Friday, August 28, 2009


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.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


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.


Friday, August 14, 2009


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


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.


Saturday, August 8, 2009


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 order to mask their true affection for one another.


Monday, August 3, 2009


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 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.