Monday, August 29, 2005

The Brothers Grimm (**)

Terry Gilliam's latest film, though visually fantastic, falls flat on its face in the story department and is too crudely put together. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the brothers Grimm and their characters are so non-existent that the two actors are interchangeable in their roles. However, the real problem I had with the film is that it's so unfocused. Most of that blame lies with Ehren Kruger's script. The fairy tale elements are not incorporated as well as they should be, and seem haphazardly thrown in without rhyme or reason. Blame should also rest on Gilliam's shoulders. This is most definitely a Gilliam film, and it's always cool to look at, but it's just a mess at times. In the end, a disappointment given the cast and director.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (***)

Likeable, if unremarkable, comedy with a superb lead performance by Steve Carrell. While this movie has its fair share of sex gags, I didn't find them all too original. I enjoyed the personal story of Carrell's Andy, and the way the movie made us care about his character. This is largely due to Carrell's performance. He is so good here. Funny, engaging, and a real person. I know I'm not making this sound like a fitfully funny comedy. Trust me, it is funny. You will laugh in parts. But too many of those laughs feel cheap. Carrell's performance is the real thing. I think the serious side to this movie and its well-intentioned look at mid-life virginity may be why so many other critics are responding so positively to it. This is the kind of flick that I'm sure will improve upon repeat viewings. But it's no Anchorman, or even this summer's Wedding Crashers. Both of those films are funnier, while this one's sweeter, kinder, gentler.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Aristocrats (***)

Insightful and often funny documentary about one sick joke and the art of telling it. There are over 100 talented comedians involved in the film, and each riffs on the same joke, explains the history behind it, and taps into the same juvenile, scatalogical subject matter. I liked the film, but was a bit disappointed. Perhaps I've lost the ability to be shocked, which I think this film (and the Aristocrats joke) depend on to be truly gut-bustingly funny. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, it all gets a bit too repetitive as well. Another fault I had with the film was that the editing suffered from overkill. I would have liked to see the comedians tell their version of the joke all the way through. Too often, co-directors Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette cut away to others explaining things and commenting on the joke, which kind of interrupts the flow of the joke. This film may not be for everyone, especially those easily offended, but you'll probably find some part of it funny.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (*)

Call this taking one for the team. To be honest, I really enjoyed the first Deuce Bigalow. Yes, it's humor was entirely infantile, but there was a sweetness to the movie and it was damn funny at times. Before seeing the sequel, I was a tad wary. I searched high and low for reviews from critics who liked the first Deuce, but couldn't find any. Those critics who hated the first Deuce naturally hated its sequel. Having now seen the sequel, I can give you a fair warning: Stay away. This is a horrible comedy. For one thing, it's not funny. For another, it's a bit too homophobic, despite the abundance of penis jokes throughout. In one scene, Deuce is hired as an escort by a woman with a penis for a nose. Yes, you read that right. A penis for a nose. And when she sneezes in a restaurant, semen flies out of her nose and into people's soup. If you find that funny, by all means, go and check this film out. If you're like the rest of us, again, stay away.

Four Brothers (***)

Solid piece of genre filmmaking by John Singleton, and a better film than the previews would have you believe. It's tough, gritty, and very funny at times. This movie is modeled after those revenge flicks of the 70s. It wastes very little time getting into its story, and although a tad corny at times, proves to be a highly entertaining B-film. Mark Wahlberg and Andre Benjamin are standouts, as is Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard, in a supporting role. Singleton does funky, bad-ass cinema as well as any other director today. He's also quite good at action scenes. There is a great snowbound car chase in the middle of the film, and an expertly staged shootout towards the end. It may not be the prettiest film to look at (like Singleton's Shaft, it's not that well lit), but it is a fun time at the movies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sky High (***)

This movie has kind of slipped under people's radars, and I think that's a shame because it's a terrifically entertaining and clever family film. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's a mix of Harry Potter and John Hughes' movies, but with a comic book motif. Sky High is your typical high school except for the fact that kids with superpowers attend it. The teens are divided into heroes and sidekicks based on their powers, and it's a neat little commentary on the class systems found in today's real high schools. Kurt Russell has a good time as a superhero father who's pretty Incredible. Director Mike Mitchell keeps things lively, and has cast the movie's supporting characters extremely well. Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, Broken Lizard's Kevin Heffernan, and Wonder Woman's Lynda Carter all give fine, funny performances. The soundtrack is chock full of memorable 80's hits, and there's a lot of teen angst and hormones running amok. If I were an 8 or 9-year old, this would probably be the best movie I've ever seen. As a 26-year old, it's one of the better films I've seen this year.

The Bad News Bears (**)

This is sort of a lame duck movie, one that doesn't really have an identifiable audience. It's not crude or funny enough for older teens and adults, and yet, too profane and objectionable for young kids. It all plays like a Bad Santa-lite wannabe. Billy Bob Thornton is good, and he does have some funny lines, but they are few and far between. I think that it's funnier when Billy Bob is cursing and drinking around innocent kids, rather than snotty, bratty little kids who also curse and drink. Without a ton of comedy, what we're left with is a routine sports film, with the Bears overcoming the odds and putting together a successful baseball team. I've never seen the original Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau, but I doubt this one is all that different, or that necessary.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Red Eye (**1/2)

This is one tightly constructed little thriller. Boasting not an ounce of fat and clocking in at under an hour and a half, this film moves. Director Wes Craven is a master at this kind of film, and could do it in his sleep. I really like the setup to the film. The trailers give it away that Cillian Murphy's character is a bad guy, but half the fun of the first act is figuring out when he's going to snap. When he finally does, the movie continues to be a suspenseful engrosser, but once that plane lands, all sense of logic and subtlety goes flying out the window, and we're left with what feels like a rushed, unbelievable wrap-up. Another problem I had with the film is that I liked Murphy's character. I wanted him to succeed in what he was doing. Yes, he's a bad guy and we're supposed to root against him, but I think the filmmakers made it tougher to do so by making him such an enjoyable villain. I may be in the minority on that one though. All in all, a decent time at the movies. This one makes for a perfectly fine Friday night rental on DVD.

