Saturday, December 25, 2010

Love and Other Disasters

To call a movie cute often equals a death sentence in that it evokes fluff and a lack of substance. I just watched 'Love and Other Disasters" and cannot escape the dreaded word "cute".  Fortunately "clever" also comes into play. This movie which references romantic movies past and present does so in a way that is smart, hip and stylish.  Brittany Murphy who left the world stage too early excelled at playing two types of roles - troubled and damaged or wispy and flirty. Here we are treated to the lighter side with intentional nods to Audrey Hepburn. I had not heard of this movie before tonight and thought I would share.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Skyline - Pretty People, Pretty Lights, No Substance.

I've always been an easy fan of movies involving characters going about their normal lives who begin to notice that the extraordinary or possibly the horrific is sneaking in around the edges. This can take the form of natural disasters, biological threats or the quiet ( or not so quiet) arrival of hostile visitors from beyond. The recent release, "Skyline", takes on the alien invasion plot with the opening scene being luminous and ethereal blue lights dropping from the sky onto a sleeping Los Angeles. We flashback to the day before and meet our main characters of Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) who are traveling to L.A. to visit an old friend of Jarrod's who has made a successful go at fame and fortune in the movie industry. Very quickly we get the necessary but shallow set up for our characters. Jarrod is a knight in shining armor who helps strangers with their luggage on the airplane and Elaine is appropriately uncomfortable with the L.A. lifestyle they stumble into. Jarrod's friend, Terry (Donald Faison) has become a bit of a sleaze and has a girlfriend (Brittany Daniel) so instantly unlikable that you know attempts to humanize her later will fail. Terry throws a blow out party in his penthouse and we're  ready for the invasion scene this hungover group will awake to early the next morning.

I'll render my final judgement early and say that if the goal here was to create a group of vaguely unlikable characters and kill them off over 92 minutes, then they succeeded. There are obvious similarities between "Skyline" and 2008's "Cloverfield". I was a fan of the latter and despite any gimmicks used like the hand held camera work, I related to the characters and cared about them in the way an audience should.  That just did not happen during "Skyline". The first obvious issue I had was with the two leads. Jarron and Elaine have very little chemistry as an onscreen couple and the casting choice was odd. The actors have such similar and distinct faces that they look like siblings. It was as if they came from the same very pretty Eastern European, Calvin Klein "esque" family of models.

"Skyline" also lacks creativity and suspense. The aliens must be keeping up with Earth pop culture because they are a mish mash of creatures from "The Matrix",  "War of the Worlds" and the recent Terminator movie.  Out of the 92 minute run time there were only a couple moments that reached edge of your seat anticipation and those involved the decent special effects and an air battle that conjured a feeling of "hooray for U.S. military might"

"Skyline" should have ended with the forlorn scenes of the world's capitals in ruins and under the same type of attack as L.A. but instead we get an overly long ending that screams "SEQUEL".  In fact it is so long it continues in snapshot scenes during the credits. I'll spare you. You can exit the theater  as soon as possible because there is nothing left worth seeing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Charlie St. Cloud - How not to make a I see dead people, drama, teen romance, semi-comedy.

 "Charlie St. Cloud" starring Zac Efron is the story of the title character and how he deals with the loss of his younger brother, Sam, (Charlie Tahan) in a car accident made even worse by the fact that Charlie is driving. Seemingly from beyond the grave or only in Charlie's mind, Sam shows up every day for a promised baseball lesson. We flash forward five years and Charlie has given up on college, his love of sailing and become the town recluse all to make his daily appointment with Sam.

From my title of my post you may have picked up on the fact that I think "Charlie St. Cloud" is a awkward mismatch of ideas that don't necessarily fare well in the same movie. Self-editing is a valuable skill that would serve the creative forces behind this movie very well.  There are three, possibly four distinct story lines going here including a missed opportunity at a supernatural drama. I don't think any of them succeed because it doesn't appear this movie knows what it wants to be.

