Friday, October 30, 2009

But I'm a Cheerleader (on DVD) - 2.5 out of 4.0 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: People who like social satire and don't mind clumsy filmmaking

Best Mood to Walk In With: Prepared for the mixing of both cynical and heartfelt humor

Don't See This Movie If: Clever humor is not enough for you to deal with trite, predictable storylines

But I'm a Cheerleader is not a bad movie if you like campy-ness and are in an easygoing mood. Folks who tend to be critical of indies not being as good as Hollywood should probably not see this movie.

Basically the premise is that a cheerleader is suspected of being a lesbian, and after being shipped off to gay camp discovers that everyone else was correct. Although not a fairy tale by any means, the storyline is as predictable as one and the acting is flat. However, there are moments of humor that kept me watching.

Keep Your Eyes Closed For: The awful use of stereotypes
Keep Your Eyes Open For: The surprise scene after the credits start rolling.

To be honest, I have little to say about this film, because everything was pretty mediocre. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. All in all, But I'm a Cheerleader is not awful, but I wouldn't spend money on it. Try catching it on TBS or HBO on Demand if you feel the need to see it.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Away We Go (on DVD) - 3 out of 4 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: People who like indie romances

Best Mood to Walk In With: Laid back

Don't See This Movie If: You want something fast-paced or unrealistic

Sadly, I missed this critically acclaimed indie when it appeared in art house theaters and had to wait for Away We Go to arrive on DVD. Although it proved to be an original and entertaining movie, I did not find it to be the best film of the year. While last year's indie smash Juno was fast paced and sarcastically witty, this film is much more realistic and finds humor in the every day ridiculousness.

You never know what to expect out of Sam Mendes content-wise, but no matter the story, you know you get quality. American Beauty showed us the depravity of the suburbs, Road to Perdition focused on revenge, Jarhead took us to war, Revolutionary Road exposed a self-destructive marriage...Surprisingly, Away We Go shows us the beauty of the ordinary and the freedom of creating our own life. Is this a turning point for Mendes? It's doubtful. Instead, I believe his array of works just shows that every thorn has its rose as well.

John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are cast well, but it is Maggie Gyllenhaal I fell in love with. Toni Collette had originally been slated in the role of LN, and although Collette is brilliant, the role was perfect with Gyllenhaal. Tons of big names cameo, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janey...the normal cast of quirky characters in a movie about misfits.

Please Don't Miss: It may seem like an excellent bathroom break when the couple enters the hotel, but the scene with the kid talking about babies is hilarious.
You're Sure To Laugh When: Gyllenhaal's explanation of why she dislikes strollers.

All in all, Away We Go is fun, but fluffy. Not a bad way to spend an otherwise uneventful evening, but certainly not something that can't wait.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Monday, October 26, 2009

Paranormal Activity - 4 out of 4 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: Folks who like movies that are scary but without large amounts of blood and gore

Best Mood to Walk In With: Prepared to not sleep

Don't See This Movie If: You want a big effects thriller

Paranormal Activity proves itself as the little movie that could. With a budget less than $15k, this film manages to pack in the creepies while also finishing glossier and more Hollywood than its Blair Witch predecessor.

The beauty is surprisingly found in the simplicity. It doesn't take big time effects, terrifying monsters, or scenes of carnage to give you the willies. Instead, the film shows you every day life. Things that all of us have had happen around us before...flickering lights, rumbling noises, swaying doors, nightmares...they all take a more ominous tone with the insertion of a demonic explanation. Perhaps it is the normality of so many of the situations that begins to haunt us, so that when the really supernatural occurs we are ready to jump.

The fact that this movie is a "documentary" and begins with an acknowledgment of the victim's families and ends with no credits is one of the cleverest things I've seen a horror movie do. Even while you're reminding yourself that it was just a movie in your car ride home, you're still able to doubt. The actors in the movie are natural, Katie in particular. And unlike Blair Witch, the "guerrilla" footage won't make you motion sick.

Paranormal Activity also expands on the fears almost everyone has as a child and turns them into reality. Who wasn't nervous about your foot coming out from under the covers and the monsters that lived under the bed getting you? Also inventive is the way the filmmakers make use of the concept of time. Simply watching the timestamp fastforward quickened my heart, because I knew something scary was about to happen. I was like Pavlov's dog, my body trained to react in fear even if nothing was coming.

