Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

A sometimes-delightful blend of schlock, pretentious throw-away phrases that were so “weighty” they frankly seemed comedic, but with some touching moments, as the boy, who made a better dragon, comes to his senses. His transformation seems to be the heart of the film. Yet I often asked, “What’s the point here?” Where is the story? Frankly, I felt it was a series of creative images in search of a clear purpose.

The music is lush and so is 3-D imagery, but most everything seemed slightly strained and often without depth.

Though Georgie Henley (Lucy) continues to bring a wide-eyed innocence to her role, but now with a wiser and more mature demeanor.

For me, the delightful part of the story featured Will Poulter (Eustace Scrubb), a snot, if ever there was one, full of disdain for his cousins who are forced by the war to stay with his parents while their parents have gone to America. He’s a delightful actor who totally captures the arrogant snobbery of the well-bred, those who have no time for Narnia, religion’s “cultured despisers,” as Schleiermacher called them.

Yet he’s drowned, if you will, in a sort of baptism, but is transformed by his own greed into a fire-breathing dragon, who finds his courage and his faith, and ultimately is redeemed, comes to the defense of his friends and saves the day.

One of the great animation characters is, of course, our noble-hearted mouse, Reepicheep, voiced touchingly by Simon Pegg.

The flim ends well.

Lucy and Eustace and Edmund return to their world, richer and stronger, knowing that Aslan is a part of their world,  though known by another name, even as they were a part of his world for awhile.

Can’t say this gets a high endorsement from me, but if you’re fan of C.S. Lewis and have seen the other two installments, it’s worth seeing.

Worth seeing in the theater?

Sure. Go ahead and get some popcorn. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

"The Social Network"

Reviewed by good friend and fine writer, Susan Steele ... 

Mark Zuckerberg...Does he have Asperger’s Syndrome? Is he merely misunderstood? An asshole? Or… just trying to be one? 

Zuckerberg is the arrogant computer genius defending himself in a lawsuit against his only friend along with three other Harvard acquaintances who also claim to be the founders of The Social Network - otherwise known to us as Facebook. 

The movie portrays Zuckerberg as someone who has difficulty relating to girls, roommates, friends and anyone else who does not speak his language - computer programming. He is also distracted by the fact that he has not yet been invited to join one of two prestigious Harvard Final Clubs. (So named because they are two of the last social clubs one can join at Harvard before graduation).

We watch as Mark Zuckerberg flaunts his hacking skills in front of Harvard officials, apologizing to no one for his ability to build a network faster and more sustainable than anyone has ever been able to do. He never seems to second guess himself, has no qualms about asking his friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin for more money, and then casts aside his friend when he no longer seems useful (or is he jealous because Saverin is invited to be in a Final Club and Zuckerberg is not?).

He also has to defend himself against three elite Harvard students, the snobby twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and their friend, Divya Narendra, who "hired" Zuckerberg to create a social network for Harvard - thus launching Zuckerberg on to a larger project - connecting the elite schools in the country via a social network, then connecting colleges overseas like Oxford and Cambridge, and then, later, creating the network that everyone uses today…from your teenager to your grandmother. Helping him on this journey is his bedazzling, slightly slimy, new friend - founder of Napster, Shawn Parker.

The Social Network is well-written (Aaron Sorkin), seamlessly directed (David Fincher) and comprises a fine cast including Jessie Eisenberg. Eisenberg, as Zuckerberg, is compelling in this ironic tale of a friendless young man who becomes the founder of the world’s largest social network (not to mention the world’s youngest billionaire)…which, in Zuckerberg’s case, makes the phrase “Add As Friend” a little pathetic.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

Reviewed by my fellow-writer and true FilmNut, Michelle Welker Scott.

Scott Pilgrim is in love. Again. Although he’s already in a relationship and has a long trail of broken-hearted women behind him, he’s pining for someone new: a girl with hair like ‘this’ and whom everyone says is way out of his league. But Scott doesn’t care. In fact, he’s willing to battle his new love’s seven, evil ex-boyfriends in order to win her.

Admittedly, it’s not much of a plot, but it isn’t the story that makes this movie special. It’s everything else. From the eye-popping special effects that turn the movie into a kind of a comic book to the wonderfully overblown fight scenes to the general, overall goofiness, Scott Pilgrim versus the World is a genuinely fun flick.

Some of the best elements come from the supporting cast. Sweet and sassy Ellen Wong, who plays Scott’s high school girlfriend Knives Chau, is full of boundless energy. With her large eyes and hilariously over-animated expressions, Wong could have leapt from the storyboard of an anime cartoon. Wong makes a great contrast to Kieran Culkin (McCauley’s younger brother), Scott Pilgrim’s jaded roommate who offers up scene after scene of deadpan one-liners. 

The only weak link in the movie is Scott himself who is played by Michael Cera. Audiences have seen Cera in so many roles as the adorable, bumbling misfit that it is almost impossible to envision him as the hard fighting, heart breaking Pilgrim. Although it’s nice to see Cera try something different, he can’t really carry the lead.

But everything else about the movie is dazzling. Even those who don’t understand the subtle jokes relating to video games and anime comics, will enjoy the punchy dialog and furious action sequences. Scott Pilgrim Versus the World is a sweet ending to the summer movie season.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Expendables

Short review:

ultimate testosterone ... guns, bombs, planes, rapid-fire shotguns,explosions and fire, really bad guys, and good guys who are bad, tattoos, motorcycles and car chases ... and even some good acting now and then ... Mickey Rourke and Stallone have a moment of conversation that's profound about when the soul dies in so much violence and blood ... and that saving someone else might just save the lost soul!

The story lifts up the power of loyalty. When the "beautiful woman" in the story chooses to remain behind in evident danger, while Stallone's character flees, he's haunted by her courage, and returns to save her. I was intrigued by the way in which this was handled - this wasn't about lust, or even love, but the human response to courage, and the need to save a soul - his own - ravaged by violence, by saving someone else.