As far as acting, Efron has a charming face and disposition that lends well to the humor but not so much the drama. You can practically see him straining in the first part of the movie to keep up with the movie's over the top dramatics. It's further proof to me that Hollywood finds us a bit dense and believes we need a trail of bread crumbs leading to the obvious. In this case the obvious is that the sudden loss of a young family member is tragic.
Of course you cannot have Zac Efron as your lead without some romance. Charlie attracts the interest of Tess (Amanda Crew), a young woman training for a round the globe sailing trip. I hate to be harsh but my biggest criticism is for Amanda Crew. She has a delivery so flat as to suck any spark or chemistry out of the scenes between Charlie and Tess. Since I'm really trashing this movie, I will give some props to Charlie Tahan who plays Sam. He is genuinely funny and at times conveys the sadness embodied by his character.
Have I made this sound so terrible?  There is an audience for this movie but I don't think that includes people like me who take a cynical view about the state of creativity in film.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let Me In = the real awkward teen falls for vampire story.

Let Me In", set in 1983, tells the woeful story of Owen (Kodi Smith-Mcphee) who is not exactly living the dream of adolescence. In addition to being thin, awkward and bullied, his fractured home life is anything but a refuge. Into his life comes new neighbors who will change everything. An older man and young girl move next door to Owen and he can easily eavesdrop on them from his bedroom. Owen soon makes friends with the young girl, Abby (Chloe Moretz) and almost instantly senses a soul mate. At first she is presented as timid, insecure and possibly neglected. The story moves pretty quickly and doesn't really try to hide that Chloe is actually a vampire, older than she appears and as much vicious killer as timid perpetual adolescent.

There, now we've done the set up; so let's dissect this movie. The atmosphere in "Let Me In" is stark and never lets you rest from the sense of foreboding and that is exactly as it should be in this type of movie. I commend the director for keeping the gore and blood at a level that satisfies without turning off the viewer. He replaces some of the visuals for sound. Just know, when Abby feeds her need, you will have no doubt what is happening even though it may be shot in the shadows or off camera. 

The acting is good all around but success rests on the four characters who take up a majority of the screen time.  I am in awe of Kodi Smith-Mcphee's portrayal of Owen.  I instantly connected with the character and Mcphee's ability to play both the hopelessness and rage of a victim. His bullying at school is the most humiliating sort and is lead by a student who I will describe as a sadistic, future closet-case who is pretty scary despite having Justin Bieber hair. Chloe Moretz would really surprise at this point if she failed to deliver an excellent performance.  You will, I think, also be blown away by how she conveys tenderness toward Owen at one moment and animalistic need for blood the next. Richard Jenkins, a chameleon like actor who in his career has done the silliest of comedies and the tautest of dramas, plays Abby's shadowy protector who has obviously sacrificed his life to feed her endless appetite and protect her from the consequences. Owen's mother is played by Cara Bouno and don't worry if you don't recognize her. She is excellently shot the entire movie out of focus with a glass of wine in hand or nearby in a way that clearly says the parents are unimportant in this story.

I'll close by saying that "Let Me In" is a dark, delicious Halloween treat that I highly recommend. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

City Island - I have not had this much fun watching people yell at each other since an unfortunate 1989 family Christmas

Just a quick note to let you in on a recent release that rescued my movie watching options this weekend. After a dismal experience with J Lo's "The Back-Up Plan", I saw "City Island" at Red Box and remembered taking note of the trailer. The story here is of the middle class Rizzo family living in the working class neighborhood of City Island in the Bronx. It stars Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies ( oh how I miss ER) along with a wonderfully played side character courtesy of Emily Mortimer. The conflict that drives this small dysfunctional family comedy is that each member of the Rizzos is hiding a  secret. The secrets are from the mundane to the silly and not always to the character's credit.  The reason this movie works is that even though we may not like everybody, the characters are all endearing even in the midst of their faults; so check out "City Island" if it's not already on your movie radar.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Me and Orson Wells Review

