Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sister Act

Big Business
Director: Jim Abrahams
Cast: Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin
Released: June 10, 1988

This '80s comedy has a plot that's a little inconceivable, but it's more believable, than, say, Armageddon. We start out with a rich couple who are being chauffeured through a really small town when the woman goes into labor (after complaining to her husband that she didn't want to go on this trip because she's "40 months pregnant") and the closest hospital is a small one three miles away. At the same time, another woman from Jupiter Hollows, the small town closest to the country hospital, is also giving birth at the same hospital. 

Both women give birth to twin girls. The country man overhears the rich man say he wants to call their daughters Rose and Sadie and he suggests the same name to his wife. Because there were so many babies being born at the same time, the nurse gets confused and accidentally mismatches the twins so the rich parents go home with one of their own daughters and one of the daughters of the country folk and vice versa.

Flashforward about 40 years later in the '80s where we meet both set of twins. The rich twins live in New York and own a large company they inherited from their father. Sadie (Midler) is the biological daughter and she has no problem with being rich and ordering people around and feels more in her element while Rose (Tomlin) is always flustered and confesses that she hates shopping and New York in June. 

The Ratliffs, the country twins who grew up in Jupiter Hollows, are a reverse of the other twins with Rose being the more confident one, as she is their biological daughter and Sadie feeling like a fish out of water in this small town she grew up in. 

It turns out that the corporation the rich twins work for is trying to tear down Jupiter Hollows, so the Ratliff twins travel to New York to try to stop them. Many hijinx ensue including the rich twins' chauffeur picking up the country twins at the airport in the limo (the twins he knew were also there to pick up somebody) and he's confused when they both act like they've never been in a limo before (because, of course, they hadn't!) Both sets of twins are staying at the Plaza Hotel and the concierge is flabbergasted when Sadie is acting nice to him one minute, then being a total bitch the next. 

Country Rose's boyfriend comes out to New York to propose to her, but of course he ends up proposing to city Rose and country Rose ends up with city Rose's boyfriend. 

Here's a fun fact: Seth Green plays city Sadie's son. I saw his name in the credits, but even if I hadn't seen it, I would have easily recognized him.

There's an amusing scene where both Sadies are in the bathroom and think they're looking into a mirror at first, then realize there's no mirror and  both of them freak out. 

So yeah, this movie is kinda stupid, but both Milder and Tomlin yuk it up and there are a few laughs for a good time. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mississippi Burning

A Time To Kill
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Ashley Judd
Released: July 24, 1996

Between watching this movie and reading The Help (can't wait for that movie!),  I'm kinda glad I'm not a Mississippi native because that state isn't getting a very good rap in those two mediums. I haven't read the John Grisham novel this film is based on, but now I want to. The film is very intense and I can only imagine the novel is the same, if not more.

After Carl Lee's (Jackson) ten-year-old daughter is raped, beaten, and left to die by two rednecks, he takes matters in his own hands and charges at them with a rifle when they are being brought to the courthouse for their trial and kills both of them because he knows it's most likely they will be locked away for only ten years, then will be free again. A young lawyer named Jake (McConaughey) takes his case with the help of a law student from Boston (Bullock) while Kevin Spacey plays the prosecution attorney.

In a role more Ace Merrill than Jack Bauer, Keifer Sutherland plays the brother of one of the racists Carl Lee murders. He vows revenge and with the help of the other white supremacists in the small Mississippi town where they live, he brings back the KKK and sends a message to Jake to stop representing Carl Lee by placing burning crosses in his yard or beating up his secretary's husband. Jake refuses to quit and sends his wife (a blonde Ashley Judd) and daughter away which is a good thing he does because his house is burned down. The Klan captures Bullock and does some nasty stuff to her, but Jake still refuses to leave the case.

I was a little put off when Jake was giving his closing argument to the (all white) jury and after he had explained the horrible things that had happened to Carl Lee's young daughter, he  ended it with saying, "Imagine if that had been a white girl."  Spoiler Warning ahead!!!!! The jury voted not guilty for Carl Lee and I hope they still would have had the same verdict even if Jake hadn't said that. 

I don't blame him for killing those two sick bastards, but he probably should have at least been charged with using a loaded weapon in a public place. He's lucky he didn't kill any innocent bystanders! (Though he did shoot the leg of a cop played by Chris Cooper who becomes paralyzed as a result). 

