Friday, May 29, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

I really wanted to like The Brothers Bloom, and for 90 minutes I did. The film delivers laughs, genuinely interesting characters, a quirkiness not unlike that of Wes Anderson, and a satisfactory conclusion. Then the film continues for another 25 minutes moving far from the lightness and joyfulness of its earlier moments into a much more average action flick packed with questionable character choices, plot issues, and a far less satisfying ending.

Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody star as brothers who begin the life of the con as children. Stephen (Ruffalo) is the brains behind the operation writing roles for his brother, the shy Bloom (Brody). Sadly, it is only through these roles where Bloom gets the confidence to interact with other people, and truly feel alive. Though appreciative of his brother, who wants the best for him, Bloom's resentment finally gets the better of him.

After years of working various marks with his brother and their silent sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) Bloom is ready to quit and live the quiet life, that is until Stephen convinces him to partake in one last big score by swindling a beautiful, eccentric, reclusive heiress (Rachel Weisz) out of a few million dollars.

Putting aside the final act for the moment, there's much here to enjoy. All three of the leads are terrific, the cons are well thought-out, and the plot even makes a few turns that you don't quite expect. These are characters, and a story, you are happy to spend a couple of hours with.

That's what makes the film's conclusion all that more disappointing. On a strictly theoretical level I can see how a writer/director may want to try and slowly mutate a fairy tale into a more brutal dramatic story. However, in the case of The Brothers Bloom the result left me unsatisfied, and even began to hurt my appreciation of the parts of the film I really enjoyed.

After its release was pushed back several times (the film was original set to hit theaters in April of last year) it's good that the film is finally finding its way to theaters. Even with my reservations I'm still happy to recommend the film. My only advice would be to check your watch and think about leaving before the final act can disappoint.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dance Flick

What are you doing reading a review for this movie? Come to think of it, what was I doing going to a screening of it? You know exactly what this movie is, and you knew before you ever started reading this review whether it's for you or not.

There are no surprises with Dance Flick. What you see is what you get, most of it bad. The new film from the Wayan Bros. is yet another entry into the sub-genre of cheap parody films which has produced one or two fun flicks, such as the first "Scary Movie", but also filled up the DVD bargain bin at your local Best Buy and the late night B-movie channels on cable.

Dance Flick isn't one of the better entries into the genre, but at least it's not the worst. I guess that's something, right? It is however perplexing. Don't get me wrong, the entire dance film genre deserves to get poked with a stick, but the idea of centering most of the plot around an eight-year-old film isn't exactly timely.

Although mostly a series of bits and gags, the film does manage to tie them together using the basic story structure of 2001's Save the Last Dance. After her mother is killed in a horrible accident on the way to her daughter's recital Megan (Shoshana Bush) moves in with her dead-beat dad (Chris Elliot). Her love of dancing is renewed by a new love interest (Damon Wayans Jr.) whose involved in underground hip-hop dance contests for cash.

Wait, it gets worse. Amy Sedaris shows up as a dance instructor appropriately named Ms. Cameltoe who, late in the film, gives us a demonstration of her talents that made me cringe. Throw in one sequence so bad it may have ruined "Fame" for me forever and I'm done.

Although the film parodies sequences from several films such as "Flashdance", "You Got Served", Center Stage, "Hairspray", and others I've already mentioned, too many of them miss the mark. There is comedy to be had, but the film constantly goes for the cheapest joke instead of spending some time to actually make the sequences genuinely funny.

What can you say about a movie where in the opening moments a character shoves his head up his own ass to try and win a dance contest? You might get a few chuckles out of the film (I liked the short scene parodying Step Up), but mostly you'll find yourself groaning at the level of stupidity on display.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Rather than do a straight movie review for Terminator Salvation I decide to try something a bit different. This is a review in pictures, with a few guiding phrases added by yours truly. Caution: it does contain spoilers!

Friday, May 8, 2009


One of the issues you often run into with films made by first time directors is a film that never quite comes together. Lymelife, written and directed by Derick and Steven Martini, does quite a bit right but also falls into a few traps that more seasoned directors could have avoided. It's not a bad film, however it's pretty uneven. That's not to say I'm calling this one a pass. There's an awful lot happening here, and although some might have grown tired of the sub-genre of quirky little suburban independent films, it's still worth a look.

The film centers around two dysfunctional families. The Bartlett's are doing well, at least from the outside looking in. Mickey (Alec Baldwin), the family's breadwinner, is the envy of everyone else except perhaps his wife (Jill Hennessy) who seems to breathe a passive-aggressive hatred that it turns out is more than warranted.

The younger of their two sons, Scott (Rory Culkin) has his own issues to deal with including his growing feelings for his longtime friend Adrianna (Emma Roberts), bullies at school, the discovery of his father's infidelity, and his mother's over-protective streak which includes him ductaping every inch of him before allowing him out in the woods. Adrianna's home life is no better with her father's (Timothy Hutton) uncertain mental state due to Lyme Disease and her mother's (Cynthia Nixon) late nights working with Mickey.

You've seen films like this before, sometimes done better and sometimes worse. The cover is pulled back to reveal the darkness behind the sleepy suburban life. Thankfully the Martini's stay out of the realm of cliche when dealing with these issues. There are some incredible moments in this film such as Scott's inevitable overreaction at school to his bully. When dealing with the harshness of the situations the filmmakers usual hit their mark, but when dealing with the emotional fall-out of those same situations the film, at times, struggles.

