Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bloodshed is thicker than water: "Step Brothers"

Compared with the more heralded previous pairing of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, "Talladega Nights," this comedy kind of snuck into theaters last year, it seemed. Then again, at the rate I see movies, "The Dark Knight" could have been out for three weeks before I noticed.

Anyway, I do actually recall "Step Brothers" being in Ye Olde Moviehouse, but I'm also sure the reviews weren't such that I simply had to run right out and see it. That left it to Netflix, which was just the ticket for seeing what magic these two guys -- whom I generally like -- could weave.

Our story: Ferrell is a 39-year-old loser living with his mom, the (still hot) Mary Steenburgen. Reilly is a 40-year-old loser living with his dad, Richard Jenkins. Mary and Rich get married, and voila! The losers become step brothers who follow the predictable comedy arc of hating each other, liking each other and then hating each other again before everyone makes nice.

The funniest guy here actually is Ferrell's character's brother, played by Adam Scott. I knew him best as the annoying yuppie in the HBO series "Tell Me You Love Me," which was distinguished mostly by graphic sex scenes. Scott wasn't funny at all there, but he's a riot here as the perfect pr!ck of a little brother.

Otherwise, this is merely an excuse to string together a bunch of crude episodes, making for a wildly uneven whole. The beginning is kind of lame, while the middle -- when Scott arrives and the brothers join forces -- is better, with the job interviews probably the best part. The climax isn't bad, either, with Ferrell doing both subdued -- his admiration for Enterprise Rent-a-Car is amusing -- and over the top, belting out a Spanish opera tune. (Pretty well, too.)

So yeah, some funny scenes, sight gags, ad libs, whatever. Most of the cast seemed on board, which helps. In the end, it's not as good as "Anchorman," but better than "Talladega Nights." It also made me wonder if Reilly will ever go back to drama again, although I applaud his attitude with these inane ventures. And remember, the clown has no penis.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stay tuned for "Terminator: Assignment: Miami Beach": "Terminator Salvation"

No question that when I first heard of this and even saw the teaser trailer, I thought, "Really? This isn't played out? I mean, the story already has moved to TV, right?" But hey, I watch that show, and subsequent trailers looked decent. Throw in a respectable cast -- oooh, Michael Ironside! -- and the need for the noisy escapist summer fun, and yeah, I'm there.

After a brief scene from 2003, our story takes place in 2018, after -- you know the basic story, right? -- Skynet has attacked the human race and wiped out most of it during Judgment Day. (Sidebar: What I love most about any new technology is making references to the "man vs. machines" battle and how something has become "self aware." Blackberry, iPod, toaster ... never gets old.)

John Connor (Christian "Newsies" Bale) is a mid-level officer in the Resistance, butting heads with not only wicked machines that kill or capture humans but also his higher-ups (namely Ironside) on a sub. Meanwhile, some civilian named Marcus (Sam Worthington) survives a battle, learns it's the future (as far as he's concerned) and hooks up with a couple of kids in L.A., including teen Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Yes, the guy who will travel back in time and become Connor's daddy.

While the Resistance thinks it has a way to finally stop Skynet, Reese gets captured, Marcus meets John -- via a smokin' Resistance fighter (Moon Bloodgood) -- and tensions mount. You get the picture: action scene, talky-talky, action scene, talky-talky, action scene, action scene, climax. All with plenty of flying things and silver skeletons with red eyes.

Decent action here, with a bunch of different types of killing machines running around. Definitely not something you want to think about too much -- shocker, I know -- but pleny of bang-bang-kablooey. As for the acting ... eh. Bale is happy to do a bunch of yelling and brooding. Worthington has the better role and is OK, but man ... he could not hide his Australian accent. It was pretty bad. Yelchin is better than in "Star Trek" but still a little annoying. Only a little, though. Bloodgood is hot. Ironside is Ironside. Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Helena Bonham Carter(!) and Jane Alexander(!!) also are around.

While I liked the way the movie handled the Marcus character, the whole time travel/course of events stuff got a little muddled. Then there was the convenience factor when it came to battling Terminators. Hey, here's something heavy to drop on it! Hey, here's some molten metal! But who are we kidding? This is about the action, and "Terminator Salvation" should satisfy anyone's "blow sh!t up" jones. Big flying thing go boom!

Monday, May 18, 2009

What, no flying leg kicks and dramatic pauses for old times sake?: "Star Trek"

I mean, I can deal with no Shatner. But any reimagining, reboot or whatever you want to call it still needs to have his signature fighting move and unmistakable speaking style. I could try to put it into print here, but you're better off with this Kevin Pollak classic. And I do mean classic.

As for this new movie ... not bad. Not bad at all.

