Monthly Archives: April 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Detective Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England. The film stars Robert Downey Jr. in the title role along with Jule Law as Dr. John Watson with supporting roles from Rachel McAdams as the love interest/villain and Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood. Directed by Guy Ritchie (Revolver, Snatch)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Guy Ritchie is a clever director who brings us his take on this classic and very British hero. Downey gives us a fun performance with a twinge of eccentricity and clumsiness not usually associated with Sherlock Holmes that earned him a Golden Globe. We never think of Holmes as making a fool of himself, or failing in his experiments, and Downey adds some levity to what could be a very stiff protagonist.

However, it’s a bit of a stretch to turn Holmes into a bad-ass, kung-fu fighting, muscled man who throws down with street fighters in the basement of a bar. The action scenes are sharp and fluid, but misplaced. I wanted a smart detective story that challenged me. Instead, this went with the tried and true occult villain, which could have gone into some dark and interesting places, but I was bored with him.The mystery was traded for action and gadgetry.

This film was a fun, popcorn version of Sherlock Holmes, which was entertaining enough, digestible for the masses, and worth a viewing. Just don’t expect to be blown away.

5 out of 10
Like Matt, I went in to this latest incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth with great optimism, considering the excitement that the trailers generated way back to summer 2009.  I really looked forward to Sherlock Holmes as an action hero, provided that they stayed true to the heart of the novel series — engaging mysteries where the audience goes on the adventure with the characters, solving the cases with them. Unfortunately, this was not to be the ‘case’ (<— pun.).
The main problem with this film is there is hardly any of that spirit in this film and it has absolutely ZERO mystery in the plot.  It’s predictability has nothing to do with the clues laid out in the film, it has to do with the fact this whole contrivance of a film is nothing more than a carbon-copy of every other action film of the last decade and quite frankly, it assumes its audience is stupid.
Robert Downey, Jr., who has been given new life as an action hero thanks to Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” franchise, is gruff and charming. Because of that gruffness he plays this new Holmes with a great deal of swagger and bravado while Jude Law’s Watson portrayal is refreshing, balanced to Holmes’ mischief, and unlike previous incarnations of the character, he is actually treated with respect and deference as a peer of Holmes. He is not a bumbling idiot to the superior Holmes like he has been for the last 70 years in these films.
Like the whole plot of the film, however, I’ve seen these characters before in every other buddy-cop film.  The main villain is two-dimensional and predictable and one of the things that annoys me to no end in period films is when they stretch believability to its limit by trying to convince the audience of technology that is obviously far more advanced than possible.
But that’s just an annoyance. The real issues are the lack of mystery, and the predictability of the plot and the characters.  Ironically, the only saving grace to the film are Downey and Law themselves, who despite the redundancy of their characters, manage to make them likeable.
I have to be completely straight about this: I went into this film enthusiastically, dragging my wife along (who had no interest other than the fact that she likes Downey) and I fell asleep multiple times through this snore-fest and I was sawing wood for the last ten minutes of the film.  I couldn’t give a play-by-play account of the end of the film, but I can say with pretty close to absolute certainty that I can easily guess how the ending turned out.

Paranormal Activity

After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban starter tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.

Rating 6 out of 10

This is another horror movie shot largely in hand-held, which at times adds some creepy elements and a realistic feel to this haunting story, but a lot of the times gives us motion sickness. Aside from the camera work, there are a couple other truly creepy moments that made the hairs on my arms stand up. And first-time director Oren Peli was patient not to overdo or jam in gore or other distractions from what is truly scary — a villain you can never see.

But scary parts withstanding, there aren’t enough to recommend this as a must-see horror movie. It falls short of the hype that surrounded it. I give credit to the marketers, who made this movie a success the likes of the “The Blair Witch Project.” However, this movie doesn’t have the same impact. But I wouldn’t say it’s a total loss. Die-hard horror fans should definitely see it and will likely enjoy it.

This is a fun enough movie to watch in the dark under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn and a friend. Just don’t expect “The Exorcist.”

8 out of 10

I’m actually surprised a film like this wasn’t made some time ago.  After the success of the ultra low-budget film “The Blair Witch Project,” you would have thought that everyone wanted to hop on that gravy train and make oodles of cash with camcorder horror.  Well, there’s a reason for that.  It’s very hard to make an intriguing story that will keep the viewer’s interest with no-name actors and a timybudget.  You’ve got to find a hook and “Paranormal Activity” has just that.

