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!

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" Review

My girlfriend's family lurvs this movie. Lurvs it. I didn't. A smattering of laughs and a lot of dead air in between. Most interesting thing about it is that it explains why Juliette Lewis is in those Old Navy commercials with Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo and that she sounded like she smoked a couple of packs a day when she was 15.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Taken 2" Review

First of all, this should've been called Retaken, but since it's likely that most people would be too dense to recognize this as the sequel to the surprise hit Taken they went with Taken 2, which rhymes with Taken Too as in Taken Also which is the polite way of saying it's more of the same, but not as good.

This time it's Liam Neeson himself who is taken, along with ex-wife Famke Janssen, by the father of one of the redshirts Neeson killed in the first movie. He wants revenge and it falls to daughter Maggie Grace, herself hunted, to come to the rescue under the guidance of Dad. The one genuinely clever element is how Liam is able to guesstimate where he's held so that Maggie can come and find him. What's not so clever is how the streets of picturesque Istanbul go from crowded to deserted and the sequence where they crash a heavily-defended US Embassy checkpoint and somehow get to sit in their car forever without a hundred soldiers recreating the end of The Blues Brothers on them.

Some of the action staged by best-director-name-ever Oliver Megaton is effective, but too reliant on edit fu and ShakyCam® as well as the late Tony Scott's manipulation of color and speed. Liam growls, but it seems more because he's sleepy and making a movie for the money; Maggie is plucky and cute; but Famke's looking a little harsh for her age.

If you're hungry for more Taken, why not watch the original again?

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Looper" Review

The run-up of hype for Looper was extraordinary in its length as a rough cut was screened for influential film nerd writers over a year before its release. They took to the Internets and gave other film nerds the heads-up about this great cinematic achievement coming our way. Upon its release it was well-reviewed and is showing up on year-end best-of lists, so once again I'm finding myself wondering if film critics who have to see everything, even dreck they'd skip if they weren't paid to endure it, are just so grateful for something the least bit different that they overpraise it to death. As with last year's overrated not-all-that films Drive and Attack the Block, Looper is an intriguing concept ultimately incapable of living by its own rules.

The premise, as alluded to in the trailer, is that 30 years in the future from the film's setting of 2044 time-travel has been invented and immediately outlawed, only used by crime syndicates to send back people to be killed by Loopers, so named because eventually they have to "close their loop" when their future selves are sent back. It's when Joseph Gordon-Levitt's future self (Bruce Willis) comes back and escapes that the plot kicks in and the usual problems with time-travel movies rear their head. Paradoxes ensue.

The confusion starts when we see Bruce knock out JGL, something we've previously been shown is very bad for the Looper who screws up. (In that earlier sequence that we're shown that Looper is using Back to the Future's rules in which things disappear as the future version of a Looper who screwed up is, um, altered by what's happening to the younger version.) When hunted by the Gat Men, JGL appears to be killed, at which point we're taken back to the scene where Bruce got away except this time JGL does his job and kills Bruce. We're then taken through a Reader's Digest version of the next 30 years showing JGL/Bruce's life leading up to his being zapped back to the past where he isn't killed as we saw before. Confused? It gets worse.

Ultimately the story hinges on Bruce's quest to find the Rainmaker, the Keyser Soze of 2074 who has taken over the crime world and is closing the loops of all the hitmen in the past. He figures if you kills the Rainmaker in the past, he won't be sent back to die and other bad things will be prevented. It's pretty easy to guess who the Rainmaker is, but there's a few other cards up Looper's sleeve which I suppose are meant to seem clever, but only raise more questions as to how the mechanics of time-travel and paradoxes work. If it works as it's shown, then the whole movie should've been impossible because nothing would've happened with one character taken off the board.

Even with the nerd mechanics nagging at me, I just didn't get on board with the other elements of the story involving Emily Blunt living on a farm with her kid that JGL goes to. It just felt poorly motivated and what it would do to the overall timeline wasn't explored. I'm trying not to spoil anything, in case you, dear reader, wishes to see for yourself, but it's nowhere as profound as you've been told. The performances are good, but the simultaneously overly-complex and simplistic story doesn't hang together.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.


As the scene with Paul Dano getting hacked apart and JGL's carving "Beatrix" into his arm showed, changes made now instantly appear on the future version's body. So when JGL kills himself to save Emily and prevent scary Tetsuo boy from becoming the Rainmaker in the future, thus saving Bruce's wife and negating the mass closing of loops, it raises the loophole (heh) of who drove the truck of silver/gold bars out to the farm since Bruce never came back from 2074 because he died in 2044. Everything that happened couldn't have, though it is sort of allowed for in showing how JGL killed Bruce, grew old, got sent back and didn't get killed and then died in the past meaning none of the future should've happened and WAIT, I'M CONFUSED BECAUSE THIS DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!!!

Come to think of it, I think most of the reviews praising this went out of the way to say the time-travel isn't the important part which in retrospect was their way of saying the rules fundamentally didn't work but rather than hold writer-director Rian Johnson to account because they liked Brick (which I haven't seen yet but I've got the DVD) so much. Or something.

UPDATE: The next day, my g/f and I discussed how disappointed we were and I pitched this as a better plot:

 First of all, the initial scene of Bruce coming back has to be cut entirely. Not only does it lead to "WTF is going on here?" confusion, but it tips off what's coming in a manner that doesn't have the impact because we're too busy trying to figure out what's going on. So, lose the first scene and start with the 2nd (after JGL falls) and he closes his loop. We get the montage, the wife dying, and the decision to change things, so when he goes back in time, he has a motive to ambush JGL though he won't know why he's getting pounced upon.

So Bruce is on the loose and things proceed as shown except that with JGL on the farm, getting clean with Emily's help and falling in love with her, that should've erased Bruce's memory of the wife in Shanghai. With nothing to save in the future, and realizing he's made total hash of things in killing Jeff Daniels and the Gat Men, Bruce heads to the farm to help JGL fight off the Gat Men, probably sacrificing himself in the process. It would mean redeeming his selfish motives for coming back, but how selfish is it to have yourself clean up and find love 25 years earlier?

However, as I worked through this storyline I realized that the time paradoxes always resulted in none of this happening because Bruce never would've had a reason to come back and try and change the future and that's the only reason JGL would've ended up on that farm in the first place. Causality loops and paradoxes are the bane of time-travel movies and it's clear they tried to slide by on the inconsistencies by refusing to talk about them, but they remain there, chewing away at the foundations of the story. If they hadn't shown Paul Dano's older self being hacked apart - a cool concept - and Bruce disappearing, they could've avoided most of these questions. By showing the rules, they ended up revealing how badly they were breaking their own rules.

Extra thoughts:

* How many time machines are there? They seem to be fixed to one spot - Dano's is in the city; JGL's is on a farm where no one ever sees him - but there are a bunch of Loopers apparently all over the place.

* Best dialog of the movie was the exchange between Daniels and JGL about the latter learning French culminating in, "I'm from the future. You should go to China." Notice that all the money was red and had Chinese people on them; that's what happens when you re-elect a President in 2012 who doesn't know how to stop spending. Just saying.

* Why are buildings in sci-fi movies always architecturally impossible? I've started noticing this a LOT lately where these giant skyscrapers have skinny midsections then get wider, like this on the right:

They look cool, but can't be built. Look at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai which is over a half-mile tall; it's a pyramid, wide at the bottom and tapering on top.

* The guys from Cinema Sins have really recapped the problems I've had with this video:

"Compliance" Review

Imagine you're a manager of a fast food restaurant. Got it? Now a man calls claiming to be a police officer who has received a complaint that a cashier has stolen money from a customers purse and he wants you to strip search the girl to see if she's got the money on her. What do you do? This is the maddening premise of Compliance, a movie which will have you screaming at your TV wondering how the effing hell these people could be so stupid and what are the filmmakers trying to pull here because there is no way this could really happen.

Except it did. It's based on a real incident and unlike many movies "inspired by a true story" it is pretty much what happened when a prankster (to put it mildly) called a Kentucky McDonald's in 2004 and subjected an innocent girl to hours of sexual degradation.

Ann Doyd is the manager who is set up in the film as being a little incompetent and disrespected by her employees. Dreama Walker (from Don't Trust the B**** in Apt. 23; she the one who isn't Krysten Ritter) is the cashier who can't believe what's happening to her, but as she is stripped bare it's impossible to wonder why the effing eff she decided to submit to the demands of this voice on the phone rather than call his bluff and go to jail to prove her innocence.

Throughout the movie, my girlfriend was yelling at me that this wasn't possible and even when I paused to check Wikipedia and saw this was playing the story straight, she was still upset. The major failing of Compliance is that it never attempts to explain the inexplicable behavior of so many people, including the victim. If you read the linked story above, you pretty much know everything the movie will show you but will have as little insight. It also feels like a 60-minute story stretched out to 90 minutes and thus slips a bit past "causing skeevy discomfort" into "needless padding" territory.