Most of you know of my affinity for the original "Star Trek." While I'm neither a Trekkie nor Trekker -- never been to one convention, honest -- yeah, I like the first go-around, and am pretty sure I've seen every episode. Never got into subsequent series, although I liked "First Contact." No, the original crew was always my fave, and I even broke out "Wrath of Khan" not too long ago. I've got it on VHS, and whoa ... let's just say the used rental store copy does not hold up well after a quarter century.

Our story here is centered around how the Enterprise came together in the first place, especially the dynamic duo of Capt. James Tiberius Kirk and his Vulcan first officer, Spock. Perhaps you've heard of these guys? The plot is nominally about Starfleet and the Federation fighting off a time-traveling Romulan played by Ang Lee's Bruce Banner (Eric Bana), but as with "Batman Begins" and "Casino Royale," it's really an origin story. As such, let's go over which characters worked the best:

1. Spock (Zachary Quinto): While Spock's human side often was an afterthought in the original series, his split personality is front and center here, evidenced by his ongoing battle to control emotions -- from rage to lust. I must say ... Quinto pulled it off. Never seen "Heroes," but the guy was a convincing young Spock, bettering his rival when it came to the big Spock-Kirk feud. Better yet, he delivered a fantastic "Fascinating ... " late in the movie. Alas, he couldn't channel Nimoy's signature eyebrow raise. Pity.

2. Kirk (Chris Pine): A punk, and god love him for it. His challenge wasn't so much to capture the original Kirk, since doing a young Shatner would be way too cartoonish. So he was just arrogant yet smart. Oh, and a horndog. Hooking up with a green-skinned cadet? Priceless.

3. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban): Interesting choice at first blush, but boy ... did he get the original Bones down pat. It was actually too much at times, and it didn't help that his character got no juicy scene of his own. Still, good to see him pulling off a decidedly different role after doing mostly macho stuff (LOTR, Riddick, the second Bourne movie).

4. Uhura (Zoe Saldana): Good on them for giving her much more depth than the original ever had, plus bringing back the short skirts and knee boots. Also interesting to see her in a romance with another crew member, although they made their point well enough early on and could have eased off in the second half.

5. Scotty (Simon Pegg): After "Hot Fuzz," I'll never say anything bad about Pegg. The problem is that Scotty is so much of a caricature that anyone would have been trapped in a comic relief role. But hey, he does seem to nail the accent.

6. Sulu (John Cho): I respect giving him a fight scene and paying homage to a classic original series episode with a shirtless Sulu waving around a sword. But there wasn't much room for Cho to do much else, and I still can't look at him without wanting a sack of White Castles.

7. Chekov (Anton Yelchin): Another bit of tongue-in-cheek work by making him really young and laying on the thick Russian accent. I don't care.

So yeah, I'd say director J.J. Abrams did right by finding good guys for the most important roles and fleshing out the Kirk and Spock characters the most. We also get a good supporting cast in Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross and -- yes -- Leonard Nimoy, while Winona Ryder and Tyler Perry pop up in odd (for them) roles. Points for creativity there.

Throw in some pretty good special effects -- space battles, transporter stuff and those trusty handheld phasers -- and the overall result is a successful relaunch. There are quibbles, sure. Abrams still insists on some choppy, tilted camera work with two-person dialogue scenes. It's a holdover from "Alias," I think. Didn't like it in "Mission: Impossible III," and don't like it here.

Also, the whole time travel/alternate reality stuff seemed unnecessarily confusing and kind of brought a previously brisk pace to a crawl after the halfway point. Honestly, I'm still not sure how everything fit together, and you know what, J.J.? I get enough of that frustration with "Lost."

Despite all that -- and because I'm clearly biased and want this movie to work -- "Star Trek" is great fun, and I'll definitely see it again at some point just to appreciate the introduction of Kirk and Spock. And if we're lucky, the second outing for these guys will do what "Wrath of Khan" did for the first movie series and take it to a next level. Given the solid foundation of this movie -- vs. the crapfest that was "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" -- we could be looking at a rather cool run. I, for one, certainly would like to see it ...

(Should I?)


(Oh, OK.)

Live long and prosper.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vig-Go put some pants on, dammit!: "Eastern Promises"

I mean, really ... does anyone need to see your little Aragorn flopping around in the bathhouse? No. Just ... no.

Despite knowing full well that we see penis in this movie -- say it together ... automatic one-star deduction -- I still had Netflix serve this one up. Hell, Viggo Mortensen did get nominated, and I had heard it was more than decent. Besides, Naomi Watts isn't hard to look at, even if my dream of her recreating the nude scenes from "Mulholland Dr." and "21 Grams" are fading with each film.

