Monday, April 28, 2008

No chest waxing, true. But c'mon ... penis?: "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"

Yeah, you need to know these things going in. Much like it was unnecessary in "Walk Hard," Judd Apatow again insists on showing us a flaccid member. I mean, it's right there. Dude, what's with the dude?

You know the rule: No movie that shows dick can get more than three stars. Sorry, too bad. Not that this comedy was going to get four, but it definitely earned its max of three. A little surprising since I thought the trailer looked mediocre at best. Then again, I remember seeing the poster for "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and thinking that was the worst idea ever for a movie. It remains my favorite of the Apatow Collection, and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" gets the silver. Yes, better than "Superbad."

Our story centers on Peter (Jason Segel), a mope who does music for a CSI-type show and happens to be dating its hot star (Kristen Bell). Until he isn't, thanks to her breaking up with him. Devastated, he ends up in Hawaii ... at the same resort where his ex and her new boyfriend, a British rock star (the hilarious Russell Brand), are staying. Not cool.

Fortunately, there's some comic relief in the form a gay restaurant host (Jonah Hill) and a half-stoned surf instructor (Paul Rudd! Yes!), not to mention a square honeymooning couple and assorted fat dudes. More importantly for Peter, there's a hot desk clerk (Mila Kunis), whom you may remember as Jackie from "That '70s Show."

This presents a fundamental flaw that also took some of the steam out of an otherwise highly entertaining movie that came out a decade earlier, "Swingers." I'm speaking of the "Guy breaks up with a girl, then ends up with a super-hot girl." Yeah, that's how it works. In real life, Jon Favreau gets Heather Graham. And Jason Segel gets Mila Kunis. That's it, honey! I'm outta here. I mean, Charlize Theron is right around the corner.

Despite this problem and Segel showing his unit earlier on -- he's just out of the shower when his girlfriend dumps him -- "Marshall" delivers the goods. First, there are plenty of funny bits. Every scene with Rudd, of course. And Brand as the pitch-perfect rock star/lothario. And Hill as his groupie. All these guys nail their roles. The movie also gives us great send-ups of the CSI ilk on the front and back ends. (Don't leave when the closing credits start.)

Even better: Each of the four people in the two couples really come off as real people. In movies like this, it's so easy to spend time on the main guy and have the other three -- the new love interest, the ex and especially her boyfriend -- be one-dimensional types. Nice work here to avoid that.

Not saying Bell, Brand and Kunis -- or for that matter, Segel -- are channeling Brando and Streep. But they do a nice job fleshing out their roles, and the movie gives them time to do so while staying at a reasonable length. Bell isn't a callous shrew. Brand isn't a total jerk (but is a freakin' riot. Seriously.) Kunis isn't just a sweet little thing falling into our hero's arms.

It's quite impressive when you think about it, and despite all the funny-funny, that's what stuck with me afterward. Even if it hadn't, consider this: It's almost impossible to dislike any movie that gives you a rock opera about Dracula ... performed by puppets. Take that, "Team America."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A little appetizer

I've actually seen a few movies lately, including -- gasp! -- one in the theater. Until I get my act together with those posts, enjoy this fake trailer that ran before the "Grindhouse" double feature I saw recently. My favorite line: "They just f*cked with the wrong Mexican!" Awesome. I mean, bueno!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Until we get a movie about Boo Radley time-traveling to 1980 western Texas ...

... we'll have to recap a few movies seperately.

Nope, still flawed: "No Country for Old Men"

We got this from Netflix as part of our 2008 Oscars tour. My wife was curious, and I was willing to see it again to see if the bizarro left-turn three-fourths of the way through went over any better the second time. It didn't.

I still liked Josh Brolin as the hunter in the wrong place at the wrong time and Javier Bardem as the soulless killer with the bad haircut. Tommy Lee Jones was OK as the sheriff but nothing great. Best of all were the deliberate scenes that exploded into action, especially when Bardem gets close to Brolin. Some really good atmosphere here.

