Friday, December 30, 2005

 

GUY'S NIGHT OUT: Fun With Dick and Jane, he said 2.0


The remake of "Fun With Dick and Jane" stretched the truth with its title. In the movie, Dick and Jane are there, but where's the fun? This will be a quick review because I have very little to say about this movie. I expected so much more coming from the director of one of my favorite comedies of the last few years, the criminally underrated "Galaxy Quest."

The movie had an interesting concept dealing with how Enron-esque corparate scandals affect the company's employees, but the execution of said concept was anything but interesting. It is inexplicably set in the year 2000 (apparently for the sole purpose of one Enron joke at the end of the movie). If you actually pay attention to the timeline of the movie, it makes even less sense.

There are a few laughs provided solely through the talents of stars Tea Leoni (or as I call her Mrs. Mulder) and Jim Carrey (his appearance on Conan last week was far better than this entire movie), but hardly enough to justify making this movie. It takes a wild turn in the last act that really felt like a different movie. The funniest part is the credits which begin by thanking all of the executives of Enron, WorldCom, et al.

That's about it. I could begin a rant about the craptacular theater I first tried to watch this movie in before demanding my money back and driving to another town to see this, but I will not. The joy of trying to see all of the Christmas releases in small town theatres!

What did you think of this movie? Do you have any terrible theater stories?
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Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

GUY'S NIGHT OUT: The Family Stone, he said 3.0


"The Family Stone" is nothing like the movie that is being advertised. It's far better than that. From the advertisements, my expectations were for a decent cast in a mediocre comedy that would provide a sparse handful of laughs and be nearly gone from my memory by New Year's Eve (like last Christmas' "Meet the Fockers"). "The Family Stone" is much more than that, but it was still far from memorable for me. The strong cast, which includes two celebrity crushes of mine (Rachel McAdams and Claire Danes), makes their hackneyed characters come to life in a way that weaker actors could not have pulled off.

Kudos to the casting director for pulling together a pretty impressive cast including Danes, McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson, Dermot Mulroney, and Sarah Jessica Parker. All of the characters are such cliches (the hippie crunchy, beautifully disheveled, snarky sister; the uptight business woman, the list goes on), but these actors really bring them to life and made me care about the characters (at least most of them). I really wanted to see more of the older sister and her storyline concerning her possibly rocky marriage.

The plot suffers from several gaps in logic, but the dynamics of the family were intriguing. As someone who studies families, I loved seeing all of the different relationships in the family. This was an interesting family system, and I enjoyed analyzing all of its issues. This brings me back to my opening point. This movie is not really the comedy it is being advertised as. Yes, there are funny moments (but probably none as funny as the somewhat provocative teaser poster), but the drama (and there is much more than I expected) is far more compelling.

Michael Giacchino provides music for the movie. It was good and fit the story, but it was far from memorable. His snub from the Academy last year for his "The Incredibles" score was a travesty, but it won't be made up for with a nomination for this. This was more like his work on TV's "Alias" and "Lost."

This movie makes for an enjoyable diversion from the busyness of the Christmas season. It has a nice blend of the fun and the serious and is held together by an impressive cast. Take a break from shopping or cooking and catch a matinee. Seeing this family will help you better appreciate your own during the inevitable forthcoming family get togethers.

What did you think of this movie?
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

 

King Kong, she said 5.0


Peter Jackson has a way with direction, CGI and landscape design. King Kong was a beautiful movie. Considering the movie should have been cut by 30-45 minutes, my attention was easily held.

I generally am a huge propionate for acting being as real and in the moment as possible – likewise, the screenplay should flow as easily or as awkwardly as actual life would dictate. Kin Kong was presented in 30’s style acting (like the original movie). I was thoroughly surprised how immersed I was in the movie.

Adrien Brody and Jack Black were phenomenal on the big screen. There really is something about Brody that I cannot put my finger on. While I am not physically attracted to him, he is captivating. Black did a great job of toning down his comedic brilliance and finding his inner dramatic actor. Naomi Watts not only epitomizes the beauty that killed the beast but her interaction with the CGI giant gorilla was highly impressive.

