February 28, 2009

#018: W.

I have to admit I was very intrigued when I heard Oliver Stone was going to direct a movie about George W. Bush. With all the controversy that has surrounded W.'s presidency, I thought for sure this would be a very thought-provoking film. One can come at George W. from a lot of different angles. I was afraid this film was going to be a vehicle for releasing the collective liberal frustrations that have been building over the past eight years.

Right from the start the acting really stuck out to me. The first scene played more like a SNL skit than a serious piece of art. Condoleeza Rice was horrible. Each time she was on screen I cringed at how bad it was. Colin Powell was almost as bad, but he actually grew on me as the movie progressed. However, Condoleeza was cheesy and over-acted from beginning to end. Whoever that actress was should never get another role. I guess it isn't completely her fault; somebody should have told her how bad it was and helped her fix it. In the grand scheme of things those characters don't make or break the movie. The real test is whether George himself is believable. At first I wasn't sure about Brolin's W, but a few minutes into it I was completely buying it. His performance alone made this movie worth watching. If Brolin didn't do a great job, this movie would have been turned off in the first 15 minutes.

For most of the movie I was trying to figure out what the point was. I guess Stone was just telling us a story of what might have happened, rather than trying to make any political statements. I actually liked that about the movie, it just wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting, and hoping for, a lot more depth than what there was. It turned out to be be much more of a "fluff piece" than I thought. I am sure they put a lot of money into making this film, but I don't know what they were trying to accomplish. We already knew W. wasn't a eloquent speaker, so I hope they didn't spend all that money to show us that. It came across more as series of scenes strung together instead of a cohesive film with a clear message. It was a fine movie to watch, but ultimately forgettable. When I think of it the only thing I will remember is how pissed off I got when Condoleeza was on screen.


February 21, 2009

#017: Traitor

Don Cheadle stars in this film about the inner workings of a terrorist organization. Going into this movie I hadn't heard anything about it, and had no expectations. I was completely unspoiled. Overall I thought it was a pretty good movie. It has good acting and provides some suspense. However, I didn't really get into the story, and felt the ending was weak. If you really want to see a movie about terrorists I might suggest The Kingdom. I liked that one better than Traitor. I wanted to write a post about Traitor, but I can't really discuss it without giving away some major plot points. So, if you haven't seen it yet, and want to be completely surprised by it, don't read this post. I don't feel this movie packed a whole lot of twists and surprises, but I also wouldn't have liked it as much if I knew the ending. I am planning on giving away pretty much everything, so be aware.

After this movie was over I felt almost like I had watched 3 different movies. I may have been over-thinking things, but the whole message and tone of the movie seemed to completely change as the plot changed. As it was happening I didn't like it. I was disappointed because after the beginning I had come to expect a certain type of movie, and it didn't deliver on that. The last act of this film almost seems as if it was removed from some other movie and tacked on to this one. For me it didn't seem to match what had been built up for the first 1.5 hours. When it was all said and done and I thought about it, I decided that most of this film was interesting and brought up some good questions, but the ending was lame.

The first part of this film opens up by introducing us to Don Cheadle's character Samir. Cheadle is a likable guy anyway, but there is something about the way Samir is portrayed that makes us see how good he is; how he is charismatic and powerful, yet kind. The viewer automatically should start rooting for this guy. The thing is, he is supposed to be a terrorist. That is the first problem I had with this movie. I am not sure how, but from the start I knew Samir wasn't a terrorist. I just knew that Cheadle wasn't going to be playing a terrorist. Also, I don't think Hollywood would actually make a movie that presents a terrorist in such a positive light. However, it took so long to find out Samir's true motives that I started to entertain the thought of him being a "bad guy". I didn't really believe it, I was just thinking "what if". I think it would have made for a very compelling movie. I really liked the character of Samir, but at what point would I turn on him. What would it take to turn my admiration into hatred? The filmmakers could have been tapping into our feelings and emotions towards terrorism in general. For me "terrorist" represents a faceless evil that absolutely has no redeeming qualities. It would have been interesting to find out how I would have reacted when I found out the "good" person I had been rooting for turned out to actually be a terrorist. One can argue that Omar represents that in this movie. He has depth, but not that much likability. The "real" terrorists, who are directing Omar & Samir and coordinating these attacks, are shallow characters which seem to be pure evil. The film even goes out of its way to show how the real terrorist don't even respect the Muslim faith, and are merely using it to control their foot soldiers. This portrayal of those characters completely lends itself to the stereotypes that I came into the movie with.