But don't let the story get in the way of gutsy entertainment. If ya' want comic book violence, with a solid background story, you'll find it here.

I was entertained on a Friday afternoon when I wanted some entertainment.

Gals, stay away ... a good friend challenged me on this, and she's a gal!

Guys, this one's for you!

And maybe for anyone who likes a shoot-'em-up story with hints of real depth.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Get Low

See it!

This is a fine film, starring three remarkable actors, with a fourth not far behind.

What can be said about such actors: Robert Duvall (the hermit, Felix Bush), Sissy Spacek (Mattie Darrow, who loved Felix 40 years earlier) and Bill Murray (the slightly smarmy funeral parlor owner, Frank Quinn)?

Their craftsmanship is stunning to watch, as they bring to life the nuances of their characters - these are real people we're watching.

But there's a fourth actor here that deserves our attention: Lucas Black (Buddy, Quinn's assistant) who delivers a stellar performance - with his slow southern accent (for real, a native of Alabama), he's ernest, honest and innocent, but not naive).

These four are surrounded by a bevy of fine supporting actors who deliver the story with uncanny personality and winsomeness, delivering a fine script by Chris Provenzano and C. Gabby Mitchell under the direction of Aaron Schneider.

Set in Tennessee in the 1930s, the story is inspired by a real-life legend of a hermit who decided to throw a funeral party for himself, before he dies, and he's got the money to do it.

There are secrets here.

And they slowly emerge in this remarkable tale, wonderfully filmed amidst the pines and fields of Depression-era Tennessee.

It's about sorrow and lost love, and the inevitability of human frailty and hurt. That Felix Bush would be a hermit, and as we find out, self-imposed for a "crime."

Don't miss this remarkable film.

And don't wait for Netflix.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eat Pray Love

I’m glad I saw it.
Was it enjoyable? Yes.

Is Javier Bardem every woman’s dream? You bet. And every man’s dream as well. 

After being seated, I started listening to the crowd (mostly young adult women edging up to middle-age) – they were charged, responding excitedly even to the previews of up-coming “chick-flicks” (no preview of “The Expendables” was shown – darn!) This movie clearly taps into a huge audience, and I suspect this movie will have legs: the ladies will see it multiple times and bring their husbands and boyfriends along (guys don’t worry; no explosions or car chases, but it’s a good story for us, too).

When the movie began, I thought I was in a screening of “Twilight” where hundreds of 12-year old girls exploded with giggles and screams at the first image of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison). Now let’s be honest, I’ve had a few of those movie moments myself, where a much-loved book comes to life on the big screen, forever melding together what was read and what was scene!

Anyway, back to the movie. Bring the tissue box – there are more tears here than Mama dicing onions. In credit to the director (Ryan Murphy), none of it felt contrived – these characters have broken hearts and they’re broken people, as we all are. From a theological perspective, we’re sinners, so to speak, and when we discover our brokenness and our capacity to break someone else (hallmark of maturity), it’s gonna get teary-eyed, as it should.

I didn’t read the book, and probably never will (never’s a big word, isn’t it?). But the movie gives the impression that it’s a big book with a big story – a heart in search of selfhood. A woman trying to find herself apart from all the social and marital expectations woven into the fabric of her life and world. “Who am I?” is the driving question of the story, at least as the film delivers it.

Built on three themes: Eat (in Italy with new-found friends) and put on a few pounds, even if you have to buy some “big lady” jeans; pray in India (with new-found friends), and scrub floors in the Ashram; love (again) in Bali with a new-found man who loves his family deeply.

Julia Roberts is wonderful – playing well into her mature years. She’s beautiful and who can resist that mile-wide smile (slightly overplayed a time or two – we don’t need close-ups on her perfect teeth ever ten minutes).

Jarvier Bardem is terrific. And how I loved the relationship between father and son (“darling” – a term used for all of his sons) when his 19-year old son comes for a visit in Bali for a week, and then the departure, with plenty of hugs and tears – as it should be for two strong men who know the pleasures and power of a deep family love.

I appreciated the moment when Julia prays for the first time in her life – as her marriage evaporates, and she hasn’t a clue. Who of us really knows how to pray? But it’s heartfelt and powerful as she introduces herself to God. And if there’s an answer to such prayer, it’s the unfolding story, the quest – and as she later learns in India – “God lives within me as me.”

All along the way, plenty of fine performances, including one of my favorites, Richard Jenkins, who’s a “guy from Texas” seeking forgiveness and healing in India and becomes a mentor of sorts for Julia, calling her “Groceries,” because she’s still eating a lot. Here, and throughout the story, there are no easy or quick answers. Like a sculpture slowly chiseling away at the marble, it’s takes a lot of hammering to make a life!

One of the disappointments was cinematography – for a travelogue film, itt lacked cinematic bigness, but I was sitting in the third row, and that could make a difference (for that reason alone, I might see it again, but further back).

Obviously, this is a story about people for whom money is no issue. But that’s what the imagination is all about, and Julia’s travels are played with restraint – no five-star hotels. Though few in the audience could afford this kind of soul-searching journey, even at the hostel level, I doubt if anyone resented her opportunity. We are not watching a rich bitch sample the world; we journey with someone who has the rare opportunity to search for her life, a quest done with honesty and humility.

Is this a great movie? I don’t think so.

But it’s a great story – really everyone’s story – the quest for meaning and identity – found partly within ourselves, with good food and friends and prayer, and found in our love for others and their love for us – only when we can let go, and that’s the dangerous part of the deal.

Worth seeing in the theater? I’d say so! And guys, you’ll enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Extra Man

Ya’ can’t be anyone else but who ya’ are … though no one comes to that reality overnight, and it may take a lifetime, and then some, to find our identity.

