Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Last Kiss (**1/2)

The Last Kiss is a slight, though daring, little film about the pitfalls of adulthood and choosing to grow up. It's a good thing Zach Braff is cast in the film because he' s a pretty likeable actor whose character does some pretty unlikeable things in the film. The movie's not well-written enough (despite a script by Crash and Million Dollar Baby's Paul Haggis) to make us identify with Braff's character's choices, so it's up to Braff's inherent likeability to carry the film. It's also an underwritten film. There are several other guy characters in the movie, and at first, it seems like each will be given their own story and angle on the main theme. But then about midway through, the movie loses all interest in these other characters. The Last Kiss could have been a thoughtful, complex character study. Instead, it's an almost instantly forgettable movie and, aside from the cool ambiguous ending, doesn't really add up to a satisfying whole.

The Black Dahlia (*)

Call me lazy if you wish, but I think my wife Jules nailed the review for this one. I agree with her completely and have nothing new to add so I'm just going to copy her review in full for your reading pleasure:

What. A. Mess.

First of all, I don't know if it's the story that sucks or just the way they told the story. What is it with this new trend of telling stories about so-called Hollywood mysteries, like the Black Dahlia and George Reeves? If you want to cinematize a real mystery or scandal, give the story of "My Sister Sam" actress Rebecca Schaeffer or something. This movie tries to do too much with too little. The film wanders around aimlessly for the first half hour or forty-five minutes. Is it a boxing movie? A buddy cop film? The story about a love triangle? Who knows and who cares.

Then they start getting into the actual "meat" of the story, the murder of a young wannabe actress, who is dubbed "The Black Dahlia" for some reason no one cares about. Then, for another inexplicable reason, partners Hartnett and Eckhart become obsessed with this girl and her murder. Why? I have no idea. They don't bother to flesh this out because they're too busy spending time on other mysteries, like why some initials are carved on Scarlett Johansson's back side and why Hilary Swank won two Oscars.

The whole movie is just awful, and a big fat finger can be pointed at the director, Brian De Palma. The acting is attrocious. The usually excellent Aaron Eckhart seems about as confused as to what his character is doing in the movie as we are as to why we're watching it. Scarlett Johansson was completely miscast. She is way too young to be playing that role. If we're being picky, so is Josh Hartnett, but he actually did a better-than-expected job with the tripe he was given. Aunt Petunia from the "Harry Potter" movies...I have no idea what to say about her performance, except that it was laughable and I don't know if it was supposed to be. Hilary Swank should have both of her Oscars revoked. She can play white trash like nobody's business, but playing upper-class Scottish or American or Irish or English or whatever accent she was slipping in and out of throughout this movie is not her forte.

Tonally, this movie is all over the place. The audience laughed several times during the course of the film, and I don't think that was the intent of the director. The big reveal at the end was more like the "Wayne's World" Scooby-Doo ending than the end of a noir film. The score was distracting and at times completely inappropriate.

Perhaps the best part (and by best, I mean worst) of the movie was when some "secret" person murders Aaron Eckhart. Some shadowy person in a hat comes up from behind and stabs him sending him sailing off a railing to his doom. Who could this shadowy figure possibly be? Doy, Brian De Palma. It's obviously a woman and it's obviously...I won't tell you who it was. If you're feeling particularly masochistic this weekend and decide to see this film, you can figure it out for yourself.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hollywoodland (**)

Hollywoodland is one half of a good movie. The half with Ben Affleck's portrayal of tv Superman George Reeves is a fascinating character study of an actor who was virtually typecast all the way into depression, drinking, and suicide. Affleck is great in the role, and really carries the film. But because the story of George Reeves isn't enough to carry a movie on its own, the filmmakers decided to include a present-day story arc with Adrian Brody investigating the circumstances surrounding Reeves' death. These present-day sequences comprise the bulk of the film and really aren't that interesting. Hollywoodland tries to posit a couple of different theories on whether Reeves killed himself or was murdered, but it seems pretty clear cut to me. I think the movie would have been better if they had used Reeves' story as a springboard and not hewn so closely to the facts. Hollywoodland is polished, professional adult moviemaking that fails to take flight.

