Monthly Archives: September 2009

Review: Love Happens

love happens one sheet.jpgImagine having a tragic loss and coping with that by writing a heartfelt journal that, through a series of coincidences, turns into a national best selling book on dealing with grief. Before you know it, you find yourself a self-help guru running workshops throughout the United States, even as you still have a niggling feeling that you haven’t really dealt with all the emotions related to the loss itself.

That’s the situation that Burke Ryan, PhD (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself in after his wife dies in a terrible car accident and he’s leading “A Okay!” workshops to help others deal with the loss of a partner, parent, child or other loved one. With the ceaseless promotion of his business partner and agent Lane (Dan Fogler), Burke is portrayed as a rock star, uncertainly standing out in the hallway while listening to his glowing introduction. Intro over, he bursts through the door and runs to the stage, grinning and glad-handing audience members.
Predictably, he meets local florist Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) and finds her physically attractive (I won’t say he falls for her because it’s not until half-way into the movie that he learns anything about her) and so pursues her. Then it’s the cliché boy-meets-girl, girl-spurns-boy, boy pursues, girl warms up to boy, happily ever after, yadda yadda. You know the drill.
While I’d like to say that this was a warm, romantic film, it was in fact more of an exercise in how many trite romantic film clichés can be stuffed into a single movie and a demonstration of how sometimes typecasting doesn’t work very well: Eckhart was boring and unbelievable, and Anniston was, oh my god, the same role she’s played since she was on Friends.  Not a bad movie, I suppose, but don’t go in expecting too much, okay?

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Review: The Informant!

the informant one sheetSet in the early 1990’s, The Informant! has the feel of an Austin Powers movie, from the titles to the music (here supplied by über-composer Marvin Hamlish). It’s a movie about the evils of large corporations — in this case Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) — and what happens to whistleblowers who follow their conscience and help the gov’t build a case against evildoers, even when they’re your coworkers.

Or is it?
The Informant! tells the story of Mark Whitacre (beautifully played by Matt Damon), a senior executive who worked at ADM in the 1990s and turned FBI informant. It’s not all exactly as things transpired, though, as the opening titles warn us: “This film is based on real events, but not everything you’ll see is real, some are a fabrication. So there.”
The film seems to be about how ADM conspires with foreign agribusiness to fix the price of lysine (a valuable amino acid extracted from corn) and how Whiteacre rejects the pressure to get involved in the illegal practice. Initially, Whitacre shares with his boss, and then the FBI, that the company is being blackmailed by Japanese agricultural conglomerate Ajinomoto. Ajinomoto has planted a virus in the ADM lysine production facility and was demanding $2mil to send information on how to kill the virus and restore production levels.
But as this strange, amazing and quite hilarious film leads us through the events between 1992 and 1996, we learn that the real story isn’t about ADM’s business practices, it’s not about the incompetent FBI agents assigned to work with Whitacre, but all about Mark Whitacre himself and the strange fantasy world he inhabited.
The Informant! is one of the freshest, wittiest and most entertaining films so far this year. Go see it. Then marvel that it’s based on real events.

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Review: Whiteout

whiteout one sheetHere’s a really cool idea for a film: you’re a US Marshall working at the United States Antarctica station research facility, helping keep the peace. Like a campus cop, your primary job is dealing with drunks and minor thefts, but you’re hoping that a major crime will occur so you can remember what it is to be a “real” cop. 

Now, because you’re in the coldest, most remote place on Earth, you’ve got another level of complexity too: the extraordinarily hostile climate where winter temperatures of -75C (-167F) and 100mph winds are common and where the snow can blow so intensely that you can’t see your hand in front of your face, a “whiteout” condition.
Add one more ingredient to this film stew: what if the first major winter storm was barreling towards your research station and you had to evac right now or you were stuck for six months of cold, cruel winter and you just found a murder victim?  
That should have been the setup for the new Dominic Sena-directed film Whiteout, but unfortunately, it isn’t. The film does take place in Antarctica, at the Amundsen-Scott base, and the protagonist is a U.S. Marshall, Marshall Carrie Stetko (played unconvincingly by Kate Beckinsale), but the High Noon-style tension of the impending storm and the isolation of those trying frantically to solve the murder before they’re left in the station for the winter is never properly exploited and the film itself ends up surprisingly lifeless and un-engaging.

