Monday, May 28, 2007

Shrek 3

Well, I loved Shrek and Shrek 2, so it would stand to reason that I would enjoy the 3rd installment from my favorite Ogre. However, it now looks more like the fine folks at DreamWorks have run out of fresh ideas. I’m not saying that the movie was bad; it was just alright. I would actually classify it as just above meh.

Let’s look at the story first. Shrek and Fiona are still in Far Far Away. They are filling in for the sick King. However, before the King dies he proclaims Shrek and Fiona as heirs to the throne, and states that there exists only one other person who could inherit the throne: Arthur. So Shrek, Donkey, and Puss go off to find this heir. Fiona however, has to stay at the castle to fend off a coup by Prince Charming with the help of several other fairy tale princesses. She also has to attend a baby shower—her own! That’s right folks, there will soon be the pitter patter of little ogre feet heard ’round the castle. So Shrek sets off to find this heir with the knowledge that he is going to become a father. They meet some other characters along the way, including Lancelot, the high school bully, and Merlin, a crazy, out-of-practice wizard.

There’s the plot. I was very excited to see the movie, but while there were some funny parts, it was not what I expected. Personally, I think they should have stopped after Shrek 2. I know that, as long as the Shrek franchise continues to make money, DreamWorks will continue to make them. However, I suggest that they use some of the money made from the third movie to hire new writers for the fourth installment (which I hear is in the making).

Now that I’m writing this review I find myself wishing that the movie was worse, so I would have more to elaborate on. Unfortunately, I can’t make that happen, so as it stands the movie receives a 5. I was disappointed by Shrek 3, but I guess we all have to deal with disappointment sooner or later.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter

Altamont. People who study music history know that word as signifying one of the darkest points it contains. For those not so learned, the Altamont Free Concert took place on December 6th, 1969, and featured such acts as the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The movie that was filmed during it (and the subsequent American Rolling Stones tour) reveals a turbulent time of chaos, drugs, violence, and ultimately, death. Gimme Shelter is a haunting and disturbing film, and also one of the best documentaries ever made.

I’m not a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, but I recognize and appreciate the very important role they play in the development of popular music. Thankfully, this concert film contains performances of only songs I like, so I was never tempted to hit the search button. It starts out innocently enough, as indeed the filmmakers thought the entire film would be. They had no idea at the time that it would escalate to such horrific circumstances. It’s punctuated at random times with Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts in a video studio watching rough cuts of the film. Even then, you can see it on Watts’ face. He’s saying, “This is not what we had planned for at all.”

The movie features some nice performances, with “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” being standouts. Honestly, though, they are somewhat separate from the main thrust of the film, which is the Altamont incident. The concert itself was fraught with problems before it even took place. It suffered from two forced venue changes, the last one being three days before the concert was scheduled to go on. When the Rolling Stones revealed that they would be the headlining act, Golden Gate Park backed out, fearing a repeat of the crowd control problems that plagued Woodstock less than a year earlier. It was changed to Sears Point Raceway, but they backed out due to film distribution rights, since the Stones would be filming a concert movie at the event. So it finally settled at the last minute on Altamont, and things finally seemed to be going well.

The biggest mistake the Rolling Stones made, clearly, is hiring the Hell’s Angels to do security. The Rolling Stones had heard that the Grateful Dead (who were supposed to play on the Altamont bill) had hired the Hell’s Angels to work security for them multiple times before, and it had worked out well. It was ill-fated, though. One, there weren’t enough of them to handle the 300,000 strong crowd. Two, the agreement the concert promoters had with them was incredibly flimsy, being little more than “if you show up and keep people away from the generators, we’ll give you free beer.” Three, these were civilians, not professional security people. Four, they’re a biker gang. Does this not bode well to anyone else? They weren’t there to police the crowd (and consequentially, no one was), but obviously the Hell’s Angels clashing with a bunch of hippies will cause problems. The promoters and the Stones themselves should have realized this is one belligerent bunch. Even Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane got knocked unconscious when he tried to help a concert-goer that was getting the crap kicked out of him by a Hell’s Angel.

After viewing this film, I have concluded that Mick Jagger is (or was at the time) just a fun-loving guy who’s into love and sex, not violence. He was a true proponent of the simple-minded phrase “make love, not war.” When things were going wrong at Altamont, he met the mood first with his usual joviality, and then with child-like horror. When the deadly debacle was over, his reaction was one of sadness, not of anger, as can be seen from his somber rendition of “Under My Thumb.”

