Friday, July 29, 2011

COWBOYS AND ALIENS: The Film Babble Blog Review

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (Dir. Jon Favreau, 2011)

When I first heard about the summer movie concept of fuckin' James Bond and Indiana Jones (Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford respectively) fighting aliens in the Old West, I was all 'sign me up', especially since it was being helmed by IRON MAN's Jon Favreau. But less than halfway through this messy overly formulaic film, massive boredom set in.

It started out promisingly with Craig waking up in the desert with a strange piece of artillery clasped to his wrist.

Craig is a man who can't remember his name, obviously because of an alien abduction as we see in quick fleeting light-filled flashbacks, and we follow him as he can takes out a crew of wranglers on the trail, on his way to the protypical wild west town of Absolution.

The town's sherrif (Keith Carradine) arrests Craig, along with the trouble-making gun toting brat Paul Dano the son of a ruthless cattleman (Ford) who acts like he owns the town, because he does.

Ford demands that his son be let free, but before they can sort anything out the town is under alien invasion, with a bunch of figher jet type spaceships laying waste to property and literally lassoing away various townsfolk.

007 and Dr. Jones, sorry Craig and Ford, form a posse to go after the aliens and get back their loved ones, and we get a long dull stretch full of old timey philophizing and poorly constructed character development.

When we finally see the aliens, like in a close-up shot stolen from ALIEN, it's disapointing how generic they are. They're the same green scaley disgusting man-creatures with hidden orifices and tons of teeth. Minus the multiple legs they look like the Skitters from the new show Falling Skies or from hundreds of other alien attack scenarios from T.V. and movies.

The profusely predictable plot concerns infiltrating the alien's headquarters, hidden in the picturesque terrain, which by the way is beautifully shot by Mathew Libatique (IRON MAN, BLACK SWAN), to save the abducted, with a ginormous battle climax in which cowboys join forces with Indians and outlaws to bring down the intruders from outer space.

It's not Craig or Ford's fault - nor love interest Olivia Wilde's, or Samuel Rockwell as a sensitive saloon owner - it's the undercooked treatment given to overdone material. The special effects are fine but far from mind blowing (they make the claim that the aliens don't see well except when it's dark so we get a lot of murkiness), and when the alien's motivation for world domination is revealed it's in one or two flimsy throwaway lines.

Craig's stoic beefiness matched with Ford doing his gruff old man routine to greater effect than his last few films, does make for some fanboy pleasing moments, but they aren't enough to make this anything more than a barely passable popcorn picture.

More later...

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE: The Film Babble Blog Review

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (Dirs. Glenn Ficcara & John Requa, 2011)

At the beginning of this ensemble rom com, after an opening montage of the feet of restaurant patrons playing footsy, Steve Carrell is told by his wife of 25 years (Jullianne Moore) that she wants a divorce. This sets off a chain of vignettes that are more about clichéd silly lust than what the title wants us to think.

This is a simple-minded movie more concerned with setting up cheap gags than actual character connection. Like in the scenario where Carrell befriends a womanizing Ryan Gosling at a bar.

Gosling assigns himself as Carrell's wingman, so, of course, there's a shopping mall montage where Carrell gets new hip clothes and a snazzier haircut, and before you know it he's a success with the ladies. This kind of sequence should've been retired the second the '80s ended.

Meanwhile, Carrell and Moore's 13-year old son (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on their babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) who he's over-texting, Moore is fending off the further advances of a sleazy co-worker who she had an affair with (Kevin Bacon, who's really getting around this year), and a seemingly unconnected Emma Stone is pining for Josh Groban as a dorky lawyer.

There are 2 twists that are revealed in this material - one which you can see coming if you are paying attention, and the other is of the "oh, come on!" variety. I won't spoil what they are, but I will say that one of them involves Marisa Tomei as a squirmy, and completely unconvincing woman that Carrell has a one-night stand with.

The cast defintely has plenty of comic chops (as in EASY A, Stone has a way with one-liners), and there are some juicy jokes here and there in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, but I cringed much more than I laughed. It contains a lot of talk about soul mates, but that's just audience pandering talk. I never believed it ever really cared about matters of the heart.

