What's up to my very few fans. After a long hiatus, I'm back blogging about movies again. However, I wanted a fresh start so I went with a name change. Catch up with me at http://dellonmovies.blogspot.com/
The Reader 2008. Rated R, 124 minutes. Director: Stephen Daldry. Starring Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Lena Olin.
Plot: In 1958 Germany, 15 year old Michael has an affair with 30-something Hanna which has a profound effect on both of their lives. At her request, they develop the habit of Michael reading aloud to her before sex. A few years later, they cross paths again. This time, her past comes to light causing Michael much stress.
The Good: You can't begin to discuss this movie without mentioning the performances. Kate Winslet proves she is one of the very best actresses of her era, once again turning in stellar work and earning her first Oscar (Best Actress) in the process. She deftly portrays Hanna as a woman with both a horrendous past and an embarrassing inability. To his credit, director Stephen Daldry handles both well. He reveals her past in a painful instant and hints at her inability but doesn't fully divulge it until it becomes relevant to the story. Now, back to that acting. The unsung hero of the cast is David Kross as the younger version of Michael. Watching him grow from a wide-eyed teen to a jilted lover and then a torn man is a joy. His work renders Ralph Fiennes, who plays the older Michael, little more than a placeholder. Finally, even though its unabashedly a tragic romance, it never resorts to the histrionics of melodrama. This makes the characters feel as if they're people reacting to real situations instead of performers going for their big moment.
The Bad: Two aspects of the movie that could've elevated it are left largely underdeveloped. First, there's young Michael's relationship with his family. It's introduced and peeked at, promises to add an interesting layer but is abandoned abruptly. Second, older Michael's relationship with his daughter needed to be either greatly expanded to build upon the parallellability of his with Hanna or cut out completely. As is, it just seems like a superfluous epilogue.
The Ugly: Young Michael's family dinners - talk about tense.
Recommendation: This is a very good movie but seems to have gotten its Best Picture nom on the strength of it's performances and the fact that it deals with one of the Academy's favorite subjects, the Holocaust. That said, its still a solid drama telling an intriguing story, just not one of my five faves of the year. Prudes beware, Winslet and Kross spend much of the first half of the movie naked.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 2009. Rated PG-13, 150 minutes. Director: Michael Bay. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro.
Plot: An ancient Decepticon known as “The Fallen” returns to Earth to destroy blah blah blah to gain ultimate blah blah blah moowahahahaha (evil laugh). Robot fighting, screaming and anatomy jokes ensue.
The Good: Director Michael Bay knows that the majority of people attending a Transformers movie want to see giant robots beating the crap out of each other so he gives us more of it than the original. Since he also knows that most of these people are boys, no matter what age, he throws in pretty girls, off-color jokes and slow motion, lots of slow motion. Most of it features either a robot being ripped apart or Megan Fox running “Baywatch” style. And living up to its name, nearly everything transforms. Like its predecessor, it’s a visual spectacle.
The Bad: Like numerous other sequels, this suffers from “more is less” syndrome. The action and silly jokes increase exponentially from what was in the original, yet the things that might make it engaging are far flimsier and much less coherent. Its simply two and a half hours of flashing lights and noise. Therefore, we never really care if what’s-his-face activates the thingamajig with the whatchamacallit. Even worse, if your main focus is robot fighting then the robots should be easier to tell apart. This isn’t that big a problem for the Autobots who are pretty much color coded. However, almost all the Decepticons of any significance are plain chrome and blend together in combat. Shallow as it seems, I’d like to know which bad guys are actually fighting. And don’t even get me started on the two jive-talkin’ bots.
The Ugly: Two words: robot scrotum.Recommendation: You probably already know if you want to see this or not. If you’re not sure, see the first one first with a surround sound system cranked up pretty good, if possible. After that, imagine it bigger, louder and dumber.
Hellboy 2004. Rated PG-13, 132 minutes. Director: Guillermo Del Toro. Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Doug Jones.
Plot: After coming through a portal opened by the bad guys, Hellboy (Perlman) is adopted by the good guys and becomes the main guy on a team of paranormal heroes that fight paranormal villains. Sixty years have past and the original baddies are not only back, they're after Hellboy to help them destroy Earth.
The Good: One drawback to being the first movie in a comic book franchise is you have to back to the source's humble beginnings and provide virgins to the character an origin story. This movie dispenses with that bit of business in a thankfully quick and exciting manner. Once done with that, it spends the majority of it's time on action scenes of some sort. Occasionally, it pauses for "Red," as he's called by his friends, to deal with his love life and the increasingly strenuous relationship with his "father" (Hurt). Luckily, its effective at weaving those things in rather than dawdling on them for the most part.
