Movie Reviews – April 2009

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Andy Richter Controls the Universe: The Complete Series
CBS Video
Street: 03.24
On most occasions, it’s never a good sign to see “The Complete Series” on a box set. Nine times out of ten, it means CANCELED SHOW! Such is the case with former Late Night sidekick Andy Richter’s FOX sitcom that only lasted 19 episodes. The show follows Andy, an aspiring writer stuck in corporate America creating weapons manuals for a major conglomerate, and how he keeps his sanity through the mischievous antics with his coworkers. However, being the socially awkward coward that he is, the majority of the program is represented by exaggerated scenarios that play throughout his mind. It’s basically a male version of Ally McBeal. While the comedy veers on a fine line between creative and clichéd, it’s clearly evident the production’s days were numbered from the pilot’s first airing. Two of its greatest downfalls are the over abundance of narration by Richter, which obnoxiously explains everything, and the single-dimensioned characters that never seem to evolve. –Jimmy Martin

Blindness
Miramax
Street: 02.10
Director Fernando Meirelles’ (City of God, The Constant Gardner) vision of an epidemic that induces total blindness starts off enticing and terrifyingly realistic, but by the time the end credits appear, what’s left is a preposterously exaggerated tale of survival during the breakdown of modern civilization. The illness comes out of nowhere and spreads to anyone within feet of the infected. After an ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo) becomes ill, he is quarantined in an abandoned hospital with several other unfortunate souls along with his unexplainably immune wife (Julianne Moore) who simulates the sickness in order to stand by his side. I think a “Wife of the Year” award is deserved here. As more diseased citizens arrive, wards are formed, rules are established, and chaos inevitably ensues. It’s basically Lord of the Flies with adults, but instead of passing around a conch shell to speak, women are raped in exchange for food. Being a grown-up sucks. Why hundreds of detainees, including one who can actually see, would take orders from an amaurotic loon armed with only a six-shooter (and three remaining bullets) is beyond me. It’s annoying to see such an original idea take such a pointless turn to absurdity with a lot of unanswered questions. –Jimmy Martin

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Miramax Home Entertainment
Street: 03.10
Childhood ignorance is definitely bliss in the case of eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) whose father was recently promoted as a commanding officer at Auschwitz during the Second World War. After sneaking outside the family compound, Bruno explores miles of wooded terrain and soon discovers an electric fence, and on the opposite side, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a malnourished child clothed in what appears to be pajamas. The two eventually unravel the truth behind their statuses, yet secretly become friends even with the barrier separating them, both figuratively and physically. Not since Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful have the atrocities of the Holocaust been captured in such an effective and imaginatively tragic fashion. To witness the true innocence and horrific agony projected from these two talented actors is something you will never forget. It’s unbelievably amazing to see how simple and logical the world really can be through the eyes of a child. –Jimmy Martin

Duplicity
Universal
In Theaters: 03.20
You know there’s something amiss when a 30-second preview can’t successfully explain a film’s main storyline. Such is the case with director Tony Gilroy’s thrilling romantic comedy crime caper extravaganza, Duplicity. Obviously, there are too many layers for its own good. Former MI6 agent, Ray Koval (Clive Owen), and ex-CIA operative, Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), join forces (or have they?) in the private sector in order to steal millions from a rival CEO (or is he?) by pilfering a top-secret revolutionary invention (or is it?). With enough twists and turns to make a contortionist nauseous, the film is guaranteed to lose the majority of the audience twenty minutes in. However, if you can successfully follow it, it makes for an adequate ride with a few hiccups and a satisfying finale. While the film’s strongest offering comes from the rapid, sharp, accusatory banter between Owen and Roberts as they duke it out in a 1940s-esque battle of the sexes, the endeavor to make Roberts (a.k.a. Skeletor) a modern day sex symbol crashes before the wheels ever leave the runway. –Jimmy Martin