What are you doing? – go see the freaking movie!
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

 

King Kong, he said 3.0


Note: The more I have pondered this movie, the more disappointed I become. I have once again changed my score.
So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.


Like "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," I am leaving at a 3 simply because the nature of the film demands that it be seen on the big screen (see the info about our rating system) when in fact both movies are probably more deserving of a 2. Now, don't get me wrong, this movie was not terrible; it simply was nowhere near as good as Jackson and company are capable of. So much potential was squandered by self-indulgence. This review does a great job of summing up many of my thoughts on this movie. I still do not understand so much of the praise it is receiving.

I love "King Kong." Not Peter Jackson's new movie, but the original 1933 movie by Merian Cooper. I first saw it when it aired one Saturday when I was ten on our local PBS station. Since then, I had only been able to see it a few times on Turner Classics. Until the new movie came along. As good as Jackson's remake is, the best thing about it is that it caused Warner Brothers to finally release the original on DVD. The DVD is amazing, and so is Jackson's movie.

The movie looks amazing. Kong himself is a spectacle to behold. There is really nothing more to say about him except wow! The sets of both Skull Island and Depression Era New York City are fantastic. The creatures, the sunsets, the costumes, and all of the other visual elements are breathtaking.

Naomi Watts gives an awesome performance. In my opinion, this is the role that will make her a star (I know she has already headlined "The Ring" and a few other movies, but nothing that I really enjoyed or remembered). She does Fay Wray's legacy proud. She is gorgeous and has a great scream, but Watts also turns Ann Darrow into a more compelling character than simply the damsel in distress. Her Darrow is a struggling vaudeville performer who dreams of starring in a real play. Watts also deserves kudos for being able to perform so well with a character (Kong) who wasn't on set with her. In many of her scenes, she is the only thing that is "real." She sells it well, and at least part of what makes Kong so believable is how Watts interacts with him.

Unlike the 1976 "King Kong" remake, Jackson sticks close to the original story. Therefore, the film has all the great scenes that have become legendary. Kong verses the T-Rex (times three here). The creepy natives (and they are so creepy. The scariest thing in the movie to me). Ann "sacrificed" to Kong. Kong shaking the men of a fallen tree. The marquee bearing "King Kong: The 8th Wonder of the World." Kong verses a squad of biplanes atop the Empire State Building. And that classic closing line.

The movie is far from perfect however. It suffers terribly from its length. The original is 100 minutes. Jackson takes over three hours to tell the same story. He uses the "Jaws" approach in delaying the unveiling of the titular star, but he delays it far too long. The movie opens with a great montage of Hoovervilles and vaudeville set to Al Jolson singing "On Top of the World," but then it drags terribly for the next hour or so before the crew ever reaches Skull Island. Jackson's previous movies , "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, were each over three hours long, but I was never looking at my watch. This time, I was getting a little bored. I felt like Jackson was being a little self-indulgent. There is a lot that could have been shortened or cut from every act of this movie that would have resulted in a much tighter, enjoyable story. What was the point of the whole Jimmy storyline?

Other than Watts and Kong, none of the performances are all that special. Jack Black attempts to play Carl Denham as an Orson Welles type. He's okay. Adrien Brody was decent as Jack Driscoll (who is now the screenwriter), but any actor could have played that role just as good. Don't get me wrong, these performances are not bad and really do not really take away from the movie much, but there is a reason why Watts is the castmember everyone is talking about.

I also felt that the movie would have benefited from a stronger score. What's there is not bad, but it is far from memorable. James Newton Howard replaced Howard Shore at the eleventh hour so I wonder if that had anything to do with the slightly weak score. It's good, but like most of Howard's work, it doesn't really stick in my head the way a John Williams or Danny Elfman score does. I can't even hum it now.

Overall, this is a very good movie but not quite as great as it easily could have been. I highly recommend it. The ending was breath taking. It brought tears to my eyes. Be sure to see it on the big screen. It won't be the same watching it on a television screen. So go see it at the cinema, and on your way home, pick up the DVD of the original if you have not already.