I like quirkiness, and this film has plenty of that.

Kevin Kline gives us Henry Harrison, a down-on-his-luck playwright, whose opus has been stolen, who supports himself with some college-level lit teaching, loves a bowl of Christmas balls beside his chair, fancies himself an aristocrat and escorts wealthy old ladies to the opera and fine restaurants (the extra man), spending an occasional several months in Palm Springs each winter on their tab.

Paul Dano serves up an amazingly complex character, at once both intriguing and slightly off-putting: a quiet and uncertain prep school lit teacher by the name of Louis Ives, who loses his job because the headmistress caught him in the teachers’ lounge trying on a bra left there in another teacher’s briefcase. Dismissed for “financial reasons” Louis somewhat happily heads off to find his life as a writer in Manhattan, driving an old Pontiac inherited from his father.

Searching the want ads for an apartment, Louis calls Henry, and following a delightfully bizarre interview, with Kevin Kline at his acerbic/ironic/misogynist best, Louis agrees to room there.

They pretty much go their separate ways, until one strange incident (crossdressing) brings them into a roaring conflict, yet one through which both gain a greater understanding of one another. For Henry, he is what he is. For Louis, he is not yet what he shall become, but having tried to be what he is not, and having failed profoundly, he begins a journey into his own reality – though the story draws to an end before we clearly see what and how that shall end.

I loved it and had plenty of laughs.

Kline is Kline, and there’s no one who can deliver his lines with such disdain for the world as he does.

Dano, on the other hand, offers us a most unusual character, in part, because of his looks – he’s no Hollywood hunk – with a face as we would find in some tragic story from the Twenties, an era to which his character is drawn via literature  - and in his imagination, living in Gatsby’s world. At several points, as his quest to find himself breaks down, we watch him break down, too; this young man can act. He takes some real chances in this role, and succeeds.

John C. Reilly gives us another offbeat role as Gershon the repairman, Henry’s neighbor, with a squeaky voice that becomes “normal” only when he sings. He’s a delightful off-beat presence, a “chronic masturbator,” with unruly hair and beard – a man who can repair most anything.

Marion Seldes is marvelous in her role as Vivian, a wealthy old lady who loves the charm and comfort of a gentleman escort, usually Henry. But laid up with a bad back, Henry sends Louis instead. The work here is remarkable, and in one of the most tender film moments I’ve seen, at the end of the evening, and at the foot of her mansion stairs, she drapes her arm around Louis’ neck, and Louis picks her up and enfolds her little frail body in his arms and slowly carries her up to the bedroom, gently laying her on the bed, and thanking her for a most wonderful evening.

Katie Holmes scores a strange role here – a decent but shallow human being wonderfully engaged in her own life. Only toward the end is there a glimmer of light for her character, and in a final gesture to apologize to Louis for her otherwise dismissive attitude, is turned down by Louis because he’s just a few steps ahead of her now.

The whole things ends with a wedding … I like that … a new beginning for all of them?

Maybe … but at least some freedom for Louis to appreciate Louis – he may not yet know who he is, but he knows who he is not, and more importantly, he knows where to look!

This is a small film, of course. For me, a little gem.

The script is subtle, the acting honest; the dreary apartment with all the detritus of Henry’s tired life says it well.

See it in the theater?

Not necessarily … this is a good one for Netflix.

But be warned: if kinkiness – sado-masochism and cross-dressing bother you, stay away. But if quest themes intrigue you, and good acting entertains you, you’ll enjoy “The Extra Man.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


“Inception” features Leonardo DiCaprio – a young man who has evolved into a powerhouse actor; his screen presence, subtle yet firm.

I can’t say enough about him - he fills the story with an uncanny passion, as he has done in all of his work. I’m not sure anyone can learn this; it’s simply a gift, though surely honed with practice and discipline, as all gifts are.

To make a long story short, I loved it.

It pulled me into its complicated plot, such that, as it ended, I had completely forgotten where they were, as if I had been pulled into one of the dreams levels, too.

But unlike “Shutter Island,” which was equally well-done and technically without flaw, I didn’t feel deceived with “Inception.”

I don’t like it when a director, or an author, hoodwinks me – there’s no skill to that. I can tell you to meet me for lunch at noon on the 23rd, and when I don’t show up, oh well, too bad. That’s deception.

But to do what Christopher Nolan (writer and director) does with “Inception” requires an enormous amount of skill, and it left with me sheer delight as having been so powerfully entertained.

From the get-go, no one in the audience knows where or what. But as the story unfolds, with some of the finest music (Hans Zimmer) I’ve heard in a long time, the audience is brought on board, though with plenty of twists and turns to keep everyone guessing.

I found myself fully engaged with the characters, all powerfully and singularly well done, each bringing to the screen their unique gifts.

For a full listing of the cast, stop by the IMBD web page for “Inception.”

Special effects are superbly balanced for the story, as well as the action, of which there is plenty, but all properly fitted into the plot.

The storyline is utterly intriguing – is it possible to get into someone’s dreams, not only to learn their deepest secrets, but to plant an idea – an inception – so carefully that upon waking, they will believe the idea to be their own?

The background to the story is corporate espionage, with a giant payoff for Cobb (DiCaprio) who’s been on the run from the States, accused of murdering his wife. If he can pull off this job, his employer will make a phone call and clear his record.

As grimy as all of this is, it’s only background – the heart of the movie is the dream-world into which all of this plays out, with all kinds of subplots around Cobb himself and his deceased wife, who keeps showing up in the dreams.

It’s all very complicated. So, if you go, and I hope you do, be prepared for a lot of uncertainty, especially in the first 20 minutes or so. But hang on. It all falls into place, and ends with a moment that leaves the audience wondering.

Is he home, finally? Or is it still a dream?

