Friday, December 28, 2007

National Treasure 2

I will start by confessing that I liked the first National Treasure. It's a funny romp through early American history to find treasure, what's not to like? I'm nerdy enough to like the references to Ben Franklin sending in letters as a woman to the local newspaper. Anyway, the second one starts with a similar premise, finding treasure will enhance the family name of Nic Cage and Jon Voigt's family. Ed Harris plays another descendant of an early American who passed down a missing page from John Wilkes Booth's diary that shows that Cage's family member helped plan Lincoln's assassination. To disprove this story, Cage and Voigt decide to look for the "City of Gold" which Booth was looking for to fund the Confederacy. Needless to say, he didn't find it, but he didn't have Cage's encyclopedic knowledge of history, nor the fun sidekick. They start on an adventure that leads to the Statue of Liberty in Paris (the smaller one), the Resolute desk in Queen Elizabeth's study, and the Resolute desk in the Oval Office to kidnapping the President at Mount Vernon. Once you acknowledge that they would actually be able to safely break into and out of all these places, it's just fun. Also, I didn't know that you can find secret passages in old furniture - they find a clue in a secret compartment in the desks and in the wine cellar of Mount Vernon. All the previous characters return, but they add Helen Mirren as Cage's mother and Voigt's ex-wife, who is herself an expert in ancient American languages and helps them translate some clues. Since Ed Harris is following them along their entire journey (he really wants the City of Gold), he's a great bad guy trying to ruin their fun, and of course (since it's Disney) ultimately joins their search and helps them search for the City behind Mount Rushmore. Overall, it's a great light-hearted thriller search for lost treasure. Cage has had some amazing hair treatments, and the clothes are better this time around, but overall it's a fun unbelievable movie. 4 of 5 stars for sheer fun-factor.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two very different movies

I recently watched two newer movies on DVD, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Evening. Both got pretty bad reviews when they were in the theater but given the acting talent in both, I still wanted to see them. Chuck and Larry is pretty dreadful. It's full of every possible fear of homosexuals, and every stereotype about why they're terrific and fabulous. Basically, Larry was so distraught when his wife died that he failed to switch his pension to his kids, so now if he died (and since he's a firefighter, not unlikely) his kids would have nothing. So he reads about domestic partnerships and asks Chuck (Adam Sandler), his womanizing, bachelor, fellow firefighter to be his partner so someone will take care of his kids. In a very predictable manner, they are investigated, and hire a lawyer (Jessica Biel) who Chuck of course falls for. The movie is very predictable, and given that it's an original idea for movies, remarkably cliched. The guys get married and the always stupid Rob Schnieder plays the Asian minister, and as they're homophobic themselves, the guys refuse to kiss. This repeats in the climax of the movie, where the idea of kissing another man is so repulsive, it's going to ruin their scam and land them in jail. Overall, it's a stupid movie that doesn't have enough humor to make it worth watching. 2 of 5 stars.

On the other hand, Evening was also given terrible reviews and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it. It's not wonderful, but nor is it offensive or particularly cliched. If anything, it's too subtle and should have taken a deeper bite into its material. It takes place in the mind of Vannessa Redgrave, who is on her deathbed, she is remembering being at a wedding in the late 50s/early 60s. In her delirium, she lets escape words to her daughters like "Harris and I killed Buddy". This gives the whole movie a very small mystery to be solved. The daughters are trying to figure out if either Harris or Buddy are real people or her imagination. Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson play the daughters, who obviously mirror the two failed sides of Redgrave's own life - the perfect wife and mother that Redgrave never got to be (Richardson) and the artist that Redgrave was never talented enough to be successful (Collette). Claire Danes plays Redgrave as a young woman, attending the wedding of Connecticutt socialite Mamie Gummer (who in a fun bit of casting is played in later life by her own mother, Meryl Streep). Danes and Gummer were friends in college, along with Gummer's ne'er do well brother Buddy, played well by Hugh Dancy (Ella Enchanted's Prince Char). Dancy is an artistic soul trying to write his first novel and throughout the movie spouts first or last lines of famous works, but doesn't really have the courage to leave his wealthy life to pursue his dreams. He falls deeper into despair as he sees Danes trying to live her dreams, and their former housekeeper's son, Harris, arrives and is a doctor. Harris, played by the ever beautiful Patrick Wilson, has made a success of himself and Buddy sees the connection developing between Danes and Wilson and nearly loses himself. So as not to reveal much more of the storyline, I'll just say, Dancy plays the man struggling with class, dreams, sexuality, and love better than most. Danes is very convincing as Redgrave's younger self trying to be a singer and raise her daughters. Occaisonally the movie does have some trite dialogue, like Streep telling Collette that in the end very little is as important as it once seemed to assuage her fears about having a baby and getting married. I liked the movie, and enjoyed the actors and memories, and of course Patrick Wilson. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Surprising Best Movies of 2007

