Thursday, September 17, 2009

More Video Reviews

DoubtNow that the summer is over we've all gone back to work. We haven't watched much television or many movies for a couple months now--these are saved up from over the summer--so I don't know that there will be any more of these lists coming out soon but this ought to keep you busy for a bit.

1. Doubt
I have this theory that the best movies are often plays first--at least among many of my favorites this is true and I think it's because with a play you're confined by the set, costume changes and restrictions of the theater. You instead focus on tight dialogue, character development and subplot over special effects and dazzling the eye (unless of course you're Andrew Lloyd Weber). It's obvious that Doubt fits perfectly in with my theory and it's everything you'd expect from powerhouses such as Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The premise is that a jaded nun suspects the priest of improper relations with one of the students at the school he oversees and it takes place in the 1960s, before the scandals and deceit we've come to think of as commonplace were laid bare. The movie is true to its setting, while the theme is definitely mature and the tone serious the treatment of the situation is handled with as much delicacy and euphemism as you'd expect from a nun in the Sixties. Consequently while I wouldn't show the movie to children (again, too heavy for them) it's entirely appropriate for those old enough to be able to discuss the themes the movie brings up: What is faith? What is the difference between faith in God and faith in man? What does it mean to trust someone? What is forgiveness? etc. etc.

It's one you have to see when you're in the mood for something serious (and you can deal with the flightiness of Amy Adams who belongs back in the Disney movies with her cartoon birds) but I'd give it an A.

The Express2. The Express
Oh, also an A for this one. It's the based-on-a-true-story version of Ernie Davis' run for the Heisman trophy in the 1960s and while it follows some of the requisite formulae of the sports movie genre it isn't entirely your typical sports movie.

Of course it has Dennis Quaid--seems like most sports movies require Dennis Quaid though that's not necessarily a complaint--and issues like racism and social injustice and the story of someone's climb to success at great personal cost but it's even a little deeper than that.

Ernie Davis was following in the footsteps of football great Jim Brown who missed out on the Heisman a few years prior (many thought he'd been robbed because of his race) and struggles to be his own kind of best rather than to be another Jim Brown. A good movie and pretty clean too, the boys enjoyed it.

3. Vantage Point
Yet another Dennis Quaid movie but I'm not as kind with this one. I originally saw the trailer in the theaters and thought, "Hey! Another action movie. I'm there." Then the reviews started coming out and I thought I'd wait to catch it on video.

I chose wisely. Of course I actually would recommend going a step further and not seeing this one at all, it's about as corn-ball and ridiculously misplotted as you can get. On the surface it's not a bad story--the President of the United States is attacked while on a visit to Spain and the same events are seen by various people, including a very spacy Forrest Whitaker. The story gives each character's version of events, slowly allowing the viewer to piece together what is real and what is illusory.

Yea, that would have been nice. Instead you get cliche characters: the damaged Secret Service officer who took a bullet for his boss and has since lost his nerve, the terrorist who isn't quite sure if terrorism is the most philanthropic of vocations and that maybe he should rethink his career choice, the insider who has masterminded the whole thing (and I could spill it right here and tell you who it is but it's so OBVIOUS by 15 minutes into the movie it's pointless to waste the effort to type it) and the evil, horrible, blackhearted Bad Guys who are out to destroy all that is good and decent in the world.

The plot is so unbelievable and so ridiculously full of no-way coincidences that it's laughable. Even Sigourney Weaver does her part to make sure the cliches are flowing and the movie's idea of high drama and emotion is to kill off the reporter who suspects something isn't right, who sees beyond the hype, who isn't there to feed the American people the typical lies and cover-ups but gets blown to smithereens before she can fulfill her noble calling.

Yes, I'm cynical but come on--give me something that I can't see coming a mile away and that doesn't reek of outdated stereotypes. A huge, big, fat F.

Seven Pounds4. Seven Pounds
Will Smith. Drama. Emotion. Yes this one had great potential. I'm afraid to tell you what it is about because I rented it to see on the flight down to L.A. last June and knew absolutely nothing about the movie beyond those first three words. As I watched (and I should confess here I'm a big Will Smith fan despite all that freaky Scientology stuff he's into) I was hooked hard, I wanted to know how it was going to end and what it was all about. What was going on? Why was he acting this way? What was he going to do?

