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Archive for January, 2010

Real Genius begins with Mitch Taylor, a high school whiz kid interested in lasers, being recruited to the prestigious Pacific Tech by a Professor Holloway.  Holloway is secretly interested in using Taylor to develop a laser that the CIA can use to incinerate people from space.   Weak, right?   (This was the stuff of Reagan’s nightmares, right?)   Taylor’s thrilled just to be at Pacific Tech, but he hits the books hard much to the displeasure of his roommate Chris (played by Val Kilmer).    Chris plays Obi-Wan to Mitch’s Luke, teaching him that life isn’t all about solving problems, while Holloway puts the heat on the two to finish the laser.

When they finally figure out what Holloway has planned for their little experiment, the two recruit other students to help them sink the laser before it can do any real damage.

William Atherton plays the slimy professor keeping the students in the dark.   He also played Richard Peck, the jackass EPA agent in Ghostbusters and the jerk reporter willing to sell out anyone for a scoop in Die Hard.   Thus, Atherton seems to have a propensity for playing assholes we love to hate.  (I bet he gets stopped a lot with comments from people:  “You’re the asshole from Ghostbusters!”   “You’re the asshole from Die Hard!”  I wonder if people ever bring this one up.)  He doesn’t disappoint with Real Genius, as he plays the smarmy professor playing all the angles just right.

Kilmer’s funny enough as Chris Knight, and while the movie isn’t great, it has a sort of “real life meets a touch of wishful thinking” kind of sweetness ordinarily found in John Hughes movies.   … Or I could’ve just been mistaken by looking at all the ’80’s-tastic fashion.  Some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but Real Genius makes the whole experience fun.    The ending in particular is worth the price of admission.   Unrealistic?   Slightly zany?   It’s hilarious and the kind of thing that can only happen in the movies – and I mean that in the very best way.

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So much to like and so much to … not.

Diablo Cody was damned if she did well and damned if she didn’t.   After the success of Juno, an Oscar and all the hipster cred a girl could ever want, Cody seemed to be either much hated or much loved by film geeks.    Any follow-up she crafted would have been heavily scrutinized, no matter what it was.   It’s a shame that Jennifer’s Body has gotten heavy flak given the fact it bombed at the box office in spectacular fashion, because it’s not terrible.   It’s also a shame that Jennifer’s Body isn’t great either.

Needy Lisnicki (Amanda Seyfried) is a geeky high schooler who has a normal life, complete with average guy boyfriend Chip.    Needy’s best friend, Jennifer Check, is the most popular girl in school.   Their unlikely friendship is the result of growing up as best friends and sticking together all their lives, to the point where they can sense things about one another.   “Sandbox love never dies,” says Needy.   They live in the town of Devil’s Kettle, a place where nothing exciting happens, and everyone and everything has horrible, sour-sounding names.  (Needy?   Really.)

One night, Jennifer wheedles and pleads with Needy to see an indie band called Low Shoulder at some dive bar.   Fronted by the scheming Nikolai (played by a fantastic Adam Brody), the band longs for mainstream success.  Due to some well-intentioned lies, the band believes Jennifer to be a virgin.   When a horrific accident befalls the bar, the band lures Jennifer to their van and sacrifices her in the woods to Satan.   The problem is Jennifer’s not a virgin and she comes back all wrong.   In fact, she comes back needing to eat people for sustenance.   Needy has to confront the demonic aspects of her best friend and the fact that Jennifer’s “evil, not just high school evil”.

Obviously, Jennifer’s Body is about female high-school relationships and how toxic and sick they can be at times.    I’ve read Cody proclaiming this is a feminist movie; I don’t think that, but it is refreshing to have two female leads and a female-centered horror story.

