April, 17th 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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I can’t deny it. I love the Judd Apatow comedy revolution. About six years ago, we had the emergence of the so-called Frat Pack, which includes the likes of Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black. Those guys are all funny, to be sure, but there is always a slightly mocking, detached quality to their hipster humor. One could easily see them holding court over a kegger, surrounded by appreciative jocks (hence the Frat Pack designation).
By contrast, Apatow, who famously helmed a show called Freaks and Geeks, is dealing with the real (male) misfits of our society—the awkward teenage boys, the video game slackers, the knobby-kneed, the virginal, and tongue-tied. He has planted an extremely rich comedy...

2:34 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 17th 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

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So you want the good news first or the bad news?
Okay, the good news: The Forbidden Kingdom is a surprisingly entertaining and fast-paced tale of Jason (Michael Angarano), a kung-fu obsessed teenager who gets miraculously transported through time to Ancient China, where he learns martial arts from two masters (Jet Li and Jackie Chan) and helps vanquish the evil Jade King.
The bad news: The long-awaited pairing of Li and Chan doesn’t quite live up to the hype (how could it?), and true kung fu fans are bound to find the whole film overly simplistic and juvenile.
On second thought, perhaps that’s the evil genius of the film: Hardcore kung fu fans are going to see it, no matter what—wild dragons couldn’t keep them away from a Li/Chan smackdown. But non-...

2:27 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 10th 2008

Smart People

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It started with the white, beat-up Saab. That was the first character note we got on college professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid)—he drove it in the first scene—and I thought, “Hmmm, a bit of a cliché.” But I was willing to forgive it on grounds of, well, accuracy. (Have you checked out the employee parking lot of a liberal arts college lately?) Then, Lawrence parked his car—absent-mindedly? with disdain for the little people?—at an angle, over two spaces. A bit much, I thought. Then out came Quaid—bearded, beer-gutted, I swear I could detect a limp (more likely, it was just the dejected shuffled of the world weary), and I thought: Make it stop.
I’m sorry to report, these kinds of over-the-top (and overly familiar) character tics are all over Smart People, a film I really wanted to love, but simply couldn’t. Wetherhold’s daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) isn’t just a repressed over-achiever, she’s a...

11:55 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 10th 2008

Street Kings

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Do you ever have that moment while watching a movie when you realize that the mind-thuddingly obvious plot twist is supposed to be the film’s big secret? I had that moment quite early on in Street Kings. Keanu Reeves plays Tom Ludlow, a corrupt LAPD cop (is there any other kind?), but he’s the best of the bad guys. Sure, he’s morally compromised, but at least he actually believes in getting the criminals (and by “get” I mean gunning them down in cold blood, but hey, it’s a start). It’s Tom’s captain buddy Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) and his shifty squad mates who are the real low lifes.
Early in the film, Tom’s ex partner Washington (Terry Crews), who apparently left Wander’s team because he couldn’t handle its shaky ethics, is killed by two gang bangers in a convenience store. Inconveniently, Ludlow was there, too, actually about to beat the stuffing out of Washington for ratting out his...

11:50 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 10th 2008

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

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Luckily, there’s complicated South American politics at the center of The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. Otherwise, we’d certainly be treated to a mawkish American remake of this film, which focuses on the unlikely relationship between an abandoned little boy and a cranky village elder.
It’s 1970 Brazil and the parents of 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas, a natural) are political dissidents, forced to leave their soccer-loving son behind with his grandfather. They’re in such a rush, they merely drop Mauro off at the front door, not knowing that Mauro’s grandfather died hours earlier. Enter the grandfather’s neighbor, Schlomo (Germano Haiut) a Jewish elder (Mauro’s father is...

11:47 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 4th 2008

Leatherheads

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It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when pro football was about as viable as pro lacrosse. (Sorry, Bayhawks fans.) Leatherheads is an affectionate look at that time. George Clooney, who also directs, plays Dodge Connelly, the aging running back of a cash-strapped professional football team in the 1920s. In an attempt to salvage the team, Dodge recruits Carter Rutherford (The Office’s John Krasinski), a Princeton running back, decorated war vet, and all around national hero. Fans start turning out in droves and professional football begins its slow, inevitable march toward world domination. But there’s a catch: Turns out Carter’s war heroics aren’t quite as heroic as...

1:30 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 3rd 2008

Nim's Island

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Last year brought us Bridge to Terabithia, with AnnaSophia Robb as a spunky, imaginative, resourceful little girl who loved to play in the great outdoors. Without giving too much of that film’s plot away, suffice it to say, things did not end well for little AnnaSophia.

So it’s with great pleasure that I report that no such dark fate awaits Abigail Breslin’s casually rough and tumble Nim, who lives with her oceanographer Dad (Gerard Butler)—along with her pet seal, iguana, and pelican—on a remote island in the South Pacific. Unlike Pippi Longstocking (one of my childhood heroes), there’s no big deal made of the fact that Nim is a girl. She’s just a barefoot, sun-dappled kid who likes to...

2:23 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 3rd 2008

Shine a Light

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Entire villages could get lost in the deep crevices of Mick Jagger’s face. I noted this, with some alarm, in the opening frames of Martin Scorsese’s excellent Rolling Stones “documentary” (really, just a super-sized concert film) Shine a Light. Those openings scenes are shot in high contrast black and white, so every facial crease, every well-earned crag and fold, is intensified. (The rest of the film is in color.)
Actually, at this point in their careers, the members of the Rolling Stones, all now in their 60s, look remarkably alike. (With the exception of Charlie Watts, who always did look like an especially cool...

9:26 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 1st 2008

At last!

I do a whole lot of yammering about movies on TV and on radio. I also do one measly review a month for Baltimore magazine. (Our deadline schedule makes it tricky to do timely reviews—nothing more awkward than seeing that Run Fatboy Run review weeks after the film has jogged unceremoniously out of theaters.) So visit this page every Friday for reviews of all the big new releases. This week: Nim's Island Leatherheads Shine a Light Oh, and I won't just be doing movie reviews. No siree. I'll also hold forth (a fancy word for ramble) on a variety of film, media, and pop culture topics that I think you'll find interesting. (Come to think of it, just to be on the safe side, you should probably check this blog on a daily basis). As the kids say, TTYL. -max

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