Sunday, March 29, 2009

On the plus side, no Steve Guttenberg in the distant future: "WALL-E"

You know ... "Short Circuit?" Really, I can't be the only one who thought of that '80s non-classic when I saw this little robot puttering around.

While I pretty much never get out to see Pixar movies, they're always good for a rental, especially given the Oscar hardware. She Who Glows and I tapped Netflix for "WALL-E" not long ago, and as with other such movies, it was solid -- and not just for an animated pic.

WALL-E is a little clean-up robot going through the motions in the Earth's future, when humans are gone and trash has piled up. One day, a big spaceship drops off a sleek little white robot (EVE), and boy, does WALL-E fall hard. A one-sided courtship ensues, leading our two 'bots away from Earth and to a whole other story about the humans who left, and what their lives -- and those of the robots that serve them -- have become. Can the human race recover? Can Earth be saved? Can WALL-E get in EVE's metallic pants?

Again, you know the Pixar formula. Not only does the movie look amazing -- Animated? Really? -- but there's some poignant social commentary, some of it wry. Um, yeah, there's the green message about where our planet is headed. But there's also the issue of technology, automation and human sloth, which is pretty good.

The human characters are fine, but the robots are the real show. WALL-E and EVE are precious, and the supporting players are funny. I particularly dug the little "foreign contaminant" dude. Oh, and want a laugh? (No, Jeff, never.) Check out the the discussion boards for the "actor" who plays the autopilot. While the "dating Keira Knightly" and "met him last night" threads are good, my favorite might be the "people say I look like him" one. Awesome.

So yeah, nice little story, impressive effects and a gosh-darnit great feeling in the end. Yes, I always get a little choked up during these movies ... "Nemo," "Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and so on. Funny ... I can watch movies with people getting hacked up, crushed and otherwise mutilated beyond recognition and not bat an eye. But put one boxy little robot in danger, and damn, does it get dusty in here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What, no Shemp?

I mean, given the guys you're talking about here, why not go balls-out and line up Dermot Mulroney while you're at it ...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

xxxxx ooooo xxxxx ooooo

No, I love you, man.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Exhibit B for my proposed Truth in Trailers Law: "Be Kind Rewind"

Exhibit A remains, of course, "Changing Lanes," which looks like some simple cat-and-mouse thriller but actually had surprising depth and acting, including by Ben Affleck. Did I just say that out loud?

I remember the trailer for "Be Kind Rewind" being damn funny. After all the videotapes at a dumpy video store somehow get erased (interested), two guys -- Mos Def and Jack Black (very interested) -- decide to make their own goofy versions of movies ranging from "Ghostbusters" to "Driving Miss Daisy." (Sold!)

Somehow I didn't see this in the moviehouse last year, but I jumped when we had a free cable weekend recently. Then I wanted to jump off my roof after sitting through the whole thing.

Oh, the homemade movies are funny, as are the mechanics of making them. And Black and ... Def? ... are OK. But both have been a lot better elsewhere. Black alternates between restrained and just weird -- the latter endearing only half the time. Mos Def isn't as much about the ha-ha -- he can act, friends, and I suggest you try "16 Blocks" and "Monster's Ball" if you disagree -- but also isn't amazing.

So we're left with oddball performances by Danny Glover and Mia Farrow and a story that takes waaaaaayyyy too long to get to the funny stuff. In short, the video store building was where this legendary jazz guy was born way back when, and now it's being threatened by redevelopment. Yeah, fine ... I get it. These are real issues. But I really just wanted as many silly versions of movies as possible. The other stuff -- even it it gave this movie depth -- was kind of a drag. And I'm not talking about JB donning a dress for "Daisy."

It's always Lincoln. Never any love for Garfield ... : "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"

I know, I know ... why? Well, I did see the first one. And the sequel was the best candidate for "Mindless Streaming Netflix Movie I Can Watch On My Laptop While My Grandparents Are Sacked Out In My Den." Caught this right around when my latest kid was born, starting it the weekend before and finishing it in the hospital -- love the wifi -- a few days afterward. Strangely, I was still able to follow the highly intellectual plot despite the gap.