All good reactions and proof that the plot was moving forward nicely but then, about 20 minutes from the end everything clicked and I knew exactly what was going on, how things were and what was going to happen down to the over-the-top, crazy, goofy, nobody-would-ever-really-do-that-not-even-a-Scientologist climax.

What have you done Will baby? I want I Am Legend back.

If you'd like a decent movie then watch it until about 20 minutes from the ending then turn it off, walk away and consider yourself blessed. I'm doing you a favor, trust me. Without the ending I'd give it a B+, with the psychotic episode they call the resolution it's a D.

Hancock5. Hancock
Another movie that makes me question my love of Will. Again, a good premise, one with promise, but one which really doesn't deliver.

We'd rented this one for the flight home from L.A. and I watched about ten minutes and got so sick of the crudity, the profanity, the pure crassness (is that an oxymoron?) that I turned it off. Reading Sky magazine was preferable to listening to Mr. Smith's foul mouth.

Yes I understand you're trying to develop character and establish that this guy is no Boy Scout but did they have to prove the point so thoroughly? Ugh. Disgusting. I have little patience with that type of humor, it's so juvenile and easy to produce. My fifth grader could write like that if it wouldn't get his mouth washed out with soap. Give me humor that is more intelligent and I'll give you the laughs.

No grade, it was an "incomplete."

The Pink Panther 26. The Pink Panther 2
I never saw the first Pink Panther, I avoided it out of protest because the original Pink Panther movies are so perfect that it offended me that they'd consider remaking them. Even with Steve Martin who is brilliant. There are scenes from those movies that I will treasure in my heart forever--like the time when he tries to cross the moat to get into the castle? Or when he sucks up the canary with the vacuum cleaner?

"That was a priceless Steinway!"

"Not anymore."

Heh, I can recite lines and chuckle to myself and I didn't want to ruin the memories but I saw the previews and checked out the DVD and actually . . . it wasn't bad. Not Peter Sellers, certainly not Blake Edwards, but not bad. The boys watched too and they thought it was quite giggle-worthy and there are a few scenes that are pretty darn funny. I still don't know if I'd ever see the first one, I don't think I could handle Beyonce bouncing for such a sustained period, but this one was a good B+.

Spiderwick Chronicles7. The Spiderwick Chronicles
Never read the books though my kids liked them. I'd heard the movie was pretty good and we eventually got around to checking it out of the library. It wasn't bad--even with that little British boy that seems to be the "it" kid for all children's movies but whom irritates me for some unknown reason. To say you don't like the Charlie Bucket is probably like saying you don't like kittens or bunnies but there you have it.

Regardless, the movie is fine. A little long and drawn out, a little typical with the fantasy-style plot but not bad. City of Ember was better and more engaging with better acting and a more interesting plot so if you're looking for a kid's movie I'd recommend that one over this but still, better than a poke in the eye as my mother says.

Spiderwick? A C. City of Ember? B, maybe B+.

Tell No One8. Tell No One
I'm embarrassed to admit I saw this one. It's based on Harlan Coben's best-selling novel of the same name which I loved so I wanted to give it a try but I really should have known enough about French films to have figured out that a "no rating" on it probably meant it wasn't exactly a "G."

While being described as a "perfect thriller" I thought it was a bit graphic with the crime-scene gore--something that the likes of Hitchcock and Shyamalan managed to avoid and yet produce superior films. Though I'm very aware that I'm dating myself as a pre-CSI era television viewer when I say that (is anyone else out there amazed at the kind of gore they get away with on those shows? And the sound effects that put with them gross me out completely).

Anyway, while reviews said the characters were well-developed they felt flat to me. Flat and naked. Very naked. Oh so naked. How could two people spend so much time naked and be so very very blurry? The camera kept blurring strategic points here or there but come on, they were still naked. A lot. I doubt even the French spend that much time frolicking around in nature without clothing.

But even with these prudish complaints (yes I know I'm uptight when it comes to movies showing nudity or gore but then I figure if I'm uncomfortable with my teens seeing it then maybe it's not all that appropriate for me too) the worst of it was it wasn't that great of an adaptation from the novel. Maybe it's because I knew what would happen but I just didn't find it too suspenseful. Maybe if they'd had Russell Crowe . . . I'd have definitely liked it better.