In one scene, Carrell watches sadly as Moore drives off and it begins to rain. Carrell: "That is such a cliché." It sure is, yet at least in that moment the movie owns up. If only it did at its other dishonest cloying turns, then maybe it would be a movie with a soul instead of a big screen sitcom that might as well have a laugh track dubbed in.

More later...

Monday, July 25, 2011


I saw this film last April at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham and really love it. I saw it again this weekend at the Colony Theater in Raleigh where it will play through next week. It is also playing in the Triangle at the Galaxy Cinema in Cary.


Andrew Rossi's new documentary poses the question: are we witnessing the death of print media due to the internet, or are we just in a transitional period in which institutions like the New York Times will figure out how to adapt to the changing technological landscape and ultimately survive?

This film convincingly argues the latter, but it's going to be quite a struggle in the face of online competition such as the bloggosphere and Wikileaks.

Rossi's unprecedented access to the media desk of the New York Times for a year (2009-2010) has us listening like a fly on the wall to key players including Executive Editor Bill Keller, blogger turned Times writer Brain Stelter, Media Marketing Editor Bruce Headlam, and Baghdad bureau chief Tim Arangoand media and culture columnist David Carr who steals the movie over and over with his dead on acerbic comments.

We learn about the "New Times Effect," in which what the Times prints one day will set the agenda for what every other news outlet prints the next.

We learn about how Judith Miller's false reporting of Weapons of Mass Destruction damaged the Times' credibility.

From old grainy footage we learn about the newspaper's history, especially in clips of Allistar Cooke visiting the Times from the program Omnibus in 1954 I'd sure like to see more of.

As I said before Carr steals this film, but he also symbolizes the fight that the Times has left in it. One particularly amusing scene has the former crack addict turned media columinst vaporizing (his word, not mine) a blogger opponent at a SXSW panel.

PAGE ONE is a masterful piece of infotainment that captures a turbulent time for the Times. Since we're still in that time it really shouldn't be missed by anybody who has even a passing interest in the state of modern print media. Or by those who love an extremely well made engrossing documentary.

More later...

Friday, July 22, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA: The Film Babble Blog Review


Although I am not a comic book guy, I have more and more been developing an admiration for how Marvel has been expanding their movie universe.

Now Captain America joins Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk, in this surprisingly solid summer super hero movie that just might be the best of the bunch so far.

Much like the recent X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, this is an origin story crossed with an alternate history scenario, and also like that film, it largely works.

Here our hero played by Chris Evans, who we first meet convincingly CGI-ed as a scrawny runt constantly rejected by the military, gets genetically modified into a tall muscular super soldier for action in World War II by a German scientist (Stanley Tucci).

The villain, the intense Hugo Weaving as a Nazi official with a sinister secret, is planning on destroying the United States with his HYDRA terrorist organization ("Hail, HYDRA!"), and, of course, it's up to Captain America with the help of love interest Hayley Atwell, best friend Sebastian Stan, and the always reliably gruff Tommy Lee Jones as a stern army Colonel to stop the looming wave of world domination.

Weaving, especially after being revealed as Red Skull (not sure I want to try to explain that), appears to be having a blast with his scenery-chewing-and-spitting out prowess, and his treatment of Toby Jones as a beleagured Nazi chemist/lackey is terrifically savage stuff.

The star-spangled man with a plan (as Jones calls Evans) is as engaging as he is unshakable in fight scene afer fight scene. Evans mostly acts with a stoical demeanor, but its not without humor.

There's a satisfying use of circular dialogue throughout in which key lines are effectively repeated, and Evans holds his own with the exceedingly capable cast.

Director Johnston handles with film's aesthetics, at times metallic; at times grimy, beautifully, with all the gravitas that GREEN LANTERN was so sorely missing, and he sets a sturdy tone that takes itself just seriously enough.

There were some pacing problems here and there, and Alan Silvestri's generic action movie score was a bit intrusive, but since CAPTAIN AMERICA is such a smart and ginormously entertaining mainstream Marvel movie, I feel like a heel complaining.