P.S. Upon reading this, I realize I am pretty negative about much of this film. I really did like it, but I think I had my expectations too high. I wrote this immediately upon coming home from the theater, and I think I was just venting some initial disappointments. I plan to see it again and try to judge it anew. While I criticized a lot, the only thing that I felt really was extremely wrong was that there needed to be much more judicious editing.

What did you think of this movie?
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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 

Just Friends, she said 3.5


Ryan Reynolds is quickly becoming one of my favorite comedic actors. "Just Friends" is a tale of a dorky fat teenager that is tragically trapped in the ‘just friends zone’ – hence the title of the film. Chris Brander (Reynolds) morphs into a Hottie McHoterson in Los Angeles after he leaves his hometown. As a young and wealthy music producer, Reynolds meets and dates a hilariously loquacious teenage pop diva. If you see the movie just for her rendition of a blond pop star, you will get you money’s worth.

Points of the movie posed too dramatic for a lighthearted comedy. These scenes were not horrible but they did slow the pace of the movie down. The movie is not worth you running to the movie right now. However, if the situation presents it self, you will have few good laughs.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 

Just Friends, he said 3.0


I really like Ryan Reynolds. Maybe I have a bit of a man crush on him (using that phrase in the strictly heterosexual sense). I will confess to having watched more than one episode of "Two Guys and a Girl (and sometimes a Pizza Place)" just because he was in it (well, him and Nathan Fillion). I think he has a lot of potential to be a new Chevy Chase (back when Chevy was still funny). He's been the highlight of several rather mediocre movies, but I keep waiting for him to get that one breakout role that will raise him to the A-list where he deserves to be. Sadly, "Just Friends" is not that movie, but it is an enjoyable enough movie that made for a nice study break. It is about a guy who is stuck in the dreaded friend zone, a place I know all too well.

This is not a clever or subtle comedy by any means, but it is not a completely over-the-top or gross-out comedy either. The plot is highly contrived, but the actors are able to make it fun. Reynolds is solid. The poster and much of the other promotional materials for this movie show Reynolds, as Chris Brander, dressed in a fat suit. Fortunately, these opening high school scenes are brief. Anna Faris, who was the best thing about the "Scary Movie" series, is hilarious. Her character provided the most laughs. Chris Marquette plays Chris' horny teenage brother (much the same character he played in "The Girl Next Door"). He too is good in this role (but not as great as he was on TV's "Joan of Arcadia"). Chris Klein and Amy Smart round out the cast with decent performances.

In addition to Faris' deranged pop star, the funniest part to me involved Chris playing hockey with a group of kids. Also, the violent interaction between Chris and his brother reminded me why I have always wanted a brother (you can't beat up sisters). There is scene involving Christmas lights that reminded me of my favorite holiday movie, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." By the way, although this movie is set at Christmas, it's not exactly what I would call a Christmas movie. The story would have been much the same no matter what season it was set in.

Overall, this movie is not really great, but I didn't care. I laughed a lot, and I found it highly enjoyable. It's not classic or groundbreaking in any way, but amidst all the more serious and pretentious fare at the theaters this time of year, "Just Friends" is a fun, if not memorable, trip to the movies.

Addendum: We saw this movie again last night as part of our regular Tuesday night outing. I still feel pretty much the same about it. Enjoyable, but nothing special in the least. Reynolds, Faris, and Marquette make it fun. Now back to studying for finals and wasting time on Facebook.

What did you think?
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Monday, December 12, 2005

 

GAL’S NIGHT OUT: Good Night, and Good Luck, she said 2.8


This film had the potential to echo the political undertones of the current state of the nation. Unfortunately director, George Clooney, fumbled the ball. The audience was left in anticipation for the proverbial political twisting of the knife that never came. Throughout the movie we follow CBS news anchor, Ed Murrow, played by David Straithairn and his associates were played by George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. and many others. Murrow is the first anchor to openly question the action of Senator John McCarthy. The movie articulated the fears of the network to report on such issues and the Murrow and his staff’s desperation to get the story told.
Clooney at times was too ostentatious with the direction. There was little consistency with the direction from scene to scene. Let me clarify. I am not saying that the same fixed camera angle and camera moves indicate a good movie. On the contrary, I think variation is good as long as the director’s choice matched the tone of the scene. Clooney would use a handheld camera for one boardroom scene and then for the next scene in the boardroom use on a wide shot and then for the next intimate scene only use close ups. I understand that he wanted to add variation to a static studio environment. However, a director should rely on the actors to carry the drama and maintain the audiences’ attention. Rather that highlighting the action and the storyline, the direction distracted from the story. As stand alone scene the direction was phenomenal. There comes a time when there is too much effort put into the direction.

