X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Remember the fight scene between Jack and Barbossa in “The Pirates of the Caribbean?” It goes on for several minutes until we learn that each of them is an undead pirate zombie that can’t be killed. I’ve never been able to defend that one scene, and for the same reason, I can’t defend a single moment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

Although it is intended to be a history lesson on a story most people already know enough about, “Wolverine” is a film without suspense or purpose. It is one action sequence after another, each more ludicrous than the last. And it is so because Wolverine is invincible; He is the hero of all heroes, with no weaknesses, no easy way to be killed, an unrivaled weapon and a guarantee of his survival.

Since the X-Men trilogy, Wolverine has not changed or gotten stronger, but his limits are stretched even beyond the ones established in the series. In the original series, Wolverine was passed out for several minutes after a gunshot to the head. Here, he gets stabbed numerous times consecutively, is hurled through walls, takes multiple bullet wounds and even recovers unscathed from a brief death after his adamantium injection. This is all done stylishly, but to no avail of course. Continue reading “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

Zombieland

Can I recommend a movie simply because Bill Murray is in it? Can I justify a likeness for a film if it contained five great minutes in comparison to 75 more lackluster ones? I’m not kidding when I say “Zombieland” features a cameo so hilarious it may just be worth your money and time. So should you see this movie? If zombies are your thing, have a blast.

Oh! You were expecting more of a review? Anyone going to see “Zombieland” can guess the film is just a goofy monster movie, and for these people for this movie, a simple thumbs up/thumbs down should suffice. Anyone else is waiting to hear if this is another genre-defying “Shaun of the Dead,” in which case, don’t leave the comfort of your witty, quirky Judd Apatow or Wes Anderson comedy just yet.

In fact there is nothing clever about the dozens of zombie murders that pepper the film. Kills are less amusing and more gruesome. They amount to little creativity other than baseball bat to the head, car door to the head, banjo to the head, and on one occasion, grand piano to the head. Continue reading “Zombieland”

The Social Network

“The Social Network” is both a vivid, inventive fantasy and a dramatically realistic portrait of the 21st century. It succeeds at being both because Director David Fincher has touched on a subject that has become so ingrained in the subconscious of everyone who’s ever heard of the Internet while expanding on the biopic subgenre in a way as revolutionary as the idea of Facebook itself.

The film is not about Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the founder of Facebook, or Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Mark’s one-time best friend, or Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the inventor of Napster and co-owner of Facebook or even about the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (both played by Armie Hammer), who claim Mark stole the idea of Facebook from them. Aaron Sorkin’s inspired screenplay weaves through time and different perspectives to create a powerful story about no hero, villain, victim or winner.

“The Social Network,” with all its rapid-fire, whip-smart dialogue, is a stirring metaphor for the complexities and tragedies of life on a web site where everyone is connected. And yet it is not pro or anti Facebook, the Internet or technology. It is a character sketch for what happened to these people in this screenplay in a time where the only friends Zuckerberg has are the ones we see, and not the 500 million users around the globe. Continue reading “The Social Network”

The Hangover

Remember when comedies not produced by Judd Apatow didn’t have to be about being chased by CG dinosaurs or fighting an evil Egyptian Pharaoh with Amelia Earhart? Or how about when a comedy didn’t have to star every A, B, C and D-List comedian on the planet? Me neither, but “The Hangover” is the exception.

Here is a simple, funny comedy with a not completely outrageous premise and a few characters that are familiar but not total cliché stereotypes. Doug, Phil, Stu and Alan are four guys on the way to Vegas for Doug’s bachelor party. We see them make a toast and have a drink on the roof of the hotel, and the next morning, none of them can remember anything, their room is trashed with hundreds of unexplainable details, and Doug has gone missing. What we’re left with is three characters on a kind of mystery quest to piece together everything that happened the previous evening. Continue reading “The Hangover”

An Education

There is a performance by Carey Mulligan in “An Education” that is so inherently charming that I would like to say it is the sole reason for the film going above and beyond as it does, give her an Academy Award for her work and move on. But Lone Scherfig’s film has a nuance to it that transcends boilerplate Oscar-bait becoming a wholly original work of art.

