Archive for August, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

Rating – See it now                                               

A comedy with both Paul Rudd and Zooey Deschanel?..sign me up!  I love Deschanel and Paul Rudd is probably my favorite comedic actor.  I couldn’t really gather much about this movie from the trailers beyond the fact that Paul Rudd was the star, and played an idiot.  The latter actually turned out to be false.  Ned (Rudd’s character) could be described as naïve, childlike, honest (even when it works against him) and trusting to a fault, but an idiot?  No.  In fact, I don’t feel like the term “idiot” belongs anywhere with this movie.  It wasn’t idiotic.  It was actually quite smart, with some very subtle humor that will, unfortunately, be missed by much of America.

The movie begins with Ned selling drugs to a police officer.  And no, the cop was not undercover.  He was in uniform.  “But wait!” you might be yelling at your computer screen, “I thought you said he wasn’t an idiot?!”  See the movie and you will realize he is just genuinely trusting, and kind.  In fact he might be one of the most likable and nice characters put to the big screen in a while.  But I digress…after he gets out of prison, his hippie girlfriend will not take him back, so he is forced to move in with one of his sisters, before moving in with a second sister, and finally moving in with yet another sister.  The whole time this is going on Ned is trying to get Willie Nelson back from his ex girlfriend.  Oh yeah…Willie Nelson is his dog.

The first visit takes him into the home of sister Liz (Emily Mortimer), and her tool bag of a husband (Steve Coogan).  They are the overbearing parents of Ned’s nephew River, who is allowed to eat one cupcake every week, and take dance classes, while his friends take karate one room over.  Ned starts to bond with River but after some unfortunate events is forced to move in with sister number two, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks looking a lot like Parker Posey).  Miranda is way too into her job, and stringing along her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott) who is clearly into her.  Ned starts to become friends with Jeremy, but again is forced to move on.  This time to live with sister number three, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).  Natalie is dating Cindy (Rashida Jones).  Yes you read that last sentence correctly.  Natalie is bisexual, and a little different.  She’s really into art, modeling nude for a friend at times, and has a group of six Ukrainian friends living in her guest room.  As the story progresses we find Ned bonding with just about everyone he comes in contact with, and those people each learn something about themselves in the process.  He’s not always a genius, but he cares a lot about his family.

To me, that all sounds like the makings of a pretty crazy, laugh out loud comedy.  Like it or not, this film will not have you laughing hysterically.  It was definitely funny, but as stated before, the humor was subtle, and much less in your face that most of America has grown accustomed to.  I found myself to be the only person chuckling in my theater at several moments.  Besides the subtle humor, the movie had a solid, somewhat touching story.  It focused on the importance of family, which I am always a sucker for.   I cared about the characters and was concerned for what happened to them, and I really wanted to know if Ned would get Willie Nelson back.  Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschenel, Adam Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, Emily Mortimer, and Steve Coogan (I don’t think I missed anyone) all come together and give fantastic performances.  I don’t know that this film would have worked so well without such genuine performances by the actors involved.

Overall I really liked it.  Was it predictable? Yes.  Was it outrageously funny? No.   Is it worth seeing? Absolutely.  It was melancholy, and sweet, and very funny at points.  Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of people will like it quite as much as I did, and my guess is it will perform average at best in the box office, but I would still recommend it to anyone.

-Gish

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The Hurt Locker

Rating – Rent it some time                                                         

When I sit down to watch a movie that has earned the Oscar for best picture, I have extremely high expectations.  For some reason I tend to be let down, and disagree with the Academy’s decision.  With this movie, I wasn’t really let down, but I still don’t agree with the academy’s decision.  The movie won six Oscars, somehow best cinematography wasn’t one of them.  It deserved this one more than any of the others.  Before I get even more off topic, complaining about the Academy’s choices, I should probably get down to this film.

Great acting: check, great cinematography: check, great effects: check, great editing: check, great score: check, great story: eh.  I go to movies to be told a great story.  Because I don’t work in movies, I feel that a story should be solid enough that I forget to pay attention to all the technical stuff, like editing, cinematography, etc.  With this film I found it to be the opposite.  The movie was suspenseful and had some great scenes but they didn’t really add up to anything.

Sargeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) work on a bomb squad in the middle of Iraq.  Their staff sergeant is killed in an explosion, and is replaced by Sergeant First Class, William James (Jeremy Renner).  James is bull headed, arrogant, tends to put his men in unnecessary danger, and damn good at defusing bombs.  The first time they go out together, he throws out a smoke screen (which throws his men off), and doesn’t listen to reason.  Afterwards they get upset with him, even though he is successful in their mission.  The scene is very suspenseful and well shot, keeping tension high the whole time.  Then in the next scene they go out to diffuse another bomb, and basically the same thing happens.  James goes against protocol, the others are put in danger and get angry, it’s very suspenseful.  This basically continues for the rest of the film, which would be fine, but the characters never seem to change, or grow in any way.  Its just the same thing over and over.  James is successful, but angers the others, and its suspensful.  James is successful, but angers the others, and its suspensful.  James is…you get the point.  The only story that seemed to progress was James’ forming a friendship with an Iraqi teenage street vendor.  This story gets really interesting, and emotional at one point, but later the movie’s creators decide to just throw that emotion out when new information is discovered.

Jeremy Renner did a fantastic job, and made you angry with him, while still rooting for him to literally diffuse dangerous situations.  His nomination for best actor was well deserved.  The other actors did a solid job as well, but were not mind blowing or anything.  The strong acting, along with the fantastic editing, and cinematography made this a very suspenseful movie from start to finish.  There was rarely a moment that didn’t leave me tense.

Overall, the movie looked better than fantastic, but for me the story never really took off.  If the story had evolved more throughout, I would absolutely agree with the best picture win, but because the story seemed lacking I have to disagree.  All of that being said, the acting, suspense, and look of the film, definitely make it worth renting sometime.

– Gish

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The Evil Dead

Rating – Rent it sometime.                                                  

I should preface this review by saying that I don’t watch very many horror movies.  They are not typically my favorite…and I’m kind of a pansy when it comes to really scary movies.  Despite this fact, every once in a while there is a horror movie that intrigues me.  This was one of those movies.  Sam Raimi’s original feature length film, made on a fairly small budget, considered one of the goriest movies ever made, banned in several areas, and has a cult following.  I saw it streaming on Netflix and decided to give it a go.

The screenplay for this movie probably looked something like the following…

…Five friends decide to go to a cabin in the woods.  Creepy things happen.  <Insert cheesy dialogue>.  They start turning into demon creatures.  Blood spurts, flows, splashes, gushes, etc.  It’s creepy.  The end.

Even with such a simple story, the movie still worked.  It simply didn’t need much of a story.  It was creepy, and bloody enough to keep your attention without one.  This movie is now three decades old and I was quite impressed with the makeup and special effects.  I mean, let’s be honest, some of the effects looked quite dated but I don’t feel that it ruined the movie, and most of the time the blood was gruesomely real enough.

As stated above the story wasn’t too in depth.  That being said, it was still there.  Five friends head to a cabin in the woods.  I can only remember Bruce Campbell’s character’s name, Ash, but he was accompanied by another male friend, his sister, his girlfriend, and another female friend.  Ash and his friend find a creepy book in the basement, and a little later stuff gets creepy.  Ash’s sister is literally attacked by the woods.  (The trees get rather aggressive and inappropriate with her.)  Soon after, one of the other friends becomes possessed and begins attacking the others, in gruesome bloody ways.  It is not long before the possessions spread, and all hell breaks loose.  Ash and friends find themselves dismembering demons, as it is the only way to kill them, as they try not to be dismembered themselves.  Its gross and somehow still makes you want to watch.

The movie is an entertaining gore fest that doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not.  Not overtly scary (by today’s standards), but had a few creepy parts, and jump scenes.  Overall I enjoyed this movie.  I bumped the second and third of the trilogy to the top of my Netflix queue because I am now intrigued.  Definitely worth renting sometime, especially if you are a fan of the horror genre.