It's considered rude and wrong to "blame the victim" but there are several points where anyone with a pair of working neurons chould have stopped matters dead by asking, "You want me to do WHAT?!? How about you sending a squad car over to get me?" I get that the power of authority compels people to obey blindly, but it's not like someone showed up dressed in a cop costume and pulled this stunt; it was a VOICE ON THE TELEPHONE! The appalling result of the investigation of this incident is also omitted for no good reason. (The creep got away with it.)

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"End of Watch" Review

Written and directed by David Ayer, the screenwriter of Training Day, End of Watch is another trip into the gritty life of LA street cops, this time with partners Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña patrolling the gangbanger-infested South Central area.

Using a silly and inconsistently-applied conceit of camcorders - we see what people are taping, then see the people taping from other viewpoints; either go all-in like The Blair Witch Project or don't - the episodic structure has the partners repeatedly stumbling across an ever-larger cartel operation without adequately explaining the progression to the predictable denouement. (If you don't watch the trailer and reflexively start trying to guess which one is going to be dead by the end, you haven't seen any movies before.)

While the performances are good and the banter and smacktalking amusing, over and over events occurred that set off the "That Would Never Happen" alarm, beginning with a scene where Peña brawls with a suspect promising not to charge him for the assault. Later, as the plot involving human trafficking advances, the Feds appear to stand back while Very Bad Plans are hatched. The shenanigans and pranks between the officers feel like frat boy behavior and not the actions of professional Blue Knights.

The most original aspect of End of Watch is the absence of Michelle Rodriguez as a tough chick cop. Perhaps she was busy playing that part in another movie, but the Designated Latina Cop slot is filled by America Ferrara of Ugly Betty fame. She seems too short and weak for the role, but none of the women officers come off pretty well, especially an Asian rookie who seems like she shouldn't have graduated the Police Academy.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Campaign" Review

On the surface and judging from the trailers The Campaign should've been a goofy hoot since stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are willing to debase themselves mightily for a laugh, but the results are a muddled mess.

Ferrell is a crude dumbass who is running unopposed until a evil scheme by the Motch brothers - obviously meant to represent liberals favorite demons, the Koch brothers (whose names are pronounced "Coke", not that liberals are concerned with details like that and the brothers are Libertarians, not Republicans) - to set up a Chinese sweatshop in the district (don't ask, it's impossible in the real world) has them put up town oddball Galifianakis to challenge him. Supposed hijinks ensue.

The fundamental problem with The Campaign is that it's not very funny. There are a few spots here and there, but your midline sitcome will make you laugh more in less time this this does. A greater problem is the film's muddled tone; it doesn't know if it wants to be the lowbrow comedy it was advertised as, a liberal screed against the evils of anything not liberal and socialistic, or a acid-blooded satire about the generally corrupt nature of politics. By trying to be everything, it ends up being nothing.

For a far better cynical take on politics and media manipulation, check out Wag The Dog which has the advantage of being written by David Mamet.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Moonrise Kingdom" Review

Whimsy can be cute, but as with irony, there are limits to its utility. No one in this movie bears much resemblance to humans on this planet and thus what was probably intended as whimsy rapidly devolves into smug self-indulgence.

Score: 3/10. Skip it unless you're an art direction nerd.

"Bernie" Review

Jack Black's schtick has rubbed me the wrong way for several years now, but he manages to overcome his worst tendencies in his reteaming with School of Rock directer Richard Linklater for the weird little dark comedy/drama/documentary Bernie.

Based on a true story, Black plays the titular Bernie Tiede, a mortician in Carthage, TX who is so beloved in the small town for his kindness, generosity, and all-around civic good citizenship that when he is revealed to have murdered the nasty town battleaxe (Shirley MacLaine) and has confessed to the deed, no one in the town wants to see him punished, eventually forcing glory-hogging DA Matthew McConaughey to request a change of venue to have a shot at getting a conviction.

Linklater uses a mix of dramatization as well as pseudeo-documentary style "interviews" with townsfolk to lay out the story of how this odd man would be able to beguile a town into giving a pass for whacking a rich old lady. It's interesting to see how Texans view other Texans in such a large state, especially when the trial is moved, but Linklater (who was born in Houston) manages to not come off as sneering at the people of this town. Black is fully committed to his performance and never stops to wink at the audience any contempt for Bernie either. (In the coda detailing what happened to everyone after the story ends real photos of Bernie and Majorie Nugent are shown as well as video of Bernie in prison; the camera swiveling around to show Black listening in such rapt attention that you'd think he was listening to Santa tell about the North Pole.)

Sure, there are some petty anachronisms - the real case happened in 1996, but a recent MacBook Pro laptop and iPhone are shown - and the "How accurate is this 'true story'?" question (pretty, it appears) nags somewhat, but it's still a worthwhile curio to check out if you can. The script is full of quips like, "Bernie was so nice and Majorie was not nice. Not nice. She was evil." It reads dry, but kills in the delivery.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Confession" Review

On a Christmas Eve in New York City, Keifer Sutherland steps into a church confessional and proceeds to torment Father John Hurt with stories of his life as an assassin, questions of faith and the nature of God, and a promise to kill someone that night. Hijinks ensue.

Originally produced as a 10-part web series for Hulu (no longer there that I can see), The Confession has been compiled into an hour-long DVD which plays as a long short film. While you can see where the episode breaks were, it just makes it feel like a TV movie; I'm not sure how it would've worked spread over several weeks but all in one sitting, it a modestly tense chamber piece powered by the performances of Jack Bauer and Kane. (You know, from Alien?)

I thought I knew where it was heading early on and was getting a little bummed out at the cliched story I thought they were going to tell, but toward the end a secondary cliched reveals itself which most viewers will spot coming, diminishing the impact. Even the sorta double-twist ending isn't that much of a twist and I suspect the legality of the punchline is incorrect.

For some taut acting from a pair of unlikely web stars, check out The Confession. It's not really a harbinger of the future of web content, but just because it doesn't have greater significance doesn't mean it's not worth an hour of your time.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

"The Skin I Live In" Review

Critics hailed the reteaming of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and Antonio Banderas after over 20 years on The Skin I Live In with the usual encomiums the legendary filmmaker receives for his work, but in this case they were misplaced; an example - like with Christopher Nolan's faceplant of The Dark Knight Reloaded - of past greatness earning an undeserved pass for current inadequacy.  (81% at Rotten Tomatoes? Really?) Presumably it was the supposedly shocking twist in the story that enthralled the easily impressed, but somehow Almodóvar manages to make it both banal and silly.

Banderas is a brilliant surgeon who has been experimenting on development of artificial skin for treating burn patients and has been using some ethically bad methods starting with using animal DNA (which he cops to his scientific peers) and working on a human patient (which he doesn't). Did I say patient? I meant to say the woman he has captive in his estate whom he has transformed into a near replica of his deceased wife. Who is this woman? And what's with the freaky thug in the Carnival tiger costume who shows up to rape her?

We're slowly let in on the details of the doctor's sad life and the loss of his family and how he deals with one of those losses is the supposedly shocking twist and where The Skin I Live In really stops making sense. Once you learn what's going on, it makes the relatively sterile manner with which these developments are played out all the more dull.

If you're going to go this crazy with your story, then go all-out batsh*t nuts with it and play it as over the top as possible. I'm thinking something blatantly operatic and theatrical as Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Make everyone overact and perhaps the drama and horror would've caught fire. As it is, the plot sounds more interesting that it plays out, as I had to explain it to my girlfriend who'd fallen asleep during the viewing, but thought it sounded interesting when I filled in the blanks.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Point of No Return" Blu-ray Review

The obligatory gringo remake of Luc Besson's 1990 French actioner, La Femme Nikita, 1993's Point of No Return, manages the hat trick of being slavishly true to the original, not as good, and much better in spots.

Bridget Fonda is Maggie, a drugged-out waste case who murders a cop during a bungled drug store robbery, is sentenced to death and executed - unlike the real world, this doesn't happen 20 years later after 500 appeals - only to wake up in the clutches of an unnamed and unexplained organization who offer her a deal: be trained to be an assassin or end up in the empty grave the world thinks she's already in.

The plot tracks exactly the same as the original with her being a rebellious brat at first; eventually being convinced that the only way to stay alive is to get with the program; passing her final exam with a restaurant hit and subsequent escape that is almost a shot-for-shot copy; being set up in a cover identity that leads her to fall in love with a civilian, only to have her work intrude with missions. Hijinks ensue.

The weakness of this version comes from the sketchy details about just about everything. How did she end up as she did? When cleaned up, how does she feel about having killed that cop? How does the outfit that spends a couple of years training these lost people in the points of foreign languages and fine dining somehow not cover basic grocery shopping? Worse, how did she never learn at any point in her life? I don't know how to cook and I can shop better than Maggie can; she acts like she was raised by hamsters in a remote jungle and had never set foot in a supermarket. Why are she and her new love always fighting about her past when he's already set up house with her. Dude, if you're banging the cute girl pretty much from the jump without asking her backstory, are you really entitled to yell at her?

What's better is the third act Point of No Return has created, involving Maggie doubling an arms dealer's bitchy girlfriend to sneak into his hillside mansion accompanied by an ultra-creepy Harvey Keitel. La Femme Nikita's third act never felt right to me with Anne Parillaud poorly dressing as a man to sneak into an embassy helped by Jean Reno, who'd go on to star for Besson in Leon: The Professional.

