Thursday, June 24, 2010

OK, Now I'm Really Confused

The person who puts up the titles for the sign at my hometown movie theater is either drunk, lazy, or both.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pros and Cons

I recently watched "Criminal," the 2004 film starring John C. Reilly and Diego Luna as two con men chasing a big score. It was enjoyable enough but like most con movies, it was ultimately frustrating.

Most of these movies (e.g., "Confidence," "Heist") rely on a ridiculous number of coincidences and twists of fate. That's fine, but watching these movies I feel that writers and directors overuse these devices to get to the last, great twist. Consequently, they're starting to feel as gimmicky and formulaic as a summer blockbuster and exceptional examples like "The Sting" and "The Grifters" now feel like warm, distant memories.

"Criminal" was the same way. After watching it, the girlfriend and I had too many unanswered questions, starting from how Luna and Reilly first met to the very last scene. I don't mind smoke and mirrors, but I hate when that's all a movie relies upon, so much so that it eats away at common sense and logic.

I'm starting to wonder if there will ever be another great con-man movie. I sure hope so.

Book(s) of the Month

I love books. They're fun, educational, and they can be used as dumbbells in a pinch. Especially Tom Wolfe hardcovers.

We're smack dab in the summer movie season right now, but we're also right in the middle of wedding season. By the end of the summer, the girlfriend will have been a bridesmaid in two weddings. She knows an acquaintance who has three consecutive weekends in August devoted to nuptials. Good lord, that's a lot of pigs in a blanket and "Twist and Shout" to endure.

With that in mind, I thought it'd be suitable to recommend books having to do with the special day. Two come to mind. The first is Rebecca Mead's "One Perfect Day," her funny and spirited look at the wedding industry. The other is Sloane Crosley's essay collection "I Was Told There'd be Cake," which features "You on a Stick," Crosley's hilarious, excruciating account of being a bridesmaid for a long-lost friend she now barely tolerates.

By the way, it is just me or is Crosley (pictured) everywhere these days? She has a new book coming out tomorrow and her work has recently appeared in "GQ" and "Esquire." It'll be interesting to see if she can keep this impressive momentum going.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Suburbia After Dark

Some more billboard hilarity from the folks at my hometown movie theater. How much space does an ampersand and the numeral 2 take up, fellas?

Still, how awesome would it be if there was a movie called "Sex City?" I could see it being a somber account of sex trafficing--like "Taken" without the hand-to-hand combat--or one of those back-seat romps that "USA's Up All Night" used to showcase in the early 1990s.

I'd rather see either of those movies than "SATC2."

Review of Robin Hood


This review originally appeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina!)

I know it's foolish, but my expectations are always high when the summer blockbuster movie season begins. The last couple of summers have seen my pie-eyed optimism gloriously rewarded. Last year brought us Star Trek, and 2008 gave us The Dark Knight and Iron Man. Watching those movies felt like going on a bold adventure. Star Trek got younger and sexier and owed nothing to its nerdy past. The Dark Knight did a remarkable job of creating psychological terror, a rare find in a movie with profitable action figure sales. Iron Man put Robert Downey Jr. in the title role—a bold move at the time—and didn't look back.

Compared to those movies, Ridley Scott's interpretation of Robin Hood feels like embarking on a walk through your living room. Yes, Scott has again used Russell Crowe as his leading man and the "ordinary man triumphs" theme in Robin Hood seems awfully familiar to the terrain covered in Gladiator, the duo's first collaboration. Those issues aside, I'm finding it hard to remember an adventure movie so intent on boring its audience.

Thanks to lore and a handful of movies, most of us know Robin Hood as the renegade archer who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but it's clear that Scott wants to lay down the foundation for a series of movies. So, we learn how Robin (Crowe, of course), an outcast in King Richard's army, formed his band of merry men; we become privy to the power mad ways of the duplicitous, ungrateful Prince John (Oscar Isaac); we are acquainted with the woe of Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett), here a feisty farm woman with a husband she never knew; we discover how the French king employs John's boyhood friend (Mark Strong) to destroy England from within, which inadvertently sets Robin on his course to meet Marion. Oh, and we discover Robin's sad, idealistic childhood, featuring a father who was apparently the late 12th century version of Che Guevara, though without the T-shirt-worthy visage.