-Gish

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rating – Rent it some time (This one has me on the fence)

I just saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes last night.  This being (I’m pretty sure) the 5th movie to hold “Planet of the Apes” in its title.  That being said, this is only the second one that I have seen.  I saw the Mark Walberg remake of the original when it came out in 2001, but do not remember much about it.  If you couldn’t figure it out from the title, this movie is an origin story, or prequel, to the first story, which has already been put to the big screen twice.  I’m 95% sure the commas in the previous sentence are all in the right place.  Even though this movie is the prequel to a story that has already been put to the big screen twice, and was originally a novel,  I think the plan is to reboot the series…again.

Basically all of that knowledge came from IMDB.  I actually do not know much about the Planet of the Apes saga, and have never really been overly interested in it.  It is probably because of this that when I first saw a preview I thought, “Meh.”  To my surprise the reviews for the movie were very good, so off to the theater I went.

The movie starts with James Franco, as Dr. Will Rodman, working on a new drug that he claims is the cure to Alzheimer’s disease.  Thus far the drug has only been tested on chimps and seems to be working wonders.  More on the chimps shortly.  Dr. Rodman’s father (John Lithgow) is suffering from Alzheimer’s himself, making the cure more personal to the Dr.  Both Lithgow and Franco do a good job playing characters that are mostly uninteresting.  Freida Pinto (from Slumdog Millionaire fame) later becomes Franco’s love interest, and Tom Felton (formerly Draco Malfoy) and the always entertaining Brian Cox round out the main human cast.  All of the actors did a good job, but their characters and storyline, in my opinion, were dull.   This may have been done purposefully by the film’s makers, to give way for the true stars…the apes.   In fact whenever the people were on screen I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, who cares, give me more of the apes.”

First off, with regard to the apes, the CGI was terrific in this film.  There were maybe one or two instances, when there were multiple apes on screen, that I was reminded these animals were computer generated, but for the most part they looked fantastic.  To make the main chimp, Caesar, more realistic, the film makers used the same technique that was used for Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and King Kong from, well…King Kong.  The affect is created by using motion capture technology on a real actor and overlaying the creature with the help of computers.  Andy Serkis was the actor they used for both Gollum, and King Kong, so they figured who better to use here.  He must have done a fantastic job because Caesars expressions make you forget that he doesn’t have dialogue throughout the movie.  You truly feel for him, and I found myself rooting for him, rather than the humans for the entirety of the film.  The battle scenes were also action packed and entertaining.

Overall this movie was good, but I found myself kind of bored during the scenes that didn’t include the apes.  I didn’t really care much for the humans, or their story lines.  I would say it was definitely better than I thought it would be after seeing the original previews, but not as good as many of the reviews I have read.

-Gish

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How to Train Your Dragon

Rating – See it now.                                                              

I just finished watching How to Train Your Dragon, and wow.  I can safely say the only reason this did not win best animated feature is because Pixar unleashed the masterpiece that was Toy Story 3 the same year.  But in all honesty, this movie wasn’t far behind.  I went into the movie with the knowledge that there were dragons, which would most likely be trained, and that’s about it.  Fortunately, I was in for much more than I expected.

The story takes place on the island of Berk, where a village of Vikings has a pest problem.  Their pests…dragons.    The Vikings are large, muscular, somewhat unintelligent, and have an almost strange affinity for killing dragons.  The more dragons they kill, the more revered they are by the rest of the village.  Our antagonist on the other hand is small, scrawny, smart, and named Hiccup.  To make things worse, Hiccup’s father is the greatest dragon killer there is.  Lets just say Hiccup is a bit of an outcast in the village.

