Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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September and October in the Chair

Some of you may have missed my last post, which features a book review that may be Relevant to Your Interests. This post, however, features many such possibly relevant movie reviews.

Hot Tub Time Machine: It's all right there in the title, guys. It's a hot tub...time machine. Four guys go back to 1986 and try not to fuck up the timeline while at the same time attempting to relive their glory days (except for Clark Duke, who wasn't even born yet). Rob Corddry is a complete asshole and John Cusack is a sad sack, but Craig Robinson is pretty much gold throughout the entire movie. Clark Duke is also pretty funny. There are three writers credited for the screenplay, and it shows, as there are quite a few really funny lines that don't seem to gel with the rest of the movie in style, but they made the movie more entertaining than it otherwise would have been. It's a very masculine movie, which means it's pretty misogynistic. Are there raunchy comedies starring women? Or are they all about sad men and their problems who solve everything through male bonding? Anyway, I'm a sucker for time travel, and this is not the greatest time travel comedy ever, but it's fairly entertaining and it has fun with the concept. Plus, Lizzy Caplan. B/B+

Batman: Under the Red Hood: The latest DC animated movie features Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Jensen Ackles as Red Hood, Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, and Jason Isaacs as Ra's al-Ghul! It's still odd to watch Timmverse-style animation with different character designs and voices, but the good thing about these movies is they get to be PG-13. This is not a movie for children. Villains actually get to kill people in cold blood, and the story builds to a totally fucked-up climax (that, unfortunately, doesn't go quite over the edge enough). Ackles brings the pain, as is his wont, especially in those final scenes, where he almost made me feel actual emotion! NPH is mostly around to deliver wisecracks, which is odd since I tend to think of Nightwing as much more serious. All in all, a good, dark outing for the Dark Knight. B+

13 Going on 30: This is sort of also a time travel comedy, in that a 13-year-old Jennifer Garner in 1987 gets transported into her 30-year-old body in 2004 through the magical power of wishing dust. What, at least it's not a wishing machine. Okay, the wishing machine was cooler, I'll give you that. Jennifer Garner is superduperadorable, oh my God. She is completely bright and bubbly, and I never failed to be amused by her bonding with fellow 13-year-olds. "Good luck with fractions!" The movie gets a lot of mileage out of the fish-out-of-water humor, and because Garner gives it her all, it never gets old. Eventually, it does settle into a more serious plot involving her job at a fashion magazine, and as she reconnects with her childhood best friend, she wonders about the person she grew up to be. The movie does succumb to romantic comedy tropes in the end, but it still got to me. I forgot how good a crier Jennifer Garner is. B+

Arachnophobia: I loved this movie when I was a kid, and it still holds up twenty years later. Jeff Daniels is a big-city doctor who moves to a small town that just happens to have been paid a visit by a new species of spider from Venezuela with a fatal bite. Soon, people start dying, and there is all kinds of spider-related mayhem. This movie is not for people who don't like spiders! Especially when they crawl on your face and stuff! But it has a very good, snarky sense of humor (that could stand to be a little more prevalent, really), and John Goodman is very amusing as a weirdo exterminator. It gets off to a slow start, and there are perhaps too many foreboding shots of spiders crawling around, but once the bodies start dropping, the movie picks up and makes you squirm. And laugh! As the trailer says, it's a THRILLOMEDY. B+

The A-Team: In business class, movies are free! So why not watch The A-Team on the plane to Paris? It's a much more serious movie than I expected, with tongue less firmly in cheek than a movie adaptation of an '80s television show ought to have, really. I mean, B.A. actually gets a character arc. And the plot is also fairly complicated, although unclear motivations complicate more than they should. I shouldn't have that hard a time following a summer popcorn flick! The cast is great, however, and the movie is pretty fun and ridiculous, with plenty of explosions and a tank falling from the sky. B/B+

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Why is Persia populated with white dudes with British accents?? No, really, it's honestly distracting. Eventually it did stop distracting me, and I could concentrate on the sandy adventure. Dastan and Tamina do make a fun, snarky pair, but I feel like so much more could have been done with the dagger. There could have been some incredible, but possibly hard-to-follow, fight sequences where Dastan uses the dagger to redo split-second decisions. Instead, it's always used to go back several seconds. Also, not once—not ONCE—does he run along the side of a wall. COME ON NOW. B

Predators: This movie begins with maybe one of the best openings I've ever seen—Adrien Brody waking up in freefall and crashing down in the jungle. What? What the hell is going on? Exactly! The marketing never played up the use of one of my favorite, though possibly overused, story concepts: a bunch of strangers put together in an unfamiliar environment for an unknown reason. Since we're dealing with Predators, though, we're pretty sure they're there to be the prey. The first half of the movie is particularly impressive because I noticed that there wasn't a single wasted scene; I was fully engaged in their plight the whole time. Who are they, why are they here, how will they survive? The movie moves. The second half, when the Predators are more prominent, feels a little weaker, but in the movie's defense, it was very hard to see what the hell was going on on my little Delta screen because the movie is so dark. Not in its defense, however, the first movie was able to be suspenseful and scary with most of the action taking place in the light. The sole female character is pretty cool and competent and not just there to be placed in peril all the time. I mean, everyone's in peril at one point or another. For a new-school take on an old-school action flick, it does very well. B+/A-