I have no problem with Scott providing background. I do have a problem with being bombarded with information for 140 minutes like I'm cramming for a final exam. Writer Brian Helgeland's biggest mistake is presenting the plot twists and character struggles with the artistry and suspense of a PowerPoint presentation. There are no surprises here. The script's utilitarian structure prevents good acting—characters are solely used to advance the action. That's not good for the courtship between Robin and Marion, only the movie's heart and soul. Blanchett looks lost, while Crowe is stuck on stoic, he-man autopilot. It's a shame. Seeing these fine actors properly portray two broken adults, who become whole when they find each other, would have given the proceedings some much-needed warmth.

Robin Hood desperately tries to be the summer blockbuster for adults, which means aside from having the narrative flair of a roll call, it strives to be contemporary. The men that Robin inspires can't tolerate a deceitful, long-standing government; the corrupt church refuses to help those in need. Hooray for bringing back 2004's hot op-ed topics! Scott wants Robin Hood to be important so he presents history galore and somewhat contemporary tie-ins and mature love interests as the crux of the movie, when they're actually accents. With a skimpy number of action scenes and a strictly enforced maturity that banishes any creativity, Robin Hood's endless attempt at being taken seriously is its most distinctive—and ultimately destructive—quality. [PG-13]

Film Round-Up for June

In this edition of The Film Round-Up, we deliver the facts with three documentaries (including "Babies") and a fact-based drama...Um, I really have nothing else to say here, so here's a picture of George Clooney shooting hoops!

As always, these reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina!)

Mundo Alas (Dirs: León Gieco, Fernando Molnar, Sebastián Schindel). Gieco, a beloved folk-rock singer and songwriter in Argentina, forms a band consisting solely of young performers with disabilities. Aside from musicians and singers, Gieco recruits dancers, filmmakers, and painters for a national tour, where they perform in front of enthusiastic crowds. Sometimes heartwarming and inspirational, Mundo Alas is frequently boring because the filmmakers avoid any kind of conflict. They romanticize their subjects instead of portraying them honestly, leading to mounds of unanswered questions. How risky of an endeavor was this for Gieco, and how did he become a guardian for this artistic population? Is it hard for these performers to be away from familiar environments? Can anyone explain how important it is for these people to be accepted for just their talent? The movie moves blithely along, oblivious to the fact that putting on a happy face reduces the musicians to dramatic pawns and inspirational caricatures. [NR] **

The Nature of Existence (Dir: Roger Nygard). Documentary filmmaker Nygard (Trekkies) finds himself grappling with life's big, unanswerable questions. He starts off by asking his friends and neighbors, expands his quest nationwide, and then travels to Europe and Asia to get answers on love, sin, death, and more. He doesn't return empty-handed as an array of sources—preachers, authors, professors, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, the High Priest of the Church of Satan, a seventh grade girl—all have something to say. Nygard has difficulties maintaining the film's personal tone, and the sheer number of sources makes it easy for the lessons to get jumbled, but his affable, respectful demeanor and ferocious curiosity make for an engaging exploration into what everything means. Among the film's highlights: a Southern wrestling show that also spreads the word of Christ and Nygard's frustrating attempt to talk to the Pope at the Vatican. [NR] ***

Holy Rollers (Dir: Kevin Asch). Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Danny A. Abeckaser, Q-Tip. Sam Gold (Eisenberg), a young Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, is the product of a loving, honorable family that wants him to become a rabbi. Desperate for money and respect, two things his family lacks, Sam takes a job smuggling Ecstasy from Europe into the United States. A one-time gig soon becomes a full-time occupation that introduces him to the real world, but tears him apart from his friends and family. Based on true events—amazingly, there was such a smuggling ring in the late 1990s—Holy Rollers has a lot of promise until we discover that despite all of its gritty, flashy cinematography and gangster posing that the story has nothing to hang its hat on. Without a dramatic downfall or a suspenseful plot, we're left with Eisenberg in yet another coming-of-age story, only this time he fashions a wobbly accent and is about five years too old for the role. [R] **

Babies (Dir: Thomas Balmes). The movie guaranteed to make your girlfriend ovulate follows four babies from around the world—two boys in the rural environments of Namibia and Mongolia, two girls in Tokyo and San Francisco—from birth until they take their first steps. There's hardly any dialogue and the shots focus on the subjects doing mundane things like playing with toys, eating, or spending time with their parents. More than an exercise in sustained cuteness, thanks to camerawork that's almost uncomfortably close, you see the babies learn to interact with the world. As time passes, they develop distinct personalities and you see that although different cultures raise children differently, babies remain precocious, spirited individuals. Nicely done, though I imagine your take on the movie may differ if you're a parent—especially one who currently sees the less magical side (e.g., colic, dirty diapers, sleepless nights) of babies. [PG] ***