Bridget Fonda is somewhat adrift do to the uneven script which doesn't really provide Maggie with motivation, so Bridget has to do most of the lifting with variable success. When she's on, she's good, but other times it feels like director John Badham didn't know what to do with her and her apple pie looks. Dermot Mulroney as the boho photographer she falls for is also thin.

I hadn't see Point of No Return in ages, but because the Nikita legend has been told and retold several times - the latest being a TV series with rather interesting take starring Maggie Q; I tried watching the Peta Wilson version and couldn't warm to it at all - that I hadn't forgotten much beyond a little detail here or there. I didn't like it as much as I remembered, but that's because I'm pickier in my old age.

The Blu-ray, part of a cool bargain triple-pack with similar kickass chick flocks, Domino and The Long Kiss Goodnight ($15 at Costco and Walmart), is nothing special. The picture is a bit flat and muted looking, like an above-average DVD, and dark areas tend to be muddy. As a midline catalog title, Warner Bros. didn't give it much of a buff job. Audio was meh and the only extra is the trailer.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Silent House" Review

A scared girl in an empty house. Haven't seen that one before. So how do the makers of Silent House bring something new to the party? By presenting the whole movie as a single "uninterrupted" shot. Now, this has been done before by Alfred Hitchcock with Rope (where cuts were "hidden" by people backing into the camera lens), and Russian Ark was shot on HD video on a Steadicam, but filmmakers Laura Lau and Chris Kentis (who did Open Water back in 2003) attempt to make this a more dynamic experience with moderate success.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as a girl helping her father and uncle close up the family lake house at dusk. They've had problems with people breaking in, so the doors are locked and windows are boarded up, the power is off, the phone isn't hooked up, and there's no cell reception. Only candles, lanterns, and flashlights provide light. Oooooh, spooky. As the uncle goes off into town for supplies, daddy-daughter night rapidly goes sideways as noises are heard, daddy is gravely injured and someone (something?) lurks in the shadows, stalking little Lizzy O.

While there are eventually some decent chiller moments beyond the usual LOUDNOISEBOO! jolts, unfortunately, the movie is kneecapped hard out of the box with some incredibly stilted dialog and acting from the male leads. No one acts like a recognizable human would. The actor playing the father (Adam Trese) in particular is so bad that I wonder if he's even seen a man relate to an adult daughter or whether he thought he was a professor putting the moves on a co-ed.

Frankly, I almost shut Silent House off in the first 10 minutes because the downside of the one-shot format means that there's no choice but to leave all the downtime between developments in. Think about 88 minutes of your life. How much of that would be entertaining to others? Exactly. Only my interest in how the film was shot and a blase curiosity of how it was all going to be explained in the end kept me watching.

Olsen does her best to hold our attention and does pretty well considering there's almost no character for her to play other than some eye-rollingly obvious foreshadowing in spots and the script going crazy at the end as it attempts to twist, twist, and then twist some more like M. Night Shyamalan doing gymnastics, only to end up in a "What just happened?" heap. In the end, it's all a waste of time.

The most impressive aspect is how well they hide the cuts between takes. I'm fairly savvy as to how they'd do it, but in several spots the only tell-tale was the continuity errors in the blood on her. Note where the blood is in this shot:

Check the coverage: Big splotch on her left breast and shirt, some on her skin in the middle of her chest, some near the top of her shirt on her right breast. Now peep this:

Blood gone on her skin, almost gone on her right side, different on the left. (These aren't great examples, but I'm not going to take custom screenshots for what I'm getting paid for this review, OK?) The first time I spotted a cut in the film was when she first got blood on her, because it was a sizable blob on her chest, right above the swelling curves of her lush creamy breasts and.............excuse me, I just went to my happy place, where was I? Oh, yeah...and then that blood disappears and never reappears. Blood spatter on her face also comes and goes. Now, continuity errors are their own cottage industry on the Internet, but a drinking game based around changes in the blood stains on Olsen's joy globes would likely lead to harm, so in the words of Kurt Loder, don't do it.

Despite a good performance (singular) and some clever camera work, Silent House doesn't amount to much in the end (or any other part), so it's hard to make much positive noise about.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

By the way, the "based on true events" means Silent House is based on a 2010 Uruguayan movie called The Silent House which was allegedly based on something that happened in the 1940s there. Yeah, that means it's all made up.

"Project X" Review

"Found footage" is the movie genre where we're supposed to believe what we're watching is basically a documentary. The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, the Paranormal Activity series and Chronicle are but a few and Project X (no relation to the 1980s Matthew Broderick chimp flick) is yet another thing we're supposed to extra-suspend our disbelief about so we can imagine it really happened, man. Really!

Ted Kub is a high school loser who never made it with a lady whose folks are leaving town to celebrate their anniversary, leaving him home alone with his mouthy friend, Costa, and shlubby pal J.B. to celebrate his birthday. His dad says he can have a few friends over. Costa invites the world, it seems. What do you think happens?

Hint: They wouldn't be putting out a movie of a quiet gathering of pizza and Pictionary, now would they.

As the trailer below pretty much spoils the best bits for, it rapidly gets waaaaaaaaaaaaay out of hand and mayhem ensues. (It's too bad that the soundtrack is totally geared toward hip-hop and dance tracks because the B-52's "Party Out of Bounds" would've been swell.) There's booze, fighting, booze, destruction, booze, fire, booze, drugs, booze, a bouncy house, booze, and bouncing boobies. (I think there'd be fewer uptight emo brats shooting up their schools if they got to see some joy globes in their movies like I did growing up in the Eighties when "teen movie" meant "boobies will be displayed" instead of being forced to use the Internet and ending up on some cutting message boards.) They should've had a counter in the corner of the screen tallying the damage down to property as we go along.

They barely use the conventions of "found footage" as almost the whole movie is shot from the perspective of a creepy AV nerd named Dax, so I don't know why they didn't just shoot it as a straight movie. There are some echoes of Risky Business (ask your parents) around the edges and while there aren't any BIG surprises (the spoilerific trailer notwithstanding), there's enough frivolous mayhem to make Project X worth dropping by for a couple of drinks with.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Dark Knight Rises" Review

Let's just cut to the chase: Christopher Nolan has made his first mediocre-to-bad movie and as a result The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) brings his dark-and-gritty take on the Batman mythos to a dull, noisy, convoluted conclusion. Forget whether it can get close to the brilliance of The Dark Knight (TDK), it's a matter of where it ranks against the Joel Schumacher films and right now I'd say better than Batman and Robin (duh), but not quite as good as Batman Forever. No, I'm not kidding. If ever Shakespeare's phrase, "it is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," applied, it's relevant here.

It's hard to pick out what's the worst part of this disappointing movie because there are so many to choose from. Should I fault the incomprehensibly Byzantine plot involving a massive conspiracy to bankrupt Bruce Wayne in order to get at a shelved green energy project that could be used as a nuclear weapon? How about the massive gaps in logic we're supposed to ignore like how a city of millions of people can be cut off from the outside world, but the trash never seems to pile up, no one seems to be on the streets other than the resistance (which the bad guys don't seem to notice or do anything about), and the villains, once revealed don't even hew to the beliefs and behaviors that the series laid out way back in Batman Begins? There is just so much to pick on.

The opening sequence involving a plane-to-plane hijacking is thrilling and well done - it could be from a James Bond film - but a harbinger of the illogic that plagues TDKR. Who is the guy the CIA is transporting? Why is he in the middle of nowhere and how does Bane know how to get caught and loaded on that same plane in order to make the hijacking work? The whole movie is a string of single points of failure (i.e. if something doesn't go the way the plot needs it to every step of the way, then the whole plan collapses) and it continues in the very next sequence with the introduction of Catwoman who uses the cover of a cater waitress delivering the meal to where Bruce Wayne is hiding out from a party. She is shown throughout the film to be a clever and resourceful woman, BUT if Alfred hadn't given her the milk run, how else would she have done what she needed/wanted to do?

Even the Big Bad, Bane, is a mess because nothing about him is explained. How does he have legions of followers willing to die for him without question? How does he whack minions at will without the rest of the red shirts looking at for a better henchman job? Bane sounds like Sean Connery mimicking General Grievous, the asthmatic alien cyborg from Revenge of the Sith (a similarity I'm frankly surprised no one else has noticed), and as menacing as Tom Hardy is physically, he isn't able to overcome the loss of half his face due to the mask. (No one has the presence to ask how he eats with that thing on?) [UPDATE: Check out the redubbed video I've posted at the bottom of this review. Killer!] We're fed a lot of red herrings as to his origins and when his true position on the bad guy's org chart is revealed, he loses all his prior menace. There are also a couple of weaselly corporate types trying to move in on Wayne Enterprises at his behest, but we don't really get how he controls them, why they're trying to screw over Catwoman, and where they came from either. There's never a sense of knowing who these people are or where they're from.

