Sex and the City (film)

As a fan of the TV series, all I can say is that the film is bitter sweet. I was seriously disappointed in the first half of the film and actually stopped watching it to go to sleep, it didn’t feel worth staying up beyond late for. The movie picks up during the high drama point where the girls rally around Carrie in the time of her crisis. That was when the movie was the most emotional and poignant.


Watching the trailers I was annoyed by Jennifer Hudson getting a supporting role as Carrie’s assistant because it just seemed like a blatant power play to bring in “hot” talent to spice the movie up. The sad reality is Jennifer really spiced up the second half of the film with her presence, she brought fire to the performance that was oddly reminiscent of how I remember the original series when the girls were more vibrant and outgoing.


You could argue that the film was true to form in following the characters evolution but the 4 years following the show’s finale, unfortunately nothing’s changed. I felt like the entire film was trapped between the spirit of the original series and the reality that the characters were all settled down and approaching a more settled stage of their lives. The problem with the whole set up that made the series finale so brilliant was that the girls had shed their original hangups and inhibitions to approach a new stage in their lives. In sacrificing what made the TV series so attractive, they made a picture perfect ending. However, all that has to be undone when they try to pick up the ball with a big screen movie.


I’m sure age was a limiting factor for the cast, they can’t exactly move back into a prequel when the main cast looks visible older. They can’t pretend the TV finale didn’t happen. I just felt that in staying true to the plot’s continuity from the TV show, they sacrificed the spirit of what made Sex and the City what it was. It would have been much better if they trashed most of the elements that made the finale so gorgeous and shook it up a bit or introduced something more challenging.


Instead of a sequel, I wouldn’t mind seeing a reboot of the franchise starting with a new cast of girls, I think Jennifer Hudson’s part showed a lot of potential as the original concept of SATC is still strong and relative today because it’s about relationships before they find “the one”.


Sex and the City (film)

Wanted (the film)

Wanted is about an anxiety-ridden failure of an accountant, the every man Wesley Gibson played by James McAvoy, with his life completely out of control stuck in a dead end job and an unfulfilling relationship.  McAvoy does a great job portraying a highly wound up flunky.  His life suddenly takes a turn for the dramatic when he is initiated into a secret society of assassins carrying out pre-emptive hits to rid the world of evil.  It is a society his father was once a part of and the anxiety attacks are actually the side effects of high adrenaline which allows him to see fast moving objects in slow motion.

It has all the elements of a formula movie but McAvoy puts in quite an edgy and convincing performance and Angelina does a great job playing Angelina.  The thing that shocked me is how aged Angelina Jolie looked with her sunken cheeks and hallowed eyes.  Maybe it’s post-birth malnutrition or something but she needs to do something about that.  I think Brad Pitt and Angelina look a lot older since they’ve gotten together.  I tend to think of Mr. and Mrs. Smith as their prime (at least looking good as a couple).

The action sequences are nothing innovative, the typical slow motion close ups of bullets flying through the air and cars dancing in the sky as the usual mayhem unfolds.  The plot twist near the end was interesting.  All in all an entertainment flick.

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder is Ben Stiller comedy written and directed by the man about a bunch of hot shot Hollywood stars shooting a Vietnam War.  Everything that can go wrong does and the demanding financier of the movie (played by Tom Cruise) forces the actors to shoot the film in the live with handheld cameras and hidden cameras placed in the jungle.  What the actors think is an elaborate staging goes awry when they mistakenly end up in drug lord territory, realizing the stakes are real after it’s almost too late.

It was a typical comedy of the sort, a mix of a war film satire and a buddy film.  The actors really shine in unexpected places, especially their ability to act like they’re acting badly as third-rate actors.  I was also more than amused by Tom Cruise’s amazing portrayal as a scum-bag billionaire film financier.  The crunk dance he does at the end is priceless.

Hancock

Hancock is one of the more unconventional super hero movies among the slew of “unconventional” super hero movies of the year and we certainly had many.  One thing that distinguishes it from others is the focus on individual psychology and the unique cinematography.  It’s also a rare movie in that it’s not based on a comic book hero with a rich mythology spanning decades like most other movies.  This is both an asset and liability.

The movie’s hero is Hancock, a virtually homeless and alcoholic super hero, with an attitude and anger management problem hated no matter what heroic deed he does.  Will Smith’s acting shows all kinds of dimensions of hurt, insolence, vulnerability, and finally courage.  Just as public outrage at Hancock’s antics reaches its peak he happens to save a struggling PR man, pitching an unrealistic “All Heart” donation program to big corporations, from getting hit by a train.

