Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

March 2011 Review Roundup

After stumbling in February, we picked up the pace substantially, doubling the year's total in a month and hitting the theater four times.

3/2 - True Grit (7/10)
3/6 - The Adjustment Bureau (9/10)
3/7 - The Mechanic (4/10)
3/9 - Memento Blu-ray (9/10)
3/11 - Lemmy (5/10)
3/12 - Vanishing On 7th Street (3/10)
3/13 - Battle: Los Angeles (8/10); Morning Glory (4/10)
3/14 - Paranormal Activity 2 (4/10)
3/24 - Sucker Punch (7.5/10)
3/27 - Limitless (9/10); Due Date (6/10)
3/28 - Love and Other Drugs (2/10)
3/31 - Run Lola Run (7/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 14
Previously Unseen: 13
Theatrical: 4
Home: 10
Year-To-Date: 28
YTD First-Timers: 23
YTD Theatrical: 5
YTD Home: 23

Cyberspace Open 2011 Scores and Feedback

I learned last Friday that my entry into this year's Cyberspace Open screenwriting contest hadn't made the cut for the final round and that was OK; you can't win 'em all.

Unfortunately, once again I managed to snag a reader who didn't know how to read, resulting in hair-tearing feedback as they were so busy missing the point that they probably forgot to DVR the Two and a Half Men marathon that was on. Let's check this twaddle out:
Structure: 24
Dialog: 22
Style: 21
Originality: 22
Total: 89

"There is some interesting use of subtext, and this is a great subject for these types of characters to address. However, this is more of a one-sided conversation that might work better with a less ambiguous conclusion and more obvious conflict. It all comes off very causal, and there is nothing at stake so the conflict is minimal."
I defy anyone with a working knowledge of the English language to read my scene and tell me that it was ambiguous or needed more obvious conflict!

My greatest fear was that unless I hammered all the subtext with underline and italics and a Post-It note explaining everything, it'd get missed by the sub-literate wannabes making a few bucks reading these. My greatest mistake was assuming qualified people would judge this charade. My bad. Dumb me.

The next round is this weekend and I'm going to look at the scene prompt and think about doing what I did last year. Heh.

"Love and Other Drugs" Review

There were only two reasons why I had the slightest interest in the alleged romantic-comedy-drama Love and Other Drugs: Anne Hathaway. I call her Yummy Girl and find her just delish and when it was heavily hyped that she was naked (i.e. nekkid, nude, showing the goodies) for 40% of the movie, I was willing to overlook my natural aversion to rom-coms to see it. Yes, I'm a pig who will sell out for a look at teh bewbz. Yummy Yummy Girl boobs.

Big. Mistake.

To properly tear this thing a new one, we need to look at how it was sold:

OK, it looks like a rom-com about a playboy (Jake "Peter Sarsgaard's brother-in-law" Gyllenhaal) sales rep for Viagra who meets a cute babe and falls in love with her, but - oh noes! - she gets sick and he must love her even more even though she runs away but they'll probably live happily ever after since these sort of movies rarely end up in a murder-suicide. Right?

Here's the way it really goes: Jake's a charmer selling boom boxes and big HDTVs in the mid-Nineties. If you're already thinking that one of those things was big in the Eighties and the other wasn't invented yet, you're on my wavelength about how sloppy the details are. After he loses his job for banging a co-worker's girlfriend in the stockroom, we see his family who find him such a disappointment compared to his fat, slovenly brother (Josh Gad, who should change his name to Egad) who is a dot-com millionaire when he looks barely able to spell "Vic 20."

After being set up with a job selling Pfizer pharmaceuticals, we see him turning on the charm with the receptionists to get at the doctors he needs to write prescriptions for Pfizer's Zoloft over competing Prozac. While shadowing a doctor under the guise of being an intern, he meets Yummy Girl, a 26-year-old artist with early-onset Parkinson's. Right away, he knows she's sick and she details all the drugs she needs to take. She pays for her care with a wad of cash, but we are never shown how she's able to afford all this and her giant loft apartment on her wages at a coffee shop. (Perhaps she's turning tricks in the alley?)

