Monday, June 29, 2009

Who knew underwear models could be so complex?

Yes, today we present two sides of the man, the myth, the Marky Mark.

Maybe a remake of "What's Happening!!" would have been better: "The Happening"

Ah, yes ... the latest from M. Night Shyamalamalamalan. I remember the trailer being intriguing, and the reviews being not so hot. I also recently saw an IMDb comment board post that said Night would make great 15-minute movies. That's about right.

Our story: One morning in Manhattan, people start getting confused, then killing themselves. Soon the attack/virus/whatever is spreading, causing people in Philadelphia to flee. This includes Mark Wahlberg as a high school science teacher, his might-be-cheatin' wife Zooey Deschanel and their friend John Leguizamo, who has a cute little daughter. They end up on a train to the country, but let's just say it gets harder and harder to get away from whatever is ... happening. (Ooohh!)

Strange movie, and not even in the normal Night way. For one, it's R-rated, and I can see why. There's some gruesome stuff in here. Not bloody as much as, well, horrifying. When people are somehow ordered to kill themselves, the cleverness they show is surprising. Still not sure how I feel about it all, but suffice it to say it wasn't pleasant.

Second, while Shyamalan apparently wanted Wahlberg for this role, it's a bad, bad fit. Wahlberg is always better when he was at least some menace, and here he's just a lost teacher. I felt bad for him, and not just because of his wife. (Deschanel wasn't a great choice, either.)

Then there's the explanation for the happening. I actually liked the idea, which made sense in a way. But people trying to outrun an unseen foe doesn't usually work outside of the "Evil Dead" movies, and the resolution of the crisis left me wanting. What was meant to be a ominous warning really came off as a "That's it?" moment. Even the very last scene couldn't save it, and this comes from a guy who has no problem seeing the French go down.

Somewhere Billy Zane is p*ssed off: "Shooter"

I mean, his "Sniper" was the definite "looking through a scope" movie, right?

This one seemed to come out of nowhere a couple of years ago, and I vaguely recall it not being panned by critics. Throw in Wahlberg as a much tougher guy than in the above spookfest, and "Shooter" was worth a spot on the DVR list.

Our man Mark is a former military sniper who got wronged while on a top-secret job. A few years later, some super-secret guys ask him to help thwart a planned assassination of the president. Alas, it turns out our hero is framed, and goes on the run after the near-death of the Commander in Chief. Coming to his aid are his buddy's widow and an FBI agent who smells something fishy in the whole assassination investigation. (Say that five times fast.)

Now this role is right for Wahlberg. Sure, he's a little small to be a convincing military badass, but he pulls it off well enough. The generally good Michael Pena, as the FBI agent, is solid, too, although his coming around happened a little too smoothly. As the widow and would-be love interest, Kate Mara is -- what's the word I'm looking for here? Ah, yes -- hot. Or maybe it was the very first shot of her in a tight white tank top that showed her ... attributes, and in more detail than I expected. More cleavage shots followed, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised as what she brought to the party.

Other notables include Danny Glover as the guy who gets Wahlberg for the job, Elias Koteas as his crazy cohort and Rhona Mitra as ... someone else. Oh, and let's not forget Ned Beatty as a corrupt senator and Levon Helm(!) as a gun expert who has some funny lines.

In the end, though, this is about Wahlberg and the bang-bang, and despite some silliness -- like our hero's name (Bob Lee Swagger) and him not having a clue that this just might be a set-up -- "Shooter" isn't bad. The sniper stuff is interesting, and there's some good chase/action stuff. Wahlberg and his character have the right attitude for the situation. Definitely better than original choice Keanu Reeves. Sure, he was an Eff Bee Eye agent and all, but I'll take Dirk Diggler over Neo, seeing as how this is outside the Matrix.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm just glad it wasn't called "Clerks 3: 7-11 Inches, and Then Some": "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"

Even with Kevin Smith tapering off in recent years -- "Jersey Girl," really? -- the title of this movie made it hard to resist. I also recalled decent reviews, and that all combined to make this a movie that My Forever Luminescence and I could watch together.

