Monday, May 19, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

From the moment I saw the preview, I knew I wanted to watch this movie, but I also knew that I wanted to rent it instead of shelling out big bucks for the big screen. The movie looked good, but, for me, there was no real draw to catch it in theaters. I am glad, however, that I followed through on renting it.

The cast is stellar. I've never been a Julia Roberts fan, but she does a fine job in this movie (although I think just about any actress could've pulled her role off ... it wasn't a very challenging character portrayal). Tom Hanks is solid; nothing amazing, but solid. My favorite character, and if you've read just about any of the other blogs, you know that it's going to be Philip Seymour Hoffman... but it's more than just his mere presence. This is yet another role that proves he's very versatile. His low key, sarcastic, acerbic wit caused me to laugh audibly (or LQTM for all you Demetri Martin fans). I understand why PSH was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in this film, but Casey Affleck, Javier Bardem [winner], and Tom Wilkinson were all more impressive in their Oscar-nominated roles (although it wasn't PSH's fault ... it was merely the role).

*Spoiler Alert* It's hard to spoil anything in this movie b/c it happened in the '80s, so if you don't know the outcome then you're an idiot. Anyway, the only problem I had with this movie was the end. The Commies have been defeated and Charlie Wilson wants to spend $1 MIL on rebuilding schools in Afghanistan, but those other dumb politicians don't want to... The message seems to be if the US had only spent $1 MIL on rebuilding Afghan schools then 9/11 wouldn't have happened. Uhh, what?! They don't explicitly state that schools = no 9/11, but it's definitely implied. I haven't witnessed an ending that naive since ... well, I can't think of anything right now, but it was daftly simplistic to say the least.

Final Grade: B/B+
Blurb: It's not often that a political drama is actually good (see: All the King's Men, Lions for Lambs, etc.), but this one is. The subject matter is somewhat serious, but the tone is mild and plenty of breaks are deftly provided by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character. Rent this one and enjoy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

First I need to admit that I'm a big C. S. Lewis fan. Pretty much anything he writes--fiction, theology, philosophy, et al.--is brilliant. I do love me some Clives Staples Lewis. There, my bias is out in the open.

The first thing to remember when seeing this movie is that it's for kids. Some people try to compare it to Lord of the Rings, but that's a big mistake. While Lewis and Tolkien were dear friends, they wrote to different audiences. Although Rings can be read by juveniles, Narnia is tailored for that audience; the movies, additionally, mirror that fact. Narnia--the films--should be put in the same category as all the Harry Potter films: they're for kids, but adults can enjoy them too.

Just as the most recent Potter movie was darker, so is this new Narnia film. There is much more killing (although it is bloodless) and one of the plot lines, whether Prince Caspian should kill his uncle, is fairly mature as well.

The classic complaint of a sequel in a series is that there is little character development. The Two Towers was a classic example of this. I went into this film not expecting much development and I was correct. This isn't necessarily a detriment though. Prince Caspian is a great bridge from the first movie to the next one. If, on the other hand, you didn't see the first one, you'll have a hard time enjoying Prince Caspian. Speaking of Caspian or, rather, the actor that plays him (Ben Barnes), he is going to be the biggest movie star to emerge from this amateur group of actors.

The setting (mostly New Zealand) is spectacularly beautiful (would you expect anything else from the land of the Conchords?) and the special effects are good too. I thought to myself a number of times during Prince Caspian, "I'm so freaking glad that George Lucas isn't directing/producing this movie." There is plenty of smooth CGI, but a lot of times the characters are real people in costumes. Yes, I know, that would probably cause Lucas to spontaneously combust to go back to people instead of 100% computer-generated characters, so thank you director Andrew Adamson (who also helped write the screenplay). This is amazing b/c Adamson's other films are the Shrek films, which, if you know me at all, you know that I'm not a fan.

Final Grade: B
Blurb: Caspian a good movie (just as good as Lion/Witch/Wardrobe), but there are some caveats: don't expect much character development; don't go into it expecting Lord of the Rings; don't forget the target audience. If you can do those things, you'll find that Caspian is just as good as any Harry Potter film.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday [P]Review: 5.09.08

First of all, sorry for the lack of reviews (to my three readers). I'm in Madison substitute teaching (AKA yelling at kids for money) and I've got a cold, so I've been doing a lot of napping.

Redbelt: I'm afraid that MMA (mixed martial arts) movies are going to emerge as the male equivalent of all those dancing movies (Stomp the Yard, Step Up, Step Up 2 the Streets, You Got Served ("What does that even mean?!"), How She Move, Feel the Noise etc., etc., barf). I understand that the sport is at it's highest level of popularity to date (based on ratings/sales of UFC bouts), but do we need more of these movies? Did Jean-Claude Van Damme teach us nothing? The only thing that intrigues me about this movie is Chjwetel Ejofor, the actor that plays the movie's main character (you might know him better as the villain in this movie or the semi-villain in this one). Unlike Van Damme and Ralph Macchio, Ejofor actually has acting talent (and the ability to read). It's getting slightly positive reviews (scoring a 69/100 @ Metacritic, 60% fresh @ Rotten Tomatoes, and a 3.0 GPA over at Yahoo!). Those are surprising numbers given the subject matter. Since I'm a sucker for good action movies--and I think this title falls under that heading--I'll probably end up renting it.

Speed Racer: I'll come right out and say it: I liked all three Matrix movies. Was the first one much better than the sequels? Yes. But I still thought 2 and 3 were decent movies (or, at least, not as terrible as everybody made them out to be). However, I seem to be on the other side of the fence with V for Vendetta as I was seriously annoyed--at points--and I don't want to see it again (ever). I'm intrigued by Speed Racer simply because it's from the Wachowski Brothers. But the thing that will keep me from catching it on the big screen is the fact that no preview I've watched has given me even the slightest idea of a storyline beyond "racing" and "special effects." (Also, I think my dislike for the film's star, Emile Hirsch, has been documented.) The consensus from Rotten Tomatoes only confirms my suspicions: "The Wachowski Brothers have overloaded Speed Racer with headache-inducing special effects, and neglected to develop a coherent storyline." However, if I were forced--at knifepoint--to see a movie opening this weekend, it might be Speed Racer, simply because I'm intrigued ... but I haven't offended White Power Bill, so I don't anticipate getting forced into picking a movie.

What Happens in Vegas: ...should have stayed in post production until after I died. I looked over his resume, and I can't name one Ashton Kutcher movie that I've liked. I don't think there's a movie that stars Cameron Diaz that I want to watch again. I have a feeling that this movie is going to be about as high quality as the movie poster pictured above. I'm sure there are two laughs in this film--probably coming from Zach Galifianakis and Rob Corddry (one laugh from each of them)--but I'd rather watch Diaz's In Her Shoes while getting soy sauce poured over the papercuts in the webbings of my toes than pay $8.50 for a ticket to this show.