Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Matt Farrell (Justin Long): Did you see that?
John McClane (Bruce Willis): Yeah, I saw it. I did it!

Matt Farrell: You just killed a helicopter with a car!
John McClane: I was out of bullets.

Matt Farrell: Oh, great! There goes the cell phone.
John McClane: They knocked the satellites out?
Matt Farrell: No, your battery ran out.

Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead): Listen, will you just take a minute, and just dig deep for a bigger set of balls because you’re gonna need ‘em before we’re through.
Matt Farrell: Wow! I know that tone, it’s just weird hearing it from someone with…hair.

Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant): McClane? I thought I killed you already.
John McClane: I get that sometimes.

At a glance: Bruce Willis returns in glory for the 4th- and perhaps the best – of the Die Hard movies. Over the top action builds to an even more over the top climax as John McClane fights to defeat a cyber-terrorist – and rescue his daughter.

When the FBI gets hacked, the put out a directive to round up the A list of top suspect hackers. John McLaine (Bruce Willis) is interrupted while stalking his daughter to get one of them, Matt Farrell. When a group of heavily armed thugs try to kill Farrell just as McLaine gets there, it’s probably because Farrell knows something about who and why someone is trying to shut down all vital US computer systems. Top-notch action film moves at breakneck speed right from the start to the exhilarating finale, leaving the audience with no time to think about how preposterous most of the movie is; in short, the perfect action movie! Willis was 52 when this was made, but still seems right at home in a very physical setting – and I’m not ashamed to admit I loved his passionate joyous responses whenever he kills a particularly evil bad guy. A personal favorite of mine, Justin Long, who was terribly nerdy as the teen fan of Galaxy Quest, is now 7 years older with facial hair and a disarmingly Keanu Reeves quality – and he’s still great. Timothy Olyphant also does a nice turn as a super-smart and polished terrorist. And Maggie Q is fun to watch. Director Len Wiseman allows his personal fandom of the Die Hard series to influence – and improve – the end product. Rating: 3.5 of 4

"With an infectious laugh when he blows up the bad guys and the power to stay alive no matter what, Bruce Willis' John McClane is a welcome sight back in theaters."
- Kevin A. Ranson (

"It is is about as realistic as a Tom & Jerry cartoon, but then again, this is a Die Hard movie…"
- James O'Ehley (SA Movie & DVD Magazine)

"Hugely enjoyable action flick that delivers likeable characters, a decent plot, plenty of wisecracks and more breathtakingly ridiculous stunts than you'll know what to do with."
- Matthew Turner (ViewLondon)

The Fountain (2007)

"Our bodies are prisons for our souls. Our skin and blood, the iron bars of confinement. But fear not. All flesh decays. Death turns all to ash. And thus, death frees every soul."
- Grand Inquisitor Silecio (Stephen McHattie)

Izzi (Rachel Weisz): Will you deliver Spain from bondage?
Tom Verde (Hugh Jackman): Upon my honor and my life.
Izzi: Then you shall take this ring to remind you of your promise. You shall wear it when you find Eden, and when you return, I shall be your Eve. Together we will live forever.

 "Death is a disease; it’s like any other. And there’s a cure…a cure. And I will find it,"
- Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman)

At a glance: Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious tale of life, love, death, and immortality spans the ages and provides some unique visual imagery, but it drowns in a sea of its own murkiness and inaccessibility.

Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman) is a surgeon who redirects his work and risks his career to try to find a cure for his wife’s Izzi’s (Rachel Weisz) cancer. 500 years earlier, a conquistador fights to save his queen, and supports her in her quest to find the Tree of Eternal Life and the ancient Mayan Fountain of Youth. Muddled, uninvolving, and inaccessible until past the halfway point, it finally begins to gain some traction with its core story of love, death, redemption, and immortality – but most viewers would have turned out by this point. There’s no doubting director Darren Aronofsky’s prodigious talent (check out Pi) but he just can’t get his massive message across. It’s as if Aronofsky is channeling a metaphysical David Lynch. Clint Mansell’s always-wonderful music, the visual imagery, and the warm, dark sets are almost enough to compensate for the murky narrative. Note that this film originally had double the budget it ended up with; when Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett pulled out, Aronofsky recast and restructured the film. I thought Rachel Weisz lacked the ability to portray the depth this story required; as Roger Ebert mentions in the quote below, a director’s cut might be interesting as well. Rating: 2 of 4