When the movie starts, it's eight years after the end of TDK and Batman has disappeared from Gotham, but the streets have been cleaned up by Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD. When Bane first makes himself know, Bruce suits up and gets his ass brutally kicked in his fight with Bane and ends up in some prison pit in what looks like India. There is a huge chimney leading to the surface that we're told Bane escaped from as a child and Bruce has to recuperate and do the climb. There is a literal leap of faith involved and the audience is required to leap the plausibility gap that comes from wonder what kind of prison has ANY means of escape like this AND PROVIDES SAFETY ROPES ATTACHED ABOVE THE LEAP POINT?!?!?

Nolan stopped trying to make Gotham City appear like a real place with The Dark Knight with its use of Chicago and all its signature skyline elements in view - remember the monorail from Batman Begins? Apparently neither does Nolan - but he really stops trying here as scenes play out in obviously Los Angeles, obviously Pittsburgh, and obviously New York City. Continuity is told to take a powder as a heist that occurs when the Gotham Stock Exchange opens for trading in the morning leads to the crooks escaping a short time later and then suddenly night falling from one shot to the next and the conclusion occurs in darkness. Why didn't they just have the attackers hole up until darkness instead of making such a huge distracting gaffe?

Finally, because I could go on and on and on and on with spoilers about further dumb details, in BB the League of Shadows had a scheme to destroy Gotham in order to rebuild it as they saw fit. They had anointed themselves to be society's judges with the power to sentence cities to death when they're deemed unruly. For some reason here now they seem to be little more than suicide bombers who won't even be around for the after party after they blow the place off the map. Huh? I've seen it suggested that the League of Shadows is like Al Qaeda without the Islam part, but even a terrorist organization with suicide bombers as a front line weapon has commanders behind the lines to capitalize on victory. Here, it doesn't appear so; they appear to be just looking to vaporize Gotham because that's what they do.

After a half-dozen paragraphs of rambling grousing, you're probably wondering if there is anything good in this bat debacle?  Yes. Yummy Girl (or Anne Hathaway as you people call her) steals the movie as the Jewel Thief Selina Kyle Who Isn't Called Catwoman But We Know She's Catwoman with all the funny lines and the only genuine character arc in the who place. She starts off carefree and robbing for the lulz and parroting some trite Occupy class warfare agitprop, but when sh*t starts getting REAL, we can tell that she's having some qualms about her decisions. She's both a critical part of the bad guys' schemes and a dupe suckered into selling out her hunting grounds and then not being paid for her trouble. And she rocks her catsuit well; you can almost see Nolan writing, "And then Catwoman parks dat azz on the Batpod, the light rimming her fine booty." Like this:


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, another holdover (along with Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard) from Inception, is also distinctive in his role as a street cop who seems to too easily figure out Bruce Wayne's secret identity. In fact, the whole plot thread of him and Gordon double-handedly doing more to get an insurrection going while Batman is still in a hole is another misstep because it shows that other than the very, very end, Batman isn't even needed to save Gotham and before that end, it's Catwoman, not Batman who actually saves the day over and over and over. Got that? BATMAN IS CATWOMAN'S SIDEKICK!!! Oy vey! But for all the big empty explosions and attempts to prop up the slender plot with spectacle, what really kills TDKR is Nolan's poor decision to make Batman a supporting character in a Batman movie.

Michael Caine's Alfred is a different man this time and he gets some tear-jerking monologues, but at a crucial moment, Bruce basically calls him a liar because the plot's need for him to be a self-pitying emo dumbass trumps their entire lifetime together. The only reason for Bruce to be that unreasonable is in order to isolate him, but it's clunky and unbelievable and ill serves the whole series, especially in the literal last moments of the film.

I had rewatched Batman Begins (score: 7/10) and The Dark Knight (9/10) in the days leading up to my seeing this and was planning on seeing it in IMAX, so while I wasn't as stoked for this as much as I was for The Avengers, I wanted to see how it'd all wrap up. I just couldn't imagine it ending so shabbily. In my tweets and forum posts about this review in progress I've received a good amount of, "Everyone else likes it so you're wrong, mang!" pushback and that's too bad because I didn't go in with super-high expectations, but didn't even conceive that Nolan would so botch the end of his trilogy. It's even more frustrating because amidst the bluster and clutter are glimpses of potent themes that are tossed off instead of polished to a high shine. (The way Batman reveals his identity to Gordon is very poetic.)

Rewatching the first two films so close to the third only makes it suffer more because you can see how bloated, yet empty,  The Dark Knight Rises is. Batman Begins was an origin story that put us in Bruce Wayne's tortured head  and revealed how he wanted to use the League of Shadows training to do good, refusing to go along with his former mentor Ra's Al Ghul in the end. The Dark Knight ratcheted up the stakes by showing that Batman's crazy ying had an even crazier yang in the form of the Joker. It got a little prone to speechifying, but the characters were chewing on meaty philosophical concepts about heroism, honor, duty to society.

All of that is gone in The Dark Knight Reloaded (as I'm referring to it) because instead of truly breaking down Batman in order for him to...wait for it...rise again - they also reuse BB's "Why do we fall?" "In order to get back up." line enough times for the densest viewer to get. the. point. - they take a man who had already quit and atrophied, kicked him while he was down until he was really down, and then set him aside while a whole bunch of other people do the hard work of liberating Gotham, only for him to pop back in for the last reel, a so-so fist fight, a twist that wasn't to anyone who paid attention to the casting announcements and nerd chatter, and then a intended poignant ending that Nolan didn't have the courage to ride all the way home. The very final details involving a character's name is also the worst writing in the entire series; a beat so corny and cheesy it was like a rail car of popcorn soaked in nacho sauce. Really, Nolan? Really?

Just as I docked Prometheus a couple of points from my initial walking out of the theater feeling, I've socked The Dark Knight Reloaded the same way because it's not enough to be meh about it because this isn't just another comic book movie that can be lightly and charitably handled. No, this is the conclusion of a landmark trilogy by a very talented (if very slightly overrated) filmmaker who hasn't made a movie that I haven't liked a whole lot, so just as Olympic judges mark down hard when gymnasts fail to stick the landing, Christopher Nolan has to take his licks for failing here. I feel that it's not even a matter of him believing his own hype and allowing hubris to make him cavalier about his work, arrogantly thinking that the fans will blindly accept whatever he ladles into their troughs. No, I think he and his collaborators simply decided to make a collectively bad series of decisions because they simply didn't step back to see if it was working when your nose isn't pressed against the tree bark.

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises isn't a terrible loaf of cinematic manure that hacks like Paul W.S. Anderson or Uwe Boll would pinch off; it's worse, because it could and should have been so much better and there is no acceptable excuse for Christopher Nolan to have not wrapped things up competently. It's a darn shame. Better luck next time, Chris. I'll be there because I think you know the answer to the question, "Why do we fall?"

Score: 4/10. Catch it at the dollar show.

As jumbled an rambling as the above is, there are even more things that I left out because they were very spoilerish (so read on at your own risk or if you've seen it already), like:

* What's the deal with Catwoman's sidekick, a girl not named (let's call her Kittengirl!), given little to do, but in one shot it's implied that they're lovers of some sort?

* Bane releases 1000 prisoners from jail and gives them guns. OK, how come in a space as large as Manhattan, none of the MILLIONS of citizens try to overwhelm this relative handful of thugs. The NYPD has 36,000 uniformed cops; allowing for sleep, there couldn't be more than several hundred of Bane's minions running around; easy pickings. Yeah, Bane says that any sign of resistance will lead to the nuke being set off, but shouldn't you call that bluff rather than sit around waiting to die?

* One of the beefs against the Spider-Man films is that they kept taking his mask off too much. Here, Gordon-Levitt's Blake is able to deduce that Bruce is Batman by his expression when visiting the orphanage. A weird beat in the story and it makes me wonder why no one else amongst the burgeoning orphan community figured it out if it's that easy.

* Back to Bane, the reveal of who's truly running the show means he's little more than Odd Job, not Goldfinger himself. So why the followers? Why would anyone listen to this weirdo?

* We're supposed to believe that Alfred is the sole caretaker of stately Wayne Manor because after he's fired, there's no one around to let Bruce in and he's never carried keys, forcing him to have to break into his own place. Who's mowing the grounds? What of his pad in the city?

* A key part of Bane's plot is to get access to Wayne Enterprises' secret Applied Sciences Lab area to get all the nifty toys Lucius Fox has made. How does he 1) know about it and b) know where it is? No one from the League of Shadows knew of it in Batdude Starts, so huh? Never mind who's actually been building the Tumblers and whatnot (I've always figured moonlighting Keebler elves), it's always been the toppest secret, but Bane knows exactly where the toys are stored.

* The cops are supposedly all trapped in tunnels. Why not just kill them? Forget how they come out of the darkness after over three months underground and they look clean and well-fed, with all the manholes and hundreds of miles of tunnels we're told lie beneath the city, there wasn't a single exit to be found to get out? This isn't a Chilean coal mine for crying out loud.

* The caper that bankrupts Bruce Wayne is clearly an act of fraud, but no one seems able to reverse the false trades? If you lose your credit card, you aren't liable for more than $50, but you can have billions stolen in an obvious scam and everyone can only shrug?

