Monday, August 30, 2010

'The Last Exorcism'

'The Last Exorcism' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland
Director: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Calen Landry Jones, Louis Herthum

"The Last Exorcism" continues a pretty cool trend lately that is a great alternative to the "Saw" movies and torture porn crap. Movies like "Paranormal Activity" and "The House of the Devil" (best horror movie in ten years) have started a new wave of horror movies which are low budget movies with little gore and more scares. These movies create more suspense and build a story instead of just cheap bloodletting. "The Last Exorcism" is an entertaining and creepy horror thriller in the tradition of "The Exorcist". It is nowhere as scary but it does create a good sense of dread and terror. The movie is done in the style of a documentary as we follow evangelical minister Cotton Marcus and his camera crew to a possessed teenage girl who lives on a farm. Cotton explains to us that his father did multiple exorcisms and that he never believed they were more than just a show. Now he wants to prove that this so called case is phony like the others. The father of this girl has reported that the girl has killed farm animals and has also drawn disturbing pictures of dead family members. The movie starts off very well as Cotton, played very well by Patrick Fabian, talks to us about his feelings and he is very funny and charming. When he finally arrives at the farm he meets the girl's brother who is very creepy and sinister and tells Cotton to go back to where he came from. The kid is played by Caleb Landry Jones and this actor is perfectly sinister and jerky.

The acting by unknown actors is very good here and the director Daniel Stamm keeps the story moving and keeps us involved. The girl is sweetly played by Ashley Bell and she has the right mixture of innocence and pluckiness. We actually care about her and we also care about Cotton. As Cotton finds out that this might all be more serious than he thought the movie gets creepier and more suspenseful. There are some great little shocks and scenes that are eerily effective. The movie builds to an ending that at first seemed to me to be a letdown. A day after I saw the movie and talked to a friend of mine we both agreed that the movie worked well enough for us until the ending that we enjoyed it. Then I thought back to some of the great shockers of the 70's and realized the ending is just about right for this type of movie. "The Last Exorcism" gets the job done and creates an effective horror thriller that doesn't go overboard. You get exactly what you expect from a movie like this and I expect fans of this type of movie will be satisfied.

Friday, August 27, 2010

'Piranha 3D'

'Piranha 3D' (R) (2 stars)

Writers: Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Elizabeth Shue, Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Adam Scott, Christopher Lloyd, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Dina Meyer, Jerry O'Connell

"Piranha 3D" should have been much better and a true blast. Instead I felt a little queasy, dirty and kind of bored. I didn't feel queasy because of the gore because I can handle that. The movie just feels like a horror, porn movie when a little more innocent 80's like fun should have been in store. The 1978 "Piranha" movie by Joe Dante was much better, funnier and charming if you could call a horror movie that. "Piranha 3D" is also very sluggish and dull for 45 minutes and then the naked boobs and gore take over. This should make it's intended audience very happy but after 15 minutes of that it becomes boring and annoying. The movie starts out with a neat joke that falls flat as Richard Dreyfuss plays his old "Jaws" character. The payoff in this scene is a major letdown. I did like Elizabeth Shue and Christopher Lloyd and I loved an ending suspense rescue scene in a boat that was well directed. I just thought I would have more fun with this but I didn't laugh once and I was never scared, just bored and feeling unclean. This is a nasty movie that is not even enjoyable in a bad way. I also can't stand Jerry O'Connell who is terrible here, overacts and annoys the crap out of me. It is not just this movie but every movie I see him in. So when he gets eaten up by the Piranhas he can't even make us enjoy it for he can't even act that scene out right. This movie should have been so much fun and maybe someone else should have directed it. The director has made serious horror knock offs like a remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" and he slows this movie down to a halt.

'The Switch'

'The Switch' (PG-13) (2 stars)

Writer: Allen Loeb
Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Patrick Wilson, Thomas Robinson, Todd Louiso

"The Switch" is one of those movies where you like the two lead actors so much you want them to overcome a troubled screenplay. I think the movie is kind of forgettable but Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman come off as so likable and decent. Jason Bateman has done some very good movies lately. I loved him in "Juno" and really loved him in "Extract" which was criminally neglected. He has a great comic delivery and presence and he is engaging in a Tom Hanks sort of way. Jennifer Aniston can't seem to shake her "Friends" image in romantic comedies. I still think she is very engaging and attractive and likable so you want to follow her. Her best work has come in low budget dramas like "The Good Girl" and I really liked her in the satisfying "Marley & Me". There are too many weak movies like "The Break Up" and the terrible "The Bounty Hunter" that set her back. Both actors are very good here but the story lets them down.