A movie to see in the theaters? For sure.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

“Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” - what kind of a movie is it?

Seriously so-so in my opinion, and I was in a good mood.

First of all, while I totally like Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s no prince of Persia, in spite of bulging biceps, leather straps and greasy hair and leaping tall buildings in a single bound. I kept hoping for a Kurt Russell persona and face, but what we get in Gyllenhaal is a sad face, the face of sensitivity and compassion – all well and good for a contemporary flick full of 21st Century angst.

I realize that he can’t help it, so this is a casting issue.

If they simply wanted to build a showcase for Gyllenhaal, so be it, but if they wanted to make this a first-rate entertainment film, they failed.

Ben Kingsley is slip-sliding away, a parody of himself in former days when he could bring to the screen some depth of passion and mystery. But this character? Unconvincing – a bored actor playing a carboard villain.

The one who did it well – always does – Alfred Molina. Whimsical, greedy, boastful, with some remarkable bits and pieces of nobility. For me, Molina is by far the best.

The beauty of the story is Gemma Arterton … but, again, I think it all failed for her for want of fire.

Does anybody really care! What’s at stake in this story? Are nations trembling? Are the fates waiting? “Yawn … did anyone get popcorn?”

The whole thing lacked passion.

Special effects are good … but oh so typical. Music, typical. Buy the soundtrack? Sure, why not?

Worth seeing in the theater?

I don’t think so – save it for Netflix when you have nothing better to do … or better yet, go to the beach and enjoy some real sand!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Robin Hood

Ridley Scott has done it again. The man knows how to make big movies, and he’s scored with “Robin Hood,” starring the ever-powerful Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, or more accurately Robin Longstride, because this is a prequel to the familiar story, and I liked it.

And with Cate Blanchette as Marion Loxley, we have another marvelous actor.

Both Crow and Blanchette have 12th century faces – hard and good, intense and strong, kindly, with steel!

It’s gritty and it’s 12th Century – life is dark, damp and short.

Be sure to stay for the credits – it’s a million-dollar sequence – the most exciting credits I’ve ever seen.

Acting is superb … great cast ... the cinematography captures the 12th Century – the mud and the warfare. Like was hard, indeed. Music is typical for a movie of this caliber – powerful stuff for a powerful story.

The story is massive, and there are some editing jumps, but the audience can follow along ... and did the French have landing craft?

The relationship between Robin and Marion could have been done a bit more effectively, but it works.

Don’t wait for Netflix – see it now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iron Man 2

Written by my good friend and accomplished writer, Michelle Welker Scott!

The Iron Man with the Heart of Flesh

Sometimes, the most interesting thing about super heroes is not their strengths, it’s their weaknesses. And Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is a flawed human being of epic proportions. Not only is he physically dependent on the Arc-Reactor in his chest, he’s also vain, egocentric, and ridiculously impulsive. In short, he’s a fascinating character.

Iron Man 2 picks up where the first Iron Man ended, with Stark openly proclaiming his identity. Unlike Superman or Batman, Tony Stark flaunts his superhero alter-ego. At the beginning of the movie, he lands his Iron Man suit, rock-star like, in the middle of his adoring fans.

But while Tony revels in his fame and fortune, his life is crumbling. The Arc-Reactor in his chest, the thing that keeps him alive, is slowly poisoning him. The son of an old family enemy has come back to seek revenge. Justin Hammer, a corporate rival, is building a fleet of iron man suits of his own. And the US military is breathing down Stark’s neck, demanding that he release his technology to them.

For all his panache, Tony Stark is a flawed man, and his biggest flaw (other than the faulty core of his heart) is his determination to remain alone. Throughout the movie, he attempts to tackle all of his problems solo. It’s only when he gives in and accepts the help of his friends that he is able to move forward.

Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 doesn’t possess the same degree of tension that the first movie had. Stark’s inner battles, though fascinating, just do not carry the same impact as a prison break from a Middle East terrorist camp. Yet, this movie offers much more than the average sequel. The plot is intriguing, the characters are interesting, and the special effects are, of course, dazzling.

It goes without saying that Robert Downey, Jr. makes the movie, but the other actors aren’t without talent. Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Stark’s personal assistant Pepper Pots, has wonderful on-camera chemistry with Downey. And Tony’s rival, Justin Power (played by Sam Rockwell), is perfect as an annoying wannabe who will never be Tony Stark any more than the dowdy PC guy will be Mac in those Apple commercials.

If the movie gets off to a slow start, it’s offset by the high-impact ending. After all, every great pitch begins with a windup.

~ Michelle Welker Scott

Friday, April 23, 2010


I went in expecting a comedy about teen-aged angst and got it, and then some.

What I didn’t expect was the powerfully dark story woven in and around the comedy.

Hats off to the director, Matthew Vaughn, who has skillfully woven the two threads together. Many a film tries its hand at this and fails. But “Kick-Ass” more than succeeds, which makes for a delightful and thoughtful movie-experience.

Based upon a comic book of the same title, (written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr., and published, of course, by who else, but Marvel), it clearly has that comic-book feel – striking images, powerfully developed characters with a lot of quirks, teen-aged angst, of course, some masturbation humor and plenty of well-choreographed violence – “sickening violence just the way you like it” (as it says on comic-book cover).

The story is basic: a geeky, nerdy, highschool boy wonders why no one has evertried to be a super-hero. His equally out-cast buddies tell him, “Only in the comics – and besides, they have super-powers.” David Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) fires back, “Batman didn’t have super-powers.” They rejoin, “Yeah, but he had all that money to buy what he needed.”

