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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

It’s not often you find yourself empathizing with someone who walks around with his fly open.  But I did just that while watching Jeff Bridges portray Bad Blake, a down on his luck country singer at the end of his run.  Like many alcoholics,  most of the time all Bad can think about is how to get his next drink.  We see him roaming from town to town in his beatup truck, playing in run-down bars and the occasional bowling alley.  This is a man who was once a star, who would fill arenas full of fans and who apparently wrote some of the best country music out there (the good stuff, not pop-country).  But by the time we meet him, he can barely keep his pants on, let alone make it through a whole performance without puking or passing out.  Yet he still gets the ladies or at least the ones who are as haggard and broken down as he is.

There are however glimmers of hope for Bad and he does have a certain charm about him.  He occasionally reminds you of those pictures of the cowboys from the seventies (like a scruffy Steve McQueen), all sunburned and rugged.  You spend much of the movie thinking if he could just get his act together, he could make a come back or at the VERY least keep his pants buttoned up.  A few characters in the film feel the same way that we do about Bad, such as his friend Wayne the bartender (Robert Duvall) and of course the  love interest Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhall). We see a different side of Bad through the relationships of the people that care about him.  Some of my favorite scenes are between Bad Blake and Jean’s four year old son.  They are so truthful that the film is worth seeing for these short gems alone.  4 out of 5 monkeys

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District 9

Surprising in its originality and utterly fascinating, District 9 is a must see for any fan of intelligent science fiction.  The story is told as a documentary chronicling the arrival of an extraterrestrial race on earth forced to live in slum-like conditions near the city of Johannesburg, South Africa.  The story transitions into a new subject, that of Wikus van der Merwe.  Wikus is the head of operations for Multi-National United (MNU), the corporation hired by the government to relocate the aliens after complaints from local citizens.  While trying to kick start the relocation process, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical and the “documentary” focuses on what happens to him and how his relationship progresses with the “Prawns” (the derogatory name for the aliens).  This film could have become clichéd and preachy, but was instead a fascinating commentary on modern day society and how little we have truly learned from our past mistakes.  Created by a team of virtual unknowns from South Africa, the film is a gritty and refreshing bit of cinema and worth watching for Sharlto Copley’s performance alone.  5 out of 5 monkeys

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Nine (2009)


I’m not in the habit of walking out of movies, even the bad ones. Still less movies packed with Oscar winners like Daniel Day-Lewis and the exquisite Marion Coutillard. I loved Chicago and have no aversion whatsoever to the movie musical, so I was stoked about seeing Nine, especially with its long roster of heavyweights. The only casting choice that gave me pause was Fergie. Ironically enough her number (Be Italian) was the only decent number in the whole movie — at least until I walked out in the middle of Nicole Kidman’s fountain soliloquy. Kathryn and I were both astonished. Fergie — Fergie, for God’s sake — blew Nicole Kidman and Marion Coutillard off the screen.

I don’t blame Nicole or Marion for this nightmare opposite day scenario; I blame Rob Marshall, Athony Minghella and Micheal Tolkin, the same screenwriting genius who brought us Gleaming the Cube. I also blame the creators of the original musical: Arthur Kopit and especially Maury Yeston, whose trite and forgettable score would have been better left undisturbed with the rest of musical theatre’s 1980’s hokum.

Nine is a film adaptation of a stage musical originally mounted in 1980 — the same year Thriller and Rock Lobster came out incidentally. In the proud tradition of Hairspray, Nine is a movie musical based on a stage musical based on a non-musical movie. In this case, the original movie was Frederico Felini’s “Otto e Mezzo,” an autobiographical story about Felini’s own creative and marital difficulties. The story revolves around a troubled Italian film director named Guido Contini. He’s trying to make a new movie. Vast quantities of money and manpower have been invested on the strength of his reputation alone and with just weeks left before shooting, Guido has nothing but a title. He flees Rome to a spa in Anzio where he hopes a change of scenery will help him focus. Instead he gets mired down in drama revolving around his tumultuous love life and in some existential what-does-it-all-mean angst revealed through flashbacks from his past, principally of his late mother and a sand tossing hooker. Sound interesting? It isn’t. When stretched out into 118 minutes by Rob Marshall, it feels thin, self-indulgent, and pointless.