The Illusionist (**1/2)

One of the previews before The Illusionist is for a film called The Prestige, due to be released later in October. It's another movie about magicians in the early 1900s, and it stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman and is directed by Batman Begins' Christopher Nolan. It looks awesome, and all I could think of as I watched The Illusionist is: I'd rather be watching The Prestige. That's not to say The Illusionist is bad. It's not. It's an interesting film: well-acted (although how could it not be when it stars Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti), engaging story line, and lots of magic. But it's weighed down by a heavy-handed romance, a bit too many supernatural trappings, and a twisty ending that I didn't buy for a second. It's a real Usual Suspects-type reveal that's supposed to be cool, and I'm sure many people will think so, but I don't think you should be surprised by a movie called The Illusionist which doesn't try to trick its own audience with an illusion.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Idiocracy (**1/2)

I don't think you can talk about Idiocracy, the latest comedy from Office Space creator Mike Judge, without mentioning 20th Century Fox's handling of the film. It's been sitting on a shelf for two years now, and when Fox finally decides to release it, they dump it in a handful of theaters with almost no advertising or any fanfare. It should be coming very soon to DVD. But why? Office Space may not have done very well in theaters, but it was a huge hit on video and I don't know anyone who's not a big fan of it. Mike Judge deserves better than this. As for the film, it's no masterpiece, but it certainly has a bunch of big laughs in it, and it's one of the better comedies this year. I'm sure it will get funnier over time too. Luke Wilson stars as an average joe who is frozen and unthawed 500 years in the future only to find he is the smartest man on earth. There are a lot of good gags about the dumbing down of America and over-corporatization. It's a smart movie about dumb people, and if you don't see it in the theater, it's a definite rental once it hits DVD.

Crank (*1/2)

I would not be surprised if Crank turns into a cult hit once it hits video. It's so over-the-top and agressively stupid that some people might get some real enjoyment out of it. In a way, it's the kind of movie that Snakes on a Plane should have been. For my money though, it was just a waste of a great concept for an action movie. The plot is basically human Speed: Jason Statham is injected with Chinese poision and must keep his adrenaline UP or he will die in an hour. So what does he do? Drink lots of Red Bull, snort cocaine, drive fast, have sex in public, and other assorted R-rated activities. If it wasn't directed so poorly (the filmmakers must have directed music videos), I might have enjoyed it more. It was just too annoying. But fifteen-year old boys will love it. For the rest of you, if you want an over-the-top, hard-R cult flick, check out the recent Running Scared, starring Paul Walker, instead.

Invincible (**1/2)

Invincible is the kind of movie that is impossible to dislike. It has a good story, it's well told, and it's ripped from the Disney playbook of family, feel-good sports flicks, not unlike Miracle, Remember the Titans, and The Rookie. It's a formula that can't really lose, and to date, hasn't. Invincible is as predictable as movies get. There are zero surprises. And yet, you don't really care. Why do we fall for these movies? Why are underdog sports flicks so enjoyable? Probably the same reason so many people love sports. The thrill of victory and of overcoming great odds are perfect subjects for a movie. I also liked seeing Mark Wahlberg in another 70's period setting after Boogie Nights. I guess the only other problem I had with Invincible, other than its predictability and dumb title, was the fact that it didn't really have any other story to fall back on. The Rookie had a father-son dynamic, and Remember the Titans had racial issues. Invincible keeps a pretty tight focus on one man's accomplishments. It tries to work in some story on the economic problems in Philadelphia, but doesn't do a very good job of it. But again, you won't care all that much. Invincible is fool-proof moviemaking.

Beerfest (**)

I'll admit that I don't really like Broken Lizard all that much. They're the comedic troupe that acts, writes, and directs their own films, and if you've seen Super Troopers or Club Dread, you know what to expect from them. Their latest opus, Beerfest, is as bad as those other movies, but I was expecting more. I found the ads for Beerfest funny, and thought this could be a college classic. It probably will become one, but through the sheer power of its title and subject matter alone, not through any merit as a comedy. There are moments of amusement, but they are few and far between. And with a running time of about two hours, Beerfest goes on for way, way too long and more then overstays its welcome. Actually, the funniest gag involves one of the characters getting drunk (big surprise) and waking up the next day lying naked in a forest covered in blood. The camera zooms out, and we see a deer carcass lying next to him with its insides eaten. He sees the deer and the blood, and walks away saying, "Not again." Beerfest ends with the group being greeted by Willie Nelson and asked to enter a "Potfest." If there is a sequel, count me out.