I've been waiting for "Me and Orson Welles" to have a U.S. DVD release ever since seeing some clips during the 2010 BAFTA(s) and I can say it did not disappoint. The story is that of Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) a bored high schooler who in the course of a week, meets Orson Welles, is cast in the now famous 1937 Broadway production of Julius Caesar and just as quickly fired. It's a fantastic period piece with a backdrop of the sophisticated New York artistic set. Actually maybe that's not completely accurate. The real backdrop may be the over the top ego and personality of Orson Welles(which appears to rival NYC in size). Christian McKay (who has not one credit on IMDB I recognize) is incredible as Welles. The viewer should dislike him but perhaps like the real life person, he is too charming and funny to truly resent. Claire Danes equally impresses at doing well with a role that could be described as a bit flat. She is the older love (and sex) interest who introduces Richard to the unfortunate landscape of adult relationships. I love Claire Danes mostly because I can still hold onto the sixteen year old iconic mopey Angela Chase  and still appreciate her as a fully evolved adult actress.
The only stumbling point in this movie may be the "me". Zac Efron is a bit of a mystery to me. If he had given himself completely over the dark side of Disney, I am sure I would see him as "that kid" from "those annoying High-School Musical movies". However I genuinely enjoyed him in "17 Again"; so I had to get over that. Here he does the comedy of someone out of their element well but fails to fully convince when he is called upon to do drama. It's a minor complaint though that doesn't detract from the whole...and who knows maybe I will have to eat those  words when I see "Charlie St. Cloud" which is getting some good reviews for Efron.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love all you want but a little less whining please..

It may have been a mistake to write about one of my favorite movie types previously - travel porn - because I think by trying to define it, I may have somehow ruined it.  I assumed the story of a woman seeking a new lease on life by spending a year of travel and exploration in Italy, India and Bali would have ample scenery and local color to ignite my natural wonder lust. However the movie conventions I usually adore, were just short of grating in "Eat, Pray, Love". Julia Roberts plays Liz Gilbert, a writer who goes through a vague and hazy sort of mid life crisis, ends her marriage, jumps into another ill advised and doomed relationship and finally sets off on a year long journey to find her zest for life. This beginning set up is a little too long for my tastes and full of modern "Oprah" speak about "lost passion".  I did enjoy Liz's best friend played by the very hard working actress Viola Davis. She delivers some great lines like, "Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You need to be committed". I never did completely understand the source or the nature of Liz's problems but soon she is off to three destinations that are defined by the movie's title.

Italy - This is all about eating and probably my favorite part of the movie. Liz moves into an aptly rundown but beautiful apartment and meets and assortment of funny, sweet international friends. The settings and the food are filmed in a way that really captures the romanticism of travel. My only nitpick with this part of the movie is the conceit that Liz and her new Swedish friend are gaining weight because of the sheer amount of drop dead gorgeous carbs they are eating. To pull this off may have taken some Bridget Jones action but instead we are served the silliness of a still sleek Julia Roberts trading in her really skinny jeans for the next size up of really skinny jeans.

India - Liz sets off to India to meditate and pray away her troubles. The first scenes in India are very well done and capture the overwhelming experience it must be for a first time visitor from the west. The rest of her stay in India is bit of bore in my opinion. We are treated again to a litany of Liz's woes but I still did not understand what she wanted. Again a side character at least supplies some interest. Richard Jenkins, who excels in everything from the deepest drama ("The Visitor")  to the silliest of comedies ("Step Brothers"), serves as the voice of the viewer (maybe?) and brashly tells Liz to get over it.

Bali - Liz's last destination answers the core question of the movie, will Liz find true love again? Bali is beautiful and nothing negative about the movie can take away from that. Roberts too is beautiful in a dress up Barbie sort of way as she wears lots of local outfits. You can probably guess that Liz does find love in the end after meeting a teary eyed, feminist wet dream sort of guy played by Javier Bardem.  I'll give him credit. He plays his part so well that this was the first time in three years that he did not scare the crap out of me due to flashbacks of the casual violence and menace in "No Country for Old Men".

