Monday, March 30, 2009

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Oh dang, I love this movie, and a few weeks ago it dawned on me that one of my main movie-watching friends would love it. It's the last film I watched in NJ before going to Germany. Styled as a fake documentary, Drop Dead Gorgeous follows the ups and downs of a high school beauty pageant in the small town of Mount Rose, Minnesota. The filmmakers interview the nine participants, including the giggly Lisa (Brittany Murphy), cheerleading Leslie (Amy Adams, in her first film role), vice president of the Mount Rose Lutheran Sisters Gun Club and projected winner Becky (Denise Richards), and the upbeat Amber (Kirsten Dunst), intent on winning the pageant so she can get out of the town and become a news anchor, just like Diane Sawyer. In charge of the whole shindig is Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), a former pageant winner and Becky's mother.

The process of getting supplies for the event, rehearsing the dance numbers, and having a talent is documented faithfully, as well as the multiple fatalities and near-death experiences suffered by many of the film's subjects. One particularly competitive contestant's tractor explodes, a boy who asks Amber on a date accidentally shoots himself while hunting, and a loose stage light hospitalizes another contestant. Gladys and Becky write them off as accidents, but Amber is ready to question the situation. The story continues from the regional event to state to national, with a steadily increasing death toll and of course, lots of laughter and Fargo-esque accents.

This movie is just gosh darn awesome in every way. I love the almost completely female cast (rare for comedies), with fabulous turns in even the smaller parts like Allison Janney as Annette's best friend and Mindy Sterling as Gladys' second-in-command. Ellen Barkin is stellar, of course, and Amy Adams is adorable. Denise Richards utilizes her big smile and Kirsten Dunst works that hardcore Minnesota accent. But I think it's really Kirstie Alley who stands out here. She puts so much of herself into the role that every piece of silly and slightly ludicrous dialogue she is given sounds almost realistic, making it even funnier. This brings me to the dialogue, and how good it is: you guys, the dialogue is so funny. I spent a good chunk of junior year of high school (or maybe sophomore?) having conversations that were just quotes from this movie. It's just that good.

This is a film that doesn't get old, really, which is another reason it's one of my favourite comedies. I wouldn't watch it every day, but the jokes are consistently funny and some of the sight gags are just classic. Watch out for Jenelle Betz, the reigning champion from the previous year, because every scene she is in is this crazy blend of horrific and hilarious. My main issue with Drop Dead Gorgeous is that its collaborators have never done another movie! The screenwriter, Lona Williams (who also cameos as the Judge #3), has produced a couple of things but has never written any other film. Michael Patrick Jann, the director and State alum, turned to television directing for the likes of Reno 911 and Little Britain USA. That's cool and everything but come on... movies. Seeing as how that isn't an issue with the actual film, I'll conclude by saying this is just an excellent, well-written, well-acted comedy, straight up. We need more mockumentaries. And more ladies in comedy.

5/5

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ocean's Eleven (2001)

I'd been putting off seeing this movie for a long time, and I don't even know why. It was pretty cool though. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) has just been released from prison, and decides to immediately launch a grandiose and extremely dangerous heist on 3 Vegas casinos owned by the asshole Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who is currently dating the only woman in the movie, Tess (Julia Roberts). He rounds up a huge crew (well, 11 to be specific) with the help of old pal and con artist Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt). They all have different talents involving cons, masquerading, observation, computers, and explosives. I'm not going to list all of the dudes who play into Ocean's scheme but here's the imdb cast list.

Ocean's plan involves sneaking a Chinese contortionist into the vault all three casinos share after conning Benedict into storing a "valuable" briefcase there. The gang spends a few days observing the general flow and machinations of the casinos while their oldest member Saul (Carl Reiner) plays a wealthy weapons dealer who gets friendly with the management. Along with various other mishaps, Ocean's romantic history with Tess threatens to derail the entire heist, but these guys have nothing to lose and a host of tricks up their sleeves. Who knows what kind of daring, crazy antics they'll employ to get their hands on that money!

I haven't seen the original, so I can't speak to its merits as a remake, but I do think this Ocean's Eleven is really fun! It's well-paced and has a lot of great characters coupled with a tremendous cast. You've got a geeky Matt Damon (glasses=geekiness, hello), British Don Cheadle, and of course the witty Clooney-Pitt rapport, so everyone is feeling pretty good. The main detriment to the movie (for me, at least) is Julia Roberts, since I generally find her sort of lame and weird-looking. She doesn't do much here though, except sell art to Andy Garcia and act angry at George Clooney. I guess what else would a woman do in a heist flick?

