Friday, April 23, 2010

'The Losers'

'The Losers' (PG-13) ***

Writers: Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt based on the comic books
Director: Sylvain White
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric

I did not expect "The Losers" to be this much fun. This is a total surprise because I did not want to see this movie based on the previews. What I found was a smart action movie that is actually funnier than 90% of the comedies released in the last few years. The dialogue in this movie is laugh out loud funny all the way to the end. This is like a screwball comedy masquerading as a action movie and actually I was surprised that the movie didn't have more dumb explosions. The cast is first rate here and one of the actors gives his best performance ever. You also get to see the breathtaking and sexy Zoe Saldana kick major ass. I have written about her before in other reviews. You will see a lot of her for now on and I can see why casting agents are pursuing her and I mean a lot of casting agents. The movie is about a group of mercenaries who are involved in an explosion that killed a lot of kids in Bolivia. They have to pretend to be dead and come back to get revenge on the man responsible with the help of agent Saldana. The group is led by two good actors in Idris Elba and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Elba has been very good in a lot of television and movies and I can see him becoming the next Denzel Washington. He has major screen presence and could be a valuable leading man in the future. The bad guy is played by Jason Patric and I am happy to announce that the great actor Jason Patric is finally back! In the 90's Patric had a great future similar to a Brad Pitt with some great performances but he had lost his way. I think Patric was not looking to be a hunk and Hollywood star but I am glad he picked this Hollywood movie to come back in. He steals the movie with his hilarious line readings and what he has to say is extremely witty and hilarious. This is a very light movie but very worth going to see and if you think you are getting a dumb action movie you might be surprised. This is very funny, well directed and great popcorn movie and getting to watch Saldana take over isn't too bad either.

'City Island'

'City Island' (PG-13) ***

Writer and Director: Frank De Felitta
Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Emily Mortimer, Steven Strait, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Alan Arkin

I love small character studies like "City Island" where there isn't anything heavy going on except for just plain old life. Sometimes you just need a light but rewarding family drama with colorful characters and great acting. Andy Garcia is a very good looking actor who I forget sometimes is a very damn good actor. He is the heart and soul of this movie and he shows vulnerability and depth here as Vince Russo, a prison guard and patriarch of a small family living in New Jersey. His wife, played very well by Julianna Margulies, is somewhat of a nag but also a strong, opinionated woman. He has a son who is into full figured women and downloads porno sites with them. He also has a daughter played by Garcia's real life daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido who is a stripper after being kicked out of college. Vince (great name!) harbors two secrets. He has a son he abandoned that is a prisoner in his prison and he also has been taking acting lessons. He is afraid to tell his wife and I don't blame him. Actually everyone in this movie can't be honest with each other and that is their problem. I started to care about these characters and I must mention that Garcia gives an outstanding performance and could be up for a Snavely award. He sells this picture and we love Vince because Garcia brings the right amount of warmth and strength to the character. There is also a wonderful supporting turn by Emily Mortimer and she is becoming someone I always love to see. Funny how I forget that she has a great Audrey Hepburn quality to her and Hepburn was my all time favorite actress.

This is another successful triumph for screenwriter and director Frank DeFelitta. In 2000 another of his small but great movies came out. It was "Two Family House" with Michael Rispoli and Kelly McDonald and it was also full of heart and great characters. DeFelitta should write and direct a movie every few years because I like his touch and his screenplay here is full of scenes that are small gems. I like how everyone is afraid to express their secret desires and dreams but sure can express their opinions. There is a wonderful scene full of humor and heart where Vince goes on his first audition for a Scorsese/Deniro film. As he finally gets to audition in front of a casting agent the scene starts as embarrassment but turns into magic as Garcia plays with his nerves and finally becomes himself. I was laughing a lot and actually teared up during this great moment. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. Garcia is wonderful in this movie as is the rest of the cast. You might not be overpowered by this movie but you will sure leave with a big smile on your face.

