blowed up a little. Starbuck is unhappy.
• As the plot unravels, Schwartzman plays it cool by stabbing a CTU red shirt in the neck with a pen and calling the captain from Das Boot.
• Jack saves Damp Boy’s bacon by shooting the hitter who turns out to be Russian mob (I saw Eastern Promises). Between blocking the bomb and alerting CTU the hitter was with him, Damp Boy earns Hardcore status.
• Bubba acknowledges that Jack and Chloe saved his butt. Chloe smirks.
• Agent Red from S7 was an undercover agent with the Ruskies - oooooh, that’s gonna be awkward with Jack hanging around.
• Das Boot’s own son is dying of radiation poisoning and that’s proof of nuke fuel for Schwartzman. Harsh.
• Yikes. Red looks rough. Being suicidal and in the darkness does that to you. Jack’s still concerned for her and thinks her going back undercover with the Ruskie mob is a bad idea.
• Regis kicks his chippie to the curb. Wah.
• Jack horns in on Red’s assignment because he thinks she’s too fragile to handle the gig.
• Oh, fercryingoutloud!!! WTF is Starbuck being menaced by Buford over the phone?!? It doesn’t even matter what their past was, every step of the way she could’ve hung up on him. How freaking lame is this?
• YIKES!!! Red goes Jigsaw on her contact, chopping off his thumb to get a tracking bracelet off. HARDCORE!

Things are starting to speed up as the real plot behind the plot is revealed. (Don’t worry, there will probably be another few REAL real plots to come.) I don’t really care about Regis and Prez Cherry’s peace talks and the Lifetime Starbuck thread is pure annoying crap. Agent Red being as nuts as Jack is gold, though.

Up Next: Lifetime Starbuck sneaks out to be beaten up; Red meets the Reds; Jack says “DAMMIT!” some more.

Hardcores: Jack, Agent Red, Damp Boy, Das Boot (Father of the Year).

Little Bitches: Starbuck, red shirt cops and agents, Schwartzman.

Episodes Score: 7/10

JBBC: Steady at 2.

"24 S8.1-2" Recap – “Start Spreading The News; Jack’s Back!!!”

Welcome to the DirkFlix 24 Recaps. A few notes for newcomers to these:

• I don’t rehash the plots; I provide running comments as the show goes on. Unless you’ve seen the episode, you won’t know what I’m referring to. Come read these AFTER viewing the episodes.
• I frequently nickname characters based on previous roles the actors have played, their names, or character traits. (e.g. Bob Gunton played Junction Jack on Greg the Bunny.)
• Most characters fall into one of two categories: Hardcores and Little Bitches. Hardcore characters exhibit badass behavior; Little Bitches are weak victims.
• Jack’s death toll is tallied with the Jack Bauer Body Count (JBBC).

Buckle up! Here we go!

