Thursday, January 28, 2010


STARS: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Kevin Durand
DIRECTOR: Scott Stewart

So what is God gonna do when he gets tired of all the bull doo-doo from these vile, egregious humans? He gonna send some angels (who are more like hit-men) down to kick some serious BUTT--dat what he gonna do! Of course, if you're going to buy into the premise of Legion, the new action/thriller from director Scott Stewart, you must assume that God is a dude who gets pissed-off and likes to destroy people and stuff at whim--rather than the idea that God is Love. (But if He didn't want us to work it all out on our own, then why did He give us free will...hmmm?)

Pat Robertson-esque theology aside, the plot of Legion centers around a group of diverse personalities holed up in a remote desert diner: There's Bob, the owner of this rundown dump (Dennis Quaid) ; his kindhearted son, Jeep (Lucas Black) ; an unmarried pregnant girl named Charlie, whom Jeep has befriended (Adrianne Palicki) ; and a few other stereotypes, including a middle aged married couple (she's a drama queen) and their sexy young daughter, and an enigmatic stranger who only stopped to make a phone call.

The group is befriended by the angel Michael, (Paul Bettany) who originally came down to instigate something of an apocalypse on the orders of "God," but had a change of heart (there's that free will operating again) and now thinks that humans are worth saving. (He must have gotten a eye full of Shakira.) But he's not the kind of angel you'd like to have as your guardian--he attracts the wrong element--namely, an army of other angels who have possessed the bodies of ordinary folk and now look and act like half zombie and half Jim Carrey in The Mask. They're after Charlie's baby who, as it turns out, is going to be the only human hope left to save the world--though we haven't a clue as to why an airheaded, smoking-while-she's-pregnant bimbo would be chosen as his mother. But none of the bunch at the diner knows this initially--they're just told to shoot first (with automatic weapons that Michael has supplied) and ask questions later. Michael has his own battle looming with the angel Gabriel, (Kevin Durand) who is doing old irate God's bidding by leading the assault on the diner.

The audience at the showing I attended snickered at some of the unintentionally funny stuff in this movie, highlighted by Jeanette Miller's performance as an initially kindly old lady who transforms into a gutter mouthed, neck biting, wall climbing monstrosity. Senior citizens are noted for getting CRANKY at times, but this lady takes the cake!

And why in the world, when we're so far beyond "Beam me up, Scotty," do the angels still have to have WINGS in all of these films--do they think audiences are so unsophisticated we can't just accept that So and So is an angel--even though he looks pretty much like everyone else? Plainly put, it looks stupid.

Nonetheless, Legion has some decent action scenes, as director Scott Stewart's background is in special effects, and there's enough suspense to keep you hanging around to see if there really might be any hope left of saving the world...or whether we're all massively screwed.


Monday, January 18, 2010


John Boorman's Beyond Rangoon had been on my list to watch for a while, and when I finally got around to seeing it, I was blown away--and not just because there's stuff exploding all over the place. Set in 1988, and based on actual events, it's the story of young doctor Laura Bowman, (Patricia Arquette) a grieving widow whose husband and son were murdered. She sets about on a guided tour of Burma--thinking that perhaps she can gain some spiritual perspective in a land where big stone Buddhas are all over the place. But there's political unrest in the country--it's military leaders cracking down on pro-democracy protesters. When Laura loses her passport, she's in for a longer than expected stay. One thing leads to another and she falls in with dissident students and a former professor (Ang Ko) who is being targeted by the brutal regime. When he gets shot, it becomes a race against time. Constantly dodging bullets, he's trying to get her to the Thai border so she can escape the country, while she's trying desperately to find him the proper medical care.

Beyond Rangoon is a captivating film, underscored by a lush and haunting soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. And Patricia Arquette (even though she doesn't show any skin) was totally hot in this movie. Something about those nostrils that flare whenever she's in immediate peril.

