Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pre-Vacation Movie Roundup

Tonight, I begin what should be an awesome week of vacation, starting with the midnight screening of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE at the Ziegfeld (mere hours away!), followed by my annual BASEBALL TRIP with my friends (this year, we'll be conquering Cincinnati, St. Louis and Kansas City), and capped off with the PAUL McCARTNEY concert at Citi Field. I am psyched... but first, let's catch up on the movies I've seen since I last wrote:

WHATEVER WORKS -- Woody Allen's latest is a return to his usual comic formula, but unfortunately, not one of his better efforts. Larry David stars in the "Woody Allen role", but instead of Woody's nervous, guilt-ridden nebbishness, David brings a harsh, guilt-free asshole-ishness to the role. An interesting change of pace, but not enough to save this otherwise dull, over-the-top and poorly-cast (Evan Rachel Wood is no Scarlett!) attempt. Perhaps Woody really should stick to films such as MATCH POINT and VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, because he really seemed to have something there, whereas he hasn't made a really good formula comedy in a long, long time.

PUBLIC ENEMIES -- Solid film about the life and legend of John Dillinger, and a return to form for Michael Mann after the trash heap that was MIAMI VICE. Thanks to the use of hand-held digital cameras, the film has a gritty, 1930's feel, which is cool -- but on the other hand, it can be visually jarring at times. Fortunately, the action is fast-paced and well-crafted with a constant underlying sense of danger that elevates the story even when things are seemingly at a lull. It probably goes without saying that Johnny Depp is awesome, perfectly capturing Dillinger's charisma. Christian Bale is acceptable as Dillinger's FBI nemesis, and Marion Cotillard is scorching hot as his love interest. But my favorite performance belonged to Billy Crudup, practically unrecognizable as everybody's favorite crossdressing FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover -- tremendous!

THE HURT LOCKER -- One of the best films I've seen about the war in Iraq for one major reason: There's no political agenda. It's a simple story about soliders doing their duty -- in this case, a team of bomb technicians -- and it is very refreshing. These guys have an especially harrowing job, because danger literally lurks in every nook, cranny, trench, building and garbage pile of the land. The action is always intense because there's no telling when something is gonna go boom -- apparently each bomb defusion scene was filmed in a single take, with multiple cameras, to heighten the drama, and it shows. A high-risk sniper sequence that rivals the one from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN raises the bar even more. Well-developed characters, great performances, unrelenting suspense -- it's a fantastic and expertly crafted film, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if it found its way into the Top 10 at year's end.

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS -- You might wonder, "How the heck can there be dinosaurs if the Ice Age came after they were extinct?" Well, such historical accuracy is of no concern to this surprisingly-fun animated franchise, and that's fine with me. If you liked the first two installments, and you like dinosaurs, you'll be entertained once again, as I was. Plus, you gotta love Scrat's epic quest to obtain that elusive acorn -- it's always funny and tragic in a way that rises above the rest of the film's hijinks.

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER -- Imagine CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, if Preston had declared his love for Amanda at the very beginning of the movie, and instead of attending the big grad party, the two of them (and their cohorts) had embarked on a wild joyride full of shenanigans, crazy encounters fellow classmates, and of course, poignant self-discovery. That kind of sums up this movie, plot-wise, though it is nowhere near the CAN'T HARDLY WAIT caliber of awesomeness and quotability. In fact, save for a few mild chuckles, it's not very good at all -- and Hayden Panettiere, even semi-naked, is no Jennifer Love Hewitt!

BRUNO -- When Sacha Baron Cohen unleashed BORAT upon us a few years ago, it instanty became one of the top 3 funniest movies I've ever seen, in terms of the sheer, gut-busting, aisle-rolling laughter that it caused (the other two are the SOUTH PARK movie and BILLY MADISON). But now, I dunno... BRUNO was still very funny and I laughed quite a bit... but it just didn't have the same effect. Maybe it's because the shock value has been dulled considerably -- if you've seen Cohen's nutsack once, you've seen it a million times! Maybe it's because, after the staged MTV Movie Awards encounter with Eminem, I'm skeptical as to how much of the movie is actually real. Whatever the case, it just fell a little short -- though the interviews with Ron Paul and the stage parents who are willing to sign their kids up for just about anything were pretty classic. (Also, was it just me, or was that "gay converter" the same guy from Bill Mahr's RELIGULOUS, also directed by Larry Charles? He just needs to incorporate that guy into one more movie to complete the trilogy!)

And with that, let the vacation begin! I hereby vow to at least TRY to blog as much as possible over the next week (at the very least, I'll surely be microblogging about them on Facebook and Twitter, so that's something!)... so stay tuned!

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