Jul 5 2009

The Wrestler


It's almost this draining to watch.

Did you know professional wrestlers use razor blades to surreptitiously slice bloody gashes into themselves during a live match? Did you further know that Mickey Rourke actually did this for The Wrestler? I mean actually cut his forward with a real razor blade for a scene. Were you additionally aware that Mickey Rourke is both insane and awesome?

I wanted to see this during Oscar week, but I only had time for the best picture nominees. Big mistake on my part. Rourke is just as compelling as Sean Penn is in Milk, but The Wrestler is free of that film’s obvious Oscar pandering. It’s a rare character piece that still remembers to have a strong narrative, as well as supporting characters that feel as real as our hero (Marisa Tomei is especially noteworthy as are her breasts). It’s sad and funny and definitely worth your time.

It’s also a little predictable and a bit too heavy-handed at times, but what are you going to do?

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

8 out of 10

Mar 17 2009



LeprechaunThere are a lot of bad horror movies, but because the genre is generally considered disposable, no one really remembers them. You have to be a fan of these kinds of films to have even heard of Castle Freak or the Wishmaster series. (I was going to use Deathbed there, but Patton Oswalt had to go and take that one mainstream.) Leprechaun, however, has entered into the public conscious, probably because there are, inexplicably, FIVE sequels. So if you need a quick goto example of how laughably awful horror can get, chances are you’ll reach out for Leprechaun, even though you’ve likely never seen it. Well, I am here to correct your misconception. Leprechaun is not a bad horror movie. It is a bad comedy. Which, in some ways, is worse.

The titular star is, of course, Warwick Davis of Willow and Star Wars and anything that needed a little person but couldn’t get Billy Barty. He’s a demonic leprechaun looking for his stolen bag o’ gold and taking bloody revenge on anyone in his way, including Jennifer Aniston in her film debut.

If the premise itself–a three foot guy in buckled shoes is coming to fuck your shit up–isn’t enough of a clue that this movie is in on its own joke, you will be swiftly convinced by scenes of the Leprechaun chasing our heroes on a tiny tricycle, downing a box of “Lucky Clovers” cereal, and falling for a ploy in which the gang throws dirty shoes at him which he must compulsively polish, allowing them to escape. I guess leprechauns are into shoes.

Occasionally, the shtick works. Davis, presumably cast for his stature, puts everything he’s got into the performance, tossing off Freddy Krueger style bon mots before cackling wickedly and disappearing into the shadows. Oddly, the Leprechaun does not have an Irish accent, but we’ll let that slide. The opening is played like straight horror. His first victims are terrified of him, which is what makes the scene funny, because…you know…he’s a leprechaun. But then the real protagonists show up and things get weird.

Lions and tigers and bears!  Oh my!

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!

If the film had restricted the human characters to the straight man roles, things could have worked. But instead, they’re WACKY! Early 90’s, Full House brand wacky. The major offender is Ozzie the idiot man child, played by Mark Holton, best known (by me) for his much better turns as Francis from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Chubby from the Teen Wolf movies. Ozzie gets into all sorts of kooky situations with his streetwise Newsies-style sidekick Alex and their beefy leader Nathan, with whom Aniston trades awkward flirty banter. And let me tell you, when Ozzie accidentally swallows one of the Leprechaun’s coins, the shenanigans and crack-em-ups really get going!

Look, movie, I kinda dug it when you were parodying high concept slasher films. But adding the Scooby-Doo crew to the mix just makes it groan-worthy. A movie about a killer cereal mascot does not need comic relief characters. By the time I got to Alex’s heartwarming yet naive plan to use the gold to pay for Ozzie’s brain surgery, I’d had about enough.

Plus the body count is disappointingly low.

Leprechaun is definitely a bad movie, but it doesn’t really take itself seriously enough for me to recommend it as cheesy late night riffing fodder. If you’re a fan of the genre, you kind of have to watch it once to see what all the fuss is about, and it’s worth it for the occasional laugh and to catch Davis in a rare starring role. But that’s about all you’ll get out of this one.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

Happy St. Pat’s Day, kids. Knock back a Shamrock Shake for me.