I'm off to the library to check out the novel! 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nostalgia Redux

Super 8
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning
Released: June 10, 2011
Viewed in theaters: June 14, 2011

In a summer full of sequels and comic-book adaptations, Super 8 is a small gem to be found among those blockbusters and will most likely get lost in the shuffle, but if you want a fun and suspenseful summer flick reminiscent of Speilberg-esque supernatural movies such as E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind and coming-to-age films like Stand By Me with a little bit of The Goonies thrown in for good measure, then I can't recommend Super 8 enough.

The movie takes place in the summer of 1979 and is centered around a group of middle school-aged kids from a small town in Ohio who are making a zombie movie to enter in their town's film festival. What I like about the cast is that they are actually the age one would be in middle school and they act like normal kids, none of that precocious, cutesy kid stuff you see from so many annoying child actors. I also like the fact that the dialogue doesn't seem to be written by a Kevin Willimason or Diablo Cody-type and there are no lines that are trying to be clever or witty. They're just normal kids who are friends and that's why you believe. Even though they're all really cute kids, I also like that they're not all perfect-looking like they just came from the Disney channel.

Goonies 2011!
Joe (newcomer Joel Courtney) is the main character who's Dad (Chandler) is the local sheriff. He lost his mother in a horrible accident only four months ago and is trying to cope with the loss. He works on the lights and the make-up for the film and has a crush on Alice (Elle Fanning) who agrees to play the leading lady in their film. This was the first time I've seen Dakota's little sister in a film and it was weird to hear her speak because I was expecting this high-pitched, girly voice to come out of her, but her voice was lower than I was expecting. Alice's dad is an alcoholic and he and Joe's dad don't get along because he was somewhat responsible for Joe's mother's death. Neither Joe's or Alice's dad allow them to be friends so they have to sneak around to hang out with each other. Charles is the requisite fat kid who directs the movie and also has a crush on Alice. Cary is the kid with the straggly blond hair and in need of braces with an affinity for fireworks and explosions who plays the lead zombie. Martin is the tall, awkward kid with glasses who plays the lead character and Preston is the wimpy kid who's always saying his heart is beating too fast and refuses to go with the gang when they decide to do something risky.

One night, while shooting a scene near the train tracks, they witness a horrific train crash, which, believe me, even if you don't like the movie, you will get your money's worth just for that scene alone. It is one intense scene. After that, some crazy stuff starts to go down. There's a monster that we don't see fully until the end of the movie, but we do see glimpses of it and when it's rustling in the trees, it reminded me of Jurassic Park and the smoke monster from Lost. Even though it was an integral part of the movie, I much preferred the coming-of-age angle rather than the monster angle. I didn't quite understand the whole story with the monster, but I had a "medium" Wild Cherry Pepsi (really, it looked more like a large!) and had to use the bathroom. I went after the kids get caught sneaking in the school, so maybe I missed some important plot points while I was gone. Oh, I also had Twizzlers and the kids eat Twizzlers during the beginning of the film. Shoutout!

Even though I wasn't around in '79, this movie has a very nostalgic feel to it. I am familiar with movies and TV shows and have seen family photos from around that time, so I was familiar with the "look" of that era. The soundtrack is great! Kids back then listened to way better music than kids do today. Granted, the only songs I remember in the movie are "Don't Bring Me Down" and "My Sharona". One of the podcasts I listen to (Extra Hot Great - I highly recommend it) talked about Super 8 and someone pointed out that the mentioned Rubik's Cube and the shown Walkman didn't actually appear on the market until the early months of the early '80s, but according to the Wiki, the Walkman was first available in the summer of '79.

Now how could have I gone this long in this review without mentioning the lens flare? I've seen/heard several people bitch about the lens flare, but honestly I only noticed it in that one scene where the kids are getting ready to film by the train tracks. It was blue and it was very distracting and noticeable and I kept asking myself, "What the hell is that? What are those blue lights? What does it mean?" Then when I kept hearing about the lens flare, I knew exactly what they were talking about. If it was in any other part of the movie, I didn't notice it, though.

The end of the movie made me choke up and there's a scene that reminded me of Titanic. If you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I'm talking about! (And if you've seen Titanic, of course, which I'm sure you have.) They show the kids' homemade movies during the end credits (about two minutes in so don't get up and leave right when the credits start) and let's just say they are much better filmmakers than that idiot in Cloverfield with his damn shaky camera who was twice their age!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Somewhere Out There...

