Monday, January 30, 2006

Cache (Hidden) (**)

While many critics are swooning over the latest from director Michael Haneke, I found the movie to be slow paced, uninvolving, and too ambiguous for its own good. There are great moments in the film when the viewer is pulled in by events so shockingly violent that they kind of wake you up from your stupor. A few good bloody scenes does not a movie make. See the blood on the poster? It's wise that they advertise the movie that way, because the scene with that streak of blood is basically the only reason to see the movie. It's the one moment where the film truly comes alive. It grabs you and hooks you, but only to lose your interest five minutes down the road. To me, Cache just seems like one big film school project: arty, pretentious, and vague.

The Matador (***)

The Matador is a fun, breezy comic caper that, while it won't make you laugh out loud all that much, will entertain you. Pierce Brosnan gives the most charismatic, against type, and best performance of his career here as a hitman going through a midlife crisis. Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis add solid support as the regular folks drawn into Brosnan's schemes. Things get a bit frantic and less cohesive in the last third of the film, but it ends on a nice, bittersweet moment--one that's not all that different from the end of Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mrs. Henderson Presents (*1/2)

Mrs. Henderson may have been presenting naked women on stage, but this movie mostly presented crap. Slight, unfunny, and well-reviewed only because it's a British flick that stars Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents is highbrow "entertainment" that, at all times, manages to bore the life out of viewers. Bob Hoskins and Judi Dench may be cinema treasures, but who cares when the movie they're in is so pointless? About an hour in, World War II happens and the movie desperately seeks some kind of gravitas that it never really achieves. The best thing about Mrs. Henderson is the opening credits. It's all downhill from there.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Underworld: Evolution (**)

If you liked the first Underworld, chances are you'll get some enjoyment out of this one. But this definitely falls under the stereotype of most sequels. It's bigger, dumber, and louder, with lots more blood, and for some reason a bunch of flashbacks to the first film. Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman don't really have much to do here, and aren't on screen all that much. The special effects are pretty cheesy, and the cinematography is constantly obsessed with a bluish tint to everything. That being said, there are werewolves and vampires fighting with each other. If that's your cup of tea, then by all means, go. It wasn't enough for me. Underworld: Evolution wants to be cool and kick-ass, but it isn't.

My Date with Drew (**1/2)

Clever and desperate at the same time, this is a not-so-great documentary that succeeds despite itself because of an intriguing storyline. Can one man get one date with his longtime crush, Drew Barrymore, when he's never even met her and has no real contacts with her? Add in a 30 day deadline, and a $1200 budget, and the stakes are significantly raised. I was entertained by this movie, but the filmmakers don't show any real filmmaking talent. You or I could make a documentary that's just as professional. Fans of Drew Barrymore should definitely check this one out though.

Transamerica (***)

Felicity Huffman is great in this not-so-funny, but always interesting comedy. Why she won a Golden Globe for a drama is beyond comprehension. Just because transgendered individuals are a somewhat timely topic doesn't mean a movie that deals with them is automatically a drama. Oh well, that's nitpicking. Transamerica would make for a good rental, and Felicity Huffman will most certainly make a good run at winning an Oscar. She's the real reason to see this one.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Grizzly Man (***)

Grizzly Man is an interesting, slow-moving documentary about man and nature, and how Timothy Treadwell crossed the line by getting so close to grizzly bears and underestimating their ferocity. Treadwell was a wildlife fanatic who would spend months at a time camping in the wilderness and surrounding himself with foxes and grizzly bears. Director Werner Herzog pretty much lets Treadwell speak for himself as most of the footage in the movie was shot by Treadwell. The movie makes for a fascinating character study and has truly breathtaking visuals. The camera gets so close to the bears, and knowing that Treadwell is killed by one, you almost expect one of the bears to suddenly turn on him on screen. For those of you who are faint of heart, relax. We don't see his death, even though it was captured (at least the audio) on film. It's just a shame the muscial score is so repetitive and annoying. If you can get past the first 20 minutes, you'll enjoy this one.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hostel (***)

It's sick. It's twisted. And I loved every minute of it. Hostel has been labeled and marketed as a horror film, but it's really not. It's more of a really gross, bloody thriller/morality tale. The first half of the film is all a tease. The main characters are three college-age kids bounding around Europe who are hell bent on getting stoned, laid, and being generally obnoxious. Amsterdam is a bit touristy for them, so they're told about this hostel in Slovokia where the girls are beautiful and willing to do anything with an American. So they go. Big mistake. Turns out, they stumble upon an underground business where people pay big money to torture and kill others, with Americans costing $25,000 to kill. As the characters start to die off, we're left with Jay Hernandez (of crazy/beautiful) who learns to stop being an obnoxious American and grow up really fast once he's strapped to the torture chair. The torture scenes are, of course, intense and not for the squeamish, but they're not as bad as they could have been. What I liked is when Hernandez turns the tables on his torturers and starts killing them as he tries to escape. Here, the movie fully realizes its entertainment value. Director Eli Roth previously directed the disappointing Cabin Fever, but here he has fun with the story, and provides a number of inspired, kick-ass moments. Hostel is original, inventive, sick, slick entertainment.

