Category Archives: 2010 Movies
It seems to have all the right elements aligned: two mega-watt stars, a gorgeous location, and an Oscar-winning director whose last film, 2006’s The Lives of Others, was a tense, meaty, humane drama. Add a mistaken identity plot and The Tourist should feel like a light-hearted romp. The truth is that the final product is resoundingly dim and dull is deeply disappointing. All that Hollywood glamour and this is the best they could come up with? The movie is too mechanical, joyless, without much in the way of pacing or a pulse, and the direction feels like a languid tourist trip itself, placidly soaking up the scenery and waiting for a plot to shamble into frame. The action sequences are bereft of tension. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp have too few scenes together, too mild a sexual tension, and sleepwalk through their performances. Depp could easily have been replaced by any actor. You’ll see the twists telegraphed a mile away, but by that time your eyes will have already glazed over thanks to the dead weight of a script credited to THREE Oscar-winning screenwriters. With this much talent behind and in front of the camera, I expected a lot more than a sluggish, bland, hermetic thriller that would more like to get lost in scenery than quicken a pulse. The Tourist feels like it needs a map just to know what it’s doing, and the finished product deserves a one-way ticket to the bargain bin.
Nate’s Grade: C-
This movie is out-of-this-world terrible. Who wouldn’t want to spend an alien invasion stuck in some L.A. condo with a load of insufferable Los Angelinos? From a storytelling standpoint, watching characters I don’t care about talk about amazing and horrible things happening off camera is not the best use of anyone’s time. Skyline is a movie that keeps surprising you with the depths of its stupidity; just when you think it couldn’t plumb any deeper, the aliens have invaded to eat our brains. Yes, they’re after our brains. So that explains why gigantic monsters will claw away at a building, scrounging for the tiniest morsel of human (that still doesn’t explain it, really). That does not explain why they targeted L.A. if they’re after brains. The special effects are notable for a $10 million dollar movie, but due to the budget restraints, that’s probably why most of this alien invasion is spent indoors and behind trusty sets of Venetian blinds. The pacing is as shoddy as the character work. I kept waiting for these nitwits to step into the light and be vacuumed up into the alien mothership. The end almost looks like it might redeem part of this monstrosity, with our survivors accepting a doomed fate together. But then… I can’t even put into words how shocking, dreadful, and groan-inducing the true ending is for this junk. Suffice to say, it ends with zero resolution, a jagged plot left turn, and setup for a sequel that I’m absolutely positive not one person will be demanding.
Nate’s Grade: D
You’ve seen this movie before, and pretty recently too given in the influx of superhero tales in the last decade. Megamind recycles heavily from numerous other super forbears, and yet this animated tale about a tired hero (voiced by Brad Pitt) and his inept nemesis (Will Ferrell). While it’s never as funny as its premise and cast should make it, the movie does pack a lot of fun and even a little bit of heart. The action sequences are inventive enough and the movie has a tone that drifts from sincere to self-conscious satire, while never settling down but doing enough right not to inflame your sense of irritation. The concepts of identity, good and evil, the duality of man, striking a life for your own… they’re all here. It’s a sloppy message that feels copied out of a plot playbook. Ferrell is funny but a bit more restrained than I like him. I think he works best when he cranks up his absurdist tendencies with a jolt of enthusiasm. Megamind doesn’t come close to approaching the magic, thrills, and emotions of How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s still many ways better than stuff like Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale. It’s overly familiar story given a super spit shine.
