New reviews from Movie Man Mike:
Batman Begins. B+ (for this genre of movies)
I went to this movie as a skeptic. While prior Batman movies have been mixed in their success, I didn’t like the idea of yet another Batman movie being made with yet another actor playing Batman. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Christian Bale makes a pretty good Batman. And, it’s hard to criticize the all-star cast, including Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Kate Holmes. The psychological background on Batman is intriguing and includes a sketch of his early training. Some of the stunts are a little hard to believe and I found my self questioning how he did some of them even though he had state-of-the-art technology to assist him, but by suspending reality and enjoying the moment and the action, I found the movie really quite entertaining. In fact, I think it is my favorite of the Batman movies.
The Final Cut. B-
This is a 2004 film starring Robin Williams. It’s out on DVD and I decided to check it out because it got some pretty good reviews. This film reminded me a great deal of a film from the early 1980’s called Brainstorm, which starred Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood. The premise of The Final Cut is that technology has been developed to allow people to implant a chip in their head that will record everything the person sees or hears during his whole life. After the implanted person dies, the chip can be retrieved and surviving family members can relive the person’s life to help them to remember their dearly departed. The most interesting thing about the movie is that it makes you think about your own life and how you would feel to know that after you are gone, anyone could look back on all the things you did, good or bad. In the movie, Robin Williams plays the role of a “cutter” who’s job it is to take the implant chip and creates a “rememory” or condensed video of the deceased’s life for the benefit of his family. Williams’ character is pitted against a group of opponents to the technology who believe that cutters are distorting the truth and memories of the deceased. The ending of the film is a bit abrupt and leaves questions–as the director probably intended, but I am not really sure the questions are all that relevant to our every day lives. I enjoyed this film as a concept, but not immensely.
A new review from That Guy Named David:
I must admit that I was not the biggest Bewitched fan when I used to watch it on syndication on WGN in the middle of summer afternoons as a child. I was always more of an I Dream of Jeannie kinda guy. So, I wasn’t exactly excited about the movie coming out this summer until I saw that it starred Will Ferrell, the greatest comedic genius of this century. However, after sitting through the movie, I can honestly say that, had Will Ferrell not been a part of this movie, there is a very good chance that I would have walked out. I read a review that said the movie was a lot of funny scenes in search of a plot. That’s a very apt description. Kidman was cute, but unlike the Movie Snob, I need a little more than just her presence on the screen to get me to enjoy her movies (and she was fully clothed throughout). Ferrell was his usual act, which made for some laugh-out-loud moments, but by the end of the movie, I was just a little bored. Overall, maybe a renter, but don’t waste your $8 seeing it on a Saturday night.
A View From Mars:
Batman Begins (B+)
A little history . . . I liked Tim Burton’s gimmicky dark Batman back then, although I’m not sure it stands the test of time now. The second one had its moments, but I wasn’t too particularly fond of its villians, The Penguin and Catwoman. As for the last two, let’s just say Joel Schumacher killed the franchise then chopped it into little pieces and fed it to the sharks, etc. . . you get my point. I’m rather tired of the “franchise has been resurrected” label, but it is very fitting indeed. A fine step 1 was hiring independent minded Christopher Nolan (Memento) and letting him cast a very independent minded actor in Christian Bale to play the lead. Surround him with some A listers to play Alfred (Michael Cain), Lt. Gordan (Gary Oldman), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and you just might have something beyond decent here. I won’t go much into plot as there’s an origin story and some villians and personal demons to overcome, but I will say that more attention was given to the characters than to the special effects and the spectacles that they could have become. I’d almost go out on that limb and say that this was about as realistic as you can get for a comic book movie, but there were moments in the film in which that comment just doesn’t belong. Some just aren’t into comic book adaptations, but for the rest, this movie is a must see and definitely better than the Spidermans and X-Men of the movie comic book world.
A new review from Nick at Nite:
Alone in the Dark
This movie should be called “Alone at Home with Nothing Better to Do” or perhaps “Alone on the Set without a Script, Talent, or Plot.” This movie is what happens when someone who was a big fan of the X-Files, but has no film-making abilities, convinces a friend to give him the money to make a movie. Christian Slater, whatever happened to his career, Stephen Dorff, has he ever been in anything good, and Tara Reid, she is not too smart, star as the heroes in this science-fiction-meets-Native-American-folklore film. Apparently, Native Americans discovered evil, Alien like creatures and somehow kept them hidden from everyone using pieces of concrete. To keep them hidden they shipped the concrete, presumably by Federal Express, all over the world. Well an evil scientist guy got some of the pieces of concrete and some of the evil alien babies and implanted them in some orphans. 20 years after the implantation chaos ensues. This movie stunk and I usually like this kind of garbage. I give it an “F” and say go rent Season 3 of the X-Files to see how it should be done.
