Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Up in the Air

First, a note to Onvoy employees.  You will get an inadvertent laugh - a giggle, really - over the name of one of the characters.  It happens early on and is repeated a few times.  Don't worry about it, just have your little chuckle, try not to annoy anyone sitting nearby and get your head back in the movie.  Consider it a little extra bang for your ticket buck.

Up in the Air is a wonderful, intimate actor's movie.  George Clooney is wonderful as a consultant who travels around the country firing people.  He takes his work very seriously and his always-on-the-move lifestyle even more so.  Vera Farmiga is a kindred spirit he meets on the road (you'll recognize her when you see her -she's been in several things you've seen in the last decade), while Anna Kendrick plays a recent college grad who shadows Clooney's character to learn the ropes.

I wanted the first half of the movie to continue forever.  Getting to know the characters, hearing the Gilmore Girls-caliber dialogue (although delivered much more leisurely), seeing the different sights around the country was all wonderful.  But movies are about change and a couple of big changes are thrown at the characters.  Even so, the personal turmoil that results was fascinating to observe.

The ending of Up in the Air is about as perfect as you can get.  Director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) is proving his mettle as a guy who sets his characters in motion and just lets them live.  If this is what he can do on his third movie, I can't wait to see his 20th.

Unless you're a 14-year-old girl, you won't recognize Anna Kendrick.  She was in the two Twilight movies and not much else.  Think of her as a brunette Kristen Bell, which is a high compliment from me.  Bell's Veronica Mars was a great anti-hero and could have been a cartoon in lesser hands.  Kendrick both looks and acts like Bell.  Let's hope she picks more movies like Up in the Air and fewer like Twilight in the future.

The Blind Side and Invictus

I'm a little tardy with these two reviews - I'll have to refund half of your subscription price.  With The Blind Side and Invictus, we have two of the best sports movies in recent memory and they couldn't be more different.

The Blind Side is the more-or-less true story about an NFL player's down-and-out beginnings and his luck to be taken in by a wealthy football-loving family.  What I liked most is that it wasn't about the game but about how the connection between the teenage boy and the materfamilias formed.

This is Sandra Bullock's third movie of the year and easily her best. She plays a southern society wife to a T and it would have been worth the price of admission just to see her performance. Fortunately, the other main characters was also perfectly cast, so we are treated to a top-notch film.

Do I have to say how wonderful Sandra Bullock looks? She has the skin of a porcelain doll, the body of a college girl and a smile that turns this middle-aged cynic into a gushing fanboy.  Need I say more?

Finally, be it known that The Blind Side becomes an almost-perfect movie because it doesn't have a come-from-behind win at the end.  No clock counting down, no Hail Mary catches, no game-winner interceptions.  In not using the cliché of a last-second win, The Blind Side puts itself in a rare place where the sport is less important that the characters we've grown to appreciate over the past two hours.

Invictus is poem by Robert Frost or somebody and appears to be somewhat inspiring.  That's all you need to know about the title.  Rugby is a game somewhere between futbol with the use of hands and football without helmets or pads.  Rugby makes no sense to me and that's all you need to know about the game.  

takes place in South Africa just after the end of apartheid and (no spoiler) how Nelson Mandela used the national rugby team to help unite South Africans.  Matt Damon plays the relatively unknown captain of the SA rugby team while Morgan Freeman plays the iconic Nelson Mandela.  Both do an outstanding job.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Invictus displays the typical Eastwood touch - a great story, told patiently and without cheap gimmicks.  That we don't understand rugby or SA politics doesn't matter.  I don't think the politics is as simple as black and white or that Mandela was the benevolent grandfather-type.  It's a great story nonetheless, fact or fiction.

Unlike The Blind Side, there is a big game at the end and a countdown clock, but it's secondary to the struggle to get to the big game.  In fact, I thought the big game was actually just a semi-final match.  Eastwood didn't over-explain rugby nor give the World Cup too much due.  It was just another game for the players but a healing ritual for a country that had never been united.  Invictus is a great sports movie in particular and a great movie in general.

Interestingly, at the beginning of 2009, would you have believed that not only would we see two mainstream movies set in South Africa (Invictus and District 9) but that both would be pretty darn good?


postscript January 2, 2010

I should also have mentioned that for both of these movies, when the lights came up at the end, nobody moved.  It's not uncommon for people to stay in their seats long enough to read the cast credits but not the entire audience.  Most of your average crowd jumps up as soon as the movie ends and shuffles towards the door.  For both of these movies, I sensed that all the other patrons, like me, wanted to savor, reflect or have some other emotional experience but NOT leave.  I consider the lingering behavior to be another sign of a well-received movie.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Everybody's Fine

Everybody's Fine is a character study about a retiree who is being protected by his kids. When he finds out, he is terribly disappointed in both his children and himself. The movie uses an interesting way to show covert communication - as the man spent his career making telephone cables, we saw pictures of telephone poles while we heard his children talking to each other. Maybe you had to be there but it worked.

Everybody's Fine is a good actor's movie, with Robert DeNiro in fine form playing against three of the younger generation's best, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. I usually hate Rockwell, as he frequently plays slimeballs and is very good at it. Here, I liked his character a lot - that's good acting.

Beckinsale is always one of my favorites and doesn't disappoint. The movie used another technique, showing all of the children in flashback as 10-12 year-olds. Beckinsale as a 10-year-old was played by Beckinsale's daughter, Lily Sheen. I saw her name in the credits so I was looking for her. It was quite amazing - Lily has her mother's smile and eyes (Kate's big brown eyes - see my posts for Whiteout).  Having someone with a resemblance that strong was another nice touch in a move full of them.

All in all, I recommend Everybody's Fine as a good drama.


Ninja Assassin

I had a miss-impression about Ninja Assassin. I thought it was going to be a Hong Kong-style chop-socky film, which it kind of is, but get this: it is a movie about Japanese ninja, set in Germany, with an English and Korean cast, some playing Americans. Strange accents and unfamiliar actors aside, Ninja Assassin is exactly what you'd expect it to be.

Having seen many Hong Kong action pictures lately, I expected a whole lot of gravity-defying, slow motion CGI shots. There weren't that many. Both in visual style and story, this movie was much like the old-fashioned dubbed Japanese karate movies we watched on Saturday afternoons growing up. The CGI didn't really dominate and the story was your basic invincible hero tale where he finally has a showdown with his old master. Recommended for a time when you want a modern old fashioned karate movie.


Fantastic Mr Fox

This movie bugged me. It was stop-action or claymation or something and the animals were plain old creepy. Mr Fox was voiced by George Clooney, who is so familiar I could visualize him reading the lines. You really don't want the voice actors to overshadow the graphics. I'd skip the movie entirely, and that includes for children unless you want to encourage nightmares.


A Serious Man

I just didn't get A Serious Man. It's a Coen brothers movie so it's quirky, that's a given, but I never figured out the point of view. It's about a Jewish college professor whose life starts falling apart.

I wasn't sure if they were making fun of Jews or promoting them, but I didn't like any of them. I wasn't laughing with them and I certainly wasn't laughing at them. Religion aside, they were all nut-jobs and not the fun kind of nut-jobs.

I thought it just might have been me, but the theater was about a third full and no one else was laughing, either. You know you're in trouble when the second biggest laugh was when the guy who plays Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory makes an appearance. He didn't have to say anything - he merely stuck his head out a door and we all laughed. Oh, the biggest laugh? It was when the professor was given a recommendation for an attorney - Ron Meshbesher. For non-Minnesotans, Meshbesher is a Minnesota institution and the mere mention of his name caused the theater to go wild. That's a bad thing to say about a comedy.

Don't even get me started on the ending. I advise skipping A Serious Man because it is seriously not funny.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back to the Future

Willow Creek Theater is running retro movies every weekend; see my post about Jurassic Park. Today was Back to the Future; last week was The Christmas Story ("You'll shoot your eye out, kid"). Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect adventure story. It told a novel story - still novel today, really, and is so visually interesting, it begs to be viewed on the big screen.

Alas, where Willow Creek showed a film print of Jurassic Park, Back to the Future was digital. Maybe the source was a DVD, maybe some special theater-type of file, but digital nonetheless. It wasn't pretty. There was pixelation around the edges of objects and the colors were a bit washed out. Same thing goes for The Christmas Story last week.

I've seen many a modern digital movie and I can no longer tell the difference between film and digital. I consider this progress and don't consider myself a purist, so show me modern digital all you want. But the differences between film and home digital are still staggering. I imagine that whatever the source is that Willow Creek uses, it is more like home quality than modern digital. If you used a digital projector like we have at work and shot it on a wall 10-15 feet high, you'd see the same issues.

While I was watching Back to the Future, I did a little math. The screen at Willow Creek auditorium 7 is about 32 feet wide, which makes it 18 feet high. Let's assume they're showing us a Blu-Ray quality source. Blu-Ray is digital the same way your computer screen is, where your computer screen might be 1024x768 pixels, Blu-Ray is 1920x1080. A Blu-Ray DVD is 1080 pixels high. An 18-foot tall screen is 216 inches. Dividing it through (1080/216), you get five pixels per inch. That's a huge pixel and you'd notice if the building blocks of your film experience were a fifth of an inch high, even if you're sitting 20-30 feet away. I suspect Willow Creek's source is a little higher quality but still nowhere near modern digital projection quality. If you're going to go to the trouble to go to a theater, you might as well watch film, not TV.

