Sunday, November 2

Eagle Eye, Quarantine, and MORE

“The Ugly Truth” (2009)

I saw this in a pre-screening, so I can’t give away much about it. “The Ugly Truth” is a romantic comedy with Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl. I LOVED IT and so did every one I saw it with (a couple of 20 year old girls and an 18 year old guy). It comes out next April, so go see it! Its definitely worth the price of admission.

“Eagle Eye” (2008)

Overall, this movie was disappointing. I was originally excited to see this movie, but unfortunately the writers took what had potential to be scary and psychological and turned it into something that’s been done over and over since the beginning of technology. If you’ve seen the Terminator films, you’ve seen this movie with a better plot. As if the “technology is taking over the world” cliché isn’t bad enough, the movie also forces the two main characters (Shia LaBoeuf and Michelle Monaghan) into having romantic tension, even though the actors have no chemistry what so ever. I think this movie is worth seeing, but not for full price. The action was well done and the plot was interesting until they gave it away about 45 minutes in. All I can say is that I hope Shia Laboeuf starts acting in better movies soon or else his career is going to slow down and so is my respect for him as an actor. Better luck next time.

“Quarantine” (2008)

A movie about people trapped in an apartment building who become infected one by one with some freakish case of rabies doesn’t sound like a very new concept in the horror genre these days. However, the thing that makes this movie different is the fact that it is filmed entirely from the perspective of one news camera. Now, this technique was both suspenseful and extremely irritating to me. Because the camera’s view was often blocked by people or was muddled by being unfocused, it increased the suspense. But it also made me hate the cameraman. The main mystery about the story in my mind was the origin of the freak rabies virus, and the characters addressed this, however it was left unresolved. Near the end, the filmmakers give hints of a fascinating conspiracy theory/cult origin of the virus, but then they kill off the remaining characters and end the film before the audience is satisfied. Also, the whole last scene of the film was far too long and mostly comprised of close ups of the main girl’s face looking terrified. I enjoyed the film overall, but the end left me cold. Very scary, some pretty convincing gore and well made.

“Hairspray” (2007)

I finally saw this film after seeing the original earlier this year, and let me say, it made me love Zac Efron (no easy feat). This movie was one of the happiest movies I’ve ever seen. Watching the optimistic Tracy go through her daily life and then deciding to change it just put a smile on my face. The music was great (especially love songs “I Can Hear the Bells” and “Without Love” and the amazing “Run and Tell That”). John Travolta was slightly disconcerting as Tracy’s mother, but he did bring in some laughs and I think it was definitely a necessary tribute to Jon Waters’ original and to Divine’s original portrayal. Christopher Walken was cute, but nothing new for him. Zac Efron brought a nice realism to his superficial hottie character (also nothing new for him). Amanda Bynes was cute as Tracy’s friend Penny, but her singing was not great. Elijah Kelley was my personal favorite as Seaweed, Tracy’s black friend and Penny’s love interest. Kelley’s singing and dancing are top notch and his character plays a great role in the story. Allison Janney was awesome (as always) as Penny’s crazy, Puritanical, racist mother, but I would have liked to see more of her in the movie. James Marsden was his usual adorable self as the host of the show Tracy and Link dance on, Corny Collins. Queen Latifa was good; Michelle Pfiefer was good. And lastly, Nikki Blonsky was quite good as Tracy, the larger than life, super-energetic main character. The story of “Hairspray” is a great story of empowerment for anyone who is different from the norm, from African-Americans to the overweight. One of the best musicals I’ve seen in a long, long time. Although it might not be for everyone, I think anyone would be able to enjoy it if they put aside their own prejudices against musicals, Zac Efron, or whatever else.

10 Words or Less

“Project Makeover” (2007) [Korea] (4/5)
Funky story, cute ending, super hot Korean man playing nerd :)

“Philadelphia Story” (1940) [US] (3/5)
Funny sometimes, plot moves without convincing motivation

“Saw V” (2008) [US] (3/5)
Less gory than expected, half interesting, too much backstory

“Head Over Heels” (2001) [US] (3/5)
Cheesy but funny rom-com with Freddy Prinze Jr. Very 90’s.

“Bridget Jones’ Diary” (2001) [US] (4/5)
Cute but pretty predictable. Increased love for Collin Firth <3

“Deathrace” (2008) [US] (4/5)
Crap plot, awesome visuals. Like a videogame with amazing graphics.

“My Tutor Friend 2” (2007) [Korea] (4/5)
Interesting to see differences between Japanese and Korean people. Cute.

“200 Pounds of Beauty” (2006) [Korea] (4.5/5)
Sweet, empowering story. Beautiful voice. Pretty relatable characters.

“100 Days with Mr. Arrogant” (2004) [US] (4/5)
First half is hilarious; second half is a bit dramatic.

“Perfect Couple” (2007) [Korea] (2/5)
Not that interesting, not much chemistry, too over the top.