Nate’s Grade: B
Oh man was this thing just painfully unfunny on all levels. It’s an American remake of a fairly funny French film and it stars Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd, two actors that have to work really hard not to be funny. Well they found a way. Talk about a bunch of schmucks. Every single character is a world-class idiot that behaves in a manner that 1) isn’t remotely relatable and 2) isn’t funny. It’s all yelling and raised eyebrows and exclamation points in place of setups and payoffs. Even worse, it tries to force a horrendously false saccharine feel-good message, a comedic “believe in yourself” sort of moralizing that says, “They aren’t the freaks, we are.” No, you all are freaks. The film confuses situations that are weird, uncomfortable, and just plain unlikely with comedy, which doesn’t work without some careful context and setup. Watching this nonstop leaden buffoonery makes you hang your head and sigh. This makes Three’s Company look like enlightened comedy. The movie also features Jeff Dunham doing his wacky puppets. This cinematic stick in the eye comes across as an obnoxiously unyielding comedy that doesn’t know when to stop, how to start, or what to do in between.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Perhaps better than any movie I’ve ever seen, the searing documentary The Tillman Story explores the nature of shared grief and whether a family is even entitled to privacy when the world feels like it has a shared pain in their loss. This documentary focuses on former NFL star Pat Tillman who enlisted in the Army Rangers in 2002 and was killed in 2004 in the mountains of Afghanistan. He was hailed as a hero of battle, saving his men from enemy ambush, but the truth was really far less sensational but just as damaging. Tillman was killed by friendly fire, a fact the Army admitted only with their backs against the wall. Tillman was their most famous soldier and became a recruiting poster for the post-9/11 armed forces. The doc recounts Tillman’s family struggling to get a straight answer from Army officials and government goons who felt the truth could not compare to a good story. While recreating the events that lead to Tillman’s death in a mostly commanding manner, the doc’s real draw is exploring the idea of a family who has had their private mourning torn away, who are trotted around the nation to events memorializing their son, turning him into whatever symbol best serves personal agendas (conservative pundits are seen in stubborn disbelief when it comes to processing the news that Tillman read Noam Chomsky, thought the Iraq War was illegal, and was going to vote for John Kerry in 2004). What gets lost in all that patriotic maneuvering is a complicated man who didn’t want to become a myth.
Nate’s Grade: B
Truly missing out on seeing Piranha (as its home release now calls it) in 3-D will be one of my life’s greatest disappointments. This boobs-and-blood-soaked ode to 80s exploitation horror has its tongue firmly clenched in cheek. This is a gleeful gorefest that plays many of its absurd elements for laughs while squeezing in gratuitous nudity at every turn. There’s an underwater lesbian synchronized swimming sequence that I’m utterly certain would have been the greatest thing to witness in the third dimension. Regardless, this Jaws rip-off (Richard Dreyfuss even shows up in the opening dressed identically to his character and named “Matt”!) plays like an ironic parody of the genre while still satiating its red meat-hungry target audience of teenage boys. To this point, it succeeds admirably. It is crass beyond belief and delivers exactly what it promises. Watching actors like Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Christopher Lloyd, and Jerry O’Connell ham it up alongside some fairly cheesy special effects critters, you never feel the waft of desperation. The movie ends too abruptly for my tastes, leaving too much open and unresolved for presumable sequels. As my friend Eric Muller said: “We watched a 3D movie in 2D that was really 1D.” While the movie is entirely one-dimensional in scope, that lone dimension is a blast. I know where I’m going to be when the rumored Piranha sequel is released. And this time, I’m seeing the campy carnage in 3D.
Nate’s Grade: B
I won’t pretend these movies are anywhere close to good, but each one has provided some mild, mindless thrills. However, the fourth film in a franchise going nowhere is the first of the series that just says, “To hell with trying to be even remotely real.” This is a living video game, especially the opening sequence where it’s a nonstop barrage of self-conscious visual tricks, hails of bullets, gore, and a general kick in the balls to the laws of physics. I’m not asking for much, but I’d like my mindless violence to be of a quality where it doesn’t feel 100 percent gratuitous and, frankly, boring. If every single scene involves someone doing something fantastic, over-the-top, and absurd, then where can my interest go but down? Director Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the series he begat in 2002. Get ready for more zombies, more weird mutant creatures that will act however they damn well feel like, and more Milla Jovovich confusing toughness with cold stares. The action is ripped purely from a video game with no regards for geography, setup, tension, development, or anything that would matter. It’s just all flashes of violence one after the other. It’s a mostly depressing enterprise. But where do they go from here? The second movie was subtitled “Apocalypse” (little too hasty there), the third “Extinction,” and now this one is subtitled, “Afterlife.” Is the next one going to be, “Reincarnation”? And the certainty of a fifth movie only adds to my depression level.