An American Tail
Director: Don Bluth
Voice Talent: Phillip Glasser, Christopher Plummer, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise
Released: November 21, 1986

Oscar nominations:
Best Song - "Somewhere Out There" (lost to "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun)

This animated non-Disney film is a childhood classic for me. I had seen it numerous times as a kid and it's possible I saw it in the theaters, but if I did, I don't remember. I hadn't seen it in a very, very, very long time, though and it still holds up even though the animation isn't as good as the animated movies you see today or even as good as Beauty and the Beast which came out five years later. However, there is something about the grainy animation that adds to the nostalgia of the film.

The film starts out in Russia where the Mousekewitz family live. The Mousekewitzes are a family of - you guessed it - mice. There's Mama, Daddy, Fievel, Tanya, and a baby mouse that we inexplicably never see again after a couple of scenes. They are immigrating to America with other mice from foreign lands because "there are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese!"

On the boat, there's a huge storm and Fievel gets swept off and separated from his family who thinks he's now dead. Only his sister believes that he might still be alive and of course he is because this is a children's film, after all! Fievel ends up in a glass bottle that floats him to a nearly finished Statue of Liberty (this takes place in 1885) where he meets a pigeon who advises  him "never say never!" when Fievel forlornly tells him he's never going to find his family.

Poor Fievel. He can't find his family and he finds out that there are indeed cats in America.

On his search for his family, Fievel meets other characters including Tony, a mouse a bit older than him who tells him to stick close because he knows how to get around in the city, Bridget, a girl mouse who fights for mice rights against cats and who Tony has a crush on, Gussie Mausheimer, a rich mouse advocate who wants to have a "ra-wee" concerning the cat problem. (That would be rally). He also meets a shady fellow named Warren T. Rat, a cat disguised as a rat who is trying to take all the mice's money. He becomes friends with Tiger, a cat who is a vegetarian and would like to be friends with mice.

I didn't remember anything at all from this movie, but the one thing I did remember is when Fievel and his sister are singing "Somewhere Out There" from different locations at the same time. Of course these were little kids singing, so their voices weren't that great, but it was really cute and heart-wrenching - I teared up a little!  I love the radio version of the song and believe it should have won the Oscar over "Take My Breath Away".

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Negotiator

The Negotiator
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Ron Rifkin, David Morse, J.T. Walsh, Paul Giamatti, John Spencer
Released: July 29, 1998

I had seen The Negotiator about twelve years ago, but hadn't seen it since, so while I remembered the general plot, I didn't remember who was revealed as the bad guy in the end. Danny Roman (Jackson) deals with hostage situations and the film begins with one where he's trying to talk a crazy man from shooting his daughter. You see that he is very skilled at his job and knows how to talk to people to get them to do certain things and the tables are soon turned when he finds his partner has been murdered. Roman is framed for his partner's murder (unfortunately he just so happened to be at the scene when the police arrived because his partner had asked to meet him at this location). Roman knows that someone on the inside had his partner murdered because his partner had information that would implicate this certain someone.

Roman decides to take matters into his own hand and ends up taking the Internal Affairs office of a government building hostage because he knows that's where he'll find something that will disprove his guilt. For some reason I thought he had taken many people hostage, but the only people he's holding is Niebaum (Walsh), the man who he believes knows the truth about who murdered his partner, Neibaum's secretary, a shady fellow played by a pre-famous Giamatti who provides the comic relief, and a cop (Rifkin) who works with Roman. He also takes two more police officers when they come in through the window.

Because Roman is a negotiator, he knows all the tricks his team has planned to get him out of the building and tells them he will only talk to Chris Sabian, another skilled negotiator who works with another police department in Chicago. He believes Sabian is the only one who will be able to understand and help him and he knows Sabian has had a great record as a negotiator with no deaths. Sabian is played by Spacey and he doesn't show up until forty-five minutes into the movie which seems like quite a long time for your second lead to appear in a movie!

As one might expect, there's plenty of finger-biting moments, especially during one scene when Roman is talking to a fumbling police officer while they're waiting for Sabian to appear on the scene. The police officer keeps saying the wrong things to Roman who points this out to him and threatens to kill someone the next time the officer says "no" and Roman keeps baiting him and asking him questions where it's impossible to say "no".  (Such as "Have you ever cheated on your wife?)

We know one of the cops on the scene is the one who had Roman's partner killed and is framing Roman. The obvious one would be the one played by Morse because it was established early in the film that he wasn't particularly fond of the way Roman handled the hostage situation and he demands that they take a shot at him every time they have a way to take down Roman. He just seemed too obvious to be the one who was the mole so I knew it wasn't him.