Please Don't Miss: The ending. It is a true culmination of the entire movie. (After Steven Spielberg saw the original footage, he suggested the ending that made the widely released version.)
Keep Your Eyes Open For: The Ouija board scene terrified me
You're Sure To Laugh When: The expert booking it out. LOL.

All in all, for a movie that was filmed in one week, Paranormal Activity is incredibly effective and one of the best scary movies I've seen. After a sleepless night of trying to keep every body part in the direct center of my bed, I'm still excited about the sequel. :)

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are - 4 out of 4 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: Older children of any age

Best Mood to Walk In With: Prepared to re-enter childhood

Don't See This Movie If: You have no concept of imagination

I am in love with Where the Wild Things Are. Spike Jonze said, "I didn't look at it as trying to make a children's movie. I just wanted to make a movie about childhood." It is this concept that haunts every scene, every moment, and every frame of this epic movie. Where the Wild Things Are successfully does what The Wizard of Oz also accomplished 70 years ago, it translates a wonderfully vivid book into an even more tangible and fantastic world of imagination and childhood fantasy.

Adults will connect with Where the Wild Things Are because it reminds us what it feels like to be a child. Everything Jonze does is from the viewpoint of a kid named Max, and his remarkable attention to detail will make this film a classic. One of the best things I noticed concerning this immersion into Max's point of view is how in the real world every person is seen from a lower angle. When Max is in a scene with his Mom or sister, the camera is looking up at them. But once Max enters the land of the wild things, even though they are monstrously tall compared to him, the camera shows them at the same level. Max is never looking up to them, because they do what the real world so often neglects, validating the worth of a child's viewpoint as equal to their own. Upon Max's reentry to normal life, Jonze does not condescend to imagine that the world has drastically changed to recognize Max as an equal. Instead he keeps the angles as they were, but shows the way the adults stoop or sit to join Max on his level. Once Max and his Mother are reunited, you never again see her as taller than her son. It's a lyrical symbolism that credits Jonze's directorial talents.

Although this film is fantastical, the emotions are raw, powerful, and very real. Because of this and the beautiful way they are portrayed, I believe this is what Spike Jonze will be remembered for. Max Records who was last seen in The Brothers Bloom astounded me by acting so naturally and charmingly as Max. He is a youngster to keep your eye on, and I hope more evolves from his career than the unfortunately short-lived one of Haley Joel Osment. However, it is James Gandolfini who I believe will be recognized by the Academy for his startlingly touching and nuanced translation of Carol, the focal point of the wild things. For an actor who has long played thugs and villains, Gandolfini does a remarkable job of showing vulnerability, false bravedo, and longing simply through his voice. Of course I don't want to forget the CGI animators and puppeteers that tackled the mammoth task of giving body and facial expressions to the voices. And don't miss Catherine Keener, Catherine O'Hara, and Forest Whitaker who also move the audience with their passionate performances.

Please Don't Miss: The opening scene where the Warner Brothers logo and a fun romp with a dog fully characterize Max within 30 seconds
Keep Your Ears Open For: The incredible soundtrack that harmonizes so perfectly to the action, you almost forget it is there
You're Sure To Laugh When: The comment about eating off feet appears

I've read that Where the Wild Things Are is being considered an indie arthouse flick. However, I would disagree and say that this film is exactly what every movie should aspire to be. It is both entertaining as a movie, but executed with the beauty and thoughtfulness to make it art. And it reminds us of the important lesson that whether you're mournful or triumphant, the emotion can always be captured with a good, loud HHHHOOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLL! :)

Movie Are Life. ~ K

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fame - 2 out of 4 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: Folks who like America's Got Talent-like talent revues

Best Mood to Walk In With: Easily entertained

Don't See This Movie If: You want a musical with a storyline

Fame has no storyline and moderate talent. I say this not because there are no extremely talented characters, but because they are countered by some actors who would have been laughed out of American Idol auditions.

I know musicals are not known for their incredible plots. In fact, most of them are loosely bound by storylines that simply link the songs to each other. However, if shows like Les Miserables and Rent and Wicked are happy exceptions to this rule, then the remake of Fame is a sad exception to the standard. The stories of the characters keep you less interested than an episode of a reality tv show (e.g. The Bachelor or Charm School), so it is the raw talent that you should go see this movie for.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Naturi Naughton, who plays Denise (the pianist singing the song featured in all the ads for this movie), there is little talent to speak of that you wouldn't find at a high school talent show. Specifically Kay Panabaker makes it difficult to even believe her character Jenny could have made it into this school of performing arts, much less succeed at it.

