Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"The Human Centipede: First Sequence" (2009)

Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie
Written and directed by Tom Six

I vowed for a long time never to watch this film.  I'd heard rumblings of it over the past months, and eventually looked it up to see what it was about and was thoroughly, flat-out disgusted by its premise.  "The Human Centipede" features what I can easily say is the most repulsive idea for a movie that I've ever heard.  I didn't want to watch it, I never wanted to watch it.  I could easily go my entire life without having watched it.

But beer and pretty girls are like kryptonite. 

"The Human Centipede" is the grotesque story of two American tourists, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who get lost in the woods in Germany on their way to a party.  Their car suffers a flat tire, and like many horror movie protagonists before them, they head off in search of help.  Unfortunately for them (and for us) they come across the home of Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) a world-renowned surgeon specializing in the separation of conjoined (Siamese) twins.  Only now, in his twilight years, Heiter has become psychotically obsessed with creating them instead of separating them.  Lindsay and Jenny find themselves drugged, and wake up strapped to hospital beds in Heiter's basement, along with a Japanese man Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) and Heiter determines the three are an appropriate tissue match.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"The Substitute" (1996)

Starring Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson and Marc Anthony
Written by Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli
Directed by Robert Mandel

Everyone remembers 1995's "Dangerous Minds," right?  That movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as a former US Marine who becomes a teacher and whips a bunch of under-privileged minority students into shape?  It was a big box office success, and the soundtrack featured the massively popular single "Gangsta's Paradise" from Coolio.  Yeah, you remember that movie.

So do you remember that a year later there came "The Substitute"?  Probably not.

Jonathan Shale (Tom Berenger) is a mercenary employed by the United States government to do off-the-books black operations.  His latest mission to infiltrate Cuba and destroy a drug manufacturing facility doesn't go well, and three of his teammates are killed and left behind.  As a result of their failure, the government must cut ties with Shale and his team, leaving the men desperate to find employment.

Shale returns home to Miami and finds that his girlfriend, Jane Hetsko (Diane Venora) has been targeted by a local gang known as the Kings of Destruction, or "KOD".  One day while jogging, Jane is knee-capped by one of the gang members, and must stay home from her job as a high school teacher for several weeks with a broken leg.  Shale concocts a plan to get himself hired as a substitute teacher to track down these gang members, and soon enough discovers that there's even more going on than just simple gang violence.  He notices that these gang members all have expensive phones and cars, and begins to suspect that they are involved in the drug trade.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Lie to Me' (Season Two)

Starring Tim Roth, Kelli Williams and Brendan Hines
Created by Samuel Baum

Tim Roth stars as Dr. Cal Lightman.  He specializes in reading facial expressions and body language to determine whether someone is telling truth or lies.  Together with his staff of experts including his best friend and possible love interest Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams, who I think looks like my friend Lauren), specialist Eli Loker (Brendan Hines) and Ria Torres (Monica Raymund) who has a natural gift for determining deception, Lightman takes on various cases in conjunction with the FBI to solve murders, kidnappings, you name it.

Lightman has to deal with a variety of personal situations in Season Two, not the least of which is making time to raise his 16-year-old daughter Emily (Hayley McFarland), and dealing with his ex-wife Zoe Landau (Jennifer Beals) who is now a defense attorney with her own practice, which sometimes brings her interests into conflict with Lightman's.  Foster is also fresh out of a divorce, and Loker and Torres seem to be growing closer on a personal level, which could endanger their professional relationship.

As a procedural, "Lie to Me" mostly follows a similar plot structure episode after episode.  There's little in the way of ongoing storylines here, and what threads do build over the season often happen in the background.  Still, the episodic nature of "Lie to Me" makes it easy to jump in and out at almost any point.  The show is plot heavy rather than character-focused, which makes it fairly disposable entertainment.

"Cop Out" (2010)

Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan and Sean William Scott
Written by Mark and Robb Cullen
Directed by Kevin Smith

You know when people talk about a movie, sometimes they say "The best parts are in the trailer"?  When talking about Kevin Smith's "Cop Out," that's totally true

Jimmy Munroe and Paul Hodges (Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan) are New York Police Detectives, and have been partners for nine years.  Like with other buddy-cop pairings, there's the straight man and the crazy one - here, Jimmy is the straight man and Paul is the crazy one.  Jimmy allows Paul to conduct an interrogation wherein his entire routine is to simply shout lines from movies that sound threatening to the suspect.  Strangely, it works, and the two are tipped off to a deal going down very quickly that would allow them to make a sizable drug arrest.