Glory Road (**1/2)

You know what you're getting when you go to see Glory Road. It's your prototypical underdog sports movie with race issues. It's not all that different from Remember the Titans, which is no surprise given that Jerry Bruckheimer produced both. Luckily, despite it's total predictability and seen that-done that feel, you still get into the movie because it has a strong story that's worth telling: the 1965 NCAA championship between Kentucky and Western Texas, where WT was the first team to start five black players. It was a watershed moment for basketball, and it makes for compelling drama. I just wish someone had taken more time with the characters. Josh Lucas plays the coach, and he is stuck in court mode the entire movie: intense and demanding. We never really get a good sense of his character off the court. Glory Road is in such a rush to get where it's going that it doesn't let its characters breathe or let the story speak for itself. It's too busy being flashy or funny, which although entertaining, ultimately hurts the film more than helps it.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Match Point (****)

Wow. What an intense movie. It starts off as a clever, well-written adultery drama, and then snaps into a clever, well-written thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Woody Allen has really hit the ball out of the park with this one. I've hated the last couple of movies he's done, but this has the look and fell like nothing else of his. It's shot in London, it has a young cast of good-looking Brits, and it has Scarlett Johannson giving her best performance to date. The whole movie is tighly scripted and everything about it just seems perfect. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's like Unfaithful meets The Talented Mr. Ripley, but you'll be shocked and surprised at where this movie ends. Unpredictable and highly entertaining, Match Point is not only the best thriller of the year, it's one of the best movies of the year. It's Woody Allen's best as well. But even if you're not a Woody fan, see this one. It'll knock your socks off.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Breakfast on Pluto (**)

Breakfast on Pluto is a film I really want to like. It's well-acted, especially by Cillian Murphy, who with this, Red Eye, and Batman Begins, is having a wonderful career year. It's well-directed by Neil Jordan, with flourishes of Amelie-style quirkiness, like talking birds. In fact, I really liked some of the imagery on display here, but I didn't find the story all that engaging, and the movie itself is mostly a hit or miss affair. It's a tad too long as well, and drags a lot of the time. What keeps the viewer entertained though is the rockin' soundtrack of obscure 60's pop scattered throughout the film. Great, great soundtrack. Good music can always disguise a less than entertaining film. Such is the case here, as the movie has been pretty well-reviewed. See for yourself, of course, but your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

Wolf Creek (*1/2)

Enough is enough. This is the straw that breaks the Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoffs' back. A bunch of indistinguishable young fun-seekers get in a car, travel, get stuck, and come across unspeakable evil in the Austrailian outback. Lots of torture ensues, but it isn't very original or clever. Just torture for torture's sake. Although I enjoyed the slow build and impending doom, once the picture got where it wanted to, blood and torture, I quickly lost interest. Wolf Creek is not all that scary and it's not that thrilling. It just sort of annoys you, and makes you ask: is this really entertainment? I don't know why this movie ticked me off so much, but other similar horror films (High Tension, Texas Chainsaw) don't. I think it boils down to the lack of originality, and the fact that all tension is zapped when characters do stupid things, like watch camcorder footage explaining the villain's MO when they should be getting the f*** out of there.

Memoirs of a Geisha (**1/2)

Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautifully shot, often engaging Cinderella-type tale, but it's emotionally inert and, above all things, fake. The filmmakers do such a great job with the production design and making us feel like we're in old Japan, but then the characters speak. In English. There is no reason why they would other than the fact that this is a Hollywood movie. It just renders the whole thing unbelievable. Plus, I found the story a little creepy. Ken Watanabe plays a kindly older gentleman who befriends a young girl, and then arranges for her to become a Geisha so he can get it on with her when she's older. How romantic. I never read Arthur Golden's book, which the film is based on, so I can't really compare the two, but the film, though pretty to look at, is just another one of those Oscar-baiting epics that Hollywood studios have been spending too much money on for years.