Ghosts of Mars (Blu-ray)
Screen Gems
Street: 03.31
I love John Carpenter and his onslaught of fantastically cheesy B-movies. He’s like the ultimate film student who’s been on campus since 1974. Nevertheless, you have to respect the man who directed Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York, and Halloween. What you don’t have to do is pretend his 2001 rip-off of his own Assault on Precinct 13 is comparable to his previous successes. Set in the year 2176, a group of Red Planet police officers are assigned to transport the infamous James ‘Desolation’ Williams (Ice Cube), but soon discover a race of possessed zombies, led by a Marilyn Manson imposter, have overthrown the remote prison. Out numbered and alone, the opposing sides of the law must work together if they want to survive. Told in a series of flashbacks (I’ve never seen so many dissolves) that become increasingly irritating, the plot takes itself too seriously and exiles itself from its true identity…a senseless action flick. As far as the acting, I’m sorry, but Ice Cube constantly scowling and biting his bottom lip does not make him intimidating, and Natasha Henstridge attempting to hold the reins as the heroic vixen falls flat on her face. With the arsenal of memorable productions under Carpenter’s belt, it’s best to pretend like this accident never happened. Seriously folks, lets move along, there’s nothing to see here. –Jimmy Martin

Groom Lake
E1 Entertainment
Street: 03.10
You would think that since William Shatner has spent over 40 years in the sci-fi arena, he’d know what characteristics make and break the genre. You would think that, but you’d be wrong, especially since he directed this atrocity. It’s been a rough day for Kate (Amy Acker). Her car rolled down the side of a mountain, she was raped by local savages, and she was diagnosed with lupus. Really … lupus? Oh, and apparently all of this turns on her jagoff boyfriend, Andy (Dan Gauthier). In an attempt to cure her illness, the couple travel to Groom Lake (AKA Area 51) in order to contact alien life, because, as we all know, extraterrestrial relationships are always mutually beneficial. However, when they discover the base’s secret, John Gossner (Shatner) will do anything to prevent them from revealing the truth. Everything about this project screams passionless mediocrity. From the awful sound dubbing to the acting that wouldn’t fly on any soap opera, Shatner really needs to sit down and think about what he wants to do with his remaining nine years (that’s what www.deathclock.com optimistically predicts). This is the perfect film for inviting some friends over for an in-depth drinking game. Every time cinematographer Mac Ahlberg washes out a scene, take a shot. Whenever Andy attempts to get in Kate’s pants, take a shot. You’ll be shitfaced in ten minutes, which will probably make the film somewhat tolerable.¬¬ –Jimmy Martin

Happy-Go-Lucky
Miramax Films
Street: 03.10
After almost 40 years in the game, veteran writer and director Mike Leigh provides a voyeuristic glimpse into what has to be the world’s most cheerful woman, Poppy (Sally Hawkins). While there’s no solid story arch to drive the picture forward, the entertainment factor is delivered in the form of the primary school teacher’s interactions with the somber world around her. If she’s not childishly jumping on a trampoline, she’s taking flamenco lessons. When she’s done infuriating her driving instructor, she’s conversing with a singing hobo. It would appear as though someone definitely needs their Adderall. Will many viewers find this character annoying? Absolutely, but many others will find her simply irresistible. I fall in the latter category. Winner of the 2009 Golden Globe for her depiction of the thirty-something who refuses to take life seriously, Hawkins delivers one of the most unique performances in years that will leave you laughing incessantly. However, since the character is so distinctive and capable of garnering attention with her mischievous antics, I would rather have seen her depicted on a BBC television show than being limited to the two hour running time. –Jimmy Martin

Jim Gaffigan: King Baby
Paramount
Street: 03.31
“Why is it that vegetarians want their food to resemble meat concoctions? ‘I find meat repulsive. I’ll have a veggie burger with fake bacon and can you serve it to me dressed like a cow?’” The whitest comedian on the stand-up circuit, Jim Gaffigan, returns with his second televised special three years after his critically acclaimed Beyond the Pale set. Looking like a “mascot for the Mormons” with his virtually translucent skin, Gaffigan’s infectious energy illuminates the Austin, Texas nightlife as he touches upon as many subjects allowable within the 72-minute running time. With his animated voices and audible inner-monologue, no time is wasted as he attacks the annoyances of camping, the spelling of “colonel,” and recycling. I wholeheartedly agree that bowling is the greatest sport due to the fact that it’s the only one that allows the consumption of nachos while competing. Gaffigan’s gift for spotlighting the daily monotony of our lives and society’s idiotic traditions continues to create awareness and grins. I’ll definitely never look at a Waffle House the same way again. –Jimmy Martin

