Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams (with Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson)

Director: Martin Scorsese

I've seen more appetizing opening scenes than Leonardo DiCaprio barfing his guts up, but it all gets easier to swallow from there in Martin Scorsese's mystery thriller, Shutter Island. Without giving too much away, there is red herring after red herring, until it all starts to smell pretty fishy toward the end, when the rug is pulled--not abruptly but gradually--out from under the viewer. At this point you may either go "BOOOO" or "BRAVO" (as I did) because I have to hand it to a movie that outsmarts me, and Shutter Island did. But then, I'm easily fooled--just ask my former girlfriends.

It's 1954, and U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels, (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Chuck, (Mark Ruffalo) show up at an isolated hospital for the criminally insane in Boston Harbor, to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous female inmate. They meet the enigmatic Dr. Cawley, (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. "could he be a former Nazi?" Naehring (Max von Sydow).

Dr. Naehring seems to enjoy playing mind games with Daniels, who was part of the liberation force at Dachau. Daniels has flashbacks of Nazis, and his murdered wife, Dolores, (Michelle Williams) who appears and speaks to him throughout the film. The intrepid lawmen keep running into roadblocks in their attempted investigation--the doctors are stonewalling them--leading to suspicions of a government cover up of ghoulish experiments being conducted on inmates. Events increasingly spin out of control, and there is a foreboding sense that the federal agents may have to fight to get out of this spook house in one piece.

Shutter Island is a scary flick, but it relies less on gore and more on a creeped-out feeling of what MIGHT be lurking just around the corner. Like this haunted house I went to once of a Halloween from my deep dark past. There weren't gobs of ghosties and goblins popping out every ten feet--there was just this one Frankenstein guy who would suddenly appear at the end of a long corridor, and would slowly begin tottering toward you. We ran, but everywhere we ended up he would be there again, and we couldn't find our way out of the place. My girlfriend peed her pants.


Monday, February 22, 2010

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT (R) (now playing at home where you'll never look at sitting on the can quite the same again)

STARS: Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell
DIRECTOR: Cheryl Hines

How far would you go to convince your spouse of a truth he just couldn't see? In Serious Moonlight, Louise (Meg Ryan) is a Manhattan lawyer married 13 years to Ian, (Timothy Hutton) who just happens to be planning to abscond to Paris with his young mistress, Sara (Kristen Bell).

Louise shows up unexpectedly at their country house as Ian is composing his "Dear John" letter to her, and he reluctantly comes clean about his intentions. Convinced that her husband is temporarily blinded by infatuation, and not ready to shoot thirteen years down the sewer just like that, Louise cold-cocks him with a potted plant as he is walking out the door. While he is knocked out, Ian becomes all wrapped up in himself because his wife has duct taped him hand and foot. Learning that she intends to keep him immobilized until he comes to his senses and professes his love for her again, he requests that she at least set him on the toilet, which, like the good wife, she does--with his pants down. (I'm tempted to call this "potty humor," but that would be a crappy pun.)

Ian tries to cajole, sweet talk, and curse and yell his way out of his predicament--all to no avail. Louise--maniacally convinced of her version of reality-- bakes him cookies, reminisces, and even runs a slide show of old times as she argues her case. Will it work?

When Louise splits the scene for a short while, an opportunistic young burglar (Justin Long) shows up. Things turn a little mean (as befitting a dark comedy) when the burglar roughs the helpless husband up a bit, and even imparts some some scathing advice on relationships.

Both Louise and Sara--who has dropped by because she hasn't heard from Ian--will ironically end up in the same sticky duct tape predicament, courtesy of Todd the burglar. (Louise gets felt up a couple of times by the ill-mannered intruder--some cheap thrills for Meg Ryan fantasizers.) Todd trashes the place with his friends and then takes off, leaving the threesome to try to maneuver themselves free, and Ian to sort out his feelings for each of the women.

Meg Ryan--always a fine comic actress--is impishly and wickedly funny in this one. Kristen Bell, a good character actress, but not poised to be a leading lady--just yet (see my review of When In Rome) is fittingly cast as the "other bimbo." Timothy Hutton shows amazing forbearance, because he was lashed to that crapper and immobilized for up to twelve hours at a time during filming.

