King Kong directed by Peter Jackson

IMDb link

kingkong.JPGBecause Carlton went with friends to see this movie in the theater, it never made it onto our Netflix queue and I never saw it.  By happy accident, it was playing on HBO and we caught all but the opening 10 minutes.

I’ve heard complaints that the beast isn’t even seen until the movie’s second hour.  I had no such complaint.  The first hour was well crafted and extremely interesting on its own.  I liked the revelation of the motivation that led each person to go aboard a less-than-luxurious vessel in search of adventure, fame, or just a paycheck.  Each character’s story was well told by the actor.  Jack Black surprised me with his semi-serious role.  He was the weakest acting-wise; he was having trouble not mugging for laughs on every take.

I was not convinced that Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) could be as in love as they claimed after a few days on a boat.  Honestly, true attachment takes much longer, and most movies suffer from this malady.  Heck, most people suffer from this malady…but I digress.

Once on the island with Kong discovered, the pace is very quick.  There was one scene- the brontosaurus run- that was about a minute too long and totally implausible because everyone would have been trampled.  In addition, there were a few spots where it was very obvious that actors were green-screening.  Another scene- shooting insects off of people with a tommy gun- was impossible, even in fantasy movie terms.  Nobody can sharpshoot that well with a tommy gun.  And wouldn’t poor Miss Darrow have had a broken neck (or at least whiplash) from Kong holding her while fighting other creatures?

Imperfections aside, I was very impressed by the film.  Peter Jackson produces some heart-pounding action-adventure, and does not fail to do so here.  I was truly engaged with all of the characters.  Kong was not a CGI terror, he was as multi-faceted as other characters; difficult to do without even speaking.

The scenes with Ann Darrow and Kong could have been intolerably boring.  Instead, Watts and Serkis (and the CGI staff) deliver emotion-packed scenes that rivaled the spoken dialogue.  In the dénouement, I was emotionally involved with both characters.  Though I knew the ending, I was hoping that somehow it would be different.

The message I chose to pull from the movie is man’s inhumanity to animals.  Kong was viewed as a commodity by Denham and everyone else.  The message is as relevant now as it was when the first King Kong movie was filmed.  Animals are not human.  But they don’t deserve to suffer for our gain.


[rate 4]

The Negotiator directed by F. Gary Gray

negotiator.JPGIMDb link

I have realized that the more movies I watch, the more I can see Hollywood formulas as they unfold.  This movie shows its age with the formulaic plot and predictable camera shots.

Pop quiz: what was the point of making Samuel Jackson’s hair red?  I don’t know either.

The acting was executed well, considering the weak dialogue.  Kevin Spacey can act his way out of almost any poor script.

Wow.  I am so uninspired by this movie that I am too bored to describe the plot.  I have to respect Ebert and Roeper for being able to talk at length about mediocre films.  It’s so much easier to love or hate.
I enjoyed watching it, but I guess I expect more from a movie from this.

[rate 2]

Miami Vice directed by Michael Mann

Cover ArtIMDb link

As a child of the eighties, Miami Vice was one of my favorite shows.  Cool people, hot guns, heart-pounding music…it was the definition of cool.

I was relieved and worried that Michael Mann, the original producer, was on board with the movie.  Mann had an opportunity and a budget to make the movie all that he wished the show could have been- hotter people, hotter cars, better effects.  This is a dangerous proposition, as those elements (while horrendously fun) do not by themselves make a good movie, as we have woefully seen from George Lucas.  This film was not just a redux of the original.  Mann created the new century vision of Vice with plenty of traction and feel from the original.  The script actually gave the actors good material.

On the negative side, the casting for Crockett’s love interest was horrid.  She was supposed to be from Cuba but was obviously Asian and had a purely Asian accent.  There was no reason not to cast a Latina or at least any actor who could master the accent.  Li’s thick Asian accent was so bad in some scenes that we rewound several times and still could not understand her.  I didn’t buy her as the ultra-hot woman that everyone wants, either.  While she was very attractive, her costuming included a dress that looked like eighties chintz curtains and her makeup made her lips look chapped and her eyes tired.  Her scenes with Crockett were the only ones that looked somewhat forced.

Much as I dislike Colin Farrell, kudos for being able to act in a washed out pseudo-mullet.  And Jamie Kennedy owned the Tubbs role in a way that was totally different from the original.  Don’t miss the DVD special features where Farrell recaps his experience training with real vice cops on a drug sting.  A fantastic story for fans and for haters like me.

This is an average intelligence, average sex appeal movie with a fun background, great soundtrack, and plenty of thrills for Vice fans of old.