From the desk of The Movie Snob:
Funny Ha Ha (B-). This little movie really captured the essence of independent film — grainy looking, occasionally hard to hear, and unapologetically low-budget. It’s about a 23-year-old college graduate named Marnie, a girl with an unspecified degree (almost certainly in the liberal arts), little ambition, and seemingly few prospects. The camera just follows her around for a few months, the movie starting and ending at seemingly random moments in her life. She goes from a nondescript temp job to a nondescript research job, she hangs out with friends, she has a crush on a guy who is even less mature than she is while a different immature guy has a crush on her. The director does an especially good job of capturing the way these young people talk; like characters in a Whit Stillman film, they have a very hard time being direct with each other, but unlike Stillman’s characters, these kids are also grossly inarticulate. Strip their conversations of the “I means,” “you knows,” and the ubiquitous “I’m sorries,” and you would have a virtually silent film. Although not much happens, the movie kept me wondering what would happen next, and although Marnie is a passive and somewhat pathetic figure, I still liked her and rooted for her to escape her apathy and ennui. An interesting snapshot of Generation Y.
A DVD review and a stage review from The Movie Snob:
Dracula (C-). Yes, this is the 1931 original starring Bela Lugosi as The Count. A couple of years ago, the folks who made Van Helsing engineered the re-release of several old horror classics on DVD around the time of Van Helsing’s release, so I picked up the Frankenstein and Dracula sets. (Each comes with a handful of sequels to the original movies and other extras.) Anyway, according to the mini-documentary “The Road to Dracula,” people actually found this film scary back in 1931. It’s hard to believe, since the movie involves no blood, no violence, and very little action of any sort. Lugosi made a good Count Dracula, but he’s just not given very much to do, and the ending is a big zero on the excitement-meter. I’d sooner recommend the Francis Ford Coppola remake, which I seem to remember capturing some of the suspense of the book. Better yet, just go back and read the book. It was years ago that I read it, but I remember liking it quite a bit.
Chicago. I’m a big fan of the movie, and last night I saw a local production by a group called the Repertory Company Theater at the theater on the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas (which is actually in Richardson). It’ll run through June 26, and if you’re a fan, I would recommend this production. It’s kind of stripped-down (especially compared to the elaborate production the Plano Rep put on a year or two ago), and some of the vocals were a little weak at times, but the performers dig into the material with great enthusiasm. Among the principal characters, the actress who plays Roxie has a decent voice, and the fellow who plays defense lawyer Billy Flynn can really belt out a tune. (According to the program, he’s actually a lawyer in real life!) The actress who plays Velma Kelly was not their equal in the singing department, but she was very good-looking and gave an appropriately venomous performance. If you like musicals, it’s worth a look.
From the desk of The Movie Snob:
Crash (B). The great Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) heads up a huge ensemble cast in this drama about race relations in present-day Los Angeles. Characters’ paths intersect randomly and unpredictably over roughly a two-day period, and racial prejudice taints almost all of their dealings with each other. The director does a good job of keeping the viewer off-balance by creating scenes that seem certain to end up one way and then turning out surprisingly differently. But this can be a weakness too, as some of the surprise resolutions don’t ring quite true. And I am not at all sure what the “message” of the movie is supposed to be, if it has one. As near as I can figure, it is that bad (i.e., racist) people sometimes do good deeds, and that good people (i.e., people who try not to be racist) sometimes make terrible mistakes despite their good intentions. It’s not a great movie, but I definitely think it’s worth seeing.
DVD review from Nick at Nite:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Movie making genius. Clever writing. Good storytelling. Snappy and appropriate editing. Makes you think anything Wes Anderson does must be good. Well you couldn’t be more wrong. The Life Aquatic is horrid. It is worse than Ishtar. It makes the crap I normally watch on video seem good. I could not have been more disappointed. The plot isn’t that bad. Crazy Jacque Cousteau wannabe tries to hunt down the Jaguarshark that killed his best friend. He used to be hip and cool. Everyone loved his National Geographic specials. Now Zissou is old and boring. Just like this movie. The set was unique – A cutaway of the ship. I like the funny way the Zissou crew dressed and the guy singing David Bowie songs in French was mildly amusing. But looks and a gimmick ain’t everything. The writing is so bad, I would have preferred the actors just read from the phone book. I give the movie an “F.” Go rent Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums instead.
A movie review from Nick at Nite.
They said it couldn’t be done. They said no one had the courage to do it. Well, they were wrong. Martin Scorsese did it – he made a movie about a man who stopped trimming his nails, peed into old milk containers and stored them in his room, and lived in the nude for years. No, it is not a movie about Charles Manson or George Bush, it is a movie about Howard Hughes. I had heard of the “Spruce Goose,” the airplane built and flown by Hughes, but I was not familiar with his life story. The film taught me one critical thing – if you have a ton of money, very good looking Hollywood actresses will throw themselves at your feet no matter how crazy you are. This movie features several plane crashes, a weird oedipal flashback, and lots of Leonardo DiCaprio’s butt. I could have done without the butt. I give this movie a “C.”