The event ended with the murder of one Meredith Hunter, an 18 year-old African-American who was packing a long-barreled revolver. He was stabbed five times by a Hell’s Angel, presumably in self defense, and died at the concert. The worst part of it: the murder was caught on film by multiple cameras.

To many people, Altamont is the anti-Woodstock. Woodstock represented, as the posters say, “love, peace, and music.” Altamont, which was held just months later, and was unofficially promoted as “Woodstock West,” proves that the rosy glow associated with the hippie generation wasn’t completely real. Or if it was, it wasn’t strong enough to win out over humanity’s curse of self-destruction. Altamont truly represents the death of the 60s and the dismantling of what the flower children stood for; Gimme Shelter captures it in harrowing and unflinching detail. The film ends with concert-goers walking back to their cars on the morning after Altamont, all somehow different. The sound is the Stones’ live version of “Gimme Shelter,” which eerily captures the “death of the 60s” thing with its sense of impending apocalypse. Funny thing is, that song was released just a few days before Altamont happened. Maybe they sensed it coming.

Iconic Lines:

22 Rating: 14

Particle Man

Friday, May 18, 2007

Déjà Vu (a guest review by Number Three)

Do you want the quick and dirty on what Déjà Vu is about and whether or not you’ll like it? Then the quickest and most accurate way I can describe it is “Memento meets Man on Fire.” In said film you have a sort of Nolan-esque story flow married with the action/thriller genre that Tony Scott has deftly mastered with both Will Smith in Enemy of the State and Denzel Washington in Man on Fire. And once again the man on fire, Denzel, has teamed up with Scott for Déjà Vu, but with the added twist of some time-flow funkiness.

At this point it should pretty much be obvious to yourself whether or not you’ll like the movie. Did you like Enemy of the State or Man on Fire? Then you’ll like it. Did you like Memento or The Prestige? Then you’ll like it. Did you like all four? Then you’ll love it.

So here’s the basic plot: A terrorist explosion happens on a ferry boat killing over 500 peeps. ATF agent Doug Carlin comes coolly striding in on the scene with all the great slow-mo black-bro mojo camera tow and starts investigating. As he begins to uncover the plot, some higher up investigators - including the dead weight that is Val Kilmer (who appears to have gained weight) – are impressed with his investigative skills, so they hire him to help find the baddie who blew up the boat. It turns out that Val and his boys have some slick equipment called “Snow White” which I won’t give too much away about other than to say that they can look in real time at anything anywhere (provided they have a good signal) except for this: what they are looking at is always exactly 4 days and some hours in the past. This allows them to try and track down the bad man by casing the area before the explosion happened. Then the fun begins. Denzel decides that he might be able to prevent the disaster after discovering a unique sort of connection to the four-days-gone-by time flow. Add in an effective woman plot device and you’ve got a great action/thriller story that emerges.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Geeze, I’ve had enough time travel movies already!” But, no, you really haven’t. Because, you see, in most of those movies people go back in time and start changing the future and all that. But in this movie, there is an ominous inevitability that makes things happen as they have to happen, because they happened. You want things to change as you’re watching, but somehow things always turn out the way they turned out. So it remains to be seen whether or not the disaster is averted. I’ll let you watch for yourself.

There are some fresh and cool ways that the storywriters make use of the whole time thing, and Tony Scott effortlessly injects action and tension into those apparatuses. For example, there’s the whole car chase sequence where Denzel is trying to follow the killer, except he’s following him in the four days ago feed because he is moving out of range of their signal. So he’s trying to chase the guy down who isn’t there anymore in the present, and the traffic is totally different, and OH MY GOSH WATCH OUT FOR THAT TRUCK! I don’t want to give all the mechanics of that scene away, but let’s just say that the whole Nolan/Scott thing works.

So do yourself a favor and watch Déjà Vu. So do yourself a favor and watch Déjà Vu.

Number Three’s Score:
Mouthspeak (impact of dialog): +10
Watchfeel (impact of visuals): +18
Mouthfeel (overall watchability): +14

Number Three

Friday, May 11, 2007

Night at the Museum

Night at the Museum is supposed to be a fantastical romp through an imaginary world in which the creatures and characters that populate the American Museum of Natural History come to life at night. Unfortunately, it’s no more interesting than spending a night in the museum actually would be.

The plot centers around Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), a failurish divorced father who takes a job as the night guard at the Museum of Natural History because otherwise he’ll be evicted from his apartment and denied access to his cookie-cutter-cute son. And as you know, once there he has to deal with everything from a skeletal T-Rex with canine tendencies to a borderline sadistic capuchin monkey.