Why so harsh on this movie? I don't know. Maybe it was sitting through the trailer for Katherine Heigl's new romcom train wreck that put me in a foul mood. To be fair, I'll give it another viewing when it's out on DVD.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chloe, a good movie gone bad....

"Chloe" was a bit of roller coster ride in that I did not think I was going to like it very much, got interested about 20 minutes in and ultimately was disappointed. The story here is that uptight physician Catherine Stewart ( Julianna Moore) thinks her husband, David ( Liam Neeson) is cheating on her. Instead of confronting him she has the novel idea of hiring the slick high end prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to approach him to see if he takes the bait.
Initially I thought this movie was going to be gratuitously sexual and explicit. The characters tossed around sexual innuendo and language in a way that did not seem realistic. Fortunately this "you heterosexuals just need to get a room" vibe mellowed into something more subdued and sensual ironically when the prostitute came on the scene.  An arrogance I often have is about 20 minutes into a movie, I will swear that I know exactly where it is going and how it will end. My thought was that Chloe by spinning a made up tale of an affair with David would remind Catherine of her lust and love for him. I know it seems like odd marriage therapy but you can see it happening as Chloe describes her encounters with David.  Catherine certainly needs to get her groove back somehow. She spends the first part of the movie being ignored by her husband and having her son slam doors in her face.  David as one of those mature but sexy college professors movie coeds always want to gobble up, is the perfect model of a straying husband too. All of the pieces are in place for the perfect story running through my head.
Alas it was not meant to be. In a sharp turn near the end, Chloe becomes obsessed with Catherine and suddenly they are acting out a lesbian version of "Fatal Attraction". Don't worry, no family pets are harmed although Seyfried does look at Catherine's teen son like a cute bunny she wants to boil. Instead she uses sex as a weapon and seduces him in mommy's bed. It's sad really because "Chloe" is a beautifully shot and acted movie that deserved better and I could have given it to them if Hollywood would just come knocking to pay me the big bucks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Twilight: Eclipse - three down and only one more to go ( thank you!!)

After seeing "Twilight: Eclipse" I had to watch a whole block of "Tru Blood" episodes just to remind myself that vampires are sexy, dark and bloody.  I am going to leave you with just a couple of thoughts about why I am saddened by the decision to see this one in the theater, a mistake I assure I will not make for the fourth. Robert Pattinson would rightly be said to carry the burden of male vampire sex appeal in this series. With that in mind, perhaps someone should have pointed out that a scrunched up "I small something nasty" face is not sexy especially for two hours. I recently saw him in  "Remember Me" which exceeded expectations and I must say he played the dark, brooding but always earnest bad boy very well. While were on this subject we might as well go ahead and say that Taylor Lautner's shirtless, "well defined" (bad pun, sorry) acting style in "Eclipse" tipped over into cheesiness of the worst sort. In a moment of self referencing humor, Edward even quips, "Does he own a shirt?".
"Eclipse" does offer up more action but undercuts itself with some not so special effects not to mention the fact that Twilight vampires when killed look like nothing more than empty mannequins. Maybe this is in line with the books, I don't know, but it was bloodless (even for PG13) and cold. The villain we have been waiting on in the form of Victoria once again has scant screen time and (spoiler!!) dies one of the cold, bloodless deaths. Can someone also explain Bryce Dallas Howard's bad choice of wigs?
I did say just a couple of thoughts so I will leave you with my last complaint. Bella's fragile nature is played up to the point of absurdity.  She really needs to be made into a vampire before she dies in some horrible toe stubbing accident.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Single Man - Don't Hate This Movie Because It's Beautiful

