Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rango (2011)

This movie should probably win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The attention to detail in the animation is outstanding. Compare the reptiles in this to the insects in A Bug's Life and you can see a vast difference in the detail. And yes, I know technology has gotten better since 1998.

When a pet chameleon who calls himself Rango (Johnny Depp) becomes accidentally stranded in the Mojave Desert, he has to use his "acting" skills to make sure he stays alive. After narrowly avoiding a hawk, he comes in contact with Beans (Isla Fisher). She takes Rango to her town of Dirt, which is an Old West community populated by desert animals. When the hawk returns and, by luck, Rango kills it, he is appointed sheriff by the mayor. The currency in the town is water, and the reserves are dangerously low. Beans convinces Rango to investigate the water shortage because she is skeptical of the mayor. After much investigation, Rango realizes the water shortage isn't really a problem, it's just been diverted away from the town. As he tries to figure out who could possibly want to keep water away from those who need it, Rattlesnake Jake returns to run amok and expose Rango for the fraud he is. So much for just trying to survive accidental abandonment.

As I said before, the attention to detail is the first thing you'll notice about this movie. Especially if you watch it on Blu-ray. Beyond that, this is a great western with a great western storyline. Newcomer comes to town, kills the enemy, becomes sheriff and must stop a greater evil. Countless westerns have started this way with worse results. The voice work was great. From Depp to Fisher to Ray Winstone to Abigail Breslin. The only problem I had with this movie was the fact that it's nearly two hours long. That's about 30 minutes more than an animated flick should be. Still great though. Grade: A-

Friday, July 29, 2011

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Clearly I'm late to the party on this one, so let's just get that out of the way. Our tastes in movies are pretty varied, but my wife got me to watch this and I can't complain. Despite it's dated effects and makeup, this is still a great sci-fi movie.

Beginning in the faraway future of 2006, Taylor (Charlton Heston) and three other astronauts embark on a near-light speed mission that, because of a suspended animation malfunction, jettisons 1972 years into the future. One of the astronauts dies in transit, and the others are now wandering through a desert when they come across some odd looking creatures on horseback that capture or kill the men. Some time later, Taylor wakes up inside a cage and is confronted by a talking gorilla named Zira. In this future, humans are the animals and apes are the humans. Once Taylor is able to speak, he begins to convince Zira and her fiance Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) that he's not a threat to them and just wants to get home. The two of them help Taylor escape and they start to run. Knowing full-well the apes will be prosecuted if captured, they still decide to let Taylor continue on his own. But something isn't quite right.

Yes, I did see the 2001 remake with Mark Wahlberg before this, and NO I would not have given it a glowing review. Some people view movies from the 50s and 60s as inferior because they don't have today's graphics and technology, but this was revolutionary for its time. That's why people revere it, and that's why it's somewhat of a cult hit. It wouldn't have spawned so many sequels and remakes if moviegoers didn't want to see them. This movie's not for everyone, but if you go into it knowing you're not going to see stuff like computer animation, then you'll enjoy this flick. Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight (2011)

So much hope for this movie flushed almost entirely down the toilet when I actually saw it. I think Topher Grace is hilarious and not getting enough work, but this just failed. On the bright side, great music.

Circa 1988, recent MIT graduate Matt Franklin (Grace) is stuck working at Suncoast Video because he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. His best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) and his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) are also at life-crossroads, but with differing variations. Now that Matt's back in town, his infatuation with the popular girl from high school, Tori (Teresa Palmer), returns. He heads to a party held by Wendy's boyfriend to try and woo Tori with lies about working for Goldman Sachs. It works. The two begin to hang out and Franklin's lies continue to grow. Meanwhile, Barry is spiraling out of control after losing his job earlier in the day. He's snorting coke and partying out of control. Wendy gets proposed to by her boyfriend and can't figure out an answer. The problems just keep building and building until it erupts for all of them, but at different times. One final night of partying turns into a clusterf**k that only the 80s can deliver.