The idea is a good one—though a bit of a rip-off of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. But the execution is dreadful. Nearly everyone involved with this movie—from the director on down—seemed to be giving about 35% effort. The idea seemed to be: “You know, if we make a family movie that’s chock full of star power, market it aggressively, and release around Christmas, we’ll make money no matter how sloppy it is.” The depressing thing is that they’re right. Museum made $250 million, a lucrative return even on the substantial $110 million they spent making the movie.

But enough financial talk, let’s discuss why this movie sucked.

The script is poor beyond belief. Comic actors can only be comic actors if they have any comic lines to deliver—or at least comic situations to get in. But there’s not a lot to work with here. The script was penned by Reno 911’s Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (who also teamed up for such beloved films as Herbie Fully Loaded and Let’s Go to Prison). Either the pair have a hard time being funny in a PG setting, or their comic sensibilities clashed with that of the actors. Whatever it was, I can count the laugh-out-loud moments in this movie on one finger.

But there are worse problems than that, such as laziness with continuity: Stiller stays up all night for his shift, then spends the entire next day researching. Rather than, I don’t know, passing out the moment he gets home. He then goes to work the next night, never betraying a hint of tiredness. (Another complaint: Night at the Museum is actually several nights.)

There are also moments of severe stupidity—the two most flagrant are caveman-related. On his second night of work, Stiller is prepared, and there’s a montage wherein he neutralizes a bunch of potential problems before they start. One of the things he does is find the now-living caveman display in the midst of their quest to create fire—and gives them a lighter. Never does he consider the fact that that this is completely retarded. Honestly, the cavemen weren’t even a problem the first night, why would he just give them fire?

Inevitably, one of the cavemen sets his hair on fire, and Stiller has to jump in with a fire extinguisher. This makes a big mess of foam in the display and, in the commotion, one of the cavemen escapes. The next morning, the museum’s curator (Ricky Gervais) chides Stiller for the mess in the display, but completely ignores the fact that there is a caveman missing. I mean, come on.

The actors clearly know that they’re dealing with substandard material, and mail in their performances accordingly. There’s a lot of comic talent involved here, so that’s a lot of mailing.

Stiller kind of tries, but he never gets out of second gear, and that’s nearly enough. Robin Williams is completely wasted as a pretty bad Teddy Roosevelt impersonator. Owen Wilson knows he's acting for kids, and hams it up accordingly (and obnoxiously). Poor Ricky Gervais looks like he has no idea what his character is supposed to be. Dick Van Dyke, as former night guard Cecil, holds up admirably for a short while, but eventually succumbs to the ridiculousness surrounding him. Mickey Rooney might actually be the pick of the litter here. He isn't given much to do as Cecil's pugnacious sidekick Gus, but he at least seems to be having some fun with it. The same can't be said for the rest of the cast.

If there is a saving grace to this movie, it's that it is legitimately family-friendly. There's not much cussing and a total absence of sex talk (save for one fairly veiled Brokeback Mountain
reference). And the movie does manage to teach kids a bit about history, which is something. Though the history is predictably truncated, such as when Roosevelt rides up and quotes (without citing) Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, saying, "Some men are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them." Which, of course, totally leaves out that irrelevant middle part: "Some achieve greatness."

Needless to say, Night at the Museum does not achieve greatness. It struggles to even achieve mediocrity. Sometimes I'll have days at work when I think, "I'm beat and I'm bored. I'm just going to do the minimum required of me and then call it a day." So I can't really chide the people involved in Night at the Museum too much for having the same thoughts, but I can warn you against tasting the fruits of their lack of effort. And I can give the movie a stern shake of the head and a -4.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


When a movie does something or is something that hasn’t been done before or didn’t exist before, I can appreciate it without actually liking it. Fortunately, Brick succeeds on both counts, though one much more than the other. One of the practices of college writing classes everywhere is taking the model of a story that already exists and transporting the setting. If the script for Brick was a college project, it would probably earn a B+.

The model is a hard-boiled detective story, and the setting it’s transported to is a high school. The hero remains largely the same, except he doesn’t have the convenient occupation of detective. The motivation is almost the same; originally it’s money turning to revenge, and here it’s friendship turning to revenge. Overall, the transportation works wonderfully well. There are a few things that didn’t translate very well, like the party Brendan goes to in the first half-hour of the film, and the fact that only the “adult” in the story seems to have any parents. However, I’ve seen some setting changes that worked horribly, so this seems pretty good by comparison.