24 S8.1-2 – “Start Spreading The News; Jack’s Back!!!”

• Snipers in NYC? It must be a Tuesday.
• Prez Cherry and Junction Jack are negotiating with Slumdog Regis, leader of Iran, er, Kreplochistan. His brother has Jason Schwartzman hair.
• Grandpa Jack is smiling and happy. This means he’s either gonna die or kill everyone in NYC. (The latter’s guaranteed, though.)
• Regis and the reporter have something going on. So, it’s routine for the press to service foreign leaders, too.
• It appears that CTU:NY moved into the Dollhouse since that show got canned. Ritzy!
• Ah, Agent Damp Boi (the man who killed Buffy and embabied her) is supposedly the big dog. Yeah, right.
• It’s weird seeing Starbuck as a girl. We’re supposed to believe she’s smarter than Chloe? Not even! Ask Janeane Garofalo, yo.
• Is Bubba Gump gonna be this year’s Chump Who Doesn’t Believe Jack? Love the bit where everyone just shoots a look at Drone Dweeb asking, “Who’s Jack Bauer?”
• Damp Boi and Starbuck are engaged. I guess anti-fraternization policies have yet to be implemented even though over and over it goes badly because of these relationships.
• Thanks to the commercials, we know that the helicopter is gonna get shot down, so there’s no tension.
• Only in the 24verse can someone calling 911 because they see suspicious bleeding people a bad thing.
• OWWW!!!! Jack gets all Shining style on the shooters with a fire axe! Jack Bauer Body Count is off with a double kill for 2!
• BOOM! The helicopter gets blowed up – I am so surprised – by a guy who conveniently was able to get onto an adjacent roof overlooking the alternate landing zone. Lucky break for the bad guys, no? *cough*
• Blonde Ambition is the inside hitter? I don’t get it – Regis’ wife is hotter.
• === END HOUR 1; START HOUR 2 ===
• When Bubba Gump calls the UN with the description of Blonde Ambition, why does he tell them everything about her clothes and not that SHE’S A BLONDE!!! The only blonde in the room!!! Booty call denied!
• Jeez, Bubba is a CYA weasel who leans on Damp Boi to cover his lameness. It’s such a trope: the incompetent rise to power whole the oar-pullers who know stuff are blown off.
• Chloe can’t talk Jack into getting her back. Really? Jack’s suddenly a NMP guy?
• I called that Schwartzman was the mole. They need to up the surprise factor.
• Nice to see sexual harassment chatter is allowed in the office.
• Starbuck has a dark secret past. She’s a Cylon with a white trash ex?!?
• Jack walks out on Chloe, but Kim shames him into staying on and helping out. This better not mean they’re gonna kill him.
• Boy, the CTU:NY interrogation rooms are pretty 2001 compared to the dark LA ones. So white and light. They need to spray some blood all over the place.
• Starbuck’s not a Cylon; she’s Appalachian hill people stock and some ex-con is gonna distract her? Lame.
• Doesn’t anyone have a calendar or bobblehead on their desks? The place looks like a showroom for shiny stuff, not an actual office.
• Jack gets busted looting the gun room, but is able to blackmail Bubba (no pun intended) to get to go rogue lest he narc him out to Prez Cherry.
• Bazooka Joe shows up at a co-worker cop’s house – he’s a cop! – and then loses his New Yawk accent and gets a jihadi twang. Wha?!?

Season 8 starts off with some very familiar elements and I’m getting a little bored of seeing the same checklist of plot elements and characters being ticked off. It’s as if they think an all-new audience is tuning in each season. Come on, surprise the old fans.

Up Next: More yelling, chasing, and the return of S7’s Agent Red?

Episodes Score: 6/10


"Whiteout" Review

Watch this. (The original video was taken down and all the other versions don't allow embedding.)

This is the only part of the Antarctic crapfest Whiteout you need to see because the other 100 minutes are sheer tedious stupidity. I'm not kidding. I don't even want to waste the time recapping the supposed plot, such as it is. The whole time I was wondering why this movie was made and who thought putting Kate Beckensale in a parka would sell tickets as an improbably hot U.S. Marshal at the South Pole. Again, I'm not kidding.

Absolutely insipid. Avoid.


UPDATE: I've received feedback that a synopsis is necessary (dammit!) because the ads never made clear as to what sort of movie this was: sci-fi, horror, what? (I was entertaining myself by occasionally asking, "When's the Thing showing up?" It's a convoluted murder mystery. In a prologue, we see a Soviet plane crash in Antarctica and what the passengers were killing each other for is the McGuffin. With three days left before the South Pole base evacs for the winter, a body is found out on the ice and Marshal Hottie-with-flashback-demons has to solve the crime. Then a masked parka-clad guy with an ice axe attacks! Who's the killer? What was on the plane? Who the frak cares?!?

The only original elements are the location and environment. Isolated at the bottom of the world with minus-60 temperatures and 100 mph winds promising near-instant death, it's as threatening as you can get short of outer space. But they don't play by the rules they establish; early in the movie, Becks gets so frostbitten that she loses two fingers (snip!) but the final battle in a raging storm where if you get disconnected from the guide ropes, you'll literally be blown away, is battled with exposed faces and when she gets inside she's not even chapped! No dry skin or split ends and static flyaway hair. Sure, it's Hollywood, but if they're willing to show blackened dead fingers, why not some weathering?