"The Switch" has Jennifer Aniston playing Kassie Larson, a career woman who wants to have a baby but through a sperm donor. Jason Bateman plays her best friend Wally Mars who thinks this might be a bad idea but maybe because she won't ask him to do it. You know that he loves her and wants to be more than friends but she wants to use someone else. She moves away and comes back seven years later with a son named Sebastian. Through a mix up Wally dumps the donor's sperm in the sink and has to replace it. When Kassie comes back with the son he seems to act and look just like Wally. The first half of the movie is very awkward and clumsy and the rhythm is off so I was distracted. When Sebastian comes into the picture the movie starts to gain some heart and direction. Bateman and Thomas Robinson who plays the child have a charming and great chemistry together.

The stuff with the romance is predictable and plays like a television sitcom. I didn't believe a second what happens at the end and it just seems so pat. I don't mind formula and predictable if I feel that the movie works and has a good storytelling style. This movie is just too all over the place and sloppily made to engage us. The directors also made "Blades of Glory" with Will Ferrell and that was close to being hilarious but they couldn't truly make it work completely. I do love Bateman and Anniston, feel Juliette Lewis was wasted as Kassie's friend but I did enjoy Jeff Goldblum. We forget how he can take over a scene and how funny he is. He is the best thing about this movie and he is now taking over for Christopher Walken for making a movie that much better just for being in it. I would like to see more of him in movies these days but also something more original and energetic than "The Switch".

Monday, August 23, 2010

'At the Movies'

'At the Movies'
By Vincent Snavely

There I was as a young kid getting up to change the channel on my television when I noticed a clip of a certain movie being shown on PBS. So I watched it of course because I was obsessed with movies. Then I saw these two men sitting down and they started talking about the clip they saw. I sort of laughed when I saw these two because one was a little overweight and the other one was skinny. I sat down and actually was glued to the screen as they argued about this particular movie. I wish I had someone I could talk to about movies with that same passion. The show was called "Opening Soon" which then became "At The Movies with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel". That was the start of a new and beautiful friendship with these two passionate men. Gene Siskel was the film critic for the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert was the film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. I am going back to this wonderful new beginning because "At the Movies" had it's last show recently. I started to watch these two discuss movies religiously every week and never stopped until Gene Siskel's death. I then still watched because Roger Ebert continued in the same spirit with guest hosts and that was okay. Ebert finally found a worthy new replacement in Richard Roeper. No one would ever replace Gene Siskel. Gene Siskel and John Belushi are the only celebrities that I still have not gotten over losing so soon. Every time I see a movie I wonder what Gene would have thought about it. Yes, I considered Gene Siskel as a celebrity for when I saw him getting out of an elevator at the Water Tower shopping center in Chicago when I was younger I was so excited.

The power of the show was simple. It was just two men sitting on two chairs showing clips of a movie and then discussing them and arguing about them. The show then became syndicated and was bought by Buena Vista entertainment. The show then became a phenomenon as the whole country started to watch. They also copyrighted a signature thumbs up, thumbs down that caught on and became legendary. There was nothing better then an angry, passionate argument between Siskel and Ebert. They also championed movies that could have slipped through the cracks but didn't and they could then have a chance to reach me. Without them I wouldn't have discovered what is now one of my favorite movies of all time. I was working at a movie theatre in 1992 in Chicago and there was a little, independent movie opening with someone named Billy Bob Thornton. I thought the movie would be this horrible, low budget joke. The movie was called "One False Move" and as the movie opened I watched Siskel and Ebert that weekend and they actually raved about this movie up and down. They urged people to go check it out and that weekend every show and I mean every show of "One False Move" sold out. That would not have happened if the movie wasn't promoted by those two. It is now in my top 100 favorite movies of all time. There were other movies like "Hoop Dreams" and countless others they helped get promoted. They were sometimes the only ones that could get a movie noticed even over the studio publicity teams. I still don't get why they championed what they considered a great movie in "My Dinner With Andre" for I hated that movie. That was the thing though with those two, even when you loved a movie they hated or vice versa you still could be swayed to reconsider your opinion.

