I’ve Been Watching Movies, I Swear

So it’s been quite a while since I’ve reviewed any movies but I assure you it’s not because I haven’t been watching them. Just the opposite, actually. I’ve been watching a lot of stuff but for the most part, I’ve been watching things that I don’t really think are worth reviewing. But I figured I must have at least a few words for each of the movies I’ve been watching, so I’ll play catch up now.

There were a couple of stupid screwball/slapstick ’90s comedies I watched (Jury Duty with Pauly Shore and Beverly Hills Ninja with Chris Farley), which were hardly worth the time. I remembered liking them when they came out, but then again I was about 12 years old. I no longer have any nostalgia for them after re-watching them, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Dandelion was an indie flick that fell flat, for reasons I can’t specifically remember. It starred Vincent Kartheiser (remember him?) and it looked pretty but the story and acting were so sub-par. It was cheesy and cliche. Not something I’d recommend.

Nothing was written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, the same guy who did the original Cube (which I recently reviewed here). It sounded like it had amazing potential. Sadly, it didn’t work out. It’s about these couple of guys who are in serious trouble and wish the world would go away. Then (surprise), it does. Outside of their house is nothing. Literally. Sounds kind of cool, right? Like maybe a contemporary version of My Dinner With Andre? Wrong. These guys don’t talk about anything worthwhile and worst of all, the characters are ridiculously annoying. Two things you really can’t have in a movie about nothing.

I watched the last James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and it was my first James Bond movie ever. I thought Daniel Craig fit the role to a T. It was great, I really enjoyed it, and I really look forward to the new one coming out soon, Quantum Of Solace.

I got to see this movie called The Man From Earth which is about a college professor who reveals to his colleagues on his last day of work that he’s actually a caveman and he’s been alive for hundreds of thousands of years. Definitely an interesting enough premise to watch it, even if it’s bad (kind of like Nothing). I liked the movie enough, but it was kind of boring with everyone sitting by the fireside asking the “caveman” questions the whole night. Not much more than that. Tony Todd and Richard Riehle were in it so that was a plus. The ending was a little too literal, explaining things a little too much and I could have done without that. But otherwise it was a fun thought experiment.

I also watched my first Pedro Almodóvar recently, Volver with Penélope Cruz. It was very weird, with the whole spiritual/ghost thing going on. A couple of criticisms would be that they didn’t wrap up that restaurant side story and the fact that Cruz got a Oscar nomination for it. I’m not saying she was bad in the movie, but rather non-spectacular. I feel like there must have been some other actresses that deserved a nomination more than Cruz for her role in Volver. Oh well.

And finally, I’ve been watching the Alien series for the first time. I saw Alien: Resurrection when it came out a while ago and up until now, that was the only Alien movie I’d seen (although I don’t think it really counts). I’ve watched the first and second so far, with the third coming up soon. Man, these movies are amazing. Sigourney Weaver kicks so much ass. and who knew Paul Reiser had any talent? He plays the perfect scum bag. Aliens is Godzillamonster’s favorite movie ever (I think) and with good reason. But because these are such famous and popular movies, I felt like there wasn’t much I could say that hasn’t already be said, hence no proper reviews. Suffice it to say I truly love Aliens.

And there you have it. A complete update of almost every movie I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. I’ll be away until next Tuesday, so I won’t have any full reviews until sometime after that. I hope this will tide you all over until then.

Burn After Reading–classic Coen fun **nano-spoilers**

McDormand and Pitt as the morons of the century

The last we saw of The Coen Brothers was their dark best-picture winning No Country For Old Men. Today they’re back with far fluffier fare in Burn After Reading, starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, and John Malkovitch. And for that I offer the Universe (and The Coen Brothers) many, many thanks. After an August of cinematic duds (only two decent wide release films came out the entire month) Burn After Reading is a refreshing upswing.

Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand were the highlights here even though neither really flexes any significant acting muscles. Regardless, both are immensly entertaining in their roles as, well, complete morons. As we’ve come to expect from The Coen Brothers, money is the central motivation of these characters who set the action in motion by seizing an unexpected opportunity to grab a quick chunk of change.

George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and John Malkovitch play the poor schleps who get drawn into the goofy duo’s grab for cash. Swinton, seeminly reprising her Ice Queen role from The Chronicles of Narnia (will she play someone likeble ever again?) amuses while playing it straight, while Malkovitch gets to delight as the sensitive, downtrodden heavy. Physically, Clooney channels his character from O Brother, Where Art Thou to some extent, but endears as a sex fiend with a jogging fetish. And what’s he building in the basement? Looks sinister…

Overall, this talented cast delivers. The script meanders a bit, and the stakes aren’t particularly high, but the laughs are pretty constant. J.K. Simmons and David Rasche are quietly brilliant in their bit parts, and The Coen Brothers deliver quite a few of their signature surprise moments.