"Whip It!" Review

I have an odd connection with this movie because it was shot in Michigan (doubling for Bodeen and Austin, TX; yeah, go figure) and one Saturday night in August 2007, director Drew Barrymore and stars Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell, Eve, Ellen Page, Landon Pigg, Marcia Gay Harden and a couple of dozen derby girls invaded a Detroit bar for a drunken party and impromptu jam session.

I'd been tipped off that they were there and was lucky enough to take videos and photos of the festivities and shots of Drew sitting behind the drums sold to People, OK!, and In Touch magazines in America and publications around the world. I made enough from the photos to upgrade my whole camera setup and tell people that "this is the camera Drew Barrymore bought me." Whip It! opened the same weekend as Zombieland and hampered by poor promotion for a sorta hard sell, didn't do much at the box office. (Admittedly, as generous as Drew was to me, I went for the zombies as well. I'm a terrible person.)

Page stars as a small-town girl Bliss (name, not emotional state) whose former beauty queen mother (Harden) has her doing pageants though she's clearly not the type. One day, she picks up a flyer leading her to the wild world of roller derby where she joins the Hurl Scouts, the worst team in the league, as Babe Ruthless. She has to keep this secret from her folks, meets a cute guy in a band (Pigg - remember when people changed their unfortunate names for the marquee?), and all the other bullet points of your typical coming-of-age/minor teen rebellion/formula story.

While the plot is pretty paint-by-numbers and predictable all along the line, Whip It! manages to float along nicely due to the uniformly strong cast and Barrymore's apt direction. The derby scenes are well shot so as to be semi-coherent, but it's the little grace moments Barrymore gives her grrl power cast that resonate best. Page is good in a decidedly non-flashy character and as the low-key love scenes show, she's finally starting to play girls after several roles as really bright young teen-aged boys. The parts with her so-called love interest are the least interesting, especially since musician Pigg is no thespian. (Which does NOT mean he's a chick who digs chicks.)

Whip It! ultimately doesn't amount to much, but it's a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours thanks to the engaging performances. As long as you aren't expecting Rollerball (the original) or hot girl action, there's no reason to say "skip it" to Whip It! (groan)

Score: 7/10

"Nine" Review

I loved Chicago. LoveditloveditloveditLUVEDIT!!! I loved it as much as a heterosexual can without freaking out hockey fans at the union hall. So another Rob Marshall-directed Broadway musical film, this time stocked with a half-dozen Oscar winners and a lush production should've been a a slam dunk, right?

Well, unfortunately not.

Musicals live and die on their scores - see: The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins, any Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein show - and unlike Chicago, Nine just doesn't have the memorable melodies outside the punchlines of "Be Italian" or "Cinema Italiano." There simply aren't many hooks to latch onto during the songs, much less after the movie's over. The cast sing well enough - unsurprisingly Black Eyed Peas' Fergie is the strongest - but the material leaves them a little lost.

Another problem is that the big ensemble cast means that other than Guido and his wife, who get a pair of songs, everyone else gets just one a piece. Compare that to Chicago (again) where Billy, Velma, and Roxie get at least three songs each while still allowing Mama Morton and Mr. Cellophane their moments. In Nine, for the most part, the ladies sing their song (singular) and then fade into the background.

While Marshall captures the look and feel of mid-Sixties Italy, the musical numbers are almost too big, too overstuffed and filling every corner of the wide screen. But bigger doesn't always mean better as the featured players have to fight for attention. (This really came home during Fergie's number when there are about 14 other chorus dancers when 8-10 would've sufficed.)

Of the Holiday 2009 movies, I was more stoked to see this than Avatar and thought a lot of the negative reviews were just Chicago-haters getting their licks in. Nine isn't as bad the reviews would lead you to believe, but not good enough to give an unqualified recommendation for. Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard (as the suffering wife), and Penélope Cruz (as the saucy mistress) are fine as well as the supporting cast. The movie looks great. It's just that being big in scale - I described the trailer as making it look like "Chicago with a budget" - can't gussy up the thinness of the music.

Score: 7/10. See it on a big screen at the dollar show.