I remember in college when my best friend Joe Norred and I went to three or four movies in one day and we would argue sometimes just like Siskel and Ebert did. We would come back to the dorm and our friends would ask us what we saw and if we liked it, we were even called Siskel and Ebert. That passion that Joe and I had was greatly influenced by our mutual love for Siskel and Ebert. Even when Siskel hated a movie I loved I would forgive him the next week. I usually agreed with Ebert more than Siskel but sometimes Siskel would love a movie that Ebert didn't get so there was a nice balance sometimes. Even though I mostly sided with Roger I still can't forgive him for panning "Full Metal Jacket", "The Natural" or "The Untouchables". I love those movies but I still couldn't stay mad at him.

The show was just a pure thrill and joy to watch for me because being a movie lover I appreciated their passion. They both loved Chicago and their shows opening credits showed shots of the city. I actually learned to love the city partly from them. I remember when "The Blues Brothers" came out in the summer of 1980 and received a lot of bad reviews for some reason. Gene Siskel loved it more than anyone and gave it four stars. I immediately watched the show that weekend and they reviewed it. They loved how the city of Chicago was used in that movie and they always mentioned their love of the city with movies filmed there. There are a lot of movies I love that got panned by others but that Siskel and Ebert liked and I always loved them for being a little more open minded than other critics. Movies like "Grease", "Nighthawks", "Neighbors", "Continental Divide" and movies that no one else loved but that I did were very well liked by those two. They were open minded in that they just loved movies and they could see things in some offbeat movies that no one else saw. Another movie that became my favorite horror movie of all time in "Halloween" was given a full show devoted to it. I still have it on my DVD copy of the movie and it was a great show devoted to one movie and no one would do that at that time. Without their love of that movie I would have maybe never seen what is one of my favorites. "At the Movies" was also a very enjoyable show and Siskel and Ebert made it exciting, charming, funny and worthy.

There were so many copy cat shows that tried to match that charm and excitement and the co hosts were joyless bores. I am talking about critics like Rex Reed, Michael Medved, Jeffrey Lyons, Phil Harris and the insufferable Dixie Whatley (Ugh!). I thought the show would go on forever but in 1998 my hero Gene Siskel passed away and I took it hard. The show couldn't go on without Gene because other than Roger who cared what some other hack would think. Roger continued despite Gene passing away with guest hosts and he made it work very well. Roger is the best writer when it comes to movie reviews and he still carried on that greatness on the show. Ebert would then find a partner that I was cold to at the start in Richard Roeper. How dare he take Gene's place?! Still because of the good sense and brilliance of Roger he had picked someone that I grew to love and respect. I religiously read Richard Roeper's Sun Times article and I am now a huge fan. Richard became a very good replacement and Roger and him had great chemistry. The arguments aren't as fun as the ones Siskel had with Ebert but they worked well together. Then a series of health set backs were happening to Roger Ebert and sadly he could not continue with the show. Now a show that I planned to watch forever lost the other great half of it and my world was ending! Now that Roger has lost his ability to speak we are still blessed with his written word and he is the best at writing about movies.

"At the Movies" then survived with Roeper taking on guest hosts and Roger's spirit was still there but the magic was fading a little. In the past few years as the show was announced as finishing up it's run, the producers found some pretty good replacements and they tweaked the show. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. Scott of the New York Times took over as co hosts and the show was different but they were pretty good. I was still watching the show and enjoying it. Now that the show has ended it has become an emotional experience for me. Their last few shows gave us priceless clips of arguments and passionate discussions between Siskel and Ebert. Phillips and Scott did a tremendous job with their closing thoughts and their tribute to the two founders of the show was powerful. Movies are a very powerful force and art and when you have two people who are so passionate about movies talking about them it can be special. Roger and Gene started this passionate discussion as it went to influence others. My life now and my writing and reviews would have never happened and been shaped without Siskel and Ebert and the show they started. Whenever I was down the thought of watching their show on the weekend made me feel a lot better. The reviews you read from me are greatly influenced by the show. Hopefully another new type of movie review show will pop up and continue the magic and I wouldn't mind being a part of that. Thank you Roger and Gene for this great gift and so long "At the Movies"!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

'The Ten Best of Sylvester Stallone'

'The Ten Best of Sylvester Stallone'
According to Vincent Snavely

I mentioned in my review of the corny but fun action 80's throwback "The Expendables" that Sylvester Stallone was the most unfairly picked on actor ever in Hollywood. That is pretty much 100% correct because everytime Stallone made a really good movie they were neglected. He has made some bad movies and five of my top ten got weak reviews. He also made some very fun, larger than life and exciting action blockbusters and one of the most beloved franchises in Hollywood history. In his actions movies and his boxing classics he threw himself physically into every role. He is and will always be one of the most exciting looking physical actors ever and he is totally charming and likable in almost everything. Here is my favorite ten movies of his and some have not been seen by many.

