Saturday, June 30, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard (**1/2)

A lot of people have complained, myself included, about the latest Die Hard movie being rated PG-13, instead of R. Having now seen the film, I can say that the rating isn't the problem, it's the action itself. The Die Hard franchise prides itself, and is a success, because John McClane is your everyman forced into extraordinary situations. In Live Free or Die Hard, he basically becomes a superhero. The action is so ridiculous and over-the-top that it kind of belies the very nature of the Die Hard franchise. But as an action movie, not a Die Hard movie, it's a lot of fun. The villains are terrible and totally non-threatening, but I dug the tone of the flick. There was a lot of humor, and the camaraderie between Justin Long and Bruce Willis was great. It's nice to see Willis as McClane again. He's been so serious in so many of his movies of late, that to see Willis joking around and taking his licks--well, it's just a pleasure. Long live John McClane. Count me in for Die Hard 5, if this one's a success.

Hostel Part II (**)

Hostel Part II is essentially a retread of the first film, with less comedy, more gruesome kills, and a few interesting moments devoted to the wealthy folks who pay to kill people. A lot has been made of the Hostel flicks being nothing but torture porn, or "gornos," and while director Eli Roth may get his kicks in weird ways, he does have some talent behind the camera. My main problem with Hostel II is the fact that the genders have been reversed. Instead of three jerky American boys getting butchered and killed, we now have three relatively nice, normal American girls facing the same thing. You don't really want to see them die, which puts viewers in a weird situation, because so much of this film is all about the kills. Though it ends with a oddly satisfying castration scene (never really thought I'd say that in a sentence), you leave the theater feeling a little dirty.

Mr. Brooks (**)

This is a weird little movie, featuring an interesting and charismatic lead performance from Kevin Costner and a funny supporting turn fromWilliam Hurt. Those two are reason enough to see the film, which is sort of a serial killer Jekyll and Hyde, sometimes played for comedy and sometimes not, but it's usually pretty funny anyway. Demi Moore gives a misguided performance as a billionaire cop, and Dane Cook acquits himself just fine, if not a little annyong still, as a peeping tom who's looking to get into the killing game himself. There are a ton of subplots that are dropped or just poorly addressed throughout. I read somewhere that Costner was hoping to make a series of films based on Mr. Brooks. Though I don't regret sitting through this one, I can assure you: Mr. Brooks is no Hannibal Lector.

Ocean's Thirteen (***)

There really doesn't need to be an Ocean's Thirteen, but since we have one, we might as well enjoy. Building greatly upon the disappointment that was Twelve, but not quite matching Eleven, the latest Ocean's flick is ever so slight, but it's cool and entertaining. It's a lark and it knows exactly what it is. There's no real drama or tension, and nothing's really at stake. But it's stylishly directed by Stephen Soderbergh and the cast seems to be enjoying themselves. Even Al Pacino tones it down a few notches as the main baddie. You don't really miss Julia Roberts at all. Instantly forgettable, but a surprisingly good time while it's on. You can do much worse for a Friday night out at the movies.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (**)

So, okay, the Fantastic Four flicks are clearly going after a family audience. You can't expect them to be another Batman Begins. The jokes are cheesy, the acting wooden (I'm singling you out, Jessica Alba), and the special effects are merely okay, even the Surfer. I think it was a mistake to cast Laurence Fishbourne as the voice of the Silver. It was just too distracting. The tone of the flick is light and "fun" but with the plot and dialogue being so creaky, you really have to struggle through it to make it to the end. Like Pirates, this is another franchise I'm going to have to jump ship on. Fantastic Four needs a reboot and overhaul if it's going to please audiences again and get me back in the theater.

A Mighty Heart (***)

Angelina Jolie gives a great performance in this earnest, intense, and well-intentioned Oscar-bait of a film. It's remniscent of United 93 in its immediacy and impact, though I found it oddly cold and procedural at times when it should be dramatic and emotionally gripping. That being said, this is high quality filmmaking from director Michael Winterbottom, using handheld camera techniques quite effectively. Dan Futterman is also quite good as Daniel Pearl, though we don't get to see as much of him as we may like. Worth catching on DVD if you're not up for getting depressed in a theater on a warm summer day.

1408 (**1/2)

1408 is a solid, if unspectacular, little thriller. It's full of mind games and freaky situations, and John Cusack gives a great lead performance. I really liked the first half hour or so. Cusack's character is a real sarcastic, emotionally detached writer and his interplay with Sam Jackson's hotel manager regarding his stay in room 1408 is the highlight of the movie. From there on out, things get weird and don't make much sense. It's all entertaining enough but nothing you haven't seen before. And the twist ending doesn't really work. I guess it's a nice break from torture porn though as far as horror movies are concerned.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Knocked Up (***1/2)

I loved this movie. Judd Apatow is, without a doubt, the best comic writer-director working in movies today. Like The 40 Year-Old Virgin before it, Knocked Up is a riotously funny, clever, and ultimately sweet film about one wildly complicated one night stand. The joys of this film, and there are many, lie in the fantastic cast that's been assembled. Many of the actors are alums of previous Apatow productions like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Seth Rogen and Kathryn Heigl are fanastic as the leads. Rogen really comes into his own here, and emerges a star by the end. The jokes are fresh and I found myself laughing outloud and often throughout the entire film. And when I wasn't laughing, I was fully engaged in the story and the characters. Few comedies these days are able to pull that off, and most are downright boring and tedious when they aren't trying to be funny. Not Knocked Up. It stands head and shoulders above all other comedies this year, and to date, above all other movies as well.

Once (***)

A certifiable diamond in the rough. Once is a sweet, genuinely likeable little film about two musicians falling in love and making music. It's short (only 89 minutes) and casts a lovely little spell over the audience. The music is great (bought the soundtrack off of iTunes the minute we got home from the theater) and the actors are charming. If I have any complaints with the film, it's that it is so low budget as to look downright ugly at times. I wish the filmmakers would have had a little more money to throw at the screen and clean up the visuals. That being said, this isn't a movie about visuals. It's about characters, music, and emotion. And on that level, it totally succeeds.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (*1/2)

Put a fork in this franchise, it's done. I really didn't like Dead Man's Chest but was willing to give this latest Pirates flick a chance. Maybe they were just saving it all for the finale. Well, they certainly saved it all, but none of it was good. Running an almost ungodly 2 hours and 48 minutes, Pirates 3 is pure torture. It's The Matrix Revolutions, only worse. It's way too convoluted for it's own good. A clean, simple story would have done wonders. Whatever goodwill was gained by Curse of the Black Pearl has long since been squandered. If there's a fourth Pirates film, count me out.

Shrek the Third (*)

Imagine a direct to video release getting theatrical treatment merely because the filmmakers and studio know that people will pay. Shrek the Third is the feature film equivalent of The Return of Jafar, that ill-advised Aladdin sequel from a few years back. This third Shrek boasts about five writers and I don't think any of them came up with one solid joke. The actors are coasting, the animation is okay, and nobody really seems to be trying hard. They know this thing will make money and they're content just being lazy and resting on the laurels. The more I think about this movie, the more upset I get. There is zero adult appeal to this one.