Next weekend is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like Jurassic Park, Raiders must be on film or I won't bother. The following weekend is Christmas Vacation, which I'm going to skip no matter what.

The guy at the theater said they may not be able to get Raiders next weekend. If so, they'll substitute The Goonies. I saw The Goonies when it came out in 1985. I wasn't impressed. After seeing how many people raved about it over the years, I was curious and watched it on DVD in October, 2005. I was even less impressed than I remembered after seeing it 20 years earlier. If they substitute The Goonies for Raiders of the Lost Ark, I'm skipping it, film or not.

Finally, in Back to the Future, Marty's girlfriend was played by Claudia Wells, a then 19-year-old ingenue. Seeing the movie today reminds me just how pretty that girl was but, alas, she got out of the business shortly after Back to the Future. Her character was played by Elisabeth Shue in the two sequels. It's too bad. Claudia was quite the cutie.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jurassic Park

Yes, Jurassic Park. Willow Creek started running a series of retro movies on the weekends. They are promoting them as “Midnight Showings” but yesterday I noticed a sign that said they are also playing on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10:30. I wish I'd known that over the past month when they ran Die Hard and The Princess Bride. It's strange that they e-mail the movie schedules to me every week but don't bother to include info about the retro movies series.

I'm happy to report that Jurassic Park holds up pretty well for a 16-year-old movie. The print, apparently an original 35mm copy - complete with the occasional scratch - looked as good as anything in theaters today. After all these years, I still can't tell which dinosaurs were CGI and which were models. The movie is still a thrill ride and still the standard by which all sci-fi movies must be compared.

The science, inevitably, doesn't hold up to scrutiny. A lot of things in dino research, computers and science in general have changed so some of the dialog and plot points seem hokey, but the tension and adventure are as good as in any movie I've seen in the last 16 years. I'm glad I got a chance to see Jurassic Park in the theater again. It reminds me why I go to the theater so often. Really good movies on the big screen are a fantastic experience.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Guys Have Disappointed Me

It was announced yesterday that Dollhouse, my beloved uberdark and stylish sci-fi series was cancelled. It seems I didn't recruit enough people to watch the show to keep it afloat. But as you can see from my September posts, I most certainly tried.

So it's your fault, not mine. You, and several million more people, should've watched. You guys have disappointed me.

Four Dollhouse episodes have aired this season. There are seven in the can and two in production.  The network says they will air all 13 at some point.  Series creator Joss Whedon says he's going to retool the last ep to make it a fitting final ep, allowing us who believe in the show unreasonably to have a little closure.

To all of you who gave Dollhouse a try, even if you didn't stick with it, thank you. To the rest of you, you suck.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

I'm going to flag The Men Who Stare at Goats for false advertising on two counts. First, there is only one guy who stares at goats, and the scene from the commercials where one goat in a line of four keels over is actually an out-take, not even in the movie. Second, the previews are cut like the movie is a comedy, but it's not. It alights with funny moments but is no comedy.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is at its core a war movie, taking place in Iraq in 2003. It ambles through the story - appropriately - because it plays like an indy film, though maybe with big-budget explosions. I'll skip the synopsis because it doesn't really have a plot, just a series of wandering incidents (which is not a bad thing). My recommendation is to save this one for rental. It's a good, but not great, anti-war war movie, not in the same league as George Clooney's Three Kings or the similarly themed Catch-22.

I couldn't help but see through the movie's fourth wall. The psychic soldiers called themselves "Jedi," which is fine, but the character of the reporter was played by Ewan McGregor, who actually played a Jedi master in the recent Star Wars movies. Either it was unintentionally funny or they ran with the inside joke too far. In other characters, I could see The Dude in Jeff Bridges' performance and a titch of Uly McGill in Clooney's guy (from O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Throw in Kevin Spacey chewing up the scenery and it got to be a bit much.

All in all, I think The Men Who Stare at Goats should have been a smaller movie. Its cast consisted of some of the best actors in the business today but they made it tough to see the movie for what it was and instead we saw movie stars in an actor's movie. Like I said, see it sometime but no need to rush to the theater.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Love You, Beth Cooper

On June 30, I posted that I Love You, Beth Cooper was going to suck, mainly on the evidence that lead actress Hayden Panettiere gave an inappropriately racy interview. The movie came out on DVD this week so in the interest of science - Science I tell you! - I decided to give it a view.

First, let's do the numbers. I Love You, Beth Cooper opened on July 10 (Hi, Q) in over 1800 theaters. In its first week, it grossed a terrible $7.5M, followed by a paltry $5M for week two. After that, its theater count dropped by more than half as it started moving to dollar theaters. I Love You, Beth Cooper finished its theatrical run with a grand take of $14.7M. The movie only cost $18M, so the studio will probably make a small profit after home video and cable. Nonetheless, I think we can say that ILYBC was a financial disappointment.

After posting my I Love You, Beth Cooper sucks essay, I checked out the credits. ILYBC was directed by Chris Columbus. I didn't even have to look up his resume. Columbus - why is that name so memorable? - directed the first two Harry Potter movies, Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire and one of my personal favorites, Adventures in Babysitting. Would Chris Columbus make a dog of a movie? Is a guy with that much talent capable of directing a dog? I was very curious.

I also think I need to rephrase my original postulate. Saying a movie will suck is a little broad. Bad movies can do well at the box office; good movies can play to empty theaters. Based on the evidence in June, I should have said that I Love You, Beth Cooper will not perform well at the box office. Not as catchy as "It will suck" but more accurate. Nonetheless, after viewing on DVD, how is it?

I Love You, Beth Cooper is pretty good. Denis, the high school valedictorian and uber-geek, gives a no-regrets speech that riles up pretty much everyone in the school, including Beth Cooper, the girl he was alphabetically next to for four years but had never talked to. He's essentially marked himself for a beating by insulting Beth's older, steroid-using Army Ranger boyfriend. Valedictorian-boy and his best friend, who was outed during the speech, have a graduation party that is attended by no one, until a bored Beth and two of her friends show up. A little later the Ranger and his buddies show up and tear the place apart. The five teenagers escape by car and begin a series of mobile adventures. By the end, Denis realizes that he had no idea who Beth Cooper was and she has her eyes opened to all the possibilities ahead of her.

The movie strikes a nice tone throughout, with Beth being outwardly adventurous to cover up low self-esteem and Denis always a minute away from a beating. It's a pretty intelligent movie and gets cheap in only a few places. All-in-all, for the teen romp genre, I liked in a lot.

And what about that nude scene Hayden pumped? There is a locker-room scene, sure, complete with dropped towel and a little side-boob, but nothing we haven't seen on episodes of Friends. Well, maybe a titch more but hardly anything racy.

So why did Hayden give the sexy interview? I suspect the studio realized they had a problem. I Love You, Beth Cooper is no Superbad (the teen romp-com genre standardbearer), so it can't really sell itself. It also opened in the middle of summer amid other comedies, romantic comedies and full-on action pictures. They knew it was going to get lost and it did. What they really needed to do to make the movie succeed was to change its opening date to April or May where the graduation theme would seem more appropriate and have less competition. Where is that time machine when you need it?

So if you're looking for a good light comedy, I Love You, Beth Cooper will get the job done. While you're at the video store, make it a Chris Columbus double feature and pick up Adventures in Babysitting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Catching Up - October Edition

Surprise! I didn't miss any reviews this month. In addition to the movies reviewed in October, I saw Capitalism: A Love Story but opted not to review it, so I successfully reviewed every movie I intended to this month. So, there's no need for this post, then?

Well, how about some of the movies on DVD I saw this month?

I rewatched Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the hit from last year. It's still pretty good on the second viewing, although seeing Marshall from How I Met Your Mother in the altogether is still disturbing.

I watched Jumper again, also from last year. Even with Hayden Christensen's famous non-acting ability, I enjoyed it in the theater. It doesn't hold up too well on the second viewing but if you haven't seen it once, it's a good pick for when you're in the action mood.

I watched Mamma Mia! not once, but twice. As campy as it is, the musical numbers are just so fun, I couldn't help myself.

I first caught The Cell in August of 2000 and haven't seen it since. At the time I thought it was a decent story with impressive visuals, and I more than think that today. A psychiatrist who goes into the minds of comatose patients electronically is asked to go inside a serial killer's mind in order to find his last victim. It gets pretty wacked inside someones mind - I know mine is - and between the real-world thrills and the inner-mind surrealism, the movie was very tense, very visually stimulating and very well done.

Earlier this year, I caught the preview for The Brothers Bloom at least 10 times. I planned to go see it but then a NetFlix envelope informed me it was already out on DVD. It was released in theaters in May, just not to one near me. It topped out at 209 screens and took in only $3.5M, but it's a much better movie than that. In fact, it's one of the best movies I've seen all year. Starring Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as the titular brothers. They're great con men, living off the grift. The younger, whose first name seems to also be Bloom, wants out of the life but his older brother keeps dragging him into the cons.