Watts is a midwife in London who delivers a baby but has the young mother die in childbirth. The woman had a diary of sorts, though, which leads our heroine to the Russian mob. Yeah, thanks for nothing, diary.

The mob ... not so nice guys. Mortensen is a driver for the son (Vincent Cassel) of the boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Watts starts asking questions, which doesn't go over so well. Her mom and uncle also don't dig her investigation. Only Viggo seems somewhat tolerant -- and he wants her to go away, too -- but we see that he's got his own thing going on with these mob guys.

The story starts a little slow, setting up Naomi's and Viggo's respective circles before they overlap and grow uncomfortable. We see how sniveling Cassel is and how quietly menacing Mueller-Stahl is. We also appreciate Viggo's cool demeanor. IMDb says he did a bunch of research for this, and yeah, I bought him as a Russian body man.

Things get ever more tense as Watts finds out more and Mortensen has to reconcile his interest in her with his devotion to the mob. Absent the messy fight in the bathhouse -- hey, put that thing away! -- there isn't a whole lot of bang-bang. But it's still not all that pleasant.

Oh, and guiding all this is David Cronenberg, back for some more Viggo after "A History of Violence." Like that movie, Cronenberg doesn't get weird throughout "Promises," but he makes sure to give us some trademark squirm-inducing bloodshed. Then again, after you've seen Jeff Goldblum's jaw fall off in his transition to a fly, slitting a throat is nothing, I guess.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"We'll show them!" Take 2: "Bottle Shock"

Just imagine "Sideways" with fewer laughs, more domestic strife and Hans from "Die Hard" slumming in '70s California. OK, it's a little better than that sounds.

Bill Pullman -- another Everyman -- is a struggling winemaker in Napa ... before it became Napa. His son (Chris "I'm about to be huge as young Capt. Kirk" Pine) is a screwoff, his Latino foreman (Rico from "Six Feet Under") is making his own wine on the side, and the new student intern (Rachael Taylor) is a saucy blonde. Not good times.

Enter a British guy (Alan Rickman) who owns a Paris wine store and has trekked to California to find wines for a tasting contest against French wines -- still considered the world's best. The idea is to win attention for his own struggling business, but over time he becomes genuinely curious about what these "hicks in the sticks" are doing.

Some other interesting people here -- Dennis Farina as an American expat in Paris, Eliza Dushku (mostly wasted) as a bartender -- but the story is the thing here. This apparently is how California wines burst onto the world scene, and it's not a bad little tale. More angst and whining than I might have prefered, and I might have dialed down some of the father-son stuff.

But hey, it's always good to see Pullman plugging away and getting p!ssy with people. His filmography is spotty, to say the least. But I'll always have a soft spot for him. Not so much for his turn as Lone Starr in "Spaceballs" -- let's just head that off right now -- but "Zero Effect" and especially the one-two '90s punch of "Malice" and "The Last Seduction." Something about getting beaten up can make an otherwise nice guy get perfectly nasty ...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"We'll show them!" Take 1: "Flash of Genius"

Here's the first of two movies that were barely in theaters but turned out to be decent, not the least because of the good casts and Everymen at their respective centers.

To start, here's something I never thought I'd say: I am a Greg Kinnear fan.

Seriously, it seems like I like the guy in just about everything. Not sure when it started. With "Mystery Men," maybe? (And that was a small but hilarious role.) In any case, a quick check of his IMDB page reveals a buttload of movies where I thought he was OK if not great: "Auto Focus," "Stuck on You," "The Matador," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Fast Food Nation." Heck, he was fine even in "The Gift, "Invincible" and "Baby Mama." Of course, it helps tremendously that I've never seen "Dear God."

So it goes without saying that when My Forever Radiance had "Flash of Genius" delivered to our home, I said, "Sure!" In a nutshell, Kinnear plays a guy who does what the major automakers couldn't: invent the intermittent windshield wiper. Alas, those Detroit bad guys steal his technology, and our hero spends much of his life battling them for money and, more important, recognition.

Kinnear, who really does have the harried Everyman thing down pat now, is solid. Lauren Graham is comely as his frustrated wife. Alan Alda and Skinner from "The X-Files" nail their brief supporting roles. And -- you better sit down for this -- Dermot Mulroney is actually all right as Kinnear's business partner. Yeah, I know!

No question this story requires some patience, and I certainly wanted to knock some sense into our protagonist more than once. (Even if it was a true story.) But how can you not root for the guy, especially when it's clear he's not a perfect fella? This inspired me to resume my battle with Bill Gates. I mean, he totally ripped off my Nanolite Portals operating system ...