Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"What I Watched" Wednesday - That's Why Cluckity Doesn't Read the Book . . .

Lots of movie watching was accomplished over the Christmas break, most of it happening at my parents

Invincible: Biopic about Vince Papale, the Philadelphia bartender who answered an open call for try outs for the Eagles in the 70s. A better than average feel-good sports flick with engaging performances from Mark Wahlberg as Papale and Elizabeth Banks as his NY Giants loving romantic interest.

Wu Ji [The Promise]: Chinese fairy tale about a young girl who makes a deal with a goddess for endless riches and fame in exchange for never knowing a lasting love, and the young slave who sets out to win her heart. Some beautiful imagery, and an entertaining story, but occasionally the FX were more distracting than entrancing, especially during the fight sequences.

Dreamland: Drama about a love triangle between three young trailer park residents: a beauty queen wannabe with M.S. (Kellie Garner); a budding poet who refuses to go to college (Agnes Bruckner); and a would-be basketball star recovering from a knee injury (Justin Long). I think the movie is almost worth it just to see Long -- typically cast in more nerdy/geeky/klutzy roles -- playing the cool jock who wins the two girls' hearts. Good performances all around, and although love triangles aren't really my cup of tea, I wound up enjoying this often-downbeat flick.

Step Up: Predictable yet still enjoyable film about a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who finds his life changed by community service at a school for the arts. You can pretty much see every major beat of the film coming, and the big "message" is a bit heavy-handed, but the (mostly) likable characters and excellent dance scenes made up for it.

Take the Lead: Another "redemption through dance" film, this time based on the true story of a ballroom dance instructor who volunteers to teach a group of inner city troublemakers. Once again, this one is pretty predictable, and once again, the characters and dance scenes made me not care that I knew what was coming.

Black Dahlia: Loosely based on the still unsolved Black Dahlia murder, this thriller tries to evoke the spirit of classic noir without actually being noir, which leaves it as a mixed bag at best. I think my favorite scenes were those which involved the high-strung and probably highly-medicated mother of Hilary Swank's character, which is a bit odd, since those scenes were so over-the-top compared to the rest of the film, and by now we all know how I feel about consistency of tone, don't we? Still, her scenery chewing contained an energy and sense of entertainment that was sorely lacking from the rest of the film. All in all a film I enjoyed at the time, but which has tarnished a bit in hindsight.

The Descent: Tense British horror film about a group of adventurous women whose spelunking outing takes a turn for the worse after a cave in forces them deeper underground where they encounter strange creatures. I know at first this might sound like a rip-off of The Cave, but believe me, this one is worlds above that noisy, convoluted, schizophrenic piece of Hollywood dreck. Claustrophobic, but in a good way -- half of the fun of watching it was seeing my dad squirm in his seat while the women were squeezing through the narrow passageways. I think the thing I appreciated the most about the film (well, the thing I appreciate the most that I can talk about without spoiling stuff, that is) was how two of the characters became very proactive in their battle to survive early on; you don't see that often in horror flicks, especially ones with primarily female leads, so it was a nice change of pace.

Little Miss Sunshine: Excellent off-beat comedy about a highly dysfunctional family (including a not-so-inspirational speaker father (Greg Kinnear), a heroin snorting grandfather (Alan Arkin), an angst ridden teen under a vow of silence, and a recently suicidal uncle (Steve Carrell)) who set off on a road trip in a barely functional van so that the baby of the family, young Olive, can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. Definitely not for everyone (my dad was almost forced to leave the room a couple of times, he was so uncomfortable), but mom and I both loved it.

Jet Li's Fearless: Reportedly Jet Li's final martial arts film, this film is very loosely based on the life of Chinese legend Huo Yuanjia, a master of wushu who helped bolster the pride of the Chinese people in the early 20th century. Some great fight scenes in this one, although there are a couple which are marred by an over-the-top application of special effects and wire work.

Lies and Alibis: Darkish comedy about a former con man (Steve Coogan) who decides to use his abilities to start a business crafting alibis for adulterous men and women, a business which lands him in trouble when a high-powered assassin (Sam Elliot) decides that he could use such a service for his own business. Like most con artist films, the fun of this one is seeing how the master conman manipulates anyone and everyone around him for his own ends, and this one has the benefit of a very funny screenplay to boot. Quite a cast (including Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Henry Rollins, Selma Blair, James Brolin) for a film that practically nobody's heard of; personally, I liked it a lot.

The Last Kiss: Drama about a 30-something architect (Zach Braff) who finds himself chafing under the pressure of having his whole life already planned out, leading him to cheat on his fiance (Jacinda Barrett of Real World: London fame) with a young college student (Rachel Bilson of The O.C.). A well made, well acted, well directed film that I didn't particularly care for all that much. Think my main problem was getting annoyed with Braff's character as he slid down the slippery slope of infidelity which would inevitably end badly for all involved.

Eragon: Fantasy film loosely adapted from the best-selling novel about a young boy and his dragon Saphira and their quest to overthrow the evil King Galbatorix, slayer of the dragon riders. Fans of the book beware: this one takes major liberties with the plot, characterization, and details of the novel. Having just read the book a few weeks back, it's difficult for me to judge the film on its own merits, as I was too caught up trying to figure out what the screenwriter was smoking when he made many, many pointless changes (Brom goes from village storyteller to borderline rogue? Saphira goes from infant to adult in instants and then names herself? Roran goes into hiding rather than going off to apprentice? Murtagh volunteers to take Eragon to the Varden? Sheesh). Honestly, I felt like they took any complexity or shade of grey from the book and tossed them out (along with notable characters like The Twins and Solembum) in order to make it just a simplistic "King and Shade bad, Eragon and Varden good" story. But, then again, Cap'n Cluck, who hadn't even realized it was a book before we got to the theater, liked the movie quite a bit, so take my quibbles with a grain of salt if you must.