I Love You, Man
Paramount
In Theaters: 03.20
Just as I was about to declare a national boycott on all upcoming bromance films, director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) poses one with an intriguing message. How do adults, men in particular, establish friendships without prior relationships? Think about it. How many friends would you have if you didn’t already work together, know each other as adolescents, or share a prison cell? Newly engaged, socially inept Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) faces this dilemma when he realizes he has no candidates to be his best man. After a slew of hysterically awkward “blind dates” with potentials, Peter finally meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) and establishes a connection that can only be described as having a man-wife…without the sex. While Hamburg’s crude romantic comedy hybrid contains the typical gross-out style of humor, it stands out amongst the rest with its witty acting from a trifecta of comedians from Saturday Night Live, Broken Lizard, and Judd Apatow’s regular posse. It’s a comedy that flies under the radar, but leaves a respectable lasting impression. –Jimmy Martin

Miracle at St. Anna
Touchstone Pictures
Street: 02.10
As with all Spike Lee films, I felt like a honky dickhead as I watched his World War II epic following four members of the all-black 92nd “Buffalo Soldier” Division and the racial trials and tribulations they encounter in 1940s America and across seas. The film begins with a sporadic murder in 1983 conducted by clean-as-a-whistle postal employee Hector Negron (Laz Alonso). After investigating his residence, a priceless artifact is found. What follows is Negron’s confession of how the relic came into his possession in war torn Tuscany, Italy. The outer shell of Lee’s production is impressive, but his attempt to incorporate every detail imaginable results in an overly saturated war story that veers off course in multiple instances. Along with that, Lee appears to be conflicted on his desirable tone. Is it a comedy? Is it a war tragedy? It is a romantic drama? This clash is enhanced by the lack of direction in acting styles and soundtrack selection. Now, I don’t want to be too hard on the overall production. There are some remarkable traits that lay within its core. The acting (whether it be in different forms) from all cast members is moving. If a cut were made to shorten the 160-minute span into under two hours, I think the valuable features would inevitably shine more brilliantly. –Jimmy Martin


Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Ninth Season
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Street: 2.17
Angela Lansbury is hot.  Seriously, is there anything that could be sexier than the uncanny ability to solve mysteries by simply observing what is going on?  She can type too.  Hot.  I wouldn’t be able to have her over to my place though––we would have to meet up in sleazy motels in Maine and I would also have to drug her.  She is hot, but maybe she is a bit too observant for her own good?  Who knows what dirt she could dig up while she watches me sit around and lick cheese puff residue off of my fingers and watch bad zombie movies. Who has even heard of a murder mystery writer solving every murder mystery she comes across?  She defies the odds.  Hot. –Ben Trentelman

The One (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures
Street: 03.31
We all make mistakes in life. Bush invaded Iraq, I’ve had beer before liquor, and Jet Li starred in The One. Shit happens. In the distant future, it’s discovered that along with our universe there are 124 parallel counterparts with identical inhabitants living varying lifestyles. Apparently, when someone dies, the life source is divvied among the remaining equivalents making them smarter, faster, and more powerful. With that information, Gabriel Yulaw (Li) decides to steal the Highlander notion of “There can only be one” and travels to the multiple universes in order to kill himself over and over. Now, after 123 successful assassinations, the only obstacle standing in his way is Los Angeles police officer, Gabe Law (Li yet again), and guess what, he knows kung fu too…how stereotypical. It’s a shame to see the incredible talents of Li wasted on cheap computer-generated special effects and cheesy wire works, and the next person who plays another shit song by Drowning Pool, Godsmack, Linkin Park or Disturbed is getting stabbed right in the eye. The film resembles an awful show on the Sci-Fi network that would be canceled after three episodes. If you want to see the Beijing native in his prime, forget the Hollywood disasters and check out 1991’s Once Upon a Time in China or 1994’s Fist of Legend.  –Jimmy Martin