10.) Paradise Alley (78) (3 stars)

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Lee Canalito, Terry Funk, Anne
Archer, Joyce Ingalls, Kevin Conway, Joe Spinell, Tom Waits

Critics hated what they called this self indulgent mess. I consider it a guilty pleasure because yes it is about wrestling but it is charming and well directed to me. It also has in my opinion a star making and Oscar caliber performance by Armand Assante. Set in the 1940's in the New York slums the movie is about three brothers played by Stallone, Assante and Canalito who are trying to break out into stardom. One way is for the lunkheaded but charming younger and stronger brother to wrestle matches to put food on the table for his girlfriend. Stallone plays Cosmo Carboni and he sees his brother as a meal ticket. The movie is sweet with very good acting, a charming and funny Stallone and great wrestling scenes including a long, weird one in pouring rain outside. It also has two very beautiful women as love interests in Anne Archer and Joyce Ingalls. I even like the horrible closing credits song sung by Stallone who sounds like he is about to bust a gut.

9.) Death Race 2000 (75) (3 stars)

Director: Paul Bartel
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, David Carradine, Mary Woronov, Keith Carradine

This a schlocky but fun midnight cult classic about a killer car race in the future. Stallone is funny and the cast is wonderful and the Roger Corman produced movie is nasty fun. I love that if the cars run over people the drivers get points. Don't make a mistake and watch the dreadful remake.

8.) Victory (81) (3 1/2 stars)

Director: John Huston
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pele, Daniel Massey,
Max Von Sydow

When I was 13 I saw this movie more than ten times in theatres and ten more on video when it came out. This is another underrated Stallone sports classic. The movie takes place during World War II in a Nazi camp where prisoners of war play soccer for fun. An evil German officer played deliciously by Max Von Sydow suggest the prisoners of war from different countries plays a soccer game against Germany's best athletes. The movie then becomes an escape picture also as the prisoners try to escape during halftime of the game. You know where this is going but the soccer scenes are thrilling, the musical score wonderful and Pele does some amazing soccer moves. This is the skinniest you will ever see Stallone and the movie is great, corny fun. Stallone actually looks convincing as a soccer goalie further proving that he would work his ass off throwing himself full on into any challenging, physical role.

7.) Cliffhanger(93) (3 1/2 stars)

Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Ralph Waite,
Janine Turner, Michael Rooker, Rex Linn, Leon

This is a beautifully filmed and intense, exciting action thriller with stunts that are amazing! There again is a physical Stallone who did most of his stunts. Now you know I am not being goofy when I call him one of Hollywood's best action stars. The movie is wall to wall action and thrills as bad guys chase Stallone up and down cliffs. The plot doesn't really matter but John Lithgow plays one of the hammiest and best bad guys on screen.

6.) Rocky Balboa (06) (3 1/2 stars)

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver,
Geraldine Hughes, Tony Burton, Milo Ventimiglia

This bittersweet and moving conclusion to the Rocky franchise goes back to the original movie's roots. It isn't flashy and loud like the last three Rocky's and it goes back to character development. We cherished the love and marriage of Rocky and Adrian and when we see Rocky as a widower we feel his pain. Rocky has all his money wiped out and he has to start from the beginning. He strikes up a sweet love affair with a store owner in the neighborhood and she is well played by Geraldine Hughes. He also has to fight an arrogant and hot shot boxer played by Antonio Tarver and make up with his estranged son. I was worried about the ending boxing match but it is awesome, tasteful and thrilling just like the first two movies. This is one of Stallone's best performances of his career next to the original.

5.) Rocky II (79) (3 1/2 stars)

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young,
Burgess Meredith, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell

This is one of the best sequels ever made and the third best Rocky movie. The movie starts off just where the first one ended in a hospital. When Rocky goes into Apollo Creed's hospital room to have a talk it is sweet, charming and funny and that Rocky spirit is still alive. This is the movie where Rocky and Adrian get married, Rocky goes through struggles with money and getting back in the ring and the couple have a child. The charm and warm characters are still there and the grit of the neighborhood is still evident. The fight at the end is the best of the Rocky movies even though the end result of the fight is a little unbelievable. Stallone knows how to film a boxing match and his use of the musical score to heighten the drama in the fight is flawless.