Rachel Weiss plays an heiress with ADD who wants an adventure even after she finds out the brothers Bloom are con men. Rinko Kikuchi steals every scene as the older brother's girlfriend, who is also their pyrotechnics expert. Early on, he says she probably doesn't know more than three words of English and that's exactly how many she says in the entire movie. One is "Campari," said to a bartender, while the other two are uttered after she accidentally destroys a Prague landmark with what should have been a smoke charge. She's also constantly doing quirky things like painstakingly peeling an apple, then tossing the apple and eating the peel.

There were great little touches like that but the big picture is that The Brothers Bloom is a good picture. Seek it out.


I was right in a previous post when I poo-pooed Amelia's chances at the box office. After a full week of release, this $40,000,000 film has grossed about $7,000,000. Compare that to Saw VI, released the same day, which has taken in over 20 mil. My theory - not to be taken too seriously - that the more outlandish the promo interviews, the worse the movie's performance, seems to be holding up.

As to the actual quality of Amelia, I'd say the numbers are a bit generous. Although it has the right parts - decent cast, good photography, a legendary heroine - but it falls flat. There was no chemistry between stars Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. Gere is 15-years older, relatively, than Amelia Earhart's husband. It showed and was distracting. So was a tangent featuring Gore Vidal. The movie just didn't gel. In a way, the more interesting parts of Earhart's life were ignored and a PG soap opera version of her love life was substituted.

The ending contained little suspense but since we all know what happened, or rather, we all know that no one knows what happened, it should have been infinitely suspenseful. Instead, the movie dropped hints and possibilities like they were litter, making you think they knew something you didn't. In the end, none of the hints were followed up on, leaving me, for one, scratching my head.

Finally, Hilary Swank's performance was just awkward. She may have looked like Earhart but she acted like a child in a toy store, always wide eyed and excited. And the accent. Swank used an accent similar to the one Cate Blanchett used for Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. As Earhart was from Kansas, I have trouble believing she spoke that way. But if she did, there's no way she would have been a celebrity in a mass communication world. Unfortunately, Amelia Earhart never had a chance. Unfortunately, as well, this is the movie they chose to make about her life.


Sunday, October 25, 2009


We've been in the new television season for over a month now and I've been somewhat underwhelmed. Oh, there's some good new stuff and some good returning shows, but today I'm going to take issue with the cancellation of a show from last season.

Life was an hour-long cop drama that aired on NBC for two seasons, the first being the strike-shortened 2007-2008, then a full 22-episode second year in 2008-2009. Life was about LA cop Charlie Crews, who spent 12 years in a maximum security prison after being convicted of killing his best friend and the friend's wife and daughter. Being a bad cop, Crews was constantly being beaten in stir by convicts and guards alike.

After getting exonerated, he was given an eight figure settlement and a detective's badge. Not really wanted by the police department, he was assigned a partner, Dani Reese, who was the lowest detective on the depth chart, a non-dry alcoholic who was on probation for partaking of the evidence during a narcotics deep cover assignment.

Crews had all kinds of idiosyncrasies. Suddenly free from incarceration, he enjoyed the outdoors, fast cars, fresh fruit and hookers. While in the big house he also adopted the principles of Zen, which he would trot out at what his partner would consider the least convenient times. He sounds odd but he was very endearing.

And hardly a successful practitioner of Zen. One of the reasons he negotiated for the gold shield was to be able to use department resources to investigate - covertly - the murders for which he was framed. And investigate he does. Over the course of the two seasons, he finds first the hit man, then the people behind the hit, all the while earning the respect of cops who thought he was dirty for 12 years.

Why am I waxing nostalgic today? Because I just saw a promo on the USA network. Their tag line is “Characters Welcome.” Charlie Crews was definitely a character. Maybe not Monk, but the equal (or better) of Mary Shannon on In Plain Sight, or the guy from Burn Notice, or the doctor of the rich and famous on Royal Pains and certainly better than the guys on Psych or the immediately forgettable White Collar.

Why pick on USA? Follow this:

Life aired on NBC.
Life was produced by Universal Studios.
USA Network is owned by NBC-Universal.
Life was a good show with great characters.
USA Network says “Characters Welcome.

Since they had the producers and cast under contract, couldn't they just have moved the show - and 4.5-5 million regular viewers - over to USA for the third season? It would certainly beat some of the lame shows or reruns USA has on now. Alas.

The Invention of Lying

It's been 11 days since I saw The Invention of Lying and only now do I feel removed from it enough to write a review. The short version is that as a critique of religion and pop culture, it's pretty good but as a funny movie - which it is supposed to be - it's not so good.

All movies, except maybe for newsreels, exist in a fictional universe. That universe may look and feel much like the one you and I reside in but no movie can exist inside the universe in which it takes place. Much to my pleasure, The Invention of Lying starts out by saying it exists in a universe where lying doesn't exist, which most definitively isn't the one I live in. There are some genuinely funny moments at first when we hear people speak their minds, which they frequently do because if there is no dishonesty, there can be no shame. Then, the movie flips gears.

The Invention of Lying turns from a decent comedy to a - what - satire, parody, expose of religion, faith and celebrity? Hardly the gut-busting funnyness we expect from Ricky Gervais. I'm usually up for a good discussion of creation mythology and religion but I just plopped down $6.50 for a comedy, so let's see something with some laughs. Please.


Whip It!

If movies have a genre for the equivalent of comfort food, Whip It! is some tasty barbeque. A cute little movie about roller derby, Whip It! gets pretty much everything right without trying to be too flashy.

Whip It! follows the exploits of a teenager who is pushed by her mother to be a beauty contestant. The youngster, played by Juno's Ellen Page, discovers roller derby and begins a double-life as a high school senior and rising star. It's a familiar formula, seen recently in Bend It Like Beckham, among others. There are more parallels but Whip It! doesn't really feel derivative.

The presentation of roller derby is pretty novel as well, with explanations of the sport that don't seem like exposition. And the sport itself seems pretty exciting, since the matches are compressed to about 30 seconds. Bend It Like Beckham's futbol matches seemed exciting using the same technique.

If you're looking for a feel-good movie, Whip It! is the one to see.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Armored Amelia Brothers

Three movies, three dogs, probably. Let me tell you why.

Armored opens in December. I've seen the preview at least 10 times since August; two versions, actually. They give away the entire movie in the preview - armored car drivers plan to hijack their own cargo, a newbie driver develops a conscience, something goes wrong, then there's a car chase using armored cars. Much like my complaints about 12 Rounds, it's tough to maintain suspense when they show you the resolution. In addition, they have Matt Dillon at his smarmiest and Laurence Fishburne as the opposite of Morpheus. Armored may well be a good action movie but given how early they started pumping it and how much they are giving away in the preview, I'm expecting it to bomb.

Amelia is a bio-pic about Amelia Earhart, opening tomorrow. The preview looks fine. What makes me doubt this movie is an interview Hilary Swank gave to promote the movie. In it she talked about what she wears to bed (nothing) and how she doesn't cover up in front of her boyfriend's six-year-old son. It's all probably innocent but given that most Americans have a fairly prudish regard to nudity and that even a nudist will do a double-take after hearing about an adult and an unrelated six-year-old, I can only conclude that two-time Academy Award (r) winner Swank is playing the controversy card because the movie is a dog.  I'll follow up after we see some numbers.

Brothers is a whole different kettle of fish. With Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, Brothers is probably pretty good. Problem is, the preview gives away everything - Portman is a war widow, gets involved with her husband's brother, oops - husband isn't dead after all. Good luck getting people into the theater with a downer of a story like that.

Brothers may well be a good movie and I may go see it, but I'm skeptical about its chances.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Couples Retreat

This may have been a great concept but as an actual movie, it falls flat. Four couples go to a Caribbean resort, three of the couples think it's a vacation but it's actually a week of couples therapy.

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau wrote the movie as well as starred in it. They may be bankable stars but Couples Retreat must have been a vanity project for them and they really could have benefited from having someone around to tell them “no,” as in “Dude, that ain't funny.” There were a few laughs but there were more groaners, so I'd skip this even on home video.

What really got me were these middle-aged, schlubby guys married to hot, buff, gorgeous women. Now, I'm a middle-aged, schlubby guy so if it seemed disturbing to me, what must it seem to normal people's sensibilities? Here's how the couples line up:

Jason Bateman (40) → Kristen Bell (29)
Vince Vaughn (39) → Malin Akerman (31)

There's nothing wrong with older men, younger women, but did I mention these guys are schlubs? The other couple matches up better on paper:

Jon Favreau (43) → Kristen Davis (44)

But Favreau is not much to look at while Davis is so toned she could pass for someone in her 20s. Did I mention it was disturbing? I've never seen Kristen Davis in anything else before but she certainly has my attention now and she more than gave Bell and Akerman a run for their money.

Final note: Couples Retreat was directed by Favreau's buddy Peter Billingsley. Yes, the kid who almost shot his eye out in The Christmas Story. Looks like little Ralphie grew up to be a yes man.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding Citizen is an intellectually challenging movie. No, don't go running away, it's not THAT intellectual, but it poses a dilemma almost from the beginning. Do you root for the man whose family was slaughtered and is out for a little vengeance/justice or for the cops & prosecutors who, despite making the occasional compromise, are representing the foundations of our society?