But no, the fadeout-fade-in 90 minutes into the movie that brings one character's life to a sudden halt is still jarring and leaves too many questions. If they had handled just that thread a little better, the rest of the final minutes would have been OK. It's a shame, too, because "No Country" pretty much had me up to that point.

Wait a minute ... did I miss the nunchucks?: "The Killer Elite"

Weird movie, maybe just because it's in hindsight. I mean, even as a young man, Robert Duvall didn't have much hair. Combine that with a mustache, and he just doesn't look the part of an assassin-for-hire.

Duvall and James Caan are both hired killers who work for the CIA. But as the deputy in "No Country" might say, "Whoooaaa, differences." Caan ends up with a bad elbow and a bad knee, which means we spend a lot of time watching him in rehab. Lucky for him, he gets a chance at redemption and revenge through a new assignment. Just stay away from that tollbooth, Sonny.

There's plenty of double- and triple-crossing here, as well as some of Sam Peckinpah's quick cuts during action scenes. It's a far cry from "The Wild Bunch," but you can recognize the same technique. In general, though, this movie is kind of boring, even once the ninjas show up. Maybe that's because it was in broad daylight. Um, those dark pajamas aren't hiding anybody, boys.

Can I go back to 1998 and not date Janet Patton?: "Primer"

Can't decide if this movie is one of the best thinkers of all time or just a bunch of bullsh*t. Could be both. And this from a guy who loves the time travel stuff.

For something that could be classified as sci-fi, "Primer" is pretty minimalist. A couple of guys -- working on the side to find something that they can make money from -- stumble across something that apparently allows them to travel into the past. There was a lot of technical stuff, and I won't pretend to understand how it worked. I also can't really fathom how all the different doubles of the characters and time-travel loops fit together, even with the occasional voiceover.

Of course, their plans to make money give way to other complications, and that's where we get all these guys time-traveling at different times. It's way confusing, and I'll go along with the critic who said that anyone who claims to understand what happened after just one viewing is either a savant or a liar.

Still, it's different and thought-provoking, and impressive given the budget was about $7,000. The movie also is fairly zippy after a slow start. Once these kids start messing with physics, they don't fool around. DeLoreans and flux capacitors? Those are for suckers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

For those of you who found "Mannequin" lacking in subtlety and nuance: "Lars and the Real Girl"

This may have been a first in Movievangelist history: Seeing a movie recommended by my mom.

Actually, I remember when this quirky tale of a painfully shy guy who dates a sex doll came out in theaters. Reviews were solid, and if My Eternally Luminous One and I had, you know, anything close to free time at the same time, we would have seen it. As it was, we got it from Netflix after Mom -- not one to rave about movies -- gave it some of her highest praise. "Good movie!" I believe she said via e-mail.

Ryan Gosling -- whom I'm seeing a lot of despite his not being in that many movies -- plays Lars, a twentysomething who lives his his brother's garage. He and his brother (Paul Schneider) each own half the house after their parents died, but Lars apparently likes to be alone, despite the best intentions of his sister-in-law, played by Emily "For Once, I Keep My Shirt On" Mortimer. (Yeah, no boobs from someone who took over the "money in the bank" title from Jennifer Jason Leigh. What's up with that?)

We learn right away that Lars doesn't like real people. Still, it's a tad odd when he all of the sudden introduces his friend from out of town, Bianca. Yep, she's a sex doll, but no, Lars isn't having sex with her. Rather, he treats her like a real, handicapped woman. Just friends, you know? If that sounds weird, well, it is. The look on Schneider's face when he first "meets" Bianca is priceless.

But if that's not weird enough for you, how about this: Before long, the whole town is playing along. That's right ... everyone acts like Bianca is real. It's apparently all part of Lars' therapy; I mean, dude has a sex doll for a girlfriend. Therapy? Um, yeah. It's also pretty funny. Not so much in a belly-laugh way as a get-a-load-of-this way. But I also did out-and-out laugh a couple of times.