The dialogue is excellent- sharp and memorable. The plot wasn't particularly special but it was exciting and complex enough to be interesting, with a decent twist at the end. This is definitely one of those shallow big-budget movies you watch with a group of friends for a guaranteed-fun night, which is exactly as it should be. I've been told I can skip Ocean's 12, so I'll check out Ocean's 13 as soon as I can. Ellen Barkin! Yay!

4/5

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Watchmen (2009)

Hey! I'm back! Well, not back in America but back on the internet. I'll be reporting from Tuebingen, Germany for the next several months so my movie viewing will be affected for better or worse by this fact.

I'm sure I can't say much more than everyone else has already said, so I'll try to keep this short. Set in an alternate-history 1985, Watchmen follows a group of former costumed vigilantes forced to reconnect after one of their number, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is murdered. Rorshach (Jackie Earle Haley), the only one still active after the Keene Act criminalized costumed vigilantism, believes someone is out to assassinate former heroes and warns anyone he believes is in danger. Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) has become pudgy and reserved, secretly longing for his high-tech suit and gadgetry. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), the smartest man in the world, has developed an extraordinarily successful business empire around his persona. Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) has spent the last several years holed up in a secret government-operated base with her lover, Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the matter-rearranging, omniscient, telepathic superman.

The story moves between this current predicament and each character's crime-fighting history. Their relationships are highlighted as well as their reasons for doing what they did. Rorshach's conspiracy theory begins to solidify after Ozymandias is attacked, and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are encouraged to get back into their costumes. Meanwhile Dr Manhattan, the USA's personal weapon and major deterrent to attacks from Russia, has been losing all connection with humanity and is on the verge of leaving the planet altogether, which would prompt nuclear war.

Ok so first let me say that I don't think this should ever have been a movie in the first place. What's so great about the Watchmen graphic novel (among many things) is that it showed what a graphic novel could do for storytelling that no other medium could do. But obviously it is too late. Anyway I thought this movie was ok. I think it'll be easiest to do a list of things I liked and didn't like.

Liked:
-I think Jackie Earle Haley was great as Rorshach. He looked the part and just did an overall good job with the role.
-The cinematography was beautiful. The colouring was excellent and the look and atmosphere of the settings were detailed and solid. Great costumes and effects, as well, especially with Dr Manhattan's blueness.
-Not too much was cut out, which I can appreciate. So many book adaptations leave tons out or change major plot points- just look at the Harry Potter franchise. You can see the writers were really intent on doing as much as they could directly from the comic panels. I didn't mind that they changed the ending a little bit.

-The opening sequence was really well done, even though I suspect people who haven't read the book might be confused by it. The song was too obvious but I really liked the visual aspects.
-I dug how gory it was. I feel like Zach Snyder watched Sin City just before working on this and was like, "We need this, but in colour". The violence was not toned down like in many superhero movies. (But obviously, Sin City did it better.)


Disliked:
-Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode were absolutely awful. They were so freaking young for the roles that it totally took me out of the chronology of the story, plus they were just bad actors. Akerman especially: ugh every line she said was delivered so flatly or sometimes oddly sarcastically. I don't care how good she looks in a latex suit, she was just so bad.
-The music was blaring, inappropriate, and annoying. Every time a scene was doing ok, some awful song would come on and completely ruin the moment.
-The worst sex scene I have ever seen on film. My god. Ugh.

-Too much fucking slow motion. Get over it, Snyder.
-Adaptation-wise, while I appreciated the writers keeping so much in, I also think they did a poor job of translating some of the comic script to the film. Much of the dialogue seemed stilted in real life (part of this was the actors' delivery, too), and the way the action played out didn't always flow well. Too much was packed together while other scenes were unnecessary or overlong. I know there'll be a director's cut dvd with the full-length movie that will probably work better, but that's irrelevant at the moment.

Overall it's a very pretty, exciting movie with some very good action scenes and an interesting plot, coupled with bad acting, pacing, and music. But mostly it's proof that some things should just stay on the page. For example, things written by Alan Moore. I'm excited for the Tales of the Black Freighter animated film, though.

3/5

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taking a Short Break


Hey guys, I'm about to embark on a quest to study in Tuebingen, Germany for several months. I'll be back blogging as soon as I've obtained internet access and am not too busy drinking Biers. Probably in a week or two? Don't miss me too much, please! Have fun watching movies and whatever other activies you might enjoy.