The result is like any other copy of a copy of a copy: confusing, stripped of its essence and more to the point: boring. The film version does nothing to establish Contini as a character whose struggling is anything we should care about. Throughout the film, bombshell after bombshell — Kate Hudson, Marion Coutillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman — burst into song about what a genius Contini is. The problem is we never see it. It’s a classic case of telling instead of showing. As a result, we don’t care about him. We don’t care what happens to him and when we’re forced to watch the most beautiful women in the world sing about his genius and pain, it rings false. It was unbearable to sit through, so I didn’t.

Nine is a self-indulgent vanity project. In a way it reminded me of Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter, another film featuring Sophia Loren apparently made to impress a small group of the director’s pretentious friends. Skip them both. 1 monkey for Fergie.

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Up in the Air (2009)

I challenge any adult American to watch Up in the Air and not find at least one character that they relate too.  This is so timely, it’s as if the filmmakers could sense the economic crisis on the horizon.  The story is set around the life of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who travels for a living to companies that are “downsizing” and does the dirty work for them.  Ryan loves the life of living out of a suitcase, it fact he revels in it.  He likes being able to go to the front of the line at the airport, to have his rental car in a matter of minutes, to have relationships with people who will have a definite end.  That is until his company decides to ground him in favor of conference firing.  Only then does Ryan examine his life and question some, if not all of his choices. As an audience member you find yourself engaged into the life of Ryan, inspired by the fact that he can indeed talk people out of stupid decisions, yet still chooses to keep them at arm’s length.  He wants his backpack nice and empty so that he can sprint out of the room if need be (see the film, it will make sense).  The movie doesn’t hit you over the head with what it is trying to say, it just let’s the characters speak for themselves.  As with Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), the young employee bringing on the technology that is wrecking Ryan’s world, is a brilliant touch to the film.  She could have so easily been a caricature of herself, but the actress playing her instead allows her to be vulnerable and even likeable at times.  See this film if for no other reason than it will make you think about your own decisions, good or bad.  5 out of 5 monkeys.

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A jolly good time, full of wit and action, the new retelling of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is indeed a fun ride.  Guy Ritchie is back, reminding us what we loved about him (Snatch), but with a refinement that is true to the Holmes name.  Sherlock Holmes is an eccentric, but also a genius, so who better to play him than the incorrigible Robert Downey Jr.  One of the things that makes this film stand out from others is how they take something that we have seen many a time, such as a fight scene, but giving it a twist.  We see into the mind of Sherlock, a scientific mind, telling the audience exactly how he is going to defeat his opponent.  A specific jab here, a closing of the airway there and afterward, speeding it up for full effect.  Brilliant.  Jude Law is well cast as the straight man, the cool-headed sidekick, with his own dark gambling past.  They are a wonderful team, Holmes and Watson, if a bit dysfunctional at times.  The only weak link is Rachel McAdams as Holmes’ muse Irene Adler, mainly because you wish that she was a bit sassier, but still not bad enough to make one miserable.  The villan is a true surprise as Lord Blackwood a ghostly presence who seems to be a match for Holmes as he tries to crack his often teetering on the edge mind.  Visually stunning and often quite humorous, Sherlock Holmes is a fun ride, well worth your time and money.  4 out of 5 monkeys.

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When I was in the seventh grade, my older brother had a group of his friends over for a viewing of the new Terminator movie, Terminator 2:  Judgment Day .  I remember sneaking into the room and sitting on the hard floor in the back, excited about the prospect of seeing these amazing machines I had heard about, but also afraid of what I might see.  Based on this experience, years later I was excited to see the new installment, Terminator Salvation, especially after the puzzlement that was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (I still don’t understand the ending).  Anyway, there were aspects of this new film that I greatly enjoyed, but the ending fell extremely flat for me.  SPOILER ALERT:  In the next section I am going to talk about key points in the plot to way the pros and cons of the film.