Favorite Films of 2009

As we plunge into awards season overload and with the passing of the New Year, everyone and their burro is making "10 Best/Worst" lists, etc. What I'm doing here isn't listing what I thought was the BESTEST OF THE BESTISH, but the movies I enjoyed the most and think you should give a peek at. Some were in theaters; others I caught on DVD or download; some may've come out in 2008. They're in no particular order and there may be ten or more or less. Let's see how it works out.

TAKEN - Liam Neeson is Jack Bauer as Jedi Knight tearing up Paris to rescue his stupid daughter from Muslim kidnappers. The scene with the spikes is a hoot cuz the guy actually spits on him when it's clear that's not going to help his fortunes.

PERSEPOLIS - One woman's tale of growing up in the dark shadow of Iran's Islamic Revolution only hints at the thuggery, but it's clear that tossing the Shah wasn't an upgrade. Done in striking B&W to match its graphic novel origins, you'll have a new mental image when you hear "Eye of the Tiger."

PUSH - It's a little like a discount X-Men movie, but the gritty Hong Kong setting and stylish action work in its favor. It's also the film where we can sense that Dakota Fanning may grow up into a hottie. (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Emma Watson, you disappointment.)

CORALINE - Let's get this clear: Henry Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, NOT Tim Burton! Here he brings his signature stop-motion style to the story of a lonely girl who finds the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the tunnel hidden in the wall.

17 AGAIN - If you told me a Zac Efron(!) movie would be a smartly-written story of getting to know your loved ones, I would've busted a restraining order out on you. Hate him cuz he's beautiful all you want; he doesn't coast where he could've. It's too soon to tell whether he could have a Johnny Depp career, but it's a cute, fun flick.

ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL - The coverage of this was so annoying in that I thought it was a Spinal Tap-ish spoof that the media collectively decided to pretend was a real doc about a real band. Until I saw it, I really wanted to punch someone. A sobering look at what happens to a Canuckian metal band that had all the tools for success, yet failed, its ultimate irony is that the band didn't find fame for its music, but because someone made a movie about their failure.

TRICK 'R TREAT - It's not that no one made a genuine horror film about Halloween proper, but that the morons at Warner Bros. let this gem languish on their shelf for two frigging years while they pumped up Saw sequels at Halloween before dumping it to DVD. Idiots! Check it out and spread the word the way the Bunny didn't.

MOON - Sam Rockwell isn't going to get a deserved Oscar nomination for his dual performance as a lonely lunar miner who finds things - and he - aren't what he thought they were because outside of hardcore sci-fi geeks, no one's even heard of this flick beyond being vaguely aware that David Bowie's kid directed it.

STAR TREK - Yes, the script took some serious liberties with common sense and WTF was the huge factory doing in the Enterprise? The fact is that the first Trek film that LOOKED like a huge movie with a budget and not a gussied-up TV episode simply rocked with energy and lens flare. J.J. Abrams cast everyone to a T, but mega-props for Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy which nails the vibe of DeForest Kelley without stooping to mimicry.

THE HANGOVER - We're doomed to see a lot of copycats of this hilarious and raunchy flick, but you've got to hand it to the original which showed that the secret for comedy gold isn't dumping $20 million on some marque star - I'm looking at you, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Jack Black, and Adam Sandler - but to have a sharp script played by ace actors, not spotlight hogs. The structure was brilliant because we share in their horror as they discover what happened the night before.

DISTRICT 9 - While Avatar showed what the now King of the Universe, James Cameron, can do with $300 million in bleeding-edge FX pr0n techmonology, Neill Blomkamp's $30 million South African alien apartheid allegory showed that a compelling story and impressive special effects can be done for what Will Smith alone costs. Smart AND fun, it's not quite the Awesomest. Movie. Ever. as a large amount of the Nerd Movie Blogeratti hailed it, but it's damn good and will hopefully encourage Hollyweird to let bright young talents make unique films on relatively risk-free budgets.

Coincidentally, my pick for my favorite film of 2009 was a lucky fluke of timing as it was starting just as District 9 let out, allowing me to make an impromptu double-feature of D9 and....

