A to Z Challenge – S is for Spider-Man 3

We interrupt your regularly scheduled A to Z post because “S” is also for…Superman! The new Man of Steel trailer debuted last week and oh. My. God. Behold:

I’m insanely excited for a Superman movie now. Good show, DC.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled A to Z post and the Marvel universe!

spiderman-3-posterConsidering that I loved the first two Spider-Man movies, you’d think I’d be over the moon for Spider-Man 3 no matter what. A superhero movie, third in a trilogy that was getting exponentially better, two new villains including one fan favorite…it had to be good, right?

All I can say is that if this is an indication of how the movies are going to play out this summer, it’s going to be a long, long, long three months.

In Spider-Man 3, things are going just rosy for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), which is quite a change. He’s doing well in school, everybody loves Spider-Man, and he and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) are happily an item. Granted, there’s still that little issue with Harry (James Franco) wanting to kill him because he believes Spider-Man killed his father, but that’s just peanuts, right?

Things are going so stinking well that you almost can’t wait for something bad to happen. It does, in a number of ways: Harry, now the New Goblin (instead of Hobgoblin), attacks Peter; the convict who really shot Uncle Ben, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), escapes from prison and gets turned into Sandman thanks to a particle physics test facility; and new photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) shows up to challenge Peter’s position as the sole Spider-Man photographer for the Daily Bugle.

To top it all off, a weird black goo from outer space has followed Peter home, and attaches itself to his Spidey suit. The alien symbiote amplifies his Spider-Man powers, but has the unfortunate side effect of amplifying Peter’s aggressive tendencies as well, giving him a thirst for revenge and making him more of a jerk. It has the equally unfortunate side effect of making him wear eyeliner and comb his hair so that he looks like the fifth member of Fall Out Boy.

Apparently instead of making somebody more powerful, bonding with an alien symbiote just makes them emo. I half-expected a scene that showed Peter updating his LiveJournal with a whiny blog about how nobody understands him and how it’s just so damn hard being a superhero.

That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that it gets to the point where you’re rooting more for Sandman or the Goblin as opposed to Spider-Man. It’s frustrating to be forced to watch a character you hate and be told that you ought to be rooting for him.

The whole thing about the movie is that sometimes the greatest villain come from within, which is a great theme that has been done excellently before. I don’t know if it was the script or Maguire or both (I’m leaning toward both), but it just didn’t work the way it should’ve. You should be genuinely worried about Peter succumbing to the dark side of his nature. Instead, you just want to backhand him and tell him to man up. It’s not cool; it’s annoying.

It also doesn’t help that the movie is too long. That’s it. It’s just too damn long, and since you spend the bulk of the two-and-a-half hour runtime wanting to wrap your fingers around Peter’s throat, it feels like forever.

Not all is bad, though. The supporting characters shine, especially Auny May and J. Jonah Jameson. (J.K. Simmons alone is probably reason enough to watch the movie, at least once.) They made a pretty big deal that Bryce Dallas Howard was playing Gwen Stacy, and though she does a fine job, she’s not in that much.

The villains are also done well, especially Sandman. His back story is fleshed out just enough to make him a sympathetic villain. He’s not a calculating genius like Doc Ock, but a big, brawny guy who’s going about trying to save his daughter the only way he knows how: steal the money for her medicine.

It’s most unfortunate that Venom, probably the most anticipated villain of this movie, has only minimal screentime. Grace plays Eddie Brock as a smarmy jerk who pretty much gets what he deserves, but it would’ve been cool to see him as Venom more.

I guess the ultimate thing about Spider-Man 3 is that it’s disappointing. It wasn’t terrible, but there are so many “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’s” involved. It could’ve been tighter; it could’ve been cooler; it could’ve been better. It’s a hard thing to see a weak link in an otherwise solid series. They had the opportunity to blow us out of the water, and it just didn’t happen.

Here’s hoping the rest of the summer movies do more than just meet expectations.

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 – R is for Rumor Has It…

rumor_has_it-posterFor some reason, Thumper’s words of wisdom from Bambi are echoing in my head as I start writing this review: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (Of course, if critics actually operated by that maxim, this job wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.)

The only nice thing I can bring myself to say about Rumor Has It… is that Shirley MacLaine is a fantastic actress, enough to steal every scene that she was in and shift the movie from utterly dull to barely tolerable.

Other than that, avoid this movie at all costs. I don’t care if you’re a fan of Jennifer Aniston or you think it looks cute, or you really don’t care as long as it’s entertaining and has a happy ending. You can get that fix elsewhere with a considerably better movie.