Unfortunately, the bust goes bad; the suspect gets away and Paul is caught on video assaulting a bystander while dressed in a giant foam cell phone costume.  As a result, the two are suspended without pay.  This couldn't come at a worse time for Jimmy, who is struggling to pay for his daughter Eva's (Michelle Trachtenberg) wedding.  He decides to sell a vintage collectible baseball card worth some $80,000.  Things get worse when, while getting the card appraised by a local dealer, the store is robbed by a thug named Dave (Sean William Scott) who steals the card. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Hot Tub Time Machine" (2010)

Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson
Written by Josh Heald, Jarrad Paul and Sean Anders
Directed by Steve Pink

I was wary going into this one.  I'd heard from a couple of people that it was just downright stupidly unfunny.  But last night, over at Andy's house with some pizza and a couple of beers we threw in "Hot Tub Time Machine," and you know what?  We loved it.  It's just our kind of geek silliness, with references to all kinds of 80s culture mixed with nerdy time travel jokes.

Adam (John Cusack) comes home to find he's been dumped by another girlfriend.  He's grown apart from his two best friends Nick (Craig Robinson), a former singer who now works at a pet grooming salon, and Lou (Rob Corddry), a party guy who can't seem to get his life together.  Adam's anti-social nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in his basement, spending his time playing videogames.  One day, Adam learns that Lou is in the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt, which he denies.  Adam and Nick come up with the idea of taking Lou away on a weekend getaway to a favorite old ski resort of theirs from their youth to try and have some good times and reconnect.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Date Night" (2010)

Starring Steve Carrell, Tina Fey and Mark Wahlberg
Written by Josh Klausner
Directed by Shawn Levy

Every week I watch "The Office" and "30 Rock," which despite what any fan of very unfunny "The Big Bang Theory" will tell you, are actually two of the best sitcoms on TV.  Carrell and Fey are hysterical comedians, and I had high hopes to finally see the two of them headlining a feature together. 

Fey and Carrell star as Claire and Phil Foster, a married middle-class couple stuck in a rut.  Each week they have "date night," where they go to the same restaurant, eat the same food, and then go home and collapse and wake up the next day and go through the same routine with their kids and their work.  After learning that two of their friends are getting a divorce, Phil decides to surprise Claire by having date night in the city at a fancy restaurant.  Unfortunately, they don't have a reservation.  Phil makes the bold decision to take someone else's reservation.  Partway through dinner, they're interrupted by two men Collins and Armstrong (Common and Jimmi Simpson).  Thinking they've been caught by the restaurant, Phil and Claire follow Collins and Armstrong out into the alley. 

"Aeon Flux" (2005)

Starring Charlize Theron, Sophie Okenedo and Marton Csokas
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Directed by Karyn Kusama

I hate it when a good idea is made into a shitty movie.  "Aeon Flux" is just such a film.  In the world of this movie, the majority of humanity has died off due to some kind of virus in 2011.  Four hundred years later, the survivors live in a futuristic city called Bregna, under the rule of the Goodchild family, the same family that developed a cure for the virus centuries earlier.

Bregna is a glistening metropolis filled with fantastic technology.  The people are safe... sort of.  At any point, any one of them can disappear, never to be seen again.  There is a resistance group that has sprung up, the Monicans.  One of these Monicans is Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron).  She is, in fact, their greatest agent.  After Aeon's sister Una is killed by government agents, Aeon is sent on a mission to kill Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), the leader of Bregna.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Toy Story 3" (2010)

Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack
Written by Michael Arndt
Directed by Lee Unkrich

There comes a time in every child's life where we simply outgrow the things we have - whether its clothes, or certain interests, or toys.  While I've maintained an interest in many of the things I enjoyed when I was younger (certainly, comics and animation still occupy a large chunk of my time) I have long-since packed away all those old action figures and models in my parents' basement.  If that box even still exists, who knows. 

