Monday, April 09, 2007

Return of Movie Monday!

Yeah, I've been remiss in my movie reviewing recently, so here's a glimpse at what I've watched over the past month or so

Fast Food Nation: Richard Liknlater's look at the world of fast food as seen from the P.O.V.s of a high powered fast food executive, a minimum wage high school fast food employee, and some illegal immigrants working in the meat packing plant responsible for the fast food supplies. For me, this one was a rare miss on Linklater's part; it's not a Bad News Bears level of "Rich, what were you thinking?", but I just couldn't get into this one. And no, that's not just because it was attacking the fast food industry. The film does have its moments, such as Kris Kristofferson's appearance as an eccentric rancher and Ethan Hawke's turn as the cool uncle of the high schooler (played by Ashley Johnson, probably best known as youngest daughter Chrissy on Growing Pains). In fact, the movie got a lot more interesting to me from the point where Hawke showed up to stir things up, if for no other reason than the chemistry between Hawke, Johnson, and Patricia Arquette. Not a bad movie, just a tad disappointing.

Half Nelson: Very well done drama about a self-destructive history teacher and basketball coach (Ryan Gosling) whose downward spiral is intensified after he's caught doing drugs by one of his students (newcomer Shareeka Epps). Gosling does an excellent job as usual, and Epps more than earns the multiple "Breakthrough Performance" nominations and wins this role garnered her. Not exactly a touchy-feely good-time film, but it does carry a positive message.

Unknown: Predictable thriller about a group of men (Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Jim Caviezel, Jeremy Sisto, Joe Pantoliano) who wake up in a warehouse totally bereft of any memory of who they are or how they got there. As you can tell from the cast list, the performances in the film were of pretty high caliber; if only the same could be said of the script, which basically called for lots and lots of screaming before unveiling not-too-surprising plot twists. I'm generally a fan of the "one of us is a traitor and we have to find out who" genre of films, but this one was mediocre at best. Plus, the final twist felt totally forced and tacked on, which kind of blew the ending for me.

The Pursuit of Happyness: True story of Chris Gardner, a devoted father who struggles through a period of homelessness and poverty in an attempt to land a position as a stock broker for E.F. Hutton. Will Smith does a great job as Gardner, and his real life son Jaden does a great job as Gardner's son Christopher. A solid film with a solid script and solid performances; not one I'll feel the need to watch over and over again, but definitely worth a watch.

Sublime: Total waste of a great cast (Thomas Cavanagh, Paget Brewster, Kyle Gallner). That's all I have to say about this lackluster horror/thriller.

Confetti: British mockumentary about a bridal magazine which throws a contest to find the world's most original wedding. A bit more heartfelt and earnest than the similarly structured Christopher Guest films, as Confetti often takes time out to show that the characters aren't just broad and shallow excuses for comedic shenanigans; unfortunately, I don't think that always works in the film's favor, although it did go a long way to keeping me from totally loathing one of the main couples in the competition. Mildly amusing, but all in all I'd recommend just watching one of Guest's films instead.

Casino Royale: Retooling of the Bond franchise which takes us back to Bond's early days with his 00 status. Let me first say that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a big Bond fan, so the fact that this film was a big departure from the typical Bond formula was a nice draw for me. I thought Daniel Craig did a great job as the callow, self-centered young Bond, and while there weren't a lot of them, what few action scenes we had were great -- especially the extended chase sequence at the beginning. And I have rarely been as discomfited by a torture sequence as I was by the one towards the end of the film. Don't know how long-time Bond fans will feel about it, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Don't Look Now: 1970s horror/thriller about a man (Donald Sutherland) who is haunted by visions of his dead daughter running down the streets of Venice wearing the bright red rain coat she died in. Sufficiently creepy film (gotta love the creepy old sisters with their creepy psychic powers) that was slightly tarnished by the fact that I knew what the final twist was going to be, since it was knowledge of that twist that caused me to rent it in the first place. What was the twist? It can be summed up in this quote from Unconditional Love*: "Nobody messes with a dwarf in a red raincoat."

Flushed Away: Above average animated film about a pampered pet rat who finds himself thrust into an underground sewer city and entangled in the evil plots of a homicidal toad. Not one that I had been super-excited about seeing, but this one was filled with enough random, bizarre happenings (gotta love the singing slugs) to keep me entertained throughout.

Open Season: So-so animated film about a pampered pet bear who exiled to the woods due to the highjinks of a slightly addled deer. Not a bad one (miles about The Ant Bully, for example), but nowhere near the level of, say, Over the Hedge.

Let's Go to Prison: Comedy about a three-time loser (Dax Shepherd) who decides to take revenge on the son of the judge he blames for his lot in life by getting the son (Will Arnett) sent to prison. Much, much funnier than the previews made it out to be, which I should have expected, considering it was directed by Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show fame; but, as the presence of Odenkirk should suggest, this one's not for the easily offended

The Protector: Second film to star Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa follows a similar plot line to his first film, Ong-Bak, with Jaa playing a naive villager who has to enter the big city to retrieve a stolen object of great value; in Ong-Bak it was a statue's head, this time, it's an elephant. What did I think of the film? Well, let's just say it's the sort of movie that makes me wish that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air to give it the intense thrashing it so richly deserves. Or, better yet, someone should give the director an ultimatum: either go back to film school and learn how to effectively edit and shoot your scenes so that they actually make sense, or we're setting Tony Jaa on you. My advice: rent the film, and fast-forward to the fight scenes, several of which are still worthy of viewing.

Grindhouse: Totaly over-the-top double-feature homage to 70s exploitation cinema courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Definitely one of those "love it or hate it" films. I've decided there are two sorts of people in this world: those who think a machine gun leg is cool, and those who think it's the dumbest idea on the face of the planet. I, obviously, fall into the former category. I have to say I did prefer the Rodriguez portion of the film, with it's tongue-in-cheek approach and non-stop action; the much talkier Tarantino section took a lot of adjustment coming off the roller-coaster ride that was Planet Terror. Still enjoyed it --the whole confrontation between Stuntman Mike and the girls while they were playing ship-mast was one of the tensest scenes I've sat through in quite a while -- but it's slower pace took some adjustment. Was also a big fan of the faux trailers separating the two segments; I was especially fond of Edgar Wright's Don't, although Eli Roth's Thanksgiving was a close second. Had a blast at this movie, but man, is it not for the squeamish. Consider yourself warned.

Tideland: Dark and twisty film from one of my favorite directors, Terry Gilliam, about a young girl who responds to life with her druggie parents by retreating into a fantasy world with her imaginary friends, personified by doll heads she wears on her fingers. And if that doll head thing makes you think "Man, that's weird," well, you ain't seen nothing yet. No description I can give of the film can really do it justice, I'm afraid; it's another one of those "love it or hate it" films. Pretty much the whole time I was watching it, PigPen was in the other room on the computer regularly commenting on just how psycho the film sounded. I, being a fan of dark and twisty, loved it, and was bummed that I didn't have anyone else to share it with; then, I discovered my bizarre film watching kindred spirit in Li'L Dill, and was able to force it upon him. He, also, thought it was awesome, showing him to be a man of great discernment and taste. Either that, or a psycho. But, if so, he's in good company, right?