David’s Grab-Bag of Reviews

DVD reviews from That Guy Named David:

Bad News Bears (C+)

The original is better. Maybe it’s because I think Walter Matthau was a better actor than Billy Bob Thornton. Or maybe it’s simply because originals generally are better because, well… they’re original. Nonetheless, the second-coming wasn’t a total bust and provided quite a few enjoyable scenes. Thornton expands on the character he played in Bad Santa and once again, managed to make me laugh on several occasions. He is very good at being a worthless nothing of a human being in both roles. In addition, the kid playing Tanner was great, just as the original kid playing Tanner had a very entertaining role in the first one. It’s worth the rental fee and time if you have absolutely nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Broken Flowers (D)

This movie had the makings of everything I enjoy in cinema. It was put out by Focus Features, possibly the best production company in Hollywood today (Lost in Translation, The Pianist, The Constant Gardner, Wet Hot American Summer). It stars Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom), one of the greatest actors of our generation. It deals with the subject of loneliness and confusion, and casts the leading role as an individual searching for answers to unanswerable questions. Just the type of deep, reflective movie that makes me stay up drinking into the wee hours of the night wondering where I took the many wrong turns in my life… but I digress. In short, this movie sucks. It’s fragmented, has no real point, and leads the viewer to an ending that has no ending. Murray is good with what he is given with the role; however, the overall flow of the movie never gets going and when the credits finally roll at the end, you are wondering what just happened and whether you are actually worse off for having watched the movie. Very bad.

Crash (B+)

This movie profiles all the racial stereotypes in our society and doesn’t try to sugarcoat the problems that invariably arise from people acting out on the stereotypes. It is deep, hard-hitting, filled with superb performances (Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), and leaves you with an uneasy feeling about the race issues that are still pervasive in our society. The one knock against the movie is that there was too much happenstance in the movie, so there were times when I thought to myself that the multiple storylines were being stretched a little too thin. That being said, however, it’s a quality movie with quality performances that should get some well-deserved credit in the coming months. Rent it.

Potpourri from The Movie Snob

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

Roving Mars (C+). This new IMAX production is a tribute to the NASA Mars mission that successfully put two robotic rovers on the surface of the Red Planet. Once there, Spirit and Opportunity met and exceeded their builder’s hopes and expectations, successfully carrying out their experiments and lasting much longer than they had been designed to. This movie successfully conveys the monumental feat NASA’s engineers accomplished by safely landing these amazingly complicated machines on Mars after a seven-month journey traveling 60,000 miles per hour. Unfortunately, though, the visuals just aren’t that striking, and I couldn’t help being conscious most of the time that the views of the rovers on Mars and the Martian surface were digital creations and not actually movie footage. (It didn’t help that the kid next to me kept asking his dad, “Is this real? Is this trick photography?”)

Aeon Flux (C-). No, “Aeon Flux” is not some sort of digestive ailment that afflicts time-travelers. It is the name of the character played by Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman) in this post-apocalypse sci-fi shoot-em-up. Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has reverted to uninhabitable wilderness except for humanity’s last enclave, the city of Regna. Most of the Regnites seem reasonably content despite their fairly repressive government, but a band of rebels (led by an embarrassed-looking Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)) is out to topple the regime. Theron is a top rebel assassin, and she is assigned the mission of killing the Chairman himself. Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Despite the acrobatic fight scenes and thousands of rounds of ammo expended in the big finale, this is basically a yawner. Theron won’t be taking any Oscars home for this exercise in banality, although her futuristic pajamas definitely deserve some sort of special achievement award.

Bloodrayne (D). If you’re like me, you’ve been asking yourself one question ever since Terminator 3 came out: When is that babe who played the evil female Terminator going to make another movie? The wait is now over; Kristanna Loken is back! And this time she’s out for blood, as the damfir (that means half-human, half-vampire) character Rayne. She obviously chose this project with some care. First, it’s based on a video game, so she can take as much license with characterization as she likes (she goes with a flat, expressionless approach). Second, she has surrounded herself with talent: the Michael Madsen-Ben Kingsley team you loved in Species, Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) for the older crowd, Michelle Rodriguez for Lost fans, Meat Loaf for I don’t know who. There’s even a “special appearance” by Billy Zane, the fiancee you loved to hate in Titanic! Third, she found costumers who understand that midriff tops have been popular throughout history, even in the Middle Ages. Throw in a sex scene that’s as embarrassing as it is gratuitous, plus buckets—no, geysers—of fake blood, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Okay, this turkey has virtually nothing to recommend it. But it was kind of funny when pretty-boy vampire-hunter Sebastian introduces Rayne to the art of human love-making and has to explain that we generally start by kissing on the mouth, not by going straight for the jugular.

Capote; Match Point

Good movies about bad men — new reviews from The Movie Snob:

Capote (A-). This movie could have been subtitled “The Writing of In Cold Blood,” because that aspect of Capote’s life is virtually the entire substance of the film. And a very interesting story it is. The movie opens in 1959 with Capote living the high life among the literati and glitterati of New York City. Homosexual and effete, he swims through that milieu like a fish through water. But that November he reads a newspaper story reporting the brutal murders of all four members of the Clutter family, a family of farmers in remote rural Kansas. For some reason, he is fascinated. He travels to Kansas with his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and gradually ingratiates himself with the community, the lead detective on the case, and, once they are captured, the killers. He conceives of the idea of writing a book about the event and the people, a “nonfiction novel” he calls it, and he rightly senses it will be a masterpiece. In his single-minded pursuit of the story, he is willing to feign interest, sympathy, affection, whatever it takes to get the information he needs. The friend I saw the movie with detected a human side to Capote, that he actually did grow to care about one of the two criminals, Perry Smith, and felt remorse about abusing Smith’s trust. I am not so sure; to me he came across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, even a sociopath. Yet, I was totally engrossed in this movie, which doesn’t happen often when the protagonist is not sympathetic. Go see this movie, and then look for Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March) to take the Best Actor Oscar home this year.