I thought the opening was stellar, starting out in the near present-day 2003 with a convict on death row (Marcus Wright played by Sam Worthington). It set up a whole new way of looking at mortality and eventually second chances for this franchise. The first few scenes with Christian Bale as John Connor were stellar, especially when he crashes in the helicopter (excellent camera work) and I like that we learn right away that is not a hero to everyone, but instead a nut-ball.  Surprisingly, many of the best parts of the film revolved around the Marcus Wright character – SPOILER ALERT – a new breed of terminator, who thinks he’s still human with a human heart and brain.  A brilliant concept that I wish they could have taken on into the franchise should they choose to continue with it.  Marcus is given a second chance in many ways, although we never find out why he was a criminal in the first place (this is something that I think would have been interesting to know).  Connor’s conflict with the character of Marcus is evident, especially once he realizes what he is.  This fits well with past themes, harkening back to his feelings towards the terminator in the second film as a boy.  I would have liked to see them explore that territory a bit more.

I loved that they had the teenaged Kyle Reese spouting lines from the original (made me think of the awesome lines spoken by Bones in the new Star Trek film).  It was nice seeing this character on screen again, since he is such a pivotal character to the series, who we haven’t seen much of since the first film.  Unfortunately,  once the film entered the Skynet headquarters, the film started to go down hill fast.  First off, the Schwarzenegger re-creation was ridiculous, it looked fake and didn’t excite me as a fan.  Next in the ridiculous realm was John’s scheme to blow up the Skynet headquarters with the nuclear terminator devices, according to my sources, the way he did it is impossible.  The whole ending sequence just felt weird and rushed.  But what REALLY disappointed me was the end with the heart transplant.  I totally called it, which made it even lamer.  What was the point?  Marcus was such an interesting character, why kill him off in such a clichéd way?  This is why I can only give this film 3 out of 5 monkeys.  It could have been a 4 and I really wanted it to be, really I did.

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Twilight: New Moon (2009)

I am not ashamed to say that I have read all of the Twilight books and believe to this day that they are a great summer read that will in no way change your life.  So, I was eager to see how they were going to handle the second book on-screen, New Moon, given that it was the most angst ridden of the series.  Boy, was I disappointed.  My main quibble revolved around the way that the heartbreak of both Edward and especially Bella was handled in the film, with so . . . . many . . . . dramatic . . . . pauses . . . . I . . . . thought for a moment . . . . . that I was watching . . . . . an episode of . . . . . Star Trek.  It was such a dramatic moment in the book, that played so horribly on-screen.  Maybe you had to see inside Bella’s head to really appreciate what she was going through.  I wanted to feel so bad for her when she was left all alone in the woods, but it fell flat.  And don’t even get me started on the floating Edward.  I know that’s kind of how it was in the book, but it didn’t translate well on at all.  It just made me uncomfortable and once I was over that I just wanted to laugh.

The greatest thing that I learned from watching New Moon is that the ONLY way to watch it is on opening night (not the midnight showing, but the day of) with streams of pre-teen and teenage girls.  They are SO into it that you can’t help but enjoy yourself.  Every time a guy took his shirt off (which happened quite a bit in this movie), there was a great response involving screaming and laughter.  It was infectious and helped to make up for the lack of good acting.  And not as annoying as one would think.

The second half was much more bearable, especially the part with the Volturi.  I would love to know how many of you would have liked to see more of those creepy vampires?  Hopefully, they will incorporate them more in the next installments.  The last thing I will say is poor Jacob.  Myself and my band of brothers are tempted to put together a wesbite called Jacob is Duckie!  If you don’t get the reference, go rent Pretty in Pink.  2 and a half out of 5 monkeys.

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