Jason Bateman really shines as a smooth-talking PR guy who can pitch trash to the homeless.  He does such a convincing job you have a hard time believing he is really an actor.

Hancock is drawn to Bateman’s family, both his hot wife played by Charlize Theron and their guileless son (the only kid who takes a genuine liking to Hancock).

Then the plot takes a really weird turn and the movie never quite comes back but the ending redeems the entire movie and I found it quite touching.  When you have the kind of talent shown by Smith, Theron, and Bateman you can carry any film as long as the script is decent or leaves good room for interpretation by the actors.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

I simply can’t get enough of Adam Sandler regardless of the film’s quality. I’m not sure what it is, even in a film’s most unfunny or even gross out moments, there’s just something about Adam Sandler that makes me smile. You get this feeling of genuine warmth that radiates from his eyes.


I honestly wasn’t expecting much more than a cheap laugh from the latest installment, “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” about Israeli’s most decorated counter-terrorist agent and Mariah Carey’s biggest fan, who secretly longs to be a hairdresser. The man’s ridiculous human strength and agility make him an irreplaceable asset to the Israelis. I just couldn’t get enough of the trailers where he was swimming and catching up to a jet ski or surfing on the roof of live road traffic.


Zohan finally gives in to his greatest desire by faking his death and coming to New York, posing as a mixed-race man of Tibetan and Australian heritage despite his thick Jewish accent, calling himself Scrappy Coco and donning a new haircut. Despite being the most decorated counter-terrorist he faces considerable obstacles becoming a hairdresser due to his lack of experience. Suddenly, Israel’s greatest secret weapon is fighting the demons of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.


In the end he finally gets a break, despite all resistance, sweeping floors at a hair salon on the Palestinian side of town. When devious landlords start crowding out tenants and the hair salon starts losing key employees, Scrappy finally gets his big break to finally make the world “silky smooth”. He quickly becomes the favorite of old ladies as he gives them great haircuts and free sex, causing business to boom for the first time in the hair salon’s history.


Of course, such happiness can last so long as Zohan’s enemies from his military days catch up to his new life and Zohan develops erectile dysfunction as he falls in love with Dahlia, the very hot Palestinian owner of his hair salon.


I really liked the film because it was mindless entertainment from finish to start while taking serious stabs at Middle Eastern stereotypes and Israeli-Arab relations. While some people find Zohan’s “servicing” of older women offensive I thought it was Adam Sandler’s own twisted expression of the right of older women to be treated and thought of as women and not the remnants thereof. It may not be Sandler’s best film but I’d say it’s far from worse.


You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

Dark Knight Versus the Iron Man

I just happened to watch two great super hero movies not too far apart. Rather than review them separately, I’m going to mix and match. Unlike my other reviews, I’ll be talking about the plot more in depth.


SPOILER ALERT


Dark Knight was being constantly hyped, first with catchy viral campaigns and then tragically through the death of Heath Ledger it went ultimate viral. There was so much anticipation building up around the film that anything less than a masterpiece would have buckled and collapsed under the weight. Instead, it shined beyond those expectations. Iron Man on the other hand was the super hero film written off before it got off the ground. Robert Downey Jr., recovering addict, a super hero? Get out of here! Do you possibly think he could pass as anything remotely macho? Yet, Iron Man somehow managed to become a surprise hit that put Robert Downey Jr. back on the map as a bankable blockbuster star for the first time in his career. It probably didn’t hurt that he’d been doing intensive martial arts training for the past 5 years as he kicked his habit.


Dark Knight


The film picks up where the previous left off. Batman is in full effect, doing bat things to bad guys. Being a bad guy is getting tougher and tougher to the point where they’re about to go out of business now that Batman has succeeded in capturing the criminal syndicate’s chief accountant and the Joker has robbed them of one of their major deposits. On the legal front Harvey Dent, the new district attorney, is emerging as the White Knight of Gotham City to rescue it from crime. For the first time in years the people of Gotham are finally beginning to have hope. Yet, the Joker arrives to bring chaos to all that he touches.


While the Joker’s portrayal is eerie, Bruce Wayne’s inner conflict with enforcing justice and doing justice (as his means become more questionable), more or less consist of Christian Bale sitting exhausted on a couch still partially in a bat suit on a posh business floor with nice full length glass windows all around. Hope nobody sees you.


