Sunday, December 27, 2009

TIMMY'S TOP TEN FILMS OF 2009


My year-end (as opposed to rear-end) countdown of the best movies from this past year. Of course, I haven't seen EVERY flick that came out in 2009, and neither have you. And neither has anyone else who reviews movies for fun or profit. But of those I was compelled to see, these are the ones that didn't disappoint. Technically speaking, some of these films were actually released in the waning days of 2008--but like many other moviegoers, I didn't catch them until the new year had arrived--so for that reason, I hereby declare: CLOSE ENOUGH !

Opinions on movies--like opinions on anything--are subjective to each of us, based upon personal tastes, which are based to a large extent on our individual life experience. Still, if you want to argue with me because you think I've made a glaring omission--or went ga-ga for something that really sucked--feel free to do so. But just keep in mind that... YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT !

You can read the full reviews of each of these movies if you care to dig back into the archives of Timmy's Noodle. And so, with no further doo-doo...

#10: SUNSHINE CLEANING
Dark comedy starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin. As funny as a movie about cleaning up after suicides can be. The best films are the ones that make you alternately (or simultaneously) laugh and cry. Sunshine Cleaning gets the job done.

#9: TRANSSIBERIAN
Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley. Struggle for survival on the Beijing to Moscow train in this engaging, relatively overlooked mystery/thriller. Intriguing plot twists and majestic aerial cinematography. Mesmerizing.

#8: TERMINATOR SALVATION
Christian Bale, Moon Bloodgood, Sam Worthington. Sci-fi action/adventure. A thrill ride of immense creative genius--if there were ever a prudent reason for strapping moviegoers into their seats, this is it. HANG ON !

#7: PRECIOUS
Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey. She's an obese, 16 year old Harlem native who is pregnant with her second child by her own father. Gritty, gut-wrenching drama which tells the story of how the human spirit will fight to survive, despite overwhelming odds against it.

#6: TWO LOVERS
Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow are kindred space cases in this quirky romantic drama. An engrossing character study of some of the growing functional dysfunctional in our society of the 21st century.

#5: THE PROPOSAL
Expected another run-of-the-mill romantic comedy from Sandra Bullock, (with Ryan Reynolds as her leading man) but got a real surprise. This is a beautiful film, not only cinematically, but in spirit as well. And it's genuinely funny.

#4: DISTRICT 9
Sci-fi drama starring Sharito Copley and cat food gobbling aliens! You never thought you'd care so much about them until you realize they symbolize all of the oppressed people of the world. Belongs with the epic tales of how fate sometimes turns ordinary men into heroes.

#3: TAKING WOODSTOCK
Tripped out coming of age docudrama based on the memoirs of Eliot Tiber, who was instrumental in bringing the Woodstock festival to fruition. Ubiquitous pot smoking, mud sliding, some great music of the era, and an engaging behind the scenes story to be told. And naked hippies...YAY !

#2: SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
A self-obsessed man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) builds a replica of New York City inside a gigantic warehouse in Manhattan, populates it with a multitude of actors, and creates an ongoing and all-consuming performance piece about his own life. Reality and magic realism intertwine. With Samantha Morton. Brilliant.

And (drum roll please) Timmy's FAVORITE film of 2009...

#1: ZOMBIELAND
Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin. A funny, clever, inventive piece of film making that shows just because the drooling, snarling, disgusting un-dead are lurking behind every public crapper stall door--it doesn't mean a zombie flick can't also be poignant and life-affirming as well. With a deliciously off the wall surprise cameo by one of the biggest superstars of comedy.



Monday, December 21, 2009

PRECIOUS ( R )


Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) escapes into a fantasy world where she leads a glamorous life. The fantasy helps her deal with the harsh reality of her existence. She's an obese, 16 year-old Harlem native--pregnant with her second child by her own father. And she lives with Mary, (Mo'Nique) the mother from hell. In Precious, the mother-daughter scenes are gut-wrenching and difficult to watch. Precious suffers physical and emotional abuse at the hands of "dear old mom," a being with no shred of human warmth, compassion, or conscience. Her only motivation in life is to manipulate the system and keep her welfare checks coming. That she is portrayed so convincingly in this light is a testament to the acting talent of comedian Mo'Nique, playing against type. If she doesn't get an Oscar nomination for her performance, you can slap my ass and call me Nancy.

Though she's basically illiterate, Precious has an aptitude for math--and so her Junior High principal is able to get her placed into an alternative school where, despite strong resistance from mom--who just wants her to "get her ass" down to the welfare office--she has an opportunity to develop the potential that has heretofore remained hidden. But there will be more devastating news and more challenges ahead for Precious, as she struggles to escape the bonds of despair and degradation she was born into.

Precious is poised to receive multiple Academy Award nominations, both for individual presentations and, most likely, for Best Picture as well. Strong performances are turned in from from Gabourey Sidibe--who had no previous acting experience; Paula Patton as Ms. Rain, the teacher who takes Precious under her wing; and Mariah Carey, as a welfare case officer. Carey's appearance is toned down to the point where you may not recognize her at first. I didn't.
Personally, I'd love to see Patton get some recognition for this, as her sincerity shines through in every moment she's on screen. There's also a nice ensemble cast of insolent, trash-talking teenage chicks who play off of Precious at her new school. All this and Lenny Kravitz as a male nurse !

Produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, and directed by Lee Daniels, Precious is the story of how the human spirit will fight to survive despite overwhelming odds against it. Not to be missed.

GRADE: A



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

EVERYBODY'S FINE---PG-13


Retiree Frank Goode (Robert DeNiro) never set his sights any higher than being a husband and father to his four kids, and working at his factory job coating telephone wire in PVC. Mile upon endless mile of phone wire. In Everybody's Fine, the wire is a metaphor for communication--which is somewhat lacking with his four adult children after the demise of their mother. She was always the one the kids--strung out across the country--seemed to confide in whenever they would call home.

Frank was an overbearing dad, especially with his artist son, David. "Make me proud," Frank would say. And perhaps because of their father's expectations, the other three kids--advertising exec Amy (Kate Beckinsale) ; musician Robert (Sam Rockwell) ; and dancer Rosie, (Drew Barrymore) have embellished their accomplishments. None of them are quite what they've made themselves out to be. When dad plans a big family reunion at his Connecticut home--and each of the kids cancels with some lame excuse--he sets out on a cross-country journey to visit each of them, unannounced, in an effort to re-establish some family spirit. But Rosie, Robert, and Amy are harboring a terrible secret about David that they've conspired to keep from dear old dad at all costs...for as long as they can anyway.

Everybody's Fine is a wholly ADULT film, (I don't mean sex, ya pervert) a character study of an American phenomenon: The lonely senior citizen whose life once revolved around his or her family. But families grow up...and grow apart. And I see it in the supermarket--the old man so starved for connection to someone or something that he strikes up conversations with strangers just to tell them about his "kids."

And it's heartbreaking.

Everybody's Fine is also about acceptance. Where's the line between trying to provide a guiding hand for your offspring and just accepting them for who they are? But most importantly, perhaps, it's a film about what it takes to bring a family together again in this modern era. It's a tale of surprising depth--it will sneak up on you--and may even cause you to do some soul-searching of your own.

Best seen NOW before the holiday season (like life) has passed us by.

GRADE: B +

Thursday, December 10, 2009

TIMOTEO SEZ...


