Friday, January 22, 2010

Con Air (1997)

An interesting plot becomes too much blowing stuff up and not enough plot to it. Now, I'm not a fan of action movies in general, but this one in particular felt like a huge waste. Most of the steps to GET to a plot point that involved explosions, seemed rushed and unimaginative. There are a lot of great actors here just reading lines and rolling on the ground away from fireballs... Not a lot of thought put into this. Disappointing. 1.5 stars.

Moon (2009)

A fascinating (and surprisingly touching) story with an ending I didn't actually expect to unfold. I don't want to say too much about it - it would be too easy to let something slip about the plot. Sam Rockwell is excellent as the man who has been living alone on the moon for the last three years. It's been drawing comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this is much more... *human* a story than that was. This is one of the most well-made movies I've seen in a very long time. I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars.

Cloverfield (2008)

Although the movie's gimmick may be a bit much for some viewers, I found it extremely effective. It was a lot scarier than I expected it to be. It felt very real - both on the part of the everyday people caught in it, and the soldiers trying to find a solution. The creature itself is actually very scary, and the smaller creatures are completely terrifying. I felt the short length of the film also worked for it - it was able to pack more consistently scary moments into a smaller amount of time without going overboard. Overall, a very solid horror flick. 4 stars.

Wonder Boys (2000)

Some very good actors here... but not necessarily a good movie. The script is forced, awkward, and doesn't do these great actors justice. When you've got Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr and Frances McDormand in a movie, it should be pretty awesome. Instead, this one just feels uneven and Tobey Maguire (who is NOT a brilliant actor) becomes the only really interesting one out of the bunch. If that's the case, you know your movie has gone awry.

That being said, Tobey Maguire WAS interesting, and I got caught up in his story. And there were a few very good moments here and there. But it's still very uneven. 2.5 stars.

The Invention of Lying (2009)

I love Ricky Gervais. I would pay to see him in pretty much everything. So I love *him* in this movie... but was less than impressed with everyone around him. Apparently, in this film, if you are completely truthful, you are also completely shallow. Jennifer Garner in particular is very unlikeable. Ricky Gervais tells her at one point that she is the most caring person he's ever met, and I couldn't help but wonder if all those scenes had been cut out.

He also has a very long section that feels like satirical religious stand-up. I tend to shy away from movies that have a stand-up feel to them - if you're just going to tell me jokes, just tell me jokes, don't try to cram them into a movie. Besides, not a lot of it was terribly funny. I'm not opposed to religious-themed humor, but most of this seemed like observations I've already heard all the variations on.

Brilliant idea carried out poorly... but Ricky Gervais is still extremely watchable and has some very good comic timing (especially as he interacts with those around them - the scene where he tries to persuade his friends in the bar of his new power is hilarious). This just never all came together as a movie, although some individual moments are very, very good. 3 stars.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Love in the Afternoon (1957)

This is not one of Billy Wilder's best efforts. Although Audrey Hepburn is believably charming and innocent, Gary Cooper does not hold up his end of the bargain, and the plot is pretty much ridiculous. There's some good Wilder-like dialogue along the way, but not enough to make it work. 2.5 stars.

Irma la Douce (1963)

This feels like three or four short films about the same characters mushed together into one clunky one. There are some good sequences and Jack Lemmon is very entertaining as the hero of the story, but Shirley MacLaine is oddly bland and none of it feels consistent. It switches tone and feel constantly. Just when I'd gotten comfortable with a storyline, it turned around into something else. Very awkward. Worth seeing for fans of Lemmon's work, though - he puts his all into it and is in some pretty funny scenes. 2.5 stars.