The Bad: There are a few plotholes, which is to be expected, so they're there but not deal breakers. What nearly is a deal breaker is the idiocy of our main villain's (Rasputin played by Karel Roden) plan. It follows the well-worn and even more stupid movie logic of really bad guy wants to unleash a far more powerful and even worse being upon the world. It stands to reason there's not really anything to do after you destroy the world, now is there? Anyhoo, there is one other aspect that bugged me. It seems as if Wolverine of the X-Men simply had his personality and some other traits transplanted to a red body with a stone hand instead of claws, giving us Hellboy. It got to the point where everytime he spoke I couldn't help but think "that's exactly what Wolverine would say."
The Ugly: The very cool Karl Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) without a mask.
Recommendation: Comic book fans and fans of comic book movies should have at it. Its heavy on the action and has enough light humor to keep it moving at brisk pace. It is certainly not the best the genre has to offer but since its thoroughly "okay," its far from the worse.
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss.
Plot: Prince Nuada (Goss) is upset with the way the world has turned out in his absence. He seeks to unite all the pieces of a magical crown which will spring the dormant, yet "indestructible" Golden Army into action under his control so he can start running things. Hellboy (Perlman) and crew have something to say about this.
The Good: Director Del Toro builds upon his Pan's Labyrinth foundation by giving us more stunning visuals. It's creatures and other special fx are beautifully rendered. The action scenes that show off this aspect of the film are very nicely done. In fact, its a much better looking movie than it's predecessor. The love story between Hellboy and Liz (Blair) goes in an interesting direction. It also leaves the two characters with an obvious starting point for the third movie in the series, should they make one.
The Bad: In only the franchise's second movie, it already suffers from "more is less" syndrome. We get more great characters, both good and evil, better special fx and lots of action. However, its crammed into a package 20 minutes shorter than the original. That means its fun while its on but not nearly as gratifying as the original. It doesn't help that it simply reworks The Lord of the Rings to fit a superhero flick for its main premise and resorts to corny sight gags for the humor. Worse than that, our hero is going through an identity crisis. However, its not in that good, tortured mentality of Batman sort of way. Its in that bad, the writers don't seem like they know what to do with him way. One of my problems with the first movie was how Hellboy seemed so much like Wolverine. I would've preferred that to what he is here, an even more simpleminded goofball. He's also well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. That could be really interesting but they just played it for laugh. Hmmm...anything to get more kids in the theater, right?
The Ugly: The tooth fairies. Yeesh, nasty little critters.
Recommendation: Obviously, fans of the comic and/or the first film should check it out. Most people seem to like this one a bit more. I like it a bit less. No doubt, it is a fun popcorn flick that looks absolutely great. Of the five big superhero flicks of 2008, I'd rank this fourth, far behind The Dark Knight and Iron Man but sandwiched between The Incredible Hulk and Hancock.
Taken 2009. Rated PG-13, 91 minutes. Director: Pierre Morel. Starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Leland Orser.
Plot: After reluctantly letting his teenage daughter go on a trip to Paris with a friend, Bryan Mills' (Neeson) daughter Kim (Grace) is kidnapped on her first day abroad. Hunting "them" (those responsible) down, finding them and killing them ensues.
The Good: Action! After a few minutes of our hero stressing about building a relationship whit his daughter it transforms into an adrenaline junkies' fix. We get lots of car chases, fight scenes, shootouts and myriad other forms of badassness. Two other things aid the movie immensely. First, Neeson's performance is spot on. He stoically goes about his business and projects his voice so authoritatively you believe whatever he's spouting off. Second, the runtime is kept short. At a shade over 90 minutes, it doesn't have time for long, emotional scenes that break up the action. It's a tightly packed rush with the cute stuff serving as bookends to the carnage.
The Bad: Plot-wise, I've already seen this movie probably 500 to 1000 times without exaggeration. You probably have, too. Think about it: bad guys kidnap, kill or rape someone in the good guy's family (maybe even the entire family) without realizing that the good guy is/was some sort of special agent and won't be taking any of this BS too lightly. Basically, it's a Steven Segal movie without Steven Segal. And yes, it has many of the implausibilities and eye-rolling moments that come along with that.
The Ugly: How worthless of an individual must Amanda (Katie Cassidy) be that no one gives a crap about her?
Recommendation: I did, in fact, call this a Steven Segal movie. However, it's a very well done one. Therefore, if you're into action flicks at all turn your brain off, except for that miniscule portion that compels you to shovel popcorn into your mouth and suck back the beverage of your choice while your eyes delight in images of mayhem and you'll enjoy it. Scrutinize it even a little and you'll ruin it for yourself.