A young couple move into a house that’s haunted and the guy decides he’s going to start recording at night when weird things seem to be happening. We then witness how these nights play out as things get progressively worse.  Great horror films are at their scariest when it’s not what you see but what you anticipate seeing.  This is where “Paranormal Activity” excels.  It’s the flutter of a bed sheet, the sound of voices, footsteps coming up the stairs, and other subtleties that scare us.  I don’t want to give away more, but I recommend throwing this on late at night right before you go to bed and be sure to turn off the lights. It’s a fun ride.

Ninja Assassin

Trained since childhood to be a lethal killer, Raizo, played by Sung Kang (Fast & Furious), has since turned his back on the Ozunu clan that raised him and now seeks revenge for their heartless murders. Teaming up with Europol investigator Mika, played by Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Raizo steadily butchers his enemies while inching ever closer to the long-awaited bloody reunion with his former master. James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) directs.

Rating: 3 out of 10

I’m a big fan of good, loud, and fun action movies.  I love “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Rambo.”

Do I know they’re dumb at times?  Sure, but they have great characters and amazing action and the time flies by when I watch them.  So, I thought “Ninja Assassin” would be right up my alley.  Well, partially it was.  There’s some great action with huge doses of gratuitous violence (a genre staple).  And, that’s all I can say that’s positive.

But when I say there’s no story, we’re talking almost zero. The breakdown goes like this: A secret society kidnaps kids and trains them to be assassins so that they can carry out orders for a master who gets large amounts of cash for the executions.  At one point, one of them rebels against the master and in turn he sends all the assassins after the rebel.  That’s it.  That is the entire story.  No, I’m not kidding.  It really is.  We are then basically subjected to 90 minutes of slice and chop from a character we know jack shit about and could care less whether he’s alive or dead.  There are also very obvious shots of digital blood splashes that come out of enemies when our “hero” slices and dices.  It looks incredibly fake and distracting.

What happened to the good old days of action and horror?  If Wes Craven and John Carpenter needed blood, they reached for corn syrup dyed red and a hose.  I can’t recommend “Ninja Assassin” because after watching it. I felt like I was watching the director play Xbox, but never getting to touch the controller.  That’s no fun.

The Informant

The U.S. government decides to go after an agricultural business giant for a price-fixing scheme that’s based on the evidence submitted by their star witness — vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre, played by Matt Damon. The film costars Scott Bakula and Joel McHale as two FBI agents working the case Damon plays the bumbling Whitacre, a compulsive liar, moron, and probably the world’s worst informant. Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12) directs this comedy.

6 out of 10

Damon nails the compulsive liar, sociopath, but as a protagonist, it’s a hard character to endure for two hours.  We watch him bumble and stumble, and screw up an investigation while he tries to climb the corporate ladder. He’s just a complete moron, but we’re not laughing at him, or with him. We’re cringing along the way.

This type of character can work, like Borat did so masterfully, but it’s more annoying in this case — especially because this is based on a true story. This guy really existed, and our government is really this dumb. Scott Bakula is a nice counterpart to Damon as an optimistic FBI agent who risks his career for the case.

The film seems to drag because it annoyed me so much. It was hard to believe that someone could be so dimwitted. This isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not a great movie.

The Box

Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden), a suburban couple with a young son, receive a simple wooden box as a gift, which bears fatal and irrevocable consequences. A mysterious stranger delivers the message that the box promises to bestow upon its owner $1 million with the press of a button. But, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world — someone they don’t know. With just 24 hours to have the box in their possession, Norma and Arthur find themselves in the cross-hairs of a startling moral dilemma and must face the true nature of their humanity.

8 out of 10

This movie took me by surprise. It is a complex drama/ science fiction/suspense film that studies the complexities of what we value most.

The story takes some strange and unexpected alien turns in the movie, but throughout I found myself engaged in the story. Diaz is believable, displaying a sense of vulnerability as a handicapped teacher. Her husband, Marsden, is a scientist and failed astronaut. The two are unhappy and are looking for escape and change. They just don’t know what the cost will be, aside from the death of a complete stranger.

The story unwraps slowly and with patience, and has the feel of an Alfred Hitchcock film. The ending, as I mentioned, is strange, but not without point. This movie, on the surface, doesn’t seem like it’s as good as it actually was.

The Blind Side

More proof that an inner city black kid is just a wealthy, white family away from being successful.

“The Blind Side,” or it’s international title “Diff’rent Strokes,” depicts the story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American youngster from a broken home, taken in by the Touhys, a well-to-do white family who help him fulfill his potential. At the same time, Oher’s presence in the Touhys’ lives leads them to some insightful self-discoveries of their own. Living in his new environment, the teen faces a completely different set of challenges to overcome. As a football player and student, Oher works hard and with the help of his coaches and adopted family becomes an All-American offensive left tackle.

Rating: 2 out of 10

cliché or cliche (pronounced klē-ˈshā) is a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect.