Gerard Butler, whose American accent still isn't, plays the guy who is offing the people involved with his family's murder from inside a jail cell. Jamie Foxx plays the ADA who is at the center of the mayhem. The movie keeps its secrets pretty well and when you get to the reveal, it doesn't feel like a let-down. Law Abiding Citizen is very violent - almost slasher-porn at times - with on-screen killings that aren't for the squeamish.

I'm not sure who I was rooting for, with both sides making a good case. That's kind of nice, as most movies have distinct good-guys and bad-guys, and it's clear who's side you should be on. In the end the movie wraps things up nicely but neither side scores a clear victory. As a modern-day Death Wish, I can stand to see one movie this violent and morally gray per year and this one fit the bill pretty well.  It doesn't aim to be much more than a suspenseful potboiler and in keeping its aim low, hits the target pretty much in the middle.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Catching Up - September Edition

Every time I walk out of a theater, I fully intend to go home, hop on the computer and write a witty, pithy review for your reading enjoyment. Unfortunately, my inner slacker takes control by the time I get home and I end up being distracted by something shiny or feel the need to do something low-effort, like inspecting the inside of my eyelids. So, with all the guilt a slacker can
muster, I present September's catch-up post - on October 10.

500 Days of Summer

The narrator says at the beginning that it's not a love story, it's a story about love. Fine, I'm a guy, so save the subtlety. 500 Days is a good light comedy about a romance. It's not too heavy, has great writing and some really impressive visuals.   Consider it Zooey Deschanel's redemption for The Happening.


All About Steve

I've gushed about Sandra Bullock before and I'm not about to stop now. She's pitch-perfect as a 30ish free spirit who develops an obsession over a journalist and begins following him around the country. It's played for laughs but disturbing on several levels. Steve is generally funny but drags in a few places. The ultimate event will come as no surprise as it was shown ad nauseum in the previews, although the resolution is kind of unexpected. All in all, All About Steve is a decent but not great comedy.


The Time Traveler's Wife

I seem to be in a viewing category all my own: a straight guy who likes chick flicks. The Time Traveler's Wife is definitely a chick flick but a high caliber one, if for no other reason than Rachel McAdams. Rachel is a very natural actor - her presence on-screen tends to make every scene gel. And The Time Traveler's Wife needs a little help gelling. Sci-fi people will giggle at the premise - a guy with a gene for time travel? - and the story bounces around a bit, but in the end, I enjoyed it.


Julie and Julia

I knew about Julie Powell's attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking years ago - both Powell and Julie and Julia's director Nora Ephron made appearances on Lynne Rosetto Kasper's The Splendid Table, so as a foodie, I'd already bought into the concept. Julie and Julia was executed brilliantly, with Meryl Streep channeling Child and Amy Adams being her adorable self with a side of neurosis. The story is told in parallel style, with Julia in the 50s and Julie in 2002.  I liked it a lot and went back a second time.

Julie and Julia is a decent food movie but it isn't the best food movie ever - that title still belongs to Big Night, a 1996 indy film.  J & J co-star Stanley Tucci was also in Big Night, which featured mouth-watering scenes of cooking and eating that are miles beyond what any other film has done.

In a side note to my telcom readers, Julie and Julia did a wonderful thing with phone numbers. You know how movies and TV shows use numbers like 555-0197 so they won't get blamed for viewers calling real numbers? Do you hate it as much as I do?  Well, Julie and Julia used invalid NPA-NXXs several times. It worked very smoothly - non-telcom people would think they were real numbers.  Kudos to Ephron and company for incorporating a subtle touch that keeps the viewer in the movie rather than using the fingernails-on-chalkboard 555 trick.


The Informant!

Promotion for The Informant! was everywhere so you're probably aware of the movie, with Matt Damon as a buffoonish middle-manager turned whistleblower. The story is told pretty much as you'd expect, except that the story isn't what you think it is. I won't spoil anything here but I will recommend The Informant! for some good character-driven laughs.



What would happen if you could live your life sitting in a chair while you received all the sensory input from a robot that does whatever you want? In Surrogates, everyone gets an attractive robot and lives out fantasy after fantasy. With no actual human contact, there is no crime. One day, a bad guy finds a way to kill people through a feedback loop linked to the robot's person.  Now we've got a story!

At a brisk 83 minutes, Surrogates never drags and the story is fairly involving, although I could quibble on a few points. I can always quibble on a few points, so that's not a criticism. Some of the characters' motivations may leave you scratching your head on occasion but overall, a good ride.

I have a fundamental quibble with Surrogates, however. The film makes a point of saying that there hasn't been a murder in the United States in 15 years, but what about white collar crime? Humans may hide behind robots but human nature isn't going to change any time soon. Only the scale of crime has changed since the time of Hammurabi.  Where once you could only steal what you could carry, today you can plunder a country with a computer terminal. Exploring that is a movie I'd like to see.


Love Happens

Talk about shooting your movie in the foot. Is that possible? When I read the title Love Happens, I thought about Love Actually.  When I saw the poster for Love Happens, I was reminded of Love Actually. I went in thinking the two movies would be similar. They aren't. Love Happens' original title was Brand New Day and that isn't much better.

Love Happens is a character study with a touch of romance. The versatile Aaron Eckhart plays a self-help writer who runs workshops to help people deal with grief, while he has not - wait for it - gotten over the death of his wife. Jennifer Aniston plays the flower shop owner who catches his eye. The guys stands in his own shadow for a while then makes the requisite breakthrough. It's somewhat amusing but not quite a must see.

Interesting product placement for telcom people. Love Happens is set in Seattle, rain and all, and one scene required a telephone truck. Guess who the RBOC in Washington is? Qwest. Later, one of the characters drives past the Seahawks' football stadium. Who paid to put their name on the stadium? Qwest. As I'm employed by one of the anti-Qwests, it was a little weird.



I love a good sci-fi story, whether on screen or in print, and Pandorum is only about 30% good. Set on a deep space mission, two crew members on a space ark wake up from artificial hibernation and find no one else around. They later run into mutants and what's left of the crew. It starts strong but when the survivors begin to figure out what happened, it turns blah.

The film-makers need a lesson in spaceship design. The ship is big and boxy but with sweeping, curving arms. Anyone who has read ANY sci-fi knows that space stations and ships have circular areas - wheels - that allow centrifugal force to imitate gravity as the wheel spins. The ship in Pandorum has artificial gravity so no need for the circular design, yet it has partial circles for some reason. Try again, please.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Drive Me Crazy 10th Anniversary

On Friday, October 1, 1999, I walked in to Mann's Plymouth Theater, screen 4, at 5:15 pm and watched, on its opening day, Drive Me Crazy. My life hasn't been the same since. Oh, I don't mean earth-shattering epiphany-wise, I mean I've since spent a lot of time with the movie, the soundtrack, the writer and the cast. It's been a lot of fun.

At its core, Drive Me Crazy is a prom movie, or in this case, the big dance. We've all seen variations on the genre - teenagers go through all kinds of hoops and end up at a dance. Other prom movies have been flashier, smoother, or with bigger stars but few have balanced a good story with a good time as well as this.

In a nutshell, Drive Me Crazy is about next-door neighbors Nicole and Chase. They were best friends until middle school and now loathe each other. She's a social climber; he's an outsider with a social conscience. Nicole wants to go to the dance with the captain of the basketball team but he asks a cheerleader from another school. The dance doesn't even register with Chase, but then he is dumped by his uber-cool girlfriend. Nicole needs someone to take her to the dance; Chase needs to make the ex jealous. A plot is hatched and stuff happens - little of it as intended. At Timothy Zonin High School, nicknamed Time Zone, the dance is also the main event at the 100th anniversary of the school, so the gala is known as Centennial.

Going in to the movie for the first time, I knew only a few things. The movie's star, Melissa Joan Hart, was on a roll, having just begun the fourth season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I knew the movie began life called Next to You, an adaptation of a novel called Girl Gives Birth to Own Prom Date. I knew the producers changed the title to Drive Me Crazy at the last minute to take advantage of the popularity of a Britney Spears song. I knew the move was filmed in October and November 1998 in Utah, and Hart was a weekend star, having to film Sabrina Monday-Friday at the same time. And I knew the movie was being promoted as a racy high school hijinx movie, which instinct told me was a bit of an oversell.

Sitting there in 1999, in a darkened theater with a few hundred strangers, I was amazed at how good Drive Me Crazy was. Low budget but not cheesy, it dived right in to the story, in the first scenes showing Nicole as a controlling dance committee chair and Chase as an unrepentant prankster. The cast was spot-on, the music perfect (including the Britney Spears song) and the story, while following the genre formula, was balanced between familiar and unexpected. I saw it a total of five times before it left theaters and many, many times on home video, although I mainly pick and choose favorite scenes these days. With DVD's ability to jump around movies, the pick & choose method seems to be how I watch most old faves now.

Here are a few things about Drive Me Crazy that I find exceptional, in no particular order.

The characters were never caricatures. Every kid is smart and aware. None are buffoons and neither are the adults. I like a movie where everyone could be a real person. In too many movies, there are characters that are too stupid to be real so it seems like you're watching a performance rather than discretely watching someone's life. Good movies generally don't let on that they are movies.