Planet Earth: The Complete Series
BBC Video
Street: 04.24.07
If you ever needed a legitimate reason to throw down $200 for a Blu-ray player, this is it. First debuted in the UK in March 2006, the BBC’s documentary chronicles every square inch of our planet’s surface with images that will leave you absolutely breathless. My jaw actually hurts from having it lay on the floor for over nine hours. The four-disc set is separated into 11 different global regions. From the highest peaks of the Himalayas to the darkest depths of the Indian Ocean, the series focuses on the various operations of the animal kingdom including migration patterns, hunting tactics, mating calls, and methods of survival. Witnessing a great white shark soar above the water with a seal clamped in its jaws is incredible. Having the one-second action slowed down 40x is out of this world. Soulfully narrated by David Attenborough, this triumph skyrockets the bar on nature programming to a level of excellence that will remain unaffected for a long period of time. It truly is a work of art and is the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day on April 22.
–Jimmy Martin

Primal Fear (Blu-ray)
Paramount
Street: 03.10
Before Richard Gere strapped on his tap shoes and won the Golden Globe for portraying an Illinois lawyer in the 2002 musical, Chicago, he played another Windy City attorney in director Gregory Hoblit’s 1996 drama, Primal Fear. After the gruesome murder of a prominent Catholic priest, bashful and stuttering 19-year-old Aaron (Edward Norton) is the prime suspect, yet he denies all the logical evidence pointed directly at him. Enter the city’s most prominent lawyer, Martin Vail (Gere), who soon becomes the “Butcher Boy’s” only supporter. While the storyline is trite, the acting is what makes this film stand out in the crowd. Granted, a 27-year-old Norton playing a teenager doesn’t seem appropriate, but the talented actor embodies the character so efficiently that it hardly matters. The overall tone of the film plays like an extended episode of Law & Order, but the multiple twists and turns make for an engaging experience and will keep you guessing ‘til the end credits. –Jimmy Martin

South Park: Season 12
Paramount
Street: 03.10
The kids from South Park, Colo. arrive, completely uncensored, on your doorstep this month with their twelfth season box-set and are clearly as entertaining as they were over a decade ago. The incredible aspect of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s creation is its ability to reference pop culture icons and document modern current events in the same season (sometimes in the same episode). For instance, one episode reveals America’s idiotic obsession with Britney Spears’ meltdown, but the underlying parody of Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story, The Lottery, is the underground form of amusement. In traditional South Park style, the season continues to hysterically spotlight and spoof subject matter most programs wouldn’t dare touch. However, with storylines including Cartman contracting AIDS, Indiana Jones being brutally raped by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, flamboyant child abuse and a perfect satire of the 1981 animated cult-classic Heavy Metal, who could turn away? As with the series’ previous sets, the special features are quite limited, but the creators’ succinct audio commentaries with insider information are always a pleasant perk. –Jimmy Martin

Tales of the Black Freighter
Warner Premiere
Street: 03.24
On March 6th, Zack Snyder proved with Watchmen that not all comic book movies are intended for kids. I raved at his achievement for capturing the graphic novel so brilliantly, but knew something was deliberately missing. Anyone familiar with Alan Moore’s 1986 masterpiece knows about the story within the story, The Tales of the Black Freighter. Narrated by Gerard Butler (300) and presented in an animated form, the gruesome account shadows a lone surviving sea captain whose ship is attacked by a vessel commanded by demons. Desperate to return home before the imminent assault on his village, the mariner will do unthinkable actions to ensure the safety of his family. Now, I’ve seen some crazy shit in my life, but a raft built out of rotting corpses is definitely one for the books. I bet Tom Hanks in Cast Away never had that idea. Snyder decided to remove the horrifying drama from the feature due to time and story constraints, and he was right in doing so. While the adventure’s relevance works within the context of the novel and as a solitary short film, it would significantly detract from the film’s well-crafted flow. Along with the aquatic voyage, the disc contains another aspect of the original novel, Under the Hood. Shot in a 60 Minutes style featurette, the piece reveals the origins of the first generation of superheroes in Moore’s universe. Both productions are engaging and admirable representations of the book, and fans will declare it another triumph, however, both projects deserve a DVD extras status not their own release. –Jimmy Martin