Should have turned it off but then I was knitting and my hands were busy so I was only giving it a portion of my attention. Skip it, a D.

Expelled9. Expelled
Okay this one is tough. I like documentaries occasionally and this one came recommended. It's by Ben Stein ("Bueller?" "Bueller?") and is about how the scientific community conspires to keep Intelligent Design from being considered or even discussed. He claims there is censorship at every turn and that the established body of science goes to insane lengths to squash all who would suggest that Intelligent Design should even be examined to determine its merit.

You probably shouldn't watch it unless you at least partially agree with Stein's feelings on the issue, other wise it will just make you mad because he uses the same inflammatory rhetoric and propaganda made famous by the giants of the industry on the other side of the aisle: namely Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. Stein uses graphic images designed to ignite your feelings and even compares Nazism to social Darwinism (and to be honest, there are some parallels). No, he doesn't hold back.

The whole movie feels kind of like a person who answers your question of, "Why do you disagree?" with "Because you're stupid!" No real argument, no real case or dialogue, just words that mean little and emotion that creates a wall. That's this movie. But hey, if that's how he feels about it . . .

I found it slightly interesting, rather amusing, certainly designed to provoke emotion, a little over-the-top but all-in-all not a bad film. A C as documentaries go. Of course I'm sure I'm biased because I do happen to believe in Intelligent Design. In fact "Intelligent Design" is redundant because you cannot have good design without intelligence so I'm going to naturally be more open to his thoughts on the matter but he's presented things with as much of a slant as he can get away with and not get chased out of the theater with pitchforks and torches.

And as I said, Fehrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me and other dogmatic films do the same thing for other political views so why not? Take it for what it's worth. Some good documentaries to see instead? How about Shackleton's Arctic Adventure or Touching the Void or Deep Water? All great.

Sneakers10. Sneakers
We checked this one out because Spencer was having some friends over to watch movies and we assured him that it was a classic that would not disappoint. I LOVED this Robert Redford thriller back in the 90s and was sure the kids would appreciate such fine cinematic art.

Ha! Memo for the future: Do not show movies to my kids where cell phones are bigger than waste paper baskets. They'll just spend the entire movie laughing.

While some classic 80s and 90s movies are ripe for revival (we showed Better off Dead to Grace's friends and they thought it was a hoot) I now realize that movies relying on technology and gadgets fall flat after twenty years.

At one point in the movie the characters are trying to solve a puzzle. Spencer looks up and says, "Why don't they just Google it?"

Well sure . . . uh . . . if you have Google that would be a logical step to take but son this was BEFORE Google.

And their biggest gripe was that the blind guy was the only one on the team who was worth anything. They wanted to know why he even put up with the rest of those rejects because he could solve the whole thing by himself. Just him and some Google.

So it wasn't exactly as good as it used to be but boy I loved this one once upon a time. I give it a nostalgic A that fades into a gently loved C.

The Mummy III11. The Mummy III: Something about a Dragon Guy
Honestly I do not even remember what this stupid movie was even about. There was a mummy--oh no wait, there wasn't a mummy. But there was a dragon. Uh . . . wait, no. Scratch that. No dragon.

No mummies, no dragons, not even Rachael Weisz. Dang. I missed her. Apparently she's moved on, leaving a fake British lady to take her place. Like we wouldn't notice or anything.

The good news is, that even with the massive amounts of CGI and pyrotechnics it was clean enough for David to see and enjoy. My ten year-old loved it. That ought to give you an idea of the quality we're talking about here. Though he did happen to say with a certain amount of sarcasm in his voice that the movie should have been called The Mummy III: The Yeti Guys Are the Coolest. Apparently that was the best part and it was unclear why they didn't just clean everything up for our heroes from the get-go. Kind of like those dumb eagles in Lord of the Rings.

Anyway, watch it for Brendan Frasier if you must but he's starting to feel those years and there's only so much you can do with CGI. Time to break out the Shatner Girdle. Even the mighty Jet Li was looking a little peaky. A grade D. For dragons. Of which there were none to my recollection. But an A for David.

