Monthly Archives: July 2009

Review: The Ugly Truth

the ugly truth one sheetHere’s a funny setup for a movie: take a beautiful control-freak of a woman and make her producer of a morning show at a small TV station. Then take a scroungy but devilishly handsome guy and have him be the crude-talking cynical relationship expert who says it like he sees it, good or bad. Now, let’s make this funny by having her produce his show, even as she finds him a boor and hates what he stands for.

Could be a funny film. Unfortunately, while that describes the basic storyline of Robert Luketic’s The Ugly Truth, it isn’t a wry, sweet romantic comedy at all, but instead an exercise in crude language and relationship shock therapy barely held together by a script with so many logic and continuity gaffes that it makes you wonder if they accidentally used an early draft.
Katherine Heigl plays Abby, the producer of the KSXP 2 Sacramento morning show. She’s not a pleasant person but rather a broadly painted caricature of a controlling woman, so uptight that when she goes on a blind date, she admits to the guy that her assistant has already run a background check on him and brings “talking points” in case they have nothing to say. The problem is that Heigl is too beautiful to pull this role off. Give it to someone who is attractive, but not gorgeous, and perhaps you can believe that she’s repressed and a control freak. But Heigl?  It just didn’t feel true at all.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the story, Gerard Butler plays Mike, a crude boor of a guy who, again, is (surprise) hiding some disastrous relationships from his past that have broken his heart and left him a vocal cynic and the voice of “The Ugly Truth”, the name of his zero-budget TV call-in show in the wasteland of channel 83 public access cable. Tone down his performance, let him have some lines that suggest he’s not an idiot, just a cynic, and I could have enjoyed his role.
But as it is The Ugly Truth is just an ugly movie that tries to offend with language and crude observations about relationships in a way that just didn’t work for me.

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Review: (500) Days of Summer

500 days of summer onesheetThere are few subjects that are more puzzling than love. What is it? How do you know when you find it? Will it last? Is there really “true love” and is there “the one” person out there who is your perfect match, someone who is your romantic destiny?

That’s what (500) Days of Summer is about, and it’s a truly delightful, funny, heart-warming film.
Summer, in the title, is not a season, but rather an odd, cynical girl (played by Zooey Deschanel) who doesn’t believe in relationships and wants to save “the serious stuff” for when she’s older. She gets a job at a greeting card company where Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a writer, though he’s really a frustrated architect.
Tom looks up and sees Summer over the cubicle walls. That’s Day (1). But I’m getting ahead of myself, actually, because it starts with Day 488. The film takes us on a tour of the ups and downs of their relationship, one that lasts 500 days, and it’s not linear. We bounce around from highlights to periods when they’re not talking to each other, misunderstandings that leave Tom so depressed he’s unable to get out of bed to a wonderful scene where the two of them run through an Ikea store pretending they’re setting up their suburban love nest and a brilliant scene with Tom walking to work after Summer spends the night at his apartment for the first time.
As different moments in the relationship are portrayed, on-screen titles show “Day (32)” or “Day (317)” and so on. I was afraid it would be hard to keep track of given how much it bounces back and forth, but in fact it’s a terrific narrative device and makes the film far more poignant and engaging than if it were a linear love story. Actually, as the narrator explains early on “This is a movie about boy meets girl, but it’s not a love story.” It is, however, a delightful film.

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Interview: Protecting the King executive producer Gail Lynn

I met Gail at a non-film event and was surprised and intrigued when she started to share with me her involvement in the quasi-documentary “Protecting the King”, a behind-the-scenes look at Elvis Presley and his posse behind-the-scenes while on tour. She generously agreed to the following interview to help clarify what she did for the film and how it was created and produced. If you’re interested in it, it is for sale through Amazon: Protecting the King

Q: What the heck does an executive producer DO on a movie?

GAIL: Nothing about doing this film follows any rules or guidelines. I’ll give you the Hollywood definition and then tell my story.

protecting the king dvd

Basically, an executive producer of a motion picture is someone who finds or funds the film.

A producer is the one who options the story and develops it. Developing it means to hire the director, writer, actors, put together the financing package if money needs to be raised (including legal documents, budgets, etc.).

If you look up the role of a producer or executive producer you will get a variety of explanations.

In my case I partnered with the writer / director and we started the production company. I filled the COO, CFO, Project Executive and investor relations roles. In the true sense of a start-up I wore many hats.

As the film evolved I took on the role of Executive Producer to have credibility in Hollywood. For me that meant helping raise the money, operate the production company, be involved in casting, pre-production, production, post-production, marketing and distribution.

I was with the film from the day the production company was started to the day it hit the shelves. That time frame was approximately 7 years.

Q: Tell us a bit about “Protecting the King”: what’s it about?

continues….

Continue reading Interview: Protecting the King executive producer Gail Lynn

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

harry potter half blood prince onesheetSix films into the Harry Potter series, it seems like Harry, Ron and Hermione are old friends and family members. Between the books and the films, it seems that they’ve been part of contemporary culture for decades, certainly in my household.