It's kind of funny because when I first saw this movie the only actors I knew were Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey and I was familiar with some of David Morse's work, but that was about it. Now when I watched it a second time, I recognized a lot more people: Paul Giamatti, of course, along with a bunch of actors I recognized from TV: Arvin Sloan from Alias, Leo McGarry from The West Wing, Walter White's brother-in-law from Breaking Bad,  Detective Jim Brass (he played the murdered partner) and the coroner guy from CSI. They're all in this movie.

While I think this movie is great and highly recommend it, there is something that bothers me: I understand that Roman wanted to clear his name and see who was really behind all of this, but he had to know that holding people hostage at gunpoint (and not to mention causing some major property damage) wasn't going to be taken lightly and most likely he would have been sent to jail for that, but the movie just ends with him finding out who the bad guy is and going to the hospital for his injuries. I guess he got immunity since he was framed...I don't know...well, it's a good movie nonetheless!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's On Like Donkey Kong

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Director: Seth Gordon
Released: August 17, 2007

If you ever fear you have no life, just pop this movie in your DVD player and you will see a whole bunch of people who truly have no life. Now even though I just insulted pretty much everybody in this movie, I will say I did find it hellava entertaining and fascinating. This documentary follows two people: Billy Mitchell who is the Donkey Kong champion (of the world!) and got the first highest score for it back in 1982. He's since scored over a million points. There's also Steve Wiebe, a middle school science teacher who, during a time when he was unemployed, decided he was going to try to beat Mitchell's score and did achieve this in 1999.

Wiebe videotaped his gameplay and sent it to some place in Iowa (of all places!) that apparently records scores for video game play. There, one of the workers had to watch the hours of Donkey Kong gameplay to make sure Wiebe didn't use any cheat codes and can verify his score is legit. The same guy also mentioned he had over two hundred video tapes to watch of other games. Wow, if I had a job like that, I would kill myself. No, I really would. I can't think of anything more boring and monotonous. Just imagine having to watch hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours...(okay, you get the idea) of footage of video games and having to pay attention to every little detail. Ugh... And I mean, does anyone really give a crap about who holds the highest score for a certain game? I certainly have never heard of Billy Mitchell before I saw this, but I digress...

When it's verified that Wiebe did beat Mitchell's score, he gets lots of press for it in Seattle. (And if there was any national press about it, I certainly don't remember it.) However, his score is revoked when people (you could say they're Team Billy) cried foul and said there was something amiss about Steve's arcade machine. This was a part of the movie I really didn't understand and it seemed a little fishy that fanboys of Billy were trying to get Steve's score disqualified... Seriously, get a life...

So Steve's score doesn't count and Billy returns as the Donkey Kong champ, but Steve goes to some video game convention and beats Billy's score live, but Billy sends in a videotape of him reaching over a million points and it goes on and on. In fact, I believe the movie ended with Steve having the highest Donkey Kong score at the time the movie was wrapped, but one of the special features on the DVD continues with Billy and Steve alternating the highest score. I think Billy has the highest score now and I could look it up, but I honestly don't really care.

As for Donkey Kong, I don't think I've ever played it. It's possible I played it when I was really young and don't remember. The only games I remember playing in the arcade were Super Mario Bros. (the old school one!) and Pac-Man. I do remember playing Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat a couple times, but I would get my ass kicked in five seconds.

If you're a Donkey Kong/ arcade game aficionado, you will really enjoy this movie and even if you aren't, you'll still get a kick out of it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Here's to the Hair

Directors: Nathan Greno and Bryan Howard
Voice Talent: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Released: November 24, 2010

Oscar nominations:
Best Song - "I See the Light" by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater (lost to "We Belong Together" by Randy Newman from Toy Story 3)

I remember seeing a trailer for this movie the summer before it came out (probably one of the trailers I saw before Toy Story 3) and I couldn't help thinking how awful the film looked. Not the animation (that's gorgeous), but the actual movie. All the trailer showed was the main guy character getting beat up and whipped by the long, blonde hair that belongs to the main female character. I immediately thought it was going to be one of those slapstick animated comedies that only cater to kids who have a five-second attention span and thought it would fail at the box office.

Well that goes to show you should never judge a movie by its trailer because after hearing positive reviews and people recommending the movie, I decided to watch it and see it if was good as everyone was saying, and what do you know? It was actually really good and quite an enjoyable movie. In fact, that dumb extended scene they showed as a trailer was cut down in the movie.

Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (the guy from Chuck - yeah, I don't watch that show either) voice the two leads, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. I'm not really familiar with the fairy tale of Rapunzel. All I know is that she has really long hair and lives in a tower, so I have no idea how close this movie stayed true to the original material.