Shamrock Shake

Mar 12 2009

Hank and Mike

hankandmikeOkay, try to stick with me on this one: Hank and Mike takes place in a world where Easter bunnies are real. No, wait. Let me clarify that: By “real” I mean guys in bunny suits. Well, not bunny “suits” so much as they are actual bunnies. That’s right. This is a world where Easter bunnies (that look like slackers in pink bunny suits) exist AND they break into your house every Easter and leave little chocolate candy eggs. That’s their job. That’s what they do and they love it. This is a serious business they run. Confused yet? I might need to make a chart or something.

Thomas Michael and Paolo Mancini (who also wrote the film) star as Hank and Mike, two Easter bunnies who find themselves out of a job when the company decides to cut back. As you know, Easter is a “second tier” holiday, and it seems that the company they work for, Easter Inc., is losing money to bigger holidays. Enter Conrad Hubriss (a very greasy and evil Chris Klein) who decides that it’s time to lay off a bunny or two. This is unheard of. What else could an Easter bunny possibly do in the workplace?

I’m sure at this point you’re thinking that all of this sounds very cute. Two lovable guys in pink bunny suits, right? How wrong you are. They drink. They get high. There are even a few bunny sex scenes thrown in for good measure. Folks, this is one crazy movie full of R rated bunny lovin’ and definitely not aimed at the wee ones.

But it’s also funny. Just as the amusement of two grown men in pink bunny suits (can not stress that enough) begins to wear thin, the movie finds funnier and funnier situations to place them in. The scenes in the unemployment office are especially hilarious. One of them also develops something of an office romance for a human girl. The movie manages to make this heartwarming and somewhat respectful. Wow. I can’t believe I just typed that.

Hot human/bunny sex aside, this movie isn’t for everybody. It’s uneven at times, milks too many laughs from the main characters debauchery, and a side plot involving corporate sponsored suicides (yes, you read that right) is no where near as funny as the movie seems to think it is.

But on the other hand, it’s a movie about guys in pink bunny suits. Have I said that yet? Well, if not, I can assure you that it’s worth seeing for that alone.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
6 out of 10

Feb 22 2009

Oscar Week: Slumdog Millionaire (Ryan’s Take)


Is it weird that among this year’s best picture directors are the guys who did Alien , Edtv, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and 28 Days Later?

Okay, the director of The Reader doesn’t have any embarrassing IMDb credits, but ironically that’s the worst of the nominees. The best, in my opinion, is zombie aficionado Danny Boyle’s work: Slumdog Millionaire.

"You can take the Golden Globe and go home, or keep playing for the grand prize."

"You can take the Golden Globe and go home, or keep playing for the grand prize."

As I’ve indicated in my previous Oscar posts, this year’s best picture candidates are a collection of good stories elevated by outstanding performances. There is nothing intrinsically Oscar worthy about Frost/Nixon, only Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, and Sam Rockwell push it to that level. This film is the exception. While its acting is generally strong, Slumdog earns its seat at the table by just being a damn good movie.

The premise is that Jamal, a kid from India who has been poor all his life, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The film opens as he is being tortured by police who are suspicious of his success on the show and accuse of him of cheating. To prove his innocence, he explains (through flashback) the events in his life that led to the knowledge he needed to answer each question correctly.

It’s a pretty wacky concept, which is why it’s great that it’s grounded by a strong emotional story: Jamal’s lifelong search for the girl he’s loved since childhood. This isn’t just a humorous series of vignettes from Jamal’s life that coincidentally drop the answers to trivia questions in his lap (though it’s that too), it’s the story of two people who want to be together, but are repeatedly and cruelly separated by fate. The gameshow gimmick is the framework that gets the film moving, but you’ll gradually forget about the money and become more invested in whether these kids finally find a way to be together.

It’s shockingly well-executed. The film moves like a dance, seamlessly flowing back and forth through various stages of Jamal’s life to the rhythm of an excellent score by Bollywood composer A. R. Rahman. The twists in the story are unpredictable, the characters are well-defined and memorable, and the ending is supremely satisfying

Slumdog coupleDon’t worry, I’ve got nitpicks. You’re going to have to accept the fairy tale conceit that two children can fall in love at first sight and love no one else until reuniting well into adulthood. It’s occasionally jarring the way the movie switches from fun and over the top to gritty and serious.

And for some odd reason, in this otherwise expertly edited film, the opening fifteen minutes really drags. But that’s what the gameshow thing is for, to convince you to stick with the movie long enough for it to get going. Once it does, all is forgiven.