Nic Cage -- pretty much giving up on going for Oscars -- is back as Ben Gates, treasure hunter. This time, Ed Harris says his great granddad (or whoever) was part of the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Neither Ben nor his dad (Jon Voight) like the sound of that, so they get the band back together -- the annoying funny guy and the hot blonde girl -- and go globetrotting, solving riddles and finding clues and getting into all sorts of scrapes. Watch out!

Harvey Keitel and Helen Mirren(!) also get involved in this mess, which doesn't really qualify as dumb fun because it would like to think it's clever. Oh, and it's not that funny. The comic relief guy is more irritating, and I can recall only one scene that made me laugh. (When Cage sticks his hand into a hole to recover some lost thingamajig.)

But hey, we've got three Oscar winners and two nominees. With that lineup, the real conspiracy is how this movie didn't go home with any statues last year.

Where's the new fence for this border, huh?: "Frozen River"

I gotta tell you ... this having-two-kids business is damn tiring. Sure, I've actually seen my share of movies lately, thanks to having to hold the new one and walk, oh, 23 miles around the den every other night. But sitting down and knocking out a movie recap of the stratospheric quality to which you, dear reader, have become accustomed? Ain't been happenin', and ain't about to start now. Consider this just cowboying up with a few quick hits.

You may remember "Frozen River" as the "Wha'?" best actress Oscar nomination. Melissa Leo -- whom I knew from "Homicide," I want to say? -- is a mother of two in way upstate New York. As in, right on the border with Canada. She's got a nothing job and a husband who runs off to gamble cash that's meant to buy a new doublewide mobile home. This bleak picture results in her getting caught up in a human trafficking ring -- bringing Asians, Middle Easterners, what have you across the border by way of the local Indian reservation and the frozen St. Lawrence Seaway. Sounds safe and fun, right?

This really turns out to be about two women: Leo and the young Indian woman who drags her into this mess. Both have parenting issues and need cash, and as you might guess, the partnership isn't all grits and shins. Not only is the movie's tone dark, but the actual look is dark. I know a lot of this takes place at night, but gee ... I still want to see what's going on.

Both female leads are good, and the movie was better than I expected -- not hard since I had no expectations. But it also isn't life-changing, and even Leo's performance doesn't make this a must-see. Well, unless you just really dig snow and depression in every scene. Sign me up!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Choose your joke: "Wait, I thought he was a great GOLDEN god" or "And yet no mention of when he helped form the Blue Man Group": "Watchmen"

Hey, such rapier wit simply cannot be restrained.

Yes, I gave in and saw the FIRST BIG MOVIE OF THE YEAR last weekend. What can I say? I've read the comic book ... I mean, graphic novel ... a couple of times, and the trailers suggested a faithful adaptation. Throw in the combination of Freakshow's wife from "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and one of the Steve Prefontaines swinging a blue schlong, and "Watchmen" was an offer I couldn't refuse.

Our story, if I can keep this brief: In an alternate universe where it's 1985, Nixon is still president and we won Vietnam, the nation has outlawed superheroes. Yep, they existed and not only fought evil but helped us win that nasty Southeast Asia skirmish. Alas, most went into hiding once they were on the outs.

One of those, the Comedian, is brutally killed in his apartment as the movie opens. Another, Rorschach, investigates, and not delicately. Flawed? These "heroes?" Just a bit. Along the way, Rorschach -- wearing a fedora, trenchcoat and mask with ever-changing inkblots -- checks in with other Watchmen: The Nite Owl (a gadget guy), Silk Spectre (latex-wearing karate girl) and Dr. Manhattan (a bonafide superhero who is all blue and can bend matter to his will). There's also Ozymandias, who is super smart, super fast and super rich, apparently.

As Rorschach checks into what may be a conspiracy, we bounce back and forth in time, learning how these heroes came about, worked together and fell apart. We also see how Dr. Manhattan got his powers and how he doesn't see the world and human race quite the same as others. All the while, the U.S. and the Soviet Union inch closer and closer to a nuclear war that almost certainly would erase much of the Earth's population. Fun times, indeed.