4.) CopLand (97) (3 1/2 stars)

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert Deniro,
Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, Cathy Moriarty, Annabella Sciorra,
Michael Rapaport, Robert Patrick, Janeane Garafalo,
Frank Vincent, Noah Emmerich

I was proud of Sylvester Stallone's effort in this very good cop drama where he gave his best performance of his career besides "Rocky". Stallone gained a lot of weight for the role of a small time cop who gets involved with police corruption. His character kind of reminds me of his Rocky Balboa character. Stallone is surrounded by the best cast of actors you could look for and he is equal to them all. This is an exciting police drama with a great screenplay and Stallone gives a sweet performance and becomes his character. Some critics still made fun of Stallone and picked on this movie a little. If you haven't seen it, it is one of my favorite cop movies and it is a hidden gem and a great start to director James Mangold's career (Walk the Line).

3.) First Blood (82) (3 1/2 stars)

Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Denehy, Richard Crenna,
David Caruso

This is the start of another hugely popular film franchise for Stallone that spawned three sequels. Stallone plays John Rambo, a decorated Vietnam war veteran who comes to a small, redneck town and is seen by the police as a vagrant. He is brought in and booked for vagrancy and harassed and beaten by the officers that took him in. He maims pretty much all of them and escapes. What follows is an exciting, breathless and tense series of chases in the woods as Rambo picks off each officer one by one. Again watching Stallone here in action was something special. Word spread about this movie and when I saw it as a kid I was blown away by the awesome stunts and action. The crowd reaction in the theatre I saw it in was buzzed and everyone was cheering and applauding. This is the best example of how great an action star Stallone was. At that time no other action star could have pulled off this role, no one. Stallone is also given another great actor in Brian Denehy to be the bad guy to Stallone's hero. Stallone gives a tearful speech at the end on how badly he was treated when he got back form the war and how he lost a friend there. Critics made fun of Stallone's speech and acting in this scene, that they couldn't understand a word he was saying. I disagree completely because I understood every word he was saying, thought the scene was powerful and that Stallone's acting in that scene was great.

2.) Nighthawks (81) (4 stars) (highest rating)

Director: Bruce Malmuth
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams,
Rutger Hauer, Lindsay Wagner, Persis Khambatta,
Nigel Davenport, Joe Spinell

This is a tense and outstanding game of cat and mouse between Stallone and Rutger Hauer. This is the movie that introduced Rutger Hauer to American audiences and he plays one of the most evil bad guys in film history. This is one of my top favorite cop movies of all time and it is so much fun to watch. It is a tight, flawless and very suspenseful masterpiece and very dark and gritty. Stallone with full beard and mustache disappears into his role and was even unrecognizable to some audiences. Along with "Copland" and "Rocky" this is one of Stallone's best performances. The battle between good guy Stallone and bad guy Hauer is one of the most exciting and thrilling battles ever on screen. This movie is non stop action and the ending is a doozy. Hitchcock would have been proud of the end of this movie. It is a nail biting ending that will make your palms sweat and the surprise at the end of it is priceless. Stallone has said that the studio cut this movie up but I love it. I even think that Stallone took over the directing based on Bruce Malmuth's horrible career after this movie.

1.) Rocky (76) (4 stars) (highest rating)

Director: John Alvidsen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young,
Burgess Meredith, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell

This is pretty much everyone's favorite Stallone movie and it came out and surprised everyone by beating some heavyweights to win Best Picture at the Oscars. That mirrors this underdog classic that has influenced such classics as "Breaking Away", "Rudy" and "The Karate Kid". It is not the best boxing movie ever made, that is "Raging Bull", but it is a classic stand up and cheer underdog sports drama. It also created one of our most endearing and lovable characters. The movie started such a craze and hysteria that word spread around and a monster hit was born. Stallone wrote the screenplay himself, shopped it around to all the studios and no one bit. The studios also wanted him not to star in it for they thought he couldn't act, they wanted someone like Robert Redford or Ryan O'Neal. I could see no one else that could of played Rocky Balboa. This is a classic, old time Hollywood boxing picture with great characters, performances and a wonderful boxing match that had people jumping up and cheering. Also the scene were he had to get his eye cut in the ring made me run out of the theatre. This is a very influential movie and a great start to a very fun saga. I like all the "Rocky" movies and the Rocky Balboa character is one of my favorites of all time. I mean everyone loves "Rocky", I haven't heard a bad word about it by anyone.