Our story: Platonic twentysomething roommates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) live in near-squalor in suburban Pittsburgh. With bills piling up, they eventually decide to shoot an adult film featuring themselves and a few other oddballs. This of course leads to trials and tribulations before the big finish. In other words, yes, hijinks ensue.

After some early funnies, we settle into the big issue: Can two longtime friends have sex for profit and stay friends? In case you couldn't guess this theme going in, Smith makes sure to hit you over the head with it a few times. Sure, there's all sorts of raunchy comedy, but in the end Silent Bob wants you to know he's a sweetie trying to tackle real issues.

Only, unlike "Chasing Amy," this really isn't a real issue. Yes, the friends-and-lovers thing is legit. But in the course of making a porn flick? That's asking a bit much. So yeah, the heartfelt stuff didn't really fly with me, although the moment our heroes get together actually wasn't bad. I chalk that up partly to the music, though. Give Smith that ... he can lay down the right tunes for his movies.

Otherwise, "Zack and Miri" is an uneven comedy, as Smith has a habit of delivering in recent years. The high school reunion stuff early on was funny, as were some of the porn scenes, and pretty much anything with Jason Mewes in it. Yeah ... Jay of Jay and Silent Bob! He's got short hair and looks like he's come back from some serious drug abuse, which I'm pretty sure he did. But he's not bad as a different character for once, and I'm pretty sure I'll never forget what a Dutch Rudder is.

Beyond Mewes, our supporting players include Daryl from "The Office," Randall from "Clerks," and a couple of for-real porn stars, Traci Lords and Katie Morgan. We also get Justin Long -- who, dammit, I'm starting to like despite his early annoying stuff -- in a hilarious small role as a gay porn star. He's really, really good. The movie is almost worth seeing just for his part at the reunion.

What about our leads? Rogen is ... Rogen. Even with his subversive turn in "Observe and Report," he's still Johnny One-Note, and I give it five years before he's starring in a TV sitcom. Funny enough guy, but he's been in a lot of stuff lately, doing pretty much the same dopey thing in everything.

Banks, on the other hand, has bonafide charm and manages to be both endearing and goofy. Plus, I like her smile and laugh. Had my eye on her since "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (also starring Rogen) and enjoyed just about every performance since then. Hell, even as Laura Bush. Now I just need to track down Granny Panties online ...

You've heard of "Cop Land?" Here's a big cop out

So the Academy wants to expand the best picture nominations to 10 movies. Sure, why not? I mean, why trouble yourselves to actually exercise better judgment and generally get your sh*t together with the five nominations?

This way, you can just throw everything into the mix. Hell, it's like the NBA or NHL playoffs, when losing teams make the cut. With 10 films, how long before there's a successful campaign to squeeze something like "The Love Guru" in there?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No, no, no .. we don't like the moody Clooney: "Solaris"

Time for another burst of short posts in my effort to clear a long list of recently-viewed movies. This time, we're dealing with science fiction. Well, sort of.

"Solaris" is a remake of an acclaimed Russian movie that I've DVRed and started but then decided, "You know, I don't think I'm down for two-and-a-half hours of talky sci-fi." You see, the story here takes place in space, but it might as well be a strange house in the countryside.

George Clooney is a psychologist dispatched to some space station after weird things start happening with the crew. Turns out that crew members are being visited by lost loved ones. Clooney proves no exception, as his dead wife (Natascha McElhone) shows up. He's happy, then worried, then ... well, confused. Wouldn't you be?

I'm tempted to say I'm torn with this movie, because I like the cast -- Jeremy Davies also is around as a wacked-out scientist -- and yes, it takes place in space. There also are some interesting philosophical issues.

But you know what? It's also kind of boring. After two great collaborations -- "Out of Sight" and "Ocean's Eleven" -- Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh strike out here. I mean, the movie is an hour shorter than the original, and there are still a lot of dead spots. And no, lingering on this creepy Solaris planet for several seconds doesn't cover it. Sorry. Good night, and good luck.