The dialog was wonderful and written by Rob Thomas. I didn't realize it at the time, but he created the 1998 ABC series Cupid, starring Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall. Love or hate Piven, Cupid was wonderfully smart and witty. Some of that rubbed off on Drive Me Crazy. Thomas would later go on to create a little show called Veronica Mars, a program that had smart and funny dialogue, along with great drama and visuals. As one example of the great writing in Drive Me Crazy, Nicole takes Chase to the Gap for a wardrobe upgrade. As uncomfortable as Chase is then, it gets worse later when he tries to say something sincere to his ex, Dulcie, and she cuts him down by saying "I didn't expect you to fall into the Gap." At that moment, nothing could have hurt him worse. Or when Nicole is explaining the rules of high school society. She says "There are rules, you know." "Seniors RULE!" shouts Ray, Chase's stoner bud, which seems awfully stupid until they realize he was only acting stupid, and was therefore very smart. Or when Nicole sums up her cool relationship with her father by calling him, "Mr. Maris" rather than "Dad." Rarely do two words change the mood so quickly.

Early on, we discover that this isn't a movie about spurned teenage love, at least not for Nicole. When Alicia, the vixen, tells Nicole that the captain of the basketball team is taking someone else to Centennial because "He loves her," Alicia rolls her eyes and Nicole replies, "Love? Like I care." Later, Nicole explains the rules to the cager ("Seniors RULE!) and she says, "High school love is for saps, Brad." This is how adults speak and not what you'd expect in a high school movie. Of course, there is a love story angle, but I much prefer how it develops organically in Drive Me Crazy, rather than being its raison d'être.

There were 31 songs used in Drive Me Crazy but no orchestration. Many of the songs were used like you might use an orchestral score, providing emotional cues and transitions between scenes. Interestingly, and probably related to the diminutive budget, several of the songs were by Australian artists and certainly not familiar to an American audience. I've since tracked down all but a few of the songs and keep them in high rotation on my MP3 player. Some of the artists worth noting were Sugar High, Super Grass, Alda, Diesel Boy, Less Than Jake, Montana, and Steps. Plumb's "Stranded" has the distinction of being her only song that doesn't suck. Deadstar's "Run Baby, Run" and Charlotte Grace's "Picture of You" could have and should have been big hits stateside, but who's ever heard of them outside of Australia?

The Donnas appeared both on the soundtrack and on the screen. The Donnas started their career as The Electrocutes but changed their name to The Donnas somewhere around October 1, 1999. In Drive Me Crazy, the change was so fresh, they played The Electrocutes on-screen but were billed as The Donnas. They performed a music video to "Get Rid of that Girl," played on stage in the teen club scene, then were the featured band at Centennial. Very rockin', very fun. I've collected a lot of The Donnas music over the years. Their music is actually a lot better today, but they rocked a little harder ten years ago. Heck, I rocked a little harder ten years ago, too, so it's all good.

While I've been writing this, I've had iTunes randomly playing music in the background. Sure enough, one of the lesser-known songs from Drive Me Crazy popped up. Like I said, I spend a lot of time with this movie, one way or another. On the wall behind me there is a framed poster for the movie. Can't get away.

The cast was pretty good for a low budget flick. In addition to Hart, here's a rundown:
Adrian Grenier- You know him better as Vincent Chase on Entourage. Interesting that his character was "Chase" in both of these shows.
Ali Larter- Five months later, Ali would appear in her big break, Final Destination. Seven years later, she would become a regular on Heroes, an even bigger break.
Jordan Bridges - You may not recognize the name but if you watch TV, you'll probably recognize his face, as he's worked steadily since Drive Me Crazy, including an episode in season one of Dollhouse.
Lourdes Benedicto - Like Bridges, you may not recognize the name but you've seen her in something, maybe ER or 24.
Keri Lynn Pratt - Also a steadily working actress, Keri Lynn is now typecast as a sorority girl due to her porcelain complexion and squeaky-high voice despite being in her 30s. A recurring role on CSI probably didn't hurt her career, nor an appearance on Sabrina.
Susan May Pratt - After playing bad girl Alicia to a fair-thee-well in Drive Me Crazy, Susan had only one role of note for me since - a competitive also-ran in Center Stage, a somewhat-guilty pleasure.
Mark Webber- His resume over the past ten years is packed with indy pictures, few of which I've seen. Webber does, however, have the distinction of being in the worst movie ever made. On Febuary 10, 2000, I saw the Julia Stiles - Freddie Prinze Jr dog Down to You, which immediately jumped to the head of my informal list as worst movie ever. Twenty four hours later, I saw Webber's Snow Day, which unceremoniously unseated Down to You for the dubious honor. This is all pre-Lord of the Rings, so it's best that I don't maintain a worst movie list these days, formally or not.
Kristy Wu - Wu secured her place in TV history as one of the potential slayers in the final season of Buffy.
Natasha Pearce - Not really a busy actress, she appeared as a pixie in the brief American Xuxaseries in 1993. Don't ask me how I know that.
Mark Metcalf- You know him better as Niedermeyer in Animal House. Here he's the principal and only in a couple of scenes but steals them both. You want to hate him but he makes a funny expression at the big dance scene, which moves him into the "Cool" column.
Real life couple Stephen Collins and Faye Grant played Nicole's divorced parents. You know him from 7th Heaven (I guess - I've never even watched an episode) and she will live in TV history forever as Juliet Parrish in V.

Drive Me Crazy had a few great visuals, more than I would expect in a low budget flick. I especially like the one where Chase realizes he's lost Dulcie. He leaves a rambling message on her voice mail, then lays down on his bed and stares at the wall. The moonlight changes to sunlight and we realize he hasn't moved - not even blinked - all night long. Beautiful. Or near the end when he realizes he is caught between Dulcie's world and Nicole's and can't survive in either anymore. He wordlessly tells Dulcie he's dumping her and she grudgingly accepts the blindside. Grenier and Larter's expressions are transcendent. I like a movie with creative visuals.

Like it or not, drug use is a reality in high school. Many a movie will ignore it or treat drugs in a responsible adult way as not to offend anyone. Drive Me Crazy takes a different path. It admits that drugs exist, good kids sometimes take them, and makes a joke about it. When Chase and his buddies get called into the principal's office for a disciplinary action, the principal asks Ray to stand up so he can examine Ray's pupils. "I forget," Principal Niedermeyer asks, "Are they supposed to be bigger or smaller?" Ray answers with a deadpan, "It depends." Now, what movie about teens will admit that a character is a recreational drug user like that? I have a 17-year-old nephew so I don't endorse recreational consumption and neither does Drive Me Crazy, but we can't deny the existence of the drugs or the users, so ignoring it isn't the way to go - in the real world or in the movies - and I like the way this movie handles it.

You've got to like a movie that makes a gag out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Nicole's father gives her a copy of the book and says it will help her understand him better. She's more than skeptical, and with good reason. I've read the book and if he thinks his 17-year-old daughter will learn anything about him by reading a 500 page story about a cycle riding schizophrenic, he's even more out of touch than he realized. Which might be Rob Thomas' point. And who voluntarily names his alter ego Phaedrus, anyway?

So, that's my 10th anniversary tribute to Drive Me Crazy, a little movie that I liked a lot. It's not for everybody, but I hope you have a movie you enjoy as much. I'll be watching it Thursday afternoon beginning at 5:15, exactly 10 years after the first time, since that's how I roll.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


James Cameron directed the blockbuster Titanic, which was released on December 19, 1997 (same day as the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies and a week before Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown). Titanic became the biggest movie of all time and is unlikely to be toppled from its perch any time soon (If The Dark Knight couldn't do it...). Cameron disappeared for the next 12 years, releasing a couple of documentaries, creating Dark Angel and making a cameo in Entourage. Cameron's next feature is Avatar, which is being released as close to Titanic's 12th anniversary as possible, December 18. Avatar has also become the most expensive movie ever made, with a pre-release tab of $200+ million and with marketing costs included, could break $300 million.

Just from seeing a two minute preview, I already know I don't have to rush right out to see Avatar. It started with some impressive visuals of an alien world and sympathy-generating scenes of a wheelchair-bound hero-type. We see preparations to implant the hero's consciousness into an alien. He then wakes up inside the alien and we see...


As I see upwards of 100 movies a year, I may go see Avatar eventually but all I have to say is - borrowing from Cameron's 1986 classic Aliens - it better not be a bug hunt.

Inglourious Basterds

In a nod to Johnny Dangerously, I shall henceforth refer to Inglorious Basterds as Inglourious Bastages. It opened in August but I didn't see it the first time until September 7 due to poor cineplectic scheduling and the fear of a 2.5 hour movie. I saw it again on September 30 and I think I've digested it enough to form an opinion.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Bastages is a Movie with a capital M. The movie-watching center of your brain will be fully engaged for every moment of the two hour and twenty-nine minute run time. Tarantino breaks rules, panders, teases and bodyslams reason to make a comprehensively entertaining movie. Heck, he even threw in the Wilhelm. Twice.

Bastages consists of five chapters that are related but not directly connected. The main characters are: Lt Aldo Rayne (Brad Pitt), leader of a brutal troop of Jewish-American soldiers (the titular "Bastages") operating as a guerrilla unit in occupied France; SS Maj Landa (Christph Waltz), "the Jew Hunter," a charming psychopath who turns up at the most inconvenient times; and Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent. I never heard of her, either), a young French Jew hiding in plain site operating a theater in Paris. There are dozens of other characters, all important, but those are the big three. I would expect all three to get Academy Award nominations next January, as well as a boatload for the movie as a whole.