P.S., if the rumor is true that Garcia, Al Pacino and Coppola are considering a fourth "Godfather" movie I might change my mind and be up to that ideal based on how good Garcia is here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (R) ***1/2

Writers: Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg based on novel
Director: Niels Arden Op[lev
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Peter Haber

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" unfolds like a great novel and it is based on a popular series of thrillers written by Stieg Larsson. I have not read the book but based on this movie, fans of his work will probably think that the makers of this movie have perfectly captured the feel of the book. This is a suspenseful and colorful thriller that takes it's time telling it's story like a good novel. It also sets up deep and compelling characters with a lot of detail and emotion just like a novel. The movie has a wonderful and strong female lead character in Lisbeth Salander played very well by Noomi Repace. If you have not read the book the movie is basically a serial killer movie and mystery that will keep you guessing and doesn't have a cheap resolution. Actually the ending is very emotional and kind of powerful because we care about the characters so much. This is not your formula serial killer movie with cheap shocks and tasteless violence. There is violence in the movie and blood but it is not done for cheap effect. There is also some rough and kinky sex in the movie but it is never awkward. The movie's main character is a very punk or goth type woman and as played by Rapace is very multidimensional. Her relationship with the man she is trying to unravel the mystery with grows and gets stronger. This is a movie that will keep you enthralled from first frame to last. It is a wonderful treat and in American hands it could have been false, cheap and tasteless. The fact that it is being remade into an American film is ridiculous. You already have a successful film here and my rule is always never remake a great film. There are two more movies coming this year adapted from other Larsson books and I can't wait to see them. You have a great thriller here that rivals "Silence of the Lambs" and "Zodiac", the two best of it's kind.

'Death at a Funeral'

'Death at a Funeral' (R) **1/2

Writer: Dean Craig based on his own screenplay
Director: Neil Labute
Starring: Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Loretta Devine, Zoe Saldana, James Marsden, Martin Lawrence, Keith David, Ron Glass, Peter Dinklage, Columbus Short, Regina Hall

The new "Death at a Funeral" is a remake of a 2007 British comedy directed by Frank Oz. I liked that movie and it's comedy and I kind of remember what happened. It was a good, minor comedy with good laughs but not that memorable. I think it is a good ideal and a bad one to remake this movie. It is a wise choice to remake this with a mostly all black cast of actors to give an ethnic view of what strange things can happen at a funeral. It is not so good for the ones who have seen the other version because you can see most of the laughs coming. I laughed a lot during the first half hour of this new version and all the actors are wonderful here. The problem was I got tired of the movie after a little bit but still loved watching this cast. The plot deals mostly with a dysfunctional family getting together for a patriarch's funeral and the bad things that happen. This is a fast paced movie with a lot of screwball moments. The cast sells it a lot with a great straight turn by Chris Rock who always has good reaction shots to crazy things happening around him. Martin Lawrence is very good and finally gives a performance without mugging. Danny Glover and Tracy Morgan are hilarious insulting each other. Zoe Saldana is proving to be a good actress besides being eye candy. You will see a lot of her in the next year which is a good thing because she is very easy on the eyes and she can act. Peter Dinklage is the only holdover from the original and I love Peter Dinklage because he is consistently good in every movie he is in. The funniest performance is given by James Marsden who gives a hilarious performance as a funeral goer hooked on hallucinogens. His scenes with Columbus Short and Saldana are well played and Marsden is surprising me with his funny performances lately. Everyone is in top form and the movie is fair but I have seen it before so the jokes were not much of a surprise to me. If you haven't seen the original I do believe you should check this out on DVD.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


'Kick-Ass' (R) ***

Writers: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn based on the comic book
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Clark Duke, Lyndsy Fonseca

