Friday, February 27, 2009

Entertainment Report For This Weekend

I have some reviews for your weekend entertainment:


Battlestar Galactica: Finally the long wait is over and the "Toasters" and "Skin Jobs" are back for a final go round with the colonialists. No longer are they looking for Earth.... they've found it and it's a mess, completely decimated. They don't see the opportunity as a "fixer-upper" so they set out to find another planet to call home. In the meantime depression is setting in and the humans and they are fighting each other and committing suicide. Now there is an insurrection and people who were there from the beginning are getting killed off. Hate is the order of the day at this halfway point towards the end of the series. Quite frankly I can't figure out where this thing is going. Maybe that's a good thing, then again maybe not. And now we are finally getting to the real history of the Cylons. Only four more episodes so they better move this ting along. SCI-FI Channel on Fridays at 10 pm and then rerun throughout the week. Grade: B+ (so far)
Flight Of The Conchords: You just have to say this is the most adorable if not funniest show on the air. I love this show and so will you unless you don't have a central nervous system. HBO on Sunday at 10:00 pm Grade: A

Big Love: Back for third season this hour long drama about the Hedricksons' that is a polygamist family got off with a bang and presented us with a whole new set of problems as well as some of the old. The series is finally revealing what is the motivation behind their group marriage and as always their family secret is in peril. Sunday at 9pm on HBO. Grade B+

The International: I wish I had stayed awake long enough to tell you what it was about. I think it's about a bad bank that kills people. Clive Owen wins in the end. Anything in between was a blur; Grade: F+(the + is for a good two hours sleep)

Coraline: More 3-D, this time animated puppets. Years ago George Pal pioneered the use of stop action shorts which had only been done earlier by Willis O'brien in order to bring life to "King Kong". Pal called his shorts "Puppetoons" which utilized the laborious technique of moving puppets one frame at a time to animate them. The work was amazing then and even more amazing now as Henry Selick ("James and the Giant Peach" and "Nightmare Before Christmas") takes this art further and more artfully than it has ever gone. At times you wonder how he accomplished all that he does in this superbly crafted story about a little girl who finds an alternate world on the other side of hers. At first the world is warm and accepting but soon turns into a horror. I know this is a family picture but be warned, some younger kids may be traumatized. The 3D is spectacular. Grade: A
My Bloody Valentine 3-D: The last time 3D was in fashion was in the '50's. It was short lived be because most of the pictures they applied it to were B-movies that without the process would have failed to get an audience. Only towards the end of the fad with the musical "Kiss Me Kate" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M For Murder" was the gimmick taken seriously, but by then it was too late. I love the process and have seen almost every 3D movie made and collected a shit load of 3D comic books. Cut to the present where 3D has been used by some pretty good films. Up until now they have mostly been animated since computer generated cartoons are in fact 3-D in their creation but shown flat. The notable exception was "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" which was live action and a fairly good kids picture. Now with this picture in live action, 3-D is transmogrified (one of my favorite words) into the horror genre. Blood spatters, young healthy kids scream and then run as fast as they can only to be caught up with by a guy loaded down with a gas mask and pick axe. That's almost as real as when people run faster than fire. A remake of the 1981 film of the same name, this is your typical slasher fare. The 3D used today is less profound the the '50's version in order to minimize eye strain as a result the effects are just so-so. Nothing comes out past the proscenium of the screen. The best thing about this movie, lots of full frontal female nudity in one scene. If they keep doing 3-D like this much more, the medium will be dead just as fast as it was the last time. Grade:D+

Valkyrie: If what you want is accuracy then that is what you will get in this true story about the attempt towards the end of the war to assassinate Hitler. Trouble is that the accuracy is at the expensive of a dramatic narrative. Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg who attempted to blow up Hitler as he planned maneuvers with his Generals. Cruise is fine if a little low key. The picture is stuffed with fine British actors like Tom Wilkenson and Kenneth Branagh. But it just doesn't get up to speed. I was really hoping for more because I love the subject matter. You would be better served just watching many of the fine documentaries on the subject. Grade: C+

Doubt: ......and the Oscar for best actress goes to Meryl Streep. I can't think of a better female performance this year than that of Streep's in this compelling motion picture about a nun who accuses a priest (Phillip Seymore Hoffman) of child molestation. Hoffman is great but the spotlight falls on Streep who runs away with this film. Taken from the play by John Patrick Shanley and written for the screen and directed by him, this film seems to come off as pretty much a stage play done on the screen. He does very little to open it up, but that doesn't minimize it's impact nor its greatness. Amy Adams is also marvelous as the younger nun who uncovers the possible misdeeds. But this film is all about doubt and there in lies the core of it's soul. A good film made great by the performances of two of our best actors. See it! Grade: A-