The style and tone of the film is remarkably similar to Heathers in a way.  Needy provides a running voice-over, much like Veronica.   Jennifer, even before she becomes a succubus from Hell is Heather McNamara.  Post-demonic transference, she’s Heather McNamara channeling the spirit of J.D.   Jennifer’s Body has the same winky black humor as Heathers.   Hell, Cody liberally seasoned the movie with so much of her whippy slang it’s hard not to compare it to Heathers, especially when it appears Cody’s angling to get in an iconic quote much like the infamous “I love my dead, gay son” moment.   With all of the parody of grief and the platitudes people spout and all of the above references, Jennifer’s Body becomes less like a homage or tipping its hat to Heathers and more like someone used it as Cliff’s Notes.

Megan Fox surprisingly is good, given that she demonstrates some measure of self-awareness and actually sells the scene in which Low Shoulder sacrifices her in the woods.    Adam Brody steals the show as an asshole wanna-be rockstar.   Cody’s got recurring characters from Juno popping up too, like J.K. Simmons as a high school teacher with a hook that prove to be fairly funny.

For the most part, Jennifer’s Body is fun; it’s not horrific, it’s not gory, but it is mostly fun with a dash of teenage self-exploration.   More than a few of Cody’s lines and signature teen-speak fall so flat it’s awkward, but most of them zing like they’re supposed to.   I still haven’t decided how I feel about the ending, which is what you would expect and not what you’d expect all at the same time.   I have problems with some of the choices the director, Karyn Kusama, made, but for the most part, I think Kusama did a fairly good job.

(Note to whoever insisted on the lesbian kiss between Fox and Amanda Seyfried:  totally unnecessary and slightly exploitative, dudes.)

I’d recommend it is a Netflix rental, that’s for sure.   There’s a couple of commentaries on the DVD but I haven’t had a chance to watch them yet.   (As a side note, I watched the extended version, however different that is from the theatrical version.)

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Ouuuuuuch!   Poor Bruce Willis.

Eddie Hawkins is a thief just released from prison.  All he wants is a damn cappuccino, but before he can even get all the way out of prison, people are hassling him to take thieving jobs for them.

Enter several groups of people who want Eddie to steal the same things, a super rich couple, a bunch of government spooks and miscellaneous thugs.  What all this centers around are a bunch of crystals that Leonardo Da Vinci used to turn lead into gold.

In other words, this convulted caper centers around alchemy of all things.

Bless Bruce Willis; he’s a charming guy who has a great screen presence.  In fact, Willis has followed the John Wayne mode of acting, in which he seems to play a version of himself in every single movie.   But charm can only sail a person so far.

There’s quite simply too much going on in Hudson Hawk; there’s so many plot twists, turns and implausibly convenient events that most would be hard pressed to keep up.   Then there’s the sad fact that Hudson Hawk can’t even decide what kind of movie it wants to be.   The movie’s a caper, buddy comedy, romance, action, screwball, slapstick mess.   Every cast member tries to be too over the top, too jokey, too quirky.   Sandra Bernhard as a rich lady is just obnoxious and Danny Aiello’s sweet and funny but ends up clotheslined by the ridiculous material he’s given.   Even more exhausting is the fact that the filmmakers attempt to pack every gag possible in, to the point where I’m not sure there’s actually more than five seconds that passes in Hudson Hawk where something funny isn’t attempted.   It’s tiresome and barely any of the jokes are funny.

As far as a guilty pleasure goes, Bruce Willis is, as I said, charming and he and Danny Aiello have some fun moments where they get to sing and joke around and be best buddies; Willis can capture moments of fun, whimsy and charm – it’s just sad that nothing else about this movie can.

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Based on a true story, y’all.

Star runner Derrice Bannock is a hero in Jamaica, but his hopes of running in the Olympics are dashed when he and a fellow runner who goes by the name of Yul Brenner no less are tripped by another competitor named Junior on accident.    Derrice refuses to give up his Olympic dream.   He recalls that a bobsled coach attempted to court his father, who was also a Jamaican runner, into starting the first Jamaican bobsled team.  With help from his friend Sanka, Yul and Junior join up and they manage to go all the way to the Olympics.  But can four guys from Jamaica actually compete in winter sports?