“Based on a true rumor,” as the opening credits say, Rumor Has It… is about Sarah (Jennifer Aniston), who’s traveling to Pasadena for her younger sister’s wedding and having cold feet about announcing her engagement to Jeff (Mark Ruffalo). While there, her grandmother Katherine (Shirley MacLaine) lets slip that Sarah’s mother took off with an old classmate, Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner), a week before her wedding to Sarah’s father.

It turns out that Sarah’s family is the one long-rumored to be the basis for the book and movie The Graduate, and Sarah sets about searching for Beau in hopes of learning more about her mother and her past.

Rumor Has It… looked cute and innocuous enough, like a simple romantic comedy. Normally you can get at least a semblance of something entertaining out of those movies. However, they attempt to make it more of a search for family secrets, one woman’s quest to find out where she really belongs.

If only it were as interesting as it sounds. Sadly, between the one-note characters and pathetic excuse for a plot, Rumor Has It… doesn’t even manage to limp along its runtime. It sort of oozes, like a cinematic slug. And it’s about as much fun to watch.

The only time the movie gets any sort of energy is when Shirley MacLaine glides onto the screen, effortlessly snatching our attention away from her younger costars with a cocked eyebrow or a sly smirk. She doesn’t even need to say anything. She is by far the high point, but that ain’t saying much.

And this is the second time this year when MacLaine’s mere presence has saved a movie from being a complete waste of my time. (See Bewitched.)

There is absolutely no reason for us to care about the characters, especially Jennifer Aniston’s Sarah, and at points I don’t think those involved were even trying to build sympathy for her. She makes so many mistakes with her fiancé and doesn’t redeem herself, but for some reason, he still forgives her. It’s utterly implausible, and since this stupid reconciliation happens after Shirley MacLaine has exited the movie, any reason we had for sitting through it is long gone.

The worst crime that a movie can commit is being boring, and that’s exactly what Rumor Has It… is. It doesn’t even fulfill the most basic role that a movie should, which is to be entertaining. At this time of year, there are so many more movies worth your time and money. Just don’t go to this one.

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 – P is for The Prestige

the-prestige-posterThe Prestige is one hell of a movie. It’s one of the extremely few movie this year that everybody I’ve spoken to has recommended. No exaggeration. Everybody has loved it.

And everybody should see it. With a cast of this pedigree, a wonderful story, and Christopher Nolan, The Prestige is my favorite movie to come out since July.

Rupert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred (Christian Bale) are originally both amateur magicians working for another man, but a costar’s tragic death drives a wedge between them and leads to a violent and bitter rivalry. When Alfred invents an amazing new trick called “The Transported Man,” Rupert becomes obsessed with figuring it out and topping it with his own version of the trick.

The movie itself unfolds like a magic trick, a carefully-woven illusion that could be broken if you looked closely enough, but is still engaging and entertaining whether you figure it out or not. The triple-flashback method of storytelling, two of which involve the characters reading each other’s diaries, can get confusing, but fortunately Nolan is smart and quickly establishes where you are in the timeline.

They’re also not catering to the lowest common denominator with The Prestige. The multi-layered story is obviously complex, but there are enough plants and visual clues to tie it all together without them having to explicitly spell it out.

This is the kind of movie that you’ll be replaying in your head after you leave the theater, trying to mentally rewatch the first two hours in light of the revelations of the last 10 minutes. You’ll be talking about it with your friends for hours afterwards.

And thank God the crew behind this movie understands pacing. For a movie that clocks in over two hours, it never drags or feels like it’s going too slow, and there are more than a few moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Of course the acting is amazing. How could it be anything but? You have Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, both of whom have the honorable distinction of having been able to reinvent a classic superhero for the new generation (Wolverine and Batman, respectively).

Rupert is a showman, a decent enough magician but a brilliant and charismatic performer. Alfred is the more talented magician, but his onstage manner, at least at the beginning, needs work.

A brutal desire for revenge and equally competitive natures drive their unceasing rivalry, which persists even at the attempts of those close to them to request they forgive and forget. It’s bizarrely fascinating to watch how far they’re willing to go to keep a secret and to expose the other.

David Bowie (I didn’t even realize it was him) is great as Nikola Tesla, a man who was a genius ahead of his time. The bitter rivalry between him and Thomas Edison goes on in the background of the movie, behind the main rivalry, and it’s an interesting match-up.

On the one hand you have this story of two magicians who perform amazing illusions, but on the other you have two technological wizards who do magic with electricity, scientific accomplishments that are more magical than the illusions because they are real.