As for the Marvel Universe aspect, you can always expect cameos from franchise characters such as Iron Man's dad Howard Stark (this time played by Dominic Cooper), and Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury (that can't be a SPOILER! right? I mean, he's in all of these films).

You can also expect the traditional Stan Lee cameo, and more importantly, the after-the-credits scene which here doubles as a teaser trailer for next summer's THE AVENGERS which, as you probably know, assembles several of their super hero strands into one big ass Marvel movie event package.

Here's hoping that will be as solid and super as this is.

More later...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Old School Pooh

WINNIE THE POOH (Dirs. Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall, 2011)

The good news up front: the new WINNIE THE POOH isn't an all CGI-ed modernized re-imagining with pop culture references and big name celebrity voices. It's an old school hand-drawn throwback to Disney's classic '60s and '70s Pooh period, with a tasteful choice of un-imposing actors (narrator John Cleese and Craig Ferguson as Owl are the most recognizable names here), and a light infectious sense of whimsy.

The bad news is that its so slight it could get blown away by a gentle breeze.

A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh ,Tigger (both voiced by Jim Cummings), Rabbit (Tom Kenney), Piglet (Travis Oates), Owl, Eeyore (Bud Luckey), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez), and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall), mistakenly think a note from their best human friend, schoolboy Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) is stating that he was captured by a Backson.

Robin wrote "back soon" you see and somehow the cuddly gang concocts an evil dangerous monster of the woods that they must capture if they want to rescue.

Easy mistake to make, right?

The characters are all well played as they get in such predicaments as getting trapped in a pit they dug to catch the creature, bickering with humorous disconnected dialogue, but such scenes still feel sketchy.

Pooh isn't a very interesting protagonist as he only cares about finding honey (or "huny" as its often spelled in the film), and his comical air-headed demeanor wears out its welcome early on. Still, there is a neat honey fantasy sequence that is one of the movie's highlights.

The directors, Anderson and Hall along with almost another dozen of writers worked on the story, and there are 18 songs (several featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward), so it's surprising that it's only a little over an hour long. To somewhat make up for that there is a animated short "The Ballad Of Nessie", about the Loch Ness monster, narrated by Billy Connolly, which isn't bad.

Take note that WINNIE THE POOH is a film that will most likely please toddlers much more than older kids, but some nostalgic parents may appreciate its charms. If you do take the kids, stay through the end credits because there's a final bonus bit that shouldn't be missed.

With a film this short and slight, you should definitely get your moneys worth.

More later...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

BEGINNERS: The Film Babble Blog Review

BEGINNERS (Dir. Mike Mills, 2011)

Mills' second feature posits itself as a more poignant piece than his dorky debut THUMBSUCKER (2007). It involves an earnest, soft spoken as usual, Ewan McGregor dealing with the death of his 75 year old father (Christopher Plummer) from cancer.

Previously Plummer came out as gay after his wife of 40 years died. Through his daily depression, McGregor has many flashbacks that tell the story of his father's dying days from the personal ad dating scene to his dying bed.

McGregor inherits his dad's dog, a Jack Russell terrier, who he talks to, and the dog answers in comic subtitles like "While I understand up to 150 words - I can't talk." Cute, huh?

McGregor works as a cartoonist or illustrator (not quite sure which) for a firm that working on album art for an indie band called The Sads. Isn't that cute too?

At a costume party with his co-workers, McGregor dressed as Sigmund Freud meets Mélanie Laurent (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) dressed as Charlie Chaplin who writes on a notepad to communicate because she has laryngitis. Got that? A major meet-cute.

Set in 2003, the film is full of a sort of slide-show framing device in which McGregor narrates over photos of people and places from previous periods in order for us to get the proper perspective. "This is what the sun looked like, the stars, this is the President" etc. Again we're drowning in cuteness.

If you haven't already guessed, this film struck me as way too cutesy.

The despair over losing a loved one, especially one whose real identity you are just beginning to process, is only touched on affectingly in the final scenes. Otherwise it's a eye-roller with little depth or narrative thrust.

