Monthly Archives: March 2013

Flash Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Magic gives us the opportunity to believe there is something else around us that may explain the unexplainable. For some our 1st encounter with magic occurred when we were babies. A face would appear from behind a covering of hands and say peek-a-boo. I remember my older brothers playfully grabbing my nose then showing it to me sticking out from their clenched fingers. It took me a while to figure out they were sticking the tip of their thumb up between those rounded fingers. Some type of magic can be found almost every day if you look hard enough. No matter how much you look though, you will find no movie magic in this dull comedy. Childhood friends Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) and Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Boardwalk Empire-TV), grew up to be famous magicians of a Las Vegas show. When street performer/magician Steve Gary, played by Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Truman Show), gained enough public interest to steal the two headliners’ thunder, a competition began to see who would become the top magician to lead a new show for hotelier Doug Munny, played by James Gandolfini (Welcome to the Rileys, Killing Them Softly) in his new hotel. From the entire movie I believe I chuckled four times. If you have never seen Jim Carrey you will enjoy his performance. For the rest of you who have seen him, it was the same old stuff from rubber faced Jim. Both Steves were lackluster, uttering infantile lines; it made the scenes drag. The only one who was good but did not have much screen time was Alan Arkin (Argo, Stand Up Guys) as Rance Holloway. Olivia Wilde (The Words, In Time) as Wonderstone’s assistant Jane was forgettable. However, part of the reason was the undeveloped role given to her. I am afraid this film created no magic for me.  They say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” in the promotional ads for the city. No truer words have ever been spoken; this film should not have left the editing room. I had more fun making a pint of ice cream disappear over the weekend.

 

1 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

When making a conscious choice I try not to regret the decision if it does not turn out the way I had hoped. If I had continued my studies in veterinarian science instead of switching into creative writing and photography could be used as one example. Then again there was a time I wanted to become a DJ. I could say I made a bad decision by taking the expressway instead of surface streets to cycle class, getting stuck in traffic and arriving late. At least my decision was an annoyance, not a life or death situation as it was in this comedic drama. Tipping his hat to the Coen brothers’ movie “Blood Simple,” visionary director Yimou Zhang (Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers) created a richly colored palette of decisions gone bad. Noodle shop owner Wang, played by Dahong Ni (Curse of the Golden Flower, The Message); was led to believe his wife, played by Ni Yan (My Own Swordsman, Inseparable), was having an affair with his employee Li, played by relative newcomer Xiao Shen-Yang. Hiring corrupt chief inspector Zhang, played by Honglei Sun (Seven Swords, The Road Home), Wang devised a plan to be away from the shop when Zhang would kill the adulterous couple. The dramatic aspect of this film was beautiful to watch, with vivid scenes of color and style. I only wished the comedic side was ditched because it consisted of slapstick humor that I did not find funny. Except for the scene on the making of the noodles, the two other employees of the shop were minor distractions to me. Not up to the caliber of Yimou Zhang’s other films, I do not necessarily question his choice on directing this story; I only wish the story would have been executed better. There were brief scenes of violence and blood. Mandarin with English subtitles.

 

2 1/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: The Call

There is already an innate level of creepiness built in this thriller due to the subject matter. Though any type of kidnapping is awful, when one hears of an amber alert there is a deeper dread for that innocent child. Right at the start I got hooked by seeing all the activity in the 911 call center. Being unfamiliar with the inner workings, I was quickly pulled into the building intensity around veteran operator Jordan Turner, played by Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, Cloud Atlas). On her phone line was a young girl reporting an intruder was in her house. From this scene going forward the level of tension was uneven. There were times I found myself holding my breath, anxious for what was going to happen next. But then there were scenes that fell flat. One of the reasons was because I had already seen several pivotal scenes in the trailers. If you have not seen any of the trailers, I suggest you do your best to avoid them. I understand the movie studio has to market their movie and having trailers only of Halle in the 911 call center would not necessarily translate to increased ticket sales. The other factor that diminished the apprehensiveness was the cheesiness in the script. If the writers would have kept the story as a taut, pressure cooker race against the clock buildup; this film would have been a real heart stopper. Add in a wonderful performance by Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland) as Casey Welson, along with Michael Eklund (Watchmen, 88 Minutes) as Michael Foster and Morris Chestnut (Boyz n the Hood, Identity Thief) as Officer Paul Phillips; this movie could have had a lot more punch. Also, I thought the ending was not well thought out and unrealistic. Because of this movie I know the next time I see an amber alert flashing across the highway signs, I will have more to imagine now. A few scenes had blood and violence in them.

