Thursday, December 31, 2009

GLEE- Flash Mob Rome

This is just a fun thing to see! Enjoy.

Avatar: Review (minor spoilers)

This is a very upfront movie, so I'll be upfront, I LOVED Avatar. I have to say the marketing of Avatar didn't do much to explain what the heck the movie is about - all I really understood was that it had blue people and flying dinosaur-like creatures, and from interviews on TV I knew that Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington were in it. But that's about all I understood. I saw the 3D version, which is spectacular, but just given the amazing visuals, I bet the 2D version is just as beautiful and entrancing. Here's a little explanation of what it's actually about: Marine Worthington arrives at a planet called Pandora (around the year 2150) where he's replacing his brother as the operator of an avatar (a Mii for the Wii crowd, or basically a physical representation of yourself that operates under your control but separate from your body) to integrate himself into the indigenous people so he can 1) learn more about them for Weaver's scientist, and 2) persuade them to abandon their homes so a company can extract a valuable ore from beneath it. Because he's replacing his brother, Worthington has no experience with either the language or customs of Pandora or the Navi (the tall blue people with tails). This works to his advantage and he begins to learn about them. He's pulled between his military commanders and the science and sociology people trying to learn as much as they can. He meets Neytiri (voiced and acted thanks to James Cameron's amazing new techniques of motion capture by Zoe Saldana) the daughter of the chief of the local Navi clan, and ultimately, his instructor in what it means to be Navi. He goes through the rites and rituals of becoming a Navi, riding an indigenous horse, flying on a raptor-type animal, and understanding the Navi's deep connection with their planet. Ultimately a huge fight goes down between the company and Navi (and you can guess what happens).

James Cameron has truly changed the art of movie-making in many ways. The ability to actually capture an actor's performance and then morph that performance into a different species with different shapes and environments is amazing. The sci-fi genre may never be the same (or many others either, given the imagination of Hollywood). However, he's still James Cameron, and wrote the movie too, so the inspiration of other movies in the past kept hitting me. The one that keeps sticking is that Avatar is what might have happened if Dances with Wolves had ended differently. However, the movie-making skill and futuristic (rather than historic) story gave Cameron the chance to tell a story without stooping to basic cliches. He only spends moments (in a very long 160 minute movie) describing how avatars work, or Worthington learning the language, or basic information about the Navi. But the collective whole of the movie gives you all the information you need to understand a beautiful story. Much of the back story is told through voice-overs from Worthington's video diaries. I went in knowing how long the movie would be, so I was conscious of when trimming might have been done, and honestly there were few moments even a couple of seconds could be cut, and definitely never an entire scene.

The acting throughout was superb. Weaver is excellent at playing a ball-busting scientist, pissed off at the conditions she's constantly fighting to get the best possible science done. The incursions the military has had with the Navi stopped her school (an easy explanation for why some Navi can speak English) and she's constantly fighting to get better things done. Her fascination with Pandora is infectious. Zoe Saldana (pictured above, left) as the only main character who is NEVER shown as human (most of the others appear in their avatars as well as human) is terrific. She's funny, tough, smart, and tries very hard to help her people work with the humans again even though it hasn't gone well in the past. And finally Sam Worthington is terrific. For a newcomer he carries the whole movie really well. I'm guessing he'll have trouble getting recognized for it since he spends at least half the movie as a giant blue man, rather than himself. His struggles with learning about the Navi and triumphs when he masters new skills are powerful to watch, while never stooping to over the top acting option. I really really liked Avatar as did the people I went with, so I give it 5 of 5 stars/lambs.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: Review

I would have gone to see any movie with Robert Downey, Jr., but I was also excited to see a new big-screen adaptation of the great characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as I didn't know much about them. Downey, Jr. plays Holmes, with Jude Law as Dr. John Watson, and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, and American con artist thief (and the love of Holmes). We first see Holmes and Watson stopping a ritualistic murder, and catching the serial killer. During the ensuing months Watson begins the process of moving out of their rooms to marry a young woman named Mary. Holmes does all he can to thwart their match, as he doesn't want to lose Watson (their bromance is both taken seriously and played for laughs and definitely reminded me of House and Wilson on "House, M.D." in that Watson protects Holmes from himself, and Holmes is fiercely loyal to Watson and secretly loves Irene). Holmes is going stir-crazy trying to find challenging things to do, as all his offers of work seem silly. However, at the time their serial killer is to be hanged, Holmes and Watson get drawn back into a much larger investigation surrounding the man about to die. The whole story is reminiscent of Indiana Jones, with mysticism and mystery, but as it is Sherlock Holmes, ultimately, it's more like a Victorian Age Mentalist.
The acting, directing, story-telling and overall look of the movie are terrific. The one complaint I had was the difficulty in understanding the rapid-fire, mumbled dialogue. I was always a few moments behind understanding the terrific dialogue, which does make the experience a bit tiresome. One of the best movies of 2009, and I can't wait to watch it again on DVD so I can rewind any dialogue I don't understand. 4.5 stars/lambs