ON ACTING:
We cannot pretend in our minds to NOT be doing something that we're ACTUALLY doing, and then dismiss it as just "acting." Acting is living out one's fantasies without having to take responsibility for it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

SPREAD-- Rated: R (Now playing at home where absentmindedly spooning soup into your nose while watching a movie is not considered bad manners)


LAX--where dreamers with visions of making it big are constantly arriving, and just as many disillusioned dreamers are leaving on the same day. In Spread, Ashton Kutcher plays Nikki, a self-absorbed young hustler, who dreams of being a kept man--which he manages to do when he sweeps successful lawyer Samantha (Anne Heche) off her feet at one of those nightclubs where the beautiful, vacuous people go to play.

Samantha has a nice "spread," a swanky villa overlooking the City of Angels, where Nikki can luxuriate in style--and all he has to do to earn his keep is to satisfy the older Samantha's physical needs. But when Sam is away, the bad boy will play--throwing parties and pretending it's his digs, and demonstrating his bedroom talents to assorted beautiful, vacuous chicks. Until one day, Nikki is smitten by a young waitress...and why? Because she doesn't give in to him right away, and just like most guys, he wants want he can't have. But lo and behold, Heather (the intriguing Margarita Levieva) is a player in her own right--hustling wealthy, cigar smoking dudes and cruising around in their flashy cars.

What will come of a romance
Between two hustlers of a feather
One named Nikki
And the other named Heather?

To anyone who tries to live an honest, hard working life, Spread is a seamy tale filled with not the most likable characters. You'd think that L.A. is rife with nothing but shallow, materialistic, amoral people. Hmmm...don't know where anyone would get THAT idea!

But there are things to recommend Spread for viewing: Anne Heche pushing the envelope and doing uninhibited, soft-core porn sex scenes, for one. Let's see...when I think of another reason, I'll let you know. Oh yeah, it has the quirkiest closing scene you're ever likely to see on film. Let's just say it will remind you that you've got to kiss a lot of frogs to find you're prince or princess--and even at that, some of us end up with rats.

GRADE: B-

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER--PG-13 (now playing at home where it's good to have the DVD so you can freeze frame that brief nudity)


Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is the the high school class valedictorian and ultimate nerd. Spurred on by his best buddy, Rich, (Jack Carpenter) he throws caution to the wind and professes his love for delectable cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) during his graduation speech. Cooper, who has never really noticed him, is shocked, and so is her Neanderthal boyfriend, Kevin, (Shawn Roberts) who subsequently makes it his mission to stalk and beat the crap out of Denis at every turn.

But Beth takes a bit of a shine to Denis--in the way you would if you'd found an abandoned puppy--and brings her two sexpot friends along to a party that Denis and Rich are throwing--just for them, as it turns out. What follows is a wild night of partying, reckless driving, Neanderthals bullying nerds, a titillating scene in the girl's locker room, stepping in cow sh*t, and an encounter with a demonically possessed raccoon. In other words, all the usual things kids do on graduation night.

It is a night of discovery. Denis discovers a Beth Cooper vastly different--and wilder--than the idealized version of her he's had in his head all this time, and must try to reconcile the two before his disillusionment gets the best of him. Rich, whom everyone (except him) believes is gay, discovers which side of the fence he's really on...sort of. And Beth begins to consider what the future might really hold for someone like her, as wild times give way to sobering reflection.

At this point, I Love You, Beth Cooper becomes a sweet coming of age tale--cliched, perhaps, but it sucked me in nevertheless. There are overtones of American Graffiti, American Pie, Revenge of the Nerds, and Porky's here. Just remember it's PG-13, so keep everything in perspective. Though I must say that the line between PG-13 and R-rated films seems to be blurring. It's okay now to use the F-word (at least once) in PG-13, and the kind of suggestiveness you might think would have previously garnered this flick an R designation.

Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from the Heroes TV series, will do just fine as long as she continues to play cheerleaders and shows a little skin. I don't know if she's ever been a real cheerleader, but I know I feel cheerier when the camera's on her instead of Rust, who had a lot of balls even BECOMING an actor with that Cyrano de Bergerac mug of his.

There are some good hard-rockin' tunes in I Love You, Beth Cooper--but there's a herky-jerky feel as to where they fall in, and the movie drags in spots. Keep the soundtrack going underneath in some of these scenes and we may convince ourselves that we're pumped up about them anyway.

GRADE: B

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PIRATE RADIO (R)


Richard Curtis, writer/director of Love Actually, (on my top ten favorite movies of all time list) is back, paying homage to the rock n roll revolution of the sixties and the "pirate" radio stations that broke through the British government's tight-assed policy of limiting the exposure of rock music to a couple of hours a week on the BBC. During the mid-sixties, while Americans were rockin' and boppin' to the "British Invasion" music of the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, etc. on the radio airwaves, the British public was literally being starved of their own music. This gave rise to the first pirate radio ship, Radio Caroline, anchored in international waters off the British coast--and others that followed--which began rocking out and giving the public what they wanted to hear. Pirate Radio is a fictionalized comedy loosely based on those historic events.

Pirate Radio grabs you right out of the gate with The Kinks blasting from the theater speakers as we're introduced to the wacky deejays that populate the ship, Radio Rock--including The Count, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and later on Gavin, (Rhys Ifans) Britain's "greatest deejay" come to join the rebels and provide his own brand of mildly salacious banter to get Radio Rock's legions of followers stirred up. Quentin, (Bill Nighy, whom we loved in Love Actually) is the captain and head honcho who tries to ride herd on his colorful assemblage of eight distinctive personalities.

Saturdays bring boat loads of hero-worshiping female fans to the ship, who provide the sex to go along with the drugs and rock n roll. Then there's the subplot of Carl, (Tom Sturridge) Quentin's young godchild who comes aboard and comes of age as he tries to lose his virginity to the exotic Marianne, (Talulah Riley) who's more enamored with one of the deejays--even though he's ugly--because HE'S A DEEJAY!

Momentum and dramatic tension build as the staid British government attempts to shut the pirate station down and rid the airwaves of all that trashy, undignified, un-stiff upper lip music. Kenneth Branagh is annoyingly anal as Sir Alistair Dormandy, who tries every trick in the book to sink Radio Rock--eventually leading to the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 that officially outlaws pirate radio.

There's a bunch of irrelevant silliness in the middle of Pirate Radio that completely knocks the wind out of the movie's sails at that point, slowing what had been a building momentum leading to the inevitable showdown between the pirates and the British authorities. Fortunately, though, the film picks up again and roars full speed ahead to a stirring climax and conclusion.

Pirate Radio would have gotten a higher grade from me if not for this buzz-kill in the middle, but it is what it is. The rest of the movie, however, is KICK-ASS, with an almost nonstop soundtrack of the grooviest Stones, Kinks, Hendrix, The Who, Beach Boys, Turtles, and yes--even The Seekers--setting the whole theater on the verge of breaking out and boogeying in the aisles! (And you definitely SHOULD see it in the theater.)

Some of you know that I spent decades working as a radio deejay inside and outside the continental U.S. And while Pirate Radio is played pretty much over the top, the stuff about the adoring females who worshiped (and bestowed certain types of favors upon) their radio icons during the heyday of rock n roll (as I look back fondly on those times) was NOT terribly exaggerated.

I'm still grinning from ear to ear.

GRADE: B

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

GIGANTIC (2008) Rated: R ( Now playing at home where you don't have to sneak your homemade popcorn into the theater)


We need more women who say, (in the middle of an ordinary conversation) "Do you have any interest in having sex with me?" Maybe that's why I like Zooey Deschanel's character in Gigantic. Deschanel is making a career of playing fascinatingly spooky chicks, (Yes Man, 500 Days of Summer) and maybe that's the seed of my fascination with the actress herself. These lasses seem to have a tenuous hold on reality--and if you get involved with them, they'll keep you guessing all the way because, honestly, THEY can't anticipate what they'll do next...so how can you?

