The Barenaked Archives: Kinky Boots

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Kinky_boots_(2006)The only thing I’d heard about Kinky Boots when I walked into the screening Thursday morning was a log line (the owner of a nearly-bankrupt British shoe factory saves it by finding a niche market in making transvestite boots), so I didn’t really know what to expect. Less than five minutes into the movie, I knew exactly what to expect: this was Calendar Girls and its ilk all over again.

How many times can we watch a movie where a person sets a seemingly-impossible financial goal, figures out a creative and controversial way to reach it (which always results in amusing hijinks), and then gradually wins everybody over to happily triumph at the end of the film?

In this particular one, we have Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton), who has just inherited the Price & Sons shoe factory from his father. Unfortunately, nobody is buying Price’s men’s footwear and the factory is in danger of going under. Enter Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a drag queen whose shoe troubles give Charlie the idea of making sexy boots for transvestites. The problem now is getting the workers behind the idea and getting the boots to Milan in time for its biggest fashion show.

I really don’t mean to sound bitter. They’re called “feel good” movies for a reason. You watch them to see people overcome and achieve their goals, and walk out feeling all bubbly and happy inside. They’re just aiming to uplift you with a heart-warming tale and because it’s based on a true story, so much the better.

It’s just when you see these movies following the exact same formula over and over, it gets frustrating. You’re changing names and faces and settings, but the characters and situations are exactly the same. If you’re not going to try to put a new twist on it, what’s the point? I’m not asking for a reinvention of the wheel, just for something a little different.

Watching Kinky Boots I could call the plot points out a mile away. “And there’s going to be an obstacle…now. Okay, solved that one, but still haven’t hit Milan, so there’ll be another one…now. Okay…” And so it goes for just over an hour and a half.

There are pluses to the movie, however. Every time I see Chiwetel Ejiofor in a movie (somebody please email me with a pronunciation of his name so I can quit saying “the Operative from Serenity“) I like him just a little bit more. He’s always good, he’s clearly versatile, and he makes a very hot woman. Lola is loud and flamboyant and a lot of fun, having come to terms with who she (he?) is a long time ago. And when you put a loud, flamboyant drag queen in a more conservative town like Northampton (where the factory is), there tend to be funny moments.

You can probably already tell whether or not Kinky Boots is your bag just by reading the synopsis, and even though it’s a perfectly fine movie I can’t say that you absolutely have to see it on the big screen. Wait for the DVD. It won’t hurt, I promise.

A to Z Challenge – X is for X-Men: The Last Stand

x-men3I’m a nerd. Sure, I’ll enjoy a good thinking movie every now and then, one of those independent art-house releases that most critics seem to fawn over endlessly while eschewing the normal Hollywood dreck, but honestly, it’s the ones that combine big, beautiful spectacle with good storytelling that earn my unending love. Give me swords, siege towers, science fiction, fantasy, mutants, pirates, aliens, epic battles, and a good plot with memorable characters, and I’m a fan for life.

I’ve been an X-men fan ever since the ’90s cartoon got me up on Saturday mornings, and I’m a huge fan of the first two movies. My issues with movie number three, X-Men: The Last Stand, have been well-documented, both in this column and other places. Between a regime change, a rushed schedule, and rampant rumors of what was really going on behind the scenes, it’s no surprise that most fans of X-Men and X2 were more than a little nervous.

From the moment they released the trailers, my firmest feeling was that X-Men: The Last Stand would have some great actions pieces but that the story in between wouldn’t nearly be on the same level as X2 by any stretch of the imagination.

Sometimes it really sucks to be right.

It’s not that the movie’s completely bad. The beginning prologues, where Professor X and Magneto first meet a pre-teen Jean Grey, and a young Angel tries to shave off his wings, are solid and emotional, and they give you hope. The action pieces, as expected, are fantastic, from the Danger Room sequence to the climactic (and much-discussed) moving of the Golden Gate Bridge. And it’s about time they showed Iceman with a full body of ice.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie has all the depth of a sidewalk puddle that’s half dried up. Compared especially to X2, it’s a giant leap backward.

The story has so much potential. The humans have developed a “cure” for mutants, which is understandably controversial. Some are lining up around the block to take it, while other are violently protesting its existence. It’s a recipe for some outstanding conflict.

