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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

(Not so) Quick Take 3: The Latest Movies I've Watched

Posted on July 12, 2011 at 5:39 PM

Been five months since the last movie review Quick Take roll-out session, and neither time nor a well-stocked Netflix queue stands still for no man! Have churned through some decent titles lately, but seems like duds have ruled the day lately. Let’s get to the list, shall we?

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – The latest/third film in the Narnia cycle – there were a total of 7 books if you’re wondering how many more Narnias you might be in for. I enjoyed the first two films OK; nothing spectacular, but decent sit-back-and-enjoy fare. And, you can’t fault the film TOO much for following the plot of the book. What happens is you end up following the two youngest Pevensie (I totally had to look that up; like I’m gonna remember some name as obscurely trivial as Pevensie; it’s totally not like Solo or Skywalker) children which are the LEAST interesting. The older siblings have been shipped off to America to avoid the war about to rage in England or something. And they end up being swept away to Narnia with their unbelievably lame cousin who is so ridiculous in his protestations that it just becomes more and more off-putting. Oh, and he gets turned into a dragon. If you’re a freak for the Narnias, give it a rent; if not, you’re not missing out on anything here. 6 out of 10.

Rabbit Hole – I’ll be honest; I don’t always do a lot of researching on what a movie is about. Dana doesn’t watch R-rated films, so if I see something that fulfills the criteria of A) NOT being R, B) NOT being about some kind of demonology, and C) NOT looking totally lame, I’m gonna give ‘er a go. It’s Netflix and variety – and experimentation – is the spice of life. So I saw this – made in 2010, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart AND rated PG-13 – and I snapped it up. But when it arrived and we read the Netflix descriptor about life for a happy married couple is turned upside down after their 4-year old young son dies in an accident, we both decided that this was going to be too depressing and horrible to watch. So, returned unwatched. Many unshed tears out of 10.

The Way Back – Depending on who you believe, this movie either IS or ISN’T based on the true story of Slawomir Rawics. (From IMDB: “Rawicz's account has been seriously challenged. Historical records detailing his imprisonment and release contradict the book's storyline. For example, Polish Army records show that Rawicz left the USSR directly for Iran in 1942, and his arrival in Palestine (not India) is verified by the records. Multiple reviews of the book also argue that the book is a fraud and that many alleged incidents in the book are, in fact, physically impossible.") Of course, it would be better and more awesome-er if it were true, but it doesn’t make the movie any less enjoyable. Basically a rag-tag bunch of dissidents, thieves and prisoners escape from a Siberian Gulag and walk like 4000 miles to freedom. Also features a really strong cast with Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan (the ninja-bow-assassin from Hanna) and Jim Sturgess. Oh, and thanks for the spoiler on the CD cover, Netflix, telling you exactly how many people MAKE IT TO THE END! Also, proof that when you have a PG-13 movie and “brief nudity” in the MPAA descriptor, it is gonna be some dude’s ass. 8.5 out of 10

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste) – I wrote quite a bit about this movie already, an entire blog post which you can read here. I liked the animation, but the story was slow and plodding and ultimately unfulfilling and kind of depressing. Call me a softy, but I likes me a happy ending. 6.5 out of 10

Cars 2 – Again, another entire blog post devoted to this, so if you want the lengthy read, read that. Definitely entertaining, terrific animation, wonderful voice casting, all of the things that Pixar is known for, just lacking the heart and emotional depth of a Toy Story 3. The movie is action packed with lots of spy mayhem, and is well-balanced to keep it from becoming totally the Mater show. Call me biased towards Pixar – go on! Call me that! I’ve already said I want to start and then JOIN their religion – but I liked it. 9 out of 10.

Another Year – Another independent foreign film from Sony Classics. It was British so you know the humor is going to be dry, subtle, potentially awkward and confusing. The film follows this older married couple through four seasons. It starts off with this really depressed lady whose face is just the total picture of abject misery and utter despair who can’t sleep who is seeing the wife who is a counselor. It is this pretty lengthy scene where you think it is going to have some bearing on the film, but, no. You pretty much never see depressed lady again and never know why she is so bummed on life. This movie is just a snapshot into the lives of mostly depressed and sad people and how they interact with a normally, mostly adjusted and happy couple. And ends. That seems to be the hallmark of an independent film. When you run out of time, money, or film, fade to black and... The End. 7 out of 10.