This word completely sums up my thoughts on The Blind Side.  It’s a boring, paint by numbers, sticky sweet, and artificial made-for-TV movie with some of the most cliched dialogue and cardboard characters that I have seen in a long time.  I always love to quote the film itself  to give you an idea of just how bad people speaking can truly be:

Friend: You’re changing that boy’s life.

Bullock: No, he’s changing mine.

Whachew talkin’ ’bout, Sandra?!

I nearly vomited in my popcorn bowl and that’s just one of a myriad of one liners this piece of shit throws at us.  If the dialogue wasn’t bad enough, the story gives absolutely no resonant punch.  We are given almost no background on Michael Oher’s character (played by Quinton Aaron in a performance that consists of little more than looking down for most of the film) except that he comes from a shitty neighborhood and his mother is a crackhead.  So, Sandra Bullock, doing an Erin Brockovich impersonation, decides to bring in this poor kid and have him stay in her home.

Now I know this is a true story.  I’m an enormous NFL fan and knew most of this story before I even threw it in my blu-ray player.  I find it incredibly hard to believe that there was absolutely no resistance whatsoever from three members of her family or the community to bring a 350 lb. inner city black kid into an upscale white neighborhood.  But, no, this film never has the balls to even explore that.  The husband just complies with everything she says and likewise, their kids  go heel-to-toe.  Then, we’re subjected to a training montage where a 10-year-old boy trains him for football with a stopwatch, Sandra Bullock coaching Michael Oher on how to protect the quarterback because “clearly his coach can’t”, and more cliched scenes where his grades go up a little over time.  I have to end the review here because I’m reliving this horrible experience all over again and the fact that this movie actually got Oscar attention makes me sick!

The Invention of Lying

It’s a world where everyone tells the truth – and just about anything they’re thinking. Mark Bellison, played by Ricky Gervais, is a screenwriter who is about to be fired. He’s short and chubby with a flat nose – a genetic pool that means he doesn’t stand a chance  with Anna, played by Jennifer Garner, the woman he loves. He loses his job, is short on rent, and heads to the bank to deduct the last of his cash. When there, he realizes he could lie, getting enough money from the teller for rent. Then, when his mother’s on her deathbed, frightened of the eternal void awaiting her, Mark invents a story that good things wait for her on the other side. The hospital staff overhear his description of Heaven, believe every word, and tell others.  Soon Mark is a prophet, his first inventive screenplay makes him rich, and he’s basically a good guy. But will that be enough for Anna?

Rating: 7 out of 10

Finally! A good romantic comedy.

Ricky Gervais succeeds in his directorial debut as a likable loser who can’t keep a job or get the girl. This was a lighthearted comedy that succeeded with observant and humble performances by Gervais and Garner, who is likable as an unlikable character. She is a shallow woman hunting for her perfect man to marry and have kids with and won’t date Gervais because he is fat and has a pug nose.

Gervais stumbles into a stroke of genius when he lies for the first time in a world where lying doesn’t exist. It’s a clever concept and goes into places that are very honest, for instance there is no religion or creative thought.

This was a fun, likable film, and I look forward to seeing more of Gervais’ work.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call

After Hurricane Katrina, police sergeant Terence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) rescues a prisoner, hurts his back in the process and earns a promotion to lieutenant. But with his pain comes an addiction to cocaine and painkillers while he is working the case of a family murdered over drugs. His drug-using prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), his alcoholic father’s dog, run-ins with two old women and a well-connected john, gambling losses, a nervous young witness, and thefts of police property put Terence’s job and life in danger. He wants a big score to get out from under mounting debts, so he joins forces with drug dealers.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Bad Lieutenant is just that. Bad.

This is one of those cases where a director, Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), completely dropped the ball with a solid script.

You can tell a strong story was on the page. There is a wonderful scene where McDonagh takes his girlfriend to his childhood home. He shows her his secret hiding place, and tells her about a silver spoon, his pirate treasure, that he found as a boy and hid but could never again find. It’s wonderful symbolism of having a goal, like being a police officer, and losing it and the spoon conjures imagery of  heroine.

Cage’s character was nicely developed through about 70 percent of the film. He seems vulnerable, a great detective and son of a successful cop who slips into a life of drug abuse after injuring his back. But Herzog took the performance to a cartoonish level, and slapped together sequences where the protagonist has hallucinations of lizards and break-dancing dead people, but they come off as silly and ineffective and demean the flow of the narrative.

This was a swing and a miss at film noir by Herzog.

Rating: 4 out of 10

I’ll admit that I was excited for this film.  Why would I be when I didn’t even like the Harvey Keitel original?  Well, one reason: Werner Herzog.  He’s one of the greatest directors in the world that most people have never heard of.  If you’re not familiar with his work, go see “Stroszek, Wrath of of God,” and “Grizzly Man” immediately.