No question this is a different kind of movie, but overall it worked for me. Gosling is solid, as are the supporting players. Schneider and Mortimer are really good as the confused-but-game couple, Patricia Clarkson has her usual dignified yet earthy presence as Lars' ... I mean, Bianca's doctor. Kelli Garner is fun as Lars' smitten co-worker. It's no stretch to say I liked all of them. Well, except Bianca. What a b*tch.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Since I'm clearly not watching any movies these days

Yeah, despite jamming by DVR list with movies -- now that the movie channels have gone bye-bye -- I've been working late and otherwise not seeing much. When I do sit down in front of the flat-screen, it's been TV shows. To wit:

New Amsterdam: Or, "A Less Violent, More Schmaltzy but Otherwise Decent Version of 'Highlander.'" We have a New York cop who turns out to be more than 400 years old, thanks to an Indian -- feather, not dot -- curse from way back when. This allows our hero -- who has some weird name but mostly reminds me of Aaron Eckhardt -- to constantly, sometime annoyingly, talk about how New York was back then ... and then ... and then. And the curse can be broken only if he finds his true love. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Verdict: Somewhat interesting, depending on this week's case.

CSI: Yes, this is still on. No, it's not as good as it was. The show has been back two episodes now, and I'm actually blogging about it for my day job -- pitching in on a group effort organized by our entertainment editor. In general, Bill Petersen and Co. need to stick with the science and leave the personal crap alone. But I still think Marg Helgenberger -- turning 50 this year! -- has got it going on. Go, U Northwestern!

The Office: Just saw the season premiere, which was painfully hilarious. I think Jim is mugging for the camera a little too much -- that's happened before -- but Pam is cute, Dwight is a riot and Michael is ... Michael. Also, Jan clearly has been revealed to be certifiably psycho. Wow. You know, I loved the original British version, even with the sometimes incomprehensible dialogue. But this is equally funny, mostly because it has taken its own path. I never knew it could be that good. (That's what she said.)

My Name is Earl: I'm moving toward the fence on this one. It's not bad, but it just doesn't grab me. I can't wait to see "The Office" each week. I can wait a few days to see "Earl." Nothing wrong with it, just nothing great. Best thing is still Jaime Pressly -- so hot, and naked, in "Poison Ivy: The New Seduction" -- as Earl's firecracker ex-wife. And I don't mind ogling Catalina. Otherwise, though, I'm just kind of "eh."

Battlestar Galactica: (Pause) I will now welcome your insults. It's OK ... you just don't understand. How could you? You see the title and the 10 p.m. Friday time slot and think, "Wow, where's Lorne Greene, that guy who became Face on 'The A-Team' and all those guys in shiny metal suits?" But while the original TV series was a blatant attempt to capture "Star Wars" fever, Version 2.0 is a real show with all sort of ideas about politics, religion, familes, etc. Really, the science fiction is almost incidental. Not that I want to do without it, mind you. Ooooh, lasers!

Dexter: We just started this on DVD, because, you know, I don't get Showtime anymore. The gay brother from "Six Feet Under" plays a forensics guy in Miami who also happens to be a serial killer. But he kills only bad people, so it's OK. Interesting concept, and Michael C. Hall can act. I've seen only the first four episodes, but the opening story arc of Dexter in a dance with another, public serial killer has me intrigued. And it's just weird to see the guy in something other than a dark suit and Boy Scout haircut.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Young guys, old men, generic titles

These two movies have been sitting in my mental queue, and it's time to just get them out of the way. They have plenty in common: came out last year, have a hot young star matching wits with a grizzled veteran, and have titles that don't tell you much at all. Oh, and neither one is anything great.


"Inspired by a true story," Chris Cooper is a senior FBI agent suspected of leaking secrets to the Soviet Union on an epic scale. Ryan Phillippe is a young agent recruited to win Cooper's trust and help Laura Linney catch him. Gary Cole, Dennis "Pedro Cerrano" Haysbert and Kathleen Quinlan are lurking around in supporting roles.

It's not a horrible cat-and-mouse game, although the proceedings are hurt somewhat by us never doubting that Cooper is guilty. Worse, we get no real insight into why he does what he does. I'm not saying "The Good Shepherd" was stellar in this regard, but I bought those deceptions more.