There has been a lot of controversy the past week about the movie "Kick-Ass". The controversy stems from a 11 year old girl using bad language, slicing and dicing bad guys and being punched and shot. Some critics have complained that it is sick, stupid and just plain wrong. Roger Ebert called this movie morally reprehensible and I can see why he felt this way. I am not the moral police though and I don't care to ever be politically correct. I just want a movie to entertain me and make me think a little and I want to feel that a movie is saying something to me. Based on that, I really enjoyed "Kick-Ass" for it is entertaining and has given us a future star in the making. The movie is sort of a satire on the superhero genre but I see it as more of a junior "Kill Bill". The satire is not always strong for this is basically a violent, fast and gory action film. The movie revolves around a teenage boy who wonders why more people don't become superheroes. He knows people think about it so he buys a superhero suit and goes out to fight crime or so he thinks. The first time he goes out and tries to stop a mugging and beating he gets stabbed and beat up. Hey, it's the real world and of course a boy can't just dress up as a superhero and get the job done. He gets captured on You Tube though and becomes popular inspiring copycats like an ex cop and his daughter. The ex cop is played by Nicolas Cage, who in a scene that has caused a stir, he shoots his eleven year old daughter while she wears a bullet proof vest so she can know what it feels like. The scene sounds cruel but it is also funny and this is were the controversy becomes a little dumb.

This movie is rated R and it is not meant for kids but is for adults so what this little girl has to do in this movie takes place in a fantasy World. The girl kills with ease and quickness a slew of bad guys, she stabs and dismembers them also. She also uses a lot of swear words and not the little, funny ones either. So now people are outraged that the movie shows a little girl swearing like a sailor and killing people and also being hit and beaten. First of all I think this is a fantasy so you have to suspend belief and realize this is not a real life depiction of a girl. This movie is so over the top that you just have to go with the flow and see it for what it is, a funny and bloody good time. Now I think some parents are more upset that this girl uses some nasty words than they are with the violence which makes the controversy even more stupid. I thought it was funny except for one word I don't think she would be able to say and it is the C word and I am not talking the male version. It doesn't sound good rolling off her tongue. I remember when I was small and "The Bad News Bears" got slammed for kids saying bad words and they were words like s**t and such. It was a stupid concern then and I think it is ridiculous now when more kids know worse swear words than I do. I have seen worse things that kids did in movies before and I don't think "Kick-Ass" is that shocking. It would only bother me if the words were said in a crappy movie like say "Hardball" with Keanu Reeves. If you expect to go in with your kids to this movie and see a little girl bake cookies and have a tea party then you should do your research before seeing this before you get angry and shocked.

Now I am angry that I am ignoring why I liked this movie. I thought it was clever even though I don't think the satire is strong. The action scenes are crisp, cartoonish (which also dismisses the controversy on the violence) and the acting is good. The movie really stays afloat through the rough patches with a star making performance by a young girl who steals the movie. The 11 year old character is named "Hit Girl" and she is the daughter of the Cage character. She is played by Chloe Grace Moretz and she is amazing and has a wonderful screen presence. She was also in "500 Days of Summer" and she was amazing in a small role there. She has a confident and mature presence on screen. The movie drags a little in the middle and I was about to lose interest and then I found out why. Chloe wasn't in the movie for a while and when she came back to a bravura killing, rescue scene I realized that this movie doesn't work without her. Mark Strong is a good bad guy and is building a nice bad guy career and any movie which has Nicolas Cage in it and is good is a miracle these days. Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are okay here but the movie belongs to Moretz and she makes quite an impression. I thought this movie was well constructed and written and I had a good time. I think this false outrage over the moral content of the movie is quite silly. This is a fantasy movie folks and sometimes you have to realize that. This is not for everybody but people who like this sort of movie won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

'Date Night'

'Date Night' (PG-13) ***1/2

Writer: Josh Klausner
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, Common, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Thompson, William Fichtner, James Franco, Mila Kunis, J.B. Smove