The irony of the Dark Knight’s brilliance as a film is the fact that the so-called titular character is reduced to a supporting act. Not only is the Joker’s portrayal of a criminal so deeply disturbed that he is oblivious to his own madness yet finely attuned to the fear and drives of those he seeks to terrorize, but Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent, a District Attorney glowing with hope and idealism and love for Rachel Dawes, is heart-breaking and compelling as his spirit is gradually broken by the Joker’s force of chaos. Eckhart does an amazing job of portraying a man burning with idealism, gradually being overwhelmed by the task at hand and finally snaps when he is robbed of his most precious love and severely burned in an attempted double murder. You can actually feel the moment he snaps and see the pain and hurt in his eyes as the part of him that was once good is now overcome with evil.


Iron Man


Iron Man is the story of an accidental hero. Tony Stark is living the wild life as a brilliant weapons scientist and billionaire weapons manufacturer. A boy wonder who inherits his kingdom from a pioneering Manhattan Project scientist-turned entrepreneur. Tony continues living a storied life until he is seized by terrorists after a weapons demonstration in Afghanistan, mortally wounded by the very weapons that he helped create. He wakes up to captivity and a electro-magnetic device strapped to his chest, keeping residual shrapnel from tearing his heart apart. He is forced by the terrorists to recreate his greatest weapon in a terrorist enclave. Instead, he builds the ultimate armored suit and escapes with his life. On his return, he renounces his past and embarks on finishing his iron suit only to be caught in a web of betrayal.


Iron Man is more or less your typical super hero movie. Robert Downey Jr. does a brilliant job as an aloof billionaire, brilliant but selfish to a fault. Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Potts, his beautiful yet reserved and faithful assistant. The thing I liked about Iron Man is how they handle all the themes of death and betrayal with a certain lightness. The film is casual and laid back for the most part but for the crucial scenes these brilliant actors show us what they’re made of. One minute, Tony Stark is sipping whiskey in a humvee cruising in the Afghan desert and the next moment he is bidding a final farewell to the man who saved his life with pain in his eyes. Tony Stark is a hero but his approach is methodical and an exercise in intellectual curiosity as he continues perfecting his iron suit.


I also liked the restrained love story between Tony and Pepper. They strongly feel for each other but the match is not even consummated with a kiss.


Different Approaches


The biggest difference in Iron Man and Dark Knight is that Iron Man takes a classic comic book approach while the Dark Knight is a graphic novel brought to screen. Comic books are uplifting and straight forward in their portrayal of good and the hero’s struggle as he grows into a role thrust upon him by destiny. In graphic novels there are no clear boundaries, just vague borders, that the reader is forced to confront with their own perspective. I liked both movies but the Dark Knight was filled to the brim with brilliant actors and some really deep themes that it could have easily been two very good movies and that’s probably what made Bruce Wayne and his Batman nothing more than a backdrop against which Heath Ledger’s Joker and Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face steal the show. Iron Man was in retrospect sparse and light, yet on point where it mattered. The actors were minimalist in their approach but that made the film all the more approachable and believable.


Heath Ledger


Many are hailing Heath Ledger’s performance and I whole-heartedly agree. Yet at the same time it’s hard to really appreciate the performance because I still can’t see it as a performance. It’s as if they really found such a lunatic and made a reality show around him. There isn’t a single moment that I can even faintly discern the actor behind the character. The Joker masks his evil lunacy in the facade of humor. While we all mourn the loss of Heath, it would have been really difficult for him to surpass this achievement were he to survive.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (film)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was like a bad trip. You really don’t get much in terms of a coherent plot it’s just the progression of a drug trip set on a timeline. The first thing that strikes me is Benicio del Toro’s beer belly in the opening scene, rubbing his tummy lovingly as he chugs beer along with a mix of illicit drugs. Johnny Depp is Raul Duke, a fictionalized version of Hunter S Thompson (the writer of the novel which it is based upon), and Benicio is the “Samoan” lawyer who is really Mexican so far as anyone can tell.


Benicio does a fabulous job playing the hardcore druggie lawyer, a part he extensively researched and even gained 19 pounds for before filming. Menacing and unstable from drug-induced paranoia, the lawyer stumbles from trouble to trouble, wielding a jackknife whenever confronted with harsh reality. He has a couple choice scenes mixed with rage, fear, and uncertainty.


Depp mimics Hunter S Thompson quite well but the Depp’s narrative, based on passages from the book, is what really shines aside from Benicio’s acting. I suppose the best thing about the movie is that it made me want to read the novel because I know it would be better.

