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.