The directors fail at times by not trusting their own material and not having the experience to know when to end a scene and when to stay with it for dramatic effect. Several moments over the course of the film are slightly damaged (much like these characters) simply because the director didn't know when to say cut. Sometimes less is more.

It's not a great film but Alec Baldwin (whom I've often said I'd watching reading the telephone book) is terrific, Emma Roberts is charming, the Culkin boys hold their own, and Timothy Hutton has a nice turn as the eccentric neighbor. Does it ever all come together? At times. The film might have been much more successful if the filmmakers had marginalized the quirkiness of the film and dealt with the harsher realities of the situation which they seem to have a better feel for.

It's not a must see, but it is worth a look. And one thing the film did for me was increase my appreciation for Sophia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, which also centers around a time period piece about the lives of teens in the suburbs (and also a film by a first time director). If you haven't seen that film I'd heartily recommend it, and if you have and you enjoy movies of this type, and have nothing better to do, you might, might want to give Lymelife a try.

Star Trek

Let's get one thing straight, this ain't your daddy's Star Trek. J.J. Abrams and his team have successfully relaunched a franchise with 2009's Star Trek. What we're given us a fun summer popcorn flick with characters that resemble those from the classic TV-show. However, the film isn't perfect and makes a few too many changes to Trek continuity for my tastes (not all of which can be argued away by the plot's time travel plot). Is it a good Star Trek film? Yes, it's by far the best one the franchise has put out since Star Trek: First Contact. Is it a great Star Trek film? Well...

Let's begin with the contraption by which the entire film hinges. Years in the future Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is involved with an attempt to save Romulus from disaster. The result sends both Spock and the Romulan ship back in time to create havoc and alter the time stream. This basic premise will be used to explain how the film deviates from basic Trek chronology and how Kirk will rise to become Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As convoluted as it is, as plot point itself I don't have a problem (and it works much better than Generations' Nexus), however the film asks us to believe the death of Kirk's father (hey, it happens in the first ten-minutes so I'm not giving away much here) has a ripple effect not only on Kirk's timeline but on the other Enterprise crew members as well. I'm less able to buy the second than the first. In this film all members of the crew, except for Spock who is only slightly older, are all basically the same age. This Kirk doesn't take control of an Enterprise that was already put together under Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but one that's pieced together over the course of the film. Does this work for the film? Yes, but it's also a bit of a slap in the face to longtime Trekkies.

Also troubling in this version is the fact that Starfleet seems to be more than a tad shorthanded. When a Federation world is attacked the only ones available are ships largely staffed with fresh recruits? Where is the rest of Starfleet (and can you even call it a star fleet if it's made up of only a half-dozen ships)? And they aren't the only ones as it seems the entire planet of Vulcan (a civilization far more advanced than humans) seems to be without a single craft that can navigate across space. The film has its share of logic holes like this which will nag your throughout and keep it from becoming the film it could have been had a little more care been taken with the plot.

We're also given extremely awkward childhood moments of both Kirk and Spock that give us no new information about the characters. Thankfully once these pass and we catch-up to the characters now grown things get better quick. Chris Pine's Kirk isn't a Shatner clone though he carries many of the characters best qualities. I'm more on the fence with Zachary Quinto as Spock, not so much with his performance which is quite good, but with the attempt to more humanize the character. Sarek as well (played here by Ben Cross) is the most empathetic we've ever seen him portrayed.

The character I liked best in the film is relegated to the shortest screentime. Simon Pegg is brilliant as Scotty, but you'll have to wait well over an hour before he makes an appearance. Rounding out the cast Karl Urban is good, though of all the actors here he (and perhpas Anton Yelchin as Checkov) is the one that seems determined to channel the original character rather than make it his own, John Cho makes a fine (if slightly too acrobatic) Sulu, and Zoe Saldana, who is given a larger role than Nichelle Nichols ever received, hits all the right notes as Uhura.

Pine's Kirk and his lackadaisical attitude (this Kirk isn't driven to become a starship Captain) leads to one of the two biggest groan-worthy moments of the film as J.J. Abrams takes the defining moment of the Kobyashi Maru and turns it into something akin to a fratboy prank. This was one of the few scenes which was so bad it made me squirm in my chair. The other involves a pretty stupid decision by Spock and Kirk's short time on the ice planet of Hoth. The first is actually damaging to the core of the character while second is just inane.

To quickly sum up a few other minor points. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, that, much like Casino Royale, we are denied the classic theme of the franchise, which would seem appropriate in many scenes, but is relegated to the closing credits. The special effects are good, and I like the new-old-look Enterprise as well as the squid-like Romulan ship. Eric Bana is passable as the film's villain Nero (he's certainly no Khan), but the film realizes he's the least interesting part of the puzzle and thankfully keeps him in the shadows for most of the film.

So to answer my original question, is Star Trek a great Trek movie? Although it's does a good job of relaunching the franchise and infusing some energy and excitement to the proceedings it still has enough problems which prevent me from categorizing it as great. That said, it's still really good, the best damn Trek film in years in fact, and both old and new audiences should be able to find much to enjoy in this newest chapter of Star Trek.

*Note for those who haven't seen the film: many of the comments below do include spoilers. Read at your own risk.