Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Revolutionary Road and Adventureland.

Revolutionary Road is a drama from December 2008 about an unsatisfied suburban couple. Adventureland is a coming of age dramedy from April 2009 about a kid who works in a theme park and has relationships.

Both of these are period films; one in the 50's, one in the 80's. And they both kinda deal with people panicking and being unfaithful to the ones they love as they face the shittiness of their immediate future. They just want to live their lives and have fun with their true loves, but they can't! Why? Because of social norms (or lack of money)! It's frustrating to see these characters making mistakes on top of mistakes because they're so out of their fucking minds with unhappiness. But in the end, they're very different movies with very different outcomes.

In many ways, Adventureland is an erotic thriller. Because it starts out as just a simple story about a Michael Cera-esque kid who needs a summer job, but then it becomes entirely about him hooking up with different girls. This isn't necessarily a problem, though I did find problems with the movie. For example, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the weird bosses who run the park. I deeply love these actors, but the humor in their scenes is so absurdly out of place in the unassuming world of Adventureland. It just seems like they were tacked on to make the movie look like it's primarily a comedy, which it isn't. Also, Ryan Reynolds gives the main guy advice that turns out to have some very shady, self-serving purposes, and the main guy never confronts him about it. Which would also be fine, if they explained why he doesn't confront him about it. It's just never addressed.

Revolutionary Road is just really good. Wonderfully directed and performed. And we finally see what Jack and Rose's marriage would have been like in a hypothetical sequel to Titanic. Spoiler alert: Not good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Just Happened and Sunshine Cleaning.

What Just Happened is an indie movie from October 2008 about a Hollywood producer (Robert De Niro) who has to deal with a lot of bullshit at his job, and also he's obsessed with his ex-wife. Sunshine Cleaning is an indie movie from March 2009 about two sisters (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) who are struggling in life until they start up a crime scene cleanup business. What Just Happened is awful and Sunshine Cleaning is pretty good.

What Just Happened is based on a book by producer Art Linson about real life experiences he had producing movies like The Edge, Great Expectations, and others. I read a part of that book and it was REALLY entertaining. Especially because I remembered the movies these behind-the-scenes stories were about, so my interest was pre-established. But this movie (also written by Linson) is complete fiction (about fake movies) loosely BASED on these real stories, and ends up being way uninteresting and boring. I feel like I've seen all this "everyone is dumb except me" shit before, in far better films (I recommend The Pentagon Wars, as well as The TV Set). If this movie had stuck to some of the real events covered in the book, it might've held my interest a lot more.

Sunshine Cleaning comes dangerously close to also just showing me a bunch of shit I've seen before, but it ends up justifying its existence with its rather fresh backdrop of crime scene cleanup and a brilliant cast. The only problem with this movie is that the end comes very abruptly, without wrapping up a lot of what's been set up, mostly involving the Emily Blunt character. This doesn't necessarily ruin the movie. I just thought it was an odd choice.

Both these movies might one day be found at Blockbuster under the "Indie movie where a bunch of shit happens and then it just ends" section. But if you ever find yourself in that section, only rent Sunshine Cleaning.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning and P.S. I Love You.

When Disney absorbed Pixar and John Lasseter was made Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, his first act was to terminate all of Disney's shitty direct-to-video sequels. A few that were already well into production were granted a reprieve from the ax. The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning was, most unfortunately, one of them.

What exactly is wrong with The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning? Well, the plot is mainly about King Triton banning all music from the kingdom of Atlantica out of grief for his deceased wife. So people have to get together in secret clubs if they want to sing, because if King Triton finds out, he will throw them in ocean jail (not kidding). And him and Ariel get into lots of arguments about whether it's good or bad that things never change and always stay the same. So, I don't know how many kids out there are gonna be able to identify with this story. About a kingdom where they don't allow singing.

Then, all the songs in the movie suck, which kinda works against the whole point of the movie. The shittiness of the songs had me seeing all the plus sides of King Triton's no music policy. There was one song that didn't suck. Sebastian's big number. Sebastian had to have a big number. Something to rival the original movie's "Under the Sea." But the reason Sebastian's big number doesn't suck is because it's not an original song. It's a cover of Harry Belafonte's "Jump in the Line." It's like they had absolute certainty in their lack of songwriting talent. Later in the movie, some characters reprise the song in a sort of acapella rap style. This was not cool.