“An Education” is a British film in the early, pre-Rock and Roll 60’s of London. Jenny (Mulligan) is a senior in high school, top of her class, itching to attend Oxford, constantly nagged by her supportive but pushy father Jack (Alfred Molina), plays the cello, has a quasi-relationship with an equally nerdy and fastidious boy and is bored out of her mind. She lives in the type of household where a Latin dictionary serves as a suitable birthday present, and both her father and would-be boyfriend think highly of her enough to get the same gift. Continue reading “An Education”

The Blind Side

“The Blind Side” may be the most manipulative film all year. Some have criticized “Precious,” the other “black” film this year, for manipulating audiences through unfathomable hardship. But I will take the tragedy of that brave film over the very fathomable hardship of this one, a wholesomely safe movie that tugs the audience’s heartstrings as though they were attached to marionettes.

Sadly, “The Blind Side” is not the most cliché movie I’ve seen from 2009, but it’s the kind of highly orchestrated familiarity that attracts those wit white guilt, the black audience and the juvenile type. There’s a group of token rich white women that serve as Sandra Bullock’s friends that are only seen gossiping at an exclusive restaurant in front of overpriced salads. I can imagine this group greatly enjoying “The Blind Side,” discussing it as if it was a mature film and as if they now knew something about cinema.

In reality, this is a film with zero character development and a highly accessible plot that loses all of the true story’s authenticity. It’s the heartwarming story of Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), a drifter foster child who’s brought in and cared for by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock). Tuohy pays for his education, gets him to go out for football and until he is eventually drafted by the NFL as recent as last year.

It’s important to take this true story with a grain of salt, because this definitely is a story in which lives were changed, families grew and dreams were accomplished, but we get very little of that here. This is just a movie designed to make the widest audience possible feel warm and fuzzy inside, and the result is fairly tepid. Continue reading “The Blind Side”

Chicago

As movies go digital and trail blaze ahead with 3-D technology, it’s nice to see an older film that feels as though it was grafted from the stage, rife with metaphorical depth and space, and yet still maintains its image as a film production of massive proportions impossible to recreate in any theater.

Considering “Chicago” is this decade’s rebirth of the musical, there are probably more important things worth paying attention to, but you have to hold on to both the big and little things the movies have to offer.

Rob Marshall’s adaptation of “Chicago” is a remarkable musical in the spirit of “Cabaret.” It is a delightful romp full of fun performances, catchy rhythms and fabulous choreography on a massive scale. To not enjoy such a film would be to dislike entertainment. No, the plot is not riveted with psychological depth and drama. There is no revolutionary fancy footwork throughout the film either. But it is still a joy. Continue reading “Chicago”

Rapid Response: Eraserhead

David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” is one of the most shocking, strange and polarizing cult films ever made.

“Eraserhead” is very likely the most widely seen experimental, avant-garde, cult horror movie ever made.

That does not entail it is the best of its kind or even remotely widely loved.

It is the first feature film directed by David Lynch, and those who are a part of Lynch’s cult followers have not all made the journey beyond “Mulholland Dr.,” “Blue Velvet,” his TV series “Twin Peaks” or “The Elephant Man” to this film.

Those that have are equally polarized to its meaning and to its appeal.

While many today embrace “Blue Velvet” as a masterpiece, there was a time when it was released where critics either heralded it as a masterpiece or shunned it as one of the most shockingly manipulative films ever made. That film earned remarkable critical attention back in 1986, making it the most controversial film of the ’80s, and then it achieved cult blockbuster status in midnight screenings around the country.

“Eraserhead” did not have such attention. It was released in 1977 to low reception at the box office and from critics, but it did begin to cement Lynch as a visual wizard. Continue reading “Rapid Response: Eraserhead”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry, Ron and Hermione are no longer kids. But throughout “The Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” we catch a glimmer of them trying to retain their lost childhood. It’s a touching moment of empathy that mirrors the emotion the audience is trying to recapture as they watch this penultimate installment to the most popular film franchise of all time.