In our current time of folksy and populist sentiment, I read some early comments on just the trailer for "A Single Man" that labeled it pretentious or worse the "e" word (elitist). Well just forget all of that if you have not seen it. This atmospheric movie about grief directed by Tom Ford and starring Colin Firth, Julianna Moore among others is a beautifully made movie. The 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood is a first person story with a lot of inner monologue and tells the story of a middle aged college professor who is mourning the loss of his male lover in a era where sexual orientation was only whispered about in most situations.
How to portray the inner life of a character has challenged many a movie maker but Tom Ford takes all of the elements that could have failed and succeeds for the most part. Don't go away from this though expecting a "downer" because there is genuine humor here. Colin Firth plays excellently droll opposite Julianna Moore and Nicholas Hoult ( a flirtatious student who you will recognize from BBC's runaway hit "Skins" and earlier "About A Boy"). I especially love Moore and Firth together. They act out a genuinely sad but funny scenario minus the silly baggage gay story-lines are often saddled with. Think Will & Grace if Will had not been essentially neutered and Grace drank too much.  One last thought... the above trailer, I think, tries to misdirect from the gay subject matter but the movie never does.
Now I am off to flex my "mocking" muscles and make notes for my review of "Twilight: Eclipse"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leap Year, Uncertainty and New York I Love You - Two Great Movies & A Lame RomCom

"Leap Year" - First off, despite the beautiful Irish scenery, as the official gatekeeper of travel porn, I will not be adding this to the list.  Romcoms are often described as light and fluffy but here we will go with flimsy and paper-thin. In a short and shallow set up, we meet Anna  (Amy Adams) and her boyfriend. All you need to know about them is that she stages high-end apartments and he is a cardiologist. This tags her as the control freak obsessed with the little details that create perceived perfection. Not much to say about the boyfriend who will from this point forward be referred to as "the cardiologist" . He is rich, accomplished and needs the same in a mate. Like so many female movie characters before her Anna yearns for a marriage proposal as the final piece of the puzzle to "stage" her life. Said cardiologist is dragging his feet on this matter and disappoints one time too many. He is off to a conference in Dublin and she decides to follow him. We're fed a story about an Irish tradition where women propose to their boyfriends on leap day. This is supposed to supply urgency because she wants the romantic story this trip will supply. However she is so frantic I just wondered what bad things would happen if she proposed on, say, the day after leap day?  Would she have been breaking some Irish law against female empowerment?
 I won't bore you with too many details but bad weather lands her instead in what must be the Irish version of redneck land and at the mercy of Matthew Goode's grumpy innkeeper/taxi driver. He calls her "idjet"(idiot), she calls him jackass and they are off on the race to true love. I think "Leap Year" may have been better served with at least a PG13 rating. The two lovebirds could have expressed their early distaste for each other in some more colorful language and the sexual tension may have been amped up. Also don't worry about the cardiologist. He's left behind in Boston with enough of Anna's shallow female friends, that he'll be hooked up in no time.

"Uncertainty" - A first glance I feared this movie was saddled with too much of a film school project type plot. Take two characters, film them in two polar opposite stories but have the same themes resonate in both. Fortunately this turned out to be my favorite of the three weekend movies. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins (IMDB her because she looks so familiar and not at the same time) play a couple who have to decide whether to spend the 4th of July with her family or head to Manhattan looking for adventure. The Manhattan storyline turns into an over the top contrived action adventure movie while the family weekend is fraught with it's own emotional dangers. This is very purposeful and plays out the overriding theme. I see this as the dilemma that filmmakers must face : do you produce the big budget action movie that probably is full of plot holes or the more nuanced character drama. "Uncertainty" may not be for everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Levitt and Collins take up most of the screen time which can be a big burden but they rise to the task in excellent ways. 