I have known this kind of chick. I have been screwed-over by this kind of chick. But if they've got the doe eyes of a Zooey Deschanel, you'll throw caution and good judgement to the wind. That's what Brian Weathersby, (Paul Dano) 28 year old Manhattan mattress salesman does when Harriet "Happy" Lolly (Deschanel) shows up at his mattress showroom and plops down on the fourteen thousand dollar bed her well-heeled father has just purchased, and zonks out for a couple of hours.

Brian's life-long dream has been to adopt a baby from China. He's working on it. But you won't get any insight into what motivates a single guy with a modest income to be thus oriented until near the end of the movie. Brian's involvement with the aimless Happy deepens. They think they feel something for each other. But when Brian finally gets word about his little bundle of joy, Happy balks and decides on a whim to go to cooking school in France.

Along the way, Brian consults with his friend who works in a rat lab for relationship advice; ingests magic mushrooms with his dad (Ed Asner) and goes tripping into the woods; and gets stalked and repeatedly attacked by this crazy homeless dude, in a subplot that had me wondering if the stalker was real or just an imaginary metaphor for the curve balls life throws to try to derail us from our mission. All of which may make you scratch your head and wonder how these things fit into the main plot. The only explanation is that plot-driven stories usually make some kind of logical sense, but Gigantic is all about the characters. Speaking of which, John Goodman is funny as hell as Happy's eccentric, overbearing dad. And just like its characters, Gigantic is unpredictable right up to the end (which is magical!)

First time writer-director Matt Aselton has given us a small indie gem in the vast sea of movie mediocrity--exactly the kind of thing I love discovering. Telling you about it is equally as satisfying. Enjoy.

GRADE: B +

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

AMELIA (PG)

Amelia Earhart loved freedom so much that she was willing to engage in the riskiest kind of behavior to obtain it: An unprecedented attempt to fly around the world in a smaller aircraft--inclement weather be damned--and on the last leg of her ill-fated journey, without adequate fuel. And because no official trace of her and navigator Fred Noonan was every found, (though in recent years some intriguing finds have rekindled speculation about her ultimate fate) her story has fascinated us for more than seventy years.

Everyone knows of the legend, and any film about Amelia Earhart that would have a chance to hold our interest at this point would necessarily need to focus as much on her personal life as her public persona. And that's what Amelia attempts to do. Oscar winner Hillary Swank, whose features are tailor made for playing masculine looking women--as in Boys Don't Cry, where she convincingly portrays a young girl posing as a young boy, until her duds come off to reveal that WHOA...she's ALL woman---has Amelia's look and accent nailed.

Richard Gere is publisher George Putnam, initially Earhart's P.R. guy, and later her husband, who seems content to be the "wind beneath her wings" and take a back seat to her celebrity. (Gere is  too flashy of a presence to be right for this subdued kind of personality, so he was likely selected for the role just to give the film more star power.) The dramatic tension of Earhart's personal life centers around her affair with eventual TWA founder Gene Vidal, (Ewan McGregor) and whether she will ultimately choose him or stand by her husband.  

Amelia has been knocked for not going into more detail about  Earhart's back story--it stays mainly with her role as a pioneering aviatrix and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic--but it was the thirties, and every intimate detail of a celebrity's life wasn't hashed about in the media as it is today. There was an unwritten journalistic code about staying mum on embarrassing details of our "heroes" lives, which extended through John F. Kennedy's presidency. And so, life being more about the surface image than what's lies beneath it,  Earhart's rumored bisexuality is only hinted at in one line of dialogue, but this seems appropriate given the era in which she lived.

If Amelia Earhart's all consuming free-spiritedness  was the main thing director Mira Nair was trying to capture, she succeeded marvelously. Buoyed by a haunting and memorable score from Gabriel Yared,  the aerial shots--reminiscent of Out of Africa--are stunning.

If  there are tears to be shed viewing Amelia, (and there are) they're more about the awe-inspiring scope of Ms. Earhart's life, rather than her untimely demise.

GRADE:  B +

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (R)



One of the basic tenets of capitalism is that it takes money to make money. Simply stated, the rich get richer and the poor continue to get the shaft. You may think--as many do--that such a system is inherently unfair...unless you're one of the fat cats. Therein lies the rub, because the fat cats control things, (the top 1% controls more financial wealth than the bottom 95% combined) and as long as they do, things aren't going to fundamentally change. UNLESS  health care reform, and other similar efforts to bring a little more fairness to our society, become a reality. Unless the PEOPLE get behind these things and  pressure their representatives to get them done . And that, essentially, is Michael Moore's call to arms in his latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story.  

Moore lets you know up front that he thinks capitalism is an evil system, as he documents the recent financial collapse and subsequent bail out funded by the taxpayer--giving billions to Wall Street while ordinary citizens lose their jobs and their homes. The personal is indicative of the universal, as Moore talks with airline pilots who have to go on food stamps to make ends meet, and a family losing the farm that was in their possession for generations. He even presents church officials who declare that greed and selfishness are unchristian... WHAT A CONCEPT! (These weren't the Sunday morning  TV preachers who exhort their followers to send "love offerings" so that they can live high on the hog!)

Michael Moore is nothing if not a showman, and many of the antics he resorts to in Capitalism: A Love Story--like trying to make a citizen's arrest on the board of directors of AIG, or unfurling crime scene tape on Wall Street--are designed for dramatic and humorous effect, though they do aid in casting him in the light of populist hero.

Perhaps the only thing the film can be faulted for is not making some kind of balancing statement that, yeah, Americans need to take SOME responsibility for trying to live beyond their means, thus placing themselves on that slippery slope to financial ruin in the first place.

FDR called for good jobs, education, decent housing, and adequate health care--things the U.S. was instrumental in obtaining for Germany and Japan after WWII. Now, we have a president who is echoing those same principles--and, well...you see the push back from the entrenched forces who benefit from denying such things to the average American. What Michael Moore is calling for at the end of Capitalism: A Love Story is nothing less than a populist revolution. The PEOPLE (who possess the real power--but not unless they get organized) taking their country back. Unfortunately, (I fear) as long as most Americans can still hang onto their SUVs and their giant screen TVs, they're  not going to give enough of a damn to take that kind of step.
Nonetheless, the early matinee showing I went to--normally sparsely attended--had  a good turnout, and at the end people stood up and applauded.

That's a hopeful sign.

GRADE: B +

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MY LIFE IN RUINS--PG-13 (now playing at home where a cheap vacation--minus the dysentery-- is a close as your TV screen)



You know I'm partial to a good romantic comedy. But what I like even better is the VACATION romantic comedy! Life and emotions are heightened and intensified when you've stolen away to an exotic locale, and you can become fast friends--or lovers--with someone you've known for only a few days...or hours. (STAND BACK EVERYBODY--THE DUDE SPEAKS FROM EXPERIENCE!)

And so it is with My Life In Ruins--the tale of Georgia, (Nia Vardolos --My Big Fat Greek Wedding) a Greek-American tour guide who gets only "average" marks on her evaluations from clients because she has not yet learned to use her imagination.

But she will.

Georgia gets the "B" tour groups--peppered with quirky folks and malcontents--along with a bushy bear of a bus driver named Poupi Kakas (there's a running gag about his name throughout the film). The tourists are all stock characters: There's the JOKER, Irv, (Richard Dreyfuss); the SLICK LADIES MAN (from the International House of Pancakes); the two HOT YOUNG CHICKS ON THE PROWL, and so on. At first, the stereotypes were off-putting--but as things go along, these folks begin to grow on you.