However, two things made this movie enjoyable for me. The first was obviously Naughton who got loud applause from the entire theater after she finished singing her first song. This young lady is talented and I hope to see her in a better vehicle for what she has to offer. The second are the incredible cameos of Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Kelsey Grammer, and Charles Dutton as the school's teachers. Without a doubt, these Broadway veterans have talent, and there is a fantastic scene where Megan Mullally belts it. Had there been more of that and less of the students, I would have enjoyed Fame much more.

Feel Free to Go to the Restroom During: The contrived scene where Mr. Dowd asks Malik about his father
Keep Your Eyes Open For: The hilarious audition in the opening montage of the guy doing a Chicago number

All in all, if you're looking for a good musical, rent my favorite movie Meet Me In St. Louis or, if you need a more modern one, Chicago. Fame just isn't going to make the cut.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Couples Retreat - 3 out of 4 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: Folks who like typical romantic comedys

Best Mood to Walk In With: Good natured

Don't See This Movie If: You are wanting a more hard core Vince Vaughn comedy-centric movie like Swingers or Old School

Couples Retreat has gotten awful reviews, and although I did not think it lived up to its potential, I did think it was a fun way to relax with some friends. If you're comparing the movie to Old School or Sex and the City, of course it will come up short because those are in an upper echelon of pop-coms or pop-roms. (Yes, I made up those words, but hope you understand their meanings...)

However, when comparing Couples Retreat to the typical trash that comes out, it fares much better than an All About Steve or Imagine That. Which leads to an important question: Why do some reviewers judge a few actors against themselves (Vince Vaughn) and not others (Eddie Murphy). True, Couples Retreat is not something that will be a timeless classic, but it made me giggle even if it was predictable, and it certainly did not deserve the awful reviews it has received.

To play off a comment made in the movie, think of Couples Retreat as a screen saver. It can be really cool and interesting, but it's still a screensaver. This movie has funny and cute parts, but it is still a typical romantic comedy. Nothing too special. And to be honest, that's all I have to say about it.

Feel Free to Go to the Restroom During: the Kristin Davis storyline...any of it
Keep Your Eyes Open For: Vince Vaughn's explanation in the woods about why he prefers married life to single's an "Awww" moment for the ladies

All in all, Couple's Retreat is a completely acceptable rental. And if you need a rom com that's in theaters now, it is the only truly viable option at the moment.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Invention of Lying - 2.5 out of 4.0 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: Folks who liked Ghost Town

Best Mood to Walk In With: Gullible

Don't See This Movie If: You can't stand illogical premises

The Invention of Lying doesn't know if it wants to be social commentary or a romantic comedy. Because of this, the script is disjointed and not thought through enough to be truly clever. While there are moments of humor, overall this movie is a disappointment and not a good vehicle for Ricky Gervais's enormous talents.

If you're like me and cannot buy into a film with gaping plot holes, you will not enjoy this movie. The general interesting idea about society's approach to organized religion is overshadowed by inconsistent logic and bad explanations. It is also fascinating how this film has been packaged as a comedy, when it actually has several quite poignant scenes and an overarching theme that will get the Southern Baptists rioting in the streets.

Although the plot is not the best, Ricky Gervais really gets to showcase his talent in a much broader format than The Office. He is truly moving in this movie, and it is nice to see him in a more full role, even if it is the same bitter, cynical character he always is. Jennifer Garner, however, falls flat in trying to recapture the endearingly charming in her flaws character we saw her play in Juno. However, blame the script which only provides stock female characters who are not very interesting.

Keep Your Eyes Closed For: The contrived scene where Mark delivers the explanation of the Man in the Sky
Keep Your Eyes Open For: The surprisingly tender scene between Mark and his Mom

All in all, if you still really want to see The Invention of Lying, wait til it comes out on video. It's neither inventive nor worth your $11.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (on DVD) - 3.5 out of 4.0 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: Any little girl...even the ones who are 26 :)

Best Mood to Walk In With: Light-hearted

Don't See This Movie If: You are looking for something thought-provoking for adults

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is the film that the more recent Nancy Drew movie should have been. It is sweet, enjoyable, and surprising at the mystery's conclusion. It is truly family friendly, not only because it is suitable for children, but also because it is not bad entertainment for adults.