"And yet I believe we have not seen the real film. When a $75 million production goes into turnaround and is made for $35 million, elements get eliminated. When a film telling three stories and spanning thousands of years has a running time of 96 minutes, scenes must have been cut out. There will someday be a Director’s Cut of this movie, and that’s the cut I want to see."
- Roger Ebert

"I don't pretend to fully understand Darren Aronofsky's latest film, to unravel its knots of time and character, or its oozing realities. But at its core there is the unmistakable essay on the way love is cheated by death, just as death is cheated by love."
- Urban Cinefile Critics (Urban Cinefile)

"This film raises an interesting question: How far is a viewer willing to follow a talented filmmaker down a rabbit hole, when it becomes clear that said filmmaker has lost his way?"
- Steve Biodrowski (ESplatter)

"There is a strange deadness in the film, together with a callow self-importance and self-pity which become more stultifying with every minute that passes."
- Peter Bradshaw (Guardian [UK])

"If only all reputed turkeys gave us such a trip."
- Tim Robey (Daily Telegraph)

Office Space (1999)

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston): [discussing the possibility of going to prison] This isn't Riyadh. You know they're not gonna saw your hands off here, alright? The worst they would ever do is they would put you for a couple of months into a white-collar, minimum-security resort! Shit, we should be so lucky! Do you know, they have conjugal visits there?
Samir (Ajay Naidu): Really?
Peter Gibbons: Yes.
Michael Bolton (David Herman): Shit. I'm a free man and I haven't had a conjugal visit in six months.

Peter Gibbons: [talking about the hypnotherapist he's about to see] Hey, he helped Anne lose weight.
Samir: Peter, she's anorexic!
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, he's really good.

Samir: No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It's not that hard: Samir Na-gheen-an-a-jar. Nagheenanajar.
Michael Bolton: Yeah, well at least your name isn't Michael Bolton.
Samir: You know there's nothing wrong with that name.
Michael Bolton: There was nothing wrong with it... until I was about 12 years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
Samir: Hmm... well why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
Michael Bolton: No way. Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

Peter Gibbons: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence (Diedrich Bader): I'll tell you what I'd do, man: two chicks at the same time, man.
Peter Gibbons: That's it? If you had a million dollars, you'd do two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I were a millionaire I could hook that up, too; 'cause chicks dig dudes with money.
Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.
Lawrence: Well, the type of chicks that'd double up on a dude like me do.

"The ratio of people to cake is too big."
- Milton Waddams (Stephen Root)

Peter Gibbons: [about the plan to steal from Initech] Before we go any further, all right, we have to swear to God, Allah, that nobody knows about this but us, all right? No family members, no girlfriends, nobody.
Samir: Of course.
Michael Bolton: Agreed,
Lawrence: [from the next apartment through the wall] Don't worry, man. I won't tell anyone either.
Michael Bolton: Who the fuck is that?
Peter Gibbons: Uh, don't worry about him. He's cool.

At a glance: Writer/director Mike Judge (writer of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill) presents this small, funny movie about the typical office cublicle experience; the dialogue, situations, and quirky co-workers made it a fun day at the office.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) works in a typical cubicle of a typical Big Company, and spaces out through his day, trying to survive between interruptions from his 8 bosses about his 1 error with that TPS report. When a chance accident during his therapy session changes his outlook on life, he loses all desire to work and embarks on a different career path. Small, funny movie starts off as a humorous examination of our shared office experience (with some good ‘nosy neighbor’ riffs thrown in by Diedrich Bader as Lawrence), then becomes a little of a sitcom/crime caper – but it’s always a joy to watch, and the writing is has so many original quotables. Good use of rap music enhances certain scenes. Writer/director Mike Judge went on to write and star in the animated series King of the Hill, and to write/direct Idiocracy in 2006 (which, inexplicably, was not very funny at all). Note that this sometimes crude film is written by a boy and stars all boys (except for Jennifer Aniston, who is good in a small role); it may appeal more to boys, guys, and men for that reason. Rating: 3 of 4

Trivia (from The iconic red stapler coveted by Milton was created for the film by the prop department. They needed a bright enough color to be seen on film and chose red. After the film was released, Swingline began to receive requests from customers for red staplers. Having stopped offering red a number of years before, they made the decision to start offering the color once more.