Romance blooms when Georgia discovers a flower waiting for her whenever she boards the tour bus, but can't immediately determine who's behind it, and begins to look askance at some of the guys in the group. Against the gorgeous backdrop of Athens and environs, we'll discover whether Georgia can lighten up, win over her charges, and make people like her for a change; whether she'll wake up and smell the romance that's brewing right beneath her nose;  and whether widower Irv--who pines for his dearly departed wife--will take a little blue pill and suddenly become the stand-up senior citizen stud every guy watching My Life In Ruins will envy.

It's all lightweight fluff and fun, but there's a reason why The Love Boat was such a popular TV series--and it's the same reason why you'll like My Life In Ruins, if you just ease back into your seat and enjoy the ride.


GRADE:  B

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ZOMBIELAND (R)


I told you to watch out for that mad cow disease, DIDN'T  I? Well, if I didn't, I thought about it. But you kept stuffing that crappy fast food down your gullet--and NOW,  in Zombieland, most of the world's inhabitants have turned into marauding, cannibalistic you-know-whats.  


Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is one of the few "normal" people left. He's a nervous, hypervigilant young dude with a laundry list of common sense rules to help him stay one step ahead of the zombies. Like: Always DOUBLE TAP the suckers to make sure they're out of commission. He teams up with Tallahassee, (Woody Harrelson) who only wants to go by the names of everyone's home towns because he doesn't want to get too familiar. Tallahassee is a swaggering drifter who relishes in the art of smashing and bashing zombies in various creative ways. He's also scouring the country to find the last edible Twinkie. ( You'll never take Twinkies for granted again!)  For all they know, the two of them might be the last remnants of humanity--until they meet up with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock, (Abigail Breslin) two young sisters who con them out of their wheels and take off hell-bent for Naugahyde.  Now, the guys not only have to run the gauntlet of zombies coming at them from all sides--they have to find those little double crossing grifters as well.

When I first saw the trailer for Zombieland,  I almost dismissed it as total B-movie trash. DON'T MAKE THAT MISTAKE. (I should have known that Woody Harrelson--not only a good actor but a fine, conscientious human being--wouldn't steer me wrong.) This is a funny, clever, inventive piece of film making that shows that just because the drooling, snarling, disgusting un-dead are lurking behind every crapper stall door, (and you thought the scariest  thing you'd encountered in there was when the previous occupant forgot to flush)  it doesn't mean a zombie flick can't also be poignant and life-affirming as well. Zombieland will blaze new trails for the sub-genre: There'll be the zombie romantic comedy, (starring Sandra Bullock, of course) the zombie doctor drama, (Katherine Heigl) etc.

Harrelson is a natural for the role of Tallahassee, a swashbuckler in the mold of Indiana Jones--a guy you'd definitely want to have on your side. Eisenberg,  (Adventureland)  who is 26, easily passes as the nerdy kid just out of high school--it has served him well in these roles--but he's in danger of being typecast. Emma Stone's Wichita has the street smarts that only a young  girl who's been out there surviving day to day can develop. And 12-year old Abigail Breslin  (Little Miss Sunshine) is a precocious young actress who is going to be the next Jodie Foster, or Drew Barrymore...or, maybe, Gary Coleman.

But what truly puts Zombieland over the top is a cameo by one of the biggest superstars of comedy. I won't give anything away, except to say that it surely is his most inventive, deliciously off-the wall turn to date.

There's little speculation here about how these four might survive the long haul in a world where everyone else out there wants to eat you. They live in the moment--eternally on guard like zebras sharing a water hole with lions--but they've got each other...and I wouldn't bet against them.

GRADE:  A
       

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SURROGATES (PG-13)

We're getting lazier all the time--relying on technology to do things for us that we used to do for ourselves. (I really think it was those veggie slice and dice devices you'd see on the late night infomercials that started the whole thing.) Surrogates takes this growing trend and runs with it--envisioning a world where people lay back on their dead asses and live vicariously through their surrogates: humanoid robots connected to a computer system, controlled by the operator's thoughts, and doing things the lard-butts wouldn't risk themselves in the real world. The operators' brains ostensibly experience everything the surrogates are doing, as if they themselves were out there drinking, dancing, and having wild, anonymous sex with good looking counterparts--whiling their lives away in a virtual reality twilight zone.

Naturally, there's a backlash to all of this: the humans who still want to engage life first hand and are having none of this robot crap. They live in segregated areas with revolution on their minds. When Dr. Lionel Canter, (James Cromwell) the man who created the surrogate phenomenon, is targeted and his son is accidently killed instead, it sends FBI agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Jennifer Peters, (Radha Mitchell) on a quest--via their own robot couterparts--to find the weapon that can fry the brains of operators when their surrogates are "assassinated."

Surrogates had the potential to be a more adult, cerebral kind of film if not for the obligatory smash-em-up car crashes and related mayhem--the kind of thing that's become such standard fare in movies that have nothing to say, that it's become boring and annoying. But Surrogates DOES have something to say. It's making a statement about the nature of addiction--specifically our growing addiction to the various ways in which we live--or try to live--vicariously: through the internet, (often lurking anonymously behind our on-line personalities--engaging others who may be doing the same) spectator sports, movies and television, and computer fantasy games, to name a few. All of which have their legions of addicted followers. And because people fall so easily into the trap of "acceptable" addiction--blathering away on their cell phones and texting while driving--it's not hard to imagine a world of the not too distant future where surrogates actually exist.

It's a film that gives one pause, and it's why I decided to post my real life photo here, to give Timmy's Noodle more of a human face--a photo which, no doubt, has been used by at least a few disgruntled females to throw darts at...but that's another story.

GRADE:   B

Thursday, September 17, 2009

EARTH--G (now playing at home where you wish your SPOUSE would sometimes act like an animal)



A polar bear family trying to survive in the arctic--their plight exacerbated by global warming. African elephants on a grueling, dusty migration to a far away oasis. A mother humpback whale and her calf swimming 4,000 miles to their feeding grounds--dodging the great white shark along their perilous way. 


Five years in the making, spanning 62 countries and 7 continents, Disney's Earth is the latest awe-inspiring nature documentary to hit the screen. With breathtaking cinematography, (shot from planes, helicopters, and hot-air balloons) Earth chronicles the stark life and death struggles that constitute the everyday reality of Mother Nature's world. 


Along with the story line of the bears, elephants, and whales, we are treated to majestic scenes of caribou migrating across the tundra; birds teeming in the sky in such numbers that they obliterate the sun; and fish that swim nearly 70 miles per hour--all to the tune of a stirring soundtrack and the dulcet-toned narration of James Earl Jones. 


Like every other nature flick I've seen, Earth does not spare us the obligatory scenes of carnivores tracking and chasing down their prey--ostensibly to make a point about the kill-or-be-killed aspect of nature--and, perhaps,to transmute it to the human realm to try to provide some cynical explanation about the nature of our own society. (It's a dog-eat-dog world out there!) 


The other side of nature's split-personality doesn't normally get much play--that being the relatively gentle (yet powerful) herbivores--horses, hippos, rhinos, elephants, etc.--who are quite content to munch the day away on something green. But that wouldn't make for a stirring, adrenalin pumping film, now would it?


There's a certain segment of the movie going population that just wants to see blood--human or animal--they're not that picky. Earth may disappoint in that regard, as it stops just short of any real gore, (or AL GORE for that matter) though the Bambi factor might still be present with small children who may wonder why the cutest creatures normally get the short end of the stick.    
Adults may be left to ponder about when, if ever, HUMANS might evolve beyond this dog-eat-dog world. 