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Angel-A (2005)

I didn't know a thing about this movie before going in except it's streamable on Netflix and written and directed by Luc Besson. The French-language Angel-A follows the considerable trials and tribulations of André (Jamel Debbouze), an American citizen with Morrocan origins currently living in Paris. His debts are astronomical and one of his big lenders is planning to collect tonight in a violent fashion. With no way to get the money in time, André decides to throw himself off a bridge to drown in the river below. As he's about to jump, a tall woman with platinum blonde hair beats him to it. He instinctively jumps in and saves her, though frustrated she ruined his plans.

As a thank you for the life-saving, the woman (Rie Rasmussen), whose name is Angela, promises to do his bidding for the day. They engage in various money-making schemes and work to lessen André's debts and the pressures of maybe being on the verge of assassination. She is a wacky and sexy and seems intent on boosting his confidence and self-worth. Eventually Angela admits what was fairly clear from the start: she's totally an angel, and André is her mission. The only problem is, she's losing the objectivity and distance necessary to leave him and return to heaven.

Angel-A is funny and engaging. Its leads are both excellent and play off of each other really well. Rasmussen is vibrant and energetic, completely embodying the role, and Debbouze is adorable and likable despite his character's cluelessness. I had only ever seen him with a small part in Amelie before and it was cool to see him star in something. The dialogue is sharp, though I wish I'd been able to understand the French. I dug the story- it's not especially inventive to have an angel come to earth and help out some troubled dude, but I think it was done in a cool way. It's fun and romantic, and manages to be dramatic without taking itself too seriously.

The film is shot in beautiful and crisp black and white, with several cute visual nods to Angela's profession. There were some great settings, too, including a crazy neon-lit bar and the striking bridge where they meet (it's probably famous but I know very little about Paris). Overall Angel-A is an artistically-minded comedy with really great performances. It's a little sappy and predictable, and the chronology is very confusing (it seems several days pass but no one sleeps?), but still enjoyable and interesting.

4/5

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Fa yeung nin wa (In the Mood for Love) (2000)

I've been meaning to see a Wong Kar Wai film for so long, and I'm glad I finally did. In the Mood for Love is a drop-dead gorgeous, emotionally understated love story with an impressive attention to detail. Mrs Chan (Maggie Cheung) and her unseen workaholic husband move into a small apartment connected to an older couple's lodgings at the same time Mr Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and his unseen wife move in with the family down the hall. Both have day jobs, but are often left alone in the evenings due to their spouses' schedules. When Mrs Chan's husband goes away on business for several weeks, Mr Chow's wife is also sent away.

Left behind in rooms populated by overly-friendly, card-playing senior couples, the two slowly form a loose bond over lonely evenings and love of action newspaper serials. They soon realize their spouses are cheating on them with one another, and begin going through various stages of questioning, rebellion, and acceptance, resolving to never be unfaithful like they were. They spend most of their time together, beginning an unspoken and unclear romance in which they often imitate one another's partners. Of course their attempts to not fall in love are useless, but neither will succumb to the temptation to cheat, with even the few half-hearted attempts by Mr Chow to hold her hand shot down by Mrs Chan. There can be no happy ending here.

This movie is heart-breaking, slow-moving, and ambiguously scripted. I really loved it. It is one of the most exquisitely crafted films I've ever seen. Each shot is meticulously composed, and often set up as a voyeuristic recording of a partly unseen conversation. Wong's camera sees the clocks, the shelves, the trappings of every day life that surround and observe domestic rendezvous. It makes each scene quiet and private and tender in a way I can't quite explain. The story is minimalist, with very vague dialogue and unresolved plot points, but it really doesn't matter. The actors' delivery combined with the visual style and gorgeous music is so evocative that anything happening in this context is interesting and often moving.

I can't actually talk a lot about specific scenes or major moments in the story. I can't even really say how or why this film affected me the way it did. It just stuck with me. It's almost haunting. I really really enjoyed it even if it was a little unfulfilling. In the Mood for Love is a truly beautiful film, resonant both visually and emotionally. Also, Maggie Cheung's wardrobe is to die for.