The scenes with Bowie as Tesla and Andy Serkis as his assistant Alley were some of the best in the movie. Tesla’s a man who’s been one of the obsessed, who knows how such an obsession can destroy a person’s life as it has done his.

Overall The Prestige is a movie that reminds you how good they can be, even when they’re dark. It sucks you into its world, gets under your skin, and doesn’t let go.

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 – N is for Nanny McPhee

Nanny McPhee posterToo many kids + a single parent (usually a dad) – any recognizable sort of discipline = the kind of chaos Hollywood loves to showcase.

Personally, I don’t get it. Is it a subtle return to 1950s values, where Mommy kept the house and raised the kids and Daddy was the breadwinner? Thus, when Mommy is removed from the picture, Daddy truly has no idea what to do or how to handle his little offspring?

A bit deep, yes, but a question one can divine from Nanny McPhee, which is proof that all unruly children really need is a woman’s touch…preferably when she’s holding a magical cane that will make them do exactly as she wants. (It’s as much a fantasy for parents as for children!)

Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) is a widower with quite a number of problems…seven, to be exact: his seven children who are completely undisciplined and who get great joy out of how quickly they’re able to go through their nannies. That is, until the fiercely ugly Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) shows up on the Brown’s doorstep. The kids think getting rid of her will be a piece of cake, but Nanny McPhee has magic on her side, and she doesn’t back down from a fight.

Sadly, it turns out that Brown’s unholy brood is only a part of his problems: Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) has threatened to cut off her monthly allowance — the only way Cedric can keep his children in the same house — if he doesn’t get married by the end of the month. The kids will need one another — and Nanny McPhee — if they’re to stay together.

We’ve seen many movies where the kids are holy terrors, yes, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this bunch, but when Nanny #17 bursts into Mr. Brown’s office to exclaim in horror, “They’re eating the baby!” you know we’re dealing with some clever kids with a sick sense of humor. Really, you can’t wait to see what prank they’ll pull next.

Our dear titular nanny is like Mary Poppins without the singing or the sweetness. Disobey her, and you’re bestowed with a little grin that has the same effect as a rattlesnake’s rattle. A master of reverse psychology, Nanny McPhee gives the kids exactly what they want. They want to stay in bed all day, they get to stay in bed all day…but they have to contend with the nanny and her measles medicine.

In fact, if the movie had a weak point, it would be that it didn’t show enough of Nanny McPhee versus the kids. I had kind of hoped to see more of a power struggle between her and Simon, the oldest child and ringleader. However, that doesn’t detract from enjoyment of the film.

It’s short (about an hour and a half long) and sweet, in a twisted fairy tale sort of way. There’s a vile stepmother-to-be, who loves colors so bright they could scorch your corneas, a meek scullery maid who longs for true love, and an ex-military cook who now runs the kitchen at the Browns’ home. When the wedding climax of the movie involves a food fight, you know you’ve found a film worth watching.

The audience I was watching it with gave Nanny McPhee a hearty round of applause when the credits started rolling. It’s definitely a family-friendly flick, but a charming one that’s worth checking out.

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 – M is for Miami Vice

Miami ViceBeing as that the television show “Miami Vice” was born the same year that I was and ended its run when I was five, it wasn’t exactly on my list of things to watch. It wasn’t animated and its stories had less to do with who was vandalizing the amusement park and more with bringing down drug dealers.

Thus, going into the movie Miami Vice, the only thing influencing my expectations was the trailer.

If you’re going into Miami Vice expecting an original story involving undercover detectives, you should look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a movie that’s dark and serious and so real you can almost smell the sweat coming off the screen, then you’re in for a treat.

The movie drops us in the middle of one undercover sting that Rico (Jamie Foxx) and Sonny (Colin Farrell) are working, only to have them get a frantic phone call from a former informant who’s now working for the feds. The informant’s death leads to the feds requesting Rico and Sonny’s help in ferreting out a leak within one of their departments.

The story, sadly, is rote, just the sort of thing we expect from an undercover cop movie. Does a member of the team get hurt/killed? Yes. Does one of the bad guys suspect the undercover cops are not what they appear? Of course. Does one of the cops fall for a hot woman who’s with the bad guys? Yes, and they spend 20 minutes legitimizing the “relationship.”

What Miami Vice has going for it is Michael Mann. It’s the style, the mood, the way that it feels less like a big-budget movie and more like Michael Mann got the chance to go undercover with a couple of cops. It’s dark, gritty, and grabs you from the get-go. There are no opening credits; no “getting to know yous”; we’re just dropped into the middle of an undercover operation. It’s jarring, but effective.