* Really, how do we go from day to night in five seconds. If someone made a short film on YouTube with that kind of lapse, they'd be slagged for sloppiness. This reportedly cost $250 million to make and no one looked at the script and said, "The slug line says 'INT - STOCK EXCHANGE -- DAY' then 'EXT - WALL STREET -- DAY' then 'EXT - DOWNTOWN LA -- NIGHT.' What's going on there?" Appears not.

* What purpose does the police brass guy played by Matthew Modine serve other than to show a really dumb cop in authority with misplaced priorities followed by cowardice ending in a meaningless "noble" denouement? Like Catwoman's kitten, he could be removed entirely at no loss.

* Excusing how Bruce gets back to Gotham City, how is he able - in a town where any attempts to get in or out of the island is grounds for setting off the bomb - to paint a flammable substance all over the Brooklyn Bridge to make a bat logo without anyone noticing? EXTRA THOUGHT: Not only is this silly, it's unoriginal as The Crow and Daredevil both used the flaming logo gags.

* Who installed the new Batsignal on the roof? Who got the order and filled it without wondering why this would be needed and then had access to the roof of the police HQ?

That's enough for now. If I think of more, I'll tack it on, but I think I've made my point.

UPDATE: * Catwoman makes this big speech about the rich versus the poor and then hooks up with a rich guy to live the good life. I ain't saying she a gold digger, but...

UPDATE #2: * Back to Modine's lousy cop - they're chasing a gang of thugs who just shot up the Stock Exchange and held everyone hostage, but the moment Batman shows up in the chase, he drops everything to go after him? Blake tries to keep him on target, but he's overruled and the bigger bad guys get a free pass. I sorta get the hard-on Modine has for the "killer of Harvey Dent," but way to be distracted by the shiny object.

UPDATE #3: * Why did Gordon have his speech confessing the truth about Harvey Dent in his pocket other than to have it available to fall into Bane's hands? First we're supposed to believe that Gordon was going to use the big anniversary shindig to blow up the image of Gotham's White Knight, but also that after 8 years of keeping this secret was unable to extemporaneously say something like, "You know, the truth about Harvey was that he was very bad person after the Joker burned half his face off. Batman's innocent, yo! [drops mike]"

* Why was Scarecrow presiding over the kangaroo court other than to turn the hat trick of Cillian Murphy's presence in all three films? He didn't need to be in The Dark Knight and even less here. Shouldn't Bane have been running things?

* Catwoman's story is weak underneath because she's trying to get clear of her past with a Magic Computer Program to expunge her past sins. A better plot would've been her trying to make a deal to be an informer on the Mob in exchange for a pardon and clean slate. It would've made her a little more ambiguous, but make her redemption a little more plausible because it would've been a larger, riskier gesture than just riding the Batpod and snagging a rich dude in the end. But why should I expect nuance in this mess of a script? All the problems started on the page.

* This. Is. KILLER!

* This. Is. Even. More. KILLER! (Even though it basically takes the gazillion words I've written above and made it into a video for the tl;dr set.)

"Lockout" Review

There's dumb fun and then there's dumb so dumb that it ain't no fun. Lockout is a prime example of the latter. Another one of Luc Besson's miniscule ideas that I swear he must jot on a napkin while lunching, it's the brain-dead story of a disgraced government agent, suspected of murder and treason, who is forced into rescuing the President's daughter when she is taken hostage by prisoners in a maximum security prison she was visiting for humanitarian reasons.

Did I mention the prison was in space? Yeah, that's kind of important.

Even by the loose standards of dumb sci-fi action movies, Lockout is so packed with "Huh? What?!? Are you kidding me?!?!?" scenarios that it's impossible to suspend disbelief because it's being otherwise shived and tossed out an airlock. I can almost buy that there are prisoners so dangerous that they need to be kept someplace where escape is impossible - Men in Black III worked that angle - but why put them in space when they're also in suspended animation; you know, asleep, like in Minority Report?! They have a tossed-away idea that there may be an Evil Corporate Scheme to use these animalistic prisoners as guinea pigs for long-term space testing, but it's never pondered beyond it's sole mention. There are space fighters and all sorts of stuff that's indicates more of a Battlestar Galactica level of technology than Earth in 2079. Why does a space prison need defensive gun turrets? Who's going to come up and cause trouble?

The only bright spots are Guy Pearce's smart-ass tough guy turn as the reluctant rescuer and Maggie Grace (Lost; Liam Neeson's hapless daughter in the Taken series) as the First Daughter who is tougher and savvier than she could've been played. The special effects are occasionally effective and there is some decent production design, but everything else, like the characters feels like a spoof of a parody of a glib popcorn flick.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

"Ted" Review

I'm not a fan of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane's signature creation, and I think that South Park's brutal takedown of the show in the notorious "Cartoon Wars" episodes was right on the money. That said, the clips I'd seen for Ted, MacFarlane's feature debut, looked hella funny and as funny and profane as the red-band trailer below is, the full movie is even crazier funny and obscene. I don't think I've laughed this hard since the original Hangover.

What makes it work so well is that Ted's foul-mouthed antics are done in the context of a surprisingly heartfelt story about friendship, growing up, and being a responsible partner in a relationship. It would've been really easy to write Mila Kunis' girlfriend character as a total beyatch/villain, but instead she's portrayed as being waaaaaaay more understanding of Marky Mark's attachment to his magic teddy. Ted could've just as well been a old stoner buddy human for the story's purposes, but making it a teddy bear allow MacFarlane to have some of the most illmatic stuff come out of his mouth. There were a couple of spots where we almost missed subsequent jokes because we were gasping for breath at the previous quip.

All the performances are on the money and sell the reality of their living with this talking bear, realized by seamless CGI FX. There are a few of cameos - two of which hadn't leaked and thus were a great surprises - and some set pieces that comment on pop culture that really kill, too. It's rare to say that a movie exceeds the hype and praise its received, but Ted delivers the goods. For gawd's sake, don't let kids see it - don't these parents see the R-rating when they're bringing their brats to the show?! - but if you're looking to laugh a LOT, don't' miss it.

Score: 9/10. Pay full price.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" Review

Throughout my viewing of The Amazing Spider-Man I had this thought in mind: "Didn't we just have this movie about a decade ago?" Sure, we have a new Peter Parker in the form of Andrew Garfield; mopey Mary Jane is out and Emma Stone is in as Gwen Stacy; there is some backstory involving Peter's parents; and they've tweaked some of the specific details as to how Peter becomes spider-powered, how he discovers his powers and how it effects people, but underneath it all, it's pretty much the same movie we saw with Tobey Maguire as Spidey in 2002, right down to the same accidental villain conceit in which a generally decent guy is turned evil by scientific misadventure.

Garfield is a marked improvement over Maguire, able to express the myriad of teen angst and issues he's going through without seeming like a little emo bitch about it. Stone is adorable and spunky, though not as much fun to see soaking wet in the rain, if you know what I mean. (Click here in case you don't. Hiyo!) The supporting performances from Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben (of rice fame, psyche!) and Aunt May are scene-stealers as well as Denis Leary's Capt. Stacy. I didn't care for Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard, but that's because he's not really fleshed out, if you pardon the pun. 

I'd skip seeing it in 3D because the action is mostly at night, very fast moving, and too close to get a good sense of the geography. Director Marc Webb, who directed my fave film of that year with (500) Days of Summer, does OK with the action, but is better with the quiet character scenes. Those are also helped because they're the only fresh notes in the familiar tune of the overall story, many of the story beats are totally lifted from the prior films. Can't we just assume that audiences know the back story of the character and move on with new tales?

Score: 5/10. See it at the dollar show.

While I was blah on it, my girlfriend really liked it, especially odd because Spider-Man 2 had sort of put her off of comic book movies. She was so-so on The Avengers (yeah, sad isn't it?) and I had to drag her to see X-Men: First Class, which she grudgingly admitted liking. She enjoyed the story and the new details, probably because it wasn't so familiar to her. So, ladies, have at it.

At last year's San Diego Comic-Con, this neat moment happened. It's a total setup, but it was a great PR stunt and shows how Garfield was legitimately enthused about playing the part.

"Rock of Ages" Review

Let's get the Big Questions out of the way up front: Yes, Tom Cruise sings well and is a plausible rock star onstage in Rock of Ages. However, his character is the largest problem with this adaptation of the Broadway show.

I saw the touring stage show and had a blast with it, but the trailers for the film left me meh. Director Adam Shankman did the film of Hairspray and I really liked that, but from the plot changes (out: German developer; in: hot rock-hating Catherine Zeta-Jones) to the overall vibe, something didn't click for me and for most of the movie, I was feeling let down. There were cool moments and when the dance numbers ape the look and feel of Chicago it works well, but something was dragging me down.

In post-show discussion with my girlfriend, we figured it out: It's Stacee Jaxx, the Cruise role which has been significantly enlarged over the stage show. While it's understandable to give the Big Star (not to be confused with Alex Chilton's band) more to do, what harms the movie is the approach they took. In the stage show, Stacee is a cartoon, having had an "incident with a baby llama" in his dark past, a gag which pays off at the end. For the film, though, they decided to make him into a character and not a caricature and it results in the pace and energy screeching to a halt whenever the spotlight is on him.