The second part of this film is when we find out that Samir actually is not a terrorist, but a secret US government agent who is in deep cover. Now there is an explanation for why Samir seems so great. Of course, he is working for the United States, why wouldn't be be awesome? Now the whole tone of the movie seems to change. Now we are faced with a question of how we go about catching terrorists, and does the ends justify the means. Sacrifices will have to be made, but is it all worth it if we can take down a terrorist organization. It was interesting here how they paralleled the terrorist leaders and Samir's commanding officer. Both are pressuring Samir to do things that he doesn't agree with. In both cases they accomplish this by preying on his faith and kindheartedness. At this point I thought the movie was going to continue in this direction. I also think this would have made for an interesting film. It is something that I hadn't really thought about before. However, the movie never seemed to go any further down that path. As I was watching, I got this feeling that the movie wanted to be about something important. It wanted to have this depth, but never quite got there. I felt like it had something important to say, but at the end I am really not sure what that could have been.

This brings us up to the ending. For me, the end starts when we see Samir's commanding officer get killed. Earlier in the film they go out of their way to explain that nobody else knows about Samir's undercover operations except for this one guy. Even his boss doesn't know who Samir really is. The entire film Samir is on the FBI's terrorist watch list and they are trying to track him down. So now, the only person who knew Samir was a good guy is dead. I wasn't expecting this, and when I saw him get killed I felt a lot of tension. How was Samir going to convince the FBI that he really was working for them? How was he going to accomplish this without blowing his cover with the terrorists? He seemed to be in a dire predicament that there was no easy way out of. I thought maybe he was going to flee with the terrorists and live the rest of his life in exile. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I was convinced that the rest of the time was going to be spent telling us this story. Much to my chagrin, this issue was resolved with a very short email... no questions asked. Then after that was resolved I felt the rest was very abrupt. There was no focus on the relationships that had been built throughout the entire movie. Specifically, the relationship between Samir and Omar seemed pointless in the end. I guess Samir didn't kill Omar, and he trusted that Omar wouldn't kill him, even though he was obviously the enemy at this point. The movie was just kind of anti-climactic for me. Then they came back and showed us this scene between Samir and the FBI agent. The action is all over, and they always have to come back and tie things up. For some movies, that is okay, but in this one it was pointless. I mean, why was that scene even there, and what did it accomplish? That really bugged me. It would have been better if they had left that part off. It offered nothing to the story other than to show us that Samir had lived and he wasn't going to be charged for the things he did. I don't think they had to give that to us, I know I would have been fine without it.


February 10, 2009

#016: Funny Games

I hate watching scary movies.  I don't get any enjoyment out of the fear I feel when seeing the "boogie man" jump out from behind a door.  I can't handle the gore and graphic images of violence and murder. They are ingrained into my memory, and I can't shake the disgusting feeling even after the movie is over.  At the same time I really enjoy the psychological thrillers.  For some reason the fear is different.  I am actually afraid of this thing that has the potential to cause me harm, rather than being afraid of seeing an image that will be burned on my brain for all eternity.  I have probably missed out on a lot of good thrillers because I am too wary of having to sit through the blood and guts.  Every now and then I will get up the courage to watch one of these "scary" movies.  This past weekend I watched the movie Funny Games, and it is seems to have been the perfect scary movie for me.

The 2007 version of Funny Games with Naiomi Watts is a remake of a German movie done by the same director.  It tells the story of a wealthy family that is captured inside of their lake house and tortured by a couple of preppy-looking young men.  This film is unlike any other I have seen in several ways.  First off, it is a movie on its own, but it is also a commentary on the entire horror genre.  It isn't just another scary movie, instead it challenges pretty much everything we expect out of such a film.  It somewhat gives you the formulaic plot, but chooses to do things that no other movie would try.  Also, there are a few instances in this film where the "bad guys" look right into the camera and talk to you, the viewer.  I mean, that is just odd.   I am going to try to describe why I liked the movie without ruining anything for you.  I feel like I am hyping this up way too much.  Don't go into the film feeling like you are going to watch a scary movie that just blows every other scary movie out of the water.  Its not going to do that.  In fact, it is going to do the opposite of that, which I am not sure makes any sense.  To be honest with you, I was more interested than scared during most of the film.