Love Hurts – I got this because it had Carry-Ann Moss in it. And, you know not-R or demo or the like. I figured, “Cool. Trinity. Should be decent.” The husband is just such a total dandy fop that he was totally unlikable, so of course Trinity is leaving the dude. He’s a douche-nozzle! I mean, he must be, right, because his hairstyle is lame! Then all of a sudden with a style makeover from his son, a new $200 haircut and some new clothes, all of a sudden he’s a desirable, Halo Killtacular master, man-about-town. He’s out nailing twins, juggling multiple dates, eating sushi and doing karaoke all under the guise of trying to make himself better to win Trinity back. So retarded. And his facial expressions totally reminded me of the guy from Drop Dead Fred which don’t help any.

I’m not sure why he was so British acting, other than maybe he is British and was the best they could afford for this film. Throw in an over the top Jenna Elfman, and an overly Jewish Janeane Garofalo (who actually looks so much better than normal I said, “Wow! That girl looks just like Janeane Garofalo, but if she were thin and cute!")  and you’ve got yourself a movie. 5 out of 10.

Cold Day in Hell – After watching True Grit I thought, “Hey, another western would be nice.” Then I read the synopsis:  “Sierra Nevada Mountains, 1887: William Drayton, once a crack sharpshooter in the Civil War, has lost his wife and home. He has ascended to the high country, wanting never to be heard from again.” The I saw the box art:

Bad-ass, right?! Crack sharpshooter that wants to blend away into the countryside but that is pulled back in, bandolier full of glimmering shells, twin six-guns blazing, and blood flying. Probably destined to be a modern, undiscovered classic. Except…it sucked. Like it sucked like it had been training hard all year and was trying to win an award for sucking. The previews were all for other westerns that looked like they were high school film projects shot in the desert. I thought it was just some chum they were throwing in the waters to get us ready for the big event that was about to happen. But about 30 seconds into the film Dana says, “Ohhhh! Pu-leeeeze! You aren’t really going to make me watch this are you? This looks soooo awful!” I said that it would be a Cold Night in Myrtle before we didn’t watch a Cold Day in Hell on this hot night in Myrtle! So we watched on for another couple of minutes and Dana again is unable to stifle an, “Ohhhh! This acting is soooo bad. Like, really? This is what you want to watch?” But the screen was down, the projector was on, and dammit, we WERE watching! Except after about 5 more minutes even I couldn’t take it anymore. Just...just...bad. Like rotten, spewing maggots bad. Like you don’t realize how much talent even mediocre, borderline decent acting requires until you see the first 10 minutes of A Cold Day in Hell. 1 out of 10. (I’m giving it 1 because that box art IS cool.)

Sixes Wives of Henry Lefay – It’s Tim Allen so you pretty much know what you’re gonna get. He is an audio store – think sleazy like Big Al’s Toy Barn, but with TVs – owner who dies – or does he?!?! OK. He doesn’t. If that spoiled it for you, then you didn’t deserve to watch it any how! – in Mexico. He has five wives – or does he?!?! He doesn’t! Cause, it’s right there in the title, people! It clearly says he has six! – that all come to his funeral to weigh in on matters of his final remains and last rites. His wives fight throughout and continue to get younger and more unbelievable and Tim Allen does everything he can to actively repel and alienate his daughter. I swear, Tim Allen, if it wasn’t for Buzz Lightyear I would have no use for you at all! (And I’m pretty sure that George Clooney could step in and voice that role, since I thought it was him already for a long time.) I must have been in the mood for self-flagellation because this also had Jenna Elfman in it. High points included Andie MacDowell as ex-wife #2 and Edward Herrmann (the grandfather from Gilmore Girls) who was the funeral director Mr. Goodenough. Unfortunately, good-enough this movie wasn’t. And, another PS: Nudity in a PG-13? Naked. Dude. Ass. Count on it. 5.5 out of 10.

Ondine - You know, when a movie opens on a whopping 5 screens and brings in $27,497 its opening weekend and a total of $548,934 during its entire theatrical run, there is probably a reason. That’s probably the kind of film that is going to be destined to let you down. And yet, I still added Ondine to my queue. I’ll be honest, as has happened before, I let my queue get away from me a bit. I added a ton of movies, but didn’t check to see that they were either A) not released yet or B) part of that stupid Blockbuster 30-day exclusive window. So, what you get is the mid-pack queue fillers rising to the top like curdled milk and soured cream. Still, when Netflix gives you prunes, you make prune Danish. This movie bordered on being so thick with Scottish brogue that it was unintelligible, but we managed. Ondine washes up into Colin Farrell’s fishing net all Jason Bourne style. Except she is neither Jason nor Bourne. She has no cool ninja fighting skills, probably can’t drive a Mini Cooper for shite and didn’t kill one bad guy with a pencil. Is she a mermaid, or rather a Selke, some kind of Scottish water nymph variant? Or is she…something else? The boring-ness got to me about three-quarters of the way in and I fell asleep; a cardinal sin and total disrespect to the projector. Dana made it through to the finish. I’ll give it a benefit of the doubt 6.5 out of 10.