[rate 3]


Last Holiday directed by Wayne Wang

last_holiday.JPGIMDb Link

I saw this film several months ago, so please pardon the fuzzy recall.

The plot begins with Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) as a woman unable to experience life. She loves to cook but feeds the fruits of her lbors to a neighborhood kid. She has a crush on a guy (LL Cool J) but can’t ask him on a date. She meticulously saves her money but never spends any on herself.

After a nasty fall at work (a job she despises for good reason), she receives news that she has a rare brain condition and has only three weeks to live. With no family to speak of, she decides to blow her life’s savings. She goes to the restaurant of her dreams, eats with the decadence of Marie Antoinette, and lives for the first time. She stops to view beauty all around her and proverbially smell the roses. This is all rather textbook, but it has some nice touches I like. For example, she becomes more outgoing, but in a gentle, kind way that would explain her new magnetism. Most people throwing around that kind of money quickly learn they can be rude to other people who serve them. Instead, she takes moments to show them the magnificence of life that surrounds them.

Many of the movie’s themes surround food. As somewhat of a foodie myself, this element of the movie was very enticing. I love chopping, sautéing, and all manner of cooking challenges. Master chefs all know that one of the crucial elements of successful cooking is tasting each dish and adjusting seasonings accordingly. Watching Georgia refuse to eat her own creations was frustrating. The thing I found interesting about the point-counterpoint of her cooking is that before the diagnosis, she followed each recipe to the letter. After, she was tasting, adjusting, and not just cooking…she was creating. Crafting unique recipes leads to incredible satisfaction; it’s not just that the dish is tasty, but also that one can share the experience with others by serving the new creation.

I thought that Last Holiday was going to be all comedy, but I was wrong. The movie is pure Hollywood: perfect hair and makeup on everyone, a trite message, and a requirement for a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. Add a dash of the storybook ending and you have nice, tidy movie.

[rate 2.5]

Shopgirl directed by Anand Tucker

Shopgirl DVD CoverIMDb link

I knew the movie was something special from the opening credits. It shows LA at night, glittery like any large city, with clogged arteries like only LA. I’ve never even been to LA and I recognized the freeways at once…even at night. The aerial photography is accompanied by a sweeping dramatic theme. Without change of meter or perspective, the “aerial” shot becomes neat rows of lipsticks, eyeshadows, and various other makeup. Beautiful photography, sweeping music, symbolism before a single word is uttered: I’m hooked. Finally, the scene settles on the Shopgirl.
I was quickly wrapped in a life I recognized as similar to my life ten years ago (see #100). Not completely devoid, but not great either: moving someplace new didn’t solve anything.

Jason Schwartzman (Jeremy) has grown up beautifully from the fantastic Rushmore. Every moment he is on screen is perfect. He is charmingly idiotic and makes me laugh, but not at him, even when he’s manically zipping and unzipping his sweatshirt like a 12-year-old.

Mirabelle (Claire Danes) feels rescued from Jeremy by the smooth, wealthy Ray Porter (Steve Martin). The most interesting moment is with Ray and Mirabelle after they’ve become intimately involved. They have a very brief conversation about the level of time and level of commitment they have. Well, really, it’s a soliloquy by Ray but it ends with Mirabelle vigorously agreeing. Then, she tells her friends and he tells his shrink what the content of the conversation was. It’s like watching the opening sequence in Grease, or Ross and Rachel describing their first date. How can two people have such opposing stories about the same event?? Most interesting about the Shopgirl point-counterpoint is how both parties started with a semblance of the truth, then convinced themselves of the lies they wanted to believe. Thus began their courtship with neither party willing to confront the truth.

The movie also contains some hilarious vignettes, sort of comic relief for a heavy piece. Only Jeremy could be so adorably go-with-the-flow (especially when he doesn’t understand what’s happening).

At one moment, and I’ll try not to give away the plot here, Ray is talking to Mirabelle outside the gallery and he tells her something. Her reaction is one I’ve actually felt: happiness and true pain at the same time.

Some may say the theme music and the timbre of the movie is too serious, but I disagree. Living those moments is the most serious thing a person does to grow. Lots of movies can make death and explosions dramatic; this one succeeds in making real life as imortant as it is.

[rate 4.5]

Napoleon Dynamite directed by Jared Hess

napoleon.JPGIMDb link

Every generation has their cult film.  Actually, it’s every mini-generation; I would say that in recent times, cult classics have been every five years.  For me, the first one was The Princess Bride.  For my sister, just five years my senior, it was the Breakfast Club.  Then Clerks defined college for me; for my sister, Raising Arizona.  There are semi-serious movies like this as well (Legend, The Big Chill), but I’m talking about the stupid movies.  It is almost necessary that the film be grossly underbudget; bad acting, usually a damning factor, can be forgiven and can even be welcome.  The latest of these filmes blancs was Napoleon Dynamite.