The movie opens up on what so many hard-boiled stories open up on: a dead body. Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the main character, is staring at it contemplatively. We then back-track one day, to an arm with a blue bracelet (the same blue bracelet the body had on) slipping a note into Brendan’s locker at school. No explaining, no exposition. The filmmaker chooses a voyeuristic approach with the camera angles, and we feel a bit like we are intruding. Brendan gets a call from Emily (Emilie de Ravin), an old flame, and she’s in trouble. He spends the rest of the day trying to track her down. Brendan is the archetypical detective; brooding, sardonic, a loner, and tough as nails. He’s definitely not above violence when it’s called for, but he’s also much too smart to get into a scuffle when a well-placed word will do just as well. He’s also the second smartest kid in school. He’s helped out from time to time by the first smartest, a bespectacled kid nicknamed The Brain (Matt O’Leary). Brendan visits and has run-ins with various people on his quest for information, like school drama queen and former girlfriend Kara (Meagan Good), upper-class hostess Laura (Nora Zehetner), and stoner Dode (Noah Segan), who happens to be Emily’s current flame. Also in the mix are drug lord The Pin (Lukas Haas) and his toady, the belligerent Tug (Noah Fleiss).

Brendan still cares for Emily, and that leads him to get way too involved in affairs that start out as none of his business. The plot kind of lost me at one point, as it was a little too twisty for me to completely follow it. The dialogue is brilliant throughout, and the screenplay controls the plot with a mature pacing. The best part is, though, that the director obviously loves the hard-boiled detective story, and it definitely shows with this movie. His drawing on classical sources seems like interpretation rather than ripping off, and we as the audience are treated to a movie that’s at once haunting, mystical, and visceral. It also proves that a movie doesn’t have to have even a single shot of special effects or CGI to be beautiful. Brick reveals competence in the craft of movie-making, as well as the ability to piece together an intriguing (if very confusing) story.

Iconic Lines:
“Throw one at me if you want, hash-head. I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, so that puts me six up on the lot of you.”
“There’s a thesaurus in the library. ‘Yeah’ is under Y. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”
“Come to see the show?”

22 Rating: 8

Particle Man

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hot Fuzz (Dr. Worm)

Ever wonder why comedies are so rarely sharply directed? Typically, comedy directors will just set up a single camera and allow the comedy-supplying actors to prance around. There doesn't seem to be much of a reason for this, aside from laziness. "Let Will Ferrell make his money," the directors shrug, "I'll just sit behind the camera and laugh."

Fortunately, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the minds behind Hot Fuzz and 2004's enjoyable Shaun of the Dead, buck this trend. Hot Fuzz, like Shaun of the Dead, is a comedy and a parody, but it also stands up without having to lean on either of those crutches.

As Stormy Pinkness detailed, Hot Fuzz is about Nicholas Angel, London's top cop who gets transferred to somnolent Sandford to prevent him from making his colleagues look any worse. Pegg deserves special praise for his portrayal of Sgt. Angel, a fastidious rule-abider. Played by a lesser actor, he could come off seeming more than a bit persnickety. Pegg, however, makes sure that Angel's devotion to the rulebook comes from sincere concern for society, rather than a desire to be an overgrown safety patrol.

Getting back to the plot briefly, it goes on as Pinkness described: Angel teams with an inept cop named Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), and the two investigate a series of accidents which begin seeming more and more conspicuous. Eventually, ridiculousness ensues. The movie is a comedy, and, because it is funny, it succeeds. But it succeeds for more reasons than just this.

First, it's a perfect parody. Which is rare; parodies frequently simply lazily recreate some of the more obvious characteristics of the parodee (if you will). If you've ever seen Saturday Night Live, you know what I'm talking about. But Hot Fuzz clearly loves the subject matter it's poking fun at (just as Shaun of the Dead did), so the end result is that the movie is just as much an homage as it is a parody.

Furthermore, it's more than just a great comedy or a great parody; it's also a great movie in its own right. It features well-developed characters. It boasts a sharp, snappy screenplay. It contains original and effective cinematography. As simple as it sounds, the people involved in creating this movie clearly cared about making a really good movie. And, as a result, they made a really good movie.

There's not much not to like about this movie. It does get pretty ridiculous toward the end, so if you've got a mental ailment that causes you to have seizures if you see something unrealistic, maybe skip this one. Also, there's a bit more gore than you might expect, so if you've got a weak stomach, be prepared to close your eyes at certain points. Other than that, there's no reason not to see this movie. After all, it is a 14.