Plummer is an excellent actor who puts a lot into his performance here, but it's an underwritten role. His relationship with the much younger Goran Visjnic, his first openly homosexual relationship, is thankfully not treated cheaply, but it just hangs there as a unexplored thread.

The film has unfinished thoughts as well about McGregor's career, his inability to commit to Laurent even after he asks her to move in, and his off kilter mother (Mary Page Keller) who we see in flashbacks acting all weird at home and embarrassing her son at an art gallery.

I feel somewhat Scrooge-ish in dissing this film, because I know there's an autobiographical element here (Mills' father died after coming out) and on the surface BEGINNERS is a perfectly pleasant indie movie with likable leads, a listenable soundtrack, and, yep, a lot of cuteness that some folks will think is just fine.

But to me it was cloyingly incomplete. An edgeless experience.

If Mills would flesh out his characters more and cut down on the cuteness, I would be inclined to get on board with his work since there's certainly heart there, but I just can't get on board with BEGINNERS.

More later...

Friday, July 08, 2011

HORRIBLE BOSSES: The Film Babble Blog Review

HORRIBLE BOSSES (Dir. Seth Gordon, 2011)

As the most recent in a spate of crude R-Rated comedies, HORRIBLE BOSSES is just funny enough to recommend. Although maybe just as a matinee.

Anybody who clicked on this review surely knows the plot, but I'll state it anyway: 3 guys who want to murder their bosses concoct a plan to do so with comical results.

As the 3 guys we've got Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudekis, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Charlie Day, and Arrested Development's (as well as the everyman in every other comedy movie made these days) Jason Bateman.

The bosses are Colin Firth with a combover as a chemical company coke-head who takes over Sudekis's workplace after his father (Donald Sutherland) dies, Kevin Spacey as a corporate asshole (shades of his likewise character in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS) who denies Bateman a promotion, and Jennifer Anniston playing against her girl-next-door type as a dentist who sexually harrases Day as her dental assistant ("Yours doesn't sound so bad" Sudekis says about Day's predicament).

Think STRANGERS ON A TRAIN + THROW MOMMA OFF THE TRAIN (both of which are referenced in this movie), with a sprinkling of 9 TO 5 thrown in for good measure. It takes a bit to really get going, but when it does the frantic scheming of the 3 leads makes for some big laughs especially from Day doing his patented screaming, not-the-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer, It's Always Sunny stuff.

Sudekis with his sex-snarkiness seems so much like his character in HALL PASS that I kept expecting him to call his wife back home, and Bateman is playing the same nice-guy notes he has in many a movie, but these guys' recognizable and relatable personas all anchor the movie nicely.

Spacey, Firth, and Aniston have fine funny moments, but none is funnier than Jamie Foxx who steals every scene he's in as a "murder consultant" the guys seek out in a seedy bar when they are looking for somebody to do their dirty work.

Scripted by John Francis Daley (who played protagonist Sam on Freaks and Geeks), and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the film feels oddly restrained at times - like it never quite goes over the top.

However when it busts out a car chase/phone sex climax it's gets mighty close.

More later...

Thursday, July 07, 2011


HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (Dir. Jason Eisener, 2010)

This is the second, and with hope the last, movie to be spun off of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s fake exploitation double feature GRINDHOUSE (2007). Like last year’s MACHETE, it’s based on one of the trailer parodies that were the best part of that failed experiment. Also like MACHETE, it’s a lame ass excuse for a film that should’ve remained a 2 minute piece of funny filler.

One of the only things the Canadian made HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN has got going for it is Rutger Hauer (BLADE RUNNER, THE HITCHER) as the title character. Hauer is intensely invested in his part, actually taking it seriously, while the movie around him is grueling and ugly. It's a simple story of a man who gets off a freight train in a ficticious hellhole of a city where gangs rule the streets, the cops are corrupt, and every woman is a prostitute.

There's a vicious slick-backed Brian Downey as the crime lord in charge who declares war on all the homeless after Hauer's attempt to clean up the streets with a newly acquired shotgun. One of the few laughs in the film is the headline: "Hobo stops begging, demands change."