I can’t think of a person to whom I wouldn’t recommend Slumdog Millionaire. It’s not a movie that will change your life, but it is one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in a movie theater for a while (not counting that thing I was arrested for). And it’s certainly my pick for best picture of 2008.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆
9 out of 10

Feb 22 2009

Oscar Week: Milk (Ryan’s Take)

The Pre-Oscar Celebration

The Pre-Oscar Celebration

Earlier this week I said that Benjamin Button was a film that wanted an Oscar. If that’s true, then Milk is a film that is jonesing for one.

Milk is lying on the sidewalk, curled up in the fetal position, hoping that the Academy will pass by and drop a statue in its upturned hat.

It’s a personal story of a man who triumphs over adversity despite the prejudices of society, deeply impacts those around him, takes on the system from within, struggles to find love, and dies a martyr. Oh, and it’s about gay rights and stars Sean Fucking Penn. Scientists could not create a more formulaic Oscar grab in a lab. It’s the kind of transparent effort I really enjoy tearing apart. Unfortunately for me, Milk is, for the most part, a very good movie.

Milk is an incredible gathering of talent. I’m not much of a Sean Penn fan, but I will say that he knows how to really become his character. He portrays Harvey Milk with so much honesty, enthusiasm, and sadness, that I bought into it right away and never saw his performance falter. James Franco, who–let’s face it–is hit or miss, was excellent as Harvey’s longtime partner Scott. The most interesting of Milk’s followers was Cleve, and I spent the film trying to figure out where I knew the actor from. It’s Speed Racer. That blew me away. Call Emile Hirsch a new favorite of mine.

Brolin swoops in to steal the scene.

Brolin swoops in to steal the scene.

Finally, if Heath Ledger wasn’t such a lock for best supporting actor, I’d put my money on Josh Brolin. He has relatively few scenes, but commands every one of them with ease. I’d like to see this movie again because Brolin’s character has his own parallel movie running alongside Harvey’s that I feel I didn’t fully appreciate the first time through.

However, Milk follows the trend among this year’s best picture nominees by pairing fantastic acting with a comparatively weak plot. Not as weak as The Reader or even Frost/Nixon, but a bit stiff for my tastes. There aren’t clear story beats to latch on to. Rather than gradually building tension leading up to an important moment, the film tends to hop around from one milestone in Milk’s life to the next. You’ll only realize something was significant just after it happens. This lends to the documentary feel, but makes for a climax that comes out of nowhere, abruptly ending the film.

Still, I can’t stay mad at this movie. Milk’s story is one that deserved the cinematic treatment, not only because more people should know it, but because it makes for great entertainment. And if that means an Oscar or two goes its way, then I won’t protest.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
8 out of 10

Feb 22 2009

Oscar Week: Frost/Nixon (Ryan’s Take)

Don't be mislead, the movie does not take place in a black featureless void.

Don't be mislead, the movie does not take place in a black featureless void.

Every once in a while, a Hollywood producer spends an evening at the theater and returns with his next film project. While the play may be great, its cinematic simulacrum is often subpar. Sometimes horrendous.

Maybe the filmmakers don’t understand what made the original work, maybe they’re just out to trade on the original’s popularity, or maybe there’s just a certain indefinable spark that only live theater can ignite.

But despite this track record, I support these adaptations. Partly because I believe that theatrical stories should be captured in a permanent medium, and partly because every once in a while, as in the case of Frost/Nixon, the result is a legitimately good film.

This is the story of British television presenter David Frost, the man who landed the first post-Watergate interview with Richard Nixon. Frost has to get something exciting and preferably incriminating out of Nixon to make the interviews a ratings success. Nixon has to appear innocent and noble to regain America’s acceptance. It’s Frost’s last chance to rejuvenate his career and Nixon’s last chance to return to the public sector. As Nixon says, only one of them can win.

And so the battle begins. And by battle I mean two guys talking to each other. Aside from a batch of added and rejiggered scenes intended to make the story more cinematic, Frost/Nixon sticks unashamedly close to its stage roots by being composed almost entirely of long conversations in hotel rooms. Very luckily for the audience, the performances are engaging enough to sustain this formula.