The thing with a Tarantino Movie in general and Bastages in particular is that the story is told on a higher level than most movies. A conversation isn't just a conversation, it's a power struggle, a domination or a death sentence. A woman leaning against a wall becomes a sensuous mural. In every Tarantino Movie, there has been at least one scene where I found myself thinking that no one else watching the movie would ever understand the scene. Of course, everyone else does understand the scenes but that it would affect my brain in such a personal way when the Movie is images on a screen and noise from a loudspeaker just like every other movie that didn't affect me that way is astounding. If you love movies, no matter what genre is your favorite, you have to see Inglourious Bastages. And twice to get the whole effect.

It sounds like I'm in the Quentin Tarantino fan club but no. I don't care for the guy's bold, brash, egotistical public persona and if I met him in person, I'd probably find him annoying, but the guy makes great movies. Movies with a capital M. Other people make great movies, too, but no one else makes them like Tarantino.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Whiteout, Part 3

I went to see Whiteout again last night. Kate Beckinsale's eyes in the poster were still quite blue; in the movie, they were still dark brown. Kids these days.

I don't know what drew me back to Whiteout. It's a decent story, even a complex one, and told pretty well. It probably won't find its way into my DVD collection either, but I guess when I used to joke that I would "buy a ticket to watch Kate Beckinsale read the phone book," it wasn't so much of a joke.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I have a bit of a problem with the previews for the movie 2012, an Irwin Allenesque disaster thriller due out this Fall. The preview starts with narration stating that the world's oldest civilization, the Maya, predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012.

Time flipping out!

It is well documented that the Mayan calendar stops at the end of December 21, 2012, but reasonable people will deduce that it has more to do with a primitive counting system that can't go any farther, like the way Excel can only display 65,535 rows. The world will not end if I have 65,536 or more rows of data, nor will it end in 2012 because the Maya never mastered base-10. But to be on the safe side, I'm not shopping for a birthday present for my niece JJ that year until the day OF her birthday, December 22.

Next, since when are the Maya the world's oldest civilization? Not even close. The Maya rose in Central America about 300 CE. Several other civilizations in Central and South America had risen and fallen starting well over 2000 years earlier. In other parts of the world, the Sumerians, Egyptians and others had runs of several thousand years each before falling prior to the rise of the Maya. So let's not give the numerically challenged Maya too much credit, especially since they're going to cause the end of the world and all. I personally like the theory that a really ancient, completely forgotten civilization carved the Sphinx about 12,000 years ago. That would make the Maya relative pikers by comparison.

Also, the preview for 2012 is chock full of destruction-porn, with the White House, the Vatican, the Christ statue in Rio and a gazillion other landmarks getting blowed up real good. The plot - after the dust clears - is apparently Noah's Arc for the 21st century, with spaceships instead of boats (Hey, what's a cubit?). Waitaminute. A few thousand people in spaceships heading out to the stars. What are the odds that me or anyone I know will survive long enough to get on a space arc? Not much, so do I want to get enthused about seeing a movie that is predicting my own personal destruction? I'm not so sure.

Finally, 2012 was directed by Roland Emmerich, who directed Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. In both of those movies, I would have been among the billions of dearly departed. How many times am I gonna let this guy kill me? Maybe it is time to stand up to him! If not now, maybe in three years!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Whiteout, Part 1

I've been a fan of Kate Beckinsale since May 20, 1998 (Shooting Fish, if you must know, and recommended), and will seek out pretty much any movie she's in. I'm afraid Whiteout is pretty much any movie.

Kate plays the only US Marshal on Antarctica and finds herself investigating the first murder on the continent only days before she is scheduled to be rotated out. The plot unfurls nicely, the action is good and the movie never drags, but it never reeled me in, either. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination but it just never grabbed me. I'll recommend it for a home viewing sometime but there's no reason to seek it out in the theater.

And few people have. Whiteout opened yesterday. I watched it Saturday at noon. There were seven other people in the theater with me. That's not a sign of impending financial success. My guess is that Whiteout will disappear after two weeks.


Whiteout, Part 2

I have railed on about cynical marketing before, in person and in print, but I found a new low, at least on my personal scale. The poster for today's movie, Whiteout, features the lovely Kate Beckinsale amid a flurry of snow. Appropriate, as the movie is set in Antarctica. Notice the eyes. They're crystal blue.

Now take a glance at the second picture, Kate Beckinsale in a normal visage. With some movie stars, normal and glamorous are not mutually exclusive, but I digress. Notice the eyes. Those beautiful brown eyes. They stayed brown the entire movie. False advertising!

I could go on and on about the sociology of cultures around the world valuing light over dark in humans being since the dawn of civilization, and the implicit blue-eyed bias of Whiteout's marketing team, but instead, a rant about marketing.

Every movie gets a lobby poster and every poster is designed to help sell the movie, but most viewing decisions are made long before an audience member stands in the lobby and chooses a movie. Whiteout is an Antarctic thriller. Its target audience is 16-26 year-old males. And 16-26 year-old males aren't going to be swayed by the color of an actresses eyes in a poster. They will be swayed by the knowledge that she has breasts. Cynical of me to say, but true. And irony of ironies, Whiteout, a movie set in the coldest place on earth, gives us one scene with Kate Beckinsale in her underwear. Why didn't they put that on the poster?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dollhouse Indoctrination

I love the TV series Dollhouse. It had a twelve episode run on Fox from Febuary - May 2009 and will begin its second season on September 25. Its ratings weren't great so I'm trying to drum up new viewers in order to keep the show on the air. Toward that end, I've prepared three posts below that will help bring you aboard. Please read only the one that applies to you - there are spoilers galore and the last thing I want to do is reduce your enjoyment of the program.

Why Dollhouse? Well, it is a well-done science fiction program. As with much great science fiction, it's heavy on the story and light on the science. Great action, great intrigue, great eye candy. Then, there's Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon is a TV writer and script doctor best known for the movies Toy Story and Alien Resurrection, in addition to the TV shows he created, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. I've already written extensively about Firefly and its feature offshoot, Serenity. I hold Buffy and Angel in high esteem, especially the latter season episodes. Whedon took these TV dramas where no TV show had ever gone, including perfecting the "Big Bad" story arc. The Big Bad is where a larger story is told over the course of a season, while the individual episodes still stand alone, for the most part. If Angel and Buffy had gotten yanked early in their runs, we would have missed out on some great stories.

I hope to avoid that fate for Dollhouse. Like many, I found Buffy and Angel after they had ended their network runs. I seriously want to see where Whedon will take Echo and the others with Dollhouse. It barely got renewed for a second season, getting just a 13 episode order and a big budget cut. By drumming up more support, maybe we can get a full 22-episode season and, dare to dream, a third season ("And beyond!" Toy Story joke). Therefore, I have created the indoctrination sessions you see below. Find the one that applies to you and it will help get you in front of the TV for the second season of Dollhouse.

Never Seen Dollhouse? Have Access to the Season One Discs?

Watch them. The new season begins September 25. There are only 12 episodes in season one so getting through them in the next two weeks shouldn't be too hard. The DVDs contain a bunch of special features, including an unaired pilot and an unaired 13th episode, but you can skip the unaired episodes. The original pilot was chopped up and incorporated into the first four aired eps, and ep 13 was never intended to air so the producers got a little wild with it. Neither one fits into the arc of the stories so if you're pressed for time, just watch the 12 aired episodes.

Since I've convinced you to watch the DVDs, I will give you only the briefest of primers. Dollhouse is a serial. Although there are individual stories each week and one-time-only characters, part of each episode is used to push the series to the twelfth episode. The tension will build - trust me - until the final episode when all threads of the season come together for a heart-stopping finish. The premise sounds simple - a company rents out people with customized personalities to order. When they're not out on engagements, the "dolls" have their memories wiped clean. They become blank slates.

There are a lot of characters at first. Echo is the main one - she'll be easy to keep track of. Boyd is her handler. He's kind of like us - the external viewer, a skeptical outsider. Miss Dewitt runs the place and is as complicated as as a doll is simple - it will take a few episodes to get the hang of her character. Paul the FBI guy is the relentless pursuer. Keep an eye on him - he is the force that drives much of the ongoing activity in each of the episodes. The rest of them - the other dolls, the tech guy, the security chief, the neighbor, the doctor with scars will all come into focus after 4-5 episodes.

It will be a little odd at first to identify with a character who has no personality - in this case, wiped after each engagement, but Dollhouse is not the first show on TV to use personality-free characters. Think of Mission: Impossible where you never saw any of the spies outside of a mission. We knew nothing about them personally; they were on screen only to perform the mission and get out. How about the first few seasons of CSI? The characters had only the most perfunctory personalities. They existed only to investigate the crime scene or run lab tests. In Dollhouse, it's a little more complex, but a doll's initial function is to be imprinted with other people's personalities in order to do an engagement. The stories get good usually when something goes wrong.

If you read this post because you intend to watch season one, DO NOT READ THE POSTS BELOW. THEY CONTAIN SPOILERS. Big spoilers.