After all that jumbled mess of a plot, the humor was almost entirely lost. The funny parts that remained didn't come from the main cast, but from supporting roles by Chris Pratt, Demetri Martin and Michael Ian Black. Their characters were practically one-liner machines, especially Martin. But that wasn't enough to sustain a storyline that went nowhere and fast. The music and cultural references were great, despite the fact that the film's namesake song wasn't heard. I still think Topher Grace doesn't get enough work, but I can't recommend this. Grade: C-

Monday, July 18, 2011

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011)

Get ready to enter the hilarious, sometimes unnerving mind of late night talk show host Conan O'Brien. The title of this documentary says it all: Conan O'Brien just can't stop being who he is.

The film starts by explaining O'Brien's trek from "Late Night" to the fall of his stint on "The Tonight Show." Now, he and his crew is out of work and trying to figure out there next step. They decided since they can't appear on television, they'll do a live tour. The group wanted to set it up fast and roll through it as quickly as possible to avoid time lost with their families. In what seems like a short period of time, tour dates are set and tickets begin to sell out much faster than anticipated. When the tour begins, that's when O'Brien begins to lose it. He knows about the time away from his family, he explained it to them, but now he has to deal with the consequences. Will his voice give out? Will he snap and beat the holy hell out of Andy Richter? Will he just quit the tour? If you pay attention to the news, you know none of that happened. However, it's a fun ride to watch sitting shotgun.

The audience sees Conan at his absolute best and his absolute worst. As a fan of O'Brien's since his "Late Night" days, I know a lot of it was his self-deprecating humor. But to an audience unfamiliar with him, Conan comes off as a real jerk sometimes. Whether it's "beating" Jack McBrayer or talking about the downside of meeting new people, Conan hides nothing. That's what I loved about the film. I wish they spent more time showing Conan's connection the live audiences to prove it existed. Other than that, I can't say enough great things about this documentary. Grade: A-

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

What a terrific payoff to the Harry Potter movie franchise. I still say both parts of Deathly Hallows would've made a better film as a whole, but this still offered a lot for fans of the movies, books or both.

After Voldemort retrieves the Elder Wand the grave of Albus Dumbledore, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the rest of the gang need to make their way back to Hogwarts to fight against an impending battle. Before they get there, they need to get into Bellatrix's vault to retrieve one of the final Horcruxes. They break in using their old mainstay, the invisibility cloak. After grabbing the Horcrux, it's time to help Hogwarts. When Snape flees, Professor McGonagall takes control of the situation and begins to fortify the school. She and the rest of those inside the school know the "shields" won't last for long, but it had to be done to prepare. After Neville's initial blockade against Voldemort's crew, the bridge begins to deteriorate and the fight is on. Harry vs Voldemort, The Weasleys vs Bellatrix, Harry/Ron vs Draco/unnamed bad kid, it's all there. The obvious question being: Who will survive?

Obviously, if you read the books, you know what happens. So I won't ruin it for those who haven't read the series. But this was an extremely satisfying ending to the Harry Potter saga. I had no interest in initially watching these movies, but I thank my wife for getting me into them years ago. Were there problems? Hell yes, but nothing that took you away from the central theme of the series. I recommend this movie greatly. While you don't have to watch the whole saga to enjoy this, you must at least watch Deathly Hallows Part 1. Grade: A

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Way Back (2010)

This is an amazing true story about a group of men who traveled hundreds of miles by foot to escape a Russian Gulag during World War II. The movie on the other hand doesn't come across the same way.

A Polish POW named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is sent to the camp for 20 years after his wife is forced to condemn him. Inside the Gulag, he meets an American named Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), a Russian criminal named Valka (Colin Farrell) and several others who tell Janusz he shouldn't expect to live those 20 years. Janusz decides he needs to get home to make sure his wife knows he bears no ill will over the forced confession. The group implement their escape plan during a massive snowstorm. Thus begins their journey through the Siberian wilderness. They know not all of them will make it, but they also know none of them will make it if they don't keep moving. The party reaches the Russian-Mongolian border and continues across the mountains until eventually reaching a more treacherous task, the desert. By now, some have died, others have turned back and the rest are unsure where to go from here.