I also like "Rocky III", "F.I.S.T" and "Rocky IV"

Monday, August 16, 2010

'Dinner For Schmucks'

'Dinner For Schmucks' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Michael Handelman and David Guion based on film "Le Diner de Cons" by Francis Veber
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galfianakis, Lucy Punch, Stephanie Szostak, Jemaine Clement, Bruce Greenwood

"Dinner For Schmucks" is an offbeat and quirky black comedy that grew on me thanks to Steve Carell and Paul Rudd who are fantastic here. The movie also has a lot of heart and a sweet message that is not cloying. Paul Rudd, probably the best straight man in movies, plays Tim. Tim is a young executive trying to move up in the corporate world. To please his sleazy boss, played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood, he takes part in a cruel contest. All the rising new corporate drones bring some idiot to a dinner at their boss's house where they can be made fun of. The employee with the biggest idiot wins the contest. Tim meet Barry, played by Steve Carell, who stuffs dead mice and builds sets and scenes for them to be in. The movie is not always laugh out loud funny but it does have it's moments of very funny scenes that make you giggle. I thought the movie was charming and the performances were all winners. Steve Carell is having a great year with this and "Date Night" and he is picking smart projects and he is always very funny. Paul Rudd does the straight man better than anyone and he is building up a smart resume also with this and a lot of very good movies he has been in the last few years. Lucy Punch is also very funny here and due to her performance I expect to see her a lot and very soon. Zach Galfiniakis is also amusing here and he is deservedly becoming a huge comic star. This movie has it's weak moments and some of the slapstick is messy and unfunny. Finally though this is a pleasant comedy that is charming and you won't mind the message the movie conveys. Humor and heart doesn't always have to come out as sappy and awkward.

'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'

'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)

Writers: Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Mae Whitman, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is one of the most enjoyable and original movies of the summer and of the year. It is one of the most energetic, fun, clever and imaginative movies in years also. The very likable Michael Cera again wins us over as Scott Pilgrim. Scott is a character from a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley and I am in love with O'Malley and the Pilgrim character. One of my mottoes is "Originality produces greatness" and this is a great movie. It is fresh and pretty much like nothing you have ever seen. It is creative, funny, witty, fast, colorful, vibrant and full of touches of brilliance. I love the jokey graphics, the goofy charm, the great cast of young, future stars and the energy that seeps off the screen. Michael Cera is again wonderful as Scott Pilgrim who falls in love at first sight with the fetching Ramona Flowers. This is also at the same time he is dating a high school girl named Knives Chau played with a lot of cuteness and energy by Ellen Wong. To gain the love of Ramona he must fight off her seven evil ex boyfriends. The movie starts with very funny scenes between Cera and Kieran Culkin as his gay roommate. The movie then really kicks in high gear when the exes start showing up. They are played by many wonderful new actors like Mae Whitman, Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman. The funniest performance and best ex boyfriend is played by Brandon Routh (Superman Begins). This is a surprisingly, brilliant comic performance that almost steals the movie. The cast is surprisingly the best cast of the year so far. It includes great new talent like Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill, Routh, Culkin, Wong, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Chris Evans and a great old pro like Jason Schwartzman and they are all funny and great here.

This brings me to Michael Cera who this year is being given a Snavely Award for picking the most original movies to be in this year by any actor. This movie and "Youth in Revolt" are risky projects that are more original than most movies ever are. Add to this one of my favorite movies of the past year "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" and "Juno" from 2007 and you have the most impressive resume by any young actor in the last few years. He may play the same type of character a lot but he is always charming, appealing and funny. Also he is always smart and daring in his choices. The heart of this movie needs to be with the love story and I really loved Scott and Ramona being together. That is also due to a very sweet performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free, Die Hard). I also thought Ellen Wong was extremely appealing and funny and her and Cera are also great together. This movie to me never drags, is a lot of fun and had me smiling from the first frame to the last. It doesn't try to impress you by hitting you over the head, it is just a light, fast and very fun time at the movies. This is the best time I have had at a movie since "The Kids Are All Right". With so many movies that are about the same old tired things, that copy from other, better movies and bore me to death with their predictability this is a breath of fresh air. It is a great, true original and a completely charming and major surprise.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

'Eat Pray Love'

'Eat Pray Love' (PG-13) (2 stars)

Writers: Jennifer Salt and Ryan Murphy based on memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert
Director: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Julia Roberts, Richard Jenkins, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Viola Davis, Javier Bardem, Mike O'Malley

