Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123

Open for only a couple of weeks, "The Taking of Pelham 123" is already leaving first-run theaters. That's too bad, as it's a decent flick. Not perfect by my impossibly high standards but a decent entertainment product.

The plot is easy to describe: a gang of bad guys hijacks a subway train and holds the passengers for a large ransom.

Denzel Washington is superb as the dispatcher who is forced to act as a go-between. John Travolta is a decade too old for his character and phoned in a few eccentricities, but what can you do? James Gandolfini played a character that didn't make me think of Tony Soprano, so that's good.

"The Taking of Pelham 123" has good drama, good suspense and a good story. I recommend it as a rental if you can't see it at the theaters while it's still out.

If I had to say something bad about it, and you know I do, it has to do with director Tony Scott's style. Lately he's been making movies with a super saturated color palette and a lot of steady-cam shots. The palette is hard to describe in print, but looks gritty and highlights warm colors. At one point, there was a bit of a chase scene that reminded me of "Deja Vu," no pun intended, also directed by Scott and starring Denzel, using the same saturated palette and steady-cam moves, and that pulled me away from the movie enough to remember that he used the same palette and steady-cam in "Man on Fire," also with Denzel. Its not the style I'd pick put I'm not the one making the movies.

I Love You, Beth Cooper

"I Love You, Beth Cooper" is going to suck. How do I know?

First, let me give you the context. "I Love You, Beth Cooper" opens in two weeks, it's rated PG-13 and it stars Hayden Panettiere. I've yet to see a preview or a commercial, but I'd bet it follows the basic "Boy meets girl, boy can't get girl, boy does something heroic and ends up with the girl" formula.

Why is it going to suck?

Hayden is one of the current "It" girls. She's hot, she's recognizable and she's hot. You know how you make money with a Hayden Panettiere movie? You put her picture on some posters and start the projectors. As long as you don't overspend while making the movie, you're guaranteed a hit, at least enough to generate a healthy profit on opening weekend. The whole idea of making movies is to get asses in seats and Hayden will get plenty of teenage boys' asses in seats just because she's hot.

Why is it going to suck?

I just read an interview with Hayden Panettiere pushing the movie where she's talking about her "nude scene." Nude scene? In a PG-13 movie? Starring an "It" girl? "It" girls never take their clothes off in a movie, only former "It" girls do. There is not going to be a nude scene in "I Love You, Beth Cooper." A teaser scene to be sure, maybe topless from the back or something equally tame, but no real nude scene.

Why is it going to suck?

If Hayden is talking about her nude scene, it can only be because they want to generate more interest among teenage boys, who normally would be lining up to see this kind of movie but won't if it sucks. Teasing a nude scene that isn't there will get some asses in seats but is not a sustainable strategy unless all you want is a good opening weekend, but if all you are going to get is a good opening weekend because you know there won't be any repeat business, we can conclude that "I Love You, Beth Cooper" is going to suck.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Catching Up

It’s not easy for a slacker like me to update my blog very often. It takes things called work and effort and these are strange concepts for me. Here is a list of some of the movies I’ve seen since the last entry along with a quick recommendation or wave-off.

“New in Town”
Despite being set in New Ulm, a town rife with comic potential, “New in Town” was just an ordinary fish-out-of-water flick. Skip it unless your standards are low or your alcohol level is high.

By all rights, this movie should have sucked but it didn’t. The charismatic Liam Neeson played one of those off-the-shelf invincible ex-spy hero types that saves the day. It should have been trite and predictable but it worked. Even the scrumptious 25-year-old uber-hottie Maggie Grace playing a 17-year-old teenybopper worked. Good mojo with this flick.

I’m not going to say anything about “Inkheart” other than to tell you to skip it. Leave it gathering dust in the video store. Please.

“Bride Wars”
What do you get when you get when you put Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson in a wedding disaster movie? You get a great looking mess. “Bride Wars” is about average for the wedding movie genre but hardly anything to seek out.

Think of “Push” as “Heroes” on steroids. The characters are all people with special abilities. There’s blood and explosions, intrigue and double-dealing. It’s not great but it’s worth a look if you like that kind of movie.

“Confessions of a Shopaholic”
Another one to leave gathering dust. It’s about a woman who, no surprise, spends a lot of money she doesn’t have. Over the course of the movie, she learns her lessons and lands a millionaire. Isla Fischer plays the shopaholic and she’s just not up to playing a lead role yet. She was great as a supporting player in “Definitely, Maybe,” but not here.

“He's Just Not That Into You”
A somewhat smaller, slightly less comic American version of “Love, Actually.”