The hobo befriends a hooker with a heart of gold (Molly Dunsworth) who, of course, he'll have to defend in the ginormous violent orgy of blood that concludes the film.

The conclusion cant come soon enough as this is one of the most unpleasant and least entertaining film I've seen since, well, MACHETE. There's little sense of fun or satire here, it's just a series of sick scenes with disgusting dialogue (like "First I gotta wipe this guy's ass off of my face") and pointless imitations of cheap '70s and '80s filming styles, or lack of styles more accurrately.

I know some folks enjoy this kind of carnage, but I couldn't stand seeing shots of Hauer eating glass, a schoolbus of children getting torched, or any of the irritating tortuous actions of Downey's amped-up sons Nick Bateman and Gregory Smith.

It's feels futile to call this a horrible movie, because that's what its trying to be - a purposely sleazy piece of cinematic crap, you know like they used to make and the kids used eat up. But as GRINDHOUSE and MACHETE have shown, the kids aren't eating up this stuff. They both flopped bigtime and HOBO has only made a third of its 3 million dollar budget so the phony exploitation thing really isn't flying.

Maybe now they'll give up the grindhouse and we can all move on.

Special Features on 2 Disc Collector's Edition: Digital Copy, Shotgun Mode (Behind The Scenes Interactive Movie Feature), Commentary with Jason Eisener and Rutger Hauer, Commentary with Eisener and writer John Davies, producer Rob Cotterill, and David Brunt, "More Blood, More Heart: The Making of HOBO AND A SHOTGUN", Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Video Blogs, Camera Test Reel, Fangoria Interviews, Redband Trailer, and other stuff I'm too tired to type.

More later... 

Friday, July 01, 2011

LARRY CROWNE: The Film Babble Blog Review

LARRY CROWNE (Dir. Tom Hanks, 2011)

Initially, it's kinda neat to see Tom Hanks as just another average Joe for the first time in ages. He's playing a divorced man who prides himself on being named Employee of the Month repeatedly at the ficticious U-Mart (a Walmart-like big box store) he's worked at since retiring as a Navy cook.

Thing is, Hank's wide-eyed ernest title character never went to college, so he gets told by the store's higher-ups (including Rob Riggle) that they have to lay him off.

Hanks buys a motorscooter at his neighbor Cedric the Entertainer's permanent yard sale, so he can save money on gas, and applies to every retail outlet in the area. He learns over and over again that times are tough. Mainly because folks keep saying that out loud.

Hanks enrolls in community college where he befriends a fellow scooter rider classmate Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and falls in love with his professor (Julia Roberts somehow seeming bored and smug simultaneously) who teaches a class called "The Art of Informal Remarks." No really.

If it feels like I'm rushing through the plot it's only because there isn't much of one. A UP IN THE AIR-type premise about the bleak job situation doesn't go anywhere, and neither do any of the cutesy collection of comic bits that Hanks strains to set up.

Hanks' first film as director, THAT THING YOU DO (1996), was a trivial but highly likable musical comedy, so I had hopes that his second try at helming a vehicle would have something more going for it than what the trailers were suggesting. No such luck.

This flimsy film also features Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston in a horribly written role as Roberts' no good writer husband who spends more time looking at internet porn than working at home, and That '70s Show's Wilmer Valderrama as MBatha-Raw's jealous boyfriend, which is also a thankless uninspired part.

Only Lietenant Sulu from Star Trek himself, George Takei as a Economics proffesor has a few moments of something slightly resembling funny.

Hanks has blandly assembled a half-assed rom com out of very limited material, stitched together with empty quasi-inspirational sentiment, and Tom Petty songs.

After watching this film I can't answer who Larry Crowne is. Hanks' everyman appeal fades in the first 10 minutes and we never learn nothing about why his marriage ended or why he so loved his retail job before he was canned.

There's nothing interesting about Roberts' character either - she's a jaded educator, that's all I got. So why should we care if they get together?

I can't think of a single reason.

More later...