A View from Mars
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (C-)
Well the summer can’t officially start until we get that first overhyped, big budget blockbuster that tanks critically. I’m here to say that summer has started! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play the titular leads who are both trained assassins and happen to be married with their secrets intact. The movie’s plot device is that they both find out and are now out to hunt the other one down. Knowing full well that this was not a thinking man’s movie, I sat down with the intention of one cool ride. This did not happen. The movie started off slow, it dragged in parts throughout and the action was nothing new. The chemistry between the two leads was convincing, but then again I’m not a particular fan of either of these two actors anyways. Also, when Vince Vaughn shows up as the so called “comic relief,” try not to be distracted by how out of place he looks in this movie. This was a waste of 2 hours, so if you need to see something go to Cinderella Man and if you’ve already seen it, see it again, it’s better than this alternative.
A new review from The Movie Snob:
Cinderella Man (B). That Guy Named David has already posted a thorough review, so I’ll limit myself to just a few words. I thought this was a good movie, but it just didn’t make it into the “A” category for me. I’m as much a sucker for sentimental movies as the next guy, but Director Ron Howard trowels the treacle on just a bit too heavily even for my taste. Russell Crowe’s character is like a St. Francis of Assisi of the Boxing Ring, which does at least make for a nice contrast to the actor’s thuggish persona in real life. In the end, it’s a feel-good movie, and I did leave feeling good, and only a little manipulated. Not bad.
A review from Nick at Nite:
I know, I know, I am only just now getting around to seeing this Oscar nominated film and Oscar winning performance from Charlize Theron. I know, I know, who wouldn’t want to rush out and see a film about a trailer park prostitute who picks up and then kills her prospective Johns while engaging in a tortured, juvenile relationship with a sixteen year-old girl. Apparently, I didn’t. I only watched this movie because it is on cable now and I couldn’t sleep. I guess they showed it late at night because of the graphic violence and extremely adult subject matter. Frankly, I am not sure what all the buzz was about. Basically, a really attractive actress gained some weight, fried her hair, and wore a prosthetic mouth piece and bad clothes. For this, the Oscar pool bestowed her with a golden statute? I am not sure I understand this logic. If an actress who looked like a normal person had played this role, I don’t think it would have been such a big deal. It is a depressing story. A scary story, but not necessarily one that needed to be told. And any effort to make this true to life serial killer seem sympathetic just seems completely misguided. THIS WOMAN KILLED A BUNCH OF PEOPLE. Sure they were doing bad things, picking up prostitutes . . . but does that make killing them okay? Should we glorify this woman’s behavior? I say no. I give the make-up artist on the film an “A.” I give everyone else, including the person who thought this was a story worth telling, an “F.”
A review from That Guy Named David:
Cinderella Man (A-)
As the great poets of the late 1980’s Cinderella said, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Well, that’s essentially the theme behind Ron Howard’s newest run at the Best Picture Oscar. Russell Crowe plays boxer Jim Braddock who, along with wife Mae (Renee Zellweger), attempts to keep food on the table and the electricity running in their one-bedroom shack through the early years of the Great Depression. Braddock had, at one time, been a rising contender in the heavyweight/light heavyweight ranks until a series of setbacks relegated him to “washed up” status in the sport at which he had made a good living prior to Black Tuesday and the stock market crash in 1929. The majority of the movie is a profile of Braddock and his wife as they struggle mightily to keep the family together during this tragic time in our nation’s history. However, this general theme is interlaced into the story of Braddock’s determination and drive to make the best out of his second chance in the ring, given to him by longtime manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti). The boxing scenes are intense, and the acting was sensational. I even enjoyed Renee Zellweger’s performance (something that I was almost certain would not happen given her last several performances (ex. Cold Mountain)). The movie (and in all likelihood, the Oscar), however, all belongs to Russell Crowe who once again demonstrates why is considered one of the best actors today. I was tired and cranky when I went into the theatre, and I left thinking I had just really enjoyed the previous couple of hours. Very impressive start to the summer movie season. Thanks to Ann C. for the free tickets to the early screening.
From the desk of The Movie Snob:
Mad Hot Ballroom (A-). Another outstanding documentary. Apparently not so very long ago, someone got the idea to introduce ballroom dancing into the fifth-grade curriculum in several New York City public schools. The program caught on, and now sixty schools participate in the program, culminating in a city-wide competition. This movie follows the progress of the dance classes in two or three schools, showing how dedicated the teachers are but focusing on the children. Mostly we see them dancing, but they also get a fair amount of time just to talk about whatever’s on their mind—dancing, of course, but also their perspectives on poverty, family break-ups, growing up, etc. And of course we get a natural dramatic build-up by following our teams through the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and final round of the city-wide championship. The whole thing is really well-done, and the theater I saw it in burst into enthusiastic applause at the end (in contrast to the scattered, tepid applause at the end of my recent viewing of Star Wars: Episode III). I can’t imagine anyone with a soul not liking this movie. Stay seated during the closing credits to enjoy a few parting thoughts from the kids.