So, I have not gotten around to seeing a film in the theaters for sometime, though that will change this Sunday when I see the much-anticipated Avatar. A review will naturally follow and then you all can see whether or not it lived up to the hype. In the meanwhile, I have seen a few films through Netflix that are not heavyweights but worth mentioning. I am going informal with these reviews but, no worries, the trademark Zahos analysis style will return for the Avatar review.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Directed by Neal Brennan
Released in 2009
Sometimes a cheap, raunchy comedy is needed in a time of serious releases and The Goods fits the bill well. With a talented cast including Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, Rob Riggle, Kathryn Hahn, David Koechner, Ed Helms and the always lovable Ken Jeong, the actors alone guarantee this movie to be a fun, disposable comedy, regardless of a shoddy storyline. The story centers around a failing automobile dealership needing to make sales on Independence Day weekend and the help they enlist. This is, of course, Jeremy Piven and his crew who live and breathe car sales. There is a lot of fun to be had here as they tame the wild workers at the dealership including Charles Napier as a homophobic, deranged war vet. Kathryn Hahn, known from Stepbrothers, is entertaining in her attempts to seduce Rob Riggle's character who has a mental disability in that his mind is as advanced as an elementary school kid. It is sad, but hilarious. The Goods suffers from the typical, weak middle section flaw that is common in comedies of this sort but is a hoot in the end.
2.5 Stars Out of 5
Angels & Demons
Directed by Ron Howard
Released in 2009
Following in the footsteps of the simply terrible Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons has no where to go but up. It does in that regard but the amount is minimal. Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who seems to be the only source for solving the cases that Vatican City and the Roman Catholic Church can find. He is introduced by an extended scene of him swimming in the Harvard lap pool, approached by a Vatican official. Because everyone wants to see topless, 53-year old Tom Hanks, right? Nonetheless, a group of a bishops has been kidnapped after the pope's death, messing up the selection process and panicking the clergy. Langdon must find the bishops before it is too late and is joined by Ayelet Zurer, the pair of which displays absolutely no romantic chemistry whatsoever. Ewan McGregor is also here as the clergyman with close ties to the late Pope, seeking to avenge his death. All of this is combined in overly expensive shots, flat dialogue, bland exposition, nonsensical action, melodramatic chase scenes and a plot twist that makes so little impact because the connection with the characters is nonexistent. Some praised Angels & Demons as a great improvement over its predecessor. It is a success in that I did not walk out of the movie, though I am sure I feel asleep. I probably dreamed of a better movie during that time so my opinion is certainly slanted. If you want to properly watch Angels & Demons then do so on comfortable couch/bed and consider your snooze time as the best part.
1.5 Stars Out of 5
The Brothers Bloom
Directed by Rian Johnson
Released in 2008
A small, overlooked film, The Brothers Bloom is a carefree, enjoyable, if flawed little movie. Starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz, there is some great talent in the leading characters and they all play well off each other. The story is basically about a pair of brothers who are also professional con-artists and pull off big jobs with ease. They are joined by "Bang Bang," their Japanese sidekick played by Rinko Kikuchi of Babel fame. The whole style is very interesting but it fails to pull of a Wes Anderson balance between quirkiness and hilarity. There simply is not a lot that makes you laugh, though you might be mildly entertained. Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from Harry Potter) is one of the brightest spots of the film as the drunken "Curator," though his screen time is sadly very short. The film holds up however, and is a fun time for those looking for something different.
3 Stars Out of 5
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Released in 2009
As a fan of Wolverine and the X-Men comics and movies, I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine would be a fun, if fleeting, experience. It turns out, both of those expectations were way off as this was a terrible "blockbuster" that stayed long in my head in the form of a headache. On paper it works: take Wolverine, flesh out his origins story, throw action scenes in and end with where he is today. In execution, it fails miserably.
Before focusing on the man himself, it is worth noting the low grade of the characters surrounding the protagonist. The cult favorite Deadpool is played by none other than Ryan Reynolds, a presence with such little comic or acting quality that every line uttered was a disgrace to his character and the film that it was printed on. Will.i.am (yes, that one) thought he could act and plays "John Wraith," an original name that perfectly symbolizes the actor's innovation. In this case, nothing. There are other characters but they are all dreadful as the next and the group sections are a real trial to get through. Unfortunately, Wolverine himself is not much better. Hugh Jackman, buff in a rigorous exercise routine, shines physically but actually decreases in quality as Wolverine, with cheesy acting and a poor script to draw his actions from. Wolverine's brother, Sabretooth, is played by Liev Schreiber, an excellent actor in his own right, but unfortunately he is handed a script that makes him come across as stubborn and pestering. The batshit ending where the producers put all the money they had left, bought fancy special effects and set pieces, and threw it at a wall expecting it to stick is an offense to your mind and intelligence too. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not very much a disappointment in my mind for I had no expectations but it is a complete and utter failure.
1 Star Out of 5
Thankfully, I rewatched some good films, those that are not an assault to the integrity of cinema but a grace to it. They are the following, and all on Bluray:
- Public Enemies - This gangster film about John Dillinger is a technical marvel as well as truly drawing piece of cinema. Johnny Depp excels as does Christian Bale, even if his part is very emotionless. The ever beautiful Marion Cotillard, one of my favorite actresses, shows her Oscar-worth and is wonderful as Johnny's damsel-in-distress. Keep an eye out for Stephen Lang too, the hard-pressed detective who steals every scene he is in. He has a great year with this, Men Who Stare At Goats and a big role in Avatar. A collection of fine actors and the directing finesse of Michael Mann combine to make a very good film. 4 Stars Out of 5
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Rewatching this movie was an interesting activity for me. I found it to still be one of the finest Potter films yet but I could not help but agree with some complaints that it was slow and rather plot-less. The book is similar but, as a film, that qualm really sticks out. No real action appears until the end and there are some sections that drag. However, character development is the focus of all these scenes, something I love. For those that love the Potter world and fiction, my original rating of 4.5/5 should still stand well. But for those who come to Half-Blood Prince and can't tell Ravenclaw from Hufflepuff then any other viewpoint rests well.
- Star Trek - Besides looking positively fantastic on Bluray, Star Trek is bound to be a sci-fi classic and is one of the best summer action movies of the decade. No other film in recent memory combined great action and special effects, a compelling, deep story and likable, hilarious characters as well as this. It really is a marvel in every way and a film that everyone, no matter if he or she likes the franchise or not, should see. 4.5 Stars Out of 5
- Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino's mad masterpiece is a polarizing film in that some love it and others hate it. Some find the scenes to be dragged out too long and pointless while others have seen the light and know that it all contributes to the greater picture. I am part of the latter group and believe this film to be one of the finest of the decade. It is hilarious, insane, suspenseful, and, overall, brilliant as a fictional World War II saga. Christoph Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa is the star of the show and will surely grab an Oscar nomination and hopefully a win for a performance that I would describe as a tour de force in acting. He speaks in 4 different languages with distinct motions and a fully realized character that was given great thought. He is shockingly good, as he is unknown by most American audiences, and the real soul of this film. With him, the rest of the cast and crew and Tarantino at the helm directing it all, a megalomaniac project that derived from Tarantino's dreams was realized into a work of genius. It will be remembered for years to come. 5 Stars out of 5.