"…wickedly satirizes the modern technological office in a film that has become a cult classic…"
- John A. Nesbit (

"Plays like a live-action version of the "Dilbert" comic strip. A smart, funny satire."
- Christopher Smith (Bangor Daily News [Maine])

"…the movie suffers from mild aimlessness and editorial confusion, and it does, those are relatively small speed bumps to endure for such a canny and quick-witted affair."
- Scott Weinberg (DVD Clinic)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Blades of Glory (2007)

"The only skater to win four national championships and an adult film award."
- Co-anchor (describing Chazz Michael Michaels)

"No exaggeration, I could not love a human baby more then I love this brush."
- Chazz (Will Ferrell)

At a glance: Will Ferrell and Jon Heder star as feuding Olympic figure skaters in this comedy that is sometimes hilarious, sometimes raunchy, and always inventive and inspired.

Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) and Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) are the two top skaters in the world, regularly going head to head for Olympic Gold. Jimmy is graceful, gentle, and effeminate; Chazz is rough and raunchy. They hate each other, and when they tie for Gold and get into a fight while podium-sharing, they are both banned from ever skating again. However, through a loophole, they find a way back in, but only by skating in pairs – with each other!

Figure skating is the perfect parody target; the skating scenes and up-close-and-personal videos are just hilarious; the fight-and-insult scenes much less so. The pairing of two men in an atypical Olympic setting harkened back to the days of Saturday Night Live, when Martin Short and Harry Shearer combined to do a hilarious synchronized swimming skit.

I was personally impressed with the obvious care and time that went into the making of this film. It was obvious, while watching, that Ferrell and Heder had to train extensively to make their skating look legitimate, and indeed they did: they trained with Michele Kwan's coach, Sarah Kawahara. Heder even broke his ankle while training.

Although occasionally on the vulgar side for laughs, Blades also has a sweetness to it, most of that gained by Ferrell’s redemption arc. Peppered with lots of cameos by real skating stars (Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, and many more). Rating: 3 of 4

 "Blades of Glory will have Will Ferrell fans dizzy with laughter. Silly, uneven, but hilarious when it's funny, the show might remind his fans of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
- Linda Cook (Quad City Times [Davenport, IA])

"Hilarious comedy with superb comic performances from Heder and Ferrell and some impressive digital trickery during the ice skating scenes."
- Matthew Turner (ViewLondon)

Vantage Point (2008)

Phil McCullough: Sir, we have to act strong.
President Ashton (William Hurt): No, we have to BE strong.

At a glance: Multiple point of views, top-shelf action, and a name cast bolster the sometimes goofy script in this mostly exciting action film about a presidential assassination attempt.

US President Ashton (William Hurt) is on the brink of signing an historical pact to combat global terrorism. While appearing before a large crown in Spain, Ashton is shot – and soon after, a huge explosion rocks the open square where he had been standing. We see this through the eyes and multiple cameras of a US television station, as orchestrated by Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) was on the Secret Service agents assigned to protect the president on that day. After the incident, he enters the TV control room and sees something interesting on a playback monitor. Through numerous flashbacks and POVs, we see what happened through the eyes of other parties. Enrique (Eduardo Noriega) is a local cop assigned to protect the mayor. When he rushes the podium after the shots, he is arrested by the Secret Service as a suspect, but he escapes after the bombing, His girlfriend may have been an accomplice. We also get the perspective of a tourist with a video camera (Forest Whitaker), and a few other surprise guests. More than competently filmed thriller is weakened by a peppering of people doing the kinds of stupid things that people in thrillers are asked to do by stupid scriptwriters who are trying to make the action more exciting (like, for example, would a little girl who has lost her mother look for her in the middle of a busy highway?). There are some contrived dramatic notes, and some dialogue that just doesn’t work, but the action elements are top-notch. Some reviewers condemned the last 30 minutes of this film, but I found the long car chase quite exhilarating.