Nixon Trio

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella (both veterans of the stage version) are equally powerful. Sheen aptly contrasts Frost’s ever-confident exterior with his increasing desperation as arranging the interviews becomes more and more challenging. Langella does the impossible by giving us a Nixon who is sympathetic. Calculating and ruthless, yes, but not the monster that the film could have easily made him into. The supporting cast is on their game as well, especially Sam Rockwell who is absolutely exceptional as the obsessed and frustrated author who has dedicated his career to getting a public apology from the former president.

So it’s damn compelling is what I’m saying. But it’s not without its faults. The movie is pretty up front about the fact that everything is leading up to the Watergate confrontation. Starting from the first ten minutes of the film, when this becomes clear, and lasting to the final ten minutes of the film when this actually happens, you’ll be playing the waiting game.

That’s not to say the bulk of the film is boring. I really felt for David as he struggled to make the interviews a reality while his stable talkshow career was falling apart around him. I was interested in the remains of Nixon’s post-presidential career, speaking at cheap corporate events while scheming to use the Frost interview to get back on top. But I couldn’t help thinking, “Yeah, I get it, let’s get to the good stuff!” This caused the second act to drag, leaving many scenes feeling like a roadblock in my path to the payoff. When the payoff did arrive, it was spectacular. But it was also so short that I wondered if it had all been worth it.

Ultimately, it had. Frost/Nixon displays performances of a rare caliber. And the knowledge that the events (while tweaked a bit) are factual makes it all the more fascinating and satisfying to watch, even if that satisfaction is delayed.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
7 out of 10

One last thing. Ron, I’ve stuck up for you several times in the past. In fact, I came to your defense on this issue during a chat with a coworker a few weeks before seeing Frost/Nixon. But as of this film, I am finally and officially tired of Clint. It’s getting distracting.

Feb 21 2009

Oscar Week: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Logan’s Take)

In addition to a best picture nomination, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has also been nominated for its stunning visual effects. Since it’s up against fan favorites Iron Man and The Dark Knight, I thought it might be important to take a moment and look at what exactly makes Benjamin Button worthy of this award. Let’s start from the beginning.


When the film opens, Brad Pitt looks like this. I can understand how they made him look so old, but check out that size! What a shrimp man! Is that an Oscar for visual effects that I smell? Anyway, the film moves on and he begins to look like…


This! Oh my! Yeah, I’m starting to smell an Oscar…but wait! If he looks like this now, then that means that sexy made-to-order Brad Pitt can’t be too far behind…


And there he is! At this point in the movie, I think we should just give them the Oscar right freakin’ now. The only thing left is the final, young and dying Brad Pitt. The studio has gone to great lengths to keep this a secret, so I guess I better mark this one as a SPOILER ALERT. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button really surprised me in it’s closing minutes when Brad Pitt became…


…a buff Steve Guttenberg in a dress. If that doesn’t deserve a visual effects Oscar, I don’t know what does.

Feb 21 2009

Oscar Week: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Ryan’s Take)

Dance off!

Dance off!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button wants an Oscar. It’s a movie tailor-made for the Academy. The main character goes on a journey of self-discovery, meeting every stripe of colorful supporting character along the way, and becoming entangled in a passionate, though ultimately tragic romance. Many have called it Forrest Gump 2 and I find it hard to argue.

However, in Forrest Gump the message was: “Look at how incredibly impactful the life of one man, especially one of such inauspicious beginnings, can be on the world around him.” Whereas the much more simplistic message of Benjamin Button is: “Isn’t love both wonderful and sad? Also Brad Pitt ages backwards.”

That’s the gimmick, if you hadn’t heard. Benjamin, played by Pitt, is born a (tiny) old man and grows younger as the years go by. He falls in love with Cate Blanchett’s character Daisy when they’re young, but it takes several years for their appearances to hit equilibrium so they can start making out without nauseating the audience.

Scene by scene, the film works brilliantly. Pitt impressively portrays each stage of Benjamin’s life, from an old man with the mind of a toddler to a world-weary teenager. The makeup and cinematography are exceptional, lending to the authentic feel. And the dialogue is witty and sharp. This adds up to plenty of quirky moments in Benjamin’s story that just feel perfect.

"We're the same age....NOW!"

"We're the same age...NOW!"

