Sunday, August 20, 2006

Snakes on a Plane (*)

This is an easy review: Snakes on a Plane is as dumb as it looks. Any enjoyment you might have from this movie has already been had. It's nowhere near as fun as the movie you conjure up in your brain just from hearing the title alone. And it's a great title. But the movie is pure, direct-to-video trashiness. And I don't mean that in a good way. The audience I saw this movie with had a good time, but it was as if they were making something out of nothing. The movie didn't really give them anything to work with. They all came to see it (drunk, I might add, which is really the only way to watch this movie) ready to laugh and make fun of it. They were primed to explode. If anything, the movie defused that explosion. As it went along, you could feel the energy just zap out of the theater. As any living, breathing human being can tell you, this movie looks like it's terrible. Boy, does it deliver.

World Trade Center (**1/2)

Hard to believe they could make a feel-good film out of the events surrounding 9/11 but darn it if Oliver Stone and company don't succeed in doing just that. This is polished, professional mainstream filmmaking. The performances are all top-notch, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal's, and the story is one that deserves to be told. Having said that though, this is "safe" filmmaking. If you really want to be blown away by a 9/11 picture, go see the amazing United 93. Whereas World Trade Center is overly sentimental at times and easy on its audience, United 93 pulls no punches and is truly spectacular, groundbreaking cinema. Is it fair to compare the two? Not really. World Trade Center is the movie for those who say it's too soon for a movie about 9/11. If it gets them to abandon that silly notion, then all the more power to it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Descent (***)

I love the poster for this movie. It's so eye catching and really sets this film apart from other horror movies. That's fitting because The Descent is heads and tails above most horror movies from the past ten years. It's a low-budget British flick with a cast of all females, and for the first hour, it really is one of the scariest films you'll see. Six women go cave spelunking in the Appalachian mountains and as they go further into the cave, the tension really starts to ratchet up. They'll crawling through these tight tunnels where rocks are crashing in above and around them, and one can't help but feel claustrophobic. And then the creatures come. They're some type of humanoid and they resemble Gollum from the animated Hobbit. Cool idea, and it could have been really scary, but director Neil Marshall goes crazy with the camera shots and editing and loses all the intensity he worked so hard to build in the first hour. It gets really silly really fast, but is still entertaining and it keeps you on the edge of your seat till the end.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine (***)

It may not be the funniest movie you'll ever see, but the word of mouth on this one is good, and for good reason. It's one of the smartest, most enjoyable films of the year. The cast is excellent with Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin as the two kids being the standouts. And Steve Carell continues on his fast trak to superstardom with another low-key, subtle performance. I liked it more as a light drama, with a lot of comedic moments, rather than as a straight up comedy. Like the yellow VW that features prominently in the story, the movie takes a while to get rolling, but once it does, it just keeps getting better and better, and engages you more and more. My wife calls this movie "an independent film for people who don't like independent films," and she's absolutely right. But there's nothing wrong with that. Given the dull summer at the movies we've had, Little Miss Sunshine is a bright ray of, you guessed it, sunshine.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (***)

First things first: Talladega Nights is no Anchorman. It's nowhere near as funny, and the supporting characters aren't as delightfully silly. But when this movie works, it is the funniest thing you'll see all year. There is a dinner table scene early on where Ferrell (as Ricky Bobby) and John C. Reilly (as his partner Cal Naughton, Jr.) debate which form of Jesus they like to pray to that will have you doubling over with laughter. I also give a lot of credit to Gary Cole and Jane Lynch, who play Ricky Bobby's parents and give a much needed shot of humor and emotion in the middle act of the film. Surprisingly, the biggest weak spot of the film is Da Ali G Show's Sascha Baron Cohen. He plays a gay, French NASCAR driver with a silly accent. A funny concept, but Cohen never really finds the character and he kind of drains the comedic life out of every scene he's in. The races and crashes are shot well though, and Ferrell, as always, commits 100% to his role. Whenever he has a hand in writing the film he's in, it's a good thing.