It's no secret that I love Abigail Breslin, and I should note that I also think her handlers pick great and age appropriate roles for her. The character of Kit Kittredge is both. The cute and upbeat nature of this movie is expected, given that it is an American Girl movie; however, the intelligent plot and easy charm are a much appreciated added bonus.

Part of this refreshing movie charisma comes from excellent performances by an all-star cast, including Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, and Joan Cusak. But a lot of it comes from the cute additions of characters like Grace the dog and Willow Smith (Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's daughter).

Although my expectations were that an American Girl movie would have to rely on gimmicks like dogs and adorable children, the script is well-written with both a historical perspective and a moral lesson. Taking place in the 30's, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl takes the subject of the Great Depression seriously, while also not making it overwhelming for a child audience. Compassion and optimism are the mainstays of this script, but not without recognizing the reality of homelessness and greed.

Keep Your Eyes Closed For: The soup kitchen scene is pretty contrived.
Keep Your Eyes Open For: The tender Thanksgiving brought tears to my eyes!

All in all, I was very surprised by how enjoyable Kit Kittredge: An American Girl proved to be. Kit is a wonderful role model for young girls, because her allure is not the fame of Hannah Montana or the glamor of Barbie, but reliant instead on the integrity of a do-gooder.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whip It - 3 out of 4 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: People who like coming of age movies

Best Mood to Walk In With: Good-natured

Don't See This Movie If: You need more substance than charm

Whip It is a fun romp on wheels. What it lacks on depth, it makes up for in plain old likability.

Ellen Page brings her normal energy to the main role of Bliss, the indie high school outcast. For those that liked her in Juno, you'll enjoy her as this less trendy talking, more endearingly sweet version of the misfit stock character. If you preferred her in the darker, more disturbing film Hard Candy, you'll notice the same easy acting in a much more mainstream setting.

It's also easy to see how Drew Barrymore selected this film as her directorial debut after producing movies like the Charlie's Angels remakes. These films and Whip It are all feel good movies with an underlying themes of girl power. Whip It, however, is much less silly than Charlie's Angels, and with a broader audience that can relate to concurrent themes of wanting to make your parents proud and staying true to yourself.

Marcia Gay Harden steals many of the scenes as Bliss's good meaning, but uncompromising mother, and Juliette Lewis and Kristen Wiig are wonderful additions to the cast per usual. You'll definitely take more note of the relationship-driven storyline than accumulate any roller derby knowledge.

Keep Your Eyes Closed For: Nothing. It's an easy watch.
Keep Your EARS Open For: The incredible vocals of Landon Pigg who plays the love interest Oliver.

All in all, Whip It is a charming piece of formulaic fluff with good intentions. You'll easily be able to guess the ending, but like life, Whip It's enjoyability is more about the journey than the destination.

Movies Are Life. ~ K

Zombieland - 3.5 out of 4.0 Stars

Who Would Love This Movie: People who like funny movies about zombies

Best Mood to Walk In With: Ferociously ready to kick butt during the zombie contamination period

Don't See This Movie If: You're part of the legion of the undead or don't believe this could actually happen

Some people were not sure if Zombieland would be stupid or great. However, I walked into the theater fully prepared to love it. Sometimes having high expectations leads to big disappointment, but Zombieland was everything I wanted it to be. It was funny, it was gross, it was a comedy, it was a romance, it featured actors I already enjoyed, and it introduced me to actors I hadn't seen before. Basically, it was a really fun way to spend 2 hours.

Woody Harrelson was great in this film. In fact, in my opinion, it was his best movie since No Country for Old Men. (Semi-Pro, really Woody?) Even better, however, is the surprising cameo by Bill Murray. As usual, Abigail Breslin's performance is solid. And this is a much better vehicle for Jesse Eisenberg than Adventureland was. (Now, if he can only find movies where theme parks are not the main focus...)

But let's be honest. You're not going to watch Zombieland for the acting. You're watching it for the zombies! And they are awesome. They are gross and ravenous and creepy and funny...everything zombies should be in a comedy. The script is clever and even zombie enthusiasts will enjoy its attention to detail.

Keep Your Eyes Closed For: The puking zombie is nasty
Keep Your Eyes Open For: The final zombie at the amusement park...HIGH-larious!

All in all, even those that don't like zombies will probably like Zombieland if they are looking for a comedy. You just can't take it too seriously...or can you? ;)

Movies Are Life. ~ K