Cruise is fully committed to the performance and they know how silly things are when they have him singing "I Want To Know What Love Is" to Malin Ackerman's panty-clad butt in one shot, but the collective decision to play him as a slow-moving, Scotched-out, waste case who is seeking deeper meaning saps momentum. Cruise is a team-player and it would've been hella funnier if they'd gone waaaaay over the top. They have a lot of funny stuff with his baboon sidekick, Hey Man, so it's too bad they just didn't go crazy with Stacee, making him like the Aldous Snow character Russell Brand played in Get Him To The Greek.

Speaking of which, Brand is a standout as Alec Baldwin's aide-de-camp at the Bourbon Room and they get one of the best numbers together. The other stars (look 'em up; don't feel like typing) are uniformly good as well, with Mary J. Blige providing the sole genuine vocal firepower as the strip club owner who takes Sherrie in.

It's too bad they goofed with Stacee Jaxx and dampened the fun Rock of Ages could've delivered. If you get a chance to catch the stage show, check it out; it's a hoot. (Read the linked review above.)

Score: 5/10. Rent it.

"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" Review

Whimsy can be hard to pull off. The awesome dearly departed TV series Pushing Daisies nailed it; mumblecore* movie Jeff, Who Lives At Home doesn't do as well due to its self-conscious oddness and mistaken belief that simplicity is profundity.

Jason Segal (stop me if you've heard this one before) plays a man-child stoner, Jeff, who, um, you know, it's in the title, and sits around all day smoking dope and watching TV. (Segal, really? No! Yes!) When a wrong number rings up looking for a Kevin, he sets off on an errand for his mother and begins following all the signs related to "Kevin" which leads him to misadventures and a little magical serendipity. Also occupying this world is his d-bag, a-hole brother (Ed Helms) who doesn't seem to understand why his wife (Judy Greer) is upset that he bought a Porsche while they live in a crappy apartment; and their mother (Susan Sarandon) who is being flirted with via IM by a secret admirer at her office.

Writers-directors Mark and Jay Duplass are trying to make a low-key meditation on fate and the interconnectedness of everyone and everything, but it doesn't work because everyone acts stupidly, only to suddenly make personal breakthroughs as the plot schedule dictates. Segal does better-than-needed work here making Jeff into something of a rootable character, but the sense of ennui pervades everything. When all the plot lines come together at the end, it's too pat.

I read an interview with Mark Duplass (who's also a very busy actor) in which he states that he doesn't mind sloppy camera work, zooming in to catch the action. He's kidding himself. This movie had the most needless calling-attention-to-itself camera shenanigans since Roger Dodger, snap-zooming over and over for no reason. This isn't the documentary style of The Office where it makes sense; this is just jumping around to have something visual happening. Knock it off, kids.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

* In the same interview, Duplass says that he hates being lumped in with the "mumblecore" label because it makes it sound like something people won't want to watch. Um, yeah?

"Prometheus 3D" Review

The build-up and anticipation for Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi after a 30-year hiatus - despite making the original Alien and Blade Runner he's never touched the genre since the latter - probably ensured that no one would be totally satisfied. From the coy is-it-a-prequel-to-Alien-or-not posturing, to a clever viral web video campaign, followed by trailers that revealed too much (the international trailer below really gives the whole thing away), it would've been hard to live up to the hype and, unfortunately, Prometheus didn't. What makes it more maddening is the number of incredibly stupid choices the script makes.

While I was watching the movie, I was on board with the ride. It looks great and because it was natively shot (and edited) in 3D, it's a rare case that it's worth spending extra to see it. However, as soon as it ended, the "Hey, wait a second!" questions started to pile up and my score started to slide. After reading some of the nerd rage, it fell another notch. It's a testament to Scott's visual craftsmanship that it took two hours to really notice how freaking stupid it was overall, though I did have some instant quibbles at how it seemed to violate its own rules. (Semi-spoiler example: We're told how toxic the atmosphere is and we see how far the ship is from the alien pyramid, but a character who was lost in the pyramid AND had his helmet melted is somehow able to walk back to the ship. Huh?!?)

The potential for something provocative and intellectual is there; who wouldn't want to know where we came from if it was from the stars? The problem is that the logical failings of the script start gnawing away at you from the jump. Would a trillion-dollar scientific mission really wait until it reached its destination after a two-year journey to then inform the crew why they're there? Would so many of the red shirt crewmen be so undisciplined as to basically ensure their doom? The original Alien worked because they were basically interstellar truckers who got detoured into a situation they couldn't understand. Shouldn't everyone have been briefed and acted intelligently? These are script-level issues and while the Blu-ray cut is supposed to restore 20 minutes, I doubt that all the blanks will be filled in and if they are, why wasn't that version put in theaters.

It's really too bad the script is a let down because some of the performances are excellent, starting with Michael Fassbender as the android David. We're automatically suspicious of him, but is he evil or merely amorally inquisitive? Charlize Theron is icy hot and Idris Elba as the ship's captain makes the most of his thin writing. However, the actual lead, Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is blah. She's supposed to be a woman of faith and much is made of that tension against the science, but she never really becomes as three-dimensional as a character as the visuals are. (See what I did there?) The red shirts are so nondescript that they don't even rise to the level of generic labels, like, well, I can't even make something up.

It's getting more and more annoying how so many movies are structured to fail in the most basic phase: the writing. When you add in all the pre-game hype about how Scott and company were going to tackle weighty themes, it makes the letdown about the illogical behavior and unanswered questions all the more dissatisfying. Say what you will about the endless philosophical nattering of The Matrix sequels; at least the Wachowski Bros attempted to get the blather up on screen along with the empty visual FX wankery. Prometheus (named after the god who stole fire and gave it to man) never catches fire and leaves us stranded in a barren, but beautiful, universe.

Score: 6/10. Catch a matinee and see it in 3D.


If you've seen it, check out this video by the notorious Mr. Plinkett that really reams the plot holes:

"The Dictator" Review

After the faux documentaries of Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen turns to a scripted comedy with the hilariously raunchy The Dictator. Starring as Admiral General Aladeen, a Khadafy-Saddam hybrid, Cohen tells the tale of the titular dictator's misadventures when he comes to New York City and is betrayed, waylaid, shaved, and starts hanging up with hippie chick Anna Faris, who has a lock on these types of roles.

There's not really much of a plot, but more a series of bits and episodes meaning if something doesn't deliver the laughs, another bit will be along shortly that should work. It's ragingly offensive, politically incorrect, has a couple of surprising good-sport cameos from Big Stars, and is generally funny as hell. Sure, it punks out on how ruthless a dictator he really is, but wouldn't you rather see despotic tyrants you can laugh at like the way Kim Jong-Il was lampooned in Team America: World Police

Cohen is the new Peter Sellers and The Dictator made me laugh a lot. What more do you want from a comedy.

Score: 8/10. Rent it.

This trailer barely hints at how funny the movie is. Perhaps too much of the good stuff was too dirty?

"The Darkest Hour" Review

A pair of idiotic dot-com wannabe tycoon twits travel to Moscow, get their idea stolen, roll over and play dead at the offense, go to the club and then get caught in an alien invasion in the maddening sci-fi thriller The Darkest Hour. Seriously, right off the bat the movie digs itself into a hole by having annoying jerks as protagonists and then saddling them with a pair of girls (will they become love interests at the end of the world?) and the guy who ripped them off and we're supposed to root for their survival.

It's odd that after the crappy first impression, the survivors actually start showing some signs of intelligence, not that it doesn't flee them at inconvenient moments in order to cause another one's demise. The way they suss out the limitations of the aliens power and figure out how to detect the invisible invaders presence is clever, but it's frustrating to see the novel concept with its cool disintegration effect sitting adjacent to some of the stupidest stupid you could not want to see in a movie.

As happens too often, The Darkest Hour lives and dies by the smarts of its script and as unique as its idea is, it's just too laden with dumbness to succeed overall. Too bad.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Clueless" Review

I haven't seen Clueless all the way through since it was in theaters in 1995. I don't even recall catching chunks on cable or anything, so there was plenty I didn't recall, though nothing I've been missing. It's still cute, but has aged terribly due to waaaaaay too many cultural references of that time. (Marky Mark, really? Who calls him that now? Besides everyone, I mean.)

I've never cared for Alicia Silverstone (the Non-Stick Bimbo, as I used to say) and the way she landed a two-picture, $10 million deal as if she was the reason this movie was a hit bothered me. Without Amy Heckerling's script and direction (she also directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High and created the Look Who's Talking series), would she have become a brief star and had her chubby bod squeezed into the Batgirl suit for the series-killing Batman & Robin? I think not. (OK, the weight shot was a little cheap. She's just round in the face like Jennifer Lawrence and one scene had her in a skirt so short, I was going "whoa!") To be fair, I can see why Hollyweird thought she had the goods; she's absolutely sparkling and charming. She makes what could've been a shallow, spoiled, annoying twit into a good-hearted semi-mess.