4.5/5

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Tennis, Anyone...? (2005)

Donal Logue's writing and directorial debut (with Kirk Fox co-writing), Tennis, Anyone... ? follows the trials of actor Danny Macklin (Logue) after his wife leaves him for another man. He befriends Gary Morgan (Kirk Fox), an aspiring but untalented actor who was once a decent professional tennis player. They bond over their love of the sport as Gary teaches him to play better. After various small parts and embarassing setbacks, Danny lands the lead role on a popular new family sitcom but doesn't maintain strong confidence as an actor due to the constant berating of frenemy (wow I guess I just used that word) Johnny Green (Jason Isaacs), a successful TV actor and adept tennis player. Meanwhile Gary is still trying to make it in movies but gets no breaks, so he decides that playing some celebrity tennis tournaments with Danny will give them both the spiritual and physical lift they need. Of course it all comes down to a big tennis showdown between the Johnny/his short short-clad soap opera actor friend team and the Gary/Danny team.

This movie was all right. It didn't have the best premise or plot organization, but it had some great interesting and comedic bits scattered throughout.
It's definitely one of those films that's about the relationships and not the actual story, and I get that, but I was still a little confused or putt off by the loose storytelling and throwaway scenes. Like this movie didn't know where it was going. Donal Logue was very likable and Kirk Fox was exactly like a scrawny Luke Wilson, which was cool. Paul Rudd had an excellent small role as Danny's porn star former roommate. All in all, I liked it, but I just don't have much to say. It's funny and had some good performances but isn't not particularly memorable. Also I'm not really into tennis.

3.5/5

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)

"Oh Hell Yes" is the main phrase that sums up this movie. Sukiyaki Western Django is Takashi Miike's badass, stylish western that combines Japanese and American aesthetics with a boatload of guns and blood. It's so awesome you guys. Writers Miike and Masa Nakamura draw from a range of influences- from classic westerns like Yojimbo and Django to the historical rivalry between the Genji and Heike clans- for the small town gang war premise and "Man With No Name" hero. It's sort of a combined remake of a lot of similar tales, but with English-speaking Japanese characters and exceptional gore erupting from both shoot-outs and sword fighting: both a tribute to and a spoof of films that came before it. A lone gunman (Hideaki Ito) rides into the small town of Yuta, where the Genji (white) and Heike (red) clans have been vying for gold treasure fabled to be hidden in the area.

He offers up his services as a highly-skilled mercenary to whichever gang will pay him the most, but ends up staying at an inn owned by Ruriko (Kaori Momoi) to hear the town's history. Years after the gang takeover of the town, young couple Akira (Shun Oguri) and Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura), one Genji and one Heike, tried to bridge the gap between the two clans with their marriage and son, Heihachi. Heike leader Kiyomori (Koichi Sato) kills Akira in front of his family, causing his wife to run to the Genji side, led by Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya), in hopes of one day exacting revenge. After various acts of violence and arsenal building, the gunman discovers that Ruriko has the power to end the conflict once and for all, so they prepare for a huge final battle with the aid of Ringo (Quentin Tarantino), a wise old cowboy.

This movie is pretty kickass, all around. It looks amazing, from the culturally mashed-up costumes to the high saturation to the beautifully-filmed battle scenes. It's fun and funny and never boring. The characters are excellent- I especially dug Ruriko, one of the most hardcore grandma's I've ever seen, and Yoshitsune for his truly formidable and over-styled villainery. And as much as I lament looking at Quentin Tarantino, he was kind of cool in this (I mean come on... cowboys). The sheriff with a split personality (Teruyuki Kagawa) was quite entertaining as well. I've seen a couple other Miike films but in general I have considered myself too squeamish to get into most of his ouvre (I was pretty scarred by Ichi The Killer); luckily Sukiyaki Western Django is cartoonish enough to lessen the gross-out factor and increase the overall fun. (For the most part... there is a really messed up and pretty unnecessary rape scene. It's not like we didn't already know all the gang members were the bad guys, why involve sexual abuse?)

Aside from that, the action sequences are rad: gun slinging, head-splitting, and a gun vs katana duel. Plus there's a gatling gun! Oh Snap! Suddenly this is everything a western could need to be. Morricone-esque music, weird slang, guns everywhere, cowboy hats, and dramatic showdowns. Hell yes. Pure entertainment. And thanks to filmsnack for recommending watching with English subtitles, since some actors had very heavy accents and could be a little hard to understand at parts. I'm just glad I could watch something I feel passionate about after the slew of so-so movies I've been seeing recently.