17 Again12. 17 Again
Last but not least we have this little flick. I'm sorry to say that it isn't one that lingers in fond memories on the brain.

It was my first introduction to SeƱor Efron and I can say with complete confidence that he has got something. You know how some people have that screen presence that kind of hypnotizes? He's got it. It's not just the good looks because Matthew Perry isn't exactly a shabby dog but the difference between the way they come across on screen is huge. One is appealing the other is not, and it's not just their characters or their off-screen dramas that make it so. I haven't a clue what it is but it's there.

I sound like some squealing teen but don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly in the fan club or anything, he was just the highlight of the movie. He's cool, he's appealing, he's everything a star should be and he'll be going places I imagine.

However, this movie does not.

Gripe Numero Uno: It's marketed as a teen/younger person movie. D'uh, with Zac Efron of course it's designed to appeal to younger audiences but it's not a kid movie at all. I don't know that it's a Disney film, but it has the feel in the trailers of being that kind of a movie--like Parent Trap or something. But it's not. It's a solid PG-13, just like its rating.

Imagine my pleasure when we were not five minutes into the film and I'm suddenly finding myself faced with explaining to my young son why this boy's girlfriend is pregnant and what "E.D." is? And sorry Google bots, I'm not writing that one out for you to find. I get enough spam on the subject as it is. Yea, a really funny joke. Not. Naked guys holding strategically placed pillows, people being surprised in bed together, guys dumping girlfriends for not putting out, jokes about small male organs, you name it, it's there. And all for the low, low price of . . .

So it's not a kid movie at all. In fact I believe my daughter referred to it as "seven layer nachoes" with a little bit of everything to offend the palate.

Gripe Numero Dos: It's creepy. I'm not sure why, I've seen plenty of other movies where people are reincarnated and have troubles with their siblings/fathers/mothers/hillbilly cousins falling in love with them. I'm thinking Chances Are and Back to the Future as immediate examples but something about this one was creepier. Maybe it was the local teacher who was just arrested for messing around with one of her students here that did it for me but this scenario just played out in the slighlty creepy way that wasn't funny. Just creepy. I'm sure Demi Moore would feel differently but there it is.

Gripe Numero Tres: All the funny parts were in the preview. And I hate it when they do that. A lot.

So didn't like it, in fact no one did. Not even my resident Zac Efron groupie so that shows you how lame it was. Sorry. An F.

And in case you feel I've been rather too negative in my reviews (though I would point out there's a nice little bell curve going on here) I would suggest you see Julie and Julia, Star Trek or Angels and Demons--all great movies from this summer and all worth your time on DVD.

Sponsored by Pak Naks--decorate your stuff!


Peruby said...

I felt the same way about Amy Adams in Doubt but can't wait to see Julie & Julia.

Hancock was such a good plot, but I did not like how it unfolded.

Same with 7 Pounds.

I loved "Better Off Dead"! "Give me my two dollars!"

I must give "Sneakers" another try. I didn't care for it the first time around.

Lis Garrett said...

Doubt was okay - my husband fell asleep about halfway through. 7 Pounds, I liked, ending and all. Vantage Point - right there with you! I've only seen the last half of The Express (caught in on HBO), and it sucked me right in.

Jolanthe said...

We just watched Sneakers again recently with Rick's sister and brother in law since they are 20 years younger than us and were cracking up and some of the stuff you 'forget' but that is just comical now - like the cell phones.

But the google comment is just priceless. :)

And the wine scene in Pink Panther Makes me giggle just thinking about it.

jbs said...

i have a movie suggestion if you like documentary-esque films. i recently saw 'religulous' and was so taken with it, i couldn't shut up about if for 3 days. bill mahar is funny, of course, but more importantly, he did his research! (or his staff did, anyway:) he went armed with great questions and the result was amazing.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Thanks for the heads up on 7 Pounds and 17 Again. We've been so desperate for a good movie to watch, we've been considering those at the video store - glad we passed them by.

Hancock is crass - but we stuck it through to the end, don't ask me why - probably more out of loyalty to past Will Smith movies, than anything else - there is a fun little twist at the end, that if you didn't know about ahead of time, redeems the movie a bit.