Oh well … so David orders a green and yellow wet-suit, some Ninja clubs, performs powerfully in front of his bedroom mirror, and then off he goes to set the world right, only to be stabbed in the stomach and get the crap beat of out of him in his first effort of crime-fighting – trying to stop a couple of punks from breaking into a car. He staggers into the street and is slammed by a car. Not wanting anyone to see his costume, he asks the medics to throw it away before they whisk him off to the hospital for a series of operations to implant a variety of metal parts and a long rehab, with some interesting results: he’s sort of a bionic man and some damaged nerve endings inure him to pain.

The medical report notes: “Naked when he entered the hospital” – and that sets up and interesting scenario. His not-to-bright father wonders if he’s gay, and when the word gets back to school, the girl he’s always wanted takes and interest in him because he’s safe. Oh well …

As soon as he’s out of the hospital, he dons the costume again, hits the street to right all wrongs, and stops a beating – but it’s videoed by an-looker who posts it to the internet. Yup, you guessed it – it goes viral.

David d

evelops his own “Kick-Ass” website, and pretty soon “Kick-Ass”is the talk of the town. “If you need help, contact me.”

It isn’t long before he’s tangled up in some pretty rough stuff, and who should come to his rescue, but a 10-year old girl who knows more about guns and knuckles that anyone - well-trained in martial arts and weaponry by her sweetly loving, but slightly deranged, father, who’s also an ex-cop and (oh yeah), a comic-book illustrator, known as Big Daddy, played as only Nicolas Cage can deliver!

Her name, Mindy Macready (named after the country-western singer and reality star of the same name?), or Hit-Girl, played with amazing aplomb by Chloe Moretz. With her Eastwood-snarl, and cheap purple strip-club wig, she’s one tough cookie, a force to be reckoned with. Her father “shoots” her with a big-caliber handgun, knockingMindy off her feet. What? Oh, but she’s wearing a bullet-proof vest, and Big Daddy is training her to take a hit.

The bad guys are bad – Mark Strong captures the cold, venomous, demeanor of a high-end drug kingpin on top of the city’s drug trade, and his slightly geeky son who wants in on dad’s business, played well by Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

On the road to the end, lots of mayhem and death, a hot car, subterfuge and betrayal, a fire and a gatling gun. Hit-girl does her stuff, gets into trouble, and is saved by Kick-Ass. What a team. Oh yes, did I mention the geeky son of the drug dealer? He’s going to be the next super-hero, bad guy, Red Mist! Seeking revenge. Can we wait for the next installment?

It’s all rather complicated, as comic-book stories usually are, and as life mostly is. Yet at the core of the story, it’s all about identity and a young man’s dream to make a difference.

I went expecting good afternoon entertainment and found a gem of a story well-told.

Worth seeing, for sure!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

By Michelle Welker Scott - FilmNut's good friend.

Hiccup is a teen-aged boy who lives in a place where, “it snows nine months of the year and hails the other three.” Berek Island, his home, is nearly uninhabitable. But one of the biggest challenges facing the Vikings who live there isn’t the weather or the terrible food. No, it’s the marauding dragons.

In order to keep their village safe, everyone on Berek Island slays dragons. Everyone, that is, but Hiccup.

In some ways, How to Train Your Dragon resembles another high-grossing film that recently came out. Think of it as Avatar lite. In both movies, the establishment fights against an unappreciated alien race until a single individual speaks out against the mindless slaughter. Like its Oscar-winning predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon is about questioning what others take for granted. It’s about opening your mind to new possibilities. It’s also about how utterly cool it would be to tame and ride a winged creature, be it dragon or mountain banshee.

Although this movie’s straightforward plot doesn’t offer many surprises, the animation is a marvel. From the spectacular scenes of soaring above the clouds on dragon’s wings to the final battle scene, How to Train Your Dragon is a visual wonder. Additionally, the character’s facial expressions and gestures are charmingly rendered. Toothless is a wonderfully expressive creature with mannerisms so realistic that any pet owner can surely identify. And the dragon’s relationship with Hiccup is as timeless as that between Travis and Old Yeller.

It’s nice to know that Hollywood finally got the memo: it’s okay to make a funny, family-oriented movie that will not only delight the kids but make the parents sit up and enjoy themselves as well.

Hot Tub Time Machine

By my good friend and avid movie reviewer: Michelle Welker Scott

Maybe the only thing more fun than a parody of angst-ridden teenagers who struggle with their adolescent insecurities is a parody of angst-ridden, middle-aged adults who struggle with their mid-life crises. Combine those these two in the same movie and you get Hot Tub Time Machine.

Just reading the title of the movie pretty much gives the plot away. Three middle-aged men and one post-adolescent boy take a trip to a mountain ski resort in order to escape their miserable lives. During the trip, the four of them inadvertently get into a hot tub that takes them back in time to in 1986. Hilarity ensues.

Okay, so it’s not Tender Mercies. But it is, surprisingly, funny.
Reminiscent of those rollicking party movies like Animal House and Porky’s, Hot Tub Time Machine is full of stupid, tasteless humor. But it’s humor with unexpected appeal.

For starters, there’s always something hilarious about the 80’s; with its Kid ‘n Play hairstyles and Miami Vice fashion sensibilities, it’s a decade that’s just begging to be mocked. Additionally, actor and producer John Cusak lampoons his own early career in such movies as Better Off Dead and Tapeheads, by playing the same kind of earnest, lovable everyman (er, boy) that made him a heart-throb nearly three decades ago. Crispin Glover puts in an appearance as well, playing the straight man against a very funny running gag. And Craig Robinson (who plays the character Darryl Philbin in the TV show, The Office) holds his own as the wannabe musical star cum doggie athletic trainer.

Be warned, however. Hot Tub Time Machine is rated ‘R’ for good reason. It’s crude, offensive and vulgar. There are jokes about drugs, alcohol, vomit and – of course – sex. Viewers who are offended by foul language or nudity should not even venture in the door.