This film reminded me a bit of 6ixtynine9, a Thai gangster comedy I reviewed a little while back. The action in that film is set in motion by a simple misunderstanding which becomes compounded many times over. The setup is the same in Burn After Reading, except in this case, with these actors and this script, the result is a study in silliness. Most Coen Brothers comedies have a silly take on something more or less serious, where the stakes are high. Burn After Reading is a silly take on something completely silly, where any serious consequence is the natural, if unfortunate outcome of being a bit silly. In fact, I would almost call this film Coen light. Fans of their films will surely enjoy it, but if their other comedies have been too out there for you, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

This film is rated R for violence, strong language, and sex toys.

Burn After Reading 1-Sheet

Burn After Reading 1-Sheet

6ixtynin9

A funny story about 6 and 9

A funny story about 6 and 9

I’ve seen a decent amount of Asian cinema, but nothing so far from Thailand. And my first foray into Thai cinema did not disappoint. Ruang talok 69, or in English 6ixtynin9 (a more accurate translation appears in the subtitles: “A Funny Story about 6 and 9”) follows a young professional who is laid off from her job. From there it’s a horrifyingly amusing chain of events set in motion by the loose number 6 on her apartment door that occasionally turns on the single nail holding it in place and becomes a 9. Add gangsters in sweatsuits and a missing noodle box filled with money, mix well and watch everything explode.

I don’t want to spoil anything, because anyone who’s into dark comedies should check this film out. Let’s just say there’s a body count. A respectable one. And plenty of sight gags and clever dialog to keep viewers laughing throughout.

The main character, played by Lalita Panyopas, seems to be completely defeated by life in general and her financial woes to boot, and her actions are the result of an almost disinterested kind of desperation. Panyopas’ decidedly understated performance is the main source of the film’s hilarity, but also serves to shock the viewer on the rare occasions when she shows some emotion. A fine job by director and actor alike.

Also of note: I found myself appreciating the lack of gratuitous gore. The film certainly had opportunities to go in that direction. But the director chose to leave a lot to our imagination. As such, the few gag worthy moments score on a psychological level.

But I think what I enjoyed most about the film is that each character walks into the film’s crazy plot and makes conclusions about what is going on, and while they’re all completely reasonable conclusions, they’re all wrong. So what you end up with is this fantastic collision of people who all have slightly different assumptions about the way things work, and added together, they equal a nearly perfect mix of comedy, drama, and thrills.

The one gripe I had was that the subtitles were TERRIBLE. This isn’t completely unexpected, and in a few instances the grammatical errors added to the comedy in the film. To some extent, bad subtitles are part of the package when it comes to Asian cinema. Even so, the mistakes were irritating and added a element of shoddiness that took away from an otherwise well-shot film. I’m guessing the distributor is to blame for the bad subtitling, and there’s no excuse for it. It wouldn’t be terribly expensive to hire a native English speaker to create an English adaptation of the translation and edit it for spelling and grammar.

I plan to check out some of director Pen-Ek Ratanarung’s other films and will gladly report back. Until then, I highly recommend this film.

Step Brothers

You know Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. You know their shtick. They play adult idiots. They’ve done it in every movie they’ve starred in in the past few years. They started strong with Anchorman and slowly declined with Talladega Nights, Walk Hard, Blades Of Glory, Semi-Pro, and now Step Brothers. In this, their most recent, they play two immature guys in their late 30s living with their single parents, their parents hook up, and they all move in together. Hilarity ensues. Or at least, that’s what they want you to think.

Step Brothers is a decent enough comedy. It’s shallow brain candy. It’s certainly not in the league of Anchorman or The 40 Year Old Virgin, it’s more on par with Blades Of Glory, which I liked. And I like Step Brothers. It has it’s moments of hilarity but the sad part is, most of those parts are found in the trailer for the movie. There are a still few other scenes that are pretty funny, but it all feels kind of played out. I’d like to see these guys do something funny as a different character. They’ve done the idiot thing, I think it’s time to try something else.

But (and this is a big but) if you’re looking for some summer popcorn flick that doesn’t involve a superhero and big explosions, then Step Brothers might be right up your alley. Just don’t go in expecting something new and exciting.