March of the Penguins (***)

Enthralling documentary that offers what I can only assume to be unparalleled access to the lives of penguins. This may sound like some boring nature documentary, but it actually has a weighty narrative thrust to it. It plays more like a thriller in a way, what with the mom and dad penguins fighting the brutish cold for the survival of their babies, and also themselves. It's also quite emotional in places. You really do feel for the penguins, and the toll the weather takes on them. Morgan Freeman does the narration and is his typical soothing self. I didn't know much about penguins going in, but I learned a lot and was entertained at the same time. Many may compare this to the other documentary hit about birds, Winged Migration, but I found March of the Penguins to be a more gripping journey and thus, a better film.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Devil's Rejects (**)

This movie is pretty review-proof. It has a built-in audience, and that's about the only group of people who should see it. Excessive, over-the-top, and downright disturbed at times, this is a bad, bad movie. However, director Rob Zombie does have some talent, and the movie plays well as a comedy, albeit a sick, disgusting one. The plot is ridiculously awful and poorly conceived, and Zombie certainly loves the song "Freebird" given the fact that he subjects his audience to the entire song at the end of the film, thereby prolonging things unnecessarily. I can say this, it's definitely a movie. I don't know what else it is. But it is a movie.

Hustle and Flow (***1/2)

This is an excellent example of bridging an independent film's sensibilities with a mainstream, feel-good, Rocky-style story. Terrence Howard is amazing as DJay, a pimp with aspirations to be a rap star. The movie plays much better than it sounds, and Howard imbues his character with sympathy and grace. What I like best about the film is the way it maintains a hard edge throughout. You never really know if it's going to end up happy or in a hail of bullets. The musical sequences are exciting, and writer-director Craig Brewer really nails the desperation of DJay and his cohorts, and impressively achieves a stylistic 70s atmosphere. Anthony Anderson and Taryn Manning both deliver knockout supporting performances. Highly recommended.

Broken Flowers (***)

This is a great film that's hurt by a lazy, near catatonic performance by Bill Murray. The supporting cast is fantastic. Jeffrey Wright, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, and Frances Conroy all give superb character performances. I must admit though that I'm a bit disturbed by Bill Murray's acting in recent films. I feel like his subtle, less-is-more approach worked for the world weary characters in Rushmore, Lost in Translation, and Life Aquatic, but here, he barely registers as a human being. I didn't buy his performance for a minute. The movie gives us no reason why his character should be so downtrodden and withdrawn, and so it makes no sense why he should be acting that way. Further, he's supposed to be playing this Don Juan with the women, a man of many loves. It's disappointing because it zaps the movie of its otherwise ripe comic energy. Having said that, Broken Flowers does succeed despite Murray's performance, although I would have loved to see what Election/About Schmidt/Sideways director Alexander Payne could do with the material. I especially liked the ambiguous ending.

The Dukes of Hazzard (**)

Pointless big-screen remake of the inexplicably beloved 70's television show. This movie just kind of sits there on screen, doing nothing particularly of any interest. It's a lemon. Much has been made of Jessica Simpson's big screen debut. Well, she doesn't embarrass herself, but she's given the same scene to play over and over again, and it's clear that her acting range is about the size of her waist. Johnny Knoxville gives a terrible performance. All he does throughout the whole movie is laugh (fittingly) like a Jackass. For those of you who enjoy a good car chase, a la The Blues Brothers, you might like parts of this movie. The General Lee is filmed lovingly and there are some pretty cool stunts in the film. But it's just so repetitive: a ton of police cars chase the Dukes for about five minutes, the car makes some nifty turns, and then always, ALWAYS must jump off some kind of ramp sitting in the middle of nowhere.

Must Love Dogs (*)

It's been a while since I've really felt pained in a movie theater before. There are so many annoying, cliche-ridden moments in this cheap, lazy romantic comedy that one starts to lose count. This is the kind of movie that suburban middle-aged women choose as their one movie to see in a theater for the year. They were certainly the audience I was with. Even more saddening, these women know everything that's going to happen. They laugh beforehand when they predict lines and situations outloud, and then laugh again when it actually happens on screen. It's as if they enjoy being fed exactly what they expect. Not me. I hate, hate much of this movie. Precocious kids abound, as do hideous movie moments like a Partridge Family sing-along, and a soundtrack that hits home every thematic point. For example, when Diane Lane finds herself home alone eating ice cream, "Hey there, Lonely Girl" starts to play. How very subtle indeed. Nevertheless, John Cusack and Diane Lane do make an engaging screen couple. When they are both on screen together, the movie actually works. So, in a way, I guess you can say it does what it's supposed to. But still. Painful.