She's blunt about just wanting to have sex without entanglements (since she's got a degenerative disease, I suppose, and not that she's just a garden tool) and I'm watching this thinking, "OK!" They proceed to rut about and he falls in love with her and then Viagra comes out and sells itself - seriously, I could sell Magic Boner Pills® when otherwise I'd have trouble selling water to people on fire, so what's Jake's feat? - and Fat Brother's wife kicks him out so he comes to sleep on Jake's couch (that's the scene at the end of the trailer) because that's what successful millionaires do and....wait, what?

Movies usually live and die on their scripts and Love and Other Drugs dies a most horrible death due to disjointed and hackneyed writing. The first 10 minutes are like a bad impression of Aaron Sorkin at his soapboxing worst as characters bray paragraphs of facts and figures at each other like the people with search overload in the Bing commercials. It doesn't get any better as it lurches from incident to episode to theme to whatever and back. There's a section when YG goes to an "unconvention" where we see a parade of Parkinson's patients showing us how funny and human they are so don't look at them as freaks, you judgmental audience members! As if that's not enough, there is a whole passage which devolves into Lifetime shmaltz territory as Jake flies YG all over the country trying to find a cure, which also informs his final decisions in the movie.

The only thing that saves Love and Other Drugs from being an unmitigated disaster is the appealing stars. Jake isn't Donnie Darko and Anne is just magnetic to watch with her big brown eyes and voluptuous lips and alabaster skin and.....................OK, I'm back from my bunk. Where was I? Oh yeah, she's really good at making her character someone who want to hang with even though nothing that the script puts her through is believable. She's so appealing that it made me want to stick with it despite the lousy writing.

Really early on I was starting to feel bad for Jake and YG because the script was such hacky crap that's tonally all over the map. For example, after a breakup, Jake goes to a pajama party (read: orgy) and the physician host gives a little speech about how it sucks being a doctor with all the patients he needs to see every day and all the paperwork involved cuz that's what you do at an orgy. This leads to Jake having a three-way almost against his will, Fat Brother getting laid by some hottie who as the IQ of an air fern, and then Jake having the inevitable Extra Long-Lasting Viagra Boner which makes for wacky fun! Not.

The lumpy structure - it felt like it had six acts and more endings than Lord of the Rings - and general scattershot tension between rom-com and weeper and broad comedy conventions render Love and Other Drugs dead on arrival. And if you're still interested to see Yummy Girl's yummy girls, dude, this is the Internet - go find 'em and save your time. Besides, there's not THAT much skin compared to movies from the Eighties or whatever Kate Winslet's doing now. It's just that it's such a rarity for A-list talented actresses to give up the goodies, it made over-hyped headlines.

Score: 2/10. Watch on a friend's cable so you can make fun of it whenever Yummy Girl isn't showing her wares.

My girlfriend has been informed that in my ideal three-way, the other girl will be Anne Hathaway. (The first is Olivia Wilde.)

"Due Date" Review

In getting the trailer for Due Date - The Hangover director Todd Phillips' raunchier version of John Hughes classic Odd Couple travel movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles - I see that almost every funny bit and moment is included. You could almost watch the trailer and save the time on the whole movie unless you want to see what's in between.

Robert Downey Jr. is Steve Martin, an uptight guy trying to get home from Atlanta to L.A. for the birth of his child. Zach Galifianakis (pronounced "that weird guy with the beard") is John Candy, a sad man-child-beast thing who drives Downey crazy. Will Downey get home in time and will these mismatched travelers find love and respect for each other? Duh.

Due Date isn't a bad movie, just a familiar one with occasional outbursts of funny (which are even funnier if you've forgotten or haven't seen the trailer) which are spread too far apart for a 95-minute movie. If you're offended by Downey spitting on the dog shown in the trailer, you may want to steer clear of this one because the best laughs are of the "Oh man, that is so WRONG!" class. I wasn't even sure how to allude to them without spoiling, but dog spitting isn't the worst of it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"Limitless" Review

The trailer below sets up the simple premise of Limitless: Bradley Cooper is a struggling writer until he gets a Magic Pill that unlocks 1000% of his mental ability, leading to instant fame and riches and he lives happily ever after. The end.