"New York, I Love You" - Last but not least this movie is a companion piece to the 2006 movie "Paris, I Love You" with ten shorts populated by various "characters" in New York.  The cast of actors is really impressive -Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Orlando Bloom, Ethan Hawke, Andy Garcia, John Hurt, Christina Ricci, Robin Wright and so many others. The cast alone is reason enough to see this movie. In addition one of the more beautifully filmed sequences is a project produced by the late Anthony Minghella. The stories range from the funny, to the sad, to the trivial. It works for the most part but since it is meant to be a love story about a city, I would've liked to have seen more of that city. Too many scenes give a big city vibe but nothing that seemed iconic of New York.  It definitely peaked my interest enough that I am adding "Paris, I Love You" to my Blockbuster que.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Young Victoria and Crazy Heart - Weekend Movie Roundup

The DVD choices this weekend were definitely a study in contrasts with "Young Victoria" a PG movie with G rated tendencies and "Crazy Heart" about a washed up country singer whose life has went the way of the most depressing country songs.

Emily Blunt does a decent and admirable job as the young future Queen of England. The movie mostly covers her teen years when she bore the burden of being the only heir and was in essence a living chess piece in a political game between those jockeying to be the power behind the throne. Maybe I have been too influenced by "The Tudors" and the Elizabeth movies because despite their manipulations, even the worst characters in "Young Victoria" are so subdued as to be, let's see, Victorian. There is a sort of two word explanation - constitutional monarchy. Unlike some of her predecessors Victoria (to my dismay) does not have the power to even once imprison or execute anyone. That along with there not even being a hint of behind the scene dalliances (a nice way of saying sex) made this a blah experience at times.

"Crazy Heart" had a lot of hype to live up to with all of the praise during the awards season and Jeff Bridges best actor Oscar win. Bridges plays the aptly named Bad Blake who despite a promising country music career is close to hitting rock bottom when the movie opens. He plays gigs in bowling alleys, drinks non stop and probably wakes up most mornings next to an aging groupie he does not even remember. Bridges flawlessly abandons vanity and lets his body show every indignity this type of lifestyle would bring to someone his age. The movie charts his doomed relationship with Jean, a journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and an eventual rise back to professional success and sobriety. I am a huge fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal but in this role I wonder what direction she was given or personal choices she was making, Her character is so vague that at the end of the movie, I could not have really have explained why she became involved with Bad so quickly or why she doesn't give him a second chance. My most pointed criticism is for a last minute ploy that is supposed to drive home that Bad does not have many chances left. This comes in the form of him loosing Jean's young son in a public place. It's done in a clumsy and not very realistic way that smacks of "after school special" and is totally unneeded. We got the "he's an alcoholic" point the first three times he threw up in a trash can or toilet. My verdict is that Jeff Bridges was incredible at what he did but the movie itself was flawed by formula plotting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The House of Yes

Seeing "Happy Tears" recently gave me pause to think about my trajectory as a Parker Posey fan which began in the mid 90's with "Party Girl". Unfortunately the indie cult status of "Party Girl" means it has a very very very long wait on They might as well admit that it will never ship. However today "The House of Yes" arrived in the mail. This is a brilliant, wicked film that might suffer from the accusation of being pretentious with it's over indulged, privileged characters and lightning fast witty dialogue. The story is that Marty Pascel (Josh Hamilton) has made the unbelievable blunder of bringing his mousey girlfriend (Tori Spelling) home to meet his wealthy, dysfunctional family on the very night they will all be virtually trapped together by a hurricane. The driving force of the family and the movie as a whole is Parker Posey as Marty's sister, Jackie-O. She in step with the weather outside is pretty much an evil, brilliant, psychotic (with the pills to prove it) bitch in a little black dress. An unhealthy obsession with Jackie Onassis and Marty are icing on the cake. Worse yet for the poor girlfriend, once back in the fold, Marty does very little to discourage Jackie-O and ultimately joins in her twisted games. Nothing ends well here unless you see the world through Jackie-O's eyes that is.
If your experience with Parker Posey is one of "You've Got Mail" and "Scream 3" or worse yet "Superman Returns", I suggest taking a trip back to the 90's to see how she earned the title queen of the indies.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Twilight: New Moon - a tale of shirtless boys and mopey girls