4.5/5

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991)

This movie's title is way crazier than the actual product, but that's ok. It's a surprisingly good story. Christina Applegate stars as Sue Ellen Crandell, a spoiled beach-loving teenager whose mother is going on a two-month vacation with her rich boyfriend. She is left with her pot head brother Kenny (Keith Coogan) and three other annoying younger siblings under the watchful eye of a really old, really bitchy, really controlling babysitter. After a day of torturing the Crandell's, she dies in her sleep. Not wanting their mom to come home and ruin their summer of freedom, the kids decide to stuff her body in a trunk and leave her at the morgue, feeling they can take care of themselves.

The money their mom left the babysitter was accidentally buried with her, so Sue Ellen is forced to get a job. First she tries fast food, where she meets prospective beau Bryan (Josh Charles), and then goes out for a low-level secretarial job at a company that designs uniforms. She beefs up her salary with phony fashion experience, lies about her age, and ends up an executive assistant to Rose Lindsey (Joanna Cassidy), head of the design team (or something similarly important). Now she has to ensure that her family doesn't starve and no one at her office discovers the truth while avoiding an inappropriately flirty executive (John Getz) and conniving lower-level employees (Jayne Brook and David Duchovny). She might throw some romance and fashion design in there too.

Ok so I totally know the problems of this movie. I mean, its premise is ridiculously unrealistic and pretty dumb. Teenagers wouldn't tell anyone a woman died in their house just so they can party all summer? It just seems... odd. Wilder than that is Sue Ellen's job situation, as if no one asked for ID or tax information or anything when she was hired. Goodness. Looking past all that though, I actually think it's a pretty good movie. They use this silly premise to tell a genuinely interesting and unique story. Sue Ellen is resourceful, surprisingly competent (especially considering the movie stereotypes of a character her age and sex), and sympathetic.

And while
it's not exactly slice-of-life, the movie deals with a lot of aspects of working in an office and the problems parents face that kids might not be aware of (paying bills, medical insurance, etc). It's a comedy but there's an effort made to show realistic people and issues. Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead is fun and upbeat but not vapid or cliche, which it could easily have been considering its audience. There's a strong female central character and an engaging story. I guess I dig it!

4/5

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Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm Reed Fish (2006)

Jay Baruchel stars in a movie! Exciting! Written by a real guy named Reed Fish and partly autobiographical, I'm Reed Fish follows the romantic mishaps experienced by the eponymous character. Reed is the head dj for popular local radio show The Fish in the small town of Mud Meadows. He's engaged to family friend Kate Peterson (Alexis Bledel) but their relationship has been strained due to her overly-detailed wedding preparations and his lack of assurance. When Jill (Schuyler Fisk), a childhood pal who'd escaped to law school but hopes to be a songwriter, returns for the first time in years, Reed finds himself torn between the two women as an old crush resurfaces. A little less than halfway into the movie, everything suddenly stops and we find out that what we've been watching is actually a film that Reed made about his own life, starring himself and several members of the town but with actresses as Kate and Jill. The film resumes but it is without a real ending, so he can only hope that after the screening his message got through to the right woman.

This was enjoyable mainly for its performances. Jay Baruchel was quite charming and funny, and I really liked Schuyler Fisk. DJ Qualls and Katey Sagal showed up for some excellent times as Jill's wacky cousin and The Fish's astrology reader/the Mud Meadows mayor, respectively. The plot was minimalist but there were some fun scenes and well-written conversations. The movie-within-a-movie thing isn't anything new but I liked that it was a surprise. The main issue with that tactic though is that as I watched Reed romance Kate and Jill as played by Bledel and Fisk, I then found it hard to believe him being in love with the "real" woman when the "movie" was over because it felt like a different person.

As the real Reed's first time writing and Zackary Adler's first time directing a feature-length, I'm Reed Fish is pretty good. The cast was cool and it was well-written, but nothing particularly special. I also really liked the songs sung by Fisk's character but I haven't been able to find mp3's. Video of "From Where I'm Standing" below.

3.5/5



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Friday, March 6, 2009

Six Days Seven Nights (1998)

I was stuck at home working on a mad tedious freelance project and trying to find something to watch while I worked that wouldn't take too much brain power. Six Days Seven Nights proved exactly that kind of movie. High-profile magazine photographer Robin (Anne Heche) is on vacation with her boyfriend (soon to be fiance) Frank (David Schwimmer) on a tropical island (I forget which one, sorry). Her editor Marjorie (Allison Janney) sends her to an important photo shoot on a neighboring island, but the only way to get there is with the grouchy and rude pilot Quinn (Harrison Ford) on his private and tiny plane. They crash on a deserted island due to a severe storm, and must learn to see past their wildly divergent world views and personalities if they're going to work together to survive. Frank and Quinn's sexy friend (girlfriend, sort of?) Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors) invest in a search party but their hopes are low, while Robin and Quinn salvage what they can from the plane and try to avoid being killed by animals and pirates. Any minute now they'll start making out while Frank lusts after Angelica.

