Archive for April, 2009


Movies on DVD Review: Slaughterhouse-Five



I have become unstuck in movie reviewing…


Stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche, and Valerie Perrine. Directed by George Roy Hill. Based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


Billy Pilgrim (Sacks) is sitting, typing out a letter to the editor telling him stating that he has become “unstuck in time.” From that moment he time-trips to the future and his life on Tralfamadore, then back to himself as a young chaplain caught by the Germans and sent to Dresden. We see further glimpses into his life as he survives a plane crash, becomes an optometrist, survives the bombing of Dresden, gets married, has kids, and winds up as part of a human zoo on planet Tralfamadore.


The most effective parts of the movie are the one based in Dresden. Dresden was a civilian city not thought to be a military target. Vonnegut based this on his experiences in Dresden which include surviving the bombing. We are also shown that when the Nazis say you will be shot for taking any merchandise, they keep to their word.


I enjoyed the movie. It’s dark, funny, tragic, interesting, intriguing, weird, and poignant. Hill (I am told) stayed loyal to the novel. I apologize upfront; I have not read the novel (sorry to disappoint). If that’s true, this is one fantastical stream of consciousness. Kudos to Vonnegut for the story.


Why should you watch it? If you’re a film geek this fits two categories: cult movie and non-linear editing. On the “cult” side, this movie was not critically acclaimed nor a big box office draw however, it’s weird enough and has a following. As for non-linear editing, think of this movie as an inspiration for films like “Memento” and “Pulp Fiction.” If you are a bookworm, this is one of the most loyally adapted book-to-films.


On a trivia note, George Roy Hill also directed “The Sting,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Slap Shot,” “The World According to Garp,” and “Funny Farm.” Valerie Perrine is still acting. And Michael Sacks, who beat out Dirk Benedict for the role of Billy Pilgrim, retired from acting in 1984 and is now Head of Global Applications Development at MarketAxess.


My grade: B



Movie Review: Observe and Report



Better than most Will Farrell comedies…


Stars Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, and Michael Pena. Directed by Jody Hill.


Okay, let me say this first: no, this is NOT a Will Farrell movie. I could imagine Farrell playing Rogen’s role. The “arrogant doofus” has become prevalent in comedies and is getting on my nerves.


The arrogant doofus at large, i.e. Seth Rogen, is Ronnie Barnhardt. He lives with his alcoholic mother and is the inept head of security at the local mall. He is a rent-a-cop with delusions of grandeur and a bloated sense of purpose so much so that one of the vendors has a restraining order out on him (and he still works at the mall? Uh, script coach!) His crew include the twin brothers Yuan (Matt and John Yuen), a food court guy (Jesse Plemons), and his second-in-command Dennis (Michael Pena), a Hispanic who talks with a lisp.


A streaker (Randy Gambill) flashes several people in the parking lot and Ronnie is on the case. Sort of. When his love interest/infatuation cosmetics girl Brandi (Faris) is “flashed” by the pervert, Ronnie’s infatuation turns to determination of finding the guy at all costs. Enter Detective Harrison (Liotta). Harrison wants to do what’s right but continually gets hindered by Ronnie’s blundering incompetence. If you or I were in this movie, we would pretty much be on Harrison’s side.


This is the crux of the movie.


Don’t get me wrong; there are funny moments in this movie with some even being laugh-out-loud. For the most part it’s a 90-minute distraction from the reality you are escaping, much like the one Ronnie is. Kudos to the music department for picking out a great soundtrack. Queen has at least two song selections in this one proving that if you’re lamenting or kicking ass, they’re the defacto rock band.


As a movie, again it’s a good diversion if you’ve got nothing else cramming your schedule. As a film, it falls flat. It seems that there was heart in making it, but the technical details were lacking. A subtheme about thefts in the mall was glazed-over and reappears momentarily and then treated with shrugged shoulders. At some point in the middle of the movie the entire thing unravels and becomes a bunch of non sequitur jokes until the filmmakers had to be thinking “we gotta wrap this thing up!” and got back on track for the ending.


To end Ronnie finds true love, self worth, and he captures the streaker, but I’m not gonna tell you how. If you really want to know, I guess you’ll have to go see it. Or feel free to watch its distant cousin, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”


Watch for Danny McBride (“Tropic Thunder,” “The Foot Fist Way”) as a crackhead.