“Sunset Boulevard” (1950) [US] (5/5)
Fascinating psychologically. Cool look into old Hollywood. Basically amazing.

“Seven Chances” (1925) [US] (5/5)
Busten Keaton classic. Doesn’t lose much over the years.

“His Girl Friday” (1940) [US] (4/5)
Fastest dialogue ever. Characters are weird. Very screwball comedy.

Thursday, September 25

Burn After Reading

I recently read two opposing reviews about the newest Coen brothers’ film, “Burn After Reading,” and while I tended towards one review over the other, I did not agree with either of them. Both reviews based their opinions of the film on whether they understood the plot. The writer who did not enjoy the film complained that the plot was confusing and the actions of the characters were unfounded. The writer who did enjoy the film basically described the plot and stated that, in conclusion, the film was funny, thus good. Both of these writers were college students, similar in age to the writer of this particular article. At the risk of sounding superior, I must say that these reviews make me concerned about the future of moviegoers in America.

But this is not a review of America’s lack of appreciation for good cinema. This is a review of the film “Burn After Reading,” starring Francis McDormand, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt and Tilda Swinton.

I must start with another reference to the reviews that I have already read about this film. The writer who did not enjoy the movie claimed that the actions undertaken and assumptions made by the characters in the film were unfounded and ridiculous. I agree that the characters were largely ridiculous, but the actions that they take are completely founded in their ridiculous self- and world-perspectives. To begin with, every character in the film believes themselves vastly more important than they clearly are. McDormand’s and Pitt’s dull-witted gym workers are a perfect example. They find a disk of information that they have no idea how to decipher and they immediately think that it is filled with confidential records that they can ransom to the owner of said disk. While any rational person would simply dismiss the disk as someone’s business data or something equally as mundane, these gym employees believe that their lives should be filled with excitement and intrigue, and thus create their own excitement and intrigue. Malkovich’s anger-prone ex-CIA analyst has similar delusions of grandeur, beginning with the content of the lost disk: his memoirs. As his wife (Swinton) so delicately puts it, “who on Earth would think that that’s worth anything?” But Malkovich so thoroughly believes in his importance that he meets with Pitt to discuss the ransom demands on what only he knows is his own memoirs. But perhaps the most delusional character of them all is Clooney’s hyper-paranoid Treasury clerk. By the end of the film, Clooney is so convinced that everyone around him is spying on him that he attempts to flee the country. Again, any rational person would have the rightness of mind to know that spying on a Treasury clerk is highly unlikely and mostly pointless. However, Clooney convinces himself that every person around him revolves his or her own life around him.

All of these nearly insane characters have one main thing in common: they all display extreme versions of contemptible characteristics that are unfortunately prevalent in our society. McDormand displays incredible superficiality; her goal in this whole blackmail scandal is to get enough money to have copious cosmetic surgeries. Clooney and Malkovich are horribly self-centered and self-important. Clooney is also obsessed with sex, as is illustrated in his many affairs and his hilariously bizarre “gift” to his wife. Pitt, although seemingly innocent in his stupidity, is enterprising and greedy, thinking immediately of a reward upon finding the disk. Even Swinton, who is the least involved in the whole scandal, is a “cold, stuck-up bitch” who calculates her affair with Clooney and divorce from Malkovich with complete emotionless detachment.

All of these characters interact to create dark hilarity that will make you question your own morals as you laugh at things like extra-marital relationships, online dating, blackmail, murder and paranoia. The most hilarious of all, however, are the calm attempts to connect the bizarre incidents together by a CIA officer, played by David Rasche and his superior played by J.K. Simmons. Their attempts to synthesize the confusing and entirely ridiculous events taking place in the rest of the film so perfectly parallel the audience’s attempts to make heads or tails of the film. Because of this deliberate address of the nonsensicality of the film’s plot, it is clear that the Coen brothers did not merely write a story that made no sense, but that they are making a commentary about the nonsense.

Which brings me back to the other review I read, and many others like it that complain of the film’s shoddy plot, illogical characters and complete lack of direction or purpose. That’s the point, people! It’s called satire.

With that, I would like to recommend this film to anyone who knows the meaning of satire and anyone who enjoyed earlier Coen brothers’ dark comedies, such as “Raising Arizona” and definitely “Fargo.” If you’re looking for another “No Country for Old Men,” don’t think this is it. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy “Burn After Reading” just the same. I know I did.

Also, I forgot to mention the great performances by Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Clooney’s performance reminded me of his Golden Globe winning turn in another Coen brothers’ comedy, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” And Pitt, in a very unusual role for him, is so funny and so convincing in his idiocy. These two guys are worth the price of admission (as usual). And J.K. Simmons is also great, with his deadpan delivery and perfectly conveyed exasperation. Seriously, just see the movie.