I was happy to see Robert Downey, Jr. in the movie. He truly is one of the best actors of our time. If he could just stay off the drugs people could actually see that. Too, his storyline with his wife seemed rather inconsequential. Why was the audience supposed to care about their secret love affair? Their relationship seemingly had no effect on the networks ability to put on the show. I did enjoy seeing him on the big screen again.

The whole movie lacked cohesion. I am willing to admit that perhaps I lack the intelligence to catch all the nuances of the film and that is why I did not enjoy the movie as much as I would have liked. However, I am going to say ‘nay’ to those who agree with that statment. Instead, I blame Clooney for the poor direction. There was never a moment when I questioned the believability of the actors. Everyone gave very strong and noteworthy performances. Clooney just got a little over zealous with the camera. I do think that this film is worth seeing because of the acting. However, if you want clarification of the happenings during the McCarthy Era – go read a book.

NOTE: in this post I made a sports reference AND did not quote Dane Cook.
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Friday, December 09, 2005

 

GUY'S NIGHT OUT: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, he said 5.0


Watching "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" made me feel like a kid again. I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis, and I love the Narnia stories. I was super excited about seeing this story brought to life on screen but also justifiably apprehensive. Would the talking animals look good? Would the child actors be good? Would they do the Stone Table scene the way it's meant to be done? Would everything "look right?" Would they capture that sense of "joy" that one gets from the books? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes!

First off, the animals. I was a little worried about this. CGI characters have come a long way in the past few years (just look at the progression from Jar Jar to Gollum to Yoda), but one thing that still seems to trouble animators the most is hair. So how would they be able to pull off animating a bunch of mammals? Well, they do it. The Beavers look so cool. When Mr. Beaver hands Lucy her handkerchief, I was amazed how real it all looked. The animals do not always seem completely realistic, but it is a fantasy. They move in realistic ways, and the interactions between them and the live actors is mostly seamless. During the wolf chase, the footage changes between CGI wolves and real wolves, and I could not tell the difference. And Aslan is awe-inspiring, as he should be.

The acting is great. All four of the kids do a great job. They are nearly all newcomers (in fact, Anna Popplewell, who plays Susan, is the only one with real experience and she is the weakest link). William Moseley did an awesome job portraying my favorite character, Peter. He managed to capture the responsibility that drives Peter despite his reluctance. The real breakout star is Georgie Henley as Lucy. She is amazing. As the youngest Pevensie, she is the first to discover Narnia, and Henley totally sells it with wide-eyed wonder. I also really enjoyed James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the faun. Tilda Swinton does a great job at creating the chilling White Witch. Jim Broadbent has basically a cameo as Professor Kirke. Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan was a bit distracting at first. Not quite as commanding as I expected, but once I got past my expectations, I realized it worked.

Yes, the Stone Table scene is here and it is heartbreaking. In fact, pretty much everything that is in the book is here. Walden Media is building a good name for themselves at making very faithful adaptation of children's books into good movies (I'm looking at you "Harry Potter" series). One of the few deviations from the book really adds to the story. In the book, Lewis simply begins by saying that "this story is about something that happened to [the children] when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids." Director Andrew Adamson opens by showing the air-raids. We see the children and their mother hiding in the cellar. We see her send them away to the country. This opening had me tearing up. It really does a good job of quickly capturing the personality of each child and the relationships between them. A nice addition to the story.

This movie made me feel like a kid again, just like reading the books do. Adamson and company do a fantastic job creating the fantasy world of Narnia. Watching the movie, I really felt like I was seeing the book come alive. It is a great story that elicits joy, which Lewis defined as an intense longing. When this movie ended, I desperately longed to return to Narnia. I hope that there will be more movies to enjoy in the future, particularly "Prince Caspian," probably my favorite of the books.