But when viewed as a whole, this movie is just a strung together collection of moments. There’s a lot of character exploration stuff (Benjamin’s short time in the war, Benjamin’s estranged father) that the movie wants me to believe is important, but is actually just padding, only tangentially related to the real story: the romance between Benjamin and Daisy.

And that, the actual plot, is incredibly straightforward. He loves her. She’s too young. She loves him. He’s not comfortable with it. He loves her again. She’s over him. And so on. I won’t tell you how it ends, but you’ve seen the trailer. You’ve seen other bittersweet romance movies. You already know.

Not a single thing happens in the film that can’t be predicted from the TV spots. And the most annoying part is that almost none of the story depends on its major conceit, that Benjamin ages backwards. If you were to take that element away, nothing but surface things would change. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no grand metaphor about the nature of time and its effect on human relationships here. It’s just your average love story with a goofy high concept pasted on.

Of course, it’s a pretty damned interesting high concept. I’m not denying that it draws you in, nor that Pitt is fun to watch in the role. But it’s two hours long and nothing much actually happens. F. Scott Fitzgerald knew enough to keep the source material to 32 pages. (Which, incidentally, you can read at DailyLit for free.)

This movie’s tough to rate, because it succeeds as a feelgood melodrama and its flaws weren’t severe enough to take me out of the experience. But the plot’s weak and predictable, making it more of a showcase for Pitt and Blanchett’s performances than a real story. And from an Oscar candidate I expect more.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
6 out of 10

Feb 19 2009

Oscar Week: The Reader (Logan’s Take)

readerposter (Editors note: Since The Reader is no longer playing in Logan’s area, we tried our best to explain the plot to him before he wrote this review. However, as soon as we mentioned that the film involved Nazis, a very excited Logan exclaimed, “I LOVE those guys!” Needless to say, all of us here at Critical End! were appalled until we realized that Logan was, in fact, confusing Nazis with kittens. We took a few moments to give Logan a brief history lesson on the Nazis and many of the terrible acts that they performed. During this time he became visibly upset and finally stormed out of the room vowing to “go all Captain America on some Nazi ass”‘. We never did get to explain The Reader to him.)

Oscar Week: The Reader (Logan’s Take)

You know what I hate? Nazis.

They’re big dumb fatty McFat fats who all have poopie pants.

That’s right. Pants full of poop.

I’m sorry to use such harsh language, but I feel very enraged in regards to this issue. In fact, if you told me that there was a Nazi out in the hall by the Pepsi machine right this very second, I would most likely go out there and kill him…in the face.

You know the only thing I hate more than Nazis? Nazi zombies.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
0 out of 10 (for Nazis)

(Editors note: Yes, we’re aware that the lowest rating on this site is usually one star out of ten, but we’re talkin’ Nazis here, kids. Oh yes, and we promise that Logan’s next review will actually be on topic. He’s been warned.)

Feb 18 2009

Oscar Week: The Reader (Ryan’s Take)

Looks like it's mostly about reading.

Looks like it's mostly about reading.

Look. We all remember that time we ate too much Mexican before the big meeting. That time we put a huge ding in Dad’s Oldsmobile. And that time we accidentally slept with a Nazi. I’m just saying regrets are a fact of life.

The Reader follows Michael Berg, played in his teens by David Kross (surprisingly compelling) and in his 40’s by Ralph Fiennes (phones it in). We begin in 1950’s Germany where Michael, after a chance meeting, is seduced by an older woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). The two strike up an affair in which Hanna calls all the shots, demanding that Michael read to her (from classic books he’s studying) before any naughty stuff takes place. Everything’s peachy until the day Michael finds that Hanna has left with no explanation.

Years later, while studying to be a lawyer, Michael sits in on the trial of several former Nazi guards. And wouldn’t you know it? Hanna takes the stand. Yes, getting dumped by your first love can leave a scar, but finding out she was also a card carrying member of the most despicable organization in human history is in a class of its own. While watching the trial, Michael realizes that he’s got a key piece of info that could partially exonerate Hanna, but coming forward would mean admitting that he bedded Mrs. Hitler.

Awww, I can't stay mad at her.

Awww, I can't stay mad at her.

The movie needs me to feel conflicted for it to be impactful. I have to love Hanna, vicariously, as Michael does, while at the same time reviling her for the atrocities she took part in. But ya know what? Nazi. That trumps pretty much everything.