Hot Fuzz (Stormy Pinkness)

Hot Fuzz was a different sort of experience for me. After seeing it in the theaters I was impressed by the movie, but not to an overwhelming extent. However, as I continued to think about the movie, my opinion of it improved. But first, let’s look at what Hot Fuzz is.
Nicholas Angel is a top cop in London. He does everything he can to make sure every lawbreaker pays the price. While he is excellent at his job, his excellence reflects badly on the other officers in London. So, in an effort to make themselves look better, they give Nick a promotion that reassigns him to a quiet little village, Sandford, where the greatest problem seems to be a MIA swan. Nicholas also gets stuck with a new partner who really is not quite on top of his game. After a few fatal accidents happen in the town, Nicholas becomes convinced that these were not accidents, but murders.
Obviously, Hot Fuzz is a dark comedy. Or at least that’s how it was billed when I went to see it. Also, it’s British, which can take some getting used to. I thought that was my problem: Sometimes I find British comedy funny and sometimes I don’t. So this was the reason in my mind that I was bored for the first part of the movie. However, I think what it came down to was the fact that I wanted to see some shooting and some action and didn’t want to sit through the exposition to set up the action. Now that I am in a different mood, and thinking back on the movie, it was not boring at all.
I have been thinking about this movie for two weeks, which is a good accomplishment for the movie, or really anything that can hold my attention span longer than a minute. I have also been thinking of how to try to describe this film and the only word I can think of is “ridiculous.” While this trait is not always a good thing, in this case it was. This movie was ridiculously entertaining and enlightening. It taught you that things are not always as they appear, and in a hilarious way, of course. All of the actors were great, from the sinister shop owner played by Timothy Dalton, to the bumbling sidekick portrayed by Nick Frost.
Immediately after I saw this movie I was asked to give it a rating. At the time, I gave it a 12. However, after further thought, I think I need to bump its rating up to a 15. It was funny and entertaining and, once again, delightfully ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Babette's Feast (a guest review by Number Three)

I’m a sucker for a good foreign film. And one such reason is because a surprising number of foreign films serve as the primary influence for several Hollywood offerings. It’s always a surprise though when I accidentally discover a hidden movie that just so happens to be a great influence on some popular American movie that we’ve all seen.

So here’s what Babette’s Feast is about. Let’s play a little game and see if you can guess what popular movie was influenced by it.

An unlikely person stumbles upon a happy, if overly dispassionate town and changes their pattern of thought to accept and enjoy the pleasures of this world instead of denying them through the use of food.

Have you figured it out yet? You’re right, it’s Chocolat. Now let me just say that I liked Chocolat and I don’t mind that it ripped off Babette’s Feast. They are both good movies and they are both set in very different times and places, but boy are they alike when you consider the basic aspects of the story and message.

The only problem with foreign films, though, is that they often feel a bit foreign. That is to say, I am a product of
Hollywood, and so while I greatly appreciate foreign films, there will always be some element of the culture that just doesn’t fully translate into my full and utter enjoyment. Thus, Chocolat is a bit easier to watch for an American I think, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Babette’s Feast anyway, because it will serve as an intriguing education on film influence and it will also delight you and make you very hungry for a good French restaurant afterwards.

Here’s the basic storyline: There is a somewhat remote and fairly provincial Danish village on the seacoast that is quite happy. They are all very good and very dedicated Papists…and that’s important. Two nice young ladies live a life of service beside their pastor father and give up the prospect of marriage so that they might dedicate themselves to the service of the village. They find contentment and joy in their service, but there is probably a tinge of regret too. Fast forward many, many years. Papa is dead and the village tarries on, doing their best to live up to the pastor’s preaching and exhortations about living the good Christian life. Along comes Babette, a French woman who has some connection to an earlier and rather amusing character. She has been forced to flee
France over the turmoil of the times and finds a home with the now two old ladies who never married.

She serves humbly for over a decade and one day learns that she has won 10,000 francs from a lottery ticket that a friend back home had renewed for her every year. To show her appreciation she makes a feast for the village, who because of their philosophy, somehow think it would be un-Christian to enjoy it. Oh but the food is good! Babette teaches them a little something about enjoying the things of this earth through her food. Here the viewer can probably fine-tune the message to their tastes, pun intended. I would say, excess is not good, but neither is trying not to find joy in the things that are meant to bring us joy. Well, the movie is a joy to watch, especially with a fine
Bordeaux and a lovely meal in hand.

Number Three’s Score:
Mouthspeak (impact of dialog): +10
Watchfeel (impact of visuals): +16

Mouthfeel (overall watchability): +14

Number Three