Turning the books into films has been a tricky task, however, and each film has had its own distinctive personality. It’s no coincidence that a number of different directors have been involved too, from Chris Columbus (HP1 and HP2) to Alfonso CuarĂ³n (HP3), Mike Newell (HP4) and David Yates (HP5 and HP6).
The overall story has flowed beautifully from discovery to recognition of danger to the desire – and growing ability – to fight the growing darkness in author J.K. Rowling’s fictional world. The ultimate struggle is about good versus evil, good as embodied in Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe) and his two pals Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Evil is personified by the undead dark wizard Voldemort and his followers, known collectively as the Death Eaters.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry finds himself in Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent)’s potions class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and auspiciously finding an old potions textbook with extensive corrections and additional scribbled notes that help him become a star pupil.  The book is inscribed “Property of the Half-Blood Prince” and the question that the film explores is the identity of this prince.
I really enjoyed The Half-Blood Prince and found that the look and style of the film was true to the previous entries in the series: lush, complex, at times astonishing, and overall a world that had as much fun and whimsy as terrifying dark magic. While there’s lots of magic, most of the story focuses on the magic of the adolescent heart, however, and much of what unfolds seems to be about boy longs for girl, girl likes other boy, boy doesn’t notice girl, etc etc. You know, adolescence.

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Review: Moon

moon one sheetImagine you’ve screwed up your life enough that it’s time for a significant break. A really significant change from your day-to-day reality. For Sam Bell (played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell), that break involves being shipped to the far side of the moon by Lunar Industries, Inc. to work solo on a Helium-3 (HE3) mining facility. For three years.

Moon starts out with Sam only having two weeks left on Mining Base Sarang before his three year contract is up, but before long he starts to see things and we notice some oddities on the station, little things that don’t really add up.
Keeping Sam company is the GURTY 3000 computer system, one of many elements that were an homage to the brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike the abstract red eye of the HAL 9000, however, GURTY is a big ugly box with a small video screen that displays bright yellow smiley faces and has a “kick me” post-it stuck to its back. At least once or twice we are left wondering if GURTY is telling the truth to Sam or whether it’s programmed to lie too, just as 2001 is partially about the veracity and gradual breakdown of the HAL system.
Two weeks?  How hard can it be to stick it out and survive his last two weeks of lunar work before he is shipped back to his beautiful wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and young daughter Eve (Kaya Scodelario)?  And yet, strange things keep happening and soon Sam’s seeing himself when he looks elsewhere in the claustrophobically small station, then has an accident while in a rover out servicing a Harvester and is brought back to Sarang. But by whom?

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Review: Coraline

coraline one sheetI’d heard from a couple of friends how wonderful the film Coraline is, but it took me a few months before I finally sat down and screened this movie. In a word: wow!

I’m a fan of just about every type of film making, from the interpolated rotoscoping of the weird A Scanner Darkly to the stop-motion of Wallace and Gromit to the beautiful, distinctive animation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to the almost completely green-screened adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, if it tells a good story, it’s good with me.
If you recall the weird but fascinating The Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ve seen the amazing stop-motion work of director Henry Selick. The writer of that film was the always-peculiar but terrific Tim Burton. Coraline has a different writer, though it has a very similar look and style.
Stop-motion animation is great for kids, but as a father of three younger children, I have to say right up front that Coraline is not a film for children. It got a PG rating from the MPAA, but I think that purely for thematic elements I’d have thought a PG-13 would have been more appropriate. An under-10 who saw this would have serious challenges sleeping for many days thereafter.

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Review: The Hurt Locker

the hurt locker onesheetI have no delusions about warfare, ancient or modern. Films often portray it as a heroic battlefield, offer up images of great valor and make it seem a fun place for camaraderie and adventure. I haven’t been in an active war zone, thank goodness, but I have friends who’ve served, and I’m quite clear that it’s dirty, overwhelming and terrifying. I get that.

Nonetheless, I enjoy war films but always measure them against the dual yardstick of how realistically they portray war and whether there’s a story, an interesting narrative, too.  That’s why I both really liked and was left surprisingly untouched by Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.
Set in Iraq in 2004, it offers up a collection of interesting — and sporadically quite intense — scenes focused on U.S. Army Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a wild member of an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit on the front lines of the complicated war zone that is Baghdad. But the story line, the narrative progression of the film, was surprisingly weak and many scenes could easily have had their order swapped without the audience even knowing.
The film starts out with a quote that really explains the point Bigelow is making, “war is a drug”, and for James, that’s exactly what it is, even as his two squadmates, Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (a nuanced performance by Brian Geraghty), try to figure out what makes him tick. Why?  Because James is a fearless and undisciplined daredevil who eschews all safety rules in the interest of just walking in and defusing the bomb.

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Giveaway: Cool Insider Sci-Fi Film T-Shirt!