Early in "New Moon", Edward, having decided to leave Forks with the Cullen clan in tow, tells Bella "Don't do anything reckless". I wondered if he remembered who he was talking to. This is Bella Swan, Forks' resident lady of infinite sorrows who exudes teen angst from her pores. Of course she goes off the deep end. After a reasonable period of music video like moping, she realizes that she can have visions of Edward if she is in danger. Don't worry, this is based on a Twilight book, so the self destructive behavior stays in reasonably safe teen territory - motorcycle riding and cliff diving. The visions themselves are a bit awkward. Done in an Obi-Wan sort of way, Edward delivers wooden lines that might as well be "Fasten your seatbelt" or "Don't play with matches". Relief is on the way though. Bella develops a deep bond with friend Jacob Black ( Taylor Lautner). This relationship is soon on the rocks too when it appears that Jacob has dropped Bella to join a homoerotic, Native American, Abercrombie & Fitch gang ( now that is a mouthful). It turns out his secret is a bit more mundane, at least for Forks. He is from a long line of werewolves who protect humans from vampires. Events conspire to bring Edward and Bella back together and we are all set up for her having to choose between the two.

This has been written with tongue firmly in cheek mainly because I recognize that I am not exactly the target audience for these movies. I can appreciate them in some ways but ultimately find the Lifetime movie teen melodrama a bit heavy. I have not read the books, so I may be wishing in vain but I do have a list of things I would like to see more of in the future movies:

(1) Let the adults come out and play more often. The scenes set in Italy featuring the "vampire council" were really good. I can never get enough Michael Sheen ("The Queen", "Frost/Nixon", "Underworld", "Alice in Wonderland") who literally chews up the scenery as Aro.

(2) More vampires and more vampire action! Dakota Fanning as bloodthirsty psychopath = good thing (Yes that's her all evil and red-eyed in the above trailer). Victoria becoming an actual threat would be nice. Oh, and the tourist "buffet" was a great touch.

(3) Let Kristen Stewart have some range. Reviews of "Twilight" often take shots at Kristen Stewarts acting. I don't know how much of that is based on her mumbling, deep sighs acting style in Twilight but she has done much better. I would suggest checking out "Speak" (2004), "The Cake Eaters" ( 2007) and "Adventureland" ( 2009).

(4) Get rid of Bella's almost invisible friends from school or use them more. They appear to be starring in "Degrassi Jr. High" while Bella is in a big teen blockbuster. Hello, producers you have an Oscar nominee in the cast now - Anna Kendrick. Certainly she can be used a bit more than a couple of scenes where her main role is to roll her eyes and look at Bella like, "how did I end up with this freak as my friend".

"Twilight: Eclipse" is out later this summer; so let's see if this story can mature a bit along with the characters.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The animated movie continues it evolution - "Up"

Ok, this is what I am going to do. I've got to put the "mock" in MockingMovies; so I will shortly poke fun at "Up". I'll start out though with a little gushing praise. Pixar has produced a complex story that blends heartfelt sincerity with the illogic and humor available in animation. I won't bore you with a plot description because I imagine everyone is familiar with the story of Carl Frederickson and his improbable journey to Paradise Falls.
In a sequence completely absent of dialogue (think Wall-E) we are shown the complete life of a marriage that includes a miscarriage and the eventual death of Carl's wife, Ellie. This portion alone could have been an amazing short film. Once Carl has teamed up with the ever helpful Wilderness Scout, Russell, we are treated to a more conventional Pixar/Disney story with the happy ending right around the corner.

Here is my, "What I learned from Up" list:

-Due process does not exist in a Disney/Pixar world. Carl accidentally commits what would be a minor crime one day and the next he is kicked out of his home and somehow forced to move to the friendly neighborhood old folks home.

-When going on an adventure, always go armed, but if a Disney movie make it something non lethal like pepper spray. You never know when you might run into a childhood hero turned madman.