The Women 2008. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes. Director: Diane English. Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing.
Plot: When Mary (Ryan) finds out her husband is cheating on her with perfume sales clerk Crystal (Mendes), her friends and her mom try to guide her through the tough times. Remake of the 1939 film of the same name.
The Good: We have a cast of rom-com all stars giving it their melodramatic best. Each of the ladies makes the most of what their roles have to offer. The pacing and humor are major plusses. It's not fall-off-your-chair funny but it does elicit some laughs. Combine that with a script that pluckily pushes us along from one girl talk scene to the next and you get a fairly quick moving affair (I know, bad pun given the movie's premise). Also a number of recognizable, some even iconic, actresses turn up in bit parts including Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher and Debi Mazar.
The Bad: What starts off as a daring artistic choice ends up gimmicky and frustrating. That choice is deciding to not have any males in the movie. In a movie centered around a crumbling marriage, its hard to come off as anything other than man-bashing when it refuses to even show a man. There aren't even any male extras (more on that in a moment). This is illuminated most when you think about Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith). Putting aside the reality that she comes off like a token black, we see she's also the surrogate man. She has what could be a man's name, she's a lesbian so she's obviously into women, a bit of a slacker who parties too much and is generally straight-forward with her views. She is every bit an attempt to give male viewers someone to relate to. And she also helps maintain the ladies only motif by taking our crew to an all-lesbian restaraunt. This scene and the street scenes are filled with beautiful female extras (told you I'd get back to this) and appear solely as an effort to hold guys' attention. The same seems true for the casting of Mendes who's part could've been played by any number of starlets. However, by not having any males at all to project onto we get a strange phenomena. Men in the audience feel attacked and female viewers can only unsatisfyingly beat up a faceless enemy. Well, in the end (spoiler?) there is one male character shown but it feels like a slap in the face. It's like the filmmakers telling us "This is all you get, now be happy with it."
The Ugly: This is a completely different movie if our girls pick somewhere else to get their nails done.
Recommendation: This is pretty much for fans of rom-coms. Once you peel back the complicated layers you'll see its the same old stuff Ryan, Messing and the rest have been doing for years. The difference is that those other movies make men caricatures and have them follow the same developmental arc while this one dispenses with them completely and doesn't even pretend to care to give them a chance to put in their two cents. This is interesting at first, but wears thin about halfway through.
Yes Man 2008. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes. Director: Peyton Reed. Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby.
Plot: Carl (Carrey) is divorced and depressed. A chance encounter with an old friend prompts him to attend a self-help seminar. At the seminar, he agrees to say yes to anything asked of him in order to help him live life to the fullest.
The Good: This is in Carrey's wheelhouse. It's the type of silly comedy which made him a star. He gets to do outrageous things for outrageous reasons. He seems to be having fun. In turn, we have fun as well. Aside from him, Rhys Darby as his boss/uber-nerd/wannabe buddy Norman is hilarious. We also get funny turns, both slightly more than cameos from John Michael Higgins as the old friend and Brent Briscoe as the homeless guy.
The Bad: It comes off as a reimagining of Liar Liar so there really aren't any surprises to be had, narratively. Just substitute not being able to say no for not being able to tell a lie and it unfolds precisely the way we think it will. Only Carrey's wacky excursions and lack of a son differentiate this movie from that one.
The Ugly: Two things: first, how the old lady who lives next door "takes care" of our hero and second the shameless and seemingly constant product placement.
Recommendation: Fans of Jim Carrey, this is for you. Much like Will Ferrell, you either like him or you don't with little gray area between the two. It's not Carrey's best movie by any stretch, but its a solid effort worthy of a rental when you're in the mood for a silly comedy.
-10 = So bad it's awesome! 0 = Just horrible, no fun at all 1 = Nearly as bad, maybe a decent scene or two 2 = A few solid moments but an overall waste of time 3 = Still horrible, but it does some things well 4 = It sucks but it's tolerable 5 = Meh, I kinda didn't like it 6 = It's okay, I kinda like it but nothing special 7 = Good movie, well done, entertaining 8 = Very good movie 9 = Outstanding 10= A classic, in my opinion
Of course, lots of movies get grades including .5 (ex: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - 8.5/10). Use your imagination on what that means, you're smart. The various sections of the reviews are self-explanatory. Though, older movies rarely get those same sections. Anyhoo, that's enough of me rattling on. Enjoy the reviews.