 

2 1/3 stars

 

Flash Movie Review: Dead Man Down

My revenge was fueled by all the past years’ wrongs. From the older neighbor boy who threw a rock at me to the former boss who enjoyed being mean. The anger I had inside made up what I refer to as my dark side. Members in my class cannot believe I had a dark side. I point out to them that I am a credit manager during the day. Also, I tell them I never forget a customer who promised me a check then did not send it. This is preferable than telling them some of the things I did in the past when my dark side was dominant. Like the time the mean boss was calling for help from a bathroom stall as I walked into the restroom. I turned right around, shut the lights off and closed the door behind me as I walked out. So you see I am familiar with revenge and maybe that is why I enjoyed this movie thriller. From the director of the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movie; Niels Arden Oplev directed this, his first English speaking film. Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths, Total Recall) played Victor, a rising criminal who reluctantly agreed to help Beatrice, played by Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), get revenge on the man who disfigured her face. There was a problem; Victor was in the middle of enacting revenge on someone else already. He was doing this while being a member of a gang led by Alphonse, played by Terrence Howard (Red Tails, The Brave One). The story was nutty, a little too crazy for me. But you know I did not really care because I enjoyed Colin and Noomi in their roles. There was graphic violence with blood, explosions and careening plot twists. Then right in the middle of it all you got a budding romance. Go figure; maybe it is because I know revenge, but I do enjoy a story where the underdog gets a fair chance to win one. Also, I prefer watching a movie about revenge than being that person who used to act out with the dark side years ago. Scenes of blood and violence.

 

2 1/2 stars 

Flash Movie Review: Welcome to the Rileys

When a loved one that was part of your life is no longer there, the unconscious breath becomes a daily chore. The echo of your heartbeat has stopped reverberating in the soft walls of your mind. Each following day, the weight of your body remains rooted in your legs, forcing them to struggle whenever you are in an upright position. Your pristine eyes that were clear and bright, only record blurred moist images now. I have been there and I am sure many of you have been too. That is why I could understand the couple’s pain regarding their loss in this dramatic movie. Married couple Lois and Douglas “Doug” Riley, played by Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River) and James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly, The Sopranos-TV), were only going through the motions each and every day after the death of their daughter. The two were not really living anymore. On a business trip to New Orleans, Doug decided he was going to stay after meeting young stripper Allison alias Mallory, played by Kristen Stewart (Twilight franchise, The Runaways). By discovering what he was missing, could Doug begin to live again? Creating such broken characters and then letting James and Melissa delve into them, made for a powerful performance. I could feel how their pain was keeping them stagnant. Though I am not a fan of Kristen’s acting, I will say her style of performing lent itself to making her character believable for me. At times I had to wonder if some of the trio’s acting was being ad libbed because it came across as natural conversation. This Sundance Film Festival nominee was a surprise find for me. I did not have to understand how Doug and Lois dealt with their loss; I just wanted to be there for them.  Strong language.

 

3 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: 21 & Over

Growing up in a state where 21 years of age was the legal limit for buying alcoholic beverages, my friends had a better appreciation of me going to college out of state. The reason being the university was in a state where 18 was the legal drinking age. You would have thought I would have taken advantage of the situation, but it only took one time of me getting drunk that ended my drinking with visiting friends. The dumbest thing I did was skip breakfast and lunch the day after because I was hung over. Those who know me know I never miss a meal. What I do not understand is when I was drunk that one time I did not have the desire to take off my clothes in public or dance on top of cars. Why then would I care to watch someone else act out in a drunken state? So I could review this movie for you. Known for writing The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore chose to make their directorial debut with this story. Straight A college student Jeff Chang, played by Justin Chon (Twilight franchise, Hang Loose) had one of the most important meetings of his life set up the morning after his 21st birthday. His father Dr. Chang, played by Francois Chau (Lost-TV, Rescue Dawn) would be picking him up promptly, first thing in the morning. Unplanned was the surprise visit from Jeff’s two best friends Miller and Casey, played by Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, Project X) and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Taking Woodstock). Pleading with Jeff to let them take him out for one drink, Miller and Casey promised they would bring him right back. I do not have to say anything else; that is how predictable the story was in this sordid film. Honestly, there was nothing creative except for a couple of stupid stunts as the trio went on a drinking binge. Maybe I did not get the memo on what was required to view this movie–a six pack of beer, not that I am encouraging anyone to drink. My advice is to save your money and go rent the movie Animal House instead.

 

1 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Never Let Me Go

To dwell on the unfairness of life is akin to worrying about a house you built on quicksand. Though my house is not built directly on quicksand, it certainly is on the edge. Think of it as coastal property. I try not to judge my life based on other people’s success. For example, if I cannot afford to buy a ticket to a charity fundraiser I will apply to be a volunteer. I may be asked to work the reception desk or silent auction table, which is fine for me. But when asked to sell raffle tickets I become anxious. It amazes me how uncivil some people can be when being asked if they want to buy a ticket. You would have thought I was asking for their first born. I have been talked down to, pushed aside and yelled at to stop bothering them. How can I not wonder if these same individuals would treat me the same if I was a paying guest and not a volunteer. In the scheme of things I know I should let this type of thing roll off of me, but it is hard. What snaps me out from letting myself wallow in a funk is to remember I have my health. It is not like I am battling the deadly disease that the charity is raising funds to combat. Based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, this dramatic movie posed questions for me regarding morality and mortality. Set in an English boarding school, three residents grew up only to discover the truth about why they were born. Carey Mulligan (Drive, An Education), Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, A Social Network) and Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina, A Dangerous Method) played the adult friends Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. Each of them did a beautiful job with their acting, bringing their characters to life with emotional depth. With a perfect musical accompaniment to the intelligent filming, I did not mind the slower passages of the story. This was not a happy movie; the sadness hung in the air like a heavy mist. I have a feeling people watching this film will either love it or dislike it. Either way the experience will not come close to the lives of the three main characters in this melancholy movie.