While ultimately a letdown, "Breach" still offers decent performances -- Linney is nice, and I've kind of come around on Phillippe, who also was good in "The Flags of Our Fathers," "Crash" and "The Way of the Gun." It just doesn't seal the deal as far as being a compelling tale of treason.


Here we have a different kind of cat-and-mouse game, with Anthony Hopkins accused of shooting his wife and Ryan Gosling playing the hotshot prosecutor assigned to the case. Gosling also is ticketed for a gig as a big law firm, but he just needs to get Hopkins convicted. Darn it if Tony doesn't want to let that happen.

In fact, Hopkins relishes the whole game. As in "Breach," the reasons aren't totally clear. I get that he's all about precision and every action having a reaction, based on his engineering-type job. As for Gosling, he's more one-note than in "Half Nelson," but you gotta like how he's still deliberate with the roles, popping up in movies only once a year or so.

Supporting characters include David Strathairn as the DA, Rosamund Pike as a lawyer at the private firm and Embeth Davidtz as Hopkins' wife -- who was having an affair, hence the shooting. But this is really about Hopkins needling Gosling, and even if Tony isn't breaking new ground here, it's somewhat interesting to watch their dance. I also thought the ending wasn't too bad. You know, where Hopkins peels off Gosling's face and then wears it as a mask. That never gets old.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rockwell was ahead of his time: "Disturbia"

You know ... "I always feel like ... somebody's watching meeeeeee!!!" Great song. If by "great," you mean "crappy."

This movie from last year was yet another entry into the "I've got movie channels" sweepstakes. I remembered a few reviews that said it wasn't that bad, and it did turn out to be much better than I thought. And then, suddenly, it wasn't.

Our story opens with a rather unpleasant episode that explains why our hero -- Shia "For God's Sake, How Do People Come Up With These Names" LaBeouf -- is a punk. Although I didn't realize it at the time, Shia Pet comes off as a cross between Corey Feldman and David Schwimmer. Kind of eerie.

Anyway, he ends up under house arrest for the summer and eventually spies on various neighbors. Before long, though, something seemingly nefarious is afoot, and Sh-Sh-Sh-Shia must figure out how he can stop a bad man from doing more bad things.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it's the basic premise of "Rear Window." In that case, Jimmy Stewart was a photographer who was homebound with a broken leg, Grace Kelly is the hottie and Raymond Burr is the villain. (Or is he?) Here we've got some unknown (Sarah Roemer) as the babe -- and she is not hard to look at, fellas -- and David Morse as the sinister neighbor. David Morse! I love that guy. Throw in Carrie-Anne Moss -- whom I didn't recognize -- as the mom (that's why), and it's a party.

Actually, the house-arrest angle is a really good way of updating this idea, and "Disturbia" -- while having a crappy title -- does a good job showing how this yutz goes from his xBox/iTunes world to spying on the people next door. There's also some decent tension as to whether Morse is really a bad guy or not. Really, aside from some obligatory annoying teen stuff, the first hour or so of this movie isn't too bad.

Unfortunately, "Disturbia" is an hour and 45 minutes, and the filmmakers couldn't resist reverting to typical thriller/horror crap. I suppose I shouldn't "ruin" it for you, but I also can't believe anyone would be surprised by the ending after what started as a fairly interesting movie downgrades into the usual junk. Once you make that turn, it's hard to go back.

So yeah, I'm a little mixed. I guess since it's better than you might think, "Disturbia" is worth a look. Just make sure you're OK with a letdown in the end. Oh, and in case you didn't figure it out, here's a helpful tip from IMDB: "The title 'Disturbia' is a play on the words 'disturb' and 'suburbia.'" Really? You sure it's not "dis" and "turbia?"

Also, get a load of this bit of trivia: "During filming, David Morse did not speak to Shia LeBeouf or any of the other teens. LaBeouf said, 'When we finished filming, he was very friendly. But he's a method actor, and as long as we were shooting, he wouldn't say a word to us.'"

Yeah ... method acting. Or getting second billing to someone named "Shia LeBeouf."