Thursday, November 3, 2011

October Movie Overload, Part 1

This monthly recap title is particularly appropriate because I really DID go a bit buck wild with the movies in October: I saw 19 of them on the big screen, which, believe it or not, is a NEW PERSONAL RECORD for a single month, snapping the previous mark of 17 (set several times, most recently September 2010). This was due to an influx of advance screenings (9), some freebies, a pair of triple-features and the simple fact that I am a movie-watching machine! I've already reviewed a bunch of the October offerings here, here, here and here; now let's take a look at the rest:

dream-houseDREAM HOUSE -- This train wreck got off to a bad start when it revealed a major spoiler/plot twist in the very first trailer. But hey, I’m a sucker for a haunted house story, and the cast was strong and intriguing (Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and one of my favorites, Naomi Watts), and I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover. I also couldn’t quite comprehend how a movie directed by Jim “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER / MY LEFT FOOT / IN AMERICA” Sheridan could have a 7% rating on RottenTomatoes. Well, I should have taken the hint -- this is an epic failure on every level. It’s about a family that moves into a house where, they discover, a mass murder once took place. But things and people may not be as they seem. The plot moves slowly and awkwardly, utilizing pretty much every ghost story cliché in the book. There is some visual creepiness here and there that is constantly undermined by bad editing and sound effects. Finally there’s a second, much dumber twist that results in a laughably bad ending. Now, it seems that there were a series of production problems which caused the studio to re-cut the film, Sheridan to denounce it and the stars to not promote it. So who knows if Sheridan, left to his own devices, would have given us a deeper, scarier, more methodical character study and less of a schlocky rip-off of every thriller ever made. I'd like to think so, but I’m not so sure -- after all, you can’t polish a turd, and as it stands, this is one of the year’s biggest.

whats-your-numberWHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? -- If there was any justice in this world, Anna Faris would have put “funny lady comedy” on the map years before Kristen Wiig and BRIDESMAIDS came along. Anna has been hilarious for a long time but has either been choosing her material very poorly, or simply not getting any offers. But why would that be? She’s funny, hot AND has the whole raunchy stoner thing going for her. It makes no sense! Unfortunately she is no closer to superstardom with this forgettable, boilerplate comedy, in which Faris plays a thirty-something woman who realizes that she is dangerously close to surpassing a milestone number of sexual partners, which, according to a magazine article, severely decreases one’s chances of settling down. So, she decides to delve back into her past love life, thinking that if she reconnects & hits it off with one of those guys, it won’t count against her. Could have been an amusing premise, I suppose, especially with the R rating, and Anna does her damnedest to conjure some mild laughs from some crappy material. But all in all, it’s a bad scene. And just to add insult to injury, there’s a wedding/bridesmaid subplot that almost feels like they shoehorned it in (or at least shifted some of the focus in that direction) sometime after mid-May. Anna Faris deserves better and I remain hopeful that one day she’ll star in a movie worthy of her talents -- but this definitely isn’t it.

real-steelREAL STEEL -- By all powers of the universe, this movie should not have been good. For God’s sake, the previews made it look like ROCK’EM SOCK’EM ROBOTS: THE MOTION PICTURE, the first instance of what will soon be a plague of movies based on popular games. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be more like ROCKY meets THE IRON GIANT, resulting in one of the most purely enjoyable feel-good movies of the year. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, human boxers have been replaced by giant, human-controlled robots. Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up boxer-turned-smalltime promoter who hits rock bottom and begrudgingly reunites with his estranged son, Max. Together, they fix up a clunker of a robot named Atom -- and that's when it turns into a two-pronged underdog story, chronicling the little robot that could AND Charlie's redemption as a father. Atom climbs the ranks, endears himself to the world and challenges an unbeatable champion; meanwhile, Charlie and Max re-forge their bond. It’s a cheesy story, no doubt. But it’s also intense, poignant, exhilarating and practically bursting at the seems with heart and a complete lack of pretension -- not to mention some pretty awesome robot fight scenes. An exultant crowd-pleaser and well worth checking out.

footlooseFOOTLOOSE -- I have no real love for the original FOOTLOOSE, but I can sympathize with the furor that arose when this remake was announced. After all, just last year, the powers-that-be messed with one of my favorite ‘80s movies, THE KARATE KID. But while that remake was indeed completely unnecessary, I also found it to be neither terribly offensive nor as awful as expected (read my review HERE). The new FOOTLOOSE likewise follows the same exact plot as the original: Small town bans public dancing following tragic deaths; along comes orphaned bad boy, Ren McCormack (newcomer Kenny Wormald) to woo the preacher’s daughter (Julianne Hough) and get everyone to cut loose again. But what really struck me is how much more vibrant the remake seems compared to the drab, dated original -- full of energy, likeable actors who exude chemistry (particularly a supporting cast that breathes life into the dusty Southern setting) and a soundtrack that attempts to bridge the generation gap. Lots more dancing, too. Granted, kids today are too damn cynical for this version to strike a chord, as it did in the ‘80s. In that sense, yes, it’s probably just as unnecessary as THE KARATE KID remake. But it’s also fun in the moment, and if I were to choose one version over the other (not that I foresee a re-watch happening anytime soon), with all due respect to Kevin Bacon & co., I’d pick this one.