The best way I can describe it is this film dangles a carrot in front of you from the very beginning.  It starts out pretty ambiguous, and builds a little bit of tension.  Then we are shown who the bad guys are, and try to figure out their intentions.  This process seems to be all building towards something, but we are not sure what. Then we wait for the payoff, but it just isn't going to come.  In most horror movies there is some relief in the tension when we see the pretty girl get captured and stabbed to death.  In that moment our fear culminates as we see the violent act, then it is gone until the director chooses to build it up again.  In this movie, the tension just lazily hangs over you.  All of the violence takes place off screen, and we merely see the tame aftermath.  The director never gives you the feeling of "getting off" on the violence.  For me, I really enjoyed what he was trying to do.  I could imagine what was happening, without having it shoved in my face.  There are also points in this film where time just drags on.  The pacing become so slow that it is almost unbearable.  Some people will think, "this is totally stupid", but they are doing that on purpose.  They are forcing you to sit there and endure it.  It is almost as if we are being tortured by having to watch the movie, just as the family is being tortured in the movie.  Usually describing a movie as "torturous to watch"  is a bad thing, but here it is the entire point.  You get lots of time to savor that feeling of unrest that is just sitting there in the pit of your stomach.

Towards the end of this film something takes place that I have never seen in a movie like this before.  I am not going to tell you what it is, but I will say that the movie gives you something, and as soon as you realize what has happened, it takes it right back away from you.  What it gives you will probably make you happy, but then the joy is gone, and you are left to consider why it made you so happy.  I am not going to lie, I had a huge smile on my face, and I am not sure why.  But then once it was taken away I was pissed, and again, I can't explain why.  At the end of this film I felt like I had endured something painful, and gotten no reward for it.  Right at first I actually hated it.  Then as time passed I started to think about it, and understand what it was doing, and I could at least appreciate it.  I have a really hard time recommending this movie.  I mean, I want everybody to see it so I can hear what you think about it.  However, I am not going to sit here and tell you that you have to take the time to watch it.  I think people who really like the genre might have the strongest reaction to this film.  Most will probably hate it, but maybe it will give some insight into your own desire to watch horror movies.  If you are like me, and you don't really like horror movies, then I don't know what to tell you.  I had some fun watching this movie, but I am almost ashamed to admit that.  I went into it knowing what to expect, or at least what not to expect, and that helped with my overall experience.  I think you should watch it, but when it is over don't blame me.  

February 5, 2009

#015: Rundown

I thought I would do a quick rundown of movies that I have seen in the past couple months that I am not going to dedicate an entire post to. So here we go....

The Visitor: Richard Jenkins is up for an Oscar for his leading role in this film.  I enjoyed it, and he does a great acting job, but the movie itself wasn't that great.  It was really slow, and for some reason I found it frustrating.  It is worth watching, but you are going to have to focus in order to stay with it.  Maybe I was just overly ADD the day I watched it.  

Kung Fu Panda:  This was an alright animated movie.  I feel like it was hyped up quite a bit and it didn't live up to those expectations for me.  I am not a Kung Fu fan, so a lot of the draw of this movie was probably lost on me.  I enjoyed it, and it definitely held my attention.  I could even probably watch it again if I had to. 

The House Bunny: Wow, this was pretty bad.  A few laughs in a movie riddled with horrible acting.  The sad thing is I actually watched it twice in the time we had it from Netflix.  I guess that says something about it.  I don't watch many movies multiple times, especially in that short amount of time.  I didn't watch it twice by choice, it just happened, and the second time I only half paid attention.  It is not a good movie.  

The King Of Kong:  I really wanted to dedicated a post to this documentary, but I didn't really have much to say about it.  I was pleasantly surprised by this film about the race to hold the high score for the classic video game, Donkey Kong.  It is difficult to believe, but it made me get this tense feeling as I was wondering how this was all going to play out.  That just goes to show that the people behind this documentary did a good job putting it together.  I thought it was great, and would recommend anybody to see it if you can get your hands on it.  

Wall-E:  I started writing a post about this one, but never took the time to finish it.  Going into this movie I probably had some unrealistically high expectations.  All I heard about was how great this movie was; one of the best animated movies of all time.  I really loved this movie for the first 45 minutes.  I could see the magic that everybody else was talking about.  I just really liked the feeling of watching Wall-E cube up all the trash on Earth, all by himself.  When he leaves Earth I think the movie changed for me.  I still liked it, but it didn't have that same tone that made me like the beginning so much.  It was very funny and clever in the space ship, but it just wasn't the same.  Overall it was still a wonderful movie.  I am looking forward to watching it again sometime.  I think it should win the Oscar for best animated feature film, but definitely not the one for best writing (original screenplay); especially when In Bruges is nominated in that same category.  I will definitely be pulling for In Bruges to take that one.  