Oh, the drama!  The suspense!   The tension!

Not really.   This is a feel-good Disney flick, so it’s chock full of cliches and great life lessons:  never give up, always finish, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (to quote the real Yul Brynner).    Somehow the film avoids preaching, which is great and the cast makes it actually a real joy to watch, cliches and all.

Cool Runnings is frivolous fun, one of those movies I watched when I was a kid to pass the time that as an adult I find amusing without being tiring.  It’s a sweet film mainly carried through the interactions of the four bobsledders and I imagine partly on my childhood nostalgia to be frank.

What I did not expect was to turn off the movie and feel an odd wistfulness for John Candy, who died quite a while ago and who I realize I miss greatly in films.   Candy was a big part of my childhood in the sense that I watched more than a few of his movies, but his salty, cranky sled coach in this movie is a gem.   It’s sad that Candy’s no longer around; he was skillfully funny, I now realize, in a way a lot of comedic actors never are.   He could also cut it as a “real actor”.

The movie’s a fun piece of feel-good cinema, if you’re into that sort of thing and if you’re not, then you won’t like it in the slightest, I don’t think.

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Kreativ Blogger Awards

Alex over at Film Forager was so kind to extend one of these to me.   Bless her, Alex is what I believe the intelligent folk call ‘rad’.   I’m actually not sure Alex and I don’t share brain matter or operate on the same wavelength because she likes a lot of the same things I do to the point where I think if we knew each other in real life, we’d get along famously!  Plus, Alex is an updating machine – unlike me, yeah? – and she writes about any kind and every kind of movie you can think of.   (Sorry for ending that sentence on a preposition, Alex.)

So, here’s the rules:

“Receiving such a kind honor comes with some criteria as well (7 in fact):

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.”

1.   Thanks, Alex!   You’re the best.   (Note to readers:   you should start reading Film Forager stat if you’re not doing so already.   Just a helpful hint.)   Alex wrote some super nice things about me like that I’m “fun to read”.   Right back atcha, Alex!

2.  Here you go:

3.   I’ve done so previously but just in case, GO VISIT ALEX HERE!

4.   Seven things about myself that are interesting?   … But I’m so bland.  Vanilla.   Plain Jane!

Ah, well, here goes nothing:

  • The other thing I love besides movies is cooking.   I read a crazy amount of food blogs, two of my favorite movie bloggers also blog about food and I’m currently contemplating culinary school.   (Have y’all seen the pricetag on film school?  Or culinary school?   It’s enough to make you reach for the Tums, I tell you.)   The only thing I don’t like about my apartment is how small the kitchen is, but nearly every apartment has a small kitchen.   I’m looking forward to buying a house just for the damn kitchen.
  • I’ve never graduated from college.   I have a half-finished degree and while I’d love to finish that, too, I’m slightly terrified of taking on the debt to finish, much to my mother’s chagrin.
  • My biggest pet peeve is table manners.   If you smack, chew with your mouth open, scrape your teeth with your fork, dribble food down yourself or generally eat as though you’re a pig at a trough, I can’t stand to be around you.   This is inherited from my father, who ruled our childhood table with a firm eye on manners.   To this day, I hear someone smacking and see them chewing with their mouth open and it makes me squirm, for real.
  • I have wanted to grow up to do the following things: Paleontologist, journalist, emergency room doctor, virologist, historian, teacher.
  • I swear to God, one of the things I do before I die will be to learn Russian.  I have an odd fascination with Russia, its history and the language.   One of these days I’ll hop on the ball about learning.
  • My newspaper class in high school declared me to be ‘Most Likely To Marry a Starving Artist’, whatever that means. And yes, my journalism teacher would be so proud if he could read this now.
  • Two of my best friends I have known since I was seven years old.   That means in two years, we’ll have known each other for twenty years.   I don’t think I can bring it up ever again for fear that they’ll both start fanning themselves and then pass out at how old we’re getting.