"Eat Pray Love" is beautiful to look at and the food displayed in the movie looks so delicious and made me hungry. That is all I can say works in this empty movie which is one of the most disappointing movies of the year. This is based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of her year of discovering herself in Italy, India and Bali. Be careful when writing a memoir you think is so important and that people should care about when you have nothing worthy to tell us. I had the same problem with this movie that I had with one of the worst movies I have ever seen based on a memoir called "Running With Scissors". Augusten Burroughs was the annoying and arrogant jerk of that memoir. This is not as embarrassing, annoying and insipid as that one was but I didn't care anything about this women's journey of self discovery. Ryan Murphy directed this and Scissors so maybe he should stick to "Glee" and "Nip/Tuck" only. There is nothing new and more exciting here that goes on than goes on in millions of women's lives every year. I am sure there are women out there that have more to say with their journeys because this story is lifeless. The qualities that keep this from becoming a bad movie is the scenery, Julia Roberts performance and a very promising start in Italy.

The first third in Italy is actually entertaining and fun and the food looks so great! The second third in India is terrible and weak, the final section in Bali is better but the ending is too abrupt and unsatisfying. It also wastes a fun performance by Javier Bardem whose character is written very thin. The ending involving Bardem's character cheats us from a sweeping, romantic conclusion, it just ends. The opening scenes between Roberts as Gilbert and her first husband played by Billy Crudup are badly written, awkward and annoying. The scenes between Roberts and James Franco as a love interest are wispy, laughable and weak. I did like the location work and Richard Jenkins performance. I also like Roberts a lot, she looks beautiful, her smile and laugh are still powerful and she looks radiant. The only problem is that it is a good performance but not a great one by Roberts and that is the fault of the writing and character. Why should I care about Gilbert when there are a plethora of women that go through the same thing but in more interesting ways? Have you seen "Precious" yet ladies?

'The Expendables'

'The Expendables' (R) (3 stars)

Writers: Sylvester Stallone and Dave Callaham
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, David Zayas

There is no way anyone should enjoy "The Expendables" because it is pure trash but it is such a fun and guilty pleasure. This movie is a rude and crude throwback to those cheesy action movies of the 80's and Stallone was in a few like 1986's "Cobra". It gathers some stars of the 80's and some new action stars to form a latter day Dirty Dozen. I warn you that if you didn't like those action movies from the 80's or you don't like Stallone don't go see this. I grew up with a lot of these stars and it was fun to see them back in their glory, some who have been wasted for decades. I really don't care about the plot because it is thin and stupid, I just like the overblown, silly but funny action scenes. This movie may be stupid but it is better than 75% of the movies that came out this summer. I would rather have colorful and exciting stupid then dull, lifeless stupid like "Sorcerer's Apprentice". This movie falls under my new "Paul Blart Mall Cop Rule" which means a movie's story line might be stupid or goofy and aimed at a low level but if it does it's job well then it will work and you will enjoy it. This is not a prestige movie but a violent, bloody and over the top action movie that succeeds in the type of movie it is trying to be. If you are expecting something like "Salt" or "Knight and Day" this will not satisfy you. I grew up with these stars of the 80's and I always defended Stallone since I was little. This is one of the most unfairly picked on actors of my time. In early Stallone movies he always bravely threw all his heart into all his action scenes and he will always be one of the most exciting action stars ever. There is also Eric Roberts who has been wasted for about twenty years and Mickey Rourke, these were my favorite actors of my childhood and my idols. It is great to see these heroes of my youth back together and it is good to see them mix it up with new stars like Jason Statham who comes off best here. At some point I even forgot what the movie was about. I was just giddy to see all these larger than life guys having fun and I also found the action stuff silly but kind of infectious. I also forgot to mention a classic scene full of cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and a line in the scene that made everyone laugh out loud. Check your brain at the door and wallow in the fun stupidity.

'The Other Guys'

'The Other Guys' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Chris Henchy and Adam McKay
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel Jackson, Steve Coogan