texas-killing-fieldsTEXAS KILLING FIELDS -- The most interesting thing about this otherwise-conventional detective story is that it is directed by Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, and damned if she isn't a chip off the old block in terms of visuals and composition. This movie looks like the kind of gritty mystery her dad might have made in the '80s. Unfortunately, there's not much more to it than that. It follows two detectives -- one local boy (Sam Worthington) and one NYC transplant (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) -- as they try to track down a serial murderer who targets women and hides their bodies in a swamp called (wait for it) the Killing Fields. But the killer soon sets his sights on the detectives and those close to them -- particularly a young local girl (Hit Girl herself, Chloe Grace-Moretz). The plot is slow and convoluted and laden with red herrings, which I suppose are meant to intrigue, but are mostly aggravating because the mystery is pretty obvious. Hard to say if Mann was striving for a sort of police procedural, or mystery/thriller, or character study, but it never commits to any of those concepts and thus the whole thing falls flat. Performances are decent, though, particularly Morgan and Moretz. Would like to have seen more of Jessica Chastain (yes, even after already seeing her in however-many movies this year... she’s pretty good... and pretty). But couldn't get past Worthington's ridiculous combination Tex-Australian accent, which comes on the heels of his Israeli-Australian accent in THE DEBT and whatever accent that was in AVATAR. For God's sake, let him speak naturally from now on because this is just getting embarrassing for everyone.

the_skin_i_live_inTHE SKIN I LIVE IN -- After I saw this movie, in my head I thought about writing a review entitled, “Pedro Almodóvar's Human Centipede”... but then Bret Easton Ellis, of all people, beat me to it with this tweet. Damn him! But it's true: Both Tom Six's cult classic and Almodóvar's latest vision are about diabolical scientists who perform transformative surgical experiments on unwilling victims with horrific and/or tragic results. The difference, of course, is that CENTIPEDE is a straight-up midnight horror flick whereas SKIN is more of a twisted-horror-mystery-love story with underlying themes of sexual identity, wrapped up with Almodóvar's signature stylistic flourishes. As the film opens in present-day Toledo, Spain, we are introduced to Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a brilliant cosmetic surgeon who lives in a huge estate/research facility with his maid and an attractive woman who appears to be held captive. As layers of plot are peeled away, we learn, among other things, that Robert has just created a synthetic, fire-resistant skin -- the culmination of an obsession he has had since his wife was horribly burned and committed suicide. We then jump six years into the past and... well, I’ve already said too much. This movie is best seen with as little spoilage as possible, because the twists are epic and truly mind-boggling. Banderas gives perhaps the performance of his life as the deranged doctor -- it’s been a while since they last worked together, but Almodóvar clearly brings out the best in him (as he does with Penélope Cruz). It’s a gleefully macabre, somewhat campy, perversely sexy melodramatic trip of a film, and further proof of Almodóvar’s mastery of his craft.

TheMightyMacsTHE MIGHTY MACS -- Something just doesn’t seem right about seeing ultra-sexy and oft-nekkid Carla Gugino in a G-rated family film... but, well, here we are. She stars as Cathy Rush, coach of the Immaculata College women’s basketball team that overcame tremendous odds in the early ‘70s to win the sport’s first-ever national championship. It’s your basic underdog story: Rush, a former college player, starts coaching at a tiny all-girls school run by nuns, with no practice courts and one half-inflated ball. Her players are a ragtag bunch of underachievers. There are challenges involving school financial woes, lack of moral support from family & schoolmates, and run-ins with a crusty old Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn). But Coach Rush, determined to turn things around, instills her players with a winning attitude and unorthodox training tactics that help them overcome the odds. She is helped by a band of friendly nuns, including rebellious Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), who turns out to have had some basketball experience before donning the habit. There are absolutely no surprises in this movie -- it utilizes every sports movie cliché ever devised and things turn out exactly as you might predict. And yet... it’s so damn heartwarming that it manages to suck you in. Personally, though, I’d like to see a Sebastian Gutierrez remake, with the ridiculously hot Gugino and super-cute Shelton reprising their roles from WOMEN IN TROUBLE and ELEKTRA LUXX. That would REALLY warm my heart... among other things.

More movie words to come -- stay tuned!

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