Sunday, May 5, 2013

Many Movie Reviews I

Well, dear readers, things have intervened in my life here and there and I now have a huge backlog of review posts. In order to trim this down I'm posting several at once. This saves me time because I'm not writing a full intro for each one. Hopefully you can still get something out of them. In this post I'll share my thoughts on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is about a kid who is just starting middle school and wants to improve his popularity—at almost any expense. After that is Driving Miss Daisy, a movie about an aging woman who has to start using a chauffeur even though she doesn't want to. Incidentally, it is also the last PG-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture (in 1989). This is followed by a review of L'Illusionniste (The Illusionist), a 2010 French cartoon about an out-of-luck magician (not to be confused with the 2006 American live-action film about an audacious magician). Then I review I.Q., a romantic comedy about Albert Einstein's neice and an auto mechanic. This is followed by Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a road-trip comedy about incompatible traveling companions. Next we have Pries☩, a 2011 post-apocalyptic film about vampirse and the Catholic priests who hunt them, based on a Korean comic book. After that I review the 2010 film RED, which is based on a comic book about a retired CIA black ops agent (the title of the movie stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous."). Next up is S1m0ne, a film about a down-and-out movie director who tries to pass a digital actress off as a real person. Then there's The Social Network, which tells the story of how Facebook came to be, followed by Unstoppable, which is based on the CSX 8888 incident of 2001.[1] The last review is for Yogi Bear, a live-action/computer-animated version of the classic cartoon show.

My verdict for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The movie was okay, but not great. There are a lot of stereotypes, particularly the hyperactive redheaded weirdo with a face full of freckles, braces, and glasses who has no sense of personal hygiene (in this case his name is Fregley). Fregley also has a 'freckle' which is really a mole and was nauseatingly disgusting. Speaking of disgusting, there is a bathroom scene involving all three brothers that I'm surprised was allowed in a PG movie. On the other hand, I appreciated the scene where the mom finds Rodrick's girly magazine (her response is spot-on). I think the climax could've been handled a little better: after Greg picked up the cheese in front of everyone, he should've thrown it on Patty. I mean, he'd already thrown apples at her during The Wizard of Oz school play. I wouldn't want to be Rowley's friend. But I wouldn't want to be Greg's friend, either. Both do experience some growth by the end of the movie, which was good. But I'm not sure either of them became admirable characters.

My verdict for Driving Miss Daisy: Ostensibly the film is about how Mrs. Werthan overcomes her prejudices and learns to appreciate Hoke. But earlier in the film she admits to being used to her maid, Idella, on whom she's rather dependent. After Idella dies she simply shifts that dependency to Hoke. So even though the ending comes across as sweet and endearing, it seems to me that she's simply accustomed to Hoke, not really appreciative of him. Hoke is an admirable, if simple, character. The only point that didn't ring true was when he admitted to eating a can of Mrs. Werthan's salmon and replaces it—just as he's about to be fired for doing so. The timing was just a little too convenient—it made it look like Hoke admitted what he'd done and made restitution so that he could keep his job (which I believe is not what the filmmakers were trying to convey). Morgan Freeman doesn't look any older today than he did then. The main theme of the soundtrack is pretty, but on the whole having a synthesized soundtrack was more than a little incongruous with a film set in the 1940s and 1950s.

My verdict for L'Illusionniste: This film had a slow pace and despite being animated, it won't appeal to children. The background animation is superb and richly detailed. The characters are less impressive—too stylized for my taste. A girl runs away with the aging magician, but he never tries to send her back—even though she appears to be young enough that this would count as a kidnapping. This issue is never addressed by the film. The fictional boy band, Billy Boy and the Britoons, are a fabulous parody and indictment of 1950s rock and roll; it's sad how ubiquitous their music becomes. The general lack of dialogue (and what dialogue there is is often in French or Scottish Gaelic [2]) makes the movie itself a bit boring. The overall tone of the movie is melancholy and, with the exception of the young girl, they all end up down on their luck and dispirited. The pacing of the movie sort of drifts, slowly winding down and the ending was drawn out a bit too long. This movie is interesting, but definitely not for everyone.