The problem is that it’s never developed beyond the most perfunctory points needed to move the characters from A to B to C. It feels like it was just dashed off to provide a framework for the special effects, and it probably has something to do with the truncated shooting schedule that had them start filming last August.

We get the expected slew of new mutants, but Brett Ratner doesn’t have nearly the ability to juggle the large cast. Most of the new mutants are mentioned by name only in the credits, and it would be a sharp-eyed fan indeed who could find them in the actual film.

Only Beast and Kitty Pryde are given any sort of development. Angel’s barely in three scenes, and seems to be operating in his own plot that only tangentially connects to the main story with the X-Men. Other than that, the newbies are one-note characters who scarcely get screen time.

That might not be so bad in and of itself, but the characters we’ve come to know and love have been replaced by pod people. Few things are more jarring than somebody acting out of character, but it happens more than once here.

Professor X, ever a patient teacher, suddenly snaps that he doesn’t owe anybody an explanation for his actions, sounding more like a petulant teenager than a pacifist teacher. For the first ten minutes or so, Wolverine sounds like he was forced to read somebody else’s lines. Cyclops has gone emo, and he’s hardly in the movie, which is a shame because this time around he could’ve had a decent part. And Storm is practically given free reign of the X-Men. It doesn’t feel like they’re doing a sequel. It feels like they are deliberately killing off the franchise.

Five major characters die, either literally or figuratively (in that they lose their powers), not truly by necessity but just to up the body count. I’m all for not keeping characters safe, but unnecessary death is a sign of lazy writing. “Ugh, this story just isn’t interesting enough. What should we do?” “I know! Let’s kill off somebody!” It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t help.

What’s even worse, though, is when they don’t even have the stones to kill off major characters and leave them dead. (If you stayed, or do stay, to watch the after-credits scene, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.) If you’re going to go so far as to kill major characters, kill them and leave them in the ground. Don’t build in an escape clause “just in case.” If they’re that important to the story, they shouldn’t have been killed in the first place.

Admittedly, I’m speaking as both a critic and a fangirl, and I hate seeing the characters I grew up with getting treated this way. The movie is by no means as bad as expected, but it’s not nearly as good as it could’ve been. Casual moviegoers who liked the first two movies probably won’t be as bothered by it, but X-fans will find it hard to make excuses for everything that goes wrong.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.

A to Z Challenge – W is for Wedding Crashers

wedding-crashersLately, it seems that most studios are pushing broad PG-13 movies in the hopes of appealing to the widest possible audience. While you can’t blame them (too much) for wanting to make money, the problem with this plan is that it usually results in them hacking an R-rated movie to pieces in order to get the coveted PG-13 rating. This typically results in a sub-par product that is not nearly as bitingly funny as it could’ve been. Sometimes it’s okay to play it safe, but usually in order to make it big, you’ve got to take a risk.

Thankfully, Wedding Crashers embraces its R rating, and strikes that perfect balance: It doesn’t go for the gratuitous and unnecessary, but stays comfortably raunchy. Although it has a couple of montages that go on for a wee bit too long (the bike ride to the beach springs to mind) and suffers from the clichés brought on by the inevitable reveal, it’s still the funniest movie I’ve seen all year. And when I say “funniest,” I mean that if you have any sort of sense of humor, you won’t be able to breathe for the first two hours.

John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) are best friends, divorce mediators, and professional wedding crashers, meaning they go to weddings and use the atmosphere and alcohol to bed willing bridesmaids. They crash the biggest wedding of the year – that of Treasury Secretary William Cleary’s (Christopher Walken) daughter – and John falls hard for one of Cleary’s other daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams).

Jeremy, meanwhile, attracts daughter #3, Gloria (Isla Fisher), and is in over his head before the reception ends. Despite Jeremy’s frantic attempts to get John to leave, the two “cousins” accept an invitation to the family’s beach house so John can attempt to woo Claire away from her ultra-competitive jerk of a boyfriend.

As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.

Said “hijinks” include a quail hunt, a “touch” football game, an extremely interesting dinner involving a vocally racist grandmother, gay bondage, regular bondage, attempted nursing, and a nude painting.

This movie is proof that Vince Vaughn is, to put it mildly, a genius. His humor comes more from biting sarcasm rather than physical comedy (although there’s plenty of that, too), and it is best delivered at the same speed as attained by an Indy 500 car. His mile-a-minute bit on why he hates dating near the beginning of the movie is gut-busting because it’s so damn true, and that’s what got me hooked on the movie.