GRADE: B +

Thursday, September 10, 2009

ALL ABOUT STEVE (PG-13)


Sandra Bullock continues to hit and miss on the romantic comedy scripts she chooses. Miss Congeniality was one of the worst rom-coms I've ever seen. The Proposal was one of the best. I'm going to rank All About Steve somewhere between those two.

Bullock, as Mary Horowitz, creates crossword puzzles for her local Sacramento newspaper. Her research has given her a seemingly endless knowledge about everything (except knowing when to shut up!) She's a non-stop motormouth, a trait that annoys a lot of people--including handsome TV news cameraman Steve, (Bradley Cooper) who gets set up with her on a blind date. They've just gotten situated inside his SUV, when Mary (who hasn't gotten much lately) decides to jump Steve's bones right then and there. As they're writhing around, unbuttoning and unfastening things, Steve figures he's hit the jackpot. (Ironically, Bullock exposes more of her boobs in this movie than she did in the much ballyhooed, so-called "naked" scene in The Proposal--go figure.) But it doesn't take long for Mary's nuttiness to make Steve consider himself lucky to be sent on assignment with reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church) as they cover a number of breaking news stories for their cable news network, CCN. (No, you're not dyslexic.)

Madly in lust with Steve, (and convinced that the feeling is mutual) Mary pursues him around the country in a manner that would fit the legal definition of stalking--though the script would have us ultimately believe she's just UNDER APPRECIATED and MISUNDERSTOOD, and not a totally clueless, can't-take-an-obvious-hint PSYCHO chick.

Thomas Haden Church has found his niche as a self-serving prima donna type who has his sights set on an anchor position with the network.

There are some good LOL moments--as when Mary participates in one of those "career days" with a group of feisty young kids who grill her about her job, living with her parents, etc.

I'm giving All About Steve a better grade than the majority of reviewers out there, because it doesn't go for the totally predictable, standard rom-com ending--and provides a philosophical message at the end.

After watching this film, one is left to ponder which will occur first: Sandra Bullock(age 45) will stop trying to pass herself off as an age match with her younger leading men, (Bradley Cooper is 34) or Madonna (in her fifties now) will quit gyrating about the stage in her underwear like someone who desperately needs to find a restroom in the next fifteen seconds.

By the way, be sure to sit through all the rolling of the credits at the end of All About Steve, because there's a little more movie left at that point. (I'll wager that I'm the only person in America who's actually seen this!)

GRADE : B -

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

TAKING WOODSTOCK (R)





Whenever I watch any kind of story that's set in the sixties, I'm already cringing at the beginning because I've been disappointed and disgusted too many times over the inability or unwillingness to FAITHFULLY recreate the LOOK and the FEEL of the era. Note to aspiring directors: MOST YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE LATE SIXTIES DID NOT HAVE SHORT HAIR! Even straight folks (meaning non-freaks, in this context) grew it below their ears. If you want proof, check out the hair styles on some of those Lawrence Welk TV shows from that period (admittedly kind of funny to look at today).

Anyway, the first thing that made me SMILE about Taking Woodstock is that its world is populated by oodles of AUTHENTIC looking hippie types. My mind set at ease, I knew that academy award winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) was going to do his best to do justice to the peace and love generation.

Based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber--who was instrumental in bringing the Woodstock festival to fruition--Taking Woodstock is a coming of age story that follows young Elliot Teichberg,
(Demetri Martin) president of the Bethel, New York chamber of commerce--the guy who issues the permit to allow the festival to go forward after it's been banned in Wallkill due to "hippie phobia."

Elliot helps his parents run the dilapidated El Monaco Motel, where they charge extra for bath towels. Elliot"s mom, Sonia, (Imelda Staunton) is a hyper-stereotypical Jewish mother--and Staunton was born for this role. She's totally meshuggah.

Elliot, who tries to promote the area with his own modest local talent concerts, contacts Michael Lang, (Jonathon Groff) promoter of the Woodstock festival, and the rest is history. Groff has obviously studied Michael Lang with a keen eye--and those who've seen the Woodstock documentary (and who hasn't?) will find the resemblance (especially the hair) to be quite remarkable.

Eugene Levy (in a role that doesn't call upon his comic abilities) plays Max Yasgur, the local dairy farmer who provides the site for the momentous event.

Don't go to Taking Woodstock expecting to see any clips of Hendrix or Joplin on stage--you can immerse yourself in that by revisiting the documentary. This film is the personal story of Elliot's coming out of the closet and coming into his own--but still with enough naked hippies, pot smoking, mud sliding, and music of the era to get the job done ("Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Still, and Nash is such a GREAT song!) I especially liked the scene where Elliot joins a young couple in their tent and drops acid with them. It's a dreamy, colors melting, mind-blowing sequence that drips with authenticity.

Had Taking Woodstock been a made for TV movie (and God, I hope we NEVER have one of those) it would have ended with some moralistic anti-this or anti-that message; instead, the movie ends appropriately with a foreshadowing of the days to come following an era that occupied a shining, but all too brief moment upon the world stage.

GRADE:   A


Friday, August 28, 2009

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE


Time traveler Henry De Tamble (Eric Bana) shows up naked hiding in the bushes (time travel hasn't been perfected to the point where your clothes make the trip with you) in a meadow where six year old Clare Abshire is playing. He coaxes her into tossing him a blanket to swaddle himself in and then explains the wackiness of his predicament. Then he suddenly disappears as the blanket droops to the ground. Clare, just like ANY girl would be, is immediately smitten by this tripped-out dude.

The next time they meet, it's as young adults in a library, where Clare (Rachel McAdams) recognizes HIM--but he doesn't remember HER because he's still YOUNGER than he was when he encountered her in the meadow. Got that? I hope so because it's indicative of the jumbled mess that is The Time Traveler's Wife--the screen adaptation of the best selling nonlinear novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Because films tend to simplify the intricacies of the novels they are derived from, you can trust me that the book (which I've read) is even more of a jumbled mess than the movie--though Niffenegger is an excellent writer, and the poignancy of the story is way more present in the novel than the film.

My theory of how Audrey Niffenegger wrote the book: First, she wrote the whole story out in linear fashion. Then, she wrote the name of each chapter out on a 3 x 5 card, tossed the cards into the air, arbitrarily reassembled them, and that was the order in which they appeared in the novel. It's a plot device to give you the impression that the story is more fascinating than it really is.

Henry tumbles through time uncontrollably, and every time he and Clare hook up they're each at a different age and different stage of their relationship--which involves courtship, marriage, and the birth of children. Along the way, Clare expresses frustration about being the significant other of someone who appears and disappears without warning for weeks at a time (kinda like being with an actor, which in real life each of them should be able to identify with).

The flaw of The Time Traveler's Wife is that Henry is able to travel even beyond the span of his own lifetime, which makes the events that occur--even the tragic ones--somewhat trivial because we sense that he may pop up at any time anywhere, essentially negating the effects of what happened before. Still, the flaws could have been mitigated had the film possessed a super uplifting sound track, or stunning cinematography...but for the most part, it doesn't.
In fact, most of the peak moments of The Time Traveler's Wife are contained in the trailer, which you've likely seen in the previews or on TV. Whoever put that trailer together is an editing genius, because it makes the movie seem like the romantic event of the decade, and will draw lots of chicks in to see it--especially when word gets around that there are numerous shots of Eric Bana's bare ass.