Watch this:
Red Band Trailer

OTHER MOVIES I'VE SEEN RECENTLY (in ten words or less)

Hardboiled (1992) [Hong Kong] : 3.5/5
-Mother, father, brother and cousin of all action films! Hilarious.

Casablanca (1942) [US] : 5/5
-Beautiful, tragic; absolutely a classic. Everyone should see it.

In Bruges (2008) [UK] : 4/5
-Weird until the end. Then absolutely amazing. A dark comedy.

Two Faces of My Girlfriend (2007) [Korea] : 4.5/5
-Cute, funny, and totally sweet. Almost made me cry.

The Beast and the Beauty (2005) [Korea] : 4/5
-Makes you rethink appearances. Very cute and sorta sad.

Sunday, August 24

Tropic Thunder

I'm going to start this review with what I liked about the movie, and then go on to address my concerns and the concerns of the masses about the film. I figure that way, by the end, you won't hate me anymore for liking this movie.

Baruchel, Jackson, Stiller, Downey Jr, Black, and Coogan in Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller's newest "dumb, self-absorbed guy gets his comeuppance and a new perspective of the world" movie lives up to its explosion-filled, racially-charged, Hollywood-parodying trailer. The action is fun, the comedy is hilarious and the characters are fun and hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the jibes at Hollywood icons and stereotypes.

Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman, the star of Scorcher films 1 through 5, hits the Sylvester-Stallone-nail right on the muscly, has-been head.
Jack Black is incredibly enjoyable as Jeff Portnoy, the fart-humor famous comedian with a vicious heroin addiction. He reminded me of a blond, white Eddie Murphy, if you can imagine that.
Robert Downey Jr is the funniest of the lot as Australian actor, Kirk Lazarus, playing an African American sergeant, who never breaks character in his attempt to take his acting so seriously that he literally becomes the character. His over-the-top portrayal is exactly what I would imagine the whitest man on earth would do to try to be black. Thus, rather than making fun of African-Americans, Downey Jr's character serves to make fun of whites who wish they were black.
Brandon T. Jackson is brilliant as the rapper-turned-actor, Alpa Chino (a name that confused me through much of the movie). Although he is initially introduced via an extremely explicit commercial for his products "Booty Sweat Energy Drink" and "Bust-A-Nut Bars", Alpa ends up to be one of the most endearing characters, in my opinion. He plays one of the only arguably sane characters in the movie, in fact. (If you dare - Caution: may contain explicit material:
Jay Baruchel (you may remember him from Knocked Up) plays the geeky Kevin Sandusky, the only actor who went to training, the only one who read the script and the only one nobody remembers. As a lover of geeks, he was one of my favorites.
Steve Coogan is the Brit (who looks familiar but I don't know why) who plays the crazy, in-over-his-head director of Tropic Thunder, Damien Cockburn. Being a newbie filmmaker myself, I found this plunderous, crazed character funny and relatable, even though he is not in the film for long.
Matthew McConaughey is unusually good as Rick Peck, Tugg Speedman's agent and friend. His was my favorite Hollywood stereotype, the greedy agent who would do anything to get his clients' contracts upheld, no matter what.
And finally, Tom Cruise was the most surprising actor in this film, playing the fat, balding, extremely vulgar producer, Les Grossman. Personally, I think this was a brilliant move for Cruise's career because he completely broke away from his recent weirdness to play this role. He broke so far away that I spent most of the film trying to figure out if it was, in fact, him. Although he is a bit too vulgar at times, I still loved this character and loved even more that it was Tom Cruise playing it.

Overall, the film was extremely over-the-top, but balanced itself well with more down-to-earth moments between characters and within characters. Although it was most definitely an action movie, Tropic Thunder had many scenes where the characters were the main focus, and those were generally my favorites. I admit to enjoying the cheesiness of the growing friendship between Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus, as well as Jeff Portnoy's struggle with his drug addiction (neither of which took themselves seriously).

After seeing the movie, I still stand by my original insistence that Stiller and Downey Jr meant no harm in their use of modern day "black face". As I explained to a friend in one argument we had over the film, I believe the point of having a white actor play a black character had nothing to due with race and everything to do with self-important actors who take their roles far too literally. I'm sorry if I offend anyone with my opinion, but there it is and there it stands. The main problem I had with Tropic Thunder was not with Downey Jr's white man playing a black man, but Stiller's character Tugg Speedman's previous film "Simple Jack" about a mentally challenged farm hand. Some things are okay to make fun of, even in over the top ways. One thing that's not okay to make fun of is the mentally challenged. At least not in the way it was presented in this movie. While Downey Jr's character was balanced with the presence of Jackson, a real black man who raised the issues that Downey Jr was creating, Stiller's representation of "Simple Jack" was completely unchallenged. As Kirk Lazarus tells Tugg Speedman in the film "Never go full retard."

I recommend this film to most people, but it's definitely not for everyone.