Watching Beyond Rangoon, I was immediately reminded of another of my favorite films: The Year of Living Dangerously with Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver--directed by Peter Weir. The similarities between these two movies could not be ignored, and so I watched The Year of Living Dangerously again (for the fourth time) . It pointed out to me that I am fond of a certain type of flick that doesn't have a distinct genre, (other than "political thriller," I suppose) but is marked by the following characteristics:

1. Exotic locale
2. Political turmoil in the region
3. Protagonists working through their own personal stuff against the backdrop of a situation spiraling out of control and growing danger to themselves.

In The Year of Living Dangerously, set in the 60s, Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is a young Australian journalist newly assigned to his post in Jakarta, Indonesia --where poverty is widespread and there is mounting political opposition to president Sukarno. Hamilton teams with local photographer Billy Kwan, (the diminutive Linda Hunt--totally convincing as a male dwarf) who has some inside contacts and helps Hamilton break a big story. With civil war brewing in the country, the reporter meets British embassy officer Jill Bryant, (Sigourney Weaver--who is also totally hot in this flick) and a budding romance ensues--even though she's returning to the UK in a couple of weeks. When Jill drops some sensitive information (about a communist arms shipment headed for Jakarta) on Guy, she thinks it will be held in confidence, but he puts his career first and decides to run with the story--letting the chips fall where they may and trying to undo the damage it does to their relationship later.

There is great chemistry between Gibson and Weaver here--some even called them a modern day Bogart and Bacall. And Linda Hunt gives a bravura performance (for which she scored an Oscar) as Billy, a devoted but troubled soul who is about to go off the deep end. Spellbinding music is contributed by Maurice Jarre, with a little Jerry Lee Lewis mixed in to stir things up !

That Patricia Arquette (star of the TV series Medium) and Sigourney Weaver were both foxy in these films--and couldn't exactly be described that way now--has not so much to do with age as the unflattering (indeed ghastly) hair styles they've chosen for themselves recently. Contrary to the belief that runs rampant among the fair sex, EVERY woman doesn't look great in EVERY type of hair style--and experimenting willy-nilly with your hair, ladies, will eventually lead to disaster. So please allow me to suggest as gently as I can: IF IT LOOKS GOOD, LEAVE THE DAMN HAIR ALONE ! (A major pet-peeve of mine--and lots of guys who won't be as honest with you as I am, for fear of getting hit in the head by a swinging purse...but I digress.)

Beyond Rangoon and The Year of Living Dangerously are two films I highly recommend for those who love the romance of drama...the drama of romance. (What else is there?) See them in tandem to get the full effect.

Monday, January 11, 2010


STARS: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker
DIRECTOR: Marc Lawrence

It's an intriguing concept. A successful Manhattan couple, Paul and Meryl Morgan, (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) who are separated cuz she discovered that he did the nasty with another woman, witness the murder of a guy with mob connections. The hit man gets a good look at their faces, and later tries to track them down. So the government puts them in the federal witness protection program and ships them off to Where The Hell Am I, Wyoming. Thrown together again by fate, Paul attempts, awkwardly, to patch up their relationship, amidst ideology and culture clash with the local rednecks, who have little empathy for alternative lifestyles (she's a vegetarian and a PETA supporter) . Meanwhile, the relentless killer is on their trail, and it's only a matter of time before he sniffs them out.

But Did You Hear About The Morgans? is like a Cliff Notes version of a movie, with characters and a plot that aren't completely fleshed out. Meryl has strong convictions, but we're not shown what led her to them--the couple don't even have a cute little dog or a cat or a baboon or a marmoset, as far as we can tell. It's not surprising, though, that the omission was made, as mainstream film makers like to portray vegetarians as being airheads.

Hosted by local U.S. Marshal Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott) and his Annie Oakley wife Emma, (Mary Steenburgen) our hapless couple is holed up in a cabin with animal trophy heads on the walls and a refrigerator crammed with meat. This sets up the "city slickers out of their element" gag to play throughout the rest of the film. To his credit, writer-director Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality) keeps the relationship theme central to the story, rather than turning the movie into an early referendum on the 2012 election--with a wild-eyed, moose blasting Sarah Palin battling for our hearts and minds against the progressive-minded Obamas (Michelle doesn't wear fur) . Both sides stick to their guns and the ideological divide is played mostly for chuckles.