When I heard about this movie, I didn’t want to see it at all.  I am tired of the Deuce Bigalow comedy with far too many crude jokes and this looked to be more of the same, done with That Seventies Show flair.  The guys in the lab where I worked were quoting it all day and the quotes didn’t even sound funny.  “Tina, eat your dumb dinner?”  Sounds stupid.

I watched it, and wow.  What a stupid movie.  I kept thinking I could not bear to keep watching it.  Carlton paused the movie so he could pour us some beers to power through the movie. 

Then something odd happened.  We weren’t laughing out loud, but we were amused.

I still thought I hated it, but when I went to work the next day, I realized I kept quoting it and laughing.  Something about Napoleon’s dumb Butt-Headesque voice made him fun to imitate. 

OK, that was all a year ago.  Carlton decided that, since this is a cult film, we should watch it again.  I realized I was actually looking forward to seeing some of the scenes again.  Homebrews were poured and we settled in to watch.  We laughed out loud.  The performances of the actors were brilliantly moronic.  Each character lives in his/her own reality cloud of confidence and false bravado.  Napoleon is beat up and then defiantly kicks the locker to assert himself (after the bullies are long gone, of course). 

This is not a movie to be taken seriously, or for one to devote all of one’s attention to it.  But if you want to remember why high school was fun and awful, pour a brew and laugh at something stupid.  WARNING: if you like highbrow movies, don’t blame me if you watch this.

[rate 3]

Inside Man directed by Spike Lee

Cover Art for Inside Man DVDIMDb link

Sometimes I watch a movie because I want to think.  Sometimes I want to just have fun.  Inside Man was this week's pick for nonthinking.  I watched it with some close friends and I am sure that the audience affected my opinion.

Seeing Spike Lee produce a fun movie was a fresh switch from his usual heavy topics.  The only heavy moment was when a Sikh had been detained for questioning and was robbed of his turban.  He could not even focus on the line of questioning because his head was exposed.  It was interesting to me because it was akin to asking a woman to be questioned while topless, but the officers either did not understand or wanted to use the disctraction as a sort of truth serum.  As a teenager, my mom barged in on me while I showered and asked me a question.  I was so shocked that I couldn't have fibbed if I wanted to!

Back to the movie.  It was written with scenes interspersed between past events, present events, and suspect questioning.  The cutting was not innovative; it just seemed like an episode of CSI.

The reason to watch a Bonnie and Clyde movie like this is to root for the criminal.  Similar to Heat, the conflict between the head of the police force and the head of the gang was the focus of the plot.  Who is more clever? Which person has the attributes that the writer and director deem to be worthy of granting success?  Well, I liked both Clive Owen's and Denzel Washington's characters, but the mental duel was not that suspenseful to me.

There was also a sequence regarding the personal history of one character.  The was a secret document and a big reveal.  At that point, I thought, "so what?"  It was just not the huge revelation I thought it would be.  Also, some of the big dialogue scenes had no reason to occur, so the writer found clunky reasons to stick two people alone in a room.  I didn't buy the setup and in most cases the dialogue wasn't that intriguing either.

It sounds like I have a ton of reasons to indict this movie, but I enjoyed watching it.  The acting performances were all excellent.  It was different enough from the usual but still not overly heavy.

[rate 3]

Invincible directed by Ericson Core

invincible.JPGIMDb link

What's with the name Ericson Core?  Sounds like a Battlestations pilot name.  Look at his son's name.  Huh? 

Against my better judgement, I went to see a movie in a theater.  I was immediately annoyed by the lack of stadium seating and by the cigarette burns on the screen.  The theater was also showing the movie in digital, but that showing started at 10:50PM and I was too tired to stay awake that long.

I might want to cringe when I see Disney making a film, but I shouldn't.  I think they learned a lesson with Pirates of the Carribbean.  A movie can look good and be written well even if it's not edgy Touchstone material.  Disney did continue its long history of main characters with only one parent.  In this case, it's a true story, but stilllllll.  Do audiences feel more compassion automatically because of the lack of nuclear family?

The scenery of the film was great.  I love the dirty feel of South Philadelphia.  The streets were littered, the despair palpable.  Even better was the point-counterpoint of the brilliant look of the scenes shot in the context of professional football: sparkling white-and-bright scenes full of clean hope.  Thanks to the NFL for allowing this movie to be officially licensed, too.  Seeing fake teams in a movie is as irritating to me as 555 phone numbers.

There is grit here, and it's depressing.  The working class of America is on full display and it isn't pretty.  There are those who want a hero but there are also those who want to pull every crab back down in the bucket with them. 