I'm sure this movie was made mainly to showcase Anne Heche being constantly dirty and wet while placed in some very picturesque scenes. Her character was pretty annoying though. Harrison Ford is his snarky and lovable self, while looking quite good for his age. It's nothing new or particularly creative, but it's a decent example of the "Will two people trapped together in a weird situation fall in love?" question. It was very pretty and didn't drag, and it didn't try to be overly dramatic. Overall, a good enough but passable romance/adventure tale that mostly made me think about how good Harrison Ford would have been in Romancing the Stone.

2.5/5

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Watching the Detectives (2007)

Thanks to R2D2 for turning me on to this film, which luckily has been playing on Showtime like crazy. Paul Soter (of Broken Lizard fame) embarks on his first solo writing and directing venture with Watching the Detectives. Neil (Cillian Murphy) is a reclusive film nerd and the owner of a failing video store specializing in cult and hard-to-find movies. After blowing it with his unsupportive girlfriend (she "should have been more like Etta Place in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), he spends most of his time hanging around the store with similarly-minded geeks, quoting lines and swapping trivia. When the lovely Violet (Lucy Liu) waltzes into his store to rent something, his life is unalterably changed. She's odd, imaginative, unpredictable, and knows nothing about movies.

Somehow he scores a date with her, and is immediately pulled into her wacky antics, which include kissing through a fence and breaking into the rival chain video store to deviously switch their dvds between cases. Violet is closed-lipped about her personal life, not even willing to give Neil her number at first. But she keeps popping up at his store to indulge in weird adventures. She enjoys messing with him, usually to his chagrin, but her constant toying confuses him. Her attempts to pull him out of his closed-off life are too dramatic and too erratic for his constitution. Unless he's able to stop watching movies and start really living, he may never get another chance with Violet, who may well prove to be his salvation.

I found this very enjoyable, but also uneven. It was a cute premise and had some well-written conversations and great movie references, but plot-wise it was too sparse. It was more like a collection of skits than a cohesive love story. That being said, the skit-like scenes were quite entertaining. Cillian Murphy played rock star to a crowd of cardboard movie stars, Lucy Liu was held hostage by a bald guy, and geekdom ran rampant every time we set foot in Neil's video store. It was pretty silly. Great performances from both of the leads, neither of whom I'd seen in straight-up comedic roles before.

It's definitely an interesting and unique relationship, but it was a little too unstable for me. Like Neil, the viewer is constantly at odds with Violet's pranks and tricks, unsure what's real. It made it hard to get a grip on the character and therefore on the story itself. Otherwise it's pretty fun. And it's got a good message: make your own adventures! Don't thrive on fictional experiences! (Even though I was totally on Neil's side whenever he was like "let's watch a movie" and Violet was like "nuh-uh let's go to do something crazy in the real world". I was like "but you guys! movies!".)

3.5/5

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

Yay Amy Heckerling! In a movie I guess for some reason not many people liked or saw, she has created a fun and sympathetic character caught in the hectic life of a single mother working in show business. I Could Never Be Your Woman stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Rosie, a writer-producer for the failing sitcom You Go Girl, featuring high schoolers played by 30-year-olds and overly-censored writing. She has a strong relationship with her precocious daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan), who has been dealing with her first big crush. While casting a geeky new student for the show, Rosie meets Adam (Paul Rudd), whose comedic timing and big personality land him the part. His instant attraction to her is obvious, but she is uneasy that such a young guy could really want her. After a couple of dates she breaks it off, attempting to be the "mature, responsible" one despite her often youthful antics/interests.