Defiance: Jews fleeing the Nazis is always good Oscar fodder right? Well not this time, it's really just one long dull trek of misery, bullets and typhoid. Daniel Craig and Liev Shrieber play two Jewish brothers on the run from the Germans who have invaded Russia and are killing every Jew in sight. They wind up in the forest where they just can't say no to every escapee that comes their way. Soon they are fighting for their lives and trying to keep their army of wards safe. To say this is dull is perhaps to harsh, but you can see dull from here. You might want to save this for a DVD rental which by the looks of this one is about a month away. Otherwise go see something else unless you have a hemorrhoid and need to numb your butt. Grade: C-

The Reader: This is one of those pictures that begs "Please give me an Oscar". Somber, depressing and overwritten, this opus just tries too hard. That's not to say that Kate Winslett (in her second depressing picture of the season) doesn't do her usual yeoman job and Ralph Fiennes is never bad playing the boy in the picture as a grown man, it's just the material is overwrought about a German boy (David Kross) who loses his cherry an older woman. She then disappears only to resurface in a courtroom on trial for concentration camp atrocities. The picture is all a bit much, plus it's just downright depressing and if you're going to depress me make it worth my time. If you are out to see all this seasons Nazi pictures then this is a must see, but if you aren't, in the words of my girlfriend it's a "must miss". The only positive is lots of nudity by Winslett. Grade: C

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button: This is a hard one to call. It's a big budget picture with big budget stars that succeeds in a big budget way. It is fully entertaining with a craftsmanship performance by Brad Pitt as Button a man born old as a baby who gets younger as the years go along. Peter Abrahamson and the entire makeup staff for this saga deserve an Oscar and the actors which includes Cate Blanchett, much credit for playing the various ages they go through subtilely. The screenplay by Eric Roth seems to follow the same formula as his earlier work "Forrest Gump". David Fincher directs with a deft hand at a much bigger picture than anything he has done before. Hey I liked it, but after it is over there are a lot of empty calories. Go see it but not before the better pictures on this list. Grade: B

Revolutionary Road: The big deal as they flack it is that Leonardo DeCapprio and Kate Wnslet are back together for the first time since "Titanic" 11 years ago. The really big deal is that this is a crackerjack of a motion picture. Directed by Sam Medes ("American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition"), this is the tale of the Wheelers, a couple who move to the suburbs when that big move by the population was made in the early '50's. April takes care of the home and Frank heads off everyday to a dead end job in New York City. Then April hatches a scheme that they should move to France where she can work and he can pursue whatever his life's dream is. It is the futility of suburban life that weaves the tapestry of this story. To tell you any more would be to ruin the journey. But beware, this is not a happy tale, but one which will keep you thinking for days to come. The film has an aftertaste. We just have to mention a standout secondary performance by Kathy Bates as their realtor with an equally sad tale to tell. This almost becomes a feature version of the territory staked out by TV's "Mad Men". Based on the award winning book by Richard Yates, this might be a picture you hadn't planned on seeing, but don't be deceived, this is good stuff! Grade: A-

Last Chance Harvey: Simple. Older man (Dustin Hoffman) has his last chance at love (Emma Thompson). Hoffman likeable. Thompson charming. Movie good but forgettable. Grade: B

The Wrestler: Next to "Slumdog Millionaire" this may well be the best picture of the year. Darren Aronovsky ("Requiem For A Dream") has created a compelling tale of a beaten up professional wrestler 20 years after his great fame. He is living on one night exhibition bouts from town to town and in his spare time sells what memorabilia and autographs he can. Mickey Rourke makes a great comeback as "Randy the Ram" Robinson. At first you wonder if it is Rourke playing himself, but after a while you realize he is giving a bravura performance. Marisa Tomei is stunning as a lap dancer fighting within herself not to love this wreck of a human being. She always brings greatness to any part but this time she hits a career high. By the way, not that it matters, but she is topless at least a third of the time in the film (thanks Darren). Both should get Oscar nods. In the end though, it is the story that is the most compelling not only for it's simplicity but it's understanding of the lives these people live. Grade: A+