But Did You Hear About the Morgans? takes too many shortcuts--as in when Paul encounters a cranky bear outside the cabin. Meryl, from inside, tries to relay instructions to him on what to do. He's caught between freezing in place or running for his life. It's an amusing bit (as only Grant can pull it off) until you detect that they've resorted to one of the oldest and cheapest cinematic tricks in the book--and that is to superimpose Paul against the backdrop of a screen (like they do with your local TV weatherman) where the bear is snarling menacingly, but Hugh Grant as Mr. Morgan is in no real danger because he's off in a studio somewhere. ('d think they could have paid a stunt guy to have a fake tussle with a trained bear, for the sake of realism.) There IS some real courage demonstrated, though, and it comes from Sarah Jessica Parker, who allows herself to be filmed on a city street in the rain, with drenched hair and wearing no makeup. Sans cosmetics, she is strikingly plain-Jane. But it's another bogus scene cuz no upscale Manhattan babe is gonna be caught dead looking that way in public !

Did You Hear About the Morgans? isn't the worst movie I've ever's just the worst Hugh Grant or Sarah Jessica Parker movie I've seen.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Up In The Air deals with nothing less than what sooner or later becomes the central issue in each of our lives--and that's commitment. And some peripheral issues, like the bad economy, and empathy--or lack thereof-- for one's fellow human beings.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is hired out by one company to fire employees of other companies when their own bosses are too lily-livered to do it themselves. Nice job. It's an itinerant lifestyle, and we see a lot of Bingham breezing through airports with as much aplomb as one can do these days when one is subjected to everything short of a full body cavity search before boarding a plane. His life connections--like the brief encounters with the unfortunate working stiffs he leaves scattered in his wake like so much jetsam--are mostly superficial.

It's in this setting that Ryan meets his female counterpart, Alex, (Vera Farmiger--of the remarkable physique) who also racks up the frequent flyer miles, (and men along the way) and before you can say WE ARE NOW READY FOR BOARDING they're in the sack together beginning something of a free-spirited affair.

But there's turbulence ahead when Natalie, (Anna Kendrick) a young upstart in the company, comes up with a way to streamline the firing process. Hey, yeah...we'll do it by remote teleconference (as if the process weren't impersonal enough) and save all that mad dashing about the country! Ryan has some distinct feelings about this, which may have a little to do with not stripping people who've given seventeen years of loyal service to their company of ALL their dignity--but it has more to do with him becoming obsolete, as well as losing out on his fly-by-night trysts with Alex.

Kendrick is effective as the little corporate snot-nose you'd like to say to: "Hey kid, you're shoelace is untied!" Then when she looks down you shove her in the closet and lock the door. She plays a nice counterpoint to Clooney's character, the seasoned veteran who's out to show her a thing or two about the business. Farmiga's on-screen presence is a testament to the depth and breadth of sex-appeal a mature woman brings to the table.

Up In The Air circles around a bit aimlessly in the first half--until some genuine human warmth emerges--and it transforms into a film both mainstream and thinking audiences (note that I make a distinction) will dig. There's a sweet subplot around the impending wedding of Ryan's sister--an experience which serves to jolt him into an awareness that he may want something deeper out of life after all. When he actually wants something bad enough to go after it, the tipping point is reached, suggesting that no matter how far ANY of us may go to isolate ourselves, we're human and we'd be eating out of his/her hand if the right one came along. (And I do believe this.)

But if you're fond of resolute endings, Up In The Air may leave you somewhere in the clouds. Nevertheless, don't be surprised if multiple Oscar nominations are encountered along its flight path.


Sunday, January 3, 2010



Never go to a movie that has a promotional tie-in with a fast food restaurant chain...HAVE YOU NO SHAME?

urrp...urrp...BARF !