But despite its crassness, obscenity and utter lack of a moral message, Hot Tub Time Machine is a very funny movie.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Short Reviews: "Alice" and "Green Zone"

"Alice in Wonderland" is delightful, zany, entertaining and just plain fun to watch. Johnny Depp captures the madness of the Mad Hatter, and Mia Wasikowska is terrific as Alice. All in all, a lot of eye candy with the wonderful story of a young girl with dreams, who's "gone around the bend?" as she wonders with her imaginative father, and who later becomes a young lady determined to chart her own course in the face of social and family pressure to knuckle under and marry the young man everyone expects her to marry.

For entertainment value, "Alice" is high on my list, with plenty of laughs and a fine message for young women.

I saw it in old-fashioned 2D (sorry about that) - friends tell me that I should see it in 3D - I may just do that.

Worth seeing, for sure, either way.

But don't wait for Netflix - see it soon.

"Green Zone"

If you want a kick-ass message, please see "Green Zone" starring Matt Damon as Chief Miller, a soldier doing his duty - looking for WMDs in Iraq, coming up empty-handed at every site, beginning to wonder what's up with intel. He begins to raise questions and finds himself enmeshed in a deadly clash between Bush Administration officials and the CIA.

Greg Kinnear, as point person for the Bush Administration adds another brilliant role to his resume. Playing a political slime-ball more interested in PR than truth, Kinnear brings a deadly rationality to a blood-thirsty role. God save us from such evil monsters. I couldn't help but think of ultimate slime-ball, Paul Reiser, in his brilliant performance in "Aliens" as Carter Burke, a man who would gladly sell his grandmother, his mother and everyone else to promote his rise to power and wealth. Or the latest Mr. Corporate Slime Ball, "Avatar's" Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge.

One the classic roles goes to Brendan Gleeson, a Michael-More look-alike, the CIA guy on the ground, who sees through the Bush Administration lies, as does Chief Miller. They hook up and seek to bring some truth to the whole mess, but ultimately, they fail, as we did in Iraq. The Bush Machine plowed on, telling us one lie after the other, and we were were helpless to stop it.

Another must-see film ... but, be prepared; it'll make ya' angry!

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Edge of Darkness"

MUCH better than I expected and receives my highest rating. Director Martin Campbell has brought off a darkly moving story.

Entertainment Value: High.
Acting: Terrific.
Music: supportive, interpretive.
Plot: full of twists and turns.
Message: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Social Relevance: High

I expected a more formulaic story, but all the twists and turns kept me riveted to the screen ... I didn't wanna miss anything.

Mel Gibson portrays a loving single father who's daughter is shotgunned and killed on his front porch. At first, every one thinks Gibson (Boston cop Thomas Craven) was the intended victim. But why was his daughter so ill, and why had she come home so unexpectedly, and why, on the very night she was killed, did she have a bloody nose and then vomit blood?

Clearly, there's more to the story then meets the eye.

Craven's daughter, Emma, is played, with a deceiving innocence, by Bojana Novakovic. She's a top-notch graduate of MIT, now working in research for a shadowy company maintaining America's nuclear stock pile - huge amounts of money involved, of course. Though Emma is killed up front, her "presence" in Craven's mind fills out the absolute horror and sense of loss that grips a father's heart. In the end, there's a tender scene that some might consider a distraction, a sentimental flourish (think: John Tavolta's 1996, "Michael"). But it works for me; it touches on the final reality and the final hope!

Following his daughter's murder, Detective Craven goes to work, digging around where he shouldn't, finding out the story - it seems that his daughter discovered certain irregularities, and was about to go public, working with friends to gather evidence. But the company kills her friends and poisons Emma.

All the acting is superb, but one character truly stands out: Jedburgh, Captain Jedburgh, a man of the shadows, working on the edges of corporate power and government intrigue, a man responsible for cleaning up messes and putting the story straight. You wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of a stick held by Captain Jedburgh. Ray Winstone captures perfectly the ambiguity of this man who never asks moral questions, yet possesses a conscience that, in the end, ends the affair, so to speak. Elegant, in his own brutal way, working alone, he does the job, but faced with his own mortality, some decisions have to be made.

As the story unfolds, power at every level is involved.

As I sat there, I grew more and more edgy, thinking about power and wealth in this nation, and the Reagan-Bush legacy of unregulated big biz taking us down a blood road to hell. These Republican administrations have us worshipping the Market as if it were god and adulating power and wealth as if this were the pinnacle of human achievement.

Ask children today what they want to do when they grow up, and the answers are all-too common: be a star and make tons of money. What the hell have we done to ourselves?

In the end, the film asks, "Is justice possible?" when wealth can buy protection at the highest level?
When senators are in the pockets of the powerful, and the powerful can do anything they want. When government itself fails to remember The People!

In many ways, this film reminded me of "The Departed" ... and that's all I'm going to say right now about that.

Bloody and violent, but such is life all around us, and a film like this helps us think a little more deeply about the world we've created in the last 50 years.

A distinction can be made between violent men and men of violence. Violent men hang around in bars, drink cheap beer and look for a score. But men of violence wear expensive suits and live in expansive homes, drinking fine wine and looking pristine and smiling confidently, sitting in Congress and manning corporate helms, making us feel safe and comfortable with them. They gather in the world's finest hotels and spas, fly first-class and ride in limousines; they give orders to kill and then order flowers for their girlfriends. They send young women and men to their graves without a moment's thought (see "Avatar" - "When someone is sitting on some shit you want, you make them your enemy.")

A deeply moving dark story with a highly relevant message.

"Edge of Darkness" is definitely worth seeing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crazy Heart

Ran across an excellent review by Steve Vineberg in a "Christian Century" blog ... click HERE to read.

I would add: one of Jeff Bridges finest moments - a marvelous actor, as he brings to life a beat-up wreck of a man.

Reminded me of Mickey Rourke's "The Wrestler" ...