One thought I had (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) When the terrorists captured the second, real, president, I couldn’t help but think: why not have 3 lookalikes? The real one could be at the ranch in Texas!

Star Trek Alert: Zoe Saldana, who does a decent job of playing young reporter Angie Jones in a brief but important scene at the beginning of the film, will be playing Uhura in Star Trek XI (release date: May 2009). Rating: 2.5 of 4

"The stories are cleverly interwoven, with a couple of unexpected twists, and the patient viewer is rewarded with a doozy of a car chase in the last reel."
- Paul Arendt (BBC)

"Those inclined to scrutinize the logic of Barry Levy's screenplay are likely to come away as baffled by its farfetched twists as amused by its bombastic excesses."
- Rossiter Drake (San Francisco Examiner)

Priceless (aka Hors de prix) (2006)

At a glance: The visual pleasantry and chemistry of Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh combine to lift this light, enjoyable romantic comedy of mistaken identity.

Jean (Gad Elmaleh) is a struggling young hotel worker who, one night, comes out from behind the bar at the insistence of a customer and falls asleep. Meanwhile, Irene (Audrey Tautou), a young woman whose rich elderly boyfriend has just passed out on her birthday, wanders down to the hotel bar to have a little celebration. She mistakes the bartender for a patron, and he doesn’t discourage her. They have a night of passion, but when her boyfriend finds out, he dumps her. Rejected by her ticket to financial security, she focuses instead on the hotel worker, unaware that he is as poor as she is. Gentle French comedy is not only genuinely funny, but also is great to look at; Elmaleh’s sleepy eyes and Tautou’s body and energy are often captivating. Also of note here are the stunning French Riviera locations – and Tautou’s dresses. After watching Tautou be stripped of all personality and charm in The Da Vinci Code, and then seeing her restrained and skeletal in Hunting and Gathering (aka Ensemble, c'est tout), it was marvelous to see her in full flower in a role ideally suited for her. She’s still emaciated (at times even distractingly so) but at least she’s got her mojo back. One weakness: the occasional, in-your-face dated overly ‘jaunty’ music. Rating: 3 of 4

"There's not much substance to "Priceless," but what is there is effortlessly crafted and entertaining, and the locales in Nice and Monte Carlo are just spectacular."
- Rob Thomas (Capital Times [Madison, WI])

"It might remind you of those early-'60s capers that starred a different Audrey -- Hepburn."
- Chris Hewitt (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

"After being drained of all personality for her role in The Da Vinci Code, Tautou regains her Amelie effervescence."
- Matt Brunson (Creative Loafing)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

"I'm Bill Murray, you're everybody else."
- Mike (Mos Def) to Jerry (Jack Black), as they are about to make Ghostbusters

At a glance: This rough-edged fantasy about two bumbling video store employees who accidentally erase all the tapes and have to recreate the movies is a concept with unlimited comedy potential, but this angle is almost ignored. Instead the misguided focus is on community – and that doesn’t work particularly well, either.

In a run-down area of Passaic, New Jersey, fossilized video store owner Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover) still shuns DVDs in favor of a small selection of VHS tapes. He relies on neighborhood good will to scrape by, and his hero – Fats Waller, who was born in the building where his store is located – is his motivation. When the city threatens to tear down the building, Fletcher takes a fact-finding holiday, leaving the store to be minded by Mike (Mos Def) and his flaky friend Jerry (Jack Black). When Jerry accidentally erases all the tapes, the guys try to cover it up by remaking shortened, low-production versions of the movies. It’s a fantasy in the It's a Wonderful Life mode, but it’s so rough around the edges that it’s difficult to buy into it. It doesn’t help that the actual movies they make aren’t very funny or entertaining. People are divided on this film, and, after loving director Michel Gondry’s previous hilarious Human Nature, I was ready to love this – but, sadly, it didn’t amuse or move me. One thing I’ll say: I have tremendous respect for Gondry's fresh approaches, even when they don't work particularly well, and that carries me through here where others might not appreciate the effort.Rating: 2 of 4

"At best it's a collection of very good ideas in search of a framework, and at worst a dramatically stale film based on a terribly messy screenplay."
- Tim Brayton (Antagony & Ecstasy)