Caught Some or All of Season One but Aren't Hooked?

I feel bad for you. You tuned in but didn't like it or didn't catch on. Well, some shows aren't for everybody. I hope you start watching season two. If you only caught a few episodes, some things didn't make sense to you because Dollhouse is a serial. Every episode builds on the previous one.

I could probably write 1000 words on each episode to help you understand the show better but I think we'll take the easy way out. If you have questions on the show or any particular episode, send me a comment or stop me in the hall and I'll help you through it. I want you to get hooked - I want you to share my addiction and I'll do whatever I can to get you there.

Want to Catch the Dollhouse Wave but Can't or Won't Watch Season One?

The new season starts on September 25, which for some is coming very quickly. I'm going to help you by summarizing the first season. After reading this, you'll be able to watch season two and follow along reasonably well.


The Dollhouse is a business that sells a service. If you need a human being, for pretty much any reason, they will create a profile of a complete human being, skills, memories and all, and imprint that on to a person whose memories have been wiped (and stored - dolls are reconstituted at the end of their five-year term). Echo, Sierra and Victor are the three main dolls the series follows. The dollhouse is a luxurious place where the dolls live when they are wiped. It's calm and soothing.

Echo, the beautiful brunette doll, gets wiped at the end of every engagement, but we the viewers know that she retains knowledge from each personality after being wiped. There was also an episode where we learned part of Echo's real-life backstory - that's why some people know her as Caroline.

It takes a lot of people to support this business. There's Miss Dewitt, the glamorous, very British CEO; the annoying tech guy who has no inner-censor so he says everything on his mind; the tech assistant; and a timid doctor with scars on her face. There are also a bunch of people running around in the background, but you can think of them as people on Star Trek wearing red uniforms (The expendable ones who get killed first when Kirk beams to a new planet).

Erasing people's minds can't be legal, so there is an FBI agent tracking them down. Special Agent Paul Ballard is being fed disinformation by the dollhouse, but is also getting accurate info from someone in the dollhouse and a rogue doll known as Alpha. Ballard is actually getting played by all three but he nonetheless finds the dollhouse in episode 11. After pursuing the people who run the dollhouse as criminals, the tables turn and he is put into a position to protect the dolls in the end.

Dominick, the head of security for the dollhouse, turns out to be a spy for the NSA. Up until he was exposed, he played the part very well. It's never stated, but he is probably the person who fed info to Ballard. I have a problem with that twist - the NSA knew about the dollhouse but the FBI didn't? Never mind.

Boyd started out as Echo's handler. He is everyman, the skeptical observer, but deeply loyal to Echo. He gets promoted to chief of security near the end of the season but he never loses his bond with Echo. I consider him to be the inscrutable rock of the show.

From episode one, a rogue doll named Alpha is mentioned. Before the series started, he went on a rampage and killed a bunch of people in the dollhouse, maimed the doctor and escaped. Ever since, he's been angling back for some reason, including feeding information to the FBI guy. In the final episode, we find out why. He's a psycho with good taste - he's got the hots for Echo. Alpha is psycho because he was accidentally programmed with over 40 imprints - Eve, with her three personalities or Sybil with her 16, have nothing on Alpha. He kidnaps Echo and programs her with 38 imprints so he'll have an equally psycho girlfriend. Echo, though, is stronger and fights back. The glitch that allows her to remember things after being wiped probably has something to do with it. Ballard ends up saving the day and, with his FBI career over, begins a voyage from within the belly of the beast.

Tune in on September 25 and every Friday thereafter.

If You're a Guy and Have No Interest in Watching Dollhouse


Not Interested in Dollhouse at All?

I just can't talk to you right now.

Coming to a Theater Near Me

I read in the Trib that there is an urban revitalization project under construction in St Louis Park that includes a theater. Always in the market for more theater choices, I decided to check it out.

The project is just off 394 at Xenia-Park Place. There is a brand-spanking-new Rainbow on the left (east) side. The theater is one block south and stands quite large above the retail shops at ground level. While the Rainbow is now open, the theater is still under construction. They are probably aiming for a Thanksgiving opening.

The theater is owned by Kerasotes, which operates in Minnesota under the Showplace name. I've been to the Showplace theater in Inver Grove Heights a few times. It's a nice place with a decent staff, but the price was a bit higher than average for my usual haunts.

The new theater is about 4.5 miles from my house. Weekend matinees won't be a problem, but getting there after work could be tough. It's only about 3-3.5 miles from the office but getting onto 394 can be difficult between 4-5:00, not to mention that Xenia-Park Place is always congested, so that could slow a person down as well. Willow Creek is still the best bet for after-work viewing, as it's only a brisk three-minute walk away. My current back-up theater is AMC in Maple Grove, a 12-minute weekend drive away. I never go there during the week.

The design of the new theater gives me pause. Being an urban theater, parking is in a ramp. I couldn't tell if the ramp is free or pay, but I'm not inclined to pay for parking without a good reason. A ramp also complicates how long it might take to get inside. As a just-in-time kinda guy, having to drive up a few levels looking for an open spot then hoofing it to the box office may induce lateness, which is a deal killer. Leave a little earlier, you say? Yeah, right.

Time will tell if the new theater gets much of my business. Willow Creek is still a decent primary theater, but they usually only carry the mass-market fare, while I like a good art-house or limited-run picture now and again. Willow Creek also cycles movies in and out a little faster than I like. It's sometimes difficult to get to a movie that only runs for a week or two, what with my busy schedule of procrastination and all.

I'll write a post about the new theater after it opens.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Gamer isn't going to win any awards but it's a fairly harmless way to spend 85 minutes. It's essentially a post-apocalyptic grit fest, with a prisoner - wrongly convicted, of course - being used as a pawn in a video game. Cross that with a "Sci Fi for Dummies" story about the corruption of business and the ethics of removing human free will and you've got the movie. It goes over the top - almost constantly - but moves so quickly you won't mind.

You may have noticed I use "-porn" as a suffix to describe a trait taken to excess for gratuitous purposes, such as explosion-porn, shootout-porn, car chase-porn and dismemberment-porn. Gamer is so gratuitous that I lost track of all the "-porn" adjectives I could use to describe the movie. The four above are just the primary ones. You want gratuitous? In one scene, the hero does one of those neck-breaking moves - putting the opponent into a headlock and twisting the head - twice! OK, the bad guy - a death row inmate - had survived a hanging once before so the hero had to be sure, but still.

Gamer liberally cribs from other movies, The Running Man much of the time, Death Race for a while, Road House even. I might have been a little less harsh on the film but near the end, the villain - yes, an overly talkative villain who could easily have killed the hero when he had the chance - does a musical routine to the tune of "I've Got You Under My Skin." Entirely surreal and inappropriate. Nonetheless, because of its brisk pacing, simple plot, and Gerard Butler finally suppressing his Scottish accent, Gamer gets a mild recommendation as a popcorn movie.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Extract is my kind of comedy. Nothing gross or scatological. It's a laugh-out-loud comedy exploiting human foibles.

A couple of problems, though.

-Mila Kunis gets second billing for what is essentially a small but pivotal role. I guess they wanted to capitalize on last year's hit, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Fine, but she's only in the movie a fraction of the time.

-The commercials and previews all stress that Extract is from the maker of Office Space. True enough, but it's not Office Space. Completely different animal. If you're expecting Office Space II, as the commercials imply, you will be disappointed. Extract is plenty good but in a completely different way. Haven't seen Office Space and don't know what I'm talking about? You're missing out. Rent it! Rent it now!

-Kristen Wiig is a comedic force of nature and incredibly versatile, as evidenced by Saturday Night Live and roles in Ghost Town, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up, but is mainly playing it straight here. She's good and all, but you might expect her to break out the wacky, which she only does near the end.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Moving Midway

A few months ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the maker of a documentary film about moving a house.  Well, if you describe it like that, it sounds pretty dull but the interview was anything but, so I dropped the movie into my rental queue.  I just finished watching Moving Midway and was riveted through the whole thing.

Midway Plantation was a pre-civil war plantation in Raleigh, North Carolina, and all that goes with it.  Six generations of the same family have lived there.  The film-maker, a cousin to the current owner, tags along as preparations are made to move the house and outbuildings a few miles away from the suburban sprawl that had grown up around it.

Even before land for the plantation's new location is secured, the unexpected occurs - a blood link is verified between the white family that occupied the main house and descendents of slaves and freemen that worked the land as recently as the 1880s.  The movie veers between the moving of the house to the introductions of what is now a huge extended family.

Moving Midway is a personal history lesson of the two branches of one family and by extension, the history of the civil war, reconstruction and jim crow.  As I said at the top, it is riveting and a wonderful documentary.

And as a guy, I gotta say that moving a house, with or without the history lesson, is really cool.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

OK, I've now seen it twice. I'm allowed to form an opinion. And it's kinda freaking me out that I am about to pan a Harry Potter movie.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was good in all technical respects but it was so dark, both in mood and photography I just couldn't get into it. I also never got over what they left out. Sure, the novel is 652 pages, so a ton of stuff had to be omitted, but in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, it didn't bother me so much. Then there's the gray, gray everywhere, almost like it was a black and white movie. Sure, it's a dark novel but there is still so much magic in Harry's life, both literally and figuratively, that this gray palated, dour mood movie just sucked all the fun out of it.