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER - The ads made this look like another fizzy rom-com and since rom-coms are utterly predictable and formulaic, most people blew it off as more of the same when it is actually the funniest romantic-DRAMA of the year. Told in a time-jumping structure that could've been too cute by half, the tale of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel's tempestuous romance - he believes in true love and she doesn't - slowly builds up a layered story of how we can miss the reality in the rose-tinted reminiscences of romantic rendezvous. Where it really nailed the "something special" prize is in how the sudden reversal of one character is dealt with in a final scene that really had me scared it would punk out for a Hollywood ending but rather chose a bittersweet and logically honest denouement. (Eat it, Kate Hudson!)

What was interesting about seeing District 9 and (500) Days of Summer back to back is how both were little indie movies made outside of the panicked "must return on investment with safe formulas" mindset of most Hollywood product. (Can't even call them movies, much less films.) Both had clear unique storytelling visions backing strong scripts with excellent performances and FX work. The human element - even with the aliens - is what made Moon and District 9 more satisfying than retarded fare like G.I. Joe: Dear God Please Stop Stephen Sommers From Making Movies or lowbrow noisefests like Baysplosions 2009. (To be fair, if you were looking for giant fighting robots tearing up sh*t and Megan Fox running in slow motion; Transformers 2 was ticket.)

There's a dozen goodies for your basket. Go watch 'em!!!

"The Cat Returns" Review

With American animated movies charging farther into 3D CGI territory to the point where a traditional 2D Disney movie like The Princess and the Frog is a novelty, old-school Japanese animation - and I don't mean anime like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, and Dragonball-Z - soldiers on in relative obscurity despite the efforts of Disney to import them with American star-laden dubs as the lineup on the delightfully crazy The Cat Returns.

Anne Hathaway (aka "Yummy Girl" to me) voices Haru, a schoolgirl who discovers that saving the life of a cat that's about to be hit by a truck can be an example of no good deed going unpunished. First the cat talks to her(!), then procession of cats bearing the Cat King (Tim Curry) parades down her street that night promising great rewards(!!), leading to a journey to the Kingdom of Cats where she is to be married to the cat she saved(!!!) which isn't that kinky since she's transforming into a cat. Did I mention the Baron (Cary Elwes), who was a sculpture that came to life because it has a soul and wears a top hat and tails?

Then it gets really weird.

I don't know what kind of crap is being aimed at the kiddies these days, but it'd do parents some good to show them stuff like this (and A Clockwork Orange, but that's another topic) to give their imaginations a good flight of fancy. (It's also fun for grownups, too!) Anime snobs scoff at English dubs, but the cast including Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Kristen Bell, and Andy Richter are fine and dandy.

Delightfully goofy and chock full of kittehs, I highly recommend The Cat Returns. See it now!

Score: 9/10. Rent the DVD.

"Paris, je t'aime" Review

Paris, je t'aime is what you get when you combine 20 short films averaging six minutes each from directors both familiar to gringo audiences (e.g. the Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuarón) and unknown beyond the art house and clove cigarette circles (e.g. Nobuhiro Suwa, Sylvain Chomet, Isabel Coixet - me neither) with stars familiar (e.g. Natalie Portman, Steve Buscemi, Gena Rowlands, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte) and less so (i.e. everyone else) all set in Paris, but rarely the Eiffel Tower/Arc de Triomphe postcard version of the City of Lights.

With so many players and scenes and no real overarching theme - love and Paris, I suppose - it's more a curiosity to see American actors speak fluent Frog and see who succeeds best with such a limited time frame. Standouts are the Coen Brothers bit with Steve Buscemi's silent torment as he finds out why you don't make eye contact with strangers; a wild moody piece involving vampires; a quiet hairstyling supplies salesman's encounter with a Chinese salon; and a sprightly romance between a blind young man and Portman's up-and-coming actress. Not as good is Cuarón's one-shot meander which feels like a warm-up for his Children of Men set pieces and Van Sant's tedious and oh-so-predictable chunk which I suspect was more for his personal spank bank and I don't just mean the obligatory Kurt Cobain reference.

Just as with Michigan weather, if something about Paris, je t'aime doesn't strike your fancy, wait a few minutes and it will change. There are more hits than misses and some are quite poignant, balancing out the twaddle like a young woman singing some dumb lullaby. Twice. As long as you're not expecting a travelogue - that's what Taken and Before Sunset are for, it's worth a looksee for any adventurous movie fan.