His character Jeremy is the crazier of the two bachelors, and thus the more interesting. He is bound and determined to continue the legacy of wedding crashing that they’ve inherited for as long as they can.

Jeremy is also the one who gets the raw end of the deal once they get to the beach house: while John tries to get Claire’s attention and make her fall for him, Jeremy is the one getting tackled by her boyfriend, then “nursed” by the slightly psycho sister who now proclaims to be in love with him. The only thing keeping him at that house is his friendship with John. (How good of a friend are you?)

Owen Wilson plays the straight (well, straighter) man. John is the slightly more sensitive of the two, the one who realizes that the two men can’t continue their frat guy shenanigans forever, but is still going to have a good time while it lasts.

He provides the “serious” plot for the movie, with his attempts to get with the single sane member of the Cleary clan. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his share of interesting adventures, though, especially with Claire’s horny mom (a hilarious Jane Seymour) trying to get some action.

Christopher Walken is one of the few character actors whose name on the front of a DVD box will get most people I know to rent a movie, and he plays a great powerful father. He likes John but is petrifying to Jeremy, and one would think that Daddy would be the biggest hurdle to getting with any one of the Cleary daughters.

Another (surprisingly welcome) cameo comes in the form of Will Ferrell, and even though he’s in serious danger of career overkill, he’s at his best when he’s acting like a complete nut, and he’s nutty here indeed.

However, the standout of the cast is relative newcomer Isla Fisher, the actress who plays Gloria. She’s a few cards short of a full deck, and is more than a match for the commitment-phobic Jeremy. The temper tantrum she throws to get her father’s permission for the “cousins” to come to the beach house is classic. Something about a grown woman holding her breath and stomping her feet, while in a formal dress, is comical, to put it mildly.

Gloria seems to have no boundaries, and will stop at nothing in her attempts to bed Jeremy once they get to the beach house. She’s alternately intriguing and terrifying, and it’s hard to decide if she’s sexy or just a lunatic like the rest of the family.

The one thing I hate about these types of comedies are the reveals, because every one is exactly the same. An antagonist gets a feeling that our leads are not what they say, and goes about searching for proof. Then, proof is given at a very inopportune moment, and our lead(s) must ‘fess up or let the antagonist do it for them.

This inevitably results in hurt feelings and a major rift, just in time to provide the major obstacle for the final half of the movie. Of course, that usually leads to a zany and improbable plan to get the love interest’s attention, and then shower them with a clichéd profession of true love.

Gag me with a spoon. Wedding Crashers, naturally, has this reveal and many of the clichés that go along with it, but fortunately it also has Vince Vaughn to lighten the mood and a long-overdue punching after the profession of love. So, you win some, you lose some.

Wedding Crashers is proof that if you want to make something funny, you shouldn’t play it safe. It’s just some good, clean, R-rated fun. Grandparents and young children, beware.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.

A to Z Challenge – V is for V for Vendetta

V for VendettaAfter the twin “mehs” of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the idea of watching something else Wachowski-related was the only big thing going against V for Vendetta. Fortunately, good early word allayed those fears and after watching the movie myself, I have to say it’s just about everything I could’ve hoped for.

There’s no doubt that some people will find the movie controversial, ignoring that it a) takes place in England and b) was based on a comic written back in the 1980s. But the fact remains that it’s a great action thriller that’s intelligent without soaring over the heads of its audience.

In a futuristic England where a conservative totalitarian government has taken control, a meek young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) has spent her entire life being afraid. One fateful night, though, she’s rescued by a mysterious masked man who calls himself V (Hugo Weaving). V is one who has the courage to stand up to the government, and his goal is to motivate Evey and others to do the same.

Call V a terrorist if you want–those in the movie certainly do–but remember that the root word of “terrorist” is “terror.” V doesn’t inspire terror here. The government, on the other hand, does, and there are plenty of examples of that.

They’ve made a theme out of the idea of V versus the actual man. V is not perfect. Though he seems not to have a past he is a man and flesh and blood, and as such occasionally makes mistakes. He didn’t start out wanting to change the country. He wanted revenge, and changing the country became a byproduct of that.

He is single-minded in his mission, but he’s not cold. Somebody like that we only expect to get to know as an idea. Getting to know him as a man, that makes you sit up and think. It’s clear that he cares for Evey from the first time he meets her, and later it develops into something more.