I'm not sure 2007 will be remembered for much, movie-wise, besides being the year of the sequels, none of which made the top 5 of any of my fellow movie bloggers (except mine, I loved Live Free or Die Hard), which you can peruse here. Enjoy. We'll probably do another list when the Oscars are announced.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Movies I've got to watch

There are lots of movies I enjoy watching during the Christmas season, and sometimes I find a day I want Christmas in June and will watch them again, but I'm just realizing there are 5 that I must watch every Christmas season. And to be sure you don't forget to see them too, here's my list of top 5 movies:

5. Home Alone is just a nostalgic holiday movie. Kevin McCalister is married and divorced since this movie came out, but it's still terrific to remember him as a little kid. Also, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the bad guys are lots of fun in their bumbling travails. My brother and I could easily recite the entire movie given a few prompts. "Ma'am, I'm eight years old, do you think I'd be here, alone? I don't think so." He's such a great snotty, little kid.

4. I really like the Santa Clause series. In the first one he has to figure out how to become Santa after the previous Santa falls off his roof. It's very cute, and elaborates the story of Santa really well. In the second movie, he falls victim to "the Mrs. clause" and has to marry or he'll forfeit his right to be Santa. Luckily he finds Elizabeth Mitchell (from Lost) and they have fun getting to know each other in the short amount of time he has. The best part is the meeting of magical creatures, including Mother Earth, Father Time, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

3. This one is nearly always on TV right around Thanksgiving and plays a few times between then and Christmas. They sing some Christmas songs, and ultimately have to put on a pageant directed by Lucy. I love watching him find the "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" which has even become a catchphrase for spindly trees.

2. How can you describe how perfectly Christmas It's a Wonderful Life can be? It symbolizes all that we forget each year, that we are part of a community, part of a family, and that no matter how insignificant you feel, you are important to someone. It's cheesy and always makes me cry, but it's such a part of all Christmas culture, that I really do think of it "every time a bell rings, an angel is getting his wings".

1. Of course the movie I cannot avoid watching every single Christmas and reciting as often as possible is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I actually have used lines from this movie and recognized a kindred spirit when they were parroted back at me from an unexpected source (B-mama, you must teach this movie to your kids someday!). It's a "ree-al, nice" movie to show with your family. One Christmas (so family lore goes) my grandparents were snowed in at my aunt's house and they put on this movie, and my grandparents laughed and laughed. It's really a movie for the whole family. It'll have you sh*tting bricks, sorry sh*ttin' rocks.
Honorable mentions: A Christmas Story (which lost out on the top 5 because it is on 24 times just Christmas EVE!!!), The Holiday, The Family Stone.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Die Hardest Rocks!

Live Free or Die Hard was among the slew of sequels out this past summer, and I admit I missed it in the theater even though I'd liked the previous Die Hard movies. However, I think this one is my new favorite. Bruce Willis has obviously been doing this a long time, and it shows in the laid-back style that has much less of the insanity and go-save-the-world attitude he had in the previous movies. And his curmudgeonly attitude towards the other lead, Justin Long (the Mac from the "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" commercials) is more fun than his previous cowboy act. He and Justin have to save the world (it wouldn't be Die Hard if the world or John McClane's family wasn't in danger) from the people who hacked into nearly all government. Timothy Olyphant (from Catch & Release) is the least convincing bad-guy from all the Die Hard movies, mostly because he doesn't have an accent, and doesn't seem personally interested in killing John McClane. However, the evil he does, shutting down all the banks, electricity, roads, etc. by hacking into the government controls does seem to cause bigger problems than other bad guys. The best part is when Willis and Long have to find a way to figure out who is behind the mess they visit "The Warlock", a genius computer hacker, played by Kevin Smith, sitting in his basement in a bathrobe surrounded by all sorts of computer and spy equipment. Smith helps them, but spends most of his time making fun of Willis' inability to comprehend computers. Perfect casting. Of course McClane saves the day, but not before racing a fighter jet with a semi. The stunts start off slightly believable - sending a car up a ramp to take out a helicopter, but when McClane jumps on top of the fighter jet as his semi goes off the road, you just remember it's a Die Hard film, and it's okay. I really liked the computer collapse storyline, and Justin Long is terrific as the younger side-kick to Willis' older luddite. And when Willis kills the bad guy by shooting himself in the shoulder (to get the guy standing behind him) I knew it was a classic. 4.5 stars out of 5. Go get it on DVD, best action film of the year.

