Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Hilary Duff as a teenage girl carted off to live with her grandparents for the summer because her mother can't deal with her anymore. She keeps talking about how she's going to kill herself and acting as if no one else in the world matters. It's like Georgia Rule but with more realistic emotions and without Lindsay Lohan (which at this point can only make everything better). Duff does possibly her best acting here, which may not being saying much, but I thought she was quite good. The end is a little too pat, but it's not as condescending about the woes of teenagers as some movies can be. Not great, but not bad. And Duffster needs to stop playing teenagers now. *** stars.

WANTED (2008)
More fun than I thought it would be. This is basically Harry Potter/Princess Diaries for frustrated guys in their twenties. Stressed out at work? Suffering from panic attacks? Jumpy at the thought of losing control? It's because you just don't know yet that you're part of some weird ancient order of super-assassin weavers who take their orders from a loom to keep the balance of something and something else in the world. The movie wisely never goes to deep into these origins, instead just taking it as a fact that magic or superpowers or fate or whatever it is that powers people so they can curve bullets and jump onto trains exists in this cinematic universe. It's like The Matrix, if The Matrix had been smart enough not to try and explain (and then over-explain) how everything worked. I mean, it's a dumb movie, but it makes the good choice to revel in its dumbness and just be a kick-ass action movie instead of getting too full of itself and trying to be something more. Hella fun. ***1/2 stars.

True-ish story about the friendship that develops between two girls in 1977. The family of Congressman Ron Dellums (Carl Lumbly, who I thought was quite good) agrees to host an exchange student from South Africa. With Dellums so involved in civil rights and trying to get America to support the black liberation movement against Apartheid, the family wants to take in a black South African student. What they get, however, is a white girl, Mahree, whose father is a policeman who tells his family that recently-imprisoned Steven Biko is a terrorist. Mahree and Piper Dellums eventually form a tentative, and then very genuine friendship that has a lot to overcome--the family's disappointment at getting an Afrikaner girl, Mahree's naivete, and Congressman Dellums' assumptions about racial stereotypes. What I like is that it shows how overcoming racism, institutionalized or no, takes understanding and reaching out from all corners to conquer. For a Disney Channel movie, it's remarkably interested in real world problems and how they apply to the lives of teenagers. ***1/2 stars.

Dennis Quaid stars as a high school baseball coach who dreamed of making it as a pro, and decides to take his chance when it comes. Remarkably unwieldy; this one just didn't hold me. ** stars.

The Our Gang movie. Now... who looks at Our Gang and says, "Hey, we can make a feature. But what should be the setting? Hey, we've got a black kid, let's make it the Civil War!" I don't know, I was just seriously uncomfortable with the amount of gags establishing how Buckwheat was a slave. That said, I was glad they focused so much more on Spanky and Buckwheat than the rest of the gang, because they were the best performers in Our Gang. Breezy, funny, and really, Spanky McFarland is just really, really good. *** stars.

This movie successfully nails the tone that The Men Who Stare at Goats so desperately tried and failed to achieve. This is a quirky, odd movie, based on a true story, about a businessman (Matt Damon) who tells the FBI he has information about price fixing in agribusiness and strings them along in an investigation for years. I won't go into the details, because this is a brilliant, fun movie to watch unfold. But I will say that Damon, once again, is quite good, and it was a pleasure to see Scott Bakula in such a large role as an FBI agent. Fantastic score, too. I liked this Soderbergh movie better than any he's made since Solaris. **** stars.

Yes, I did. I heard they made a terrible movie. Turns out it's not a bad movie--it doesn't try hard enough to be bad--just an unwatchable one. The umpteenth fish out of water comedy about New Yorkers who have to live in rural America combined with the umpteenth comedy about a separated couple who come together when their lives get simpler. Hugh Grant is alright (I never hate Hugh Grant), but Sarah Jessica Parker has no comic timing at all. No stars; I couldn't even finish watching it.

THE ROAD (2009)
A man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The imagery is haunting and the emptiness of the world is palpable, but there's no emotional center. I didn't feel anything for the pair as they made their journey, and that's a huge stumbling block that keeps the viewer at arm's length. I just couldn't connect with it beyond the bleakness and the cinematography. Robert Duvall has a scene that is the best moment in the movie. But, you know, he's Robert Duvall, so... **1/2 stars.

I really wasn't expecting much here, but this is a wonderful, surprising movie. Yes, it has all of the tropes that make so many animated movies today such repetitive chores--a heavy-handed message about fathers and sons, for example--but it deals with them in emotionally genuine ways and weaves them into the main story instead of stopping the movie dead for them. It helps that the movie is just so hilarious and so well-cast. It's also nice to see a CG-animated movie so completely unconcerned with physical realism. I'm actually surprised this didn't garner an Oscar nomination; it's really that good. It's also nice that the character design seems so very Muppet-inspired. Great voices, especially Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, and Anna Faris. **** stars.

PLANET 51 (2009)
I dig the central conceit of this film, which is basically a 1950s sci-fi flick with the roles reversed--an American astronaut lands on an inhabited, suburban world and is mistaken for an invader. The execution, though, is terrible. It very self-consciously wants to emulate, as exactly as it can, the Steven Spielberg productions of the 1980s, from direct lifts to subtle things (like, for example, the town square being an exact CG replica of the town square from Back to the Future and Gremlins. But what really lets it down is that the aliens are so exactly like people in a 1950s movie that there's no real culture clash when the astronaut arrives. He's on a world that is 99% exactly the same as where he's from, but the people just look different. Pointless. * star.

Another 1950s sci-fi homage, but I really enjoyed the hell out of this one. Maybe it's because DreamWorks has the bar so low that I'm overly impressed with everything they do that isn't completely Shrek the Third terrible, but I really liked this movie. There's not much I can say about it, other than that it really fulfilled every hope I had for it. ***1/2 stars.


Booksteve said...

GENERAL SPANKY has long been on my Want List of movies to see. I always thought Spanky was a very good natural performer. Many children are, of course, but that wasn't always the case in OUR GANG.

Like most kids actors, though, he started losing it as he grew and his final appearances with the gang are just painful to watch.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Wanted was a great comic book where the characters could actually HAVE the superpowers in a way that would not work on screen. I wondered how they were going to make it work as a movie and I was impressed that they kept the essence of the story and the character development while dropping everything else. You should read the graphic novel

As far as Our Gang goes - sorry gang - it begins and ends with Buckwheat for me.

I also enjoyed M vs A and even their Halloween special about alien pumpkins. Hugh Laurie as the cockroach scientist is great voice work and I find Susan to be incredibly sexy. That's half Reece Witherspoon and Half 2 ton boobies.