5 & 6:

Pluck You, Too! Tommy’s hysterical, got great taste in movies and makes me hungry with his food posts where he goes around and photographs restaurants with the food he orders.   It’ll make you hungry!  Starving!    Plus he’s funny as hell and likes boobs.   Really, who doesn’t like boobs?  Who?

Out of the Past: Raquelle will school your ass on old school film.  Shiiit.   Lady knows more about classic films than anyone I’ve ever met.   She’ll make you long to see movies you’d never even considered.

Valley Dreamin’: Consider this:   JD IS A TEENAGER.   Dude, when he’s all grown up with his fierce design abilities and great taste as well as his unique writing – we should all probably be afraid.

(I cheated and did three, because everyone else I thought could use one I think got linked already.  If I didn’t link you and you have a blog, consider yourself linked, yo.)

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Not to sound like a broken record, but the only thing I’m getting out of The A-Team is some gratuitous shameless objectification of a Hot Old Man.

No Mr. T?   Wrong, wrong, wrong.   Can someone tell me why, all of a sudden, Bradley Cooper is in everything?

Damn you, Hollywood.  This looks like a hot mess of Chernobyl proportions, but all you had to do was give Liam Neeson a cigar and some gray hair and I’m thinking about pre-ordering tickets.   Damn my predictability!   Damn it all to hell.

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Let’s leave the bitching about the deviation from source material aside, shall we?

That sounds odd coming from me given my untempered rage at X-Men Origins: Wolverine and my deep longing for Deadpool to be as close to the comics as possible, but let’s face it:   Hellblazer (the comic series that Constantine was based on) was going to be changed, like it or not,  given the religious subject matter and John Constantine’s actual behavior in the comics.

Constantine begins with the suicide of Isabel, a troubled young woman who believes she can see angels and demons.   Her twin sister Angela is a detective who is convinced her devoutly Catholic sister could never contemplate an act that would sentence Isabel to a lifetime in hell.   Angela tracks down a reluctant John Constantine, a bitter exorcist who loathes the hand that life dealt him.   It’s only when Constantine gets an inkling of what’s really at stake that he jumps into action.

I don’t find Constantine to be guilty at all; I really enjoy it, for what it’s worth.   (I went to see it in the theater by myself, which is a rare happening given that I hate seeing movies by myself.)   My annoying and not at all charming bias for Keanu Reeves may be showing, but he didn’t do a half-bad job at playing a world-weary, cancer-stricken jerk with a capacity for redemption.    Rachel Weisz does a fairly good job given the fact save for a scene where she comes back from a short jaunt to hell, but who’s counting?    And Shia LaBeouf pops up as an annoying assistant to Constantine, pre-Transformers.   Shit, Gavin Rossdale – Mr. Stefani and frontman of Bush, who I was fond of in my junior high days – makes an appearance as a villain.   Who would have thought, huh?

Constantine does ascribe a very Catholic view of things to its universe.   The special effects aren’t wonderful, but they’re not terrible either; the story’s fairly bland at times but hey, you get Peter Stormare as the Devil!  (It’s worth it to watch just for Stormare’s appearance.  No lie.)

If we’re chalking it up to guilty pleasures, I’d say that Keanu Reeves’ performance is enjoyable in an unironic way, which makes it difficult for some people to admit.    I’d say that it’s fun while being ridiculous; that Tilda Swinton is made of awesome and was perfect casting as an androgynous angel is a good pleasure point, if you will.   The twisty-looking plot isn’t all that twisty; if you sat through a couple of Catholic masses and a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote you’ll see the ending coming but the cast makes it fun while you’re waiting for the climax.

All in all, a nice escapist movie for a rainy weekend, I think.

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