Serious Moonlight raises some intriguing philosophical questions about how far one should go to try to "save" another person from themselves. Penned by the late Adrienne Shelly, it has the intimate feel of a stage play. It's one of those rare little gems you don't expect to find, but end up grinning from ear to ear when you do. And Serious Moonlight has one of the coolest surprise endings ever!

P.S. More so than any other recent review I've written, people from all over the world have have been checking out this one, and they've been curious about one thing: THE ENDING!
While I can't overtly reveal what the ending of Serious Moonlight means-- for the sake of those who haven't yet seen it--the answer to your question, for those who have seen it, is...YES!


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


STARS: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal
DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper

Not everybody could play a besotted, country music has-been as effectively as Jeff Bridges (not even most besotted, has-been country singers--they'd probably be too self-conscious to get as down and dirty, and slovenly, and pukingly REAL as Jeff gets in this movie).

In Crazy Heart, Bridges is Bad Blake--a hard drinking, chain smoking, peeing in a bottle as he drives along, married four or five times, fifty-seven year old mess--playing gigs in bars and bowling alleys throughout the southwest, where a few people still remember and revere him from his glory days. Indicative of how far he has fallen: At one stop he is offered all the free bowling he wants, but isn't allowed to run up a bar tab because his reputation as a drunk precedes him. But even sweaty, unkempt, antediluvian performers can still draw the aging groupies, (who are attracted to name recognition like Kirstie Alley is magnetically drawn to an ice cream sundae) and Bad still does alright with the one night stands.

But when he meets local Santa Fe newspaper reporter Jean Craddock, (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who seems to be drawn in to his orbit in a similar way, there's a chance for some stability to come into his life. Jean is a divorcee with a four year old son--and Bad's undeveloped father instinct kicks in. (He is estranged from his own son, now 28 years old.)

Crazy Heart is ultimately a film about redemption--and how, when given something to live for, even those of us in free-fall can be motivated to clean up our acts. But it's also about the irreparable damage a life of excess can cause, and the inevitable consequences thereof. The past is precursor to the present.

Bridges deserves his Best Actor Oscar nomination for this one, and appears to be the favorite going in. And Gyllenhaal's superb, heartfelt performance garnered her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Colin Farrel is believable as Tommy Sweet, Bad Blake's former guitar player and protege, who has now surpassed his mentor and become a major star in the modern world of slick, indistinct "country" music. Sweet holds the key to a possible comeback for his aging guru.

Robert Duvall has a turn as Blake's bartender buddy, an authentic good ole boy who has Bad's best interests at heart.

The music in Crazy Heart is as good as the acting. With songs provided by producer T-Bone Burnett, Jeff Bridges does his own singing and has his act down. And when the band got rolling, I wouldn't have complained if they'd played a whole set before the plot picked up again. In fact, Bridges could have a successful side career as a REAL country singer if he wanted to. That is, if anybody wanted to hear real country music anymore. Kanye was right...who the hell is Taylor Swift, anyway?

Crazy Heart is a small, unpretentious film that will cast a big shadow--all the way to the Academy Awards in March.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


STARS: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel
DIRECTOR: Mark Steven Johnson

Ah, the ambience of Rome. The fountains, the statues, the ruins, the pigeons, the pigeon poop...WAIT A MINUTE! Why does a movie called When In Rome take place primarily in New York City? In fact, the actual scenes of Rome are few and far between--just like the laughs in this dreadful, made for nothing but profit disappointment.

Geez, I really need to start being more selective.

Kristen Bell is Beth, curator at the Guggenheim museum in New York. She travels to Italy to attend her sister's wedding. Sis is getting hitched to this Italian guy she's known all of two weeks. (Those Mediterranean dudes ARE persuasive!) Still reeling from a failed relationship, Beth gets drunk and totters into the Fountain of Love, where she lifts five coins that were tossed there by hopeless romantics looking for amore. But legend has it that if you take someone's coin, that person will fall head over heels for you.