-When a talking dog says, " I was sleeping under your porch because I love you" it's funny. If a person says that to you, call 911.

-Russell, as cute as he is, appears to be at risk for juvenile diabetes.

-It's ugly when really really old guys try to fight each other.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Crazies are coming..

The set up: The Crazies opening scene is of an anonymous main street somewhere in America in flames and ruins. Flashback two days and we are in Ogden Marsh, IA. Johnny Cash sings We'll Meet Again over scenes of cornfields and the town folks getting ready to attend a high school baseball game. In other words we are in Hollywood's version of fly over country where the town sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) is married to the beautiful town doctor (Radha Mitchell) . The peaceful facade doesn't last long. The first hint of violence to come is in the form of the former town drunk stumbling onto the ball field with a shotgun. The sheriff is forced to shoot him in front of the what is more than likely the entire town's population. I couldn't help but think what would have happened if Sheriff Andy had been forced to shoot Mayberry's lovable Otis instead of locking him up overnight to sleep it off. Needless to say things go downhill fast and the residents of Ogden Marsh soon realize they are all slowly going "crazy" and cut off from the rest of the world.

The Good: The Crazies was number three at the box office this weekend behind the Avatar juggernaut which weighed in as number two. I expected as much because it is really a very solid horror movie. I won't dwell on the acting as it was neither great nor sub par. I don't think Timothy Olyphant has ever risen to the level of his performance as the charming, sleazy drug dealer in 1999's GO. I was impressed by Joe Anderson's performance as the deputy desperately fighting to hold onto his sanity. I looked him on IMDB and still cannot place him precisely even though he has been in movies I have seen. The Crazies also managed to impress by what was left out. There is violence a 'plenty but it never reached the level of torture porn that saturates movies like Saw. It's just enough to give you nightmares.

The Bad: I'm over the government conspiracy plot device. I lost some of my interest in this movie when it moved from the small story of the town slowly unraveling to scenes of the government swooping in with a classic cover-up. I would have preferred the dark menacing story taking place among the town's residents. Interesting scary things happen when you put things like power tools in the hands of "crazies". I won't even try to describe the creativity of the funeral parlor director when he catches the "crazy". Let's just say I would have liked more of that and less of quarantine camps and abusive soldiers. Also in the end the lengths the government went to seemed over the top.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shutter Island

The set up: Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are federal marshals sent in 1954 to the dark and foreboding Shutter Island to investigate the near impossible disappearance of a patient from the island's asylum for the criminally insane. It soon becomes clear the staff is as suspect as the patients and that DiCaprio may actually be right when he jokingly says insanity is contagious.

The good? So much has here has been done right. The mystery quickly grows with so many possible explanations to pick from. Is it supernatural? Could the ghost Dicaprio's dead wife literally be helping him solve the mystery? A government conspiracy? Continuation of Nazi experiments?
There are some beautifully shot dream/hallucination scenes infused with drama and emotion by superb acting on the part of DiCaprio and Michelle Williams who plays his dead wife. The script is smart, clever with comments on the horrors of war and how the view of humanity was altered by assembly line like mass murder of the Holocaust. DiCaprio is the center of this drama in ways you will only realize at the end but the rest of the cast is equally adept.

The bad? I guess I should give the obligatory spoiler alert here...Half way through the movie I began to suspect where it was going to end and said a little prayer to the movie gods that it not be true. In the post Sixth Sense era, moviegoers have been, in my opinion, deluged with movies that abuse the "twist" ending. Often it is just lazy storytelling rather then a clever trick. It was not until later that I found out Shutter Island is based on a book; so my one big criticism does not really add up to too much. Rather than a conscious decision by Scorsese, the ending is consistent with the book. What is the twist? Don't worry I won't tell but let's just say that doctors on Shutter Island have some pretty progressive treatment methods.

One last note, when Brittany Murphy died, I saw someone online post, "who is going to play the crazy girls now?" I nominate Michelle Williams because in Shutter Island she plays crazy in ways that are scary good.