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Funny People...not so funny, but still good

Adam Sandler has had mixed success with his movie career. Definitely a big movie star with huge grossing movies, he's rarely taken seriously as an actor. He's tried several times to do more serious roles (Spanglish, Punch Drunk Love) with mixed reviews. My favorite movie of his is hands down 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore. This past summer he teamed up with Judd Apatow's team to make Funny People a look at what happens when a comedian gets everything he always wanted and has no idea how to enjoy it. Then he gets sick and doesn't have anyone to help him through the problems he's facing. Then he meets Ira Weiner (Seth Rogan) and his roommates (Jonah Hill and my least favorite actor Jason Schwartzman). Seth and Jonah are comedians and he hires Seth to be his assistant. The problem is that Seth is basically a good person with morals, which Sandler seems to have lost along with any friends or family. We watch Sandler get sick, then better, and meeting up with an old love, Leslie Mann (and her kids again!) and screwing up her life. Overall, it's definitely a drama, with the career of a comedian as the back-drop to offer some comic relief. Good movie, but not great. 3 of 5 stars/lambs

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Insight into Entertainment!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope to see lots of movies during the next week, particularly Avatar in 3D! I hope you all get everything you're looking for this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Inglorious Basterds: DVD Review (with minor spoilers)

I was definitely worried that Inglorious Basterds wouldn't live up to the hype, or that it would just be another incredibly violent movie from Quentin Tarantino. Thankfully, it totally lived up to the hype and also was a very violent movie, though not as gratuitously as some of his others. It returns to a lot of the strengths that he brought to Pulp Fiction, with strong story-telling, with different characters ultimately arriving at the same place and the story coming full-circle. The analogy that kept coming to mind to describe the connection between the two movies was Pulp Fiction is to crime movies as Inglorious Basterds is to war films. That is to say, it's only vaguely related to their larger genres. Basterds follows a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Brad Pitt who will be dropped into occupied France to "kill Nazis". They build up a reputation of brutal slayings, pissing off the Nazi higher ups, specifically, Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz in his Golden-Globe nominated performance) who has built up his own reputation as "The Jew Hunter". The story is told in chapters, each small story adding up to the complete and final chapter. The first chapter shows Waltz trying to find out if a family is hiding a Jewish family in their farm. He's jolly, and friendly and ultimately scares the crap out of you with his cruelty, which is what you remember every time he reappears. You're never sure if he'll be evil or jolly (sorry, that's an odd word to describe him, but it's what he seems to me). Meanwhile, we meet a French cinema-owner who strikes the eye of a German war hero (Daniel Bruhl). He convinces Goebbels to move the premiere of the new German propaganda movie to her theater. She decides to blow up the theater to trap them all inside. At the same time our Basterds have reached Paris and also plan to blow up the theater, though they need help getting in from a film star (Diane Kruger). She meets the Basterds in a bar, which ends in a pretty great gun fight as other German soldiers are there and they blow their secret identities. Ultimately, their scheme succeeds, but I won't tell you how or who survives.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It was long, (158 minutes) but it doesn't drag very often, and each new chapter brings in new characters. Also, and I vaguely remember this being an issue when it came out, all the characters speak the language they're meant to speak based on their character and the conversation taking place (i.e. Brad Pitt speaks English when he's talking to his troops, Landa speaks German to soldiers, but French to the local people). They actually justify, very subtly, the language being spoken at any moment. All the acting is terrific - particularly Waltz and Melanie Laurent (the French Cinema owner), both pictured. Also, by just setting the story during WWII and using the same characters, but letting the story run however he wants, Tarantino maintains the tensions in ways most war films couldn't. You can't assume anyone lives or dies just because history says they did (or didn't). Very good movie, definitely deserving of a spot in the top 10 movies of 2009. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Did you hear about the Morgans?: Review