Mystery Men: If I'm not mistaken, this was one of the first entries into the "second-string superhero" genre, featuring Mr. Furious, whose power comes from his boundless rage, the Shoveler, who...has a shovel, and the Blue Raja, who throws cutlery. These lame, ineffective superheroes demand the respect that Captain Amazing and his multiple product endorsements command, and they get their chance when they attempt to defeat Casanova Frankenstein. There are various good ideas in this movie, but the execution falls flat more often than not. Half the characters speak in silly accents, and the jokes are very hit-or-miss (Janeane Garofalo is basically all hit, however, even though she doesn't show up for forty-five minutes). The movie doesn't have much of a sense of direction (it's a half hour too long), and it's full of bizarre and distracting first-person POV shots, as if the director just learned how to use a camera. (And sure enough, this was the director's first and only film. I guess he realized he wasn't a very good filmmaker.) It's kind of a mess, but it has its moments, and it does have a great cast. B

Monsters vs. Aliens: This movie is about, well, monsters. And they are versus some aliens. Well, really, one giant alien robot and a Rainn Wilson-voiced alien overlord. It's always nice when an animated movie has a female protagonist who's not a princess in need of being rescued, and Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is pretty great as a reluctant monster who has a journey of self-discovery aided by a fish-man (Will Arnett), a cockroach mad scientist (Hugh Laurie), a blob (Seth Rogen), and a giant insect. There are cute references to monster and alien movies, and the monsters (especially BOB) are pretty entertaining, but the movie doesn't seem to reach its full potential. It could gel a little better, and it could be snappier, but it's fun and has several good jokes. Plus, Stephen Colbert as the President. B/B+

Kissing Cousins: After developing a crush on Rebecca Hazlewood in Outsourced, I had to Netflix her first American movie, a romantic comedy about Amir, a "relationship termination specialist" who breaks up with people on behalf of others. He's a single guy with couple friends, and then he meets his hot British cousin, Zara (the aforementioned Hazlewood, using her natural accent), after twenty years, and she pretends to be his girlfriend. But then he starts falling for her! Of course. This was writer-director Amyn Kaderali's first feature, and it's definitely trying a little too hard to be "indie" and "quirky" at times, with some annoying stock characters, but the characters that actually seem like people are nice. Amir is generally likable but a bit bland, which I think comes from the actor, who doesn't really sell the climactic speech at the end. I did really enjoy watching a movie about an Indian protagonist whose story didn't revolve around being Indian, though. Hell, except for a few lines here and there, the main characters could have been white. Rebecca Hazlewood is a joy to watch, as expected. The movie also features David Alan Grier, Jaleel White, and Zone from Dollhouse. Overall, it's a decent movie, a good effort, and even though it does employ some rom-com clichés, it didn't do everything I expected it to do, so that was kind of nice. B/B+

Noises Off...: It's a crime to be a theatre person and not to have seen this movie, so I have rectified said crime. The movie is based on a play in three acts. The first act shows us the tech/dress rehearsal of Nothing On, a British sex farce. Michael Caine, the director, is trying to reel in his actors—including Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Marilu Henner, Nicollete Sheridan, Carol Burnett, and Denholm Elliott—while making sure props are set correctly and doors actually open and close with the help of stage manager Julie Hagerty and techie Mark Linn-Baker. The rehearsal doesn't go smoothly, but it's not that bad. The play-within-the-movie is actually pretty funny. I was a little underwhelmed by how little went wrong until I realized that we as the audience need to get a decent picture of what is supposed to happen. Because the second act is a disastrous matinee that we mainly see from backstage, and it's brilliantly choreographed so that the backstage antics become as farcical as the on-stage action. Seriously, the timing and camerawork is pretty amazing. And then the third act takes disaster to a whole new low. Noises Off... is a classic behind-the-scenes theatre film for a reason. Unlike Slings and Arrows, it doesn't really have anything to say about theatre, really, but it's an entertaining farce that hits its mark. A-

Infernal Affairs: I love The Departed, but that fabulous idea of two moles trying to suss each other out originally came from this Hong Kong film. Yan is the cop who infiltrates the Triads, and Lau is the Triad who infiltrates the police force. The Departed did take many scenes and set-pieces directly from the original film, and...I kind of like the Hollywood version better most of the time? What, I'm a Scorsese fan. The original film is an hour shorter than its Hollywood counterpart, the biggest difference being the relationship with the psychiatrist (the American version combined Lau's girlfriend and Yan's psychiatrist into one Vera Farmiga, which confused me because I assumed they were the same person here at first). The movie doesn't really need that, so it's okay, but I do feel like more time could have been spent on the relationship between Yan and Sam, the crime boss, who's a lot more likable in this movie than Jack Nicholson's Costello. One aspect in which I think the original film is superior is the characterization of Lau (Matt Damon's character in The Departed). He's much more interesting and comes off as one of two protagonists rather than the antagonist. The movie moves swiftly and hits the right beats as Yan and Lau play their deadly cat-and-mouse game. B+