I’ve been a fan of science fiction films since I first started watching movies, and have always been particularly amused by the names of companies and organizations within these films. If you’re trying to create an evil corporation or malevolent computer or whatever, do you just pick something seemingly random like the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or should there be more back story?

nerdoh skynet tshirtFor me, the bonus film for fun and entertaining company names has always been a cult favorite of mine, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. How can you not love an alien-run company called Yoyodyne Propulsion Technologies, “where the future is tomorrow”?

When the fine chaps at Nerdoh! approached me about sponsoring a giveaway of one of their great T-shirts, I checked out their site and found some soul mates: they too are obsessed with the companies that appear in sci-fi and horror films. In fact, they generously sent me a sample, a Skynet T-Shirt (and if I have to tell you what movie Skynet’s from, well, then you aren’t a sci-fi fictional company fan!)

Their range of t-shirts ranges from horror, to sci-fi, to comedy, to action, etc, and there are some pretty entertaining ones. I particularly like some of the summer camp shirts associated with shlocky slasher horror films, though I am not generally a fan of the genre.

Anyway, they’ve agreed to let me host a little competition on this blog, with the winner getting their pick of one t-shirt from Nerdoh!  Sweet!

Here’s the deal: IMDb has a list of Top Fifty Sci-Fi Films, starting with Star Wars, The Matrix, WALL-E (really?), Alien, Terminator, Metropolis, and so on. Using the list as a starting point, pick two or more movies and invent a cool insider t-shirt based on the malevolent corporation, evil lair, or even the ship or an incidental brand reference and post it here as a comment.

For example: “Technical Specialist IV: Tractor Beam Squadron: Imperial Death Star” would obviously be tied to Star Wars, and perhaps something like “Pleasure Unit Quality Control Division, Tyrell Corporation” from Blade Runner. You might want to watch one or two films if you really want to get obscure on us, and I’ll definitely give points for style…

On 31 July I will pick the winner out of all the entries and notify you that you’ve won a super-cool Nerdoh! t-shirt of your choice. That’s pretty easy, isn’t it?

Get it? Go for it and good luck to you!

Review: Food, Inc.

food inc onesheet

Do you pay attention to the food you eat and are you aware of the path it takes from the field or animal to your plate?  If you don’t, you might be surprised at the consequences of large scale factory farming and how it’s changed what we eat and adversely impacted the quality and purity of our meals.

Food, Inc. is a very political documentary with an axe to grind, a clear and overt bias against large scale corporate agribusiness. The facts speak for themselves and I already buy organic and local foods whenever possible, but unfortunately director Robert Kenner wasn’t satisfied with letting the facts speak for themselves and what he’s crafted is a piece of agitprop, a movie that takes itself very, very seriously and requires that you either do the same or constantly be asking “Ok, so what’s the alternative?” as it proceeds for 94 minutes.

The film is based primarily on Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, with additional material from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Both are essentially investigations into modern farming in the vein of Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, about the Chicago slaughterhouses of the early 1900s. Problem is, I’ve already read Fast Food Nation and was already familiar with the majority of the material in Food, Inc., so it served as rather a boring and depressing polemic.

If you’re not aware of the extreme challenge of farming and raising livestock for an ever-growing population even as arable farm land diminishes, you really should watch this film and get a quick education. Where it’s weakest, however, is where so many of these agitprop films break down: in offering up thoughtful, viable alternatives to the challenges faced by massive scale food production.

Read on for some salient facts on corporate farming and its consequences that I jotted down as I watched Food, Inc.

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Review: Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

ice age 3 one sheet
I’m a father of three pre-teen children, but when I go to see children’s fare in the movie theater, I generally see it by myself. There are too many movies that are marketed as children’s fare, but that I feel contains themes, language or situations that are inappropriate for my own children (like Land of the Lost, see my review for more details). 

I am careful not to judge other parents for exposing their children to material I feel is not child-friendly, though I do make an exception for certain situations, like the chowderhead Dad who brought his 10yo son to see Saving Private Ryan. That bordered on child abuse, but that’s another story.
Anyway, why this is significant is because after having seen the first two Ice Age films from Fox Animation, I felt that this third installment would be a good choice for my 9yo son’s first film in the movie theater. You might find it a bit incredible that I’m a film critic yet haven’t been bringing my son (or any of my children) to the theater, but there’s too much dreck to make them suffer through, and as a reviewer and adult, I can easily slough off scary imagery or disturbing story lines, while my children are still innocent enough that a monster or exciting chase can be upsetting.
Watch your own children next time you take them to an exciting movie, by the way, and you may be surprised how they react and what frightens them, even though after the credits roll they’ll be eager to say how exciting and fun the film was. It’s not that being scared isn’t a reasonable part of a movie — heck, that’s why we have horror and gore films! — but that some kids can handle that a lot better than others.
The good news?  While there were a few scenes that were intense, overall my son and I both really enjoyed Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and I’ll heartily recommend it to any families with other than the very youngest children.

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