Score: 7/10

2009 Home Movie Viewing List

What I've watched at home on DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray, etc. Theatrical movies not included.

New Years Eve: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains; Times Square; After Hours
1/2 - Breaking Glass
1/5 - Persepolis
1/12 - Beautiful Beast
1/16 - Wall-E (BD)
1/19 - Max Payne Unrated; Queen: The Making of Night at the Opera
1/21 - A Clockwork Orange (BD) - (extras and commentary)
1/25 - Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
1/31 - Taken; Sex Drive

2/1 - Get Smart
2/8 - Dead Like Me: The Movie
2/9 - Lakeview Terrace
2/10 - Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog
2/16 - The Reader
2/18 - Frost/Nixon
2/19 - Milk
2/20 - The Wrestler
2/21 - Gran Torino; Doubt; Feast 3

3/1 - My Name Is Bruce
3/7 - Role Models
3/9 - Tokyo Gore Police
3/11 - Speed Racer
3/14 - Mirrors
3/15 - Changeling
3/16 - Rocknrolla
3/20 - Quantum of Solace
3/21 - Bolt; The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
3/22 - Thick as Thieves
3/23 - Face/Off (HD DVD)

4/19 - The Uninvited
4/20 - The Unborn
4/23 - X-Men (Blu-ray)
4/25 - The Warriors (HD DVD)
4/26 - Yes Man

5/4 - Push
5/10 - Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
5/24 - Wanted; Fast & Furious (2009)
5/25 - Coraline
5/28 - Terminator 2 (BD) (commentary)
5/29 - Tropic Thunder (BD)

6/3 - X2: X-Men United (BD)
6/13 - The Spirit
6/22 - Ghostbusters (BD) (Slimer Mode)
6/26 - The Day After Tomorrow (BD)

7/5 - Passengers; Horsemen
7/10 - Daredevil DC (BD)
7/11 - Daredevil DC (BD) (commentary)
7/19 - Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
7/20 - Duplicity
7/26 - Stiletto
7/27 - Paul Blart: Mall Cop

8/2 - I Love You, Man
8/3 - 17 Again
8/9 - Killshot
8/16 - State of Play
8/23 - Blood: The Last Vampire
8/24 - Body of Lies
8/25 - Hancock (Extended Cut) (BD)
8/27 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (BD)
8/30 - Adventureland; Management
8/31 - Repo! The Genetic Opera

9/4 - Evolution
9/6 - Creepshow
9/13 - Anvil: The Story of Anvil
9/22 - Ballistic Kiss
9/29 - Observe and Report; Away We Go

10/5 - Year One (Unrated)
10/11 - Phantoms
10/12 - Land of the Lost
10/18 - Dead Snow
10/25 - Doghouse
10/26 - Jacob's Ladder; Cloverfield
10/30 - Trick 'r Treat; Blood Dolls

11/1 - Paranormal Activity (2007 version)
11/8 - A Perfect Getaway
11/9 - The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
11/15 - 9; Donnie Darko; Battlestar Galactica: The Plan
11/16 - Moon; Surrogates
11/22 - Funny People (Unrated)
11/23 - G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
11/27 - Monsters vs. Aliens (BD)
11/29 - The Boat That Rocked (aka Pirate Radio)

12/2 - Terminator Salvation (BD) - Max Movie Mode
12/3 - Star Trek (2009) (BD) - Commentary
12/7 - Star Trek (2009) BD; Journey to the End of the Night
12/12 - Watchmen: Director's Cut (BD) - Max Movie Mode
12/13 - The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans; Law Abiding Citizen
12/14 - Inglourious Basterds
12/21 - The Ramen Girl; Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs
12/23 - National Treasure: Book of Secrets (BD)
12/24 - Badder Santa
12/25 - Elf
12/27 - Public Enemies
12/28 - Ghost Town; Poison Ivy 2: Lily
12/30 - Angel of Death
12/31 - Night on Earth; The Hunger; Cool World

Total Movies Watched: 115
First Time Viewings: 86
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