Goodfellas: It's easy to see why this Scorsese gangster flick is considered a masterpiece. Throughout its two hours and twenty minutes, you know you're in the hands of a master storyteller, being told a story. That story is the tale of Henry Hill, a real-life gangster played by Ray Liotta. There isn't a specific plot, per se; rather, we simply follow Hill from the beginning of his gangster life to the end. It's kind of like a slice-of-life gangster movie, in a way. What is it like to be a gangster? It focuses on mundane, procedural aspects rather than complicated gang wars or detailed heists. Hill is an interesting protagonist because he's kind of likable as our narrator, and in comparison to his buddies played by Robert De Niro and a very foul-mouthed Joe Pesci, he's not as violent and hardcore, but he does have his more despicable moments, especially as the film goes on and he becomes more of a Gangster. The movie is full of great scenes, as well as small roles for Debi Mazar, Michael Imperioli, and Samuel L. Jackson. Hill's wife is underwritten and underused as a second narrator, but I suppose you can't have everything. A-

Outsourced: The current television show is based on this movie, which follows Todd Anderson, a Seattle call center manager who is sent to India when the call center is outsourced. The company sells novelty items like cheeseheads and hot dog toasters, and he must teach the call center agents a little about America so they can sell the items successfully. Whereas the TV show is more of an office comedy with wacky characters saying funny things, the movie is more about Todd's experience in India. It's less offensive and more respectful than the show, as it was actually filmed in India. It feels more like the India I know, and the fish-out-of-water humor worked because I was familiar with those experiences myself. It's actually quite lovely to watch Todd's growing appreciation for his new locale...and Asha, the outspoken call center agent who tells him he needs to learn about India. It's a nice little movie. B+

The Evil Dead: Five idiot college students spend the night in a creepy cabin in the woods, where they unwittingly unleash Candarian demons who possess them and turn them into...the evil dead! Bruce Campbell must survive both bloodthirsty monsters and terrible dialogue! Not to mention bad acting! It's a low-budget, home-grown horror movie, but once the scares start coming, actually, it's kind of terrifying. Also, extremely bloody, gory, and gross. This movie is not for the faint of heart. It all leads up to one of the longest and grossest death scenes I've ever seen. There's not a lot to this cult classic besides bloody mayhem and Bruce Campbell, but sometimes that's all you need. B/B+

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn: This sequel/remake recaps/retcons the first movie in five minutes and picks up with Ash fighting the forces of darkness alone, until he's joined by a few soon-to-be demons. Evil Dead 2 plays up everything to a ridiculous extent. Ash has a fight with a severed head, an evil hand, himself, etc. Bruce Campbell goes all out with the camp and engages in some fantastic physical comedy in between all the screaming (well, also during the screaming). While Ash is surprisingly lame in the first movie, surviving it has made him awesome, and in this movie he transforms into the iconic character we know and love. I may have clapped when he finally said, "Groovy." The "deadites" have been redesigned and reimagined a bit since the first movie, and, strangely enough, the better makeup makes them less scary, which is fine since this movie isn't really supposed to be scary. It's got great stop-motion work and impressive POV shots, and it actually tries to have more of a plot than the first one. Tries. There's a stretch early on that doesn't seem to have any narrative drive, but it picks up. Then there are buckets, geysers, oceans of blood and gore, but in a funny way rather than a gross way. Finally, this movie has the best Hemingway-related visual gag EVER. B+

Army of Darkness: I was going to skip the final installment in the trilogy since I'd already seen it a couple times, but it had been a while, so I gave it another whirl. As in the previous sequel, this one takes the first five minutes to recap the story with some minor changes and then drops Ash in medieval times, where he must recover the Necronomicon and defeat the Army of the Dead. Ash has much more personality here than in Evil Dead II, and nearly every one of his lines is quotable. The movie has a little more of a plot than its predecessors, which is both good and bad, since it makes some of the gratuitous silliness seem, well, gratuitous, even if it's hilarious. It's full of Three Stooges humor and one terrible pun. Like Evil Dead II, it's got great stop-motion work and impressive POV shots. The villain is unfortunately kind of lame, but he's probably supposed to be. All in all, it's just as good as I remember it, and it was great to watch it in context. B+

The Lost Boys: I probably saw this classic vampire movie when I was a kid, but what better time to (re)watch it then Halloween? A family moves to the Murder Capital of the World. The older brother falls in with a vampire pack led by Kiefer Sutherland, and the younger brother meets a couple kid vampire hunters led by Corey Feldman. There are two movies at odds with each other here. One is the story of a teenager struggling with incipient vampirism, and the other is some sort of silly The Goonies Meet the Vampires thing. They don't really mesh well together. The first half of the movie is strangely boring, although it's moody and atmospheric, but once the actual vampire action starts going, it's not bad. I want to like it more than I actually do, but I have to give it points for Richard Gilmore and Bill S. Preston, Vampire. And coining the phrase, "vamp out." Also, an awesome last line. B/B+

It's hard to fit in movies now that the television season has started!
Tags: being indian, making the grade, movies
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