American Teen: This is a documentary about high-schoolers from Warsaw Indiana.  Aside from the fact that Warsaw is just a little ways from where I grew up and went to high school, the premise of this film was interesting to me.  I liked this movie a lot, but it is not without its faults.  In fact, there are quite a few things that compromised the authenticity of what they were showing us.  It was cool to watch because they showed clips of a basketball game with East Noble.  They sectionals that Warsaw played in was held at the East Noble gymnasium.  Those type of things made it seem more real, but other times I felt like I was watching a reality TV show.  Overall it was definitely enjoyable.  I would recommend it, but don't come in with too high of hopes.  

Wit:  This is a film starring Emma Thompson about a woman undergoing cancer treatment.  It was originally a stage play, then adapted for this movie.  I didn't like how obvious it was that this story was meant to be told on the stage with a live audience.  For some reason that bothered me.  At the beginning of the movie I was not emotionally connected to it at all.  Actually, through most of the movie I felt very little emotion at all.  To the credit of this movie, it did hook me in towards the end, and it impacted me more that I thought it could.  It deals with serious subject matter, and sad situations.  I can't really say it was an enjoyable experience to watch. 

Mr. Woodcock:  This had been sitting on our DVR for quite a while, so I figured it was finally time to watch it.  I really didn't like this movie.  It does have some laughs, but for the most  part it is just stupid.  


February 4, 2009

#014: Zack & Miri Make A Porno

The most recent Kevin Smith installment stars Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks as Zack and Miri. These long-time friends, and roommates, are a little bit down on their luck. They are having trouble paying the bills, but aren't having problems paying for new sex toys. When they get their water and power turned off they decide it is time to take action. A chance meeting with a gay porn star played by Justin Long inspires Zack to make his own porno movie to make some cash. Zach & Miri have always been good friends, and never romantically involved with one another. Of course, the porn is going to require them to sleep together, bringing out all these suppressed feelings they have been holding inside. I am sure you can figure out the rest.
I don't know how I feel about Kevin Smith. I liked Jay & Silent Bob, and Mallrats, but I definitely wouldn't call myself one of his fans. For some reason I had high hopes going into Zach & Miri. I heard really good reviews, and I like Rogan, so I thought for sure I would like it. At the beginning of the film, I did like it. I it is little "raw", but I found it pretty funny at the beginning. The scene with Justin Long was very funny, by far the best part of the entire movie. I don't especially like Justin Long, but he was very good in this small part. Then we come to the part where they decide to make a porno. For me, the movie started falling apart around this time. I knew this movie would be raunchy, which is fine. I also expected it to push the envelope and present some situations that haven't been done before. Instead, I got a totally formulaic love story, with lots of bad language and nudity. Then at the end it was overly sweet to the point of being totally cheesy. I was really disappointed with it.
The acting in this movie was marginal at best. Rogan did a pretty good job, I felt his character was the most believable in this somewhat ridiculous movie. Elizabeth Banks was great at the beginning of the film. I loved when she was on screen. Then she totally stops talking and doesn't even seem to be in the film for much of the ending. I really didn't like how big of a change her character seemed to go through. I understand that she is dealing with feelings of confusion, anger, or jealousy... that that doesn't mean she has to totally lose the personality her character had.
I thought Banks and Rogan had really good chemistry when they were being friends, but I just never bought them as lovers. It just wasn't there, and towards the end of the movie their relationship felt totally bogus. I also thought some of the situations in the movie were very odd. Zack is totally crude and will say or do anything. He obviously doesn't care what other people think of him at all. Then when it is his time to do his movie scene he completely changes into some dork who is very bad at acting, even for a porno. It was really out of character. I realize that he is supposed to be nervous about finally sleeping with his long-time friend that he has secretly been in love with. But seriously, is he really going to act that stupid about it. I mean, he was the one who was all about doing the porno in the first place, you would think he would be a little more 'professional' about it. Anyway, I digress... I would say the rest of the acting in this movie was border-line horrible. For me it got pretty annoying towards the end. Jason Mewes, who plays Jay in most Smith movies, did a really good job. His character was actually pretty funny. Everybody else was just bad. The dude from Clerks wasn't great, and Craig Robinson from The Office was just kinda bad. The rest of the porno cast was just horrible.
The biggest problem I had with this movie is how predictable and boring this story was. I felt like I had seen this movie before, just with a lot less cussing. I don't know what I was expecting, but I thought Smith might have a new interesting take on the "friends to lovers" story. Maybe I had too high of expectations. I had a real problem with how corny things got at the end. I felt like I was watching a totally different movie. Everything was just so sweet and... stupid. I really didn't like it. This movie does have some funny parts, but there were a lot of jokes that didn't work. I might recommend that you watch the first part of this movie, then just turn it off, but that isn't realistic. I will probably have to say skip this one to most people, but you can make your own decision if you want to watch it or not.