Gran Torino: I wish I could say this was a great picture with a lifetime crowning performance by Clint Eastwood, but I can't. This a good movie, a very good movie but falls short of great. It's a simple movie about a man of great prejudices (name a race, he has something bad to say about them) who has just buried his lifelong wife and befriends, much to his resistance, an Asian family next door. Problem is that Eastwood is way over the top. He seems to be channeling "Dirty Harry Callahan" as an old man much as he did with "No-Name" in "Unforgiven" and then giving these old characters resolution. He growls (that put me off the most) and chews up the scant scenery. I'll buy what he did with the part, just don't tell me it's an award winning performance. The picture is engrossing but you could wait for the DVD. Grade: B

Frost/Nixon: You might be turned off by the subject matter either because the subject doesn't appeal to you or you are afraid you are just going to see a movie of a play. Forget your fears. This is as gripping and involving a film as you can get. Based on the famous interview that British TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) arranged and paid for with the then resigned Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). Both have something to gain, Frost a failing career and Nixon, his reputation in history and the ability to appear in public without scorn. Only one can come out a winner. Peter Morgan ("The Queen" and "The Last King Of Scotland") wrote the screenplay which he opened up from his Broadway play. It crackles and Ron Howard who I usually don't like as a director plays it just right. This film has opened in New York and Los Angeles and opens wide on Christmas Day Grade: A-

Milk: The story of Harvey Milk a San Francisco gay businessman who became the city's first openly gay supervisor falls a bit short but is close enough to the mark that it should warrant your attention. Milk is played by Sean Penn who does his usual professional job. Most people are overwhelmed by how well he plays full gay (as opposed to full retard), but I would have rather seen a gay actor play the role as it becomes at times a form of sexual blackface. Besides in the true spirit of the truly great Milk, wouldn't it have been more appropriate to give the part to a deserving gay actor? In any event, the film is fine and Penn will surely be nominated for an Oscar. James Brolin as Milk's nemesis Dan White is superb. It falls short of great but is a good watch. Grade: B+

Bolt: Do You like 3-D? Do you like dogs? Do you hate cats? Do you find pigeons funny? Then this a Disney film for you and your family. I have seen almost every 3-D film ever made. I love the process and the current technology has taken a lot of the kinks out of the it. While the 3-D isn't as profound as in the '50"s, the eye strain is less and the glasses vanish esthetically with use. I really liked this film. It's no masterpiece but it is fully entertaining. It's really the first animated film completed at Disney since they took over Pixar and is overseen by Pixar's John Lassiter after he took over Disney animation. The Pixar touch is all over it. A movie star dog runs away and is thrust into the real world but he still believes he's superhero. It's fun and if you are a parent taking your kid to this thing you won't feel trapped. Grade: B

Slumdog Millionaire: Everyone asks what is the best movie so far this year? The almost universal answer by anyone who has seen this amazing gem agrees that this is it. I usually hate happy slurpy endings, but this one is the best. Directed by Danny Boyle, it's not exactly what you would expect from the guy who did "Trainspotting". Then again Boyle always surprises you with his range with "28 Days Later" a zombie film and "Millionaires" a kid's picture. A poor boy, brought up in the most depraved and dismal surroundings ever, our hero winds up on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". Against this background his life story is told and we eventually find out his true motive for being on the show. Dev Patel who turns out is a british actor plays the boy. The stunner here is Freida Pinto who may just be the most beautiful actress I have ever seen on film. This is her first film and like everyone else in this masterpiece is up to the task. If you miss this picture, you're just cheating yourself. Grade: A+


tony said...

Who would you cast to play Harvey Milk ?


Tom said...

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or are planning to visit soon, I strongly recommend seeing it at the Castro Theater. Be sure to spend some time in the neighborhood where Harvey Milk made history as an openly gay politician. And if you love old movie theaters, the Castro is a treat. Weekend evening showings include a live organ concert before the film. (And you may insert your own organ joke here.)
Gus Vant Sant (who is gay) is a very good filmmaker. He worked for decades to get this film completed. As a result, Milk is better than it could have been.
Seeing it at the Castro Theater is not bad, at all.

Rick in Indianapolis said...

I love that comment about Marisa Tomei in your review of "The Wrestler"...."not that it matters, but...." OF COURSE it matters!!!!!

fromspahnranch said...

Dryer said...

Alex, you revealed your old age by using the word crackerjack as an adjective in RESERVATION ROAD review. Oh, Grampa !