Match Point (B). I’ve skipped the last few Woody Allen movies, but the critical hurrahs for this one got me back to the theater. It is a good telling of a sordid tale. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Vanity Fair) is a young Irishman from a poor background. A former professional tennis player who never made it big, he moves to London to teach tennis at a posh club. He is a bit of a cipher, professing vague ambitions of wanting to make some sort of contribution with his life, but apparently having no direction whatsoever. Anyway, he soon falls in with the wealthy Hewitt family, first giving lessons to Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode, Stoker), then dating his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian), and then working for their father’s company. But he is dangerously attracted to Tom’s fiancée, an unsuccessful American actress named Nola (Scarlett Johansson, Hail, Caesar!). Complications ensue. I would probably have liked this movie even better except that it bears an awfully strong resemblance to the excellent Woody Allen picture Crimes and Misdemeanors. Even after having points deducted for lack of originality, though, this movie is still a good watch.

Ella Enchanted

Nick at Nite delivers a DVD review:

Ella Enchanted

You read it right, I actually saw Ella Enchanted. I cannot believe it either. Worse, I cannot believe that I actually thought the movie was pretty good. Simple enough story, cute girl with brown hair and big eyes marries a confused, gay cowboy who is tending sheep while having a secret love affair with another cowboy … no, no wait, that is the other movie featuring this Disney teen idol (Anne Hathaway, Brokeback Mountain), this is a very simple Cinderella-type story, basically stolen from a Drew Barrymore vehicle I saw several years ago. There is a twist. Apparently, everything you tell Ella to do, she must do because of a curse put on her by her fairy godmother. So Ella freezes in midair, she dances and sings Queen songs, she hops in place, she steals an orange, and yes she will kill the prince who loves her … unless … you will just have to see the movie to see what happens. I give it a “B.” I give it an “A” for family friendliness.

Brokeback Mountain

A review from Movie Man Mike:

Brokeback Mountain. (A-). This film has gotten much early press because of the Oscar potential attached to it. It is one of those films that caused me to reflect on the film quite a bit afterwards, and I generally believe that to be the mark of a good film. I also found myself reading other reviews and analyses of the film to see how others reacted to it, and at least one analysis changed my understanding of one of the key scenes in the movie. The film opens in the 1960s in Wyoming with two men, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, taking on the job of sheep herders for a flock of sheep high up in the mountains. The scenery in this film is spectacular. The film then takes you on a journey of the relationship between these two men over the next twenty years or so. What drives this film is the tension between society’s demands that Jack and Ennis conform to its expectations and Jack’s and Ennis’ desires to be together. Much of the relationship between the men is developed through their actions and facial expressions, which requires a special acting and directing talent. (Ennis in particular plays the silent type). One of my criticisms of the film is that the love scenes between Jack and Ennis betray the director’s lack of experience with the subject-matter. Perhaps you can chalk it up to an attempt to tailor the film to a wider viewing audience, but the scenes were nonetheless a little off the mark for me. While the performances from both Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals) were solid, in my opinion, the Oscar buzz for Ledger is a bit too hyped. I suspect that much of the praise for Ledger comes from the fact that he is a straight man risking a promising acting career to play a gay role. If that’s the reason for the Oscar buzz, I say that we need a lot more Brokeback Mountains to help us get past that way of thinking. This is Hollywood after all… Finally, the story drags a little in the middle as it progresses through the years of Jack’s and Ennis’ lives, but ultimately, it is a well-told story and one well worth seeing.

King Kong

The Movie Snob goes ape:

King Kong (A-). Director Peter Jackson delivers in this excellent remake of the adventure classic. A fly-by-night movie maker (Jack Black, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) hires a tramp steamer to take his film crew, screenwriter (Adrien Brody, Midnight in Paris), and actors (Naomi Watts, The Impossible; Kyle Chandler, Super 8) to an uncharted island in the South Pacific where he plans to film his next picture. There they encounter hostile natives, hostile dinosaurs, and a hostile 24-foot gorilla that the natives call Kong. But then, you already knew all that. The question is, does Jackson wrap you up in the moviegoing experience the way he did in Lord of the Rings? The answer is, generally yes. I’d quibble with a few things. The movie really doesn’t need to be over 3 hours long, and some of the fight scenes go on too long and strain credibility even under loose sci-fi standards. But for the most part, I totally bought into it, and Kong himself is a phenomenal, completely believable feat of special-effects prowess. Watts does a very good acting job, especially considering she was generally acting against a blank screen. Clear your calendar for an afternoon or evening and see it on the big screen, where it belongs.


From The Movie Snob:

Hoodwinked! (D+). This new animated feature got a good review in the local paper, so I checked it out. The premise seemed clever: the story of Little Red Riding Hood gets told four times, once by each of the four protagonists (Red, Granny, Wolf, and the Woodsman). Some amusement derives from the wildly different perspectives the characters have of the exact same events. But the device gets a little tiresome after about the second retelling, and the whole thing is embedded in a larger but rather lame story about a recipe-stealing bandit who is at large in the Big Woods. When you get bored during an 83-minute movie, there is definitely a problem. The friend I saw it with thought it was better than I did, and hypothesized that little kids would like it, but I am unconvinced. It’s a waste of time.