NOTE: When a Scotsman is seen boating the magician across a bay, don't look too closely at his kilt flapping in the wind—you might see why this film is rated PG. Also, there is a brief scene after the credits.

My verdict for I.Q.: The romance between Edward and Catherine is completely implausible—not because people with different I.Q.s never fall for each other, but because these two particular characters have no reason to. In my experience so far [3] Tim Robbins plays all of his characters the same way (which I suspect is his inherent personality): a soft-spoken dimwit. Sometimes his characters are supposed to be intelligent, but he still brings it off as dimwitted. Walter Mathau plays an excellent part, though I doubt it was an accurate character study of the real Einstein. The other physicists were fun, too. Ironically, Stephen Fry (the psychologist boyfriend) later plays a psychologist on the television show Bones.[4] Despite having the fictional Boyd's comet as a subplot, I didn't feel like Mozart's "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" belonged in the soundtrack.

My verdict for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: This is a good movie, but not a great movie.[5] It's definitely dated (for example, the soundtrack sounded like an NES video game). It was interesting to see so many actors when they were young (John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Ben Stein, Dylan Baker), but Steve Martin looks the same then as he does now. Del (played by John Candy) really is a terrible traveling companion, but I'm impressed that Neal (played by Steve Martin) is the character who experiences the most growth. Ironically, at one point John Candy's character says he's going to Jamaica (six years later John Candy appeared in Cool Runnings, part of which takes place in Jamaica). I guessed the ending of this film, but only a few minutes before the reveal. On a side note, I was amused to see a Blue Healer in the back of a truck the guys hitched a ride in (I owned a Blue Healer as a child).

DISCLAIMER: I watched this film as edited for television. I have not seen the original R-rated version and cannot comment on its appropriateness (though Roger Ebert's review suggests the rating is due to a single scene with considerable crude profanity).

My verdict for Pries☩: This film was generally disappointing. Some of the characters had a lot of potential, but they were written and/or portrayed so poorly that I never cared about them. The man character, played by Paul Bettany, is a retired vampire hunter who comes into conflict with his leaders in the Catholic church. I wonder if Paul Bettany takes roles like this one, The DaVinci Code, and Creation (about Charles' Darwin's loss of faith) because of his own disaffection with the Catholic church.[6] The plot twists were predictable; the movie didn't really take any narrative risks. Black Hat repeatedly mentioned learning something powerful from becoming a vampire—but he never got around to saying what it was. That's a Chekov's gun unfired, which I find annoying. Sometimes the special effects looked cartoony. The true vampires are scary-looking but not scary. So little vampire lore was invoked that I'm not sure why they even bothered calling them vampires. film draws some visual cues from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Mad Max, Underworld, and Blade Runner.Otherwise it was dismal and didn't really distinguish itself in any way.

My verdict for RED: Overall I liked the movie, but it wasn't a stunner. Some of the plot twists were tired and easy to spot coming. Using postcards to indicate scene changes didn't do anything for me. In fact, it was a bit of a distraction. But the cinematography was impressive (the tribute to Sergio Leone was awesome) and the choreography was pretty good, with some nice fight scenes and gun-fu. The stylized acting was enjoyable. John Malkovich's character was pretty fun. As excited as he was about using the "pink pig", the payoff was kind of a letdown. I'm not sure, though, what was going on with Mary-Louise Parker's character—sometimes it seemed like she was still drugged. The film was enjoyable enough that I'll probably watch the sequel that's coming out this year (but I'll wait until I can rent it).