Rapunzel is a seventeen year old girl who has lived in a tall tower for mostly her entire life with a woman (voiced by Donna Murphy) who has raised her as her daughter, but she is not actually Rapunzel's real mother. She kidnapped Rapunzel as a baby because the girl's hair has a magical power that made the woman appear youthful. Rapunzel has never been allowed to leave the tower and no one has ever been able to get in. For her eighteenth birthday, Rapunzel begs her mother to let her out on her birthday because she wants to explore the world and so she can inspect the "stars" she sees every year on her birthday (which are really Chinese lanterns that her real parents light every year in hope that their daughter will find them and return home). Her mother refuses and Rapunzel comes up with a plan that will make her mother have to go to the village and will be gone for three days.

Meanwhile, Rapunzel meets Flynn Rider and has information that he needs. She strikes a deal with him: if he takes her to the lights, she'll give him the information he needs, so they set out on their adventure. Of course Rapunzel's mother finds out that her daughter has escaped and tries everything she can to make sure Rapunzel never makes it to her real parents and finds out the truth.

One of my favorite scenes was a montage right after Rapunzel has escaped from her home and the scenes keep alternating from her being really happy and enjoying being free to her feeling really guilty about disobeying her mother and telling Flynn that she should go back home.

The animation is beautiful, the story is a lot of fun, and the ending even made me tear up a little. Not at all a bad movie. It should have been nominated for Best Animated Picture along with Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Maid of Dishonor

Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy
Released: May 13, 2011
Viewed in theaters: May 19, 2011

Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Wendi
McLendon-Covey, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig

This movie has been referred to as "the female Hangover" which I guess I can understand because, much like The Hangover, Bridesmaids is a R-rated raunchy comedy that takes place before a wedding but stars all women instead of men. Of course, there is more to this movie than just laughs and dirty jokes.

Annie (Wiig) is at a point in her life where nothing seems to be going right for her. Her bakery has gone out of business and she now (unsuccessfully)  sells jewelry, she's seeing a guy who's only using her for sex, and when her best friend Lillian (Rudolph) tells her she's getting married she starts to compete with Lillian's new friend from work, Helen (Byrne) for the attention of the bride.

There are plenty of funny moments, but they still remind us of just how insecure Annie is and how she wants to be known as Lillian's closest friend. When a party is thrown for the newly engaged couple, Annie gives a little toast to Lillian, then Helen steps in and overshadows her toast with a much better one and Annie steps up to the mike again to "say a few more words." This goes on for quite a while with each woman trying to one up the other until they're both singing to Lillian.

Moments before disaster...
The one scene that makes it extremely raunchy and had everyone in my audience laughing was when they went to a very chic bridal gown shop where you need a reservation to get in and the dresses that are eight hundred dollars are the ones on sale. Right before Annie had taken everyone to a Brazilian restaurant and everyone except Helen became sick because they ate the meat. They all get food poisoning as they're wearing their expensive gowns and have to race for the one-toilet elegant bathroom. I'll let your imagination take it from there.  It is a gross scene, but it's not as graphic as it could have been, thank goodness!

As the movie goes on, Annie continues to resent Lillian's and Helen's friendship more and more and ruins all of Lillian's big pre-wedding events. They don't even make it to Vegas for a bachelorette party due to her acting up on the plane after taking some pills Helen gave her that would calm her down. (I loved it when she called the flight attendant "Stove" (his name was obviously Steve) and declared she could do anything she wanted because, "this is the '90s!")

Her biggest rock-bottom moment was when she exploded at Lillian after Helen told her them was taking Lillian to Paris to get her wedding dress and Annie started going ballistic and vandalizing all the decorations. Because of this and her behavior, she was not allowed to take home a puppy as a party favor. (Yes, a puppy!)

Interwoven in the movie is a subplot where Annie meets an Irish cop who encourages her to go back to baking her cupcakes because he had been to her bakery before it closed. There's also a few funny scenes with Annie and her two roommates, siblings from England. There was really no need for them, but I did laugh when Annie found out the sister had been reading her diary and she replied, "I didn't know it was your diary! I thought it was a really depressing handwritten book!" Oh, I'm going to have to use that excuse if I ever get caught reading someone's diary... It was also funny when the brother told Annie they they were kicking her out because they thought it was weird that "two siblings were living together with a flatmate."

The film is a little on the long side (a little over two hours, they probably could have easily trimmed it), and it's not necessary to see on the big screen, but I would recommend renting it or putting it on your Netflix queue when it's available on DVD. Oh, and if you love the Wilson Phillips song, "Hold On", you will get a kick out of the wedding!