But, wait, the movie assures us, she’s one of those “just following orders” Nazis. She gives testimony that she joined up only because the pay was better than her old job. When recounting how she and her fellow guards refused to unlock the doors of a burning church full of prisoners, she explains that opening the doors would have been impossible. The prisoners would have escaped and it was her responsibility to guard them. So, you know, they pretty much all died. Great job, movie, you’ve convinced me that she’s not evil, just dumber than a box of hammers.

And yet, I actually did manage to get invested in this movie, due to outstanding performances by Kate Winslet and David Kross. Winslet absolutely deserves her best actress nomination. Even though their tryst comes out of nowhere, and its crippling long-term effect on Michael is at times unbelievable, I still believed these characters were in love and felt for them when things started to fall apart.

So we’re left with a pretty straightforward star-crossed love story. All the Nazi stuff is really just window dressing. (Any larger point the film may be trying to make about the way post-war Nazis were treated by society kinda falls apart when the Nazi in question is so outlandishly unaware of the morality of her actions.) As a tragic love story, it gets the job done, though the material never lives up to the effort that the leads put in.

The Reader is a mediocre movie elevated by great performances, but not nearly high enough to warrant its best picture nod.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
6 out of 10

Feb 14 2009


See that one guy in the middle?  THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME.

Do you think he really remembers me? Because he owes me 20 bucks.

I’ll be honest with you: This is the first Valentine’s Day in five years that I haven’t had to entertain some form of a girlfriend. And you know what?

I’m happy about that.

For once I don’t have to worry about making reservations at the restaurant with the name that I can’t even pronounce. Instead it’s dinner alone at Denny’s. That’s right, I- oh…

Anyway, rather than an evening out at one of the many anti-Valentine’s Day parties that I always seem to get invited to (I completely dislike that tired theme, especially when all people try to do at these parties is hook up. Doesn’t that go against the point?), I decided instead to stay in and enjoy the 2001 slasher flick Valentine. I think next year I’ll take my chances with the dinner reservations.

Let me start by saying that I was shocked when I looked on the DVD sleeve and discovered that this movie actually came out in 2001. Wasn’t the slasher film supposed to get smarter after Scream dissected it? Oh, and why is everybody dressed like they’re in the early nineties? Okay. Maybe that was just me. Let’s look at the film itself: It opens with a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl as a stressed college student. Okay, not too bad. I’m with this movie so far. They’re setting up her character and I’m starting to enjoy- no, wait. Is she? Yeah, she just died. Hmmm. Well, okay movie. I can deal with this. Who else do you have for me? Let’s see. A whiny blond, another blond who thinks she’s too fat, yet another blond with an annoying laugh, and…Denise Richards? Movie movie movie. This just isn’t going to do. No, not one bit. Let me just take a gander at the run time here and OH DEAR SWEET JESUS.

Look, I know that this isn’t really a review so much, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Did you really expect me to stay in on the one day of the week that I’m guaranteed to get laid at an anti-Valentine’s Day party and watch some crappy slasher flick that doesn’t even have any nudity in it?

Well, I did and it stunk. I hope you’re happy with yourself.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
2 out of 10.

Jan 5 2009

The Puffy Chair

Puffy, ain't it?

Puffy, ain't it?

Thanks to movies like Reality Bites, I’ve become all too aware that life after college is no fun. This is a message that Hollywood has shoved in our face over and over again with nearly every film starring twenty somethings who can’t quite figure it all out. It’s old hat as far as plot goes: Life sucks. Work sucks. Love sucks. Then you turn thirty and wonder where you screwed up. I’ll admit that The Puffy Chair is that movie BUT instead of making the tired mistake of starting from here, it actually shows us how our characters get to that point…it’s also pretty darn funny.

The Puffy Chair mostly follows Josh and Emily and their turbulent relationship. From the get go, things are falling apart but Josh sees a quick fix in inviting Emily to go on a road trip from New York to Atlanta for his dad’s birthday. Along the way they pick up Josh’s brother, Rhett (a slightly burned out pseudo-hippie), meet a host of other odd characters, and deal with a rather large puffy chair. It’s all very funny and heartbreaking and at times a little too realistic, but these are characters that, although deeply flawed, you begin to like. It’s an investment that pays off as the movie comes to a close.