Mark Wahlberg has the je ne sais crois to make this role perfect.  I would say that his greatest feat as an actor is picking the right roles.  Papale is not shown as a man of great passion, so Wahlberg's restrained acting range is perfect.  He immediately drew me into caring about his character.  His love interest, played by Elizabeth Banks, drew a mixed review from me: I wanted to like this shining star of a man's man's woman, but her performance did not always deliver.  There were great scenes, like in the Eagles stadium wearing her Giants gear, that she nailed.  She managed to be beautiful and the center of attention and admiration while being a complete pariah.  But occasionally, such as in the bar reciting her favorite player's stats, when her lines seemed disjointed from the rest of the dialogue.  It almost seemed as if the director reshot those lines and the original scene's feel was lost.  Banks looked more like she was reciting than being.

Yeah, it's Disney, it's uplifting.  But it's a true story and sometimes what a nation needs is a hero.

[rate 3.5]

editor's note: oh, and now I'm totally stoked about football season.

Cry Wolf directed by Jeff Wadlow

cry_wolf.JPGIMDb link

You know, sometimes I have a hard time wasting my energy on reviewing films.  While this isn't a zero-star clucker, I was not impressed.

The scenery of this motion picture is beautiful.  It opens with chiron over fall foliage of a gorgeous prep school campus.  The actors are pretty and the views are beautiful.  I particularly like the color palette of the outdoors: the school uniforms coordinate with the fall colors, and the redhead siren's hair is a perfect punch of color.  But on to the plot…

This bunch of high school kids plays a game that becomes too much like reality.  The leader of the group, Dodger, is an attractive redhead with no acting skills.  I say she has no acting skills because I think she's just acting like herself.  I saw her screen test and she was dressed like a stripper.  An attractive stripper, yes, but she wasn't trying to get the part based on the merit of her read alone.

About ten minutes into the movie, I realized that I didn't care at all about the main character, Owen.  I think he was supposed to be some sort of British heartthrob but I just couldn't care.  The dialogue was written with the slow crayon simpleness of a George Lucas script, so I can blame not just the actor but the writing.

Several scenes that would normally have really scared me were merely interesting.  They had predictable slasher suspense, with minor-key music and eye-of-the-victim camera work.  This stuff scares me every time.  However, because I was not interested in the plot, these scenes often fell flat.

There is a late plot twist that is interesting.  As it dawns on the character who discovers it, the movie uses a lazy device: showing previous scenes that should have given us the clues.  I often feel that if the scene didn't resonate the first time, then the film maker didn't do his/her job. 

The death scenes are shot in the same flashback, gritty quality of CSI.  Except CSI does it a little better.

Maybe I'm too old to care about teenager-style movies.  Maybe I'm not, and I should just watch one that isn't awful.

[rate 1]

Soapdish directed by Michael Hoffman

soapdish.JPGIMDb link

I don't see many comedies.  There are two reasons: the first is just mechanics;I'm not in charge of writing the Netflix queue.  Second, most comedies are not that great.  How many times have I seen a movie preview for a comedy and thought, "well, I think I just saw every funny line in that movie."  With that said, I truly love comedy.

As my TiVo will tell, the summer hiatus has been good for me.  The stored dramas are staying stored; I don't think I can care about another dead body on CSI or watch another orange-clad detective on CSI Miami.  Why does the costumer put everyone in orange?  It's not the new black.

Oh, wait.  I'm supposed to be writing a movie review!

Anyway, I love comedies but tend to watch television sitcoms instead of movies.  In 22 minutes, they tall a lot of throwaway jokes and it makes me laugh.  I had kind of a bad day and this movie's been on my TiVo for months, so I watched it.

It was hilarious.  As a former soap opera (what's the PC term now?  Daytime serial drama?) watcher, the jokes were hilarious.  They even had good sight gags- one character, Bolt (of course named something silly), never wears anything but spaghetti string tak tops and tight workout shorts.  He also has the requisite glistening skin.  The only costuming that fell flat was the tweetie bird reference.

Kevin Kline simply shines in his role.  I fell in love with his comedic style during Dave, and it is alive in this earlier film too.  His intelligent deadpan is brilliant.  Sally Field's trumped-up overacting is great also.  I can't even look at Garry Marshall without laughing because he's so funny.  The "play within a play" style of the movie delivers comedy, irony, and a dash of self-deprecation that is so necessary in a campy film like this one.

I laughed out loud more times than I can count.  I know the movie is fifteen years old but it is worth watching.  And a note to current comedy directors: look! No stupid jokes about genitalia nor scatology!  A movie doesn't have to be disgusting to be funny!

[rate 4]