Warning: Don't leave as soon as the credits start to roll.

What did you think of this movie? Are you a fan of the book? What children's book would you like to see Walden Media adapt to film?
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

 

Pride & Prejudice, she said 5.0


First I would like to say that....I am on time (take a moment to applaud me - thanks). Back to the movie in review: So, I am not the most well read individual - I admit it, I have never read "Pride and Prejudice." However, after watching this movie, I know what my holiday reading will be. As the movie ended and the light came up, a smile of satisfaction stretched across my face. I wanted to spin like Buddy the Elf. Yeah, I said it - please, that's how happy I was. Now, why you may ask did I love this movie so much?

One, the story stands alone as an impressive piece of work. A classic romance story with a twist always pleases. The hilariously eager sisters and the status driven mother added just the right amount of humor to the movie. Now you may think, "Really, a romance? That sounds far too heavy." But, I say nay! The movie is quite light with wonderfully meaningful undertones.

Two, who doesn't love a good period piece? The costumes were perfect and expansive landscape shots were magnificent. One could get lost in the aesthetic beauty of the movie.

Three, Keira Knightley is a fantastic actress and delightfully charming on the big screen. Plus, as my male friends would say, "She is effing hot".

Take someone to see this movie tonight.
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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

 

Pride & Prejudice, he said 5.0


"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." That is the opening line of Jane Austen's classic novel "Pride and Prejudice." It is my favorite line of the book. It is not included in the new film adaptation starring Keira Knightley as Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but I love it so much I had to include it here. While that line is not included, the film does maintain Austen's charming wit.

I read "Pride and Prejudice" in high school. I remember I liked it because it was funny. I could remember the general flow of the story and the outcome, but I had forgotten a lot of the steps along the way so throughout the movie, I was constantly trying to remember what happens next. I really liked the streamlining of the story for the film. It flows quite nicely and never felt slow or boring to me (which I remember the book doing at times).

Knightley (who I really like) was very good as Miss Elizabeth. Matthew MacFayden was also great as Mr. Darcy (though I know several girls who would say he could never live up to Colin Firth in the BBC/A&E miniseries from the 90s). Throughout the movie, MacFayden seemed vaguely familiar to me. Upon checking IMDb, I realized he was in the TV show "Spooks/MI-5." I watched some of that when it was shown on A&E. I keep meaning to NetFlix the entire series because it was rather good. Back to the movie though, the entire cast gives good performances. The standout supporting actor to me was Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley.

Director Joe Wright makes great use of the beautiful English countryside. He also uses some interesting symbolism with birds. I read somewhere that this is his directorial debut, but IMDb lists a few other things. This is at least his major directorial debut, and I look forward to more good movies from him in the future.

In the end though, the movie is great because the source material is. Elizabeth Bennet is one of my literary crushes. I would love to have a girl as awesome as Miss Elizabeth or be a man as cool as Mr. Darcy. I really love those characters. The movie is a very funny comedy of manners that proves Austen's timelessness. This movie makes me want to revisit the book and perhaps even read more of her work.

What did you think? About this movie? About the book? Who are some of your literary crushes? What do you think are some of the best film adaptations of classic literature?
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Friday, December 02, 2005

 

Rent, she said 3.3


When the musical RENT first hit the stage in the fabulous New York City I was amazed by the brilliant musical composition and the tight harmonies. The characters were quirky and endearing. The new Rock Opera was one of a kind and I could not get enough of the yummy musical goodness. So, you can imagine my excitement when I heard that this wonderful film was going to be adapted into a movie on the big screen. I was a little disappointed by the movie.

The opening sequence “Rent” was did not achieve the passion that the lyrics and the music demands. And what was up with all the burning paper. Sense when does throwing burning paper off you back balcony in concert with your neighbors mean that you are tired of your life. Seriously, it was cheesy and was not a great way to start the movie. However, all the other musical numbers I was, for then most part, impressed with the director’s adaptive changes.

The acting was a little disappointing too. While I am happy that they used the original Broadway performers, I wish they would have had paid for acting lessons. Overall, I did enjoy the movie. However, I can’t say that I would pay to see it again.

Peace out
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