Come on ... just one little laser blast or jump into warp speed?: "Sunshine"

Was this movie in theaters? I know I don't go as much as I used to, but I'm not sure. In any case, the lack of exposure is a little curious considering the director: Oscar winner Danny Boyle. Sure, he just won that Oscar, but the guy had a pretty decent resume by the time this sci-fi (sort of) movie came out in 2007. "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later ... " each won raves, and "Millions" was a critics' darling. So why nothing about "Sunshine?"

The premise is simple: With the sun dying, a team of scientists and astronauts heads that way to set off a bomb that will kickstart our solar friend. They aren't the first ones, however, and as the crew gets closer to the sun, crazy things start to happen. Hey, you know what they say about looking at that thing too long.

Not a bad story, I guess, although you know I have a soft spot for sci-fi. Decent cast, too: Cillian Murphy as the lead scientist, Cliff Curtis as a psychologist, Michelle Yeoh as a plant lady and Chris Evans (The Human Torch) as an astronaut. The crew tension and mind games are good, and there's some believable crises in the first half to two-thirds of the movie.

The last third, though, gets a little far-fetched and, well, dumb. I won't spoil it, but let's say I had a hard time swallowing why things had gone bad, and the ultimate resolution left me wanting. A shame, since I was hoping to would cement my affection for Boyle. Instead, it's more kin to "The Beach": intriguing, but in the end unsatisfying. And no hot French girl cavorting with Leo.

Wait ... no ... I forgot ... damn ... it's Guttenberg!: "Cocoon"

Fortunately, he's merely a cog in the overall cast machine here, and not one that derails an otherwise amusing movie.

Can't remember how long it's been since I saw this "old people feel young again thanks to aliens" tale, directed by Ron Howard well before his Oscar-nominated days. I do remember thinking it was better than it actually was. But hey, I was 13 or 14, and Raquel Welch's daughter was cute. Can't act a lick, but cute.

Our story, as you may know: Aliens (led by Brian Dennehy) come to Earth and charter a boat (owned by Steve Guttenberg) to retrieve some big rocks from the ocean floor. They store these rocks in a pool that some old guys from a nearby hursing home regularly sneak into. One day, the geezers get a burst of energy from the pool, which carries over to crazy antics elsewhere. Why, yes, that is Mortimer Duke breakdancing!

It's cute, I suppose. Heck, I didn't even mind the annoying Guttenberg hitting on Welch; he gets off one good line: "If this is foreplay, I'm a dead man." But in the end, "Cocoon" is pretty light, even with the obligatory lessons learned. Still, if watching Wilford Brimley step into the shower while saying "Want some candy, little girl?" is your thing, have at it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I thought the Jedi were supposed to control their emotions, Qui-Gon: "Taken"

We won't get carried away here, because in the end this is movie is merely OK. But you know what? When you get beat over the head about a movie months in advance, then see a trailer that looks OK, then read reviews that are generally good, and you like the actor and story well enough, you end up with a case where not bad is kind of good.

Our story: Liam Neeson -- generally a capital S serious actor -- plays a retired CIA agent who's estranged from his daughter. It doesn't help that his work made him a little paranoid. We get his bonafides early on, right around the same time we learn his teenage daughter (Maggie Grace) is kind of a twit and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) is a grade-A b*tch. (I used to be a huge Janssen fan between "GoldenEye" and "Rounders." The "X-Men" movies wore me down, and this has about killed it.)

Of course, our hero's fears are realized when he foolishly agrees to let his little girl head to Paris with a friend, and the dimwitted duo promptly get kidnapped. Turns out the men who snatched them have very bad plans, but hey, now Daddy gets a chance to use those skills he left behind at the Agency! Got to stay sharp, right?

So that's the simple plot: Man tries to find daughter and cracks skulls along the way. And at 90 minutes of running time, that's enough. No one will confuse this with Neeson's real acting work, i.e. "Kinsey," "Rob Roy" or "Schindler's List." But hey, this guy also was in "Darkman," "Next of Kin" and ... wait for it ... "Krull." And while doing an action-thriller in your later '50s might seem odd, consider that our man Liam is signed up for remakes of "The A-Team" and "Clash of the Titans." (By the gods!) So yeah, he's not above some silly popcorn fare.