Eventually Hiccup has his chance to kill a dragon and be accepted by his peers.  He realizes, though, that he’s not cut out for killing, and instead is more cut out for training…as the title implies.  You may be reading this and thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen this story done before.  Just remove dragon and insert dog/cat/monster/toy/etc. and you have a dozen other children’s movies.”  While this is true, this movie still stands out amongst the crowd.  I think this can be attributed to the fact that it didn’t just do a familiar story, it did a familiar story as well as that story can be done.  I think one of the smartest choices by the movie creators was to keep the Dragons without voices.  Many recent children’s movies allow every person, animal, creature, and even inanimate objects to talk.  Here this wouldn’t have worked and the creators realized it.  Most people can relate to having a bond with a pet, and this was the case here.  I was generally concerned for what would happen to this boy and his dragon, and as the story continues to unfold it becomes more and more touching.  I loved it.

While the story was fantastic, I also really enjoyed the animation in this film.  Typically I prefer the old school drawing methods to the more modern computer animation, but in this movie they did a terrific job.  The environment was vibrant and real, and the style really contributed to the character’s personalities.  Speaking of the characters, the voice actors also did a fantastic job making the characters come alive.  Jay Baruchel was fantastic as Hiccup.  Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz Plasse, and Kristin Wiig did a good job filling in for a few chuckles here and there, and Greg Ferguson was also entertaining.  I don’t want to leave out Gerard Butler, who was also great as Hiccup’s father.

Overall this is one of the best animated movies I have seen in a long time.  I think it is definitely DreamWorks’ strongest offering.  The animation was great, the voice acting strong, and the story utterly fantastic.  I don’t think the movie slowed down for the entire 90 minutes, and finished with a rather epic climax for a children’s movie.  I would highly recommend that anyone see this film.

-Gish

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Netflix Pick: True Romance

Rating: Catch it on TV                                                   

I just finished watching True Romance (1993) for the first time.  I have known about this movie for a while and knew that Tarantino wrote the script, but for some reason never got around to watching it.  The Netflix envelope was sitting on my coffee table for about a week and I finally popped it in the DVD player today.  The opening credits started rolling and I got really excited.  I had no idea how strong of a cast this movie had.  Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, and Samuel L. Jackson just to name a few.

It was pretty clear from the start that this film was written by Tarantino.  Early dialogue talks about Sonny Chiba as a legend, and includes footage from old Kung Fu movies.  The story never lost its early Tarantino feel, which is typically a good thing in my opinion.  It had some great dialogue, was bloody, and drew out scenes to add suspense.  Despite all of this, when the movie finished, I couldn’t help but feel like it somehow never fully came together.

As stated before, the movie had a fantastic cast.  Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette had the lead roles but they definitely were outshined by their supporting cast.  One of my biggest complaints of this movie, though, is how they actually used their phenomenal supporting cast.  So many great actors, who play interesting characters, but never really interacted with one another and are on screen for about 20 minutes…combined.  I feel like these actors were used more as a way to sell the movie, than to really make the movie great.  Samuel L. Jackson is in the movie for one minute and ten seconds (I went back and timed it).  Gary Oldman is one of the greatest actors ever, and does a phenomenal job… for 5 minutes.  Brad Pitt’s character was so unimportant to the movie that in the credits they realized if they simply named the character nobody would know who the hell he was.  Hence “Brad Pitt  – Floyd(Dick’s Roommate)”.  Val Kilmer plays a blurry, imagined apparition.  If I hadn’t caught his name in the opening credits I wouldn’t have even known it was him.  He also gets about 2 minutes of screen time.  And finally we come to Christopher Walken.  I absolutely loved his character, Vincenzo Coccotti, and he stars across Dennis Hopper in what is easily the best scene in the movie.  At the end of the scene you are left assuming that Vincenzo would become an integral part of the story.  Nope.  Instead he is not only never seen again, but never even mentioned again.  Such a waste of such fantastic character actors.