Nate’s Grade: C-
I have seen hundreds of movies go bad. I’ve seen plenty try and cram a ham-fisted saccharine, entirely phony message about family values or whatever hackneyed lesson needs to be delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Rarely have I seen a movie that tries to cram in EVERY banal family message possible into one exasperated running time. There was one point where I counted three clichéd platitudes in a row. Rarely have I seen a movie fail at comedy so badly, even the generous definition of comedy in family films, a subgenre that haunts all those who crossover into it. Rarely have I seen one single family film try to do so much and succeed so breathtakingly little. The Spy Next Door is that movie. Jackie Chan stars as a retired Chinese super spy who the American government wants to keep contracting. He’s also dating his neighbor (Amber Valetta) who has three rambunctious kids that fall into easy slots (surly teenager smarting from parent’s divorce, dweeby tech kid trying to learn to stand up to bullies, precocious little tyke who makes a mess). Chan agrees to watch over them for a weekend to convince those kids they should give him a shot, or else it’s splitsville between he and the mom. It’s the Vin Diesel Pacifier movie but done with even less finesse, if possible. The comedy is nonexistent, which is saying something for being as broad as it is, the physical action shows how badly Chan is aging, and the plot is painfully predictable. This is just a sad, uncomfortable viewing experience; it reeks of desperation and despondency. No one looks to be enjoying themselves for a single second. That’s probably because The Spy Next Door is a vacuum of fun; it’s lazy, incompetent, but worst of all, devoid of any effort to be something other than a mind-numbing, head-scratching waste of 90 minutes.
Nate’s Grade: D-
This lushly animated tale about good owls, and bad owls, but mostly owls feels indebted to Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIHM. There’s a legendary story about the guardians who would save the… remaining owls? The plot doesn’t ever really leap beyond the basic fantasy concepts of good and evil, heroic and manipulative. It’s hard for the tale’s drama to reach grandiose heights because, well, it’s owls. Not anthropomorphic owls, pretty much plain old owls. Some characters were just hard to distinguish between. I can firmly say that some things work better on page than screen, and descriptions of grand owl societies and owl-on-owl combat are definitely items that, when fully realized in such a literal fashion, just come across as goofy. Being directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), the movie looks gorgeously rendered but fails to leave any emotional mark for anybody who has ever seen a scrappy band of misfits topple the mean bad guys. The action follows the Snyder fast-slow-fast visual motif, which allows the audience opportunities to drink in the visual effects work. The mostly Australian vocal cast, plus Helen Mirren, provides some levels of amusement, but it’s the story that ultimately disappoints. Legends of the Guardians looks fantastic, but it’s story is far from legendary. And they needed to have a pop song by Owl City because the man has “owl” in his name, apparently.
Nate’s Grade: C+
Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker behind Enron and Taxi to the Dark Side, rolls out his third 2010 entry in what must have been a rather exhausting year for the man. The focus is on former New York attorney general and governor Eliot Spitzer and his fall from grace after being linked to a high-end prostitution ring. Gibney charts the man’s rise and fall in a fairly straightforward and engaging manner, though you start to wonder if there’s really enough material to fill out a two-hour feature. Spitzer speaks candidly and will not humbly vanish as some may wish; the man is an intriguing mixture of righteousness, ego, and humility. What’s most fascinating about Client 9 (named after Spitzer’s name in the FBI sting) is that Spitzer gained a wealth of enemies when he went after Wall Street largesse and greedy shenanigans, and they all want to be on camera. No one with a serious grudge against Spitzer, including men who have since been convicted of crimes and ethics violations, refuses an interview. Gibney draws together a fairly convincing thesis on the take-down of Spitzer, a cabal of powerful execs, politically motivated prosecutors in the Bush administration, and government officials who reject accountability. It’s all circumstantial evidence, to be sure, but there’s a mountain of it. There is a definite conservative-backed coordinated effort to sully and embarrass the man. But ultimately, Spitzer admits that he is responsible for his sins. You will never get full satisfying clarity as to why he sought out the comfort of prostitutes in the first place. I don’t think even Spitzer knows for sure. But that’s an age-old mystery that can’t be tied up in two hours.
Nate’s Grade: B