GRADE: C +

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DISTRICT 9

There's no simple way to describe District 9, the directorial debut of Neil Blomkamp. It's Aliens, Transformers, E.T., Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, and a cat food commercial rolled into one. And it's no coincidence that Blomkamp has chosen South Africa, the former seat of apartheid, as the setting for his pseudo-documentary on abject poverty and oppression.

It's been 20 years since the aliens--referred to by the humans as "prawns," due to their crustacean-like features--descended into Johannesburg from their crippled mother ship and were forced to subsist in a ghetto called District 9. Parallels with the Japanese-American internment camps of World War ll, and the modern day Palestinians, came to mind. The aliens are exploited by the whites AND the blacks-- the latter having set up shop in the camp to sell cat food and such, which the prawns find so yummy they gobble it up, can and all. (The movie is not devoid of wry humor.)

Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is an agent with a private company (Multi-National United) who, along with MNUs security forces, spearheads the effort to relocate the aliens to another camp. He's not a likable character in the beginning--his methods are callous and result in some alien deaths.

The traditional story arc in fiction dictates that the protagonist be changed, or exhibit some maturation of character by the end, and District 9 certainly accomplishes that. The prawns brought some of their superior weaponry with them, which humans cannot operate because the weapons are matched to the DNA of the aliens. But when Wikus accidently ingests a substance that begins to turn him partly into a prawn, he is suddenly able to fire their high-tech blunderbusses , making him the link between humans and the alien technology. The opportunistic MNU desperately wants him now, and he goes on the run, knowing he'd be turned into a human lab experiment--and killed in the process. Wikus re-enters District 9 a very different individual. In order to survive, he must now collaborate with a particularly intelligent prawn (named Christopher Johnson, just so we the viewers can anthropomorphize him) and his son, who are working on a technology to get themselves and their race free of this planet again.

A battle is looming, and those scenes are as EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT exciting and technically impressive as anything we've seen in Transformers 2, or Terminator Salvation--with the added element that we may really CARE more about the plight of these aliens, who symbolize any and all of the oppressed populations of the world.

The only thing that chaps my ass a LITTLE bit about District 9 is that it's clearly set up to segue into a sequel, and I prefer to have CLOSURE in my movies--like, the end is the end for better or for worse. But I'm not deducting any points for that because I'd LIKE to see the sequel to this film--District 9 belongs with the epic tales of how fate sometimes turns ordinary men into heroes. And I find that inspiring as all git-out.

GRADE: A


Friday, August 14, 2009

HEALTH CARE DEBATE


When you are shouting
In my face...
And I am shouting
In your face...

Each of us is trying
To reason with a lunatic

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

500 DAYS OF SUMMER


There's a certain kind of girl we DUDES are all too familiar with. She's the one who is constantly sending you mixed signals about what she wants YOU for, and driving you crazy. Zooey Deschanel is Summer, and she is THAT girl. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the poor guy who is unfortunate enough to get involved with her.

500 Days of Summer is purportedly a romantic comedy about the inconsistencies of their relationship. I say "purportedly" because, while there are some comic moments in this quirky little film, the laughs are uneasy ones. We've all had our hearts broken, and thinking about it sucks. Maybe that's why the movie SUCKS you in like the proverbial train wreck, and you just have to stay with it to see what happens.

Tom and Summer work at the same greeting card company. He writes hackneyed verse that goes on the cards. She is his boss's new assistant. They start to get cozy with each other after a night of drunken karoake. (Many of history's fabled romances began in just the same manner.) But early on, Summer tells him that she's not looking for a serious relationship. Fair enough. But then, she starts having sex with him. Here's where things begin to get hazy. At a certain point, Tom rightly wants to know where he stands with her. But Summer wants to keep things vague.

What keeps things interesting is that the film constantly jumps around in the timeline of their 500 days, so we don't have to wait til the end to get a pretty good idea of how things turn out--we're more concerned about learning how they got that way. And if guys can learn anything from watching 500 Days of Summer, it's that when a girl says she's not looking for anything serious, it means she's not looking for anything serious with YOU.

There is one mischievously funny bit. In a public setting, our couple dares each other to yell out--with increasing intensity--the word for a certain male body part. Back in the day, I remember exhorting a girlfriend to do the exact same thing, which she followed through on. But no one paid any attention to her because they thought she was a hooker.

500 Days of Summer tweaks the traditional romantic comedy formula just enough to provide an ending that you won't necessarily see coming. And if nothing else, the film's non-linear leap-frogging will provide good practice for watching The Time Traveler's Wife.

GRADE: B

Saturday, August 8, 2009

FUNNY PEOPLE



I freely admit to liking many of Adam Sandler's films. 50 First Dates and Reign Over Me are two of my favorites. Sandler also did Little Nicky, one of the most horrendously awful flicks I've ever seen. Just goes to show that nobody can be ON all the time. In Funny People, a Judd Apatow film about the behind the scenes lives of comedians, Sandler and his supporting cast are definitely ON.

Sandler is George Simmons, a famous comedian who gets a glimpse of his own mortality when he's diagnosed with a rare and likely fatal disease. Ira Wright (Seth Rogan) is an aspiring comic who lucks into the role of joke writer and all around lackey for Simmons. As George contemplates his own demise, his onstage routines become darker. He wants to sell off some of his possessions. He calls his ex-girlfriend, Laura, (Leslie Mann) whom he cheated on, and apologizes.

Ira is there to hold George's hand and humor him. Rogan is excellent as a basically nice guy who's so awestruck to be rubbing elbows with stardom that he'll debase himself in just about any manner, just to stay cozy with George. Ira is clueless about how to score with chicks--mouth agape at how easily the jaded George does it, and otherwise takes the perks and trappings of his stardom for granted.

When George's condition improves, as a result of the experimental treatments he's been receiving, he's at a loss for what to do with the rest of his life. Funny People enters a new phase when George and Laura appear to be getting back together--until her lothario husband, Clarke, (Eric Bana) shows up unexpectedly, and the fisticuffs are on.



Unlike The Ugly Truth, (which is fresh in my mind because I just reviewed it) the laughs in Funny People aren't set up or PLAYED just for laughs--all the events flow in a logical progression from what came before, giving this movie a real life feel to it that is rare these days. The profanity here is descriptive and relentless, but it doesn't FEEL as dirty as the gutter talk in The Ugly Truth, which is gratuitous and comes out of nowhere. Here, the trash talking is funny, a plausible extension of the characters' personalities.

And while Funny People lives up to its name throughout, the movie is too long (2 hours and 25 minutes) and bogs down near the end. But I can understand if Apatow, Sandler, and company felt they had too much good material--so many belly laughs--and couldn't bear to part with any of it.

Through all of its twists and turns, the one thread that runs through this film is that of male bonding, and how it can sometimes get lost in all the posturing and colorful language guys are compelled to bounce off each other...in order to mask their true affection for one another.

GRADE: A-

Monday, August 3, 2009

THE UGLY TRUTH


The ugly truth about The Ugly Truth is that an R-rated romantic comedy can be just as inane as a PG-13 rom-com, just more potty talk. This is not to cast aspersions on the genre--we have a fine rom-com in The Proposal, (recently reviewed here) but when a film becomes so formulaic that you've sniffed out the ending in the first 15 minutes--there's nothing but lack of imagination, or laziness, or both to blame.

Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is a romantically deprived morning TV news show producer. The show's ratings have been down, so Abby's boss wants to spice things up a bit. Enter Mike Chadway, (Gerard Butler) a "male chauvinist pig" who runs a cable access show called The Ugly Truth. Mike pulls no punches about what guys are really like--and ladies, it's what you've always feared--men are not that complicated and they've got one thing on their minds...at least initially. Just the thing to PERK UP the ratings, and so Mike is hired to do a regular segment on the morning show, much to Abby's dismay. She is mortified (as if she were Miss Manners) by some of the stuff he comes up with.

Now it just so happens that Abby has a crush on her Ken Doll neighbor, Colin (Eric Winter). So to keep her off his back, Mike agrees to play relationship coach to help her win the affection of perfect looking, but no hint of character in his face Colin. Abby wears an earpiece that Mike, from a distance, can use to funnel instructions to her on what to say and how to act when she's out with her new guy. The inevitable misinterpretations occur--and weird, inappropriate things come out of Abby's mouth. Cute, but it's an old bit we've seen in numerous other films.

And there's a When Harry Met Sally rip-off where Abby forgets she's wearing vibrating underwear (you had to be there) and has an orgasm in the middle of a business dinner. The underwear is controlled by a young boy who found the remote, and unwittingly keeps pushing Abby's buttons.

There IS some good chemistry between Heigl and Butler, with the old opposites attract even while they're sniping at each other all the time thing. But Heigl's character was designed strictly for laughs and titillation--and so she bounces around like a naive, silly school girl when she falls for Mr. Mannequin, but when she's hanging out with Mike she spews all kinds of filthiness from her mouth that you'd expect to hear from some perv dude drooling over a hot chick that just breezed past him. You're left with the impression that the screenwriters (newcomer Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullen Lutz, and Kirsten Smith) are putting words in her mouth just to remind us that we're watching an R-rated flick, rather than any sense that it stems from some essence of her personality.

The Ugly Truth not only smacks of laziness, but sloppiness as well. The first impression we get is that the morning show is being carried by a network. Then, the indication is that it's being broadcast to just the local Sacramento area. This little bit of contradiction is never cleared up, and nobody caught it before the film was edited and released.

The devil is in the details, and everyone involved in the making of The Ugly Truth should have sat down with old Beelzebub and gone over a checklist of things to do before releasing a movie.


GRADE: C-

Thursday, July 30, 2009

TWO LOVERS (now playing at home where you'd be ecstatic to have even ONE lover)


The enigma of why--when given the choice of a lover who's a normal human being or one who's mentally unstable--we often choose the really screwed-up one, is explored in Two Lovers, a romantic drama from director James Gray. Simply put, the people we choose to inhabit our lives are a reflection of our own state of being.


When we meet Leonard Kraditor, (Joaquin Phoenix) he has just jumped into the bay near his Brighton Beach Brooklyn home. Leonard, who works in his father's dry cleaning business, is bi-polar and has tried to do himself in before. Having second thoughts, he rises to the surface and is rescued by some good Samaritans.


Things look up for Lenny from there as first he meets Sandra, (Vinessa Shaw) the daughter of his dad's potential business partner. Sandra is attractive and sweet natured. She goes for Leonard, and soon considers him to be her boyfriend. Both families are pleased, as this will be good for business. Then Leonard discovers Michelle, (Gwyneth Paltrow) his quirky neighbor, who wants to be friends. Michelle is the prototypical lost soul. She ingests a lot of "E." She is a user--not only of drugs--but of people. She's a kept woman, her apartment paid for by Ronald, (Elias Koteas) the married attorney with whom she's having an ongoing relationship. Ronald's not much to look at, but he gets better looking every time her rent comes due.


Leonard goes out clubbing with Michelle and some of her friends. He is smitten by this wild girl. WHY? Because he's a glutton for PUNISHMENT. He wants someone to lead him on--to use him for their own sick reasons, then kick him to the gutter so that he feels like a royal piece of DOG SH*T. YEAH...IT HURTS SO GOOD! Uh...don't let me get carried away. But male or female, you know you've been there.


Leonard keeps the balancing act with Sandra and Michelle going--until the stakes are raised when Michelle tells him she's leaving Ronald and skipping off to San Francisco. Michelle acknowledges that she's screwed-up. Lenny talks her into letting him come along, saying he's just as screwed-up as she is, and thus able to understand her. Then they have sex, standing upright against a wall (sure...they make it look so EASY!) Later, the moment of truth arrives, with Leonard waiting patiently for Michelle to show up for their intended getaway.


Joaquin Phoenix is convincing as a damaged but playfully good natured guy--a trait that, above all else, can help to save him from himself. And Paltrow is a totally believable space case.


As I've mentioned before, a terrific music score--or even a montage of scenes with a great piece of music underneath--carries a lot of weight with me in the final assessment of a film. In Two Lovers, it's Henry Mancini's elegant "Lujon" (which was given lyrics and re-titled "Slow Hot Wind" when Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 recorded it.) It's a dreamy piece of music that carries Leonard through the city and into his "friendly" dinner date with Michelle and Ronald.


When I was growing up, most people seemed NORMAL--now, whomever you run into is likely as not to be playing with less than a full deck. (How and why this has come about is fodder for a different discussion.) Two Lovers is an engrossing character study of some of the "functional dysfunctional" in our society of the 21st century.


In the end: (to paraphrase the Rolling Stones) You can't always get what you want...but sometimes, you get what you need.
GRADE: A

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BRUNO






In Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's demented journey through homophobia land (NO relation to Neverland) in America, Bruno Gehard (pronounced "gayhard") is a gay Austrian fashion reporter who wants to become a celebrity. Along the road to his epiphany that he will need (or thinks he needs) to become straight to be accepted and find the fame and recognition he desires, Bruno gets former presidential candidate Ron Paul into a room on the pretext of doing an interview--then drops his pants. Paul storms out calling Bruno a "queer." (Not the best pub if he ever wants to make another run at the top spot.)

Bruno sits down with a self-styled "gay converter," one of those dudes who's gonna turn you straight with a little old time religion. But we can see in his eyes--and not surprisingly--that the guy is confused about his own sexuality.

Then our hero gets some basic self-defense tips from an Alabama karate instructor--to defend himself against the gays he says are "attacking" him. Bruno plays the role of the attacker--flailing dildos as weapons--in one of the films silliest and funniest scenes.


He goes on a camping trip with some authentic redneck hunters, and tries to slip into one of their tents--naked--in the middle of the night, with the predictable "git out mah face" reaction.

The common denominator is that all of the aforementioned were blindsided--not in on the joke-- and taking this flaming caricature that Cohen has created at face value, though you wonder how some of them could be that naive. It's truly amazing how Cohen manages to initially gain the confidence and trust of these various types, and how far some of them will allow his hijinks to go before pushing the panic button.

Oh yeah, and Bruno illegally adopts an African baby (with a sarcastic aside to Brangelina and Madonna) and names him "O.J."--which he thinks is a traditional African name.

Borat--Cohen's dismantling of political correctness in America--seemed outrageous at the time, but in Bruno he has upped the ante. I was surprised at how far he was able to push the envelope and still get away with an R, and not an NC-17 rating, which is what this film probably deserves. There's full frontal in-your-face male nudity, and plenty of gross suggestiveness that leaves nothing to the imagination. And while I'm not above snickering at this kind of stuff--there's a bit of the cringe factor involved too, as I've never been a huge fan of the total gross-out brand of comedy that is Cohen's stock in trade. For one thing, any adolescent male could have come up with a lot of this stuff. On the other hand--comedy that retains a bit of subtlety and imagination requires an innate intuitiveness that not everyone possesses.