And they never, not once, remove his mask and show his face. (Other comic book movies should take note.) Hugo Weaving delivers a fantastic, sympathetic performance despite it being only voice and body language.

V for Vendetta is also a reminder of how well Natalie Portman can act. As Evey, she’s sort of an embodiment of the current generation of citizens. She’s been scared of the government her entire life, living with the constant knowledge that if she does or says the wrong thing she could disappear forever.

That fear changes through her interaction with V. At first she’s terrified of him, understandably so. But she gradually confronts her real fears, and she stops being so scared. Her shaved head is like an external symbol of that inner change. (Ooh, symbolism and a character arc!)

On the government’s side, there’s Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea), the policeman in charge of tracking down V. However, he has the nasty little habit of thinking for himself, and in trying to find V, he starts unlocking secrets that the government has gone to great lengths to keep.

A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin kept springing to mind the entire time I was watching V for Vendetta: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It wasn’t really applicable to the movie so much, but more to the events that led up to it.

Unlike most movies involving a totalitarian government that rules by fear, it doesn’t treat the general populace like “oh, poor civilians, you had no choice in what happened with your government.” It holds the people accountable for their choices in the elections, for trading liberty for safety.

However, it also gives them the chance to redeem themselves, and the chance to stand up to the real terrorists. The people have the opportunity to make the choice if they’d like to continue living safely in fear, or take back their future.

It says something about V for Vendetta that the characters and the themes stuck more with me than the explosions or the action sequences. Those are good, don’t get me wrong. But they’re supported here by a solid script and good characters, and together it makes a movie that will hopefully make people stop and think.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.

A to Z Challenge – U is for United 93

united_93If there’s one thing everybody in America remembers, it’s where they were when they heard that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. It’s our generation’s version of the Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor.

To say that it’s a tender subject is the understatement of the decade, and it’s not one that most people want to think about. We especially don’t want to think about Hollywood capitalizing off the tragedy, but when they announce they’re making three 9/11-related movies in the space of a week, it gets hard to think about anything else.

Paul Greengrass’s United 93, about the flight that crashed in the Pennsylvania field, is the first up out of the bunch. There are no actors you would recognize, nor is it a particularly long movie. It unfolds almost in real time. And by it’s subject matter alone, we already know how it will begin, what will happen, and how it will end. And we’re emotionally involved from frame one.

Watching what likely happened behind the scenes, with the FAA, the air traffic controllers, the military, and the passengers on the plane is both gripping and heart-wrenching. The whole thing seems to be filmed with handheld cameras, which give it a sense of immediacy and a documentary-like feel. Whether or not it’s what “really” happened, it feels pretty close.

There’s an edge-of-your-seat tension during the two-thirds of the movie, where we’re not only on United 93, but also with the FAA, various air traffic controllers, and the military. We’re waiting for the terrorists on United 93 to make their move. We’re waiting for those behind the scenes to realize these aren’t normal hijackings, that there is a bigger plan. And we’re waiting for that fateful moment when the planes crash into the World Trade Center and the tidal wave of a response it brings.

We’re not really introduced to any of the people in the film. What background we’re given on them is gleaned from conversation and comments overheard. We don’t really need to have somebody tell us about them, because we already know them. They’re us. Just ordinary people going about their day. And whether they were on the flight or on the ground, trying desperately to figure out what’s going on, their lives were irrevocably changed.

I’m not going to lie. This movie is hard to watch, especially in the last thirty minutes when we’re exclusively on United 93, watching as the passengers call friends and family and try to figure out what to do. Will everything be all right if they sit tight and wait for the hijackers’ demands? Or should they fight back and try to take back the plane?

We see as they find out about the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as it dawns on them that the hijacking is part of something bigger. We watch as these strangers come together to formulate a plan, and loan out cell phones so others can call friends and family to say good-bye and I love you.

United 93 isn’t just a good movie. It’s a great one. It’s a fantastically-made drama, straightforward, tasteful and respectful, intense and emotionally moving. Quality is not the decision maker here. It’s the subject matter.

September 11 isn’t something any of us want to relive. Hell, we already lived through it once and that’s one time too many. But maybe it is time for us to take it out, dust it off, and look back at that day, really look at it. Maybe it’s time for us to stop being scared. Maybe it’s time for us to realize that there are some things in this world that are out of our control, but like those on that fated flight, we can decide whether to sit by or take a stand.

