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Movie: The Dogs of War

Released: 1981

Stars: Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger

Reason for Watching: Um, it is entirely possible a former co-worker recommended it.

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: Standard mercenary/paramilitary flick.

You Should See This Movie Because: Christopher Walken as the leader of a paramilitary group. ‘Nuff said. Also, check out Ed O’Neill (aka Al Bundy) in one of his first roles. There is one incredibly badass gun. Possibly top ten movie gun.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: It is kinda boring. Sparse, linear plot (save for like two barely there subplots) that’s rarely rewarding or intriguing. And not enough action scenes.

Bottom Line: If you need a Walken movie you haven’t seen, then sure, otherwise you could probably pass.

In the Valley of Elah was a pleasant surprise in that it didn’t completely suck. We all saw the combination of an Iraq War film and Paul Haggis and thought it would be terrible. Instead it was merely bad with a couple of surprisingly good elements.

The film follows Tommy Lee Jones’s Hank Deerfield as he searches for his son, who has gone missing shortly after returning from Iraq. The local police are happy to pass the case to the military police, who are in turn happy to bury it. There is, naturally, an underdog (and female!) local cop who wants to help Hank despite pressures from her department, played by Charlize Theron. The search for Hank’s son is the stuff of Law and Order: dramatic, compelling, and twisty but contrived and unoriginal. You want to find out what happens but you’d rather skip to the end than sit through the journey. The suspects include the son’s fellow soldiers from his tour in Iraq and it’s from this angle we get a lot of Iraq war preaching.

This is the type of war drama/murder mystery where Hank finds his son’s cell phone and a mysterious tech guru only sends him one video recovered from it per day. Each video, conveniently, reveals slightly more than the last. It’s also the type of mystery where the camera lingers obviously over a case-breaking clue that isn’t discovered until a climactic ending and where innocent people act as if they have something to hide when they don’t for no apparent reason. Hank may be deep into the mystery of his lost son but that doesn’t prevent him from telling his wife not to open a package sent from Iraq, in order to “protect” her.

Jones got nominated for Best Actor for this role. It’s a quintessential Jones role: reserved, sharp cop. In that sense I don’t think it was a stretch for him and I liked him better in a similar role in No Country for Old Men. Of course, he gets these parts because he’s damn good at them and he’s good here. I like characters that don’t show a lot of obvious emotion but still manage to articulate so much with small looks and expressions. (For another great 2007 example, check out Ulrich Mühe in The Lives of Others.) In a film that doesn’t understand the meaning of understatement, Jones imparts a lot of emotion very subtly. There are probably performances I would have chosen over Jones, like Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, but it was no means a bad choice.

In the Valley of Elah isn’t exactly subtle. Soldiers talk of their experiences in a stilted, affected manner like they’re oh-so-troubled actors. We’re treated to some strangely situated and heavy-handed screeds about the evils of war. I guess this is sort of expected from a Haggis screenplay and there is no clever or original insight into the wartime experience.

But just when it looks like the film will play out in an obvious manner there comes some surprisingly well-crafted touches. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie: The Lake House
Released: 2006
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves
Reason for Watching: Other than that it is a romantic drama with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves with a sci-fi twist?  The screenplay was written by David Auburn, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof.  Which was a much better play than movie, but it did allow me to stalk Gwyneth Paltrow.  Oh, and yeah, Auburn is a U of C grad.

I Can Name This Movie In Two Notes: Keanu and Sandra exchange love letters.  BUT THEY ARE LIVING TWO YEARS APART!

You Should See This Movie Because: Well, first and foremost may be the two shots of Sandra Bullock in a University of Chicago t-shirt.  Er, maybe that’s just for me.  If you buy into the premise, it is a cute little movie.  The doggy is great.  I dunno, I find these “softcore” (if you will) sci-fi movies alluring.  By which I mean you take a relatively standard scenario (here it is two people finding love, but not being able to see each other, instead only sending letters through the mail) and adding a little bit of a science fiction twist (the chasm separating them isn’t distance….it is time!).  Again, if you can buy into it, the idea is kinda neat.

If you are into romantic dramas, no one is going to accuse this of being Sleepless in Seattle or anything, but many parts of it are relatively compelling.  The chasm of time is surprisingly effective.

Also, I find Keanu Reeves fascinating, because he clearly is not capable of acting like an actual human being.  I think he probably works best when he doesn’t have to act against anyone.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: I can’t imagine the twists taking too many people by surprise.  The subplots are often distracting, and I’m not sure the architecture angle was played up enough.  Much of the appeal of the movie comes from its premise, so if you aren’t comfortable with that, I’d stay away.  Maybe it is just because I knew the movie was based on a Korean movie, but to me they made up Bullock to look like an Asian video game character.  Not a slutty-looking one, but a sullen fully-clothed one.  Then again, playing against Keanu Reeves, just about any emotion is too much.