Of these, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is the most interesting. His growling may seem one note, but you have to admire that single-minded purpose. And when he gets sidetracked in jail for a while ... well, that's riveting. The Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) is supposed to be our voice of reason, and he's OK but too nebbishy for the hefty screen time. Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) is more empty than sympathetic.

As for the others, the Comedian -- seen mostly in flashbacks -- is an intriguing antihero, even if Jeffrey Dean Morgan reminded me a lot of Powers Boothe. As Ozymandias, Matthew Goode is too lightweight. That leaves Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. I generally like Crudup, and he's not bad here. But whenever I read "Watchmen," I heard a deeper voice. Ethereal, sure, to reflect his otherworldliness. But still deeper. It was a little jarring.

More important than the uneven casting, though, is how director Zack Snyder moved this to the big screen. No question he deserves credit for just getting it out there after all these years. But for me, he didn't have to chew up so much running time -- more than two-and-a-half hours -- being SO faithful to the book (with some reasonable omissions and one big exception at the end). Some of those details for the fanboys? Cut 'em, Zack. Just cut 'em. They'll be OK.

Worse, the music sucked. Not the songs themselves, but the selections. Dylan's "Times Are A-Changin'" for the opening credits? Really? Then "Sounds of Silence" at a funeral? Come on. There were some other awkward picks, like "99 Luft Balloons." Call me boring, but I'd rather have some ominous instrumental stuff. This is a somber tale, after all. All this left me thinking Snyder's best movie remains "Dawn of the Dead." Yes, better than the greasy-man rock video than was "300."

In the end, "Watchmen" wasn't a waste by any means, but I consider it more a curiosity -- or even just an itch that had to be scratched -- than an enjoyable, successful adaptation. Better than "V for Vendetta," sure, but not enough to escape the weight of expectations. Not even with Kelly Leak getting his psycho on. Let them slay! Let them slay! Let them slay!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Not the Pacific-based sequel to "Midnight Express?" Thank god ... : "Pineapple Express"

Because I couldn't have taken the sight of Seth Rogen pleasuring himself while James Franco bared his chest on the other side of the visitation room glass. That's too much even for Apatow.

I was curious about this different kind of entry from the Apatow factory when it came out last year but didn't hear rave reviews from either the critics or my friends. Given the track record of the folks involved, though, it seemed worth a Redbox rental. Flawed though it might be, that $1.07 wasn't badly spent.

Our story: Slacker twentysomething (Rogen) who works as a process server and dates a hot high school girl witnesses a murder by a druglord and cop and goes on the run with his dealer (Franco), also a stoner. As is usually the case, oddball characters emerge, and hilarity ensues.

That plot sounds simple, yet "Pineapple Express" is a little too long and even a bit boring at times. Strange, because there are plenty of fun actors here, including Gary Cole, James Remar and Bill Hader. We also get Daryl from "The Office" and ... wait for it ... a Rosie Perez sighting! Yeah, I know! Also, you haven't lived until you've seen Ed Begley Jr. swearing a blue streak as the high school girl's dad, then wielding a shotgun. Who knew?

But the best supporting player, hands down, is one Danny McBride. While I haven't seen "The Foot Fist Way," I appreciated McBride's comedic stylings in "Drillbit Taylor" and "Tropic Thunder." He takes it to a new level here, however, and honestly is the guy who keeps things humming along -- moreso than Rogen and Franco. Calling him a drug dealer in this movie is too easy. He's just a weird dude full of contradictions, clad in a kimono, and deadly with a Daewoo. (That was maybe my favorite line. Or the reference to British Knights tennis shoes. Awesome.)

It's no stretch to say McBride is the best reason to see the movie. Even with that, I think Apatow and Co. are probably better served by sticking with straight comedy and relationship stuff (see "The 40-Year-Old Virgin") instead of crime/action. I appreciate and even applaud the effort, but like I said, it was too long and too uneven to be a home run. Still, I'll never look at a box of Nerds the same way again ...