Monday, March 24, 2008

Movie Mon. - I Refuse to Say "Enchanted was Enchanting," Even if It Was

Southland Tales: Uneven Sci-Fi satire set in an alternate future where a nuclear explosion in Texas has taken national paranoia to new heights, and where an amnesiac actor (The Rock), an ambitious porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and a man who hasn't had to use the bathroom for a week (Sean William Scott) get drawn into the machinations of a renegade scientist and his experiments with the substance known as Fluid Karma. I wanted to like this latest effort from Richard Kelley, writer/director of Donnie Darko, really I did, but in the end, while I didn't hate it, neither can I say I particularly enjoyed it. One of the difficulties involved with the Southland Tales experience is that, in order to get the full story, you have to read the three graphic novel prequels; I'm glad I read the books immediately before watching the film, it helped put a lot of stuff in context that would have slipped through the cracks otherwise. I had considered watching the film without reading the books, just to see how easy it would be to understand without the extra info, but not even 20 minutes in I had to stop the DVD because I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was missing out on something, and I knew that trying to watch the film while I knew there was extra background information to supplement the plot just sitting there waiting to be read, I would have gone insane. Probably my biggest disappointment with the film was that it was lacking the thing that has made Donnie Darko one of my favorite movies: funny, engaging dialogue. I can rattle off half a dozen snippets of dialogue from Darko that resonated with me the first time I watched it, but not a single example from Southland Tales grabbed a hold of me. I would like to watch it again at some point, if for no other reason than to critically observe all of the parallels to Revelation that are supposed to occur.

August Rush:
Modern day fairy tale about a musical prodigy's search for his birth parents, neither of whom knows he's alive. Pretty predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. My favorite aspect of the film was the character of Wizard, a sort of musical Fagin who trains his orphan charges to be buskers, not pickpockets, which I found to be an interesting twist. And while I liked all of the music in the film, I wasn't quite as pleased with how the musical sequences were filmed; often there was too much of a disconnect between the actions of the performers and the music that was heard which proved jarring to me. Still, as far as feel-good, manipulative semi-tear-jerkers go, you could do much, much worse.

Enjoyable spoof of Disney's animated fantasies which revolves around an animated princess-to-be (the incomparable Amy Adams) who gets tossed into the real world by the evil step-mother (Susan Sarandon) of her princely fiancé (James Marsden), where she soon discovers that not everyone in New York gets a happily ever after. Surprisingly enough, out of all the movies I've watched over the last couple of weeks, this one was probably my favorite; yes, there are flashes of sappy saccharine overload, but most of that is undercut by the slightly darker reality into which the fairy tale characters have been thrust, like in the "Happy Working Song" sequence

Adams which pitch perfect in her role, Marsden plays the self-involved prince incredibly well, and the animated chipmunk made me laugh out loud multiple times. All in all, highly recommended to kids of all ages.

Ace in the Hole: This 1954 B&W film from the talented director Billy Wilder (Stalag 17, Double Indemnity, Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, and Sunset Blvd.) stars Kirk Douglas as a fast-talking, self-important newshound who's been drummed out of every major newspaper in the county, and has now taken refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he languishes in small town Americana until he stumbles on a man trapped in a cave-in and realizes that he's now found his ticket back to the big time. The first 2/3 of the film are great, a quick-witted, snappy-patter driven satire of the sensationalist news media and the public that thrives on it, but as the film draws to its conclusion, the dark humor is supplanted by a healthy dose of melodrama and pathos which doesn't age nearly as well as the rest of the film. I liked it a lot, but the ending could have been toned down just a tad and been just as, if not more, effective.

Rambo III:
Not much to say about this one; while the action sequences struck me as a bit more believable than those in the previous film, the previous one remains the more enjoyable. Go figure. Looking forward to seeing the latest installment and its 200+ body count.

The Last Legion:
Mediocre film about the deposed Roman child-emperor Romulus Augustus and his quest to find loyal supporters to help him regain control of Rome, all of which is tied into the Arthurian legend. A pretty impressive cast (Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley) for such an unimpressive film. With a plot driven by coincidences that strained credulity and fueled with dialogue so bland and dry that it's a wonder the cast didn't choke on it, I felt myself straining to bite back my MST3K tendencies while watching this with others.

Hitman: Largely unremarkable action film based on the video game about a super-assassin (Timothy Olyphant) who becomes a target himself and searches for an answer to the question "why?" An action movie so enthralling that Maverick fell asleep on the couch watching it, if that tells you anything. Not nearly as bad as some of the reviews I read made it out to be, but very little here to recommend to anyone.

Dan in Real Life: Comedy about a widowed advice columnist (Steve Carrell) who finds love at first sight with a woman who happens to be his brother's girlfriend. While certain aspects made me cringe -- way too many uncomfortable moments thanks to Dan acting irrationally due to his secret crush, and too many willful daughter sequences -- on the whole I enjoyed this one.