“The International”
I so wanted to like “The International” but it sucked. The commercials make it look like Feds being squeezed by a big international conspiracy but it’s just about Feds going after an arms dealer. Yawn. It especially lost me when there was a 10-minute shoot ‘em up sequence in the Guggenheim museum in New York. In a good movie that would be genius. In this movie, it’s sacrilege.

“Race to Witch Mountain”
Guilty pleasure.

This one deserves a longer post sometime. I was expecting a sci-fi thriller but it was really a sci-fi ponderer, in the best tradition of “The Twilight Zone.” It’s a great movie but I was so disappointed that it wasn’t the thriller from the commercials that I didn’t enjoy myself until it was over and I realized I just witnessed greatness. But I really wanted a thriller that day.

“Monsters vs Aliens”
A perfectly good light-hearted romp, exactly what was promised by the commercials.

I so wanted to hate this movie because I can’t stand Julia Roberts but I really liked it. It’s a twisty-turny long con flick with a great story and good performances. Most importantly, given what I’m sure was the temptation to make the movie end with a classic Julia Roberts 100-watt smile moment, the ending was true to the movie and wonderful it was. Oh, you ask, why go to a movie I wanted to hate? I’m a man of sometimes perverse contradictions. Go with it. Which brings us to…

“Hannah Montana”
Another guilty pleasure. It’s not all that good but it reveled in its not goodness and that made it fun.

A Disneyfied Discovery Channel nature show on the big screen narrated by James Earl Jones. All the hype; none of the depth.

It had its moments but overall was a disappointment. The backstory of Wolverine wasn’t exactly demanding to be told. Worse yet, the most interesting characters were the mercenary mutants introduced at the beginning and we didn’t see them again after the first 15 minutes (Ryan Reynolds in full wisecracking mode with a supersonic sword. Heaven). Plus, if I never again see Wolverine unleash the claws and flex, it’ll be too soon.

“Star Trek”
Saw it twice; I think two’s my limit. I liked young Spock more and young Kirk less the second time around. It’s a decent yarn but the more I think about it, the less I like them messing with my 36-year history with the Star Trek universe.

“State of Play”
A pretty good political thriller but it ran out of steam near the end.

“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”
A modern take on “A Christmas Carol” with an inveterate womanizer as Scrooge? How could this movie be any good? Well, it was. A little campy but entertaining throughout.

“17 Again”
A perfectly serviceable variation on the “Big” formula.

“Angels and Demons”
A movie that didn’t need to be made, at least not with someone the caliber of Tom Hanks in the lead and Brian Grazer producing. The story was weak, the characters were bland and it just made no sense. Please skip it.

“Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”
As with many sequels, I was prepared for this one to suck but it didn’t. They jettisoned elements we didn’t need, like the son, ex-wife and many of the characters from the original, then threw us into a new adventure at a new museum. And who could resist former Chanhassen resident Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart?

“The Hangover”
A little raunchy but a lot funny.

Terminator: Salvation

In 1984, James Cameron reinvented the prey thriller with the adrenaline draining "Terminator." In 1991, Cameron introduced us to the world of computer generated graphics done right with "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." On July 3, 2003, the day after "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" hit the screens, I was in the audience. To paraphrase the queen of England, "We were not amused."

T3 was your basic escape from the bogeyman thriller and not a very good one at that. There were explosions, chases and more explosions. Everything was predictable and it was hardly an involving story. It was quite obvious that James Cameron was not involved with the production of T3. It was a most ordinary movie.

Fast forward to 2009. Having tried terribly to surpress the memories of T3, I decided to skip "Terminator: Salvation" until Alan K recommended it, saying it was a good movie in its own right and head & shoulders above T3. On the weight of that recommendation, I went to see it.

Kudos to Alan for the recommendation. "Terminator: Salvation" is a good standalone movie and a worthy follow up to the first two. This story morphed into the post-apocalyptic genre, which is always iffy, but it worked pretty well. The story made sense, the tension was maintained throughout, and it didn't get bogged down in technobable or nonsense. It might be appropriate to say the movie delivered on what the commercials promised.

A couple of notes, though. While Christian Bale was perfectly cast as the adult John Connor, his appropriately taciturn character reminded me of his wooden delivery in "The Dark Knight." It seemed odd that he essentially played the same guy in the two very different movies. Some of the motorcycle chase scenes were also too reminiscent of "The Dark Knight."

One of the minor characters in "Terminator: Salvation" was played by Moon Bloodgood, who in addition to being fairly hot also has the distinction of having a 13-letter name using only one vowel six times. Know anyone else with that distinction?