Pushing Tin (1999)

There are two things that make this movie interesting. 1) Its excellent portrayal of air traffic controllers' hectic day on the job - made me tense just watching it. 2) The acting from both John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. Although the script has some rough patches, particularly the last 15 minutes or so, these two are just fascinating on screen interacting with each other. That kept me watching the entire way through. It's a solid drama until the very end, where it seems to be rushing to find an amenable-to-everyone ending, but it doesn't ruin the rest of the movie, so it's still worth watching. 4 stars.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Einstein and Eddington (2008)

Oh, goodness. Both of these actors are oodles better than the mess of a script this gives them. I know it's a TV movie, but really. It jumps all over the place emotionally. It forces its characters to go on preachy diatribes about science that don't sound like anything actually coming from anyone's mouths (try as I might, I couldn't help but think of Lost Skeleton of Cadavra: "If we find this meteor, it might mean actual scientific advances in the field of science"). David Tennant managed to make most of it at least sound plausibly human. Andy Serkis couldn't QUITE manage it. A good idea for a movie, and two capable actors to portray the roles, but a lousy screenwriter makes this very not-worth watching. 2 stars.

Sleepers (1996)

Despite the skewed morality this movie offers up as legitimate, this is actually a fascinating drama. Rather a star-studded cast but none of it is too distracting. The acting is good and the story compelling - not your typical vigilante story, although, essentially, that's what it is. Fairly well scripted and nicely atmospheric. Not sure it'll stick in my mind for a VERY long amount of time, but it was definitely one I thought about while I watched it. 3.5 stars.

L.A. Without a Map (1998)

This off-beat little romantic comedy is a little uneven in spots (the end reconciliation is abrupt and silly) but there are some very charming moments. David Tennant is occasionally hilarious as the hero - equal parts cheerful and inept. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments, so it's worth watching as long as you never try to take it too seriously and just let the silly plot twists happen. Cute, sweet, but far from perfect. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mr. Brooks (2007)

This is a far more interesting movie than I suspected when I first looked at it. Almost certainly the best thing I've ever seen Kevin Costner in. It's a fairly stylish look at an old type of story. Serial killers are not a new theme in film, but this is an inventive way of portraying them. Dane Cook is also noteworthy as the overeager, adrenaline-seeking fan of the killer's work. Very well done, a fascinating story well told. 4 stars.

Zodiac (2007)

I keep forgetting how impressed I am with Jake Gyllenhaal, and then I watch him in something else. He's quite a good actor. In Zodiac he plays a young, socially inept puzzle enthusiast who determines he's going to solve the mystery of the Zodiac killer. The movie is fascinating, especially since it appears to be a very accurate representation of how the real Zodiac mysteries went. It's more police procedural than serial killer horror flick, but it has its tense moments just the same.

The other person worth mentioning in this is Mark Ruffalo, who I have never been impressed with, but he was extremely watchable here. He carried the weight of a much more seasoned actor than himself, and made a routine character much more likable.

Overall, good acting, good writing, solid script... a very enjoyable film, thought not a great one. 3.5 stars.

Bright Young Things (2003)

I love Stephen Fry, and I'm also a huge fan of the cast he's pulled together for this film, but it all felt a bit uneven to me. There are some very, very funny moments in here. He knows how to draw upon the pretentious airs of the overly stuffy and overly intellectual to create hilarious dialogue. There are also some very moving scenes, such as the one where our main character starts to tire of his whirlwind life. ("Oh, there are always so many parties!" he laments to his lover.) But all these never QUITE seem to come together in the story. It's a very close call, but in the end it falls just a little flat. 3 stars.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Lives of Others (2006)

A few friends recommended this to me, and I'm glad I saw it. It's a slow-moving but very compelling look at the way really getting to know somebody changes you. Ulrich Mühe is excellent as the German officer given the task of spying on a young writer and his girlfriend. As he watches their lives and learns their secrets, his perspective begins to change. The ending is quite satisfying. A very well-crafted movie, and a fairly accessible foreign film as well. 4 stars.

Friday, January 8, 2010

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

This is a sweet romantic comedy that turns things around a little bit. Although it's not as good, it brings to mind Annie Hall, proving that you don't *have* to have the main characters together at the end for it to be an uplifting romance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are so charming as the leads, and the storytelling is original and fun. Good one. 4 stars.