Post Grad

I didn't see any previews or commercials for Post Grad. It flew very far under my radar with one exception: I saw a single poster for it at the Maple Grove theater. A two-foot tall picture of Alexis Bledel got my attention.

I've liked Bledel since the first episode of Gilmore Girls in October 2000. Her career has been solid, if unspectacular, with supporting roles in mostly small movies. Post Grad is her first lead role and while it's not going to set the entertainment world afire, it's a decent movie.

Alexis plays Ryden, whom we meet on the morning of her college graduation. She's the salutatorian, a little wide eyed and a bit caffeinated, though not as caffeinated as Rory Gilmore. It doesn't take long for the perfect student to realize the real world is a tough place and before long she's back living with her parents. Her family, including a hypochondriac grandmother and curious little brother, is a bit crazy. A big chunk of the movie is Ryden getting her keister kicked at job interviews and rolling her eyes at the idiosyncrasies of her family.

My problem with Post Grad is that it plays things too safe. It wisely keeps the characters on this side of charactiture, and doesn't force the characters to do stupid things for the sake of stupidity, like many comedies. No, for a comedy, I didn't laugh that much. I enjoyed the movie but I didn't laugh. And for a movie with both Carol Burnett and Jane Lynch in it, I expect some carefully crafted, laugh-out-loud moments.

So Post Grad is a nice, decent, clean comedy and a good way to spend 84 minutes but it's not the funniest comedy around.


I've never seen the 1980 movie Fame. Not in the theater, not on HBO, not on VHS or DVD, not on late night commercial TV.  I can tap my foot along with the infectious theme song by Irene Cara but I've never had any desire to watch the movie.   According to IMDB there was a TV series based on the movie.  Nope, never seen even a frame of that either.

While watching previews before a feature the other day, I was treated to a preview of a new movie version of Fame.  Somewhere during the two minutes of that preview, the part of my brain that decides whether I go to a movie or not decided that I am skipping Fame when it opens in September.  It looked boring in 1980; it looks boring in 2009.  Whether it is truly boring or not is a discussion for another time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

The first thing you need to know about GI Joe is that it is stupid. The second thing you need to know about GI Joe is that it is amazingly entertaining.

Before I got into the rhythm of the movie, it made me roll my eyes with its contrived plot, cliched dialogue and style over substance gadgetry, but then it broke through to the part of my brain that appreciates silly, violence and sexy.

It's mainly explosion- and car chase-porn, but like real porn (so I'm told), there is a place for it. The whole plot revolves around the bad guys getting their hands on some McGuffin missiles and doing untold mischief, so the good guys have to wreck Paris and the North Pole to save the day. It's set in the future so we have to cut the plot some slack but it's a joke anyway and the dialogue sounded like it was written with a "Wheel of Cliche." The car chases aren't always with cars - they use motorcycles, snowmobiles, personal submarines and Michelin Man suits.

What really made me lower my normal standards was early on. The bad guy's commandos did fierce battle with the good commandos. The bad guys had all kinds of high tech weaponry and the good guys had today-conventional weapons. Why would the bad guys need to steal missiles if they have invulnerable helicopters, impenetrable body armor and a hand-held pulse gun that makes all other weapons irrelevant? It was like a neon sign saying "Check your brain at the door. Nothing in this movie will make sense." I checked my brain and had a really nice time.

Some of the finer points:

The femme fatale wore a vinyl catsuit that looked like she stole it from Trinity in The Matrix. And no matter what she wore, no matter what bad-ass thing she was doing, her outfits were always open down to her mid-chest level.

One of the GIs Joe was played by Channing Tatum, who you might recognize upon viewing if you don't recognize the name. He was in one of my guilty pleasures, She's the Man, which I reviewed in 2006. In both movies he plays a character named Duke, which is trivially notable all by itself. However, in GI Joe, the 28 year-old Tatum plays a mid-30s Army captain. Three years ago, he played a high school senior in She's the Man. I thought he looked a little old then, but I went with it. Now that I've seen him as an adult - looking the same - I hope I can still suspend disbelief enough to continue enjoying She's the Man.

The bad guys want to launch a stinger-type missile at the Eiffel tower, so naturally they leave a building with a perfectly good view of the tower and basically destroy the city of Paris rue by rue in order to launch the missile from the building next door to the tower. Hmm. Wouldn't it be easier to launch from where they started without getting stuck in rush hour traffic?  It's a missile after all.

The President of the United States was played by a Welshman. Jonathan Pryce is good, but couldn't they have gotten Denzel to do a cameo?

The plot has - no spoilers here - a villain that built the McGuffin missiles needing to steal the missiles. Huh? He couldn't have made his own by running an extra shift or building a second factory? Did he learn nothing from Contact?

Towards the end, a good guy has a high-tech plane. He needs to get from Moscow to Washington in order to destroy a launched missile. He has 14 minutes. He makes it. I'll save you from doing the math - his plane flies faster than escape velocity. In the atmosphere. Without burning up or causing enough sonic booms to level all of Europe. Oh, am I being too logical again? Sorry.

I'll leave you with this one. The villain's lair is underneath the Arctic polar ice cap. Who are they kidding? When in the future will there be a polar ice cap?

I pick a lot but I did enjoy GI Joe. It's fun rolling ones eyes and laughing at inadvertently funny scenes, but like I all-too-often say about sci-fi shows, it could have been so much more with only a little bit of effort. Alas.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catching Up

Recently viewed movies

The Proposal
How can you go wrong with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, not to mention Betty White? You can't. The story is a little thin and formulaic, but the sheer charisma of the leads pulls it through.

Personal note: Sandra Bullock is only a few years younger than I am. There is a scene where she is 99% naked yet not nude, and her physique is remarkable (hence I'm remarking), and not just for someone in her mid-40s. I don't know that I've ever seen any woman on-screen in that good of shape and certainly never in person. Wow.

Public Enemies
Michael Mann directed one of the best modern crime movies, 1995's Heat, a movie by which all crime dramas should be judged, and compared to Heat, Public Enemies is not at all good. It's too long, it has too many characters and it looks like many scenes were carelessly hacked in editing. On the plus side, Leelee Sobieski showed up in the last five minutes. No introduction; her character just appeared.  I just love saying that name.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I'm withholding comment until I've seen it twice. With any HP movie, you have to adjust to how much of the novels was left out. It'll take at least one more viewing to form a real opinion on how I feel about the movie without thinking about the novel.

Transformers 2
This bad boy is another story. I saw it for the second time this weekend. There were things I enjoyed - the Sam's relationships to his parents, Michaela, Capt Lennox and the autobots - but it was still too long and there was too much machine-on-machine violence. Unless his next movie is only 90 minutes long, I'm officially reinstating the Michael Bay lifetime ban.

My Sister's Keeper

Stream of consciousness thoughts about My Sister's Keeper.

If you watch the previews and commercials, My Sister's Keeper should have been a courtroom light-drama, most likely with a happy ending. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but while they want you to think it's a kid vs parents legal story, it's really about the sister who is dying of leukemia. It is in turns very serious, very emotional and somewhat humorous. Most importantly, it's very good. Why they released a good drama during Summer action season, I can only guess.

I almost missed it. My Sister's Keeper will be moving to the discount theaters soon, maybe this Friday, so I was going to skip it and see a more macho movie today. However, I took too long to get out of the house for the other movie and decided to see My Sister's Keeper, starting 20 minutes later. Glad I did. It's a very good movie.

Director Nick Cassavetes used an odd technique for the first third of the movie. He had multiple narrators - each of the major characters. I wasn't sure if I liked it at first - it seemed heavy handed - but there was a lot of exposition to get through and it opened up the story much faster and much deeper than he could have with just one narrator. He stopped using any voice-overs at all after the first third, except at the very end.

I've taken issue with Cassavetes' movies before (The Notebook, She's So Lovely), so I was prepared for the worst. He made some odd choices like he always does, but they generally worked out. There were two scenes, for example, that portrayed a character lost in thought that used neon or bright lights along with indy-ballad music to show it. A little distracting but forgivable, as the rest of the movie worked so well. By the way, my issues with Cassavetes are nothing compared to the ones I've mentioned before about Ron Howard. Cassavetes makes a few odd artistic choices but I can accept and respect that. Howard always puts a fatal flaw in his movies. I'd better not start...

There was an inside joke that fell flat. Emily Deschanel of TV's Bones played a doctor. Her name was Farquad. Yep. Co-star Cameron Diaz was in Shrek, who had a villain named Farquad. They not only showed you the doctor's card in close-up, they had her introduce herself - no one was missing that gag. Take it from a punster - sometimes you have to resist the urge.

The soon to be ubiquitous Abigail Breslin was wonderful as the title character. The girl who played the ill sister, Sofia Vassilieva, was even better. I've never seen her in anything before. Cameron Diaz, a world-class hottie, was convincing as an early 40s mother. She may not get any award nominations at the end of the year, but if she does, she earned them. And Jason Patric, who's spent a career trying to convince audiences that he can't act, played the father to perfection.

If you're interested in an interesting family drama or emotional roller coaster, My Sister's Keeper is a movie for you.