Bottom Line:  If the thoughts of Keanu and the premise don’t repulse you, I’d guess you’d enjoy The Lake House.  I’ve still yet to be convinced that David Auburn should be writing movies and not plays.  But hey.  Maroons in the hizzy!

Movie: Talk To Me
Released: 2007
Stars: Don Cheadle,  Chiwetel Ejifor, Martin Sheen, Cedric the Entertainer
Reason for Watching: Early Oscar Buzz

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: A telling of Petey Greene’s story, he was a DC radio host.

You Should See This Movie Because: DC rocks.  Plus, there’s totally a shot of Ben’s Chili Bowl.  All of the actors are pretty cool, and you’ll love Cedric the Entertainer’s role.  The MLK sequence is pretty riveting.  And the end of the credits say any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.  Which made Brian and I laugh.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: It starts to drag a bit.  It kinda has the same feel of lots of other biopics.  Also, they filmed in Toronto, and I think the lack of DC scenery hurts the movie.  But I may be a bit biased.

Bottom Line: A decent enough movie for Cheadle fans and those who want to complete their collection of 2007 movies.

Oh Adam.  I’ll give you that your response was lucid and well-written.  Perhaps there’s some sixth-grader somewhere that you’d be able to convince with those arguments.

Let’s skip past the first three points, I think we both agree that Michael Bay movies have made money and aren’t critically reviled.  Anything else is nothing more than a supporting cog in either of our arguments.

Actors and actresses do pass up big budget movies all the time.  Like anyone else, they jump at the chance to make money, but I’m sure they have options other than Michael Bay movies in which to do so.  I still think there is compelling evidence that something other than money is driving them to his movies.  Also, yes, it isn’t hard to cast a hot actress in a movie.   So why doesn’t it happen more often?  How often do you wish the female lead were just a little more attractive?  And how often has that happened in a Michael Bay movie?

But let’s get back to my “semi-valid” points.  I’m glad you were big enough to concede them.  Perhaps the best way to frame my argument is: Imagine someone else directing a Michael Bay movie.  Do you think that would make for a better movie?

We both agree that directors’ roles are often overrated, that scriptwriters and producers generally play pretty important roles in movies.   But can you really think of people you’d rather have helming the type of movies Michael Bay does?  I grant that he specializes in a subgenre of action.  But not so specific that there aren’t plenty of movies aspiring to be Michael Bay movies.  If you were a producer looking to make a movie from an action script you have the rights to, are you honestly telling me Michael Bay wouldn’t be one of the first directors you’d try to get?  To me, Michael Bay excels at directing action movies.  Sure, you might not like all of his movies.  I’d disagree with that sentiment, but you have a right to be wrong.  But I’d wager you don’t really think the problem with the movies was Michael Bay.  You probably didn’t like the script.  I don’t care how great the director is, if they are working from a poor script, the movie is going to be bad.

I could go on, but let’s start there.  Would you really have picked other people to direct the movies Michael Bay has?

Movie: In Bruges
Released: 2008
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jordan Prentice

Reason for Watching: John asked if I wanted to go see it.

I Can Name This Movie In One Note: A dark action comedy about two contract killers who go to Bruges after an assignment to wait for further instructions.

You Should See This Movie Because: I’ve decided Colin Farrell is Clive Owen, but with a less morbid sense of humor.  At any rate, he’s underrated, probably due to his poor movie choices (though Phone Booth is great, goshdarnit), and you’ll love him in this.  All of the main characters, actually, are pretty interesting.

The movie does an excellent job effectively dancing around genres.   There are several genuinely funny scenes in the film, but they don’t turn the dramatic action into a farce.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: Might be a tad too dark for some people.  For example (Mild Spoiler Alert!), the movie doesn’t exactly have a storybook ending.  Also, if you really like Bruges, you might be offended.

It obviously doesn’t bother me, but there are one or two plot devices some people might find to be a bit too convenient.  Also, the story is a tad sparse on a few occasions.

Bottom Line: 2008 is hopefully shaping up to be a solid year for movies, so it seems a bit premature to put the movie into any best-of races, but In Bruges is a really enjoyable movie, and I heartily recommend it.