I shared that reaction as I watched the latest Harry Potter movie. I surmised that people of my age go to see the Potter movies because firstly they provide that escapism back to reading the books as kids in how close the adaptations are. And in doing so, they secondly unite millions of Harry Potter fanatics that for one evening can share in a bit of a nerdgasm if you will.

You see, for all of “The Deathly Hallows’s” darker edges, more complex narratives and absence of another year at Hogwarts, this film feels very much like every Potter film that came before it, especially the previous two David Yates directed films, who also directs parts one and two. It still mixes in enough cheesy, goofy moments for everyone who’s been so invested in the franchise to now giggle at. And it likewise provides enough somber moments that fans can let out a collective gasp.

It made me realize that the Potter films are to be seen the way I saw it this past weekend, in the heat of the moment with an audience brimming with excitement. That palpable joy contained in the theater cannot be recreated when watching at home on DVD, HBO, ABC Family, wherever. Once you leave that simulated Potterverse, the material never holds up as well.

The same is true of “The Deathly Hallows,” which I enjoyed immensely, but suspect I may feel differently prior to the release of the next film.

It’s because there are moments as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are searching for the remaining horcruxes that the dark tone caves in on itself to provide a little comic whimsy. One mission will take them into the heart of the Ministry of Magic, and along the way they have some fun with the Polyjuice potion that allows them to morph into someone else, and not to mention some more fun with a toilet. The gang also meets up with an assortment of characters and creatures from the previous novels and films, and although the house elf Dobby provides a few smiles when he arrives, let’s say I was glad to see him leave again.

But I do think this is one of the better Harry Potter films, and most certainly Yates’s best. The juicy tidbits he provides to “The Deathly Hallows” do help the film stand out, and I look forward to revisiting these scenes when I’m not sitting in the second row of a multiplex.

I mentioned that the main characters, who have proven to be marvelous casting choices for so long now, can be caught reflecting on their lost childhood. Hermione is seen wiping her parents’ memories clean of her existence to keep them safe. Harry is forced to send away the Dursleys, and we see him lingering over the cupboard under the stairs.

Soon they’re swept away into the open, dangerous world, and emotions and sexual tension get the better of them. Yates leaves behind much of the teen romance angst that muddled the sixth film and puts all of the chemistry between Harry and Ron towards Hermione out in the open. And there’s a goofy moment when Harry begins to dance with Hermione that is allowed to linger into a touching little vignette. By themselves on this journey, the film very much belongs to Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, and they own it.

They convincingly lead us to their quest for The Deathly Hallows, three legendary and powerful objects derived from a fairy tale. The way in which we learn this wizarding folklore is through an elegantly done animated sequence unlike anything seen in the Potter films before. The shadowy figures that comprise it make a sequence strong enough to stand on its own as a beautifully done short film.

I was pleased to see how much I admired in between the dense layers of the plot and action scenes directed like they belonged in a psychological horror movie. So I’ll admit, I could’ve done without all the heavy chases and epic battles, but it’s all paced well and underscored by an eerie musical composition by the great Alexandre Desplat.

So for all my bitterness towards Potter’s excessively wide spread over pop culture and its forgettable qualities as it is endlessly paraded out, I offer a strong recommendation to see it now, while the magic is still there.

3 ½ stars

Star Trek (2009)

I don’t know much about “Star Trek,” the beloved TV series. But I think I know enough about J.J. Abrams’s new film to understand it, just not to enjoy it.

In making “Star Trek,” Abrams sought to make the classic sci-fi cool again, making the characters more youthful, improving the special effects, making sense of the plots, you know, just branch out to a whole new audience of ignorant fanboy yuppies without losing the old ones. Abrams retreads the original series by means of yet another origin, prequel story. As is necessary of any origin film, Abrams does some name-dropping (“What’s your name citizen? My name is James Tiberius Kirk!” says an over compensating 12-year old), parades out all the old catch phrases and stays true to the series’ vast realm of logic.

With that said, newcomers to the series not already familiar with the universe’s rules are not welcome to Abrams’s comeback celebration. They won’t grasp the breadth and meaning of Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) very verbose dialogue. They won’t know that Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is intended to be somewhat of a comic relief and not just the worst casting choice in history. Continue reading “Star Trek (2009)”