The villain is some scheming hag named Marina Del Rey, voiced by Sally Field. Sally Field is nice, but this villain isn't even fit to scrub Ursula's arm suckers.

The supporting cast is nothing extraordinary. Sebastian is cool, but Sebastian is always cool. Scuttle is nowhere to be found. And Flounder is frustratingly out of character. I think they were trying to make him funny, but they only succeeded in making him irritating. He never stops spouting modern colloquialisms. The movie is actually full of modern colloquialisms, so that not only is it not timeless, it actually already feels dated in the very year of its release.

Toward the end of the movie, there's a fakeout where King Triton thinks Ariel is dead. In a prequel to The Little Mermaid.

P.S. I Love You is a romantic drama from December 2007 starring Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank. This movie was really good. I don't want to talk too much about it because its surprising plot elements are part of why it's so good. But I will talk about Hilary Swank. She is unbelievable in what could have been a very unremarkable role. She is completely fearless and mesmerizing as the perpetually confused Holly. Gerard Butler is perfect as the seemingly also perfect Gerry. The supporting cast, not unlike The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, is a little bit irritating and superfluous. Watch this movie for Gerry and Hilary. There is also a lot of gorgeous Irish settings that the characters go to. It has the side effect of making you want to travel. Not just to Ireland, but anywhere. Ariel's Beginning just made me want to not travel under the sea.

I don't know why I was looking forward to seeing Ariel's Beginning. I've been burned in the past by shitty direct-to-video Disney sequels. I vividly remember their first one. 1994's Return of Jafar. I was like eleven. And I was so excited to see it. Then, as I was watching it, I could actually feel my childhood shattering into pieces around me. Return of Jafar was a cheap, awful piece of shit. It was an insult to Aladdin. Since then, I stayed away from all the direct-to-video Disney sequels. Well, except for the two Lion King ones. I had to see those. The Lion King II: Simba's Pride was surprisingly okay. The Lion King 1½... not so much. I guess I just see these movies because I loved the originals. But the originals were only good because that's what they were. Original. I should stop dwelling in the past and be open to new things. P.S. I Love You kinda goes into that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Bucket List and Into the Wild.

Remember the trailer for December 2007's The Bucket List? Guess what. You just saw the entire movie.

Director Rob Reiner does an excellent job of making every scene from the trailer a little longer, and tossing in one or two lines here and there so that the movie can be feature length. I wanted to enjoy it, but knowing that the two main characters only had months to live just made every scene horribly depressing. I never knew there was such a thing as a feel-bad movie. By the end, I had nearly lost the will to live.

September 2007's Into the Wild is about a guy who takes off to explore the world and live the fuck out of his life. Kinda like the two guys in Bucket List, except less materialistic and infinitely more authentic. The guy in Into the Wild is out of his mind, but I still identified with him more as a real person. Into the Wild is also much better in all the technical respects of making a movie.

If you realize your own mortality and decide to write a bucket list... well, you can put "Into the Wild" on it... just keep "The Bucket List" off it.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and P2.

From the general reception of July 2007's I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, I expected it to be a vile, vapid piece of shit. But I was surprised to find that it was a pretty good movie. I enjoyed it the whole way through. Kevin James and Adam Sandler are both naturally funny leads, and Jessica Biel was wonderful as an ass and pair of tits that is also a lawyer. In addition, Dan Aykroyd proves once again that he's an [inter]national treasure.

There's a few things in the movie that don't work. Some particularly surreal moments, plus every second of Rob Schneider screen time, just fall flat. But at the same time, we get some of that Sandleresque humor that really makes the scenes pop. And the movie ultimately has very noble intentions.

I had been especially curious to see it since I heard that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor were credited as co-writers. Jurassic Park III notwithstanding, they did Sideways (one of my favorite movies), as well as About Schmidt and Election. But it's obvious that the shooting script for Chuck & Larry was not entirely their work. Unless they thought it would be hilarious for Rob Schneider to do offensive Asian things for more than one scene.

I had also been very curious to see November 2007's P2, particularly because of Wes Bentley. I've seen this guy exactly four times. Once in September 1999's American Beauty (a Best Picture-winning drama), where he was awesome. Then again in September 2002's The Four Feathers (a period piece). I was assigned to see that movie for a class, and have retained no memory of it. Then in February 2007's Ghost Rider (a comic book adaptation), which was pure CGI garbage. And the fourth would be P2. So like, what is his thought process when he decides what movies to act in? That's not a criticism; I just want to know.