The first hour of "The Other Guys" is so brilliant and extremely funny that the last half hour can't stand all that weight from the first hour. I laughed every minute of that first hour and the last half hour when I got lost I still enjoyed one of my favorite actors. This movie knows all the cop movie cliches and turns them on their ear. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play those Other Guys who are paper pushing cops who take a back seat to the action, hero cops. Dwayne Johnson and Samuel Jackson are the hero cops and they are very funny in their roles. When those officers do an inexplicable and very stupid stunt and die, Ferrell and Wahlberg come in and take over. They are following a very shady and corrupt financial executive played by Steve Coogan. Will Ferrell's specialty is evident here and that is saying some very crazy stuff that doesn't always make sense with a complete straight face. He is good again here but the real comic genius comes from Mark Wahlberg who is hilarious as the straight man. They both work very well off each other and there is some very funny dialogue between Ferrell and Wahlberg including a classic exchange. That classic exchange of dialogue involves a group of tuna attacking a lion and you have to hear it to believe how confusing but nutty and funny it sounds. There is also a very funny performance by one of my all time favorite actors in Michael Keaton. This is the old, classic Keaton from "Night Shift" and "Clean and Sober". He steals the movie as the police captain who moonlights at Bath and Beyond. I love Keaton and his performance is subtly hilarious and I think Oscar worthy. Eva Mendes is also very funny as Ferrell's wife. Another of the side splitting moments from the first hour deal with Ferrell not noticing how hot his wife is. Wahlberg's reaction and his constant hitting on Mendes is classic and worth the price of admission. Now the last hour gets bogged down in unfunny chases and shootouts and Coogan is not funny as the villain. The plot dealing with the bad guy is topical but confusing and needless. It doesn't matter because I laughed so much in the first hour more than I have in most full comedies this year.

'Get Low'

'Get Low' (PG-13) (Rental)

Writers: C. Gaby Mitchell and Chris Provenzano
Director: Aaron Schneider
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Bill Cobbs, Gerald McRaney, Scott Cooper

"Get Low" takes it's time in telling it's story with a low key charm that sometimes is too low key and deadpan. It contains a wonderful performance by Robert Duvall who owns this kind of role. Every bit his equal are Bill Murray who is a stitch as a funeral director and Sissy Spacek as a woman from Duvall's past. Duvall plays Felix Bush, an old hermit who wants to have a funeral party before he dies so people can tell stories about him and say goodbye. He visits a funeral director played by Murray who is happy that business is finally picking up. Murray and Duvall work perfectly off each other and Murray is very funny. Their performances are the real reason to see this movie that sometimes is too meandering. Duvall owns this kind of role in his sleep and his final speech at the end is touching and subtly powerful. Sissy Spacek plays an old lover and her and Duvall are also great together, Lucas Black is also good in support. I loved moments of "Get Low" and Duvall and Murray but the middle section of this movie lost me and got me off track. This is a great smaller screen rental so you can savor some great performances by Murray and Duvall. I just felt the movie needed more juice at it's middle to fully engage me.


'Salt' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Phillip Noyce and Kurt Wimmer
Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Olek Krupa, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andre Braugher

"Salt" is a crackling good spy thriller that is simply exciting, fast paced and fun. The movie is so fast you don't even notice the plot holes. The trailers have given it away but Jolie is fantastic as Evelyn Salt, an American spy who one day is outed by a Russian bad guy as a Russian spy. The movie then turns into a chase thriller with well directed chase scenes involving everything. The director is Phillip Noyce who knows how to create suspense, he directed "Dead Calm". Angelina Jolie is probably the best female action star we have and she puts all her heart in the chase and fight scenes. There are double crosses, foot chases, spy secrets and all that good spy stuff and it is done with flair. Again the movie is so fast paced that you don't notice the many weak and dumb moments. This movie is a vast improvement over Jolie's last few movies.

'Middle Men'

'Middle Men' (R) (2 stars)

Writers: George Gallo and Andy Weiss
Director: George Gallo
Starring: Luke Wilson, Gabriel Macht, Giovanni Ribisi, Jacinda Barrett, Laura Ramsey, Rade Serbedzija, Kevin Pollack, John Ashton, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Forster, Terry Crews, James Caan

For a movie about Internet Porn founders "Middle Men" is safe and dull. There is not an original bone in it's body, I kept thinking of a neutered "Good Fellas" rip off. The material is there to intrigue us but it is done in such a predictable way that I lost interest fast. Luke Wilson does a fine job as one of the creators of PayPal which is a front for paying for porn on your computer. The movie starts out very wrong with a lifeless and terrible voice over narration by Wilson that resembles Ray Liotta's one in "Good Fellas" except I thought Wilson was falling asleep. Wilson's character gets involved with two lowlifes played by Ribisi and Macht who overact. They also get involved with gangsters and thugs just like the ones in "Good Fellas" but with nothing that grabs our attention. The women in this film are shallowly written including the standard porn star portrayed much better in "Boogie Nights" and the wife who is your typical movie wife who stands in the background. I was surprised this movie was so boring because the co-writer and director George Gallo wrote one of the best comedies and action films of the 80's in "Midnight Run". This movie has no life, no characters we care about and no reason really to be made. It goes through the motions and gives us nothing original to engage us. "Middle Men" needs an injection of color and excitement.