Thus begins an odyssey where these four weirdos, who've become magically smitten, stalk Beth back to New York. What transpires there is supposed to be funny, bit it's not. The fifth coin apparently belongs to sportswriter Nick, (Josh Duhamel) best man at the wedding, where he and Beth have a mild flirtation. But then, Beth sees him with this Italian babe...

Cut to the chase. Will Nick and Beth get on the same page long enough to end up in connubial bliss? Or will the four weirdos who are pursuing her around New York (Danny DeVito-- as a sausage magnate--is one of them) become such a distraction that our romantic leads fall short of the runway? (Or in this case, the bed.)

In my opinion, neither Kristen Bell nor Josh Duhamel have the charisma to carry a film--even one that falls flat on its face in the middle of a fountain where naked cherubs are piddling on it. Watching When In Rome has made me so disgusted about what some people are willing to do just to make a profit, I'm vowing not to watch another formulaic romantic comedy this year... unless, of course, Zooey Deschanel is in it.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010



THE HURT LOCKER...Another movie about stuff getting blown up. How original.

AVATAR...Or you could just go and see the Blue Man Group.

PRECIOUS...Gritty, like when you bite into some dirt when you're chewing your spinach.

A SERIOUS MAN...Don't take it too seriously.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS...Hey, if they can't even spell the two words in the title correctly, how intelligent can it be?

UP...The only cartoons I liked were Mister Magoo and Daffy Duck.

DISTRICT 9...Crustacean-like aliens addicted to cat food. Deep.

AN EDUCATION...I got my education behind the barn.

UP IN THE AIR...More down to earth than you might expect.

THE BLIND SIDE...I'm still peeved with Sandra Bullock for promoting her "nude" scene in The Proposal, when all you could see were knock-knees and strategically placed arms and hands.


What WILL WIN: Something else.

Monday, February 1, 2010


STARS: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich
DIRECTOR: David Twohy

In the great WTF? tradition of The Sixth Sense and Passengers, comes A Perfect Getaway-- a movie that is conning you most of the way through, until you get to where...GOTCHA dumb-ass, nothing is what you think it is! And even though I saw the main plot twist coming a LITTLE ways before it was revealed, I still couldn't help flogging myself with a cat o' nine tails, sobbing, "If only you'd paid more attention in the first few minutes, Sluggo! Anyhoo, I'll bet YOU don't pick up on those SUBTLE clues at the beginning either--and that's what screenwriter/director David Twohy is banking on.

Cliff and Cydney (Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) are newlyweds honeymooning in Hawaii--hiking to a secluded beach in Kauai to camp overnight. Word reaches them that another couple has been murdered on a different island, and the authorities are looking for a man and a woman as the primary suspects. It's paranoia time when Cliff and Cydney run into a spooky couple trying to hitch a ride--and again when they hook up with Nick, (Timothy Olyphant) an Iraq war vet with a big sheathed knife, and his nude sunbathing girlfriend Gina, (Kiele Sanchez) who used to be a butcher.

Ostensibly, everyone is suspecting everyone, and the suspense builds...until the aforementioned BIG PLOT TWIST. Then, A Perfect Getaway kicks into edge-of-your-seat, action/thriller mode until its conclusion--and enjoyably so I might add. But when it came to evaluating motives, I was left asking WHY? Was I not paying enough attention, or was it that Twohy's script wanted to keep things a little murky? That's where having the DVD is to your advantage-you can view the film again with a more careful eye. (I haven't yet done so--I've had important stuff to do--like SCRATCHING MYSELF and SLEEPING.)

And you might have guessed that A Perfect Getaway, like many of the flicks I see, triggered one of my pet peeves. It's the one about why do the movies and TV sitcoms often team a hot looking woman with a dorky looking guy? (In this case it's Zahn and Jovovich.) As if that's the way it could be in real life, unless the dude is using C-notes to light his cigars. TVs prime example of this is King Of Queens, where super-babe Leah Remini is paired with big meatball Kevin James. In your DREAMS! I think the meatball screenwriters and directors are just indulging their own fantasies.

Another advantage of the DVD is it lets you choose between the theatrical version and the director's cut--which contains added stuff not included in the original version. Opt for the director's cut, unless you want to see LESS of Mila Jovovich and Kiele Sanchez.