Just kidding. It all has a downside, like it's a question of whether the drug will kill him before the people who want what he has do? Will he survive the wide open world that chemicals can provide him?

While it's a simple concept and the overall plot doesn't really go to unexpected places, what Limitless does is tell its potentially overly familiar tale with blazing style and momentum thanks to a tight, snappy adapted script by Leslie Dixon (whose CV has some really good AND awful movies on it) and some flashy direction by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) which puts us in the head of Brad as he's seeing the world thru drug-enhanced eyes. While some of the visual details are cribbed from Fight Club, it works.

Cooper is excellent, but it helps when you're handsome with piercing blue eyes, so screw him. (Figuratively.) Abbie Cornish (seen just four nights ago in Sucker Punch) looks like a plumper Charlize Theron and it really bespeaks how lame Robert De Niro has been for quite a while when you've got to praise him for merely making an effort, not that he's also good here.

While Limitless isn't flawless - a subplot with a loan shark shouldn't have happened and a death is never explained properly - it is quite a rush which will leave you satisfied and entertained. This is the first movie of 2011 that I can recommend dropping the full ticket price on. (No refunds to dissatisfied customers!)

Score: 9/10. Pay full price at the theater.

If you watch this again after seeing it, you'll notice a few lines that are changed or don't happen in the actual movie.

"Sucker Punch" Video Review

Rather than just type up a quick review in a half-hour after getting home from the show after 12:30 am, I got the stupid idea that such a visual film should have a visual review. If I get a half-hour of sleep before I get up for work, I'll be lucky. (UPDATE: I didn't and almost fell asleep driving in and spent the morning nearly hallucinating. Note to self: Get the reviews up whenever.)

(Hit the link to see it in 720p HD at YouTube)

Score: 7.5/10. See it at a nice theater on a matinee. (I'll be buying the Blu-ray.)

"Paranormal Activity 2" Review

The original Paranormal Activity is the most profitable movie ever made. Shot for $14,000 - which included the cost of the camera, software, and computer to edit on - it went on to gross over $108 million. Of course a sequel was called for, so Paranormal Activity 2 was made and despite the incremental increase in number, this is actually a related prequel to the first film.

The connection to the ill-fated couple from PA is the sister of the wife. She's the 2nd wife to a widower with a teen-aged daughter. They have a new young son and weird things are starting to happen. When their house is ransacked, they install a video security system which documents the...wait for it...paranormal activity over a period of nights. Augmented with camcorder footage including visits from the PA couple, the demonic connection between the sisters is drawn out.

And drawn out is Paranormal Activity 2's largest problem. It mistakes taking their sweet time for building tension. It's well past the halfway mark before the first major incidents happen and the last 10 minutes or so devolve into standard spooky movie tropes. While there are a few good moments of creepiness, the familiarity with the "found footage" genre and too much traditional Exorcist-style shocks undercuts the potential of the material. In trying to make it bigger and better, they ended up making a smaller and less satisfactory serving of shocks.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Morning Glory" Review

Morning Glory can be summarized the same way that the Earth was in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Mostly harmless.

Rachel McAdams turns the plucky cuteness knob up to 12 as the executive producer of the worst-rated morning show on 4th-place network IBS. (The movie must take place in a universe where Fox doesn't exist.) Thinking a dose of gravitas to counteract the bubbly Diane Keaton is necessary, she dragoons grumpy Harrison Ford into the gig by exploiting a clause in his contract. He naturally refuses to play ball leaving the show in the lurch and on a countdown to cancellation unless McAdams turns things around. Think she'll be able to save the day?

Really? You're wondering?