 

3 1/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Emperor

The stranger standing ahead of me started yelling when he heard me tell the checker I picked Argo to win for best picture. He said the film was a total lie. I told him it was a movie not a documentary. In response to his claim that people would believe the movie’s story was true, I told him he did not have to worry; with people barely reading and writing these days, they would not remember the story. It was the perfect thing to say to him because he calmed down. As he walked away, the checker rolled her eyes. History lessons via movies are an acceptable form in my opinion. However, I understand the writers and director can take liberties with the story, to make it more compelling for the viewer. Like most things these days, one always needs a fact checker. From a historical standpoint, I found this movie’s story attractive. With Japan’s surrender ending WWII, the fate of the country would be determined by General Douglas MacArthur, played by Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln, In the Valley of Elah). As supreme commander of the occupying forces, General MacArthur would have to determine if Emperor Hirohito should be tried as a war criminal. The job of finding evidence against the Emperor became the responsibility of General Bonner Fellers, played by Matthew Fox (We Are Marshall, Lost-TV). His job was complicated by his determination in locating Aya Shimada, played by Eriko Hatsune (Norwegian Wood, Spiral), the Japanese exchange student he met back in college. The movie had too much to handle in the story department. If it would have focused either on General MacArthur or on General Fellers’ story, the movie would have been more interesting. I do not know why people have been saying this was Tommy Lee’s best performance since LIncoln because it was absolutely not. I found him to be one dimensional, though part of the fault falls on the poor script. The scenes that had to do with history kept my attention. As for the rest it left me cold.

2 1/4 stars 

Flash Movie Review: Skin

There is a game a friend of mine likes to play whenever we get together. Wherever we may be, he will point out different people and ask me if I think they are beautiful. I always reply with the same answer that I guess so, but I do not know what they are like on the inside. He will try to force me to make a judgement based on these people’s outside appearance, though I have explained to him that the surface is only a covering for the real person inside. Numerous times I have told him that making a quick judgement on a person’s looks is not what I am about. A beautiful covering over an evil soul is like putting a fresh coat of paint on a dilapidated house. You may love the color of the paint but the falling roof can kill you. This movie based on a true story showed the harsh reality of a person being judged by the color of their skin. Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, The Secret Life of Bees) played Sandra Laing, a dark skinned girl born to white Afrikaner parents in South Africa during the time of apartheid. With her curly hair and richly colored skin, Sandra fought to find her place despite society’s restrictions. Alice Krige (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Contract) and Sam Neill (Jurrassic Park franchise, The Vow) were wonderful playing Sandra’s parents Alice and Abraham Laing. Sophia did an incredible job of acting and in a way, I could relate to her feeling like an outsider. This film festival winner was a bit hard to watch for me, since I am uncomfortable when I witness prejudice. To see how Sandra and the black inhabitants of the country were treated solely on the color of their skin was distressing. Sandra and her parents truly were brave souls. I think I will suggest to my friend that he watch this amazing movie.

 

3 1/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

The prequel really came to the forefront with the Star Wars franchise. I find it to be a valid form to use in the art of making movies. For me it feels like seeing an old friend from college who is now in a love relationship and getting to hear how the two of them met. Excited to see this prequel to the classic film The Wizard of Oz, the movie studio certainly has been marketing it from a ton of commercials to the movie theater employees wearing promotional T-shirts. James Franco (127 Hours, Howl) played carnie magician Oscar Diggs who was swept up into a storm that took him far away from Kansas. Finding himself in a strange land called Oz he encountered Theodora, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted), a witch who believed he was the wizard that the prophecy said would come to save her people. James’ acting in this role was proof that his stint as the wooden host of the Oscar telecasts was not a fluke. Joining him in the awful acting department was Mila and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as the witch Glinda. The only acting worth talking about came from Rachel Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Deep Blue Sea) as Evanora; computer graphic China Girl, voiced by Joey King (Ramona and Beezus, Crazy Stupid Love) and flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV). There were some beautiful and magical scenes, but then there would be flat scenes that were poorly designed. My favorite part of the movie was the last 20-25 minutes that had a cool, creative flair. The script was badly written, not providing depth to the characters which made James Franco’s character extra annoying. Not only was I disappointed by the end of the movie, I felt I had gotten stuck in Oz’ deadly poppy field.

2 1/3 stars

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