"Toy Story 3" finds Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang from Pixar's hugely successful series in just that situation.  Andy (John Morris) is now grown and going to college.  His mother tells him anything that doesn't get packed in the attic or thrown out in the trash will be donated.  Due to a mixup, his childhood toys including Buzz, Jesse (Joan Cusack), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, taking over for the late Jim Varney), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Andy's sister's Barbie (Jodie Benson) end up in the trash.  Thinking that Andy threw them out on purpose, the toys escape the trash and decide to allow themselves to be donated to the local daycare.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Get Him to the Greek" (2010)

Starring Russell Brand, Jonah Hill and Sean "Diddy" Combs
Written and directed by Nicholas Stoller

"Get Him to the Greek" is a kind of funky comedy, a spin-off sequel to "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."  Russell Brand reprises his roll as obnoxious, out-of-control rock star Aldous Snow.  Jonah Hill returns also, but playing a completely different character.  Here, he's Aaron Green, a young employee of Pinnacle Records, and huge fan of Snow's. 

After Snow releases a critical and commercial failure called "African Child," he fades into a drug- and booze-fueled obscurity.  Green, however, never gives up on his rock star hero.  When the head of Pinnacle Records, Sergio Roma (Sean "Diddy Combs, spoofing his producer image with great effect) asks for ideas as the company struggles, Green proposes an anniversary show at the Greek Theater for Snow to make a big comeback.  Surprisingly, Sergio agrees and sends Green to London to pick up Snow and... "Get Him to the Greek."

Over the course of 72 hours, Snow's outrageous behavior will bring Green to the breaking point.  Green suddenly has to come face to face with his childhood hero and realize that this man is nothing like he imagined.  One sex, drug and booze-fest after another as Green struggles to control Snow's behavior and get him to the Greek on time for the show.  Sergio is constantly bugging him, with Green's job on the line and possibly the future of Pinnacle Records resting on the success of Snow's show at the Greek.

"Superman / Batman: Apocalypse" (2010)

Starring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Summer Glau
Written by Tab Murphy
Directed by Lauren Montgomery

You may recall I didn't particularly care for Warner Bros.' adaptation of "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies."  The script felt bare and the animation was subpar at best.  Even the presence of fan-favorites Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy reunited as Superman and Batman could save what was a lackluster effort from the DC Universe brand.

"Supergirl" was the sequel to "Public Enemies," picking up where that story left off in the comics in "Superman/Batman" issues 6-12.  Here, that story is adapted into animation as a sequel to the "Public Enemies" movie, renaming it "Apocalypse" and again bringing back castmembers Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy and also bringing back Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Ed Asner as Granny Goodness.  The film recasts the villainous god Darkseid with the voice of Andre Braugher, and adds Summer Glau as Kara/Supergirl.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Lone Wolf McQuade" (1983)

Starring Chuck Norris, David Carradine and Robert Beltran
Written by H. Kaye Dyal and BJ Nelson
Directed by Steve Carver

Just... wow.  I love the 80s, seriously.  The 80s have given us many wonderful things.  Music.  TV shows.  Incredibly cheesy Chuck Norris movies.  "Lone Wolf McQuade" is a laugh riot, from start to finish. 

Norris stars as JJ "Lone Wolf" McQuade, a Texas Ranger who doesn't like to play by the rules... and certainly doesn't like to play with others.  He refuses to take on a partner, often going alone into dangerous situations.  At the outset of the movie, he finds himself saving a group of Texas State Troopers from a band of marauders, including a young rookie named Kayo (Robert Beltran).  Afterward, McQuade's captain decides the two should be partners.  McQuade is not enthused, and does everything he can to scare off Kayo (including pulling a gun on him).

One night, McQuade's daughter, Sally, (Dana Kimmell) is out on a date with her fiance when they witness the hijacking of a US Army convoy in the desert.  The fiance is murdered, Sally lands in the hospital, and a truckload of weapons as gone missing.  McQuade and Kayo run down some leads and run into Snow (William Sanderson) who tells them that there's a big-time gun-running operation going on.  McQuade has also entered into a romantic relationship with Lola (Barbara Carrera), the romantic partner of the film's villain, Wilkes (David Carradine). 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Faculty" (1998)

Starring Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster and Josh Hartnett
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

I have to give it to Kevin Williamson - he owned the 1990s.  Not only was "Dawson's Creek" (somehow) ruling the airwaves, making mega-stars out of it's (dubiously) talented cast, but the "Scream" franchise had taken theatres by storm.  In 1998, he penned "The Faculty," a horror/sci-fi update of the classic "Body Snatchers" story set in a rural high school.  The film plays with some of the high school conventions, which meld pretty well with the alien invasion story, involving themes where characters are ostracized or feel like outsiders. 