Not everybody’s going to be ready or willing to do that. But if you are, United 93 is more than worth your time.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.

A to Z Challenge – T is for Tristan and Isolde

tristan_and_isolde-webJanuary: the month that is quite possibly the bane of a movie lover’s existence. The only real reason to go to the theater is to watch the holdovers from December, or to catch up with the smaller Oscar-grubbing flicks that are finally getting a wider release. To say the new movies coming out are typically a little lackluster is like saying Hurricane Katrina got the Gulf Coast a little wet.

This week we’re greeted with a romantic drama about star-crossed lovers, though their households aren’t exactly alike in dignity and we lay our scene in England and Ireland circa the fall of the Roman Empire, not Verona. Tristan and Isolde comes before the story of Romeo and Juliet (as the promotional material will gladly tell you), but that’s about the only thing this movie can brag about.

With its roots in Arthurian legend and literature, our ill-fated lovers are Tristan (James Franco), a British knight, and Isolde (Sophia Myles), an Irish princess, in a time when Britain’s myriad tribes are struggling to unite and overthrow the Irish yoke. Tristan is orphaned at a young age and raised by Marke (Rufus Sewell) to become one of Cornwall’s best young knights. After an Irish attack, though, Tristan is thought dead and his body sent to sea.

Isolde finds the unconscious Tristan washed up on the Irish coast and hides him from her father, the Irish king, to nurse him back to health. She doesn’t count on falling in love with him, though, and when her father gets word of a British knight on the coast, she sends Tristan back to Britain.

Both Tristan and Isolde get all mopey about being separated, until the Irish king decides to throw a tournament with Isolde as the prize. Unaware that Isolde is the king’s daughter, Tristan eagerly goes to participate as Marke’s champion. When he wins, he’s stunned to learn that he’s just won the woman he loves as a wife for his surrogate father. As you might surmise, they begin an affair, and it can only go downhill from there.

Thanks to a class in Arthurian legend and literature my sophomore year, I had some familiarity with the legend of Tristan and Isolde. However, it was completely unnecessary because as far as I can tell, the only thing this story has in common with the original legend is the names of the characters.

Obviously, this movie is about the love story, so it would make sense for the love story to feel important. Even if they are star-crossed lovers, you’re supposed to be rooting for them to be together, despite the fact that they’re putting a country at risk and no doubt devastating the woman’s husband. You’re supposed to be boo-hooing your eyes out at how sad it is that circumstances keep them apart.

Saying the movie doesn’t succeed in this aspect is an understatement. Romantic dramas may not be my bag of tricks but I can appreciate a good love story (see: Brokeback Mountain) and root for two people to be together even when they’re cheating on their spouses. In this case, though, it’s not romantic. It’s stupid and selfish, and the person who winds up with the most sympathy is Marke, not the titular lovers. He never does anything to hurt Tristan or Isolde, either emotionally or physically; he actually goes out of his way to take care of them, and they repay him by having an affair behind his back.

Just for the record: when the cuckolded husband’s more sympathetic than either of the lovers, that’s a bad thing.

When the main storyline of a movie flops, there’s not much reason to see it, but in this case there was the fleeting hope that, because it’s set in a volatile time in Britain’s history when swords were the preferred alternative to diplomacy, there might be a decent battle or two, or even an intriguing political subplot.

There is a political subplot, but it’s tacked on in such a way that you wonder if they just tossed it there at the last minute as thought they suddenly remembered Tristan and Isolde didn’t exist in a vacuum. The Irish king, main villain that he is, was a black handlebar mustache and an evil cackle away from being completely stereotyped (“Oooh, I shall do something to the Brits and then double-cross them! I am devious!”). It’s a shame, because that had the potential to actually be, you know, interesting.

As for decent battles…well, there are two battles, and they do hold your attention, but it’s hardly worth sitting through the other two hours of angst-ridden forbidden romance.

There are plenty of other decent movies still in theaters, so there’s no real reason to spend money to see this one if you’re heading to the multiplex. If you’re absolutely dying to see a tragic romance based on some of history’s classic lovers, go hit Blockbuster. There’re a million of them. This one isn’t worth it. And this is coming from a person who actually liked Troy.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.