June 21, 2008

The Happening - $6

I know I'm going to take abuse for this one, but I liked The Happening.

M. Night Shyamalan brings his unique writing and directing style to the screen once again in a story about people fleeing from something, but not knowing what they are fleeing from. The Happening begins in Central Park in New York City where everyone suddenly stops talking and walking and they begin killing themselves with a varied series of slow and eerily unemotional actions. It begins to be reported as a terrorist attack and then the suicides begin happening all over the North East coast of the US.

The main story centers around a high school science teacher in Philadelphia named Elliot who is fleeing from the affected areas with his wife Alma. As it becomes more and more clear that terrorists could not be responsible for these events Elliot becomes desperate to determine the cause so that he can keep his wife safe.

Let me start by saying what I didn't like about The Happening, because don't get me wrong when I say I liked this movie, it was not great and it is by far M. Night's weakest movie so far.

The Happening does not develop its characters with the exception of Elliot and Alma. The usual long pulled back shots that make M. Night's movies so visually stimulating weren't on display here nearly as much. My main problem with the Happening was an extremely out of place series of scenes at about the 3/4 mark of the movie. The scenes were eerie in their own way but the movie got away from its main plot for a while there and it was distracting. I'm attempting to not give a spoiler her but I'm sure that those of you who've seen The Happening know what I'm talking about.

I liked a few things a lot in this movie though. The pacing was great, I love the slow methodical way that M. Night tells a story. I also found the opening scenes extremely creepy and affective and I loved the way that the story focused on the calm exodus of people who really weren't sure what they were running from. The result is people who aren't in a panic, though their fear is tangible. There were moments of humour in The Happening that worked very well also.

I read a bunch of reviews of The Happening to see if I was the only one who liked this movie and I was relieved to find that the man himself found more to like than dislike here, "It is no doubt too thoughtful for the summer action season, but I appreciate the quietly realistic way Shyamalan finds to tell a story about the possible death of man." - Roger Ebert

I enjoyed most of The Happening but I didn't love it. Mark Wahlberg was good at times as Elliot, but he was out of place at other times. I thought Zooey Deschanel was great as Alma but unfortunately there weren't really any other well developed characters to talk about. John Leguizamo actually gives a very good performance as Elliot's best friend and he really should have had more screen time.

I'm going to do something I've never done before on this site and that is to not recommend a movie that I liked. I'm putting The Happening on my 'Don't Watch It' because I don't think many people will enjoy it. For me the value was good though and I rate The Happening at $6.

June 18, 2008

Lions for Lambs - $7

Lions for Lambs has been widely criticized and rarely recommended, frankly I'm not sure why.

This is a three part story and though the three parts don't collide as well as they could, they do relate. There is a Professor trying to convince a student to give a crap about something other than himself by relaying a story about two of his former students who fought in Iraq. The third story brings us a one-on-one interview with a powerful US Senator who is making very high level strategy decisions for the war.

Lions for Lambs is a subtle movie with a less than subtle message, I found it to be fair to the issues as it presented multiple sides of multiple arguments.

I honestly can't understand how anyone who likes great acting could dismiss this movie. Cruise, Streep and Redford are fantastic and some of the best performances come from the lesser known actors involved here like Michael Peña and Derek Luke. Even if you don't enjoy the stories being told here the lengthy and well written dialogues being performed by these actors make this movie well worth watching.

I put Lions for Lambs on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $7. I think I'll have to bring you another edition of "When The Critics Get It Wrong" soon starting with this one.

June 9, 2008

Iron Man - $8

Despite predictions to the contrary from one of my favorite readers, I did enjoy Iron Man immensely and I line up with the many critics who are praising this entertaining movie. I can't wait for the sequel.

Iron Man is based on the Marvel comic by the same name and is the story of Tony Stark, the head of a US weapons company who is taken captive in a war zone and forced to make weapons for terrorists. Rather than making them a weapon, he makes himself a nearly indestructible weaponized metal suit and escapes. This experience changes the arrogant and greedy Stark and inspires him to focus on improving the suit rather than on weapon sales.

Stark's right hand man at Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane, turns out to have been selling their weapons to the enemy for years and a stand off between the two becomes the climax of the movie.

There were a few things I didn't like much about Iron Man. The initial scenes, where Stark is first making the suit and his captors think he's making a missile for them, are hard to believe at best. There are cameras on him at all times in his cell and yet they can't tell he's making a suit of armour? He's trying stuff on at one point, who tries on a missile? There is also some very cheesy humour in Iron Man that would have missed the mark completely if not for the delivery of Robert Downey Jr.

With that let me transition into what I liked about Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic as Tony Stark. He made the transition from jerk to hero believable and he brought a lot of charm to a movie that could have been merely a special effects showcase if not for his performance. The cast is rounded out well with Jeff Bridges (Stane), Terrence Howard and my favorite - Gwyneth Paltrow.

The special effects in Iron Man are spectacular but they aren't in isolation, there is some surprisingly good directing here from Jon Favreau.

Big budget action movies are pretty hit or miss with me, especially in the comic book adaptation genre, but Iron Man hit the mark. It was entertaining and it's weaknesses were overcome by good casting.

I'm putting Iron Man on the 'Watch It' list and giving it a rating of $8. You may ask; why not a higher rating considering the praise I've lavished here? It's simple, this is still a comic book movie and the best of those can never be the greatest of movies.

June 6, 2008

Entertainment in the Air

I was on two 4+ hour flights this week and both times the planes were equipped with those seat back screens that allow me to scroll through movie, music and TV choices and start and stop them when I want. I love these types of planes.

I want to go through some lightning quick reviews of everything I watched or started to watch and didn't finish. (Iron Man review still coming)


Shine a Light - $7 (watched 1/2)

This film by Scorcese which documents a Rolling Stones concert was shaping up to be amazing but I stopped watching it once it really got into the concert itself as I'm not a huge Rolling Stones fan.

Jumper - $3

Good special effects meet average acting and uncreative writing in this lame movie. Hayden Christensen continues to show the world that he should be modeling, not acting.

National Treasure 2 - $4

National Treasure actually had its moments but in the end it came off like the movie adaptation of a choose your own adventure, except I had no choices.

10,000 BC - $0 (watched 10 minutes)

I only made it through 10 minutes of 10,000 BC before putting it out of its misery. In that 10 minutes I saw special effects that looked on par with a used car commercial and costumes and make up that appeared to have been borrowed from a high school play. And don't get me started on the writing... Thank you to all of you who warned me not to waste my money on this one.

The Bucket List - $6

I actually enjoyed The Bucket List. Jack Nicholson gave dimension to an otherwise predictable plot. It was worth watching and even a bit moving.

TV Shows

The Class - $1 (5 minutes)

Horrible, cheesy, bottom of the barrel television.

The Big Bang Theory - $4

Despite having the feel of a 90's sitcom this one actually made me laugh a few times. Still not great TV though.

Til Death - $2

Just don't bother, there's nothing new here.

The New Adventures of Old Christine - $3 (15 minutes)

Just plain boring most of the time.

That Mitchell and Webb Look - $7

A very funny sketch show from England. I laughed out loud several times to the annoyance of the gentlemen on either side of me. (Yes, the travel agent screwed up royally and grabbed me a middle seat on the way home.)

Psych - $0 (10 horrible minutes I'll never get back)

One of the worst TV shows ever made. It was like a train wreck, it took me 10 minutes to look away.