My grade: C




Movies on DVD Review: Man on Wire



A wirewalking documentary.


Stars Philippe Petit. Directed by James Marsh.


“Man on Wire” is a look back at Philippe Petit and his accomplishment: wirewalking between New York’s (then) newly created Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. With the help of friends and contacts, he and his team pulled off what some have called “the greatest artistic crime of the century.”


Petit is a Frenchman who grew up to be a street juggler and wirewalker. One day while sitting in the dentist’s office he sees a picture of the proposed Towers and has a vision, a manifest destiny if you will, of walking between them (nevermind the fact that it hasn’t been built yet). From that point on his wirewalking career is taking steps toward achieving that goal. From wirewalking between the towers of Notre Dame to Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge, Petit daredevils and crosses the law as he builds up to his goal.


The movie flashes backwards and forwards, showing events in Petit’s life that influenced why he did what he did as well as portraying the wirewalk feat itself like a heist movie. From making scale models of the building tops to flying back and forth to the U.S. from France, to making fake IDs to get into the Towers, to evading guards and finally stringing the cable in the early hours of the morning amidst thick fog, this achievement was cut-out for him. Current day interviews are inter-cut with re-enactments of scenes, as well as original footage taken at the time.


So, how is the film? I thought it was alright. The back-and-forth-and-back editing got to me a little; sometimes telling the story forward is a better idea. The achievement was great, no doubt about that, but I wish the film would make it feel greater. It’s a worthy documentary, but winning an Academy Award may have been a bit much.


My grade: B-




Movie Review: Monsters vs. Aliens




Fun, cool, gimmicky little movie.


Starring (the voices of) Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, and Stephen Colbert. Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon.


Story: Susan Murphy (Witherspoon) is getting married and couldn’t be happier. The groom is Derek Dietl (Paul Rudd), a TV weatherman for a station in Modesto, CA. When a meteorite containing Quantonium (the most powerful substance known in the universe) heads to Earth it lands on Susan. She escapes from underneath it, dusts herself off, and returns to the wedding. During the nuptials she grows to 49’11” tall and is immediately captured by the government.


She awakes to find herself in a gigantic prison. She meets her captor General W.R. Monger (Sutherland), a man whose mission has been to capture all the “monsters” that he can. Her monster friends are Dr. Cockroach, PhD. (Laurie), a genius who made a machine that was supposed to give humans cockroach features but instead turned the upper half of his body into a human/cockroach hybrid; B.O.B. (Rogen), a former tomato injected with a secret serum that made him the brainless mass of jelly he is; Insectosaurus, a grub worm that grew to gigantic size via the nuclear explosion on the island he was living on; and The Missing Link (Arnett), a half fish/half human that’s been around for 20,000 years and was caught terrorizing Cocoa Beach.


When a giant metal alien probe lands in the San Fran area the President (Colbert) heads up the envoy to greet it. After a musical interlude (which references “Close Encounters” and includes the “Axle F theme”) irritates the probe it –of course- retaliates, which then leads the President to call for retaliation. Realizing that the alien probe could cause massive damage General W.R. Monger steps in and offers… “Monsters.” It’s now up to Susan (renamed Ginormica), B.O.B., Dr. Cockroach, The Missing Link, and Insectosaurus to save the day, which they do.


When Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), a squid-based alien, finds the probe has been destroyed he targets Earth. In the meantime the monsters have done their duty and are released. Susan finds that her groom-to-be is a shallow, self-centered twit and is better off without him. When Gallaxhar makes it to Earth he sends a greeting reminiscent of the aliens from “Mars Attacks!” (“My name is Gallaxhar. I come in peace. I mean you no harm. Hand over your planet or you shall die…”) Gallaxhar abducts Susan because she is infused with Quantonium and it’s up to the other monsters to form together to save her and the planet.


I liked it. Before going to see the movie I read through other critic reviews citing that the movie wasn’t “Shrek,” or anything like “The Incredibles” or “Monsters, Inc.” And that’s true. This movie is based more on action sequences than those movies. It’s not as witty as it could have been or that the trailers and TV spots may have led you to believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. It’s enjoyable and probably more “grown up” than “Shrek” or some of the other CGI animated movies are. I got to see this in IMAX 3-D, which did make it sort of gimmicky with some of the scenes (a rubber paddle-ball coming at you, a hand reaching toward you, flying through outer space, etc.) This shouldn’t affect watching the movie because a majority of it feels 2-D anyway.