Which brings up the biggest problem with Heckerling's script: It's herky-jerky lack of flow, jumpy plotting, whiplash character shifts (S'stone's and Brittany Murphy's falling out and reconciliation feels like reels are missing; other stuff, too) and heavy reliance of pop culture references make it feel episodic, like a random selection of sit-com scenes. There's some good lines and moments which are still funny (e.g. "You're a virgin who can't drive." "You see how picky I am about shoes and they just go on my feet.") but the levels are all over the place. Cher is supposed to be ditzy and unprepared in school, requiring finagling to get better grades, but she drops a college-level vocabulary in her dialog.

It's also interesting to see the protozoic version of Paul Rudd's passive-aggressive demeanor before he got big. I'd remember that Murphy was heavier back then - a factor that led to the heavy dieting and body abuse that contributed to her tragic death at 32 - but she is unrecognizable with the brown hair and Brooklyn accent.

I'd almost picked up a cheap Blu-ray of this (EDIT: I have the Whatever! Edition DVD), but I'm glad I didn't because for all its cute moments, it doesn't hold up. (Now I'm worried about the 10 Things I Hate About You and She's All That Blus I have.) Instead, I watched it in HD from Amazon Instant Prime on my Xbox for free. That's the way to go. As if!

Score: 6/10. Stream it.

"Dark Shadows" Review

Watch this:

Almost every laugh and pretty much all the story is contained in the trailer, which benefits from fast-cutting and plot condensation. Despite looking like another Tim Burton and Johnny Depp trifle, the experience of sitting in the dark shadows of a movie theater is an exercise in experiencing eternal torment. It simply doesn't work on any level - as a straight horror story, a horror spoof, or a fish-out-of-time comedy. Characters don't arc at all and are so superfluous that when the plot wanders back to including them in a scene, my reaction was consistently, "Oh, this one again." I can't even muster much effort to tear it apart because it's so pointless and boring.

Depp brings his usual focus to his portrayal of Barnabas Collins and it's a testament that he's able to command our attention when there's nothing much he's actually doing. A lot of good actors - Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moritz, Jackie Earl Haley, Helena Bonham Carter, and Eva Green (who should replace January Jones in the Matthew Vaughn X-Men: First Class series) - are similarly left adrift with a business card-length character for 105 minutes. Burton doesn't even step up to provide his specifically creative sensibility to the film's look. He seems to be phoning it in and as a result, everyone just marks time along with the audience.

The only good thing I can say about our viewing of Dark Shadows is that the price was right. (We'd walked in after another show had let out.) My girlfriend had been willing to pay full price ($10) to see it and is very glad she didn't. I just want my time back.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

"Men In Black 3" Review

I wasn't particularly enthused about seeing Men in Black 3. It's production was a disaster - they started shooting without a completed script in order to get Will Smith and then shut down for months to figure out the rest of the story - and nothing in the trailers begged my attendance, though Josh Brolin's mimicry of a younger Tommy Lee Jones was apparent even in the few syllables the trailers showed. But my girlfriend wanted to see it more than Avengers and was paying, so away we go.

The story itself is pretty thin: An extremely nasty alien named Boris the Animal ("It's just Boris!" he frequently barks) has escaped from a rather unique prison and somehow gone back in time to kill Agent K (Jones/Brolin), forcing Big Willie to also go back in time to try and prevent history being changed and the Earth's destruction. I'll give you exactly one guess as to whether they succeed.

To their credit, they don't just go back and revisit the same characters from the first two movies and there's a twist involving a famous person whom you'd expect to be an alien based on how these movies work. (Whoops! The trailer gives it away. Weak. I'd missed that or forgotten that detail.) Brolin kills it with his channeling of Jones; Emma Thompson gets some fun moments; there's an alien with the ability to see alternate timelines that's a different type; there are a good assortment of gags and laughs.

However, Smith seems flat - not tired in a jaded character sense, but because he's too old and too removed from his early persona. If you look at his resume, you realize it's been a decade since he's played what we recall as the typical Fresh Prince role. I've seen reviews saying Jones looks like he's wishing he wasn't here, but it's Smith who seems reluctant to retread old riffs. (It's like what Eddie Murphy would be like reprising Axel Foley or Reggie Hammond.)

Overall, we could've easily lived full and complete lives without Men in Black 3 in them, but even as a cynical cash grab, it's not militantly offensive and has enough fun to make it worth a watch eventually.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

"Underworld: Awakening" Review

After the blah Underworld: Rise of the Lycans - in which someone thought what we wanted/needed was a prequel explaining the origins of the least interesting aspect of the Underworld universe - the series brings back Kate Beckinsale for Underworld: Awakening, though a title of Blunderworld: Snoozening would be more accurate.

After a quick recap of clips and narration recapping the story (minus the prequel), we're told that humans got hip to the existence of vampires and werewolves (must've been all the Twilight merchandise) and have set out to kill 'em all. When Becks and her hybrid sweet baboo who looks like the tool from Creed try to escape, they're captured and/or killed by The Man. Jumping ahead 12 years, she's thawed out from the lab she's been held at and with her badass leather and rubber clothes and boots conveniently stored in glass cases in the room, she kills a bunch of guards (one of the few cool bits) and escapes.

What happens next is a blur of jumbled blather that I can barely recall 12 hours later.  A bunch of really ropey-looking CGI werewolves chase her; she meets her hybrid daughter, though it's not clear how she lost the baby weight while frozen; there are some pissed-off vampires who don't appreciate her and the kid bring the wolves to their cave; and a secret plot to make super-Lycans. Or something.

At least than an hour-and-a-half, it also manages to be slow-paced and uninvolving. Five writers supposedly typed this thing up and there is so little of import rattling around, it makes me wonder if they thought having a super-sized werewolf was enough. The fact that this uber-wolf is played by the guy who plays Dyson, the werewolf cop, on Lost Girl shows how lazy type-casting gets. At least Michael Sheen gets a break from gnawing the scenery as Lucien. Next time, Kate should take a powder as well. Let poor Milla Jovovich keep making weak sequels with her hubby. She looks great and kicks ass, but we're getting to Resident Evil levels of suckitude now.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

One particularly laughable detail is how the security desk for the evil biotech company is out in the courtyard of the building, where it's constantly raining. Several scenes are set out in this exterior and I began to wonder if the filmmakers couldn't get permission to shoot inside. How bad is it to work there?

"Mission: Imposible - Ghost Protocol" Review

I reviewed the IMAX version last December and upon second viewing, the overall score remains the same, but I should add that the pace really bogs down after the Burj Dubai tower/sandstorm sequence with a lot of talking and not-so-exciting capering trying to get access codes from the guy from Slumdog Millionaire. I got sleepy and the girlfriend fell asleep after having been alert for the first half.

Score: 7/10. Rent the Blu-ray.

Speaking of which, in another nasty example of retailer exclusives, only Beast Buy has a Blu-ray package with an extras disc which presumably would include the details of how they did the stunts like in this clip:

Guess I'll be waiting for a sale.

"Haywire" Review

If there is a more apt for Steven Soderbergh's misbegotten Haywire, I don't know what it is. What else can be said for a movie that manages to take a supporting cast with Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton and Channing Tatum in service of a script by the writer of Soderbergh's The Limey and a genuine kickass babe and make it boring and confusing.

The trailer below spells out the plot in rather spoilery detail, so I won't rehash it here except to say that there's far less action overall than the trailer would imply and that the dull parts aren't really filled with much in the way of deep characterization or intricate plot. While it's nice to have an action chick who doesn't look like she'll snap her arms throwing a punch (see: Angelina Jolie after Mr. & Mrs. Smith; Charlize Theron; Milla Jovovich; Zoe Saldana; Maggie Q) and to have fight scenes that don't rely so much on shakycam and edit fu, it never amounts to anything. The double-crosses and misdirections just keep things confusing as well as a superfluous flashback story structure - this could've been told in a linear fashion and may've made more sense, too.

Gina Carano has been dinged in some reviews for her performance, but considering the script is crap, I don't think much blame should be assigned to her. She looks and sounds remarkably like Linda Fiorentino, albeit a shorter, buxomer version who looks like she could actually fight. (She's a MMA fighter whom Soderbergh built this whole mess around.) It's indicative of how freakish "Hollywood beauty" is when a woman who looks like this... considered fat. (She's 5'8" and fought at 143 lbs, but she was pretty ripped then; I'm guessing she's 10 lbs. heavier in the movie.) As I saw someone caption a sports-bra-and-shorts-clad weigh-in photo of her, "I'd hit it, but it might hit me back." Yep.

On top of the poor script and pacing which feels flabby at less than 90 minutes - more happens in a typical 42-minute episode of Nikita - is Soderbergh's craptastic cinematography under the nom de screen of Peter Andrews. He can shoot a decent looking frame as the Oceans' movies show, but too often (since Traffic) he prefers to shoot and grade so that everything is a single color like yellow or red. It's junk, not style. He says it's to provide guidance to the audience as to where things are, but compare his sloppy methods to movies like The Matrix where scenes in the Matrix are a sickly yellowish-green while the real world is blue-gray, but not totally those colors. (i.e. Underworld movies which are basically black, blue and white.)

