Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Film Round-Up for July/Something for the Ladies!

In this edition of the Film Round-Up: One of the worst movies of the year; one of the best movies of the year (if not the decade); one of the most overrated movies of the year; and a documentary.

I already talked about The Hangover extensively--thanks to all who commented and read it. Usually, I'd post a picture of Heather Graham, but you know what? Let's give the ladies some love. Here's a photo of Bradley Cooper. What a handsome fella!

The one thing I liked about Graham is that she's not a stick-figure, one of, like, five actresses who's not afraid to have boobs. By the way, the full-figured club lost another member--Kat Dennings. I saw her in The Answer Man yesterday (review next month) and she looked positively gaunt. I felt like mailing her a Wendy's double cheeseburger and protein shake mix.

As always, these reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with the loving permission of Trina Robba. Enjoy.

R.I.P. Karl Malden--Loved you in Streetcar, where you played the ultimate mama's boy.

Deadgirl (Dirs: Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel). Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Michael Bowen, Candice Accola. High school losers Rickey (Fernandez) and JT (Segan) decide to skip class and raise a little hell at the abandoned asylum, where they discover a beautiful woman (Jenny Spain), naked and apparently indestructible. JT decides to make her into his personal sex slave, beginning a gruesome chain of events. That's bound to happen when you make the undead your paramour. Deadgirl badly wants to be in the league of Carrie, Scream, and Brick--high school movies with a smart, substantive hook. And it misses by a country mile. Characters' motives are unclear or never explained. Said characters are either boring or uninspiring, especially Fernandez's limp, wimpy portrayal of the hero. The plot, including the ending, is often incomprehensible. The movie coasts on its sickening premise, hoping that will catch your attention, but by neglecting the simplest rules of good moviemaking, Deadgirl comes across as sad and exploitive instead of offering a twisted, genre-straddling look at youth run wild. It's best left unwatched, especially if you're a member of Spain's immediate family. * NR

Afghan Star (Dir: Havana Marking). Though Afghan Star is like any of the countless call-in television talent shows (e.g. Dancing with the Stars, American Idol) dominating American television, it's the first taste of democracy for many of the show's viewers in Afghanistan. First-rate documentary examines the singing competition's influence as well as how four finalists' lives are affected. Though occasionally heavy-handed, Marking demonstrates the show's colossal importance. Some Afghans campaign for their favorite singers with the fervor of Obama volunteers; the country's residents may be separated by ethnic differences yet they can get behind an amateur singer. A show that many Americans would view as a waste of time or a pop culture frivolity is a slim slice of salvation for a damaged nation living under the threat of the Taliban and a strict moral code. Enlightening and educational, the movie offers a jarring reminder of how we should appreciate our basic freedoms, and how badly others crave them. *** NR

Up (Dirs: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson). Voices: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, John Ratzenberger. Here's another reason why Pixar has become synonymous with untouchable quality. The studio's latest triumph follows widower Carl Fredricksen (Asner), who on the verge of losing his beloved house, attaches it with balloons and heads to South America, his late wife's dream destination. Just one problem: Overzealous neighborhood kid and "Wilderness Explorer" Russell (Nagai) has hopped aboard, possibly derailing Carl's last chance at happiness. The animation, of course, is first-rate and so is the voice work (Asner is impeccably cast), but what makes Up so moving is the powerful subtlety of its storytelling. The early sequence summarizing Carl and his wife's life together is as touching as anything committed to celluloid, as is the dawning realization that behind Russell's quest for merit badges is an ignored soul. Up is the rare "event" movie that doesn't discount its characters and story, but embraces them. The filmmakers' commitment to that belief, coupled with the movie's superlative imagination, makes Up a staggering achievement. Words can't describe how much I loved it. ***** PG

The Hangover (Dir: Todd Phillips). Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jeffrey Tambor. A rollicking bachelor party in Las Vegas hits a major snag when three buddies wake up the following morning and can't find the groom (Bartha). Those remaining (Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis) then have to piece together what happened, which involves a surprise wedding, a stolen cop car, and a ton of money. Terrific premise and game performances get you ready to laugh, but Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's script doesn't complete the job. It's heavy on the wacky (Tyson singing Phil Collins, a fey Asian gangster) but painfully short on funny dialogue. Some of the story choices are also puzzling. Why cram in a love interest (Graham) for Helms's character when there's no time to establish a solid rapport? Who thought giving the unfunny Epps more lines than old pro Tambor was a sound idea? The Hangover has already made a lot of money and earned Galifianakis much publicity, but it's no different from any other movie Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) has directed: The parts are way better than the whole. Are audiences really that desperate to laugh? I sure hope not. ** R

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