P2, by the by, delivered. I made the mistake of watching it very late at night, so it was extra scary. I would recommend it to people who want a movie like Die Hard, except instead of fun action, there's just lots of scary stuff. Bentley's character in it makes for an interesting discussion piece. So after seeing the movie, you'll be able to debate with your fellow moviegoers as to what the fuck was going on with this guy.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Heartbreak Kid and Untraceable.

The Heartbreak Kid is a Farrelly Brothers comedy from October 2007. It's a remake of the Neil Simon-scripted 1972 Heartbreak Kid starring Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd. In the 90's, the Farrellys made three of the best comedies in movie history. But after that, they decided to only make garbage. So for this movie, they took Neil Simon's script, filled it with moronic charicatures, and added plenty of mindless gags mined from such reliable humor deposits as Foul-Mouthed Old People and Things That Are Gross.

The movie certainly wasn't all bad. Jerry Stiller was wonderful, despite his shocking! language. Carlos Mencia was funny, despite his not being funny anywhere else. And I loved the characterization of Malin Akerman's character as a frustratingly know-nothing know-it-all. But there wasn't enough of that kind of inventiveness to justify the movie's existence. I don't know why people feel they have to remake perfectly good movies without any kind of worthwhile fresh take on the material. The 1972 Heartbreak Kid in particular was a masterpiece, and the remake does everything worse. Its biggest crime, however, is ignoring the plot elements that made the original so interesting. In the original, Charles Grodin's character is completely unlike any leading man. There comes a point when the audience really starts wondering about the choices he makes. In the remake, they basically just have Ben Stiller as the straight man, everything he does seems rational, and everyone around him is crazy. So this movie does nothing new OR old with the story. It just kinda dicks around for two hours.

Untraceable is a thriller from January 2008 about an FBI unit that investigates Internet-related crimes. Diane Lane leads a cast of characters up against a villain who is UNTRACEABLE! The best part about this movie is that all the characters are constantly making stupid decisions (worse than Grodin). It's like they didn't even realize they were in a spooky thriller. I tried shouting advice at them during every scene, but it was no use.

At times, the movie is a teensy bit heavy handed with its social commentary, but I daresay it's all warranted. I like that it had something to say, and I love that it's a bullshit Internet-related thriller with a cool cast (Walmart should do a two-pack with Sandra Bullock's The Net). So if you like that, rent Untraceable. If you like disturbing imagery, rent either Untraceable or The Heartbreak Kid 2007. If you like great comedies, rent The Heartbreak Kid 1972. And if you like Sandra Bullock or Diane Lane, rent anything with them in it.

Ooh! Another good two-pack would be Unfaithful and Untraceable, both starring Diane Lane.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Good Luck Chuck and Premonition.

Good Luck Chuck (a raunchy comedy from September of 2007) was AWFUL. It's not even the kinda bad that's kinda good. It achieves the rare status of embarrassing. Like, I was embarrassed to be aware of it. A few years ago, before Dane Cook kinda played himself out, I was dying to see a movie with him in it. And throughout this piece of shit, you catch occasional glimpses of his inventive on-stage persona. But they are quickly buried in the production's carefully-honed humorless void. So this movie becomes like a tragedy.

I think Dane Cook could play a quippy Jim Carrey-esque leading man. I think Jessica Alba could play a beautiful klutz. I think Dan Fogler could play a... friend of a guy in a movie. But Good Luck Chuck is completely beneath everyone involved. The characters are inhuman and every aspect of the script is asinine. I only enjoyed it on the level that old people enjoy the surrogate company of talk radio.

On the other hand, I really dug Premonition. It's a drama from March of 2007, in which Sandra Bullock plays a woman who... well, I don't want to give anything away. This movie is weird and kinda fucked up. It reminded me a lot of The Butterfly Effect, which I liked a lot. The last thing I saw Sandra Bullock in before this was 2006's The Lake House. I wonder if she's consciously attracted to these straight dramas with supernatural twists. There's a point in this movie where her character even goes to look at lake houses. The two movies would actually make a kickass two-pack at Walmart. Maybe she intended this as kind of a completely unrelated, yet thematic sequel. Like Speed 2.

This is a very intense drama, but there's a great gag reel on the DVD. It's funnier than Good Luck Chuck.