Once in a while there comes a comedy duo that creates such perfect chemistry together. Steve Carell and Tina Fey individually are very brilliant and hilarious comic actors. I have deep love for Tina Fey for she is truly an amazing performer. Steve Carell might be more one note in the characters he plays but his comic timing is probably the best on screen now. It will always be hard for Hollywood to come up with a perfect movie for these talents. Sometimes those actors can elevate a minor movie which some critics have said about Fey and Carell in their new movie "Date Night". I actually disagree because I actually think "Date Night" is a brilliant concept made into a hilarious and smart movie. The movie is a lot of fun and I couldn't stop from smiling throughout the whole movie. If it is true that a lot of improvisation went on between this killer cast then Fey and Carell are even more brilliant. This movie could have been a disaster but instead has given us a new comedy team that is even better than Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. Those two had great chemistry and made a few movies together but they were mostly forgettable, "Date Night" equals Fey and Carell's talents and I am still thinking about all the funny parts days after. This is even funnier than last year's "The Hangover" mainly because you love the characters here. That is due to the awesome chemistry between Fey and Carell. They also add surprisingly tender and subtle moments creating a real married couple, one that we would become friends with.

"Date Night" has a classic set up as married couple Fey and Carell see themselves in quite a rut as they go to the same restaurant and eat the same food every time they go out. Carell decides to take his wife to a fancy restaurant in the city but doesn't make reservations before hand. They decide to steal a reservation when a party of two is a no show. They are confronted by two men with guns and now we have the classic mistaken identity plot. This time though Fey and Carell's reaction to this situation is comic mastery. The story then gets really goofy as they are both pursued across the city by many bad guys looking for a stolen computer disc they think the couple has. What is on the disc does not really matter for the fun of "Date Night" is not the plot but the situations they get into and their reaction to it. The movie also has one of the best casts I have ever seen together in one movie. There is great work from Ray Liotta, Taraji P. Henson. There are two subplots also that are minor classics involving first Mark Wahlberg who is very funny here and blends in with Carell and Fey perfectly. The other involves James Franco and Mila Kunis proving that those two are two of our greatest, youngest actors. The scene between all four actors is hilarious and brilliant. Listen to the dialogue in that scene and you will know what I mean when I say Fey and Carell are brilliant performers. The comic timing and delivery of dialogue is comic gold. There is also one of the best car chases I have seen and it is original, sloppy, weird and laugh out loud funny. There are many more goofy and ridiculous scenes till the end but Fey and Carell make them work. This movie is an offbeat treasure and it is the measure of two great actors that you will follow them anywhere. Carell and Fey should make a movie every few years because now we have a new power couple who are here to stay. "Date Night" along with "The Runaways" and "The Crazies" is one of the best movies of the year so far and easily the best comedy so far.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

'How To Train Your Dragon'

'How To Train Your Dragon' (PG) ***1/2

Writer: Dean DeBlois
Directors: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Voices: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson

I really do love dragons! When I was a kid and I saw anything with a dragon I wanted to have it. I didn't even mind sitting through a terrible dragon movie like "Pete's Dragon". I was very happy after I saw the latest Dreamworks 3D animated movie "How To Train Your Dragon". This is a very fun and sweet movie that looks awesome in 3D and has flying sequences that rival those of "Avatar". The movie's animation is crystal clear, colorful and the story is restrained and beautiful. This is not a loud, crowded movie like "Flushed Away" or "Kung Fu Panda". The voice work is just perfect and the relationship between the main character and the dragon is touching, funny and sweet. I think kids will be wrapped up in this but I also feel that adults will be swept up in it's beautiful look. That main character is named Hiccup and he is well voiced by Jay Baruchel. Hiccup is part of a Viking clan that feels that they need to kill dragons. Along comes Toothless who Hiccup discovers and then traps. They both become good friends and this does not please Hiccup's Viking warrior father voiced by Gerard Butler, in what might be his best performance lately. Hiccup must go through training in how to kill a dragon and he is not too good at it. There are some hilarious scenes as we go back and forth between Hiccup learning how to deal with dragons with Toothless's help and successfully taming the fierce dragons at training class. The movie then has some beautiful scenes where Hiccup and Toothless get to fly around. This movie is charming, fun, beautiful to look at in 3D and has a very touching story between dragon and boy. Besides "Avatar" I am not jumping up and down with the latest 3D movies because most look ugly and dark in 3D. "Clash of the Titans" was a joke because it was transformed into 3D, not filmed in it. "How To Train Your Dragon" is how a movie should look in 3D because it is breathtaking and worth the extra charge!