What makes this film even more fun is the fact that it’s the first from writing/directing brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. Granted, the dialogue can get slightly annoying at times (I haven’t heard this many “dudes” since BaseketBall) and there were times when the direction lacked focus (both literally and figuratively), but it’s obvious that this is really just two brothers having a good time with a camera. For the most part, I think you will too.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
7 out of 10

Dec 30 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

These people aren't actually standing still.  That comes later.

Bored yet?

Although I have some pretty strong feelings about the 1951 original film, let’s leave it out of the equation, as it would be a shame to even associate it with this remake. 2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still is a boring, misguided, highly commercialized, and pointlessly PC big budget Hollywood remake…but, c’mon: What did you really expect?

Where to begin? The cast stumbles through the movie to the point that you’ll feel like you can hear them turning each page of the script. Keanu Reeves delivers some of his best acting since that time he said “Whoa”; Jennifer Connelly proves to us once again that she’s great at crying on cue; Kathy Bates shows up for some reason; and Jaden Smith does a pretty decent job of making the audience wait around for his death scene (still waiting). The one highlight as far as acting is concerned, is John Cleese, who does a wonderful job in his single, three and a half minute scene (which, for reasons beyond me, he received third billing for).

This film also contains more product placements than you can shake a bag of overpriced popcorn at. For example, did you know that most McDonald’s now sell hot tea? Or that Citizen watches keep great time? Or that Microsoft makes a really cool touch screen thingy? At one point I started to wonder if the characters were in some sort of Truman Show spin off.

But enough about all of that. The biggest problem with the film comes at the end when…well, I would hate to spoil the one part of the movie when the earth finally does stand still. Not to mention all of the plot holes and unanswered questions that this leaves the audience with. Hmmm. Well, no time for that, let’s roll those credits! Okay, I won’t lie. That part was pretty good.

Rating: ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
3 out of 10

Dec 30 2008

The Spirit



I’ve been a Frank Miller devotee since Since Sin City. Loved the arresting visuals and the noir style. And, of course, drawing a comic is a lot like directing a movie, so it’s no wonder that film worked so well, right? Well it turns out having Robert Rodriguez as your copilot counts for something, because The Spirit, Miller’s first solo effort, is lacking.

Sin City was over the top, yes. Incredibly so. But it took itself seriously, even in its funny moments. The Spirit alternates between believing in its fiction (the straight, pulpy crop drama scenes, brilliantly performed by Dan Lauria of The Wonder Years fame) and poking fun at it with winking-at-the-audience silliness (Sam Jackson gets whacked with a metal bar that retains the shape of his face). Either approach could make for a fun movie. Both approaches at once make for a schizophrenic one. Maybe it’s the result of Miller attempting to put his own stamp on another creator’s work, fellow comic legend Will Eisner. Regardless, this inconsistency prevents you from ever really getting comfortable with the film.

The visual style doesn’t disappoint. Miller knows what he’s doing there. There are some odd choices (what’s so thematically important about the soles of his shoes?), but you’ll get your fix of eye candy. Not the least of which comes in the form of the female leads, mostly chosen because they are members of the small slice of the female population that look like living Frank Miller drawings. Still, they’re competent in their roles. I even kinda dug Scarlett Johansson, a rarity for me.

Sam Jackson is a master, of course. He can do whatever the hell he likes and I’m on board. The two stand-outs, though, were the kids who play our heroes in the flashback. Much like in Ghost Rider, I found myself wishing I was watching a movie about them instead (two strikes, Eva Mendes!). The most forgettable was Gabriel Macht, the Spirit himself, but when he barked the line “Somebody find me a tie! I don’t care what kind, but by God, it had better be red!” I bought it.

Probably the one thing in The Spirit that actually feels like an innovative edition to the superhero film is the way they handle the hero’s origin. The first Spider-Man spends half the movie on his origin. Batman Begins is entirely origin. The Spirit tosses us in to the action and dolls out backstory piecemeal as the film rolls along, only revealing all the details toward the end. Nothing new for cinema in general, but a trick this genre desperately needed to pick up. Unfortunately, this can’t compensate for the film’s rocky overall pacing and few truly impressive moments. If you like Miller, it’s worth a viewing, but don’t expect the A game he brings with ink and paper.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
6 out of 10