Teachers at Herrington High School are beginning to act very strange.  A select few students begin to suspect something is up.  Casey (Elijah Wood) is a fairly typical teen nerd, picked on by the other students.  Delilah (Jordana Brewster) is the popular editor of the school paper, whom Casey has a crush on.  But Delilah is the girlfriend of Stan (Shawn Hatosy), captain of the football team.  Stokely (Clea DuVall) is an outsider who pretends to be a lesbian to keep people away from her.  Zeke (Josh Hartnett) is a drug dealer, repeating his senior year, but he hides a fairly incredible intelligence.  Finally, Marybeth (Laura Harris) is the new girl in school, and doesn't really know anyone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs The World" (2010)

Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ellen Wong
Written by Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall
Directed by Edgar Wright

Pure fun, from start to finish.

Whatever else I say in this review, that's that sentence that matters.  From the opening shot to the close of the credits, "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" is total, nerdy fun. 

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young man with a broken heart.  He plays bass in a band, Sex Bob-omb, with his friends Stephen (Mark Webber), Kim (Alison Pill) and layabout Young Neil (Johnny Simmons).  Scott has just begun dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but he's still not particularly happy.  A year earlier, his girlfriend Nat (Brie Larson) broke up with him and began dating the bassist of her own band. 

Scott begins to have strange dreams of a girl with purple hair, and one day finds out that she actually exists: Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young girl from New York who just moved to Toronto to start a new life after breaking up with her boyfriend, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman).  Over the protestations of others, he pursues Ramona while still dating Knives, just as the band might have a shot at getting a record deal in an upcoming Battle of the Bands tournament.

"W." (2008)

Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks and Richard Dreyfuss
Written by Stanley Weiser
Directed by Oliver Stone

It's tough to review a film about a guy you don't like.  It's even tougher when it turns out that it's not even that good of a movie.  "W." is the story of George W. Bush, the former President of the United States.  Y'know, the one who led us into a vicious cycle of wars and disastrous economic and foreign policies.  One of the least popular presidents in the history of the United States.

So, you'd think a film like this would be an easy sell, right?  Well it turns out that a good film is a good film and a bad film is a bad film.  "W." is just okay, neither good nor bad, the fault mostly of a script that doesn't really seem to know what it wants to do or how it wants to play things.

"Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)

Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Madhur Mittal
Written by Simon Beaufoy
Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan

"Slumdog Millionaire" charts the lives of two brothers, Jamal and Salim Malik (Dev Patel and Madhur Mittal, when grown) who grew up together in the slums of Bombay, India.  Jamal is a contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", hosted by the charismatic Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor).  After winning an unprecedented sum of money on the show, Jamal is arrested and charged with fraud.  He's accused of cheating, and in his defense, he begins to tell the police the story of his life, explaining how he knew each of the answers without ever having gone to school.

After their mother is killed in a riot, Jamal and Salim meat Latika (Freida Pinto, when grown) and the three form a sort of "three musketeers" group.  They fall in with a gangster named Maman (Ankur Vikal), who they think will help them become rich and famous.  When they discover otherwise, the group tries to split.  Jamal and Salim manage to escape, but Latika is captured.  Jamal and Salim take off on their own, committing petty crimes and schemes to get money, food and clothes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Stigmata" (1999)

Starring Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne and Jonathan Pryce
Written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage
Directed by Rupert Wainright

"Stigmata" is a religious/supernatural horror film from 1999.  Gabriel Byrne stars as Andrew Kiernan, a priest who is also a scientist.  He works for the Vatican, investigating and debunking "miracles," like the appearance of the image of Jesus on a wall, or perhaps a grilled cheese.  On a trip to Brazil, he discovers a statue of Mary that bleeds from the eyes, but is unable to discover how.  It may be a true miracle.  But his supervisor at the Vatican, Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) wipes it under the rug and sends Kiernan to the United States to look into reports of a young woman suffering from the Stigmata - wounds resembling those sustained by Christ during the crucifixion.

That woman is Frankie (Patricia Arquette) a young hair stylist who began suffering from visions, fits and strange wounds after receiving a rosary in the mail from her mother, who bought it in Brazil... from the same town where Kiernan discovered the bleeding statue.  At first, Kiernan doesn't believe that Frankie is suffering the Stigmata because, historically, only extremely devout people get them, and Frankie doesn't believe in God.  But he decides to continue his investigation anyway, and eventually comes to believe her, even if he doesn't understand why this is all happening.