Movie: Eagle vs Shark
Released: 2007

Stars: Loren Horsley, Jermaine Clement

Reason for Watching: I saw the poster at the now-defunct Dupont Circle cinema, and I liked the name.

I Can Name This Movie In Three Notes: Napoleon Dynamite, but funny.  Where the characters are a little older.  And, very loosely, a romantic comedy.

You Should See This Movie Because: Eagle vs Shark is one of the funniest movies of 2007.  I really hated Napoleon Dynamite.  A lot.  So I don’t know how someone with bad taste will find this movie, but there are some hilarious lines and one or two really funny scenes.

It is also a pretty interesting twist on the traditional romantic comedy setup.  Not only is the chick the strong one in the relationship, but the dude is pretty unlikable.  I’d argue that more often than the woman, the man in the traditional romantic comedy is likable.  A bit off, sure, but be it John Cusack, Ashton Kutcher, Hugh Grant, or Billy Crystal, the male lead is (at least down deep) a charming guy with a heart of gold.  That’s not the case in this movie.

And I thought Loren Horsley and Jermaine Clement played some very compelling characters that start off interesting and remain that way for the entirety of the film.

You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: At times, it tries too hard.  The animated bits were an interesting way to frame the movie, but I thought it was a little too cutesy.  Similarly, the Napoleon Dynamiteness can get tiring, at times.  The movie starts to drag some about 2/3 of the way through.

The supporting characters were nothing to write home about, though Jermaine Clement’s family did have a few funny moments.

I’m not quite sure why they named the movie Eagle vs Shark, but I guess it got me, so good for them.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a quirky comedy, give this one a whirl.

Jared. Jared. Jared. How are you wrong? Let me count the ways.

First, since we’re talking about how “great” Michael Bay is, I think it would be prudent to actually define the word great. defines great (as it relates to people) as “of extraordinary powers; having unusual merit; very admirable.” Let’s see if Mr. Bay can measure up.

Read the rest of this entry »

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Brian and I saw a sneak preview of 21 a full month before it is being released to you plebes in the general public. And weeks before its nominal debut at SXSW. Thanks, YTIC!

Movie: 21
Released: 2008
Stars: Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, some guy who would love to be James McAvoy
Reason for Watching: Free movie!
I Can Name This Movie In One Note: Based on Bringing Down the House, the true story of MIT college kids counting cards in blackjack.
You Should See This Movie Because: Vegas, baby, Vegas! We get plenty of shots of the strip, casinos, and everything that is great about Vegas. If you have any gambling inclinations whatsoever, this movie will get your juices flowing. Also, Kate Bosworth is extremely cute. The movie will almost make you forget that she needs to gain about ten pounds. Oh, and I enjoyed Choo as the comic relief.
You Shouldn’t See This Movie Because: Just about everything other than the gambling was disappointing. We first learn how smart the main character is when he deftly answers the Monty Hall problem – in a senior year math class at MIT, a problem that’s taught in most AP Stats courses, I believe. I haven’t read the book, but my guess is they screwed with the pacing too much in an effort to make the story more Hollywood. Subplots (like the science competition) don’t flow particularly well with the main story. The actors aren’t all that engaging. The soundtrack isn’t really as exciting as the producers might like you to think. And any twists that might or might not occur in the movie, well, let’s just say they don’t break cinematic ground.
Bottom Line: If you need a Vegas fix, 21 will do in a pinch, but you are probably better off just gambling online or something.

I do not hide the fact that I heart Michael Bay. Adam, though incredibly rational when it comes to just about everything else, is terribly misguided in his dislike of Mr. Bay. Naturally, I suggested we take this to the blog.


Michael Bay is great. The sooner I can convince you of that, the sooner we can move on to more important things. Since for some reason you won’t take my word, it is my duty as an American to change your mind. There are many reasons why Michael Bay is so great, I’ll paint some broad strokes to describe them. If for some reason you aren’t sold, I’d be happy to clarify.

Michael Bay connect with the people. Here’s a list of the takes of his movies. His movies have universally raked in money. Bad Boys (his first) is the under $100 million domestically, but that one was obviously profitable, plus it took it another $75 million overseas. The Island tanked hard (yes, I was there in theaters), but it grabbed over $125 million in foreign lands. Which is what imdb estimates was the budget for the movie, so it is hard to call it a flop, per se, though clearly it wasn’t a moneymaker like the rest of his movies. Still, 6 for 7 ain’t bad. In fact, he ranks 11th all time among directors in combined domestic total gross, (his movies have grossed over a billion dollars!) with most of the directors ahead of him directing more movies and helming heavy-hitting franchises.

Read the rest of this entry »

March 2008