The biggest (to be charitable) laughs are from Ford's grumpy, appalled reactions to the indignities of morning television. The obligatory romantic interest, Patrick Wilson, is so superfluous that if he disappeared entirely from the movie it wouldn't change a single thing in the plot. And for some reason, she can't figure out how to mute hew Blackberry so that when she doesn't want to be disturbed, she tosses it in the freezer. Hardy-har. Ahem.

The trailer touts it's from the writer of The Devil Wears Prada (which came from a best-selling novel), 27 Dresses and Laws of Attraction (the last two which I haven't seen but my girlfriend says sucked), so perhaps it's best to watch Prada again and sleep in on Morning Glory. Even better, watch Working Girl again to see this sort of story told so much better including a still-awake Harrison Ford.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Battle: Los Angeles" Review

If you go into Battle: Los Angeles looking for Marines vs. Aliens or Black Alien Down - crazy urban combat with hearty hoo-rah jarheads battling weird mech-aliens - then you're pretty much going to get your money's worth. It's crazy, frenetic, shaky-cam chaos with almost non-stop action and mayhem.

Where the movie stumbles a bit is in grafting on a truckload of war movie cliches: Staff Sargeant Aaron Eckhart has already had his retirement papers signed when he's called upon; one platoon member is getting married; one's a virgin; one's from Nigeria; one's brother died on Eckhart's command and thinks it's his fault; and so on. It really feels like the studio ordered up some tropes as if we were going to be able to tell anyone apart once the booming starts and feel something when they buy it. Other than Michelle Rodriguez as the ditzy, blonde Valley girl...just kidding, she's a kickass Latina Air Force intel officer like she sort of was in Avatar, Eckhart stands alone as having a "character."

While the dialogue breaks are frequently rote and predictable, the action manages to be something special for being epic in scale while intimate in detail. We're going to have to wait for the next Transformers movie this summer to get the Bayhem-grade boombitty, but this is plenty asplodey enough.

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee on a big, loud screen.

One quibble with the plot (not really spoilerish): It is theorized that the aliens are here to steal our water. OK, the surface of Earth is 70% water - why not just land in the middle of the ocean and take what you want without having to blow up the locals?

Also, I think of lot of the negative reviews have come from angry liberal critics who can't stand the idea of American military being portrayed as brave, resolute and heroic. After years of anti-Iraq/Afghanistan war movies that have smeared soldiers and bombed at the box office, they fear this movie being a hit will lead to more movies being made with heroic warriors and are trying to dampen enthusiasm. What babies.

Another thing: Would it kill Hollywood to show a Lieutenant who isn't some book-learned recent graduate of the service academy who is immediately in over his head and needing bailing-out by the veteran sergeant? Yeesh, it's Lt. Gorman from Aliens all over again.

"Vanishing On 7th Street" Review

An even-less-populated-than-usual Detroit is the setting for the small-time suspense-horror flick Vanishing on 7th Street, starring Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, and newcomer Jacob Latimore. If you're from the Motor City, it's fun to spot locations and local Channel 7 newscasters, but there's not much for general audiences to appreciate.

It starts spookily enough with the adults being introduced in scenes where there is a blackout and when the lights come back on, everyone else has disappeared, leaving their empty clothes and possessions where they were when they vanished. Creepy shadows close in held at bay by the dimming flashlights and glow sticks. They eventually end up in a bar with a kid whose mother had gone for help, never to return. A rickety generator is providing light for this sanctuary, but isn't going to last forever.

Director Brad Anderson (who coincidentally helmed last night's Fringe episode) does alright with keeping things creepy, but is stranded without much of a script nor an ending that makes going for the ride worthwhile. Hayden does nothing to erase his "Mannequin Skywalker" rep - what happened to the guy who was decent in Shattered Glass? - and the others aren't given much to do. Even worse, the nature of the shadows is never explained or even speculated upon; they're just a menace to trick and pick off the survivors. Everyone disappears and those who don't have no reason for their fortune. Bah.

Score: 3/10. Catch it on cable.