And there are enough references to go around. “X-Files,” “Spaceballs,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Mars Attacks!” “E.T.,” “The Blob,” “Godzilla,” “The 50-Foot Woman,” “Independence Day,” and other films are given homage without leaning on them to make a point or make you feel like you should be watching them instead of what’s onscreen. Yes, there may be a lot of Fifties scifi B-movie references but there’s enough contemporary stuff that it all evens out.


I’ll go on to say that if this inspires a sequel I wouldn’t mind being in line to see that, too.


My grade: B



Hollywood to Redux 1971

“Fiddler on the Roof.” “Billy Jack.” “Dirty Harry.” “A Clockwork Orange.” “The Last Picture Show.” Even “The Million Dollar Duck.” This can only mean one thing:

Hollywood is remaking 1971. The entire year.

Close sources have revealed that the Studio heads for Warner Bros., Fox, Universal, Sony, and Lionsgate, had a midnight meeting and discussed the possibility of remaking one entire year of movies; specifically 1971. According to an anonymous insider, “We were asked to write down our favorite films, or at least ones we wanted to see remade. The majority of those movies came from 1971. Then one thing leads to another and they’re carving up slices of the 1971 pie.”

In a society where cinematic remakes, reboots, and re-ignites have became status quo, we have to wonder if maybe this is a bit too much. With the recent remakes of “Friday the 13th,” and “The Last House on the Left,” horror has proved that remaking the genre itself can be profitable. However, how would a remake of the classic “The French Connection” do? Would “Dirty Harry” or “Billy Jack” still be relevant?

“It’s not a matter of relevancy,” says Roman Weinandeinme, Professor of Film at Columbia University School of the Arts New York. “The culture itself has backlogged twenty years. It’s like we’re living in a muddled fax copy of the Eighties. That aside, humans have this attachment to their youth. They want their kids or nieces or nephews to enjoy, to grow up on, what they watched when they were younger. As for delving back to the early Seventies, I have no answer on that. But we’re living in post-modern times. Cinema redux has now become a way of life, at least for the Studios.”

There are others who are proponents of Studio Remaking. Arthur Proyas, an avid entertainment blogger, had this to say: “Why is everybody soooooooo uptight when it comes to movie remakes? I mean, c’mon! We got better special effects! Better actors! Better directors! Better action sequences! It’d be awesome if Michael Bay remade something like… ‘Dirty Harry’ or ‘French Connection.’ I mean, why do all these film critics and failed film students have to cry because something they love is being remade? I’ve made it a policy not to even bother watching the original.”

But the real reason may be the money. According to current statistics the Writer’s Guild of America registers at least forty-thousand scripts a year. With even a portion of those being submitted to producers, it may be that they have no time for “original works.” It’s easier to rent a movie and say, “That needs to be remade!” and pay on the royalties than incorporating new writers into the Hollywood system.

Independent filmmakers echo the sentiment of these hard times for cinema. “When you go to pitch an idea, they want it all: the script, how much it will cost, how much it will make, and all ‘stars’ that are attached to it. With the current depression it’s even worse. The execs are going to Blockbuster video, picking up a movie and taking it home, then deciding if they wanna have it re-done. They already own the rights so it’s just a matter of getting new writers and a new director. Then: viola! Crap.”

Either way names are being tossed around and all the titles are up for grabs. Recent rumors include: Harvey Keitel in “Dirty Harry,” Keifer Sutherland playing the role his dad made famous in “Klute,” Shia LeBeouf in “A Clockwork Orange,” and even a re-igniting of “Shaft” with Terrence Howard. No word on directors attached to any of the projects.

Of the Studios who would make the most from this midnight agreement: Warner Bros. With last year’s failure of “Speed Racer,” which earned $50 mil against its reported cost of $120 million, the Warners need a hit. In 1971 the WB released four movies to hit the box office Top Ten: “Billy Jack,” “Summer of ’42,” “Dirty Harry,” and “A Clockwork Orange.” With any luck, next year will be their year again.