However, Adam is incredibly persistent and, after receiving an arc on the show, spends the next few weeks bombarding Rosie with gifts- usually stolen by her secretary Jeannie (Sarah Alexander)- and images of himself around her office. It's a little stalkerish, but by the time she holds a season premiere party at her house, Rosie is ready to give their relationship another shot. It works out well for a while but her lack of assurance and high awareness of her age, combined with sabatoge employed by Jeannie to make it seem that Adam is sleeping with the star of You Go Girl, Brianna (Stacey Dash), may lead to a permanent rift between them. Aside from her love life, Rosie must deal with Izzie's romantic misadventures, failing ratings, combative stars, her cleptomaniac ex-husband Nathan (Jon Lovitz), and spontaneous visits from Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman)

I really enjoyed this movie. It's smart and well-written, and focuses on a lot of different issues working women face in funny but realistic ways. It was sad to see Rosie's obsession with age and insistence on our culture's youth-fixation, but even someone as young as me can see the validity of her statements. It's an interesting, relevant topic and I think Amy Heckerling did a great job handling it both comedically and dramatically. There's a lot of female-empowerment discussion, especially in reference to older women. I also loved the behind-the-scenes stuff for the television show, probably drawn from her own experiences on the Clueless sitcom. It was nice to see a romance-centered story that didn't have romance as the sole focus. Rosie is a well-rounded character with tons of other stuff going on in her life- when Adam wasn't around, it's not like she just sat around with her girlfriends talking about him.

The performances were great, and I dug the fact that the actors' real ages were way off from their characters'- intentional or not, it was a nice little dig at the age issue in the film. Stacey Dash and Michelle Pfeiffer looked amazing, and of course Paul Rudd proves that he gets handsomer hourly. It was definitely one of my favourites of his performances; he was so endearing and unabashedly funny, often at his own expense. Saoirse Ronan was also excellent, playing the too-smart-for-her-own-good Izzie with age-appropriate innocence and charm, as opposed to the annoyingness that often accompanies similar characters.

The main thing I didn't like about I Could Never Be Your Woman was the Mother Nature stuff. Tracey Ullman kept popping up and talking to Michelle Pfeiffer about how it's nature's way for people to get old and dried up so that no young person would like them, so Adam would never actually want to stay with Rosie. I understand that it's like a reflection of her inner fears but it was just done weirdly, and I felt the character was out of place among the rest of the cast. Otherwise, a quite funny film with great focus on a strong female character. Hurray.

4/5

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fanboys (2008)

Get it? Picasso's Blue Period? Yay art jokesAfter all this time waiting, here it is. And it's just ok. Set in 1998, the story follows a group of 20-something die-hard Star Wars nerds dead set on sneaking into George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch to see The Phantom Menace because Linus (Chris Marquette) will die from cancer before it is released in theaters. Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel) convince Linus' estranged high school best friend Eric (Sam Huntington) to accompany them on this daring and geeky escapade. Eric and Linus grudgingly re-establish their friendship as they drive Hutch's pimped-out van across several states. Things get pretty wacky as they run into Star Trek fans, Harry Knowles, the drug-peddling "Chief", Las Vegas escorts, and William Shatner. When they end up in jail, Zoe (Kristen Bell), who works in Windows' comic book store, arrives to bail them out and join them when they finally break in. Let's hope Episode I doesn't suck after all the trouble they went through! Oops...

The premise is great, but the story is pretty pitiful. The cancer thing was done fairly unconvincingly. Linus has some unnamed disease and has "tried every kind of treatment", and yet looks just fine as opposed to anyone who's undergone chemotherapy. I know it's possible that he hadn't done any treatment recently and so appeared healthy as he waited it out, but in general it was just handled poorly. Because I didn't really believe in it, it made the story overly sappy. The whole "this trip was really just about friendship and not about the movie" theme was a give-in, but I guess the writers gave the audience no credit since that had to be overtly stated at the end. Honestly it was like an after-school special.

I also found a lot of the character interactions or general plot points unrealistic to the point of detraction. I know it's not exactly slice-of-life but if you're trying to be all dramatic with the friendship and dying young stuff, you can't just forget about the rest of your movie. Spoiler here, but when Windows suddenly realized after a 60-minute conversation with an escort that Zoe liked him and therefore he must have feelings for her too? And then they're like instantly hooking up while hiding from Skywalker Ranch guards. Really? I know romance wasn't the focus of the film but christ they could have tried to actually develop a relationship. And when Eric, who'd been working as a car salesman, got a comic published in under six months? Again, really? Also, Dan Fogler's character was just awful. I don't know if it was his performance or the nature of the character, but I just wanted him to stop talking whenever he was around. And he was around a lot.

