Friday, August 21, 2009

Honeymoon in Alaska

The Great Buck Howard
This was the first of two films I was able to watch on the plane trip to Alaska. It was actually a movie I wanted to see, which is more than I can say for most of the movies I watched on this trip. This film is worth seeing for John Malkovich's eccentric performance as the title character, a some what washed up magician, I mean mentalist, still making the rounds to small town America. He's proud of the ridiculous amount of Johnny Carson appearances he made and still seems to think he has something worthwhile to offer as he attempts to make a comeback and hopefully get a regular spot at a casino in Las Vegas. The story is told from the point of view of an assistant, played by Collin Hanks, Tom's son, and Tom also plays his father in the film. Collin is adequate in his role, but lacks the charisma that his father had at his age. This is an average movie, but worthy of your time if you find yourself trapped inside a speeding metal cylinder in the sky for seven hours.

He's Just Not That Into You

This was the second film I watch, so you can probably guess that there wasn't that great of a selection. I was just not that into this movie, or the title for that matter. If you found that last statement obnoxious, trust me, the movie was ten times more obnoxious. Sure, there was decent performances from Ben and Jen (sad that I don't need to use last names, huh?), but mostly there were annoying whiny twenty-somethings complaining about how hard it is to find someone worth having a meaningful relationship with. First, try looking somewhere besides a bar. If you happen to find someone great outside of the bar, but their married, leave them alone! I can't support any movie that condones taking the easy way out of a difficult marriage, but that was just the sour icing on this tasteless, unfulfilling cake.

Away We Go

Grace and I watched this together in our motel room in Anchorage the night before we got on the boat. It's the newest film from Sam Mendes, whose first two films, American Beauty and Road to Perditin, I absolutely love. His third, Jarhead, was pretty good, but I wasn't able to catch last year's Revolutionary Road. However, it seems to me that the quality of his films have been taking a steady decline. Away We Go focuses on a couple who discover they're pregnant, but they have no idea what they are doing, where they're going to live, or about anything else in their lives. There are several humorous moments throughout the films, but mostly it seemed to be haphazardly trying to uncover this strange mystery of parenthood, only to have these hopeless characters end up even further from the truth than when they started. If anyone else has seen this and got something meaningful out of this movie, I'd love to know what that was.

Crank: High Voltage

I really don't have much to say about this one... We watched it one night on the boat and dosed off toward the end. It was pretty much an exercise in shocking imagery (pun intended), but had literally no substance behind it. Sure, you could read it as a real life video game, but there was no intelligent commentary on the matter, and as a work of pure mindless entertainment, there are countless better movies out there that would fit the bill.

Yonkers Joe

We also watched this one on the boat. It features Chazz Palminteri, of Usual Suspects and A Bronx Tale fame, as a professional con-man who is rudely confronted with his fatherly duties when his mentally challenged son is required to leave the special school he's been boarded at for his entire childhood. In order to send his son away again to a better more expensive school he must first complete one more big score to cover the financing. Besides the obvious questionable morality of the main character for which we are supposed to identify with, the movie kind of meanders to its conclusion, at which point our buddy Chazz finally achieves some sort of humanity. Mildly entertaining, but overall a forgettable movie.

G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra

Normally, I wouldn't go to a movie like this (I try to see mostly good movies), but I was hanging with a bunch of my friends two nights before my wedding and we decided to go see the midnight showing. Most of us grew up in the 1980s and played with the toys, and thought, "Hey, it could be fun." Boy were we wrong...

To start with we got there about 15 minutes before it started and ended up having to sit on the second row. Needless to say I was not expecting that kind of crowd for G.I. Joe. The last time I sat that close for a movie was the opening night midnight showing of Pirates 3, also a terrible movie and experience altogether.

This movie was all over the place, with editing that would make Michael Bay dizzy. I mean, I know it didn't help with us being so close, but I honestly don't think I could have followed it from the best seat in the house. Also, the acting was atrocious, and the story... well just don't ask me what happened. Not even an unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt could save even one scene from this pile of crap.