I am Legend will not be one

I love Will Smith, I think he's a terrific actor, and does a great job in nearly everything he does (though you can see my opinion of his last dramatic work, The Pursuit of Happyness) and was excited to see I Am Legend as I really like sci-fi movies and movies about futuristic science catastrophes, so this movie should have been right up my alley. However, beyond the pretty amazing special effects converting New York City back to nature, the movie is just not fun and really not very interesting. Will Smith is a scientist trying to find a cure to the virus that 3 years ago turned 5% of the global human population (94.9% died from the virus, .1% was immune, hence Will Smith survivng) into zombies of a sort. However, Smith spends a lot of his days driving around the city hunting the deer that have moved in (although given that all the bridges were torn down and the tunnels flooded, I'm a little mystified as to how all the animals got there). He also visits a video and CD store watching new movies and talking to the mannequins that he obviously set up in the store. He also has a wonderful dog, Sam, who travels around with him all the time. They can roam freely during the day, but must get inside and hide by dusk as that's when all the remaining human zombies go hunting (they're supersensitive to UV rays). He's doing pretty well, though can't seem to find the cure, and seems entertained and hopeful until a major set-back upsets his obviously fragile mental state. He starts to attack the zombies, rather than hide from them, to his own near-destruction. After that the big attacks come as the zombies find his home, and start attacking. Luckily another living woman and a kid save Smith from his self-destructive behavior. A bunch of things blow up, and the woman and kid hide in Smith's house while he blows up all the zombies who found them. Yes, I just described the whole movie, but I still don't think there were spoilers as there was nothing particularly shocking or suprising thoughout the movie. There are all kinds of jump-in-your-seat scares as zombies attack and Smith fights back, but overall this is not an entertaining movie, nor a particularly good thriller or sci-fi story. There are flashbacks thoughout the movie that show how Smith thought he could stop the spread before it got out of hand, but it's not clear why he's responsible or why he thinks he should do that rather than escape with his family. There is a good cameo by Emmy Thompson as the doctor who engineered the virus that was supposed to cure cancer. If you're looking for a zombie flick see Shaun of the Dead instead, and if you want a post-apocolyptic story see Children of Men. Only 2 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Revision of Oz

For those of you who don't live in New York City and have been plastered with thousands of ads for the Sci-Fi mini-series Tin Man, and those who didn't understand the ads, it's a reimagining of "The Wizard of Oz" that brings back much of the darker tone of the books, rather than the treacly sing-song of the 1939 movie. It's more of a nod to the books rather than actually using the story. Nearly every familiar element of the books is included, but not always literally. The place where D.G. (rather than Dorothy Gale) landed is not Oz, but rather the O.Z. or Outer Zone. D.G. is played with part innocence and part sarcasm really well by Zooey Deschanel. The scarecrow isn't stuffed with straw, but rather he's the former queen's advisor, Glitch (played by Alan Cumming), who had his brain surgically removed by the new Queen (don't worry, only half, and his head now zips shut to keep it in). She needed it to find the information about how to stop the O.Z.'s two suns behind the moon causing eternal darkness. That is the quest that D.G. and her posse head out on - to stop the Queen's ability to stop the sun. D.G. doesn't want to get back to Kansas, because she finds out really early that she's not from Kansas, but was taken from the O.Z. as a child and raised by nurturing robots in Kansas because her sister (the new Queen) tried to kill her to prevent a prophesy from being fulfilled that only one of them can rule. On her trip, D.G. meets a man imprisoned in an iron suit, and when they let him out find out he's a "Tin Man" or security agent for hire. Rounding out the famous foursome is Rah, a beasty-looking creature who can read minds but has been tortured by the new Queen (so she'll know how to stop the suns) and lacks the courage to do much now. There are all kinds of magical elements throughout the series, and as D.G. pursues her quest, she has flashbacks to when she was a little girl living in the O.Z. with her parents and sister and the magic she knows. The flashbacks are encouraged by her former tutor (who she called Toto as a kid), and she realizes that her sister was taken over by a witch when she was a child, and that her sister wasn't responsible for all the treacherous things the new Queen has done. With the help of her parents, D.G. is able to save the O.Z., of course. Overall, it's a wonderfully dark, but magical story that amazes with its ability to channel The Wizard of Oz. Oh, yeah, and Richard Dryfus plays "The Mystic Man" (aka the Wizard) who gives D.G. the advice and wisdom to defeat the new Queen with her quest. There are some very funny scenes with all the minor characters that come into the story in ways you won't expect, but will definitely recognize them as their Wizard of Oz counterparts. I give the story 4 of 5 stars, and recommend you catch it on the Sci-Fi channel or on DVD someday soon. It's not scary, just dark, and while not geared toward young kids, it really is great for almost anyone.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Golden Compass