I know there are a lot of haters out there in blog land for the new romantic comedy, Did you hear about the Morgans? with Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant, and chances are they won't like the movie, regardless of my review. However, for the people willing to watch a movie BEFORE they decide they hate it, this review's for you. Did you hear about the Morgans? is the story of a separated couple Meryl and Paul Morgan who witness a murder and have to be protected from the escaped murderer. I'm guessing you can figure all that out from the commercials. While it does follow several movie cliches - the fish out of water (city mouse/country mouse) and the bickering couple that make amends, the movie does avoid offending either the city or country people. The Morgans are New York City people, transported to super-rural Wyoming, and their ignorance of rural life is played for laughs rather than mocking the rural people for not having the big-city options, like a lot of other movies. As a bickering couple, they spend a lot of time watching Grant attempt to make-up to his wife with gifts and apologies and such. Advice from the couple taking care of them (Mary Steenburgen and Sam Elliot) is seen as wise and important (even though they're mostly teasing the city couple). However, the couple that steals the show for their few scenes is Elizabeth Moss (from "Mad Men") and Jesse Liebman (in his first movie according to Imdb) as Meryl and Paul's assistants. They basically dislike each other but have to plan their bosses lives with each other. Moss is terrific as a shrew bossy know it all, and Liebman as the bumbling but sweet foil for her.
Overall, a good romantic comedy without anything problematic or particularly wonderful. Right in the middle. 2.5. of 5 Lambs/stars

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Random round-up!

Last weekend, it was snowing and cozy by the fire, so I watched a bunch of movies, the first from a Netflix DVD, and the others from the Netflix Watch Instantly feature on Roku. All were surprisingly good movies, perfect for a quiet weekend.

Away We Go stars SNL alum Maya Rudolph and The Office's John Krasinski as expectant parents. They've moved to be near his parents for the birth of their baby, only to be told his parents - Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels - are moving to Belgium. Untethered by either family or jobs, they decide to find a new place to live near people they know. Thus begins a journey of some of the most extreme characters ever. Allison Janney is a vulgar ex-boss in Tuscon, Maggie Gyllenhaal is an over the top mother in Wisconsin, and Melanie Lynsky is a perfect mom of lots of adopted kids in Montreal. We watch Rudolph and Krasinski's voyage to find a place to live, as well as discover what kind of parents they want and DON'T want to be. Their dialogue provides most of the humor of the movie, quick and sharp, as they discuss the crazies they thought they might want to live near. I thought it was a really good, very original movie, carefully constructed to avoid cliche, but almost misses the mark. It could easily have been really boring, but the strength of the cast makes the movie thoroughly enjoyable. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

The next movie we watched is How About You, a movie Netflix recommended to me and they were right and I enjoyed it. It's about an Irish assisted living facility run by Kate. She's struggling to keep it together when her long-term residents scare off any potential new clients coming to visit. Her ne'erdowell sister Ellie, comes to mooch off of her and gets a job helping clean the home. When their mom gets sick at Christmas, Kate has to leave to take care of her, but can't find a place for 4 residents who have nowhere else to go (they've been banned from other homes). Ellie says she's stay and take care of them for the holidays. The residents are a hoot. Vanessa Redgrave plays an aging actress who remembers a terrific career that never was, and dances around demanding more olives for her martinis and making people jump to her whim. Two sisters - Imelda Staunton and older sis Brenda Fricker - live at the home to escape their childhood struggles (slowly revealed during the movie) and harp on any perceived slight from the staff. Fricker even makes Staunton wear an eye patch after Ellie throws a piece of toast at her. The final person to complete their holiday quintet of lonely hearts is well known British actor Joss Ackland (I spent most of the movie trying to remember where I'd heard his voice before), a widowed, former alcoholic judge. None of them are friends and none of them will give an inch to make life easier for Ellie. Ackland insists on breakfast in his room at 6 am, the others want specific foods at the regular breakfast time. They all run around making life hard for Ellie, but as it takes place at Christmas, you can figure out that all will end well, and it does. A small heartwarming movie with lots of character. 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