This movie builds and builds to a big sentimental moment, and then payoff doesn't deliver. It's a terrific story of survival, determination and love, but the film just glosses over scenes that could've made it have a better impact. Sturgess, Harris and the rest of the cast give strong performances, and the cinematography is amazing, but most of it is wasted. I didn't hate the movie and I didn't love the movie, it just was. Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Brace yourselves: I'm about to give a positive review to a Matthew McConaughey movie. Correction, a Matthew McConaughey drama. I know, I'm as shocked as you are.

Defense attorney Mickey Haller (McConaughey) rolls around Los Angeles County arguing for common criminals who wouldn't get the time of day from other lawyers. His work was easy until he lands a case representing a Beverly Hills playboy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe). He is accused of practically beating a prostitute to death. Haller thinks Roulet is innocent and begins working on evidence with his investigator. They soon begin to notice holes in Roulet's story and start to dig a little deeper. The case soon begins to bear a striking resemblance to a case he had years earlier that sent a man to jail. But as they go further and further into the old case, Roulet starts becoming suspicious that his lawyer is working against him. He's a lot more dangerous than he looks, but he's still exuding innocence in this particular case. Now, Haller has to find a way around attorney-client privilege and protect himself from a case he no longer wants to take part in.

McConaughey was fine in this role. He's not really a good actor, but this role worked well for him. It was Phillippe that surprised me more. I've never really been a fan of his, but his character was a person I wouldn't want to cross in my life. The supporting cast of Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy and Frances Fisher were all terrific, yet they should have gotten more screen time. My one real gripe was the ending of the movie, which was satisfying but predictable. Fans of a good legal drama with a dash of crime thriller thrown in will like this movie. Grade: B+

Monday, July 4, 2011

RED (2010)

I had a surprisingly fun time watching this movie. As a so-called geriatric spy movie, there was a lot of good action and humor to impress all moviegoers.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a former CIA agent who is living a quiet retired life. Whenever he feels lonely, he calls a pension customer service agent named Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). When an agency hit squad tries to kill Frank, he travels to Sarah in order to protect her. Now the two of them are on the run and quickly realize someone in the CIA wants to terminate all the members of Frank's old black ops team. They track down Joe, Marvin and Victoria (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren), and require their assistance in facing the killers. Thus begins a battle involving rouge agents, Russians, torpedoes, and the Vice President of the United States.

There really isn't a whole lot of plot to go around in this film. It's very simple and very easy to follow. But it's also a hell of a lot of fun. Bruce Willis basically played the same role he's played in other action flicks, but just a little more aware of his age. Helen Mirren was great as the killer with impeccable poise. The MVP of the movie was John Malkovich. He played a former agent with a screw loose, and it played right into his wheel house. Action fans will enjoy this, as will comedy fans. All are invited to watch. Grade: B+

Saturday, July 2, 2011

She's Out of My League (2010)

Jay Baruchel is not a leading man, I'm just going to throw that out there. Television? Sure, but not on film. That being said, this movie wasn't half bad.

Kirk Kettner (Baruchel) is a TSA agent at Pittsburgh's international airport along with his best friend Stainer (T.J. Miller). Kirk just broke up with his bitch of an ex-girlfriend, who still hangs out with his family because now she's dating a friend of Kirk's brother. One day, Molly (Alice Eve) leaves her iPhone at a security checkpoint. When she calls it, Kirk answers the cell and the two arrange to meet up. After that the pair start to date and things are going great. But Kirk is constantly asking himself how he's good enough for Molly. Kirk puts her up on a pedestal while subsequently knocking himself down the ladder. His family and friends aren't much help because they seem to agree that she's way too good looking for him. Kirk's a victim of his lack of self-esteem and it soon starts costing him. All of this is done with some funny consequences.

The movie is not made by Baruchel at all. It's a collective of Alice Eve, Krysten Ritter, Nate Torrence, Debra Jo Rupp and especially T.J. Miller that made this movie as funny as it was. This comedy was not without its problems though. For starters, the plot's been done to death, with this one being about the guy who wants the "more attractive" girl. I've seen a lot of the devices used in this done before, but the one-liners kept some moments fresh. A solid movie, nothing more nothing less. Grade: B-