So, what did I think of the new one?  Well, let’s start with the good. The locales of New Orleans are used to great effect.  It picks up right after Hurricane Katrina and you feel the palpable sense of decay from death and despair.  Also, Nicholas Cage is excellent.  He does exactly what he’s required to do and going over the top is what he does best.  Okay, that’s where the positive ends and the negative begins.  This film is a complete mess of storytelling without any originality or believability.  Who in their right mind would believe that a cop who behaved this way wouldn’t be in jail?  He goes through the process of (in no particular order) pulling people over so he can search them for drugs to take for his own habit, taking sex as payment for not arresting a woman while her boyfriend watches (when the boyfriend tries to run away, Cage’s character fires a shot in the air and says, “stay here and watch me fuck your girlfriend.”), he participates in side deals for cocaine with drug dealers and even watches them commit murder others while he laughs, snorts more drugs than Scarface.  In the film, he’s not under investigation.  In fact, he’s promoted not once, but twice!!  There’s also a side romance with a coke whore played by Mendes that is a complete waste of time.  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting for him to have a normal family and lead an unknown double life that he tries to hide from them?  Well, the writers only cared for shock value and that’s what they get, a few shocks and no point whatsoever.

Who is the greatest director? You vote

Top 5 directors of all time

This is our case for the Top 5 directors of all time. We took a lot of elements into consideration, skill with the camera, knowledge of narrative, respect for the actors, and a strong body of work. Francis Ford Coppola is a great director, but since “The Godfather” trilogy, he’s fallen off the map (although his wine is excellent). Sergio Leone, of the spaghetti western fame, made some spectacular films, as has Clint Eastwood, John Ford, Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, Billy Wilder, Frederico Fellini and Woody Allen. But this isn’t a top 20, it’s a top 5. So, here they are.

5. Steven Spielberg: We’re fully aware that Spielberg is blacklisted as a popcorn-movie making golden boy who sold out his contemporaries by being a studio bitch. We just don’t see it that way.

There is no other director that has done the wealth, variety and quality of films that Spielberg has. Granted, he’s had some misses, like “1941” and his decision to produce “Transfomers” and its sequel. But Spielberg understands narrative storytelling and delivers uniquely told stories that capture our imagination and stand the test of time. There are few directors who would make “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Color Purple.” Or how about “Jurassic Park” against “Schindler’s List.” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and the emotion of his Kubrick lover letter “Artificial Intelligence: AI.” In time, he will be respected by the movie snobs. The rest of us — the audience — will keep loving his movies.

4. Alfred Hitchcock:Is a master storyteller who churned out movies like it was his job… which it was. Over a 50 year career, he cranked out nearly 70 films as a director, plus he wrote and produced his own television series and other films. But he will be remembered most as a director for his uncanny ability to capture suspense, play with our minds with stunning visuals, and create iconic images in films like “Psycho” “The Birds” “North by Northwest” “Vertigo” and the list goes on. He set the stage for other directors in a genre he brought respect to.

3. Akira Kirosawa: Ironically, Kirosawa was panned in Japan in his early days for being too influenced by western directors, like John Ford, and for bringing too much emotion to his pictures. But that was his strength. He captured both the action of war and its drama. He paid exquisite detail even to the most mundane characters, and brought humanity to war and famine. “The Seven Samurai” “Yojimbo” “Rashômon” and “The Hidden Fortress” continue to influence directors to this day.

2. Martin Scorsese: He came out of the NYU film school, and lead a generation of directors that bucked the Hollywood system and its traditional film-making techniques  and story lines. He made movies, like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” that challenged the viewer and put them in an uneasy chair. His mafia movies, like “Good Fellas” and “The Departed,” are unmatched in the genre. He approaches film humbly, and understands stories and imagery like no other (except our number one choice). We love Scorsese, and we hope he never retires.

1. Stanley Kurbick:Kirk Douglas, after the making of Spartacus, said, “Stanley Kurbick is a talented shit.”

He only made 15 films in his career, which was one of his regrets as a director, but he was a perfectionist and his pictures were a reflection of that. His last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” took five years to make. No other director has been given that freedom, and for good reason. Every Kubrick film is a masterpiece.

There has never been a director who understood a camera better. He was a still photographer before he became a motion picture director and his use of light and how it impacts stories and characters as a storytelling vehicle is extremely thoughtful. His story telling skills are superb, but he never used narrative stories, or rarely did. His movies made you feel the story. They never handed it to you on a silver plate. He challenged viewers with his stories and portrayed them with stunning beauty. There has never been a better director. He was the Mozart of film making.