Just Go With It – Look, I’m no high-brow, cineaste prude. I like low-bro, potty, poo-poo humor as much as the next guy. You want to pull off a classic mis-timed bit of diarrhea shenanigans a la Dumb & Dumber? I’ll laugh. Oh, I’ll laugh hard! But, I fear that I’m growing too old for Adam Sandler. I liked him in Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison and he was OK in The Waterboy and I even enjoyed much of The Zohan. I liked how he grew up some in The Wedding Singer. But it pretty much seems like every one of his movies is just the same, still-little-boy humor, recycled and with different supporting cast. It’s like everything is geared towards getting his next Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice award.  I’m not sure how he got Jennifer Aniston to do this, except for maybe she still giant holes in her post-Friends career. Sure, Brooklyn Decker is hot and bathing suit-ey and blonde and bikini-ish and wet and bouncy a lot, but that a movie does not make. The critical defect is that the plot is just SOOOO ridiculous and unbelievable that it just made the whole movie farcical. Sandler is a plastic surgeon so you know there will be a lot of Botox and boob-job jokes and if that's what you like, then I assure you that you won't be disappointed. He was dumped at the altar as a young man that now just goes around chasing any girl he can, wearing his old wedding ring to garner and rack up sympathy lays as he says how awful his wife is and then bails on them because, well, he’s married. Aniston is his receptionist and sees him plowing through all of these women. Sandler runs across Brooklyn, things are different this time, this really seems real, blah-blah, then she finds the ring and instead of just saying something, ANYTHING like, oh, I don’t know, how about, “I got dumped at the altar and now I carry that ring around as a constant reminder so that it will never happen again,” he instead makes up one elaborate, ridiculous lies one after another to cover up for the ring. Stupid. Retarded stupid. And of course Brooklyn believes all of this because she’s obviously too blonde and beautiful to be smart. Throw in Sandler’s cousin that speaks in some German sheep-herder accent and one of Aniston’s daughters that adopts a Cockney accent and you just have a steaming pile of hot mess. Cap it off with an over-the-top -ridiculous Hawaiian vacation, where Aniston suddenly falls in love with Sandler because he is nice to her kids and she suddenly sees through the years of him screwing around and knows that his love for her will be true and you have the movie. A decent cameo performance by Dave Matthews and Nicole Kidman aren’t enough to resurrect the film. 5.5 out of 10.

Freakonomics – Based on the wildly successful book of the same title, this movie tries to use math to explain certain behaviors. The book was co-authored by a mathematician and an, uh, author and they do a good job of making what could be dry and boring and number-ey entertaining. I will admit to not really knowing anything about the book a forehand.

The documentary is filmed in four parts by four different writers and directors and what caught my eye was that Morgan Spurlock – Super Size Me – was one of the filmmakers. I’m down with Morgan and so I was down with Freakonomics. Maybe since I wasn’t encumbered by having read the book, I really enjoyed this movie and so did Dana. (At least she said she did.) It examines four pretty interesting topics such as: Does someone’s name shape their success or failure in life? (In some ways yes; in others, no. If you name your child Tawanda, they are less likely to get called for a job interview than a Sarah. Oh, and Lauryn (Lauren) is one of the most popular upper-class girls names now, so we’ve clearly set our daughter up for success! Huzzah!)  Is cheating rampant in Sumo wrestling? Did Rowe v Wade and the subsequent legalization of abortion play a major role in the reduction of crime? And can you bribe a 9th grader to do better? This was a film that had Dana and I talking and thinking afterwards and made us both want to read the book. Pretty impressive. 9 out of 10.

Seen anything good yourself lately? Let me know what I’m missing or how your reviews of the above 10 would differ from my own. The comments box is there 24 hours a day; always open and ready to receive your pearls of wit and wisdom...

Categories: July 2011, Movies, Reviews

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