I appreciated the ending ... reminded me of "It's Complicated" and Clooney's "Up in the Air" ... a good ending isn't always a happy ending, but in each of them, a curious kind of grace that sustains, even as they help others find their own life.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lovely Bones - Reviewed by Michelle Welker Scott

My good friend and writer and fellow-movie-nut, Michelle Welker Scott, offers the following review:

It’s 1973, and Susie Salmon is fourteen years old. Susie is a typical teen. She loves her parents – though they sometimes aggravate her – has a crush on a boy in her high school, and has plans for her future which include becoming a wildlife photographer. But one afternoon, just a few days for Christmas, Susie is kidnapped on her way home from school and brutally murdered by a sexual predator. What follows is a tale of grief and grace as Susie’s family struggles to come to terms with the tragedy even as their dead daughter does everything she can to reach out to them.

The movie is based on
Alice Sebold‘s novel of the same name, but it lacks Sebold’s memorable characters and intricately interwoven plotlines. In fact, compared to the novel, the movie is something of a disappointment. But what the movie lacks in reinterpretation, it more than makes up for in visual spectacle.

Peter Jackson seems to love nothing more than to create scenes of otherworldly beauty. Just like in his previous works, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and an earlier film, “Heavenly Creatures”, Jackson’s camerawork is phenomenal. His use of light and shadow give depth to the scenes, and his juxtaposition of the In-Between (the realm between heaven and earth) and the everyday make it seem as if all we need to do is reach out our hand into order to make contact with the dead.

Jackson creates an afterlife which is both whimsical and lovely, ghostly and frightening. Like a Magritte painting, the world of the In-between is both familiar and fantastic. It pairs the breath-taking beauty of nature – lofty mountains, fields of wheat, solemn forests – with stylized symbols of the world of the living – ships in glass bottles, a gazebo, and brilliantly colored beach balls. This movie is a must see on the big screen if for no other reason than to witness the panoramic beauty of this supernatural realm.

But while Jackson enjoys a spectacle, this movie doesn’t dwell on the grisly details of Susie’s rape and murder. In fact, Jackson accomplishes something remarkable: he creates scenes of almost unbearable tension without reveling in salacious depictions of violence. But while this movie is tasteful, it is also very grim. This is not a piece of bubblegum. Some parts, such as when a newly deceased Susie enters the bathroom of her killer as he is washing the blood and mud from his body, are so ghastly and eerie that they would be at home in a horror flick.

Jackson’s eye candy is not the only thing that the movie has going for it. Although the characterization is sometimes weak, there are several outstanding performances by the actors.
Susan Sarandon excels in her role as the heavy-smoking, hard-drinking grandmother. Her performance is a breath of fresh air in what can, at times, be a ponderous film. And Stanley Tucci’s depiction as the predatory neighbor is chilling. In the end, however, it is Saoirse Ronan’s performance as the innocent fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon that makes the movie work as well as it does.

“The Lovely Bones” is both beautiful and awful, a thought-provoking drama and gripping movie of suspense. Although it doesn’t slavishly follow the novel on which it’s based, it does let the mood of the book shine through.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Don't bother!

I hate to say it, but this hodge-podge story, so poorly crafted, isn't worth your time or the money, and I rarely say that.

Though it's Heath Ledger's last work, his legacy is poorly served by this inept effort. Rather, to be remembered for his masterful role in the "Dark Night."

In an attempt to bring this work to the screen after Ledger's sad and untimely death, three fine actors are enlisted to portray various permutations of Ledger's roll - Tony, a sometimes good guy who's mostly a scoundrel deserving his comeuppance.

Colin Farrel, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law cannot rescue the film, nor can the special effects, which, in their own way, are rather dazzling, but effects are no substitute for a story.

The mystic wizard, Dr. Parnassus, is gamely portrayed by Christopher Plummer who manages to shine in this very dim effort.

The lovely young thing, which most every movie needs, is done well by Lily Cole who, in the end, finds happiness.

Decent efforts are made by: Verne Troyer as the hapless midget who manages the show and Andrew Garfield as the stage hand.

The show, by the way, the Imaginarium, has something to do with walking through a mirror of sorts while the good Dr. is in a trance. Apparently people find something of their own inner character, be it good or be it evil. Oh well ...

The theme kept reminding me of Tony Randall's 1964, "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao" - now, there's a good film, and if you haven't seen it, rent it now from Netflix.

It does what "Dr. Parnassus" apparently attempted to do, but failed.

Sadly, "Parnassus" gets my lowest rating. This movie should have never made it out the can.

But you'll enjoy Tony Randall as Dr. Lao.

The Book of Eli

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and will likely see it again.

Denzel Washington is impressive as Eli, a man carrying a book, a book desired by many - indeed, not just a book, as Eli's nemesis puts it, "it's a weapon."

For some thirty years, in a post-apocalyptic world, with all the usual suspects: cannibals, lonely road-warriors, survivalists, and the power-hungry seeking to rebuild the world as they would have it (Gary Oldman as Carnegie) - I find it ironic that Oldman's name is Carnegie, a man who built much of our world through Pittsburgh steel, and, like Carnegie the industrialist, Oldman's character is a strange amalgam of good and evil, as he searches for the book, the one remaining book, to give authority to his dreams and to help him rebuild the world. Yet every book he finds, he burns; he's not interested in wisdom, but only power, and that's the poison in his blood.

The book carried by Eli is the last copy, all other copies have been burned in the post-nuclear world, for people thought it's message had brought about the war that ended the world!

Cinematography is impressive, along with special effects, capturing a burned-out world, dirty and desperate - food and drink all too rare, shelter and safety long gone. The acting is carefully done by everyone with subtle passions; no artificial tears here, but a genuine sorrow and hope playing with one another. I found myself engaging deeply with Eli, and the other characters as well. "The Book of Eli" achieves where "The Road" failed - as powerfully done as "The Road" is, I found myself looking at it, but never drawn into it. The other "end-of-the-world" film, "2012," while offering a very different scenario of the end, actually conveys a better, though lesser, emotional power. One does care about the outcome.