To follow up this sweet charming movie, we watched a French film about a former prisoner trying to find her way in the world after her release. I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) stars Kristin Scott Thomas as Juliette, just getting out of prison after 15 years and moving in with her sister's family. I won't spoil anything about what she was in prison for, which is slowly revealed throughout the movie, as other people reveal what they think they know about what happened and how they treat her because of their misconceptions. However, the movie isn't really about her reintroduction to society, but to her family and friends. She has been silent for so many years that they don't know her or anything about what happened to send her to prison. The movie is terrific - you'll just have to believe me. The story they tell will sit with you and make you think a lot about what you might have done differently if you'd been in Juliette's situation. 4.5 stars/lamsb

The final movie I only saw to try to prove that Emma Watson (Hermione from Harry Potter) can act. Sadly, she can't act any differently than Hermione's personality allows, even in a non-Harry Potter movie. Ballet Shoes is based on a children's chapter book that follows three orphaned little girls who grow up in 1920s London and to help the family that raised them they join a theater academy and each go on to different fields, acting, dance, etc. It was a decent movie for little girls, but not terrific acting or a good story. 2.5 stars/lambs

Ballet Shoes
I've Loved You So Long
How About You
Away We Go

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not quite the saddest movie ever

Some of the saddest movies I've ever seen are The House of Sand and Fog, Cold Mountain, and The Pursuit of Happyness. I think of them as the saddest movies because very little happy happens, and the very saddest things imaginable actually happen and you're forced to watch. None of those movies are exceptional in almost any way, except that they're really good at inducing crying. I didn't expect much more from My Sister's Keeper. The bald girl in the trailer is obviously sick, and the whole story is about her and her family. However, somehow it's still not that sad. Very good at making you cry, but still a fairly interesting story. I read the book before I saw the movie, and it's one of the best sad books I've ever read, so I was excited to see how they made it into a non-weepy movie. Cameron Diaz is the sick girl's mother, and does a good job of being the lioness running over everyone in her efforts to save her daughter. Jason Patric is the dad, and his role is much smaller in the movie than the book, so he can't be blamed for being just a flicker. Abigail Breslin and Alec Baldwin are terrific fighting Diaz for Breslin's right to her own body (which means her sister will die without the kidney she's fighting to keep). As with all of Jodie Piccoult's (the author of the book) there's a twist that turns everything on its head, but it's not particularly vital to the ending. Overall, a good movie, but be warned, YOU WILL CRY. 3 lambs/stars

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Short review: New Moon (that Twilight sequel)

So much has been written about New Moon already, and I don't think that many people who read my blog care much about the new Twilight: New Moon movie so I won't post much. I liked the first movie more than I expected, so I read the books, which I liked less than expected, although I couldn't put them down (I also can't put down a bag of Pirate's Booty - that doesn't mean it's quality food). There were a few things I did like about the movie (beside staring at cute semi-naked guys). The movie did a good job convincing me that Jacob (the Native American kid who turns into a werewolf) might be a legitimate love interest for Bella, which it did much better than the book. Also better than the book was the movie's ability to scrub some of the teen angst and broken-heart isolation that Bella suffers after Edward leaves. The story was compelling, and I liked the set up for the next film. Decent entertainment, but not a terrific movie (and the acting is still pretty bad). 2.5 of 5 Lambs/Stars.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Best Christmas Movie quotes!

These are a compilation of my and my brother's favorite movie quotes. We've always sent quotes back and forth to challenge one another so this year I thought I'd ask for help coming up with our favorites. I couldn't limit myself to just one quote per movie, and when it comes to Christmas, the more the merrier. Please let me know if I've missed your favorite.

1. You'll shoot your eye out, kid. - Santa, and many others. A Christmas Story

2. Something REeal Niice. Cousin Eddie - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Eddie: Shitter's Full.
Clark: Honey, have you checked our shitter lately. - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

3. Does this look like a LITTLE weight? - Scott Calvin The Santa Clause

4. Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color? - Buddy, answering the phone - ELF
I'm sorry I ruined your life and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR. Buddy (typed on an etch-a-sketch) - ELF

5. God Bless Us Everyone - Tiny Tim, A Muppet Christmas Carol

6. Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan - George Bailey It's a Wonderful Life Teacher says, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." - Zuzu Bailey It's a Wonderful Life

7. Ma'am I'm eight years old, Do you think I'd be here alone? I don't think so. Kevin McCallister - Home Alone

8. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more! - The Narrator How the Grinch Stole Christmas

9. Doris: "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles."
Doris Walker: "I was wrong when I told you that, Susie. You must believe in Mr. Kringle and keep right on doing it. You must have faith in him." - Miracle on 34th Street