"Lemmy" Review

To understand the reverence to which Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister is held, let's take this moment from the movie Airheads:

While Lemmy may be God, it's also a man whom is given a simultaneously over-detailed and superficial treatment in the documentary Lemmy: 49% Motherf*cker, 51% Son of a Bitch. Chock full of fawning testimonials from rockers including Slash, Scott Ian, Dave Grohl, Dee Snider, Henry Rollins and Alice Cooper, we get to see Lemmy in his cluttered LA apartment (which looks like a candidate for Hoarders and made me feel less bad about my place), playing videogames (Crimson Skies on Xbox!), indulging his video trivia habit at bars, jamming with Metallica, and generally being one of the coolest mofos on the planet.

However, for all the access the filmmakers had and the fact that Lemmy doesn't seem to have much he's not willing to talk about, Lemmy is a so-so introduction to the man's long life and career - he was 63 when this filmed and was in bands in the Sixties, having seen the Beatles in the Cavern Club and once roadied for Jimi Hendrix - heavily padded with material which would've been better left in the DVD's Deleted Scenes area. Do we really need to see him and Billy Bob Thornton hanging out and discussing royalty checks? A tighter focus and a half-hour shorter running time would've helped.

Best for those who are already fans, it's got some useful information for those will to slog through the fat to get to the bones of the seemingly unkillable Lemmy.

Score: 5/10. Fans should rent the DVD, otherwise catch it on cable.

"The Mechanic (2011)" Review

Jason Statham is in a bit of a rut lately. Sure, with few exceptions like The Bank Job where he can act a bit, he's mostly been recycling his signature persona to the point that I joke whenever he has a new movie coming out, I put on the Movie Announcer Voice and snarl, "Jason Statham is Jason Statham in Badass Bald Driver Guy Kicks Ass 2011!" What was the Death Race remake other than The Transporter in prison without a nice suit?

Continuing with remake parade is The Mechanic, originally a Charles Bronson flick. Statham is an elite assassin working for a shadowy international assassination company. (Are they in the Yellow Pages? Kids, ask your grandparents what those were.) When his friend and mentor, Donald Sutherland, is fingered for being a traitor to the firm, Statham is forced to kill him. When Sutherland's good-for-little son, Ben Foster, shows up looking for revenge and asks Statham to train him in the ways of the mechanic. Awkward.

While there are some hellacious fight scenes, the action and overall pace are flat. Director Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - the first one) has never been very good and infusing his movies with energy and he's still not good at it. Statham has a place out in the bayous near New Orleans that he accesses by boat but has cars and there's obvious road access, so why the boat? He's shown having a $2000 turntable to listen to his classical records, but is so alone his only female companionship is some Swedish hooker who has no butt.

While it's a step up from Transporter 3 - how did they manage to screw up the formula so badly there?!? - The Mechanic needs too much work to get it going to be worth seeking out. Watch some older Statham movies instead.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Adjustment Bureau" Review

The never-ending debate between whether we are the unwilling subjects of destiny or individuals with free will in control of our fates underpins The Adjustment Bureau, a romantic-fantasy take on an old Philip K. Dick short story that no one has read but the angry Dick nerds who are the source of most of the negative reviews you may've read about this movie. Ignore them. Listen to me.

Matt Damon plays a New York Congressman whose hopes for advancing to the Senate are dashed at the last moment by a minor scandal. Preparing to give his concession speech, he encounters wedding crasher Emily Blunt in the same hotel - because people get married on a Tuesday night, wait, what? - and in their brief meeting he is so smitten with this woman that he goes out and gives a concession speech that sets him up for greater things.

A few years later, two men discuss Damon and the need to spill coffee on his shirt. However, the one tasked with making him miss his bus dozes off and he makes the bus, finding this mysterious woman on there. They chit-chat and things seem fine until he arrives at work and catches a crew of men apparently erasing the minds of the frozen-in-place folks at the office. He runs, but is caught and has the rules explained to him: He must never see her again or else his mind will be erased by these Men In Magic Fedoras.