Ok so clearly I had some issues. But it wasn't all bad. It was generally very funny, with lots of nods to geek culture that anyone interested in this movie would surely enjoy. They really knew their fanbase. I expect a lot of viewers wouldn't really care about the plot what with the copious Star Wars references and scene recreations, so it's sure to be enjoyed by a lot of people. Cameos from the likes of Seth Rogen, Jay and Silent Bob, Carrie Fisher, and Billy Dee Williams will surely be appreciated. I like Chris Marquette and Jay Baruchel, though they weren't particularly special here. Kristen Bell is a major draw, I know, and I dig her but her wig looked awful and if you're super-pumped for this, it's only like 30 seconds. Overall it's just a really silly movie.

Because I remember laughing a lot and enjoying the various dips into Star Wars lore, and because I really shouldn't expect a well-executed plot from something that's been redone and edited as much as this, I'm gonna go easy on Fanboys. For now. A re-viewing would probably lead to a different opinion.

3.5/5

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Monday, March 2, 2009

The 2009 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Pt III

Now we're getting into the wee-er hours of the morning, so these remarks might be less coherent than those so eloquently laid down in parts One and Two of the 24-hour movie marathon.

9. Thrusting a curly-haired and quite young Jeff Goldblum in front of me was definitely enough to keep me awake for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Public health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and his coworker Brooke (Elizabeth Driscoll) uncover an alien invasion quickly devouring San Francisco through fast-growing seed pods that replicate humans as they sleep. They recruit Matthew's friend Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) as they run around the city fighting to stay awake. Matthew seeks the help of friend and noted psychiatrist Dr Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) but really there's no one they can trust. They try to find a way to escape or fight the epidemic, denying their own likely demise. I've seen the original but I don't remember it very well, so I can't really speak to this as a remake. I haven't read the book, either. I liked the performances very much and found it engaging overall, though it did drag a bit at parts. And Jeff Goldblum wasn't in it enough. Fabulous ending, though. Now I understand all those Donald Sutherland avatars. 4/5

10. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988): I tried to nap during this one on a couch in the lobby. It was hard to actually sleep what with the snoring old dude next to me and various other factors. I heard a kickin' theme song and several rounds of laughter. The story involves aliens that look like clowns invading earth.





11. Transformers (2007) was there to wake us all up with its incredible loudness. Evil mutating robots arrive on earth and start stealing top-secret information from the US government. Some good ones arrive too and turn into automobiles. Both groups are after Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) because he has his explorer grandfather's eyeglasses which hold the key to the powerful Allspark. Now it's a battle between the government, the army, the ruthless Deceptacons, and the Autobots with Sam and his whiny girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox ugh). I was getting breakfast for most of the final battle. Transformers is exciting and has very good effects. I remember really liking it the first time I saw it, but that wanes each time I rewatch it. Shia LaBeouf is the best part, with great comedic timing. I wasn't into the show or toys so I never really cared if it was true to the source material. It doesn't try to be too serious or too expository- it knows what it is and has lots of explosions. 3/5

12. I have to admit I was nodding off through big chunks of I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958), because, despite its awesome title, it is pretty boring. The night before he gets married to Marge (Gloria Talbott), Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon) is taken over by an alien. Flash forward a year later and Marge is pretty depressed about how weird and unfeeling her husband is, as well as the fact that she can't get pregnant. She sees him meeting with other aliens and realizes it's a doppelgänger. Other Bill explains that his planet was destroyed and only males were able to escape, so they're trying to impregnate earth women to perpetuate their species. Ruh roh. Marge tries to warn everyone and some other stuff happens. I think I would have been more into this movie if I hadn't been so sleepy. It's an interesting, low-key take on the old alien-takeover-through-body-doubles premise. But as it stands in my hazy memory I have to say 3/5.

13. I was pretty excited for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), despite the fact that I have never seen any Star Trek of any kind ever (whatever... Star Wars). Again, I was quite sleepy, but for the most part was quite engaged though much of it went over my head (I was awake but not focusing entirely well). Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) is suffering a midlife crisis when he's invited to lead a training mission on the USS Enterprise with bff Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Meanwhile some other guys accidentally set Kirk's sworn enemy Khan (Ricardo Montalban) free from his exile on an isolated planet. Now Khan is out for revenge on Kirk with the use of the powerful Genesis device. It's a fun movie that doesn't require much prior Star Trek knowledge, but it did seem overly complex (maybe it would have been easier to understand if I was better informed). I dug William Shatner of course, and Montalban was excellent and impressively chested. Good effects and good times. 4/5

Well that's it. 24 hours of science fiction, bested.

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