If it wasn't for Bruno coming out this year and offending every essence of my being, this would be the worst movie I've seen (this year). It'll have to settle for second place.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Funny People

Funny People is Judd Apatow's third movie as director, and most assuredly his most personal endeavor. Featuring a very good performance from Adam Sandler and just about everyone involved, this film is very funny at times, but goes for laughs much less than either 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up. There is a somber, realistic tone throughout, and one could imagine that this is an accurate portrayal of comedians in their everyday lives. One major disappointment for me going in was the fact that the trailer not only focused on the weakest part of the story, but also gave away a very important plot point. Since it's in the trailer I won't refrain from mentioning it myself.

Famous Hollywood actor/comedian George Simmons (Sandler) finds out he has a rare form of cancer, and thus tries to reconnect with some of the people/things that brought him joy earlier in life. One of those things was doing stand up, the other was an ex-fiance who had since gotten married and had two kids. More on that later. George's first try at performing on stage in a long time is simply a disaster. This is where he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a young struggling comedian trying to make it in the biz. Sandler, who doesn't want anyone to find out about his disease, hires Ira to be his personal assistant and writer, and spends the remainder of the film either verbally abusing Ira or whining to him like a selfish child. The dynamic between these two characters is what makes the movie. Ira genuinely feels a sense of love and loyalty to Simmons, and struggles desperately when confronted with the truth about George's condition, not wanting to be the only confidant.

George continues to drag Ira into his demented world as he makes it his goal to win back his ex-fiance, Laura (Leslie Mann - Apatow's wife), despite her being married with children. Sandler plays George as simultaneously likable and repulsive. There is much depth to this character and made me wonder if Sandler felt any personal connection with this character and his handling of immense fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the last third of the film that focuses on this attempted reunion descends into a weird, awkward place and doesn't return to form until the last scene of the film. At least we get to see an interesting performance by Eric Bana as Laura's loud, abrasive, cheating husband.

While it takes a lot of risks, I ultimately loved this movie and believe that the reward is greater for it. This film has generated some strong reactions from critics, both positive and negative, which says to me that it at least makes you feel something one way or the other, and that's a good thing. I'd recommend it for the performances alone, because in addition to Sandler and Rogen and the others mentioned above, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman also contribute great supporting work. While this films does contain equal parts drama and comedy, the comedic elements work so well for me that Funny People is my favorite comedy so far this year.


Moon is a small, low budget movie starring the ever amazing Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey, and is directed by first timer Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie. When the trailer came out I was so intrigued by it's suspenseful, dark tone, and minimalist aesthetic. However, when I discovered Clint Mansell was composing the score, my interest could not have been higher. Clint is my favorite film composer, and his score really added to the personality of this mysterious science fiction film.

Sam Bell (Rockwell) is looking forward to going home to Earth after a three year assignment on the far side of the moon, overseeing the harvest of helium-3 for a company responsible for supplying forty percent of the world's energy. Trouble starts when Sam has an accident while out on the moon's surface checking on a malfunctioning harvester. I do not want to reveal any of the events that follow in case you get a chance to see this film without any knowledge of the major plot points. However, even if you know most of what happens going in (as I did), this film has such a unique ambiance, it captivated me throughout.

Speaking of captivating... Rockwell's performance is one of the best I've seen this year, maybe the best from a leading man. Although he shares the screen with no one but himself and a robot, he chews it up, convincingly displaying a wide array of emotions. His character skates on the edge of insanity, forced to question everything he knows to be real. As anticipated, the emotion of each scene is amplified by the brilliant score from Clint Mansell. He sets the mood with ethereal piano melodies, ambient strings, and entrancing percussion. Easily my favorite original score of the year to date.

Moon has the feel of classic science fiction in that deals with mature themes such as corporate greed, even effectively exploring what it means to be human. It's truly amazing what Duncan Jones was able to do with such a meager budget ($5 million), and in his directorial debut at that. The special effects are not like anything you will see in Terminator or Transformers, rather each set piece and model is simply what was needed to tell the story, and it is a haunting one. Excuse me if I seem to be overselling this movie (did I mention Sam Rockwell delivers a tour de force performance?), but Moon is one of my favorite films of the year, and it simply deserves to be seen.