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Review: Gamer

This is a guest review by my friend Tom Frey…

gamer one sheetGamer is a new low for the tech trashing genre 
My wife Deb and I are always up for a good sci-fi action film and the new Gamer movie seemed to fits in most of the categories of a movie we’d enjoy.
Before a movie starts, quite often the previews will tip you off as to what kind of film you are about to see. Deb picked up on this right away when we were unexpectedly seeing the previews for bad horror and vampire movies. 
When it comes to movie plots, I’m not a big fan of any plot that turns technology into the villain and even less thrilled when the message creates fear and anxiety about our dreaded tech future. 
In Gamer, the directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor attempted to craft a futuristic thriller set in a time when mind control tech pits two classes of people against each other – the “controllers” and the “controlees” – as the latest entertainment rage for the rest of the world to watch. 
The plot centered around Kable (Gerard Butler), under the thumb of teen nerd superstar Simon (Logan Lerman) with the whole game being masterminded by the egomaniacal mega-billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). Castle has introduced a new game, Slayer, which places death row convicts like Kable in the hands of uber-gamers to battle for their lives with the carrot at the end of the journey being a full-pardon after surviving 30 successful outings. 
Much like Running Man and last year’s terrible remake of Death Race, the stage is set for our star-crossed hero Kable to survive a one-in-a-million odds of survival battle to win his freedom and be reunited with his wife and daughter.

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Review: Extract

extract one sheetCan an entirely predictable storyline with snappy dialog and an amusing setup produce a film that’s worth watching?  With most directors, the answer would be no, but Mike Judge, who mastered the nuances of everyday conversation and situations with the hit Office Space, has accomplished just that in the new comedy Extract.

Part of what I like to see in movies is the gradual unveiling of the story, where the true allegiance of characters is something we, the audience, figure out alongside the protagonist. Extract is not that sort of story, and we know within the first sixty seconds of the film that Cindy (Mila Kunis) is a grifter, a con artist who drifts from scam to scam. For me, though, the opening scene is one of the funniest in the movie precisely because I didn’t really know what was going on until the hustle was revealed.
Extract is centered on the fictional Reynold’s Extract manufacturing plant that produces vanilla, cherry, almond, root beer and similar food flavorings. Located in an unspecified small midwestern town, the plant is owned and run by Joel (Jason Bateman), with the assistance of general manager Brian (J.K. Simmons). When an industrial accident injures floor foreman Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), the company hires temps, one of whom is the gorgeous Cindy.
There’s more to the film, but that’s the basic storyline: is Cindy planning a con, and if so, what is it and how will it unfold? The real strength of the movie isn’t the predictable unfolding of events, however, but the wry and constantly amusing dialog between the characters, even if it requires that each be a shallow caricature. Stand outs in the supporting cast include the caustic line worker Mary (Beth Grant) and the stoic Hector (Javier Gutiérrez) who seems to only barely understand what’s going on.
Whether you’ll like this film or not depends on how much storyline needs to grab you: there’s no question that the dialog is snappy and amusing and that there are many aspects to the film that are quite witty. If you liked Office Space, you’ll find Extract quite entertaining.

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Review: Delgo vs Avatar

delgo one sheetThere’s been a lot of buzz in the geek world about how James Cameron’s upcoming film Avatar looks like it’s a rip-off of a 2008 animated film release called Delgo, from Electric Eye Entertainment. I grabbed a copy of Delgo and watched it, both looking at the storyline and comparing it as I went with the fifteen minutes of Avatar footage I’ve seen (see my review of Avatar Day footage for details).

To be honest, there are a number of superficial similarities between the alien world of Pandora that Cameron has created for Avatar and the world of Delgo. But that’s about it.
The film Delgo is a highly predictable story of two races of people who have an uneasy truce, and how the pure love of a Lockni boy (Delgo, voiced by Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and a Nohrin princess (Kyle, voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt) overcomes a potential war and produces a long-lasting peace between the races.
The story is so banal that it’s barely worth reviewing, but I will admit that the visual style of the animated feature was quite delightful, and, as you’ll see, the rendering of textures, including rocks, wood, plantlife and skin, was almost flawless. Beautiful.
There was quite a voice cast in Delgo too, including Anne Bancroft, Val Kilmer, Malcolm McDowell, Louis Gossett Jr., Eric Idle, Burt Reynolds and even Sally Kellerman. Problem was, none of their voices actually sounded familiar so the production company – which appears to have completely skipped any sort of advertising campaign anyway – could have saved a lot of money and hired other voice talent.
Delgo is a 2008 release, so it’s available on DVD. is it worth a rental?  Maybe. It’s too violent and intense for younger children, rather startlingly so, but it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of animation in all its variations.
But is Cameron ripping off Delgo for his creative ideas for Avatar?  Well…

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