Miami Vice doesn’t pander to its audience, and it’s not going to hold you by the hand and take you step by step through the undercover operation so that you know everything and understand everything. You’re just thrown in there with Sonny and Rico, and have to hope that you’re smart enough to keep up with them. I might have liked that better if it had been easier to understand what everybody was saying. As it was, it’s too easy to get lost, especially at the beginning.

The only real humor comes from a few choice lines, delivered dryly enough to elicit a chuckle. It’s nice that they don’t have a character shoved in the mix for the sole purpose of providing some comic relief. Unfortunately, that means there’s no real break from the tension. This is a very serious movie, and for the most part the polar opposite of what’s in theaters right now.

You don’t get attached to the characters, either. You’re not seriously invested in them. So one of them has a serious girlfriend, and the other is getting busy with the bad guy’s woman. Whoop dee doo. We don’t care. This movie is about the mood, and capturing that seedy underbelly feel. It’s also about one hell of a climatic gunfight that’s the best scene in the movie.

Miami Vice is really about the mood. If you’re going to see it expecting much more than that, you’re going to be disappointed. But stylistically it’s interesting enough to hold your attention for most of the two hours that it’s on the screen.

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 – L is for Little Miss Sunshine

little_miss_sunshine_ver5Family is a weird beast. The weirdest one I’ve ever met was my friend Jessica’s new in-laws, when I went to her wedding reception back in June. Not because they were crazy or dysfunctional. That I can handle. No, these people were perfectly normal. Everybody got along swimmingly, the kids calmed down when they were asked, and they were all just so gosh-darn nice.

Little Miss Sunshine is not about a family like that. It’s about a family I recognize. One that’s not afraid to wear its crazy on the outside, that functions within its dysfunction, that looks at the rest of the world like it’s the insane one. They yell and fight and go all passive-aggressive on each other, but when the chips are down they come together because that’s what families do.

And it’s easily the funniest thing I’ve seen all summer.

The Hoover family is an interesting one. There’s Richard (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker who is the patriarch of the family, and in the midst of attempting to get a book published on his nine-step program. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is the mother, once divorced and trying to hold the family together. Dwayne (Paul Dano) is the sullen teenager who’s taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal of being a test pilot in the Air Force. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is the little bundle of energy whose quest to win a beauty pageant drives the family from Albequerque to Redondo Beach. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) has been kicked out of a nursing home for snorting heroin and made it his goal to get Olive ready for the talent portion of the competition. And Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is a suicidal gay Proust scholar.

This movie is all about the relationships amongst family members, and as such, the performances are paramount. All the actors here take their characters and make them work, so that even the ones who seem holier-than-thou at the beginning grow on you.

Steve Carell really stands out. After great comedic performances in movies like Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he’s got a much more dramatic turn here and proves that he is one amazing actor. Frank has basically had everything that was ever important to him yanked away, and now can’t even be allowed to sleep alone. Carell nails him from the first scene, and keeps it up with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and a very funny way of running.

Richard, as a motivational speaker, has a nine-step program he’s practically convinced will turn the world around, and won’t shut up about it. He constantly talks about what makes a loser and a winner and has no problem holding up his family as examples of both. He seems blissfully unaware (or is aware and just doesn’t care) at how much everybody hates hearing about it. The scene where he nearly gives his seven-year-old daughter an eating disorder is classic.

Abigail Breslin is just adorable as Olive. She’s obsessed with pageants. She loves them. The first time we see her she is watching a taped one, mimicking the winner’s happy movements. And she is convinced it is this dedication that will win her Little Miss Sunshine, despite the fact that she looks like a normal seven-year-old girl and the others look like miniature supermodels. It’s that innocence that makes her so endearing.

Grandpa is hilarious, having reached that stage in his life where he just doesn’t care any more. He’ll do what he wants and say what he wants, much to Richard’s chagrin. The movie’s R-rating comes solely from his mouth. However, he loves his grandkids and dotes on Olive.

Although the road trip brings out the frayed bonds of the family’s relationship, it also reties them. Their common goal is to get Olive to Redondo Beach in time for the pageant, and as mishap upon mishap piles on them they only become more determined. Thus, the climax at the talent portion of the competition is as much an accomplishment for the family as it is for Olive.

Despite all that’s happened, where you’re on the brink of tears one minute and falling out of your chair laughing the next, it’s both funny and empowering, embracing that which makes us different and celebrating it without caring that the rest of the world probably thinks you’re stark raving mad.

God bless movies like Talladega Nights, which are wonderfully dumb comedies that provide quoting contests amongst friends for months to come. But bless even more the comedies like Little Miss Sunshine, which touch your heart even as they’re tickling your funny bone, and making you laugh all the harder for it.

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.