I was seriously let down by Haywire, a movie that I'd planned on seeing in theaters and ended up glad I didn't waste money on.

Score: 4/10. Skip it or catch it on cable while you're multi-tasking.

"The Cabin in the Woods" Review

The Cabin in the Woods, the brilliant meta-horror deconstruction co-written by Nerd God Joss Whedon and Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard (and directed by him), has been held hostage by MGM's bankruptcy for a couple of years, finally making it's way into theaters now. It premiered at SXSW and all the reviews were uniformly rapturous but with a common element: They all said to take their word for it that it was very good and you should see it but to avoid learning anything about it because it will spoil the fun.

This is another one of those reviews.

As the trailer below shows, it's about five young people who go to the titular cabin and then bad things happen to them. What the trailer only provides glimpses of (and even those spoil things a little) is what's behind these events and it's impossible to even hint at what's going on without defeating the purpose of taking this ride.

What's interesting about the storytelling is that instead of waiting until the end to reveal what's going on, Whedon and Goddard are dropping details every step of the way while still leaving viewers wondering WTF is going on? I'd pretty much figured out what was happening and why about 2/3rds of the way through, but there was still plenty more to come.

Sorry to be so vague, but I diligently avoided spoilers in the run-up to visiting The Cabin in the Woods and only want you to have as much fun as I did. You're welcome.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch a matinee.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Review

In a Tokyo subway station is a tiny 10-seat sushi bar that is run by an 85-year-old ninja (euphemistically speaking) who has dedicated his life to mastering preparing the world's best sushi and as a result it is the only sushi-only restaurant to receive Michelin's top three-star rating. The story of Jiro Ono, his two sons, and the restaurant (Sukiyabashi Jiro) is the subject of the whimsical documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Despite the inauspicious location, reservations are taken a month in advance and customers pay in the neighborhood of $400 for dinner, with Jiro serving up approximately 20 pieces of sushi of his choosing. There are no drinks or appetizers or fancy-shmancy rolls - just sushi. (I'd have to win the lottery to be able to eat there and, even if I had the means, I don't see how I could possibly enjoy a piece of fish, no matter how wonderful, that cost more than I'd pay for a Blu-ray or some games. It's not as if you get a souvenir waitress to take home.)

Jiro seems driven by a combination of strict Japanese work ethics and a touch of OCD - he takes the same turnstile on the subway every day - but the results speak for themselves. His relationship with his two sons, one of whom started his own place that's literally the mirror of the father's, is interesting and there's a fascinating twist towards the end about who served the Michelin's inspectors. However, for all the discussion about the process of purchasing and preparing the fish, some basic details aren't addressed, starting with how did he manage to gain such notoriety in such a pedestrian location and what of the mother of his sons who obviously raised them as Jiro admits not being around much while he worked.

If you like sushi and want to see how the stuff you'll never be able to try is made, check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but prepare to be very hungry for some sushi before it's over.

Score: 8/10. Rent it.

"Abduction" Review

The werewolf kid from the Twilight abominations dumps the sparkly vampires and dippy love interest to step into the tweener-action hero spotlight with Abduction, a occasionally fast-moving but inherently banal actioner with an improbable plot, even by the standards of the genre.

Taylor Lautner is a knucklehead jock dumbass who parties hard and doesn't have a care in the world. I mean, other than the father (Jason Issacs) who picks his hungover ass off the lawn of the crime and then makes him fight like a twisted scene from The Great Santini. However, he's not an abusive pop, just someone who's training Shark Boy for the rest of the plot. When Taylor finds a photo on a missing children website that looks like him, his attempt to find out about his past leads to his present being literally blown to pieces and the couple who raised him being killed by bad guys. With the CIA and Russian baddies chasing him and not knowing whom to trust, he takes off with the cute classmate from across the street (Lily "My daddy drums for Genesis" Collins) and the hijnks ensue.

Since the target audience is horny teenage girls, it's understandable how much superfluous rigmarole has to take place up front, in the middle, and at the end. While the action staged by director John Singleton (in his first feature since 2005's lackluster Four Brothers) is occasionally exciting and Lautner is a credible butt-kicker, the pace is too languid for such a threadbare plot. How do the bad guys manage to tap into the CIA's comms without fail? What exactly is the McGuffin they're chasing and why are we supposed to be surprised someone doesn't turn out as they initially appear? Can Taylor act or us he just a square-headed caterpillar with some charm to go with that prison-ripped bod? I'm the wrong audience for this movie, aren't I?

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Sitter (Unrated)" Review

Judging from this trailer...

...The Sitter, starring Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill, looks like a stupid, raunchy retread of Adventures in Babysitting with the loutish, porcine Hill doing his usual loud moron schtick and for the most part, that pretty much sums things up. However, there is actually a little more depth and heart to the flick, though it doesn't maintain enough consistency in the laugh department.

For those who didn't watch the trailer - and why didn't you? - Hill is a tubby slacker who gets stuck babysitting for a friend of his mother's when he gets an offer of nookie from his fickle sorta girlfriend. Of course, the kids are punks - a mopey emo with "issues" (played by the kid from Where the Wild Things Are), a celebrity-obsessed girl, and an adopted El Salvadoran terror who spends half the movie blowing stuff up and relieving himself anywhere and everywhere - and hijinks ensue.

Where The Sitter actually scores some points is in making Hill not quite the disaster he initially appears, but more of an unmotivated victim of his own problems, which he eventually confronts and overcomes. Where it really gets crazy is when it pit stops in the crazy lair of a drug dealer (an unrecognizable Sam Rockwell) which is so genuinely weird that I don't even want to spoil the surprises in case you catch this sometime.

It's all meaningless and won't change your life, but if you burn 90 minutes on the couch viewing it, you won't wish you were dead. (There's some box copy!)

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

Judging from the credits and the IMDB parent's guide, there's not much more that has been added for this "unrated" version other than a quick scene of two people shagging with a brief glimpse of bare breasts. While much of the vibe is sort of like Eighties teen comedies, there is no nudity in the regular cut; the R comes from the barrage of F-bombs. It's the 21st Century; how are we getting more Victorian?

"Young Adult" Review

The writing-directing tag team that brought us Juno, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, team up again with Charlize Theron for a dark drama with comic accents, Young Adult, which unfortunately doesn't live up to its pedigree and potential.

Theron is a 37-year-old divorcee in Minneapolis who drinks too much, sleeps around, plucks the hair out of her scalp in spots, barely cares for her Pomeranian, and makes her living ghost-writing a young adult series of books set in a high school. The movie's title has a dual meaning that her arrested development makes her able to capture the voice of her characters. It also helps that she always seems to be near teenage girls in time to overhear them say something she can crib for her books.

When she receives an email announcing the birth of a child to an old flame (Patrick Wilson), she obsesses over it until finally deciding to return to her home town of Mercury, MN and rescue him from the horrible life of domesticity she feels he's trapped in. While setting up her plan, she encounters Patton Oswalt, a dumpy guy who had the locker next to hers throughout high school whom she never noticed. Hobbled by a savage beating (more on this later), he quickly becomes her Jiminy Cricket, trying to talk her out of her plan. Of course, she's not listening.

While there are some hints of greatness throughout Young Adult, it simply doesn't gel up into a cohesive whole. Theron is unlikeable, which isn't a problem since she's supposed to be a boozy deluded mess, but her realizations and growth are undercut by Cody's script which seems to forget its points at the end. I thought Reitman's last film, the George Clooney-topped Up In The Air, fell apart in it's last act and ending and something similar happens here with the precisely wrong thing happening and then everything that could've been learned tossed out the window in a single scene in which someone basically tells her that her wrong-headed views were right all along. I honestly had no idea what the movie was trying to say at the end.

Theron is very good, managing to make an unsympathetic character earn our pity. (If you know the difference between sympathy and pity, you'll get the distinction I'm making.) She almost manages to make us overlook the gaps in the plotting like how Wilson seems to act as if they merely dated a short while in high school when it's revealed later that their relationship was much, much more involved. I place blame for this on Reitman who let him play it as if there had been little between them.

I had been enthused about seeing Young Adult because of the players involved, but it shows that past prowess provides little guarantee of future competence. I wonder if the makers have become too big for their britches and aren't being held to the standards of polish that others would (and should) be held to? While not especially bad, it's not particularly good in the final analysis because it manages to undercook the characters. Also, if you hated the Teenage Fanclub song "The Concept", you may want to steer clear of this movie because it gets played about five times and will stick in your head the next day.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

Regarding Oswalt's beating ** SEMI-SPOILERS **: He was supposedly beaten with a crowbar by a pack of jocks because they thought he was gay - this is how Theron remembers him, as the "Hate Crime Guy" - and it was quite the scandal until it was learned that he wasn't gay; then it became a socially acceptable attack of jocks on a fat guy. That she doesn't seem to feel this is anything to whine about despite his walking with a cane and having mutilated junk makes the ending that much more questionable.
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