Something About The Game

The Game is a rapper that most people would easily want to write off. He was supposed to be a one hit wonder after Dr. Dre gave him the remaining best beats of his “In Da Club” era and an alliance with 50 “fiddy” Cent got the half-dollar marketing machine in full effect (50 makes up for lack of rap talent with his marketing skills). The Game’s flow is measured and bit too forced, not to mention the incessant name-dropping. Yet he’s ended up putting out three consistent albums of quality even after Dr. Dre washed his hands of him after feuding with G-Unit.
G-Unit tends to kick out anyone with talent be it Young Buck, Olivia, or The Game so I guess he’s alright. The thing I find myself liking about The Game’s lyrics is that even with all the name-dropping, gangsta cliches, and stuntin’ his voice resonates with a strange authenticity and even pain. His borderline creepy obsession with Dr. Dre as a man still seeking a father figure to his posturing feel like it’s real. His uneven flow kind of adds to that, like he’s really wringing thoughts out of his heart to put against a beat. There’s also a tinge of humor to his lyrics.
Either way, all three albums managed to be pretty good (completely avoiding the sophomore jinx) even as 50 and co. continue their nose dive. Good thing 50’s got cash from the Vitamin Water deal.

The Game (rapper)

Ghost Rider

The only ghost in the Ghost Rider film is the ghost of the comic it was based upon.  I actually like the story leading in from Matt Long playing the young Johnny Blaze and Brett Cullen as the father.  Raquel Alessi made it work since she actually did look like a younger version of Eva Mendes.  Young Johnn Blaze is a small-time stuntman working the carnival circus with his father.  He sells his soul to the devil to save his father from terminal cancer only to lose him to a stunt accident.  As part of the deal he must collect on the devil’s deeds as the ghost rider.

 

I really liked the story setup and had some high expectations.  It was priceless.  A young, handsome, and headstrong stuntman dreaming of bigger things.  A girl he loved but disapproved by her father.  She tells him that she’s moving out of town because her father doesn’t want her near Johnny Blaze.  “We’ll leave tomorrow.  Meet me by the tree.  We’ll just keep riding.”  When the devil’s deal is sealed and the father gets his health back Johnny bids farewell.  In the final moment, the father throws him the keys to his prized chopper, “take grace”.

That sums up the precise point where I should have stopped watching this film.  Nicholas Cage is one of those great actors who are good at playing themselves.  You pretty much have to write a good screenplay around the dude to get a decent movie.  He always plays a clumsy, hapless goof or some dude just a bit off kilter.  It worked in Next because his oddball tendencies fit in with premise of a guy who can only see 60 seconds into the future for endless simulations.  With Ghost Rider he decided to go for the “goofball who morphs into a demonic rider at night”.

The film would have been a lot more better for me if Johnny Blaze was played a bit darker, a haunted man.  Instead of the usual hard-drinking, chain-smoking bad ass in the original comics they opted for a jelly bean-eating, cartoon-watching goof who’s trying to constantly escape reality.

Yeah, so faced with the grim reality of having sold his soul, he ditches the girl who’s waiting for him under the tree only to be reunited with her as a daredevil superstar and star reporter.  Amazingly, even after decades, they still have the hots for each other like when they were teens.  Right.

Fight Club

Fight Club is a story that resonates to the working stiff trapped in corporate America. Edward Norton is a nameless dweeb working for a big car manufacturer settling car malfunction claims, plugging in the numbers to decide whether it warrants recall or individual settlements. On his travels he meets the mysterious Tyler Durton played by Brad Pitt. The chance meeting turns into a dysfunctional, parasitic relationship when Norton is stranded after his flat is burned down by a gas explosion. After drinks Tyler tells Norton to “hit me” before he gives him a place to stay. They fight each other in the bar’s parking lot more or less as a sport which blossoms into an underground fight club, meeting every week in sweaty bar basements.



Ed’s life slowly becomes worth more living even as Tyler and his whimsical leadership continues to tear Ed apart inside with his sexual escapades and taking the fight club in a wildly different direction to subvert society and corporate America.



I was surprised that this film was more of a sleeper that really took off on DVD. I tend to equate the film with Brad Pitt’s breakthrough into stardom. The beauty of this film is all the contradictions it melds into a compelling brew. It’s a dark comedy balanced by Brad Pitt’s flamboyant charisma and Edward Norton’s nerdy appeal. Tyler is the man he wants to be but can’t. Staying with Tyler is the only way he can come close to being what he can’t be. Yet it tears him apart inside because even though Tyler pushes him beyond his own limits he can never be Tyler.



Tyler’s schemes get more grandiose and dangerous as the fight club coalesces into a revolutionary society with cells all across America. In an effort to stop Tyler, Ed discovers the most disturbing truth.



I really liked this movie. It’s worth it for simply seeing Brad Pitt in his physical and charismatic prime at the right moment before real stardom.


Fight Club