My verdict for S1m0ne: This film is by Andrew Niccol, the same man who wrote The Truman Show and GATTACA, but it's not as good as either of those. As a satire it worked well, and I did feel a little sad for the main character (played by Al Pacino). There's some barbed commentary about the capriciousness of fame, the moral bankruptness of Hollywood, the intelligence and character of people who pretend for a living (actors and actresses) [7], the culture of celebrity worship, the gullibility and pliability of the viewing public, etc. I enjoyed the clever play on computer terms (Simone comes from "simulation one", many characters are named after computer brands or software, the way they used of 1s and 0s [8], etc.). Unfortunately, the film kind of trudged along. And it's hard to believe that no one considered the possibility that Simone was computer generated. It's also hard to believe that they were able to recover Simone after Viktor destroyed his hard drives. And that people adored Simone regardless of her later behavior (and perhaps even because of it). All this made it hard to suspend my disbelief (unlike Niccol's other films).

NOTE: There is a scene after the credits.

My verdict for The Social Network: I am amazed. Jesse Eisenberg's voice is even more annoying when you're not tricked into thinking it's a parrot doing the talking.[9] But at least for this movie it's always appropriate that he sound that way. The way Zuckerberg is portrayed, you'd almost think he has Asperger's. On the other hand, I have trouble believing that the life of a computer programer—even one who became a billionaire—is that exciting. And while he may have stolen the idea from the Winklevoss twins, there's no way the twins could've made $65 million with it; they had no business suing Zuckerberg. Intercutting the story with the legal deposition made for an interesting, but sometimes awkward, frame story. But I thought they did a good job of juxtaposing how Zuckerberg created a website that brought people together online while at the same time destroying all of his real-life friendships. Some of the cinematography is fantastic. One instance that really caught my eye is during the Henley Royal Regatta makes everything look like it's the landscape of an N scale model train set.

My verdict for Unstoppable: At first the human interest side of the story was kind of trite, but eventually it thickens up. So many things went wrong that it was a little hard for me to suspend my disbelief—especially when Denzel Washington and James T. Kirk take over and suddenly insane things start working (e.g. a train going around an elevated bend up on one set of wheels). Even though some of the characters do spectacular things, I appreciate that it wasn't glamorized—they made it look difficult, painful, frightening, and grueling. Aside from that, though, the acting was functional, but not impressive. The score wasn't assertive, but did its job well.

My verdict for Yogi Bear: I thought this was an entirely CG movie so at first I was astonished at how realistic the scenery looked. When I finally figured out that only Yogi Bear and Boo Boo were animated, I felt rather sheepish. I know they were being true to the original cartoon, but Yogi's speech mannerisms were quickly annoying. Boo Boo's voice was a little grating, too. I liked the actor for Ranger Smith, but the "Miss Movie Maker Lady" actress was a little weird-looking and her acting was kind of flat. The plot was stale, predictable, and politically one-sided and there were too many stereotyped characters. For a comedy it wasn't very funny; the only amusing gag in the whole movie was the Mayor's car window. There wasn't anything patently offensive about the movie, but it also lacked enough good stuff that I wouldn't recommend showing it to children—there are better movies out there for them to watch.


[1] See 8888 incident.

[2] When there is English it's usually mumbled and unclear.

[3] The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River, The Hudsucker Proxy, Howard the Duck, Twister, Mission to Mars, War of the Worlds, Zathura, City of Ember, and an unfortunate brush with Short Cuts on television (avoid that one like the plague, dear reader). I suspect the same is true for his roles in Top Gun, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

[4] Read some of my reviews of Bones here and here.

[5] Roger Ebert listed it as one of his Great Movies (see However, I disagree with that decision. It's not a great movie; it's just one of his personal favorites. It's possible for you to have a favorite movie that isn't a great movie—even if you're an acclaimed critic like Roger Ebert.

[6] See Bettany#Personal life.

[7] It boggles my mind that people inform their political opinions based on what their favorite actors and musicians say. I know that there are people who do because I've known some of them.

[8] 1 th0ght ab0ut replac1ng the letter o w1th the number 0 and the letter i w1th the number 1 all thr0ugh the rev1ew f0r th1s m0v1e (l1ke the f1lmmakers d1d w1th the t1tle of the f1lm and the screen cred1ts). But, as y0u can see, 1t's k1nd 0f a b0ther t0 type and t0 read.

[9] See my review of Rio here.

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