Melissa said...

Thanks for the heads up!

I agree with Doubt. Loved that movie.

I liked Expelled a little more. (I didn't think he was trying to prove intelligent design but did lay out a nice case that debate was being squashed)

I think those are the only ones I've seen (except The Mummy III, which I just remembered). Anyway, wanted to see Seven Pounds, but now I am not so sure. I think you trimmed my viewing list down some. Thanks again!

Annette Lyon said...

That is purely hysterical about Sneakers. I'd never thought about it like that before--and every time I see it now, I put myself back 20 years into the era of big cell phones and pre-Google, so it all makes sense. No wonder my son just half liked it.

Heart2Heart said...


Great movie reviews and there are some I haven't had the opportunity to view just yet. Thanks to this, there are some I will just leave on the shelf at my local video store and others I will rent.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

MommyK said...

I really liked Vantage Point, I thought it was cool how you learned a little more with each "rewind" until it ended. I haven't seen any of the others, but I might rent 17 Again anyway, just to see Zac Efron take his shirt off.

page2 said...

Thank you for the reviews. I don't see many movies, so when I do I don't want to waste my evening on a loser. I didn't even know there was a Pink Panther 2! I loved the first one, but never saw the original. We'll be sure to check out the sequel some day. Did you see "Get Smart?" And if you did, did you like it?

Scribbit said...

I did see it and liked it quite a bit, thought there were several scenes that were pretty funny. The ending dragged a bit but a small price to pay for the laughs.

Carinne said...

Sorry about 17 Again. I honestly don't remember most of the stuff you mentioned. Although, it was really late when I watched it and I was doing other things at the time.

Krysten & David said...

I agree with you on just about everything! I made the mistake and saw vantage point in the theater! UGH what a mistake.

If you haven't seen it already, check out Forever strong. Really good movie.

cndymkr / jean said...

I remember watching Sneakers and thinking it was a great movie. It was on TV a few weeks ago and watching it now I had the same experience as you. It was a great movie in it's time period but in todays world it just didn't hold up well.

Lori said...

Wait until you see Amy Adams in sunshine cleaning. I thought she was really great. I like her sunny disposition. Doubt was one that I saw as a play before the movie. I liked the confined set better and felt like my time was wasted in certain parts of the movie.

I didn't think that Spiderwick Chronicles really measured up to the books, but how many of the movies ever do? They're pretty fantastic. I don't mind the kid though, he certainly is nothing like the Charlie Bucket of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but his bony, quiet appearance is a bit better suited for this Charlie Bucket.

Looks like I'll have to give the Pink Panther a try.

I didn't even know that that Ben Stein movie was a documentary! Still not going to see it.

Anonymous said...

WHAT? Did you say Will Smith is a scientologist?

angie said...

If I were to write a review of 7 lbs. it would have been yours. Seriously. The ending was killer.

Just For Laugh said...

Look forward to reading more from you in the future. Thanks

Karen Olson said...

Agree with you about 17 Again. I took my 12 year old daughter and her friend to see this at the theater. On the way home in the car, they asked, what's a douchebag? So I found myself explaining, and realized that they are probably the only two kids in the school who know what what it really is. And you should've heard the squeals of laughter from the back seat!

Scribbit said...

You made me chuckle Karen--I don't know that I knew what it was until I was--oh 38 or 39? :)

Terresa said...

"Sneakers" is my husband's all time fave movie. I like it enough (and him) to sit through it time and again.

Janelle said...

The only two of these I've seen are Vantage Point and Sneakers. I didn't care for the was confusing to me (I have a hard time following movies sometimes). The first one, however...I have to wonder if an "F" is too good a rating for it?

Janet said...

Cool - I now have a list of options for renting. I loved Sneakers too. Maybe I should leave it on the shelf so I can remember it fondly.
I loved the original Pink Panthers as well. "I thought you said your dog does not bite." "That is not my dog."!

Jenn@Spejory said...

I enjoyed your reviews. I have seen some of these, but not all. This will help me avoid some movies I had been considering seeing.

Loved the Pink Panther remakes. Would like to see Sneakers. Will avoid Hancock as I absolutely can't stand profanity--it's my biggest pet peeve.