Ultimately, "Taken" sets the stage over 30 minutes, then -- after that cool kidnapping scene we've all seen in the trailer -- races along the remaining hour. It delivers some solid action, a couple of "holy sh*t" scenes -- I mean, he shot a dude's wife -- and plenty of growling by the the guy who played a lion not so long ago. A lesser actor probably couldn't have pulled it off, especially some of the more credibility-stretching scenes. But Neeson, in large part because this is a different thing for him, was all right. Why yes, I guess you could say I was ... taken.

(Thank you, folks! I'll be here all week. Try the veal.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's official: I am a Danny McBride fan: "The Foot Fist Way"

Hey, I don't make such proclamations lightly. You know about Paul Rudd. Who else is in that rare air? Not sure. Nic Cage before he got all weird?

Anyway, after his slightly amusing bit in "Drillbit Taylor," I really took notice of McBride in "Tropic Thunder." ("Big a$$ titties!") Fantastic in a small role. Then came something meatier in "Pineapple Express." Oh, it was so on. Best thing in that movie. I still crack up thinking about him saying "that's your loss because I'm a great friend" and "You just got killed by a Daewoo Lanos, motherf*cker!"

So yeah, I was pumped for "The Foot Fist Way," the small independent movie that came out a few years ago and got some notice last year after Will Ferrell raved about it. McBride plays Fred Simmons, who runs the local tae kwon do studio and is generally an a$$hole. Saying he gets off being the top black belt is like saying Andy Dick is a little odd. Fred lives for the dojo, and anyone who doesn't respect that doesn't get the time of day from him.

There really isn't much that goes on here. Fred runs into marital problems with his curvy blonde wife. Then he encounters his idol, a karate guy who stars in bad movies. Both of these developments spill over to the dojo, with hilarious results. Really, the movie is an excuse to have this unappealing yet fascinating character -- not so different from David Brent (Ricky Gervais) in the British version of "The Office" -- deal with crisis in his sad little life. You simply can't look away.

Other than wishing McBride had the same mullet as in "Thunder," I'm not sure there's anything I didn't like about "Foot Fist." Even when it looked like the movie might go soft at the end, Fred delivers a deadly putdown. I laughed out loud. It wasn't the only time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So we can agree the Kate Hudson nom was a stretch: "Almost Famous"

I liked this movie better the second time around, but it's still overrated. Entertaining, sure. Good music, yes. Anna Paquin in her panties before she got overexposed, I like. But it's no "Vanilla Sky."

(Kidding. "Elizabethtown" was the shiznit.)

As you know, "Almost Famous" is Cameron Crowe's semiautobiographical tale of a kid who gets assigned by Rolling Stone to follow a band on tour in the '70s. The fictional Stillwater is plenty dysfunctional, our hero is plenty wide-eyed and his mommy is plenty worried. As you might guess, hijinks ensue.

Patrick Fugit is the kid, William Miller, and he hasn't done anything this big since. He's not bad. Believable. Mom is Frances McDormand, while his wayward sister is played by Zooey Deschanel. As for that crazy rock 'n rool world, Billy Crudup is the band's guitarist, and Jason Lee is the lead singer. They argue a lot. Kate Hudson is a groupie, and Philip Seymour Hoffman turns up as famous rock writer Lester Bangs. Good, solid cast.

The kid's odyssey with the band is fun stuff, especially his attempts to figure out Crudup, whose performance many praised. They're right. His and Fugit's dance is the best part of this. The road stuff is fun, too, although it goes on a little long, and I frankly got sick of Hudson after a while. But all in all, like I said, this is an entertaining tale. Heck, it might worth it just for the words of wisdom from Bangs. I close with this exchange, which is pretty damn good:

Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.

Miller: Well, it was fun.

Bangs: They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.

Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn't.

Bangs: That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter.

Miller: I can really see that now.

Bangs: Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love ... and let's face it, you got a big head start.

Miller: I'm glad you were home.

Bangs: I'm always home. I'm uncool.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

When the bread lines become too unbearable ... : "Night Watch"

Work. Kids. Sickness. As Crash Davis would say, "We're dealing with some serious sh!t here." So that's why my already erratic posting schedule has fallen off even more lately. What, you want your money back?