~ I would probably give this movie 1.5 stars, but that would be pushing it. I had high expectations that were definitely not met. Chances are you will like it better than me, it seems that most people do.


February 3, 2009

#013: Craptastic-ness

This post will have very little to do with movies. I am sorry that I am going to subject you to inane musings about my life. Things haven't been going great around here the past week or so. Last Monday my wife slid off the road and smashed her truck into a guard rail. Thankfully she is fine. Then we had the infamous ice storm of 2009, as the Arkansans are calling it. We were stuck in the house for a couple of days with no television and intermittent internet. The restlessness of being stuck inside, combined with our constant forced proximity, led us to have shorter tempers than we would normally have with one another. The biggest argument between my wife and I was on the subject of her driving ability, or lack thereof, in a PS3 game. I don't blame her for the "real-life" accident she had, but maybe subconsciously I released my frustration by snickering at her inability to use her e-brake to effectively do a 180 in Burnout Paradise. Regardless of the underlying reasons, there were heightened stress levels in the Bidwell household. It didn't help that I was still responsible for getting my work done for my actual job. When the internet was working I had to sit in my office and try to focus on php & JAVA code whilst my wife was enjoying our new playstation 3. In general the situation at work has been worsening for several weeks now. It seems there is a cloud of tension that has descended over my department. It definitely hasn't been as much fun to go to work lately. Last week it seemed like everything put stress on me. I was sure our trees were going to be ruined from all the ice. Every time I looked out the window I thought about the money we spent to have our tree planted, and the money it would cost to replace it. I knew that if I attempted to make it into the office I was going to wreck my car, rendering us completely car-less. At the end of it all our trees were fine, and I got a ride into work. We were lucky that we kept power throughout the whole ordeal. We only lost it for a couple of hours total, so we were very fortunate. If we had lost power things would have been much worse. Now the ice has all melted and we are trying to cope with only one vehicle. That, in itself has been a cause of stress. I am trying to be as gracious as possible, but I seem to keep saying/doing the wrong things. We just got the estimate for the truck today, and it won't be fixed until the end of next week. That seems like a long time, but I am sure it will feel much much longer than what it actually is. I think of myself as a pretty laid back person who doesn't let things get to him too much, so I will have to remember that for the next couple weeks. Hopefully things will improve at work also. I don't want this post to make me seem like a whiny little bitch. I realize how lucky I am to have the life I do, and wouldn't trade it for the world. I learned from 60 minutes that the key to happiness is having low expectations. I have been working on lowering my general expectations for my life. I think too many people get wrapped up in the "American Dream", then are disappointed when they don't achieve everything they thought they should have. I definitely fall into that same trap. Sometimes I think about my future and just expect to have a nice house and a great family. I am not saying you shouldn't be optimistic, but you should open your mind to the possibilities of what life would be like if everything were taken away. This is much easier to do in our current state of the economy. I complain about my job, but I am so glad that I have it. There are so many people who aren't so lucky. Anyway, this is starting to get kinda lame, so I should probably cut myself off.
Back to movie talk... Another disappointing thing about this past week is that we were stuck inside with little else to do other than watch movies, and I only watched two. I guess I just wasn't in the mood, which proves just how out-of-whack things actually are. Usually I love watching any movie, any time. I did finally get to see "Wanted". This is definitely a "popcorn flick", and for what it was, I really liked it. The special effects were pretty impressive, and it had some great scenes. The overall plot was kinda weak, but I was expecting that. The action and effects kept it interesting. I do think it fell apart a little bit at the very end. The whole movie was kinda cheesy, but it was even worse right at the last. I still would definitely recommend watching it. It is a fun movie that you can just sit back and enjoy. I think I was in the perfect mood for this movie last week, so I liked it even more than I otherwise would have.

~Wanted gets 3 stars for a solid action movie... it is what it is, so don't expect too much.