When Bruno goes to hang out at a down south swingers party, it appears that he has met his match. There's actual sex going on, (with certain body parts hazed out on the screen) and the group doesn't seem to even notice him that much until he starts acting squirrely and then they have to set him "straight" as to what their sexual preferences are.

A few of the bits in Bruno feel staged, like when this blonde dominatrix with the worst looking fake boobs I've ever seen grabs him, rips his clothes off, and gives him a nasty belt whipping.
Staged or not, it looked and sounded like it HURT...

Cohen does accomplish one thing in Bruno, and that's to show that most of us take ourselves way too seriously. The more little boxes built of prejudice and fear that we try to hide in, the easier it is for someone like Sacha Baron Cohen to come along and make us look small-minded and foolish. For that reason alone, Bruno is an important film.

GRADE: B+ if you like gross-out... C- if you don't.

Monday, July 20, 2009

WHILE I'M WORKING ON MY NEXT REVIEW...


A little something that proves I've got way too much time on my hands. Here are a few MOVIE TITLES I WOULD LIKE TO SEE...using real films as a starting point, and imagining that these spin-offs might be even BETTER than the originals. (You SHOULD be able to figure out which movie inspired each of these.)


Please feel free to have fun, be creative and add your own titles to this list in the comments section. Here we go...


HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BAKED PRINCE
HANNAH MONTANA: THE STRAIGHT TO DVD MOVIE
MONSTERS VERSUS DICK CHENEY
SCUMBAG MILLIONAIRE (THE BERNIE MADOFF STORY)

SCATTERED UNDERWEAR OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST

FORGETTING SARAH PALIN

DRAG ME TO NEW JERSEY

THE CURIOUS FACE OF BENJAMIN STILLER

I KNOW WHO YOU DID LAST SUMMER

SUNSHINE CLEANING (THE BILLY MAYS STORY)
TRANSFORMERS 2; REVENGE OF THE FALLEN WOMEN

RACE TO WHICH MOUNTAIN?

RUN FAT GIRL RUN (THE BRITTNEY SPEARS STORY)

I'VE LOVED YOU. SO LONG!!!

CONFESSIONS OF A MOPAHOLIC (THE NADYA "OCTOMOM" SULEMAN STORY)






Thursday, July 16, 2009

FROZEN RIVER (now playing at home where your freeloading uncle Louie passed out and barfed in your favorite chair)



First time director Courtney Hunt has chosen the stark setting of the Mohawk reservation bordering Canada in upstate New York for Frozen River, a tale that she penned about two women living on the edge who are driven to desperate measures to survive.

Ray (Melissa Leo) is a middle-aged mom trying to raise two kids on her own. At first glance it appears that she's a victim of circumstance--her loser husband has cleared out, and her low paying job isn't bringing in enough scratch to keep up with the bills. But look a little closer and you'll see that most of her troubles are of her own doing, and her own doing is going to be her undoing.

She's trying to upgrade her single-wide trailer to a new double-wide, but can't come up with the balloon payment to get the thing delivered. Meanwhile, she's serving popcorn and Tang to her kids every night for dinner. And why? Because she just shelled out the rest of her cash to hang onto a giant screen TV from the rent-to-own place. In other words, her priorities are out of whack. (If she'd even held onto the money she's been spending on cigarettes, she'd at least been able to upgrade her meals to macaroni and cheese!)

When Ray meets Lila Littlewolf, (Misty Upham) a member of the reservation who's involved in smuggling undocumented aliens (mostly Chinese) across the border into the U.S., the temptation of quick and easy money sucks her in. The two women settle into an uneasy alliance--Lila has the connections, and Ray provides the wheels as the illegals are stuffed into the trunk of her car and ferried across a remote, frozen section of the St. Lawrence river.

Ray is understandably nervous about what she's doing, and intends to get out as soon as she's made enough to get that new double-wide. But things get complicated. With a young Pakistani couple in her trunk, Ray gets spooked and says to her partner, "Let's hope they're not the ones that blow themselves and everyone else up!" She then proceeds to jettison the couple's backpack--for fear of what it might contain--leaving it out in the cold and snow somewhere along their route. But OOPS...the couple's BABY was inside that backpack, and Ray and Lila are sent scrambling back to try to recover it before it's too late.

I don't know if director Courtney Hunt intended for us to feel sympathetic toward Ray as a hapless victim of circumstance, but to me she comes off as callous, ignorant, and a neglectful mother. But even someone like that might opt to do the noble thing in the end.

Leo was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Frozen River. In stark contrast, Misty Upham--a relatively inexperienced actress--probably did the best she could, but was unable to bring any depth to her character. I find it distracting when there's one person in a major role who's constantly drawing attention to herself for the wrong reasons.

There's a kind of beauty in the bleak landscape of Frozen River that a longtime desert dweller such as myself can be seduced by--seeing it on film--but would get my fill of in about two hours if I were actually there. And that's why we go to the movies...to be transported to someplace new and intriguing without--in this case--having to actually don the parka and the mukluks.

GRADE: B

Monday, July 13, 2009

TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN







Yes, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen is totally BANANAS-- but I like bananas, generally speaking. The transformers are giant shape-shifting robots that fall into two camps: The AUTOBOTS and the DECEPTICONS. Like the Democrats and the Republicans, they've been at war with each other since day one. On their home planet, Cybertron, they battled over Allspark--the energy source that gave them life. The Allspark gets shipped off the planet (Federal Express?) and ends up on Earth. That's the bare bones backstory from the first movie, and now the stage is set in Transformers 2 for the autobots--led by Optimus Prime, and the decepticons, led by Megatron--to battle it out again, this time with the fate of our planet hanging in the balance.

Hapless college student Sam Witwicky, (Shia LaBeouf) who killed Megatron in the first film, is swept up in the conflict again--along with his girlfriend Mikaela, (Megan Fox-the obligatory eye candy for teenage boys) and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White).

Transformers 2 is nearly non-stop action, with a few short breathers here and there--and sometimes it's hard to tell who's beating the living crap out of whom, since one big hulking robot looks pretty much like another (which wouldn't be politically correct to say on Cybertron). It's a big, ostentatious, chaotic, clang and bang fest--and I was just impressed by the sheer immensity and spectacle of it all (but then, I'm impressed by the 4-slice toaster!)

It's kind of like life...you may not know what's going on, but you can still enjoy yourself.

My favorite scene has got to be when Sam's mother gobbles some pot brownies, totally loses it,
and then runs amuck--which I've always wanted to do in a gorilla suit. There's something endearing about a gorilla suit that makes people more forgiving of the one who's running amuck.

There's a lot of off the wall humor in Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen--surprising, and yes, refreshing--since most action/thriller flicks take themselves much more seriously.

But I suppose that, when it comes down to it, what really appeals to me about this film is the many faces of heroism--both human and otherwise. I'd like to think that we'd all step up to the plate if some crazy, two-storied, clanking hulks of scrap metal were fighting and screwing around on top of the pyramids and causing them to, like...start to crumble and stuff. Somebody already messed with the nose on the Sphinx, and I'm still annoyed about that.

And now a word about reviving "dead" characters in sequels. Ever since J.R. Ewing got shot and supposedly died in the TV finale of Dallas in 1980--then got resurrected five years later in a follow up film--TV and screen writers have been playing fast and loose with the facts of life and death in Freddy Krueger-like fashion. A character like Megatron can be killed and revived as many times as may be convenient, when millions of bucks are on the line. The special effects (or computer graphics imagery) are the real stars of these blockbuster movies, and because it takes a lot of time and and a grueling amount of work to design and animate one of these big bad boys, expect that the dead shall rise again in the inevitable third installment.


GRADE: B +