Anyway, I'm going to try to knock out a few movies at once a few different times in the days ahead. Today, it's crappy horror movies, starting with one that got a decent amount of buzz but doesn't add up to much.

The guy who directed "Night Watch" -- and its sequel, "Day Watch," which I started but have yet to finish -- went on to helm "Wanted," that Angelina Jolie-Morgan Freeman-James McAvoy movie with the curving bullets and whiplash stunts. There's a little of that here, but really it's just a stylized telling of a silly good vs. bad story in Russia.

Let me try to break this down. Way, way back in time, the forces of light and the forces of dark did battle. A truce was formed, and it lasts to this day, with the Light "Others" keeping tabs on the Dark Others. Into this come a couple of people who may be "Great Others," and could decide the war depending on what side they choose. Yeah, I know. Whatever.

Apparently, this was a ginormus hit in Russia. Um, OK. I mean, it's not bad, I guess. But the cool action/effects stuff was kind of limited, and the little flourishes -- subtitles that were in red or run behind objects in the scene -- weren't enough to impress me overall. I don't mind reading my movies, but I still want to be interested in the story. This whole Light vs. Dark thing didn't do it for me, and I came away thinking the same thing as with "Wanted": some cool stuff to look at, maybe, but a lame-a$$ story, even for action/thriller/what have you. AND this time we don't get to drool over Mrs. Brad Pitt. I mean, come on ...

I liked her better when the invisible Bacon was ogling from afar: "Doomsday"

Not sure I ever knew that this was in theaters, but I recall seeing in at the Redbox. Sounded totally unoriginal yet still intriguing, especially since I'm a sucker for the "mankind destroyed by some kind of virus/plague, leaving some undead or who knows what behind" story. (See the "Resident Evil" movies, "I Am Legend," the "28 ... Later" movies and so on.)

In this case, three decades after Scotland was quarantined because of a deadly virus, the same virus has reared its head in London. The only hope for a cure is ... you guessed it ... to go into Scotland, where a scientist was working on some kind of cure. Or something like that. All you need to know is that we get a heroine in the spirit of Lara Croft, "Underworld" and Alice from "Resident Evil." Yes, a smokin' babe who likes to kick crazy people's a$$es. Sign me up.

Rhona Mitra is Major Eden Sinclair. I'll let that name sink in. She's got her own issues left over from the Scotland plague, and she leads a team into the dead zone. In a bit of a twist -- and this isn't a spoiler since you really deserve to know what you're getting into -- they don't encounter zombies. No, this movie has a little something for all the folks who miss the "Mad Max" films -- from the wacky get-ups to the mega-highway chase. You can actually hear the sound of paper tearing, it's such a ripoff. (Not "homage" ... ripoff.)

I suppose one could admire the stunts, but I pretty much found the movie just plain stupid, from the story -- and remember, I'm forgiving of this genre -- to the casting of Bob Hoskins as a grumpy cop and Malcolm McDowell as the evil scientist. Don't get me wrong ... Mitra is attractive and has a great body. But while winning a lead role after first gaining notice as eye candy in "Hollow Man" might seem admirable, I'm thinking the Academy ain't expecting much more anytime soon.

If only Josh Hartnett really were dead ... : "30 Days of Night"

I kid. I'm sure he's a nice guy. OK ... I don't kid.

Actually, this isn't a horrible entry in the recent wave of movies featuring some kind of bloodthirsty creatures. In this case, vampires have descended on Barrow, Alaska, as it enters a month-long period of 24-hour darkness. What timing!

I lost count of how derivative all of this was. First, it's about vampires. Second, there's the whole "28 Days Later"/"Dawn of the Dead" thing with fast-moving people-eaters. Third, the all-day night thing reminded me of "Pitch Black." And so on.

That said, it's not bad for its ilk. Harnett is the town cop. Melissa George is his estranged wife. Ben Foster -- yes, that weird guy with the crazy eyes -- is a vampire totie. Danny Huston is the head vampire. But the blood-letting and the "how ARE they going to get out of this?" are the thing here, and it could have been worse. Like Hartnett could have tried to actually act again. (Shudder.)