I loved the book The Golden Compass, and the movie did not disappoint at all. Just like watching Harry Potter come to life and seeing the wonder that is Quidditch on the screen, The Golden Compass shows us daemons, ice bears and, best of all, Lyra Belacqua. Dakota Blue Richards was wonderfully cast as Lyra, the tough, rule-breaking tomboy who seeks adventure. Richards does not cultivate anything like the cutesy little girls usually onscreen. She's tough, but scared of the adults, loyal to her friends, compassionate to an armored bear's plight, and brave enough to lie to the bear king. She and her daemon Pantalaimon (voiced perfectly by Freddie Highmore of Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) go to live with the icy power behind "the Magisterium's" project to fight "dust", Nicole Kidman's "Mrs. Coulter". Kidman is carefully constructed, with beautiful costumes and a mannered demeanor that makes you afraid the minute it disappears. Her role is trimmed considerably from the book, and the fear she inspires is never realized, but with the obvious openings for sequels, she'll probably get the chance. Daniel Craig also only appears onscreen for a few scenes, so selling them as the stars is a little misleading. However, Lyra (Richards) more than steals the screen, and with Sam Elliot (as aeronaut Lee Scoresby) and Iorek Byrinson, the armored bear (voiced by Ian McKellen) supporting her throughout the movie, their charming interactions make it obvious why they will support her side in the fights to come. The movie is trimmed quite a bit, but it's mostly Pullman's dense descriptive inner monologues that don't make it, and the movie is the better for it. While I agree with critics that the initial voiceover explaining the alternate world could have been better integrated into the story, rather than coming in a heap at the beginning, for once a great movie will only be improved by reading the book AFTER the movie. My favorite comment by a critic, Manohla Dargis: "I would have liked to spend some quality time with Lyra’s friend and protector, the warrior bear Iorek Byrnison, a gorgeous creature whose ferocity is, alas, tempered by his resemblance to some familiar cuddly polar bears. It is, I discovered, hard to keep your mind off the concession stand when you are waiting for Iorek to offer Lyra a Coke." Overall, wonderful casting and a terrific skeleton upon which to build the next great trilogy.

Addendum: After thinking about it for a day, I liked the movie more. Also, I didn't comment on the religious kerfuffle that's been surrounding the movie. Yes, there are metaphysical and spiritual elements to the book, some of which are portrayed negatively (but there have been all kinds of terrible religious leaders, and religion wasn't the problem). And the movie is about extremism and totalitarianism and the State being involved in its people's morality and thoughts, not its religion or any aspect of who or what God is or does. It does not indict religion, but rather extremists who want to control.

Friday, December 7, 2007

New Movie!!! Inkheart

Okay, I went to see The Golden Compass tonight because I could not wait. Usually it's pretty hard to remember the previews at a really terrific movie, which I'll talk more about when I've digested it. However, the preview to Inkheart just blew my mind. It's everything I wanted the book to be visually. Hooray for another wonderful book brought to the screen. This trailer isn't the one that shows before Golden Compass, but it's still awesome.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Razor worth waiting for

As we wait for the fourth and final season of Battlestar Galactica it was nice to have a little taste of the brilliance that this show can be. This two-hour episode doesn't actually bridge the gap between Seasons 3 and 4, but rather explains some missing info from the midst of Season 2. It clears up a few questions that will obviously be important in season 4, but mostly it's a terrific stand alone episode, as long as you've seen through the end of Season 2. It tells the story of what happened (past tense if you're up to date with the most recent season) to the doomed Battlestar Pegasus when the Cylons attacked and how they met up with Galactica without any civilian fleet with them. Michelle Forbes (previously brilliant on Homicide) as the woman in charge is awesome, and we even find out some amazing secrets of her personal life that shed light on her brutality towards the captured Cylon. There are revealing elements that shed light on how Season 4 might happen, but it's kept a pretty tight secret. The story mostly follows another Pegasus officer, Kendra Shaw, as she takes orders from Forbes, as well as trying to explain the history of Pegasus to our favorites Starbuck and Apollo. She's terrific, making tough decisions and trying to survive those decisions. Overall, the episode is really well written, with our favorites making appearances, but focusing on issues that we missed during Pegasus' brief appearance in Season 2. I can't wait for the next season!