Who are the MIMFs and how do they control the world to an extent is the tricky part to discuss because to know too much going in spoils the fun. Suffice to say there is a Chairman in charge of the Plan for Damon's (and everyone's) life and if he just goes along, everything works out well for everyone. But what if he doesn't? What changes and what is gained or lost?

The script by director George Nolfi manages to cover just about every question or loophole that could crop up and he tells the story with alacrity, culminating in a whirlwind chase through the MIMFs portal system that allows them to fast-travel around New York City. One unplugged plot hole that really bugged me though was how Damon has never had a woman in his life. We're supposed to believe a politician isn't a craven power monger, OK; but he doesn't have a wife, ex-wife, dead wife, fiancee, nothing? The significant other who may be a complication for Blunt comes and goes only when needed to muck up the plot.

Damon is a good choice for the role and there is a chemistry between him and Blunt that helps bull past the little plot niggles which pop up. The suporting cast including John Slattery, Terrance Stamp, and Anthony Mackie are also quite good. However, the meaty core of story that you'll probably end up discussing with co-viewers is how much of our lives are just chance or the result of divine intervention. It could make you paranoid if not for Nolfi allowing for the element of chance in a world of omnipotent and omnipresent beings.

Balancing the mix between heavy philosophy, romantic desire, and grand scheme destiny, The Adjustment Bureau is a great date flick for couples who want to get deep into the other's headspace regarding fate and fortune. Highly recommended.

Score: 9/10. Catch a matinee.

"True Grit" Review

The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, have made a lot of good movies like Fargo and Miller's Crossing, but after O Brother, Where Art Though went on a long streak of mediocrity that led their No Country For Old Men to be wildly overpraised and awarded. (Really? Best Picture for a movie with one good scene with one great line of dialog? Bah.) Their follow-up, Burn After Reading, was an OK trifle, but the execrable A Serious Man was so terrible that I turned it off. When it was revealed they were remaking the John Wayne classic True Grit, I didn't have much hope for them despite barely remembering the original and not having a stake in whether they were faithful to the source novel.

Fortunately, True Grit avoids being true sh*t thanks to a dryly ironic script by the Coens and powered by a star-is-born performance by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld who was mis-nominated for Best Supporting Actress even though she's in almost every scene while Jeff Bridges (who got a Best Actor nod) and Matt Damon come and go from the story. It's probably the best debut by a young actor since a 12-year-old Natalie Portman arrived in Leon: The Professional.

As the trailer shows, Steinfeld's daddy has been killed by Josh Brolin and the plucky recruits drunken crotchety Rooster Cogburn to go into Indian country to track him down and bring him to justice. Hijinx ensue. My largest problem with the movie is Bridge's take on Rooster. His slurry, mumbled delivery makes him hard to understand and I didn't think he was very layered as a character. Damon is more comedic and the supporting roles are well-played, but core is Steinfeld and she's likely to have a good career ahead. (She's being heavily buzzed for the lead of Katniss in The Hunger Games.)

Well-photographed by Roger Deakins, True Grit may not fully redeem the Coens from their decade of failness, but it's certainly a step in the right direction though Unforgiven is a much better Western.

Score: 7/10. Rent the DVD.

Ranking The 2011 Oscar Best Picture Nominees

I finished watching the Coen Brothers' True Grit last night (review pending, but I didn't hate it unlike most of their recent work) and thus completed seeing all 10 of this year's Oscar Best Picture nominees.

Last year, if I had a ballot, I would've voted for District 9 in the #1 slot. Here are how I would rank this year's picks. The #3-#8 entries are sort of fungible in their ordering, but the others are pretty much locked in their respective places.
  1. The Social Network
  2. The Fighter
  3. Inception
  4. 127 Hours
  5. Toy Story 3
  6. The King’s Speech
  7. Winter's Bone
  8. True Grit
  9. Black Swan
  10. The Kids Are All Right
Disagree? Leave it in the comments.

UPDATE: Just caught this great video from the How It Should Have Ended guys (check out their oeuvre at YouTube) and they should've run this for the Best Picture nom montage.

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