'Chloe' (R) ***

Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Director: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Max Theriot

Through out the very sexy and interesting "Chloe" I was very happy that Julianne Moore and new sensation Amanda Seyfried were together in this movie. Julianne Moore has done her share of safe Hollywood formula films but she has also done some brave and soul baring stuff also. She is not afraid to do nudity and give herself to uncomfortable material. If you haven't heard about Amanda Seyfried, you will very soon. She was been in the excellent HBO show "Big Love", movies "Mamma Mia!", "Jennifer's Body" and the smash hit "Dear John" which I have not seen. She is a very beautiful young woman and good actress who for the first time in her career has to bare her soul and her body. It is the sign of a future great actress when she can mix the commercial with the daring. That is why Julianne Moore is a great actress and why Seyfried gives a breakout performance here. "Chloe" tells the story of a gynecologist played by Moore who thinks her flirty husband is having an affair. She hooks up with a high end call girl to try to seduce her husband. Then the movie really gets interesting as it gets a little psychologically intense. This movie could have been one of those late night Cinemax skin flicks or a Lifetime movie but under the hands of wonderful director Atom Egoyan the movie is well thought out and tasteful. Egoyan was the director of one of the most powerful and haunting films ever in "The Sweet Hereafter". The screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson is subtle and doesn't go for that hammy "Fatal Attraction" ending. I have seen too many of those weak rip offs. The movie does have a lot of nudity by Moore and Seyfried and I am not complaining. I think it is handles in a non gratuitous way. There is also an effective and very sexy girl on girl sex scene that is done with passion and beauty instead of tawdry trashiness. Don't get me wrong, the acting here is solid, the story is intriguing and the ending seems just right. Julianne Moore gives another daring and great performance and Seyfried is a revelation and now her career will explode. Oh and did I forget to mention Liam Neeson is in and that he is good.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

'Clash of the Titans' (10)

'Clash of the Titans' (10) (PG-13) **

Writers: Travis Beacham, Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay
Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen, Alexa Davalos, Polly Walker

There was a certain cheesy charm and goofiness to the original "Clash of the Titans" back in 1981. I was 13 years old when it came out and I went to see it at the Hawthorn and Libertyville theatres about 5 times. That doesn't mean it was good but the Ray Harryhausen effects were cool then and had a certain cheap charm to them. I also didn't know that Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith were slumming it but you have to admit it was good casting. The only thing is what is up with that robotic owl that looked like it was from a cute, Disney cartoon. So it is with a heavy heart that I report that the remake which cost ten times as much has half the wonder and heart of the first one. At not one point in this movie was I excited or in awe. There is a problem these days with blockbuster fantasies that either are great looking but have no heart like the over rated "Lord of the Rings" movies. Then there are the expensive ones that don't look that great and have no heart either. That describes this remake perfectly as the special effects didn't seem that special to me. The movie is also dull with bad dialogue and acting from heavyweights who come off as hammy and weak. I know that dialogue in a mythology movie can't really be that great or smart but at least give it a try. Same as the horrible "Troy" with Brad Pitt these movies come off as flat sounding and silly. You also have a great actor like Ralph Fiennes who comes off the dullest and weakest I have ever seen him. At least Olivier was hilariously stiff and entertaining in the original, Fiennes just looks lost. When Zeus, played lazily by Liam Neeson, yells "Release the Kraken!", and the Kraken comes out, the Kraken actually is not scary and dies easily. It is so anti climatic that after the Kraken is dead I actually expected someone to ask "Do we have anything else to release besides a Kraken." Then I expected Zeus to say "No, don't have anything else to release", then someone would say "Oh well then, I guess that's all there is. "Yes the Kraken was released and now it is dead, I guess that's all we can do then, yep that's all." Now we have a movie that sounds like a Monty Python skit and is a very lifeless movie to boot.