For thirty years, Eli has carried the book across the country, from east to west, because something has told him to do so. At times, he seems imbued with a supernatural ability for the sake of his mission, a mission he cannot clearly define, but only seek. Along the way, he hunts for his food and defends himself with a lighting-quick sword; don't tangle with him - you will not survive. And every day, he reads the book.

Stumbling into the town under Oldman's rule, Eli becomes a virtual prisoner. Having demonstrated his prowess, Oldman sets out to win Eli's allegiance. "I could use a man like this." At Oldman's beck and call, a mother (Jennifer Beals), blinded in the war, and her illiterate daughter (Mila Kunis), who is sent to Eli to seduce and entice him, but to no effect. In this moment of great kindness, a relationship is cemented.

Only after Eli leaves town, because Oldman cannot hold him, Oldman soon discovers Eli has the book, the one remaining copy, and sets out in Mad-Max-like pursuit, what with all the requisite blood and gore.

Eli is wounded badly, but the young girl, now on the run from Oldman, finds him, and they set out to finish the journey - to reach the West Coast, San Francisco, and there they find the community for which Eli has been searching for thirty years, a community that values the book, and all the great books of human wisdom and glory. There, Eli lives long enough to "give" the book to the new community seeking to rebuild the world, not with power, but with wisdom.

I'll not give the ending away here - you'll have to see it yourself.

But this I can say: it's the most religious non-religious movie I've ever seen, with a genuine surprise ending that plays upon the deepest currents of faith, hope and love.

Definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

White Ribbon

I was mesmerized by it.. a painful peek into rural German small-town society, family and church, on the eve of WW 1, July, 1913 - August 10, 1914, and the inordinate harshness toward children, with a mystery of something very dark in this small town's life.

Done in black and white, this is a technical achievement - great to see B&W again - and surely consistent with the film's dark themes.

Costuming and music are splendid, everything carefully done. The script captures the pain of children growing up in a time where the child is to be seen and not heard, where fear of sin leads the pastor to brutalize his children, and in the end, to ignore terrible possibilities.

Cleverly narrated by an old man (whom we never see, but only hear) who tells his part of the story when he was the young town teacher. We witness his falling in love and a very chaste courtship. Was it really that way? I suspect it was, though moderns can hardly believe they didn't fall into bed by the second date.

He tells his tale that we might understand. But understand what?

Erie, to say the least, as the story unfolds ... a reflection of every dysfunctional family - how secrets are hidden behind a wall of shame, often buttressed by a hyper-religious overlay.

The sad little boy in this picture, one of the pastor's children, says it well - the cross on the wall, the communion chalice, and the white ribbon, a symbol of purity. The father expresses deep disappoint in his son's depression which he determines is caused by self-abuse - you know, the stuff that'll make ya' blind. So a white ribbon is tied on his sleeve and he must wear it all the time. His hands are tied to the sides of the bed at night, lest he touch himself.

Something terrible is happening in this town. Is is the doctor? The pastor? His children? The peasant-farmer's son? Harshness and cruelty abound.

At 2 1/2 hours, with a slow pace and questions that remain unanswered, I felt the mystery and the sadness slide inside of me, like watching a slow-motion train wreck in a dream, yet just before the trains leaves the track and tips into the waiting swamp, the dream abruptly ends.

I think a second viewing might help me pick up some of the clues as to who did what (there was one signifiant scene, I think, that held a clue), though the intent is to leave the mystery intact. After all, there are things in life never solved, and this town's sadness may be one of them.

The young teacher was drafted into the army and left town, never to return.

While we never finally know (as least I didn't) who dunn it, we have a chance to see the elements that lead to tragedy.

Not an easy film to see, but clearly worth it.

Could one wait until Netflix? Yes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Up In the Air

I wrote the following to a friend:

Here's a man who does what he has to do, but does it with both efficiency and some compassion - he's not heartless, in my judgment, but has to steel himself in order to keep functioning. What else should he do?

It's a commentary, for sure, on systemic powers ... and how dehumanizing it is. That Clooney goes to his sister's wedding, takes the photos with their cardboard cutout, and actually goes to Chicago reveals the heart. That she's married, and he's back on the road reveals just how hard it is for everyone to break out of the mold we've all created, or the mold that's been created for us.

The young lady (Anna Kendrick) is, in my view of things, so typical of the young today - full of themselves, as Mary Pipher says of her youthful self in her book, "The Shelter of Each Other" ... and it's Clooney, however, who can see just how shallow she is, and on the road, she comes up against the reality of what they have to do, and when she hears of the lady who jumped and killed herself, she quits - her moment of redemption.

Clooney, if you will, sacrifices himself to save her. Clooney is lost up in the air; she, perhaps, will find her footing, or even her soul.

And he's off to do what he does best - and he does with as much as is possible, without self-destructing. Someone has to do it. And when all is said and done, he gives a round-the-world trip to his sister and her husband. What he can't do for himself, he at least can do for others. Another Christ-theme - "Come down from that cross and save yourself."

Clooney isn't interested in saving himself, but in some remarkable way, he's save the young lady from herself ... and discovered, perhaps, that his life is up in the air.

Clooney's boss, of course, reflecting the worst in corporate culture. The real people in the film reveal the devastation of job loss.

The moral themes of this film are oozing out all over the place. If anyone is lost here, it's Alex, played masterfully by Vera Farmiga.

The ending is real ... Clooney's character is what he is ... is there no grace for him? I think there is ...

This is a terrific film ... I've now seen it three times, and I've laughed and been moved each time.
Don't wait for Netflix; see it now.