As I stated before the movie never really came together for me.  At the end I realized I really didn’t care about any of the characters, other than maybe Clifford (Dennis Hopper), the father of the leading role Clarence (Christian Slater).  On the point of Clarence, I couldn’t really figure him out.  He starts off as a kind of dorky loner, who saves a girl, Alabama, from her pimp, and steals some of his drugs.   He takes off with Alabama (Patricia Arquette) to try and find someone willing to purchase the drugs.  The two are unaware that there are some rather nasty people following them, trying to get the drugs back.  Throughout this sequence of events, Clarence evolves from the dorky loner, into sort of an arrogant douche.  Some people would argue he becomes cooler as the story progresses, but I just found him annoying.  Also mixed up in the plot are a couple of cops (Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore) trying way too hard to catch a drug dealer.  They are two of the dumbest, most unaware, unrealistic cops I have ever seen put to screen.

All in all I really wanted to love this movie, thinking maybe I would add it to my DVD collection based on what others have told me.  Unfortunately it didn’t live up to the hype.  It is typically rated very high, and I’m not sure why.  If you had shown me a few scenes here or there, such as Walken interrogating Hopper, I would probably assume the film is terrific, but as a whole it just didn’t do it for me.  I’m sure I’ll catch hell for this review, but it is what it is.

-Gish

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Cowboys and Aliens

Rating – See it now.                                           

If you look at the list of movies John Favreau has directed(Iron Man, Elf, Zathura…which I didn’t see but the name sounds fun), the adjective “fun” can typically be used to describe them.  I think this may have been part of the reason most of my theater seemed to have the idea of, “Oh, cowboys fighting with aliens, how fun!”  While this movie takes you on a heck of a ride, I don’t think “fun” would always be the best word to describe it.  Throughout the 2 hour run time it was suspenseful, creepy, violent, a little gritty, and…well…terrific.

I had really high hopes for this movie since I first saw the trailer.  Then when I started to see some of the names attached (Favreau, Spielberg, Ron Howard, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and on, and on) I became rather excited.  Even with this excitement the film passed my expectations.  I went into it expecting a kind of silly, but still fun and exciting, battle between a band of cowboys and a group of aliens.  I mean, at the core that’s exactly what this movie is (just read the title).  But I never felt like it was silly.

The recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and the recent remake of True Grit are the only two westerns I think I have ever seen from start to finish, so I am in no way an expert on the subject.  That said, I feel many purists would argue that this isn’t really a western because it has, well…aliens.  Even with the extraterrestrial threat, this movie is nothing but a western.  It even includes a group of Native Americans half way through, in case you forgot that you were watching a cowboy movie.  I’m not sure of the location where they filmed, but I thought the scenery was great and allowed for some pretty interesting shots, lined with canyons and cacti.  The scenes with spaceships whizzing around the background sky were especially well done, in my opinion.

The story starts with Daniel Craig’s character (he can’t remember his name) waking up in the middle of a desert, unsure of where he is, with a fancy new bracelet that looks rather alien, and seems to be permanent.  About 30 seconds into the film the character becomes reminiscent of Jason Bourne, if Jason Bourne were a cowboy.  He has no idea who he is, but still knows how to kick the crap out of anyone that crosses him.   Daniel Craig does a great job with the character and his American accent is good enough that I forgot he is from overseas.   After Craig’s character makes it to a small town, we meet up with many of the clichéd western residents.  The sheriff, the bar tender, the preacher, etc.  The supporting cast does a great job and each plays their part quite well.  After meeting the same old locals we are introduced to Woodrow Dolarhyde, played by Harrison Ford.  Dolarhyde is an angry old bastard, who Ford seems right at home playing.  I think that Ford actually steals the show in this film, making you dislike him and have a soft spot for him at the same time.

Overall the movie was great.  I might even say it was the best movie of the summer.  Super 8, and Cowboys and Aliens served as the strong bookends to this summer’s ups and downs.    The acting, action, and effects were all spot on in this movie.  It did have maybe one or two moments where I said to myself “really, they went there?” but then I reminded myself that it is a movie about cowboys fighting aliens.  Speaking of the aliens, they looked great.  It’s one of the first times I can remember getting a chance to get a really good look at the aliens, and actually see them in hand to hand combat with the protagonists, rather than just firing lasers from a distance.  I got my hopes up for this film, and they weren’t let down.  Do yourself a favor and see it.

-Gish

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