Tell No One
Music Box Films
Street: 03.31
Every once in a while, an unknown foreign film sneaks up to your doorstep with little buzz and little accreditation, yet leaves a lingering impression after its over. Sometimes the impact is repulsive and sometimes it’s pleasant. Guillaume Canet’s non-stop who-done-it thriller, Tell No One, falls in the latter category. Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) have been in love since childhood. While visiting their beloved lake on a romantic getaway, Margot is viciously murdered and Alexandre is beaten into a coma only to awaken three days later to accusations and shaking heads. Eight years later, an acquitted Alexandre attempts to move forward with his life as a pediatrician until he receives an email…from Margot. Whaaaaaaaaaaat? From that point on, it’s an all out intense race to discover the truth, find out who’s behind it all and what they want. Canet ‘s French adaptation of Harlan Coben’s American novel succeeds on many levels. As the acting talents of Cluzet shine with every nail-biting moment, the elaborate charade is strategically put together to keep you guessing all the way to the exhilarating climax. –Jimmy Martin

YOU SHOULD’VE WORN A CONDOM

Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Disney
Street: 03.03

Animals dressed in Prada jackets and accessorized with Louis Vuitton merchandise make my soul cry in agony. No wonder the rest of the world hates us. Leaving to Europe for work, multi-millionaire Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) makes an idiotic decision and entrusts her pretentious Chihuahua, Chloe, to her worthless niece, Rachel. After a spontaneous, alcohol-fueled girl’s trip to Mexico (which apparently is all glamour and sparkles now) the tiny bitch (Chloe not Rachel) soon finds herself lost on the streets of America’s basement. With the help of a former police officer German Shepherd, Chloe pitter-pats her way through enemies and obstacles and attempts to get back to 90210. Stocked with a plethora of family friendly grossness, the actors mechanically gallivant around the set as if they’re just waiting for their paychecks to clear, which I hope are large for starring in this nightmare. The majority of the feature is mundane and instantly forgettable, but at the risk of getting my ass kicked by fellow critics, I was actually surprised at how the issues of illegal immigration and underground dog fighting were implanted in an imaginative method … especially for a children’s film. It’s the only shimmer of light in this endless pit of celluloid wickedness. –Jimmy Martin


Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition
Disney
Street: 03.10
There’s definitely something creepy about a decrepit old man, whose house is filled with toys, sleeping with a random kid and calling him “son.” It’s too Michael Jackson/Macaulay Culkin. The story of Pinocchio is an odd one at that: a marionette is brought to life by a codger wishing on a star, gets kidnapped by two transients, escapes, gets kidnapped again, becomes a donkey-puppet freak of nature, escapes yet again, and eventually sets a whale on fire. There must have been some serious drugs in that writers’ room. The appealing aspect to Disney’s 1940 classic is the nostalgic offerings that would never pass the conglomerate’s current board of acceptance. One minute the ligneous juvenile is skipping school and the next he’s shooting pool while smoking a cigar and pounding a pint of PBR. You just can’t beat those wholesome moral values from the past. The Blu-Ray edition features an abundance of entertaining content including interactive games, deleted scenes, and original “live-action” footage from 1939 that reveals the strenuous yet remarkable animation process. Disney now offers an impressive promotion where all Blu-Ray editions include a free DVD copy of the film … there’s a cheap birthday present for that blubbering brat of a nephew. ¬–Jimmy Martin