The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Archive for the ‘DVD Reviews’ Category

Hermit Cinema: Iron Man 2

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The first Iron Man laid down all the groundwork for a successful franchise. Director John Favreau and most of the cast return which gave me hope. I’m sorry to say that Iron Man 2 blew that all to hell.

Robert Downey Jr. perfected Tony Stark as an arrogant yet charming playboy. In the sequel, he really only comes across as arrogant. Pepper Potts (Gwynneth Paltrow) plays less of a role here so that Scarlett Johanssen can run around in a skin-tight suit. Don Cheadle replaces Terrance Howard in the military pal role. Mickey Rourke is introduced as a new villain in a plot so thin, if you put it in some olive oil it would liquify in the pan å la Goodfellas.

This movie was such a disappointment it really doesn’t deserve any more of a writeup. It is watchable. But little else. Take a pass unless you’re bored.

I give this movie a D-plus.




Written by the bee dub

November 3, 2010 at 10:24 am

Hermit Cinema: The Informant!

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This Steven Soderbergh film is a hard one to wrap your head around. Comedy? Yes. Period piece? Check. Docu-drama? Yep. Given how odd the created reality is in this movie, it wouldn’t have felt all that surprising if the characters had broken into song and dance.

The last movie I reviewed suffered by not building adequate empathy for its lead character. Here you don’t have much empathy, either. But you’re just so perplexed by the motivations of lead character Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) that you can’t help but keep watching with the faint hope of finding some clue that sheds the outer layer of his onion revealing only the true core.

Allegedly based on real events, it’s the early 1990’s and Whitacre is an up-and-comer at Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM. His impressive rise up the ADM ladder and the scattered thoughts that fuel his consciousness make for a strange juxtaposition.

When one of his projects hits a snag, he invents a lie that becomes the precursor to thousands more. The more he lies the deeper hole he digs for himself and he keeps digging, seemingly intent on coming out clean on the other side. At first it seems he lies to better his prospects at the company but the lying, cheating and attention given to him by Special Agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) of the FBI become an addiction. Whitacre feeds Shepard tales of corporate price fixing and payoffs. Shepard thinks he’s onto a major, major case.

Whitacre seems to believe many of the lies he comes up with, a fact that underscores his lack of grasp on any firm reality. Soon rules and morality become so bendable to Whitacre that he become unable to realize how devious his words and actions have become. He is doing the right thing. He’s the good guy. And he keeps repeating as much probably in an attempt to convince himself as much as anything else.

There’s no real point in going into the plot here because this movie is as much about how it’s done as it is about what happens. The period details are pitch perfect and the film is desaturated to give it that very sterile video-look of the time. Damon gives a committed performance; his rambling inner monologue is perhaps the most entertaining and illuminating part of the movie.

I honestly don’t know whether to recommend this movie or to suggest taking a pass. This is one of those movies that is going to hit every single person in a different way. It is entertaining. It is funny. But sitting through the whole film is like being trapped in a humorous yet awkward conversation for a couple of hours. There’s a strange discomfort that permeates from the beginning; by design, I would guess, and probably the intended result. The filmmakers play it straight the whole way through. Damon too. See what you think.

I give this movie a pretty confused B-plus.

Written by the bee dub

October 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

Hermit Cinema: The Spanish Prisoner

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After watching the surprisingly good Spartan, I added David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner to my Netflix queue. I had read in more than a few places that it was a film with some good, unpredictable plot twists.

Now the problem with con movies is that while you watch, it’s nearly impossible not to be on constant lookout for the next crazy twist to reveal itself. Perhaps this movie suffered too much from that fate for me? Or maybe the film doesn’t fit together as perfectly as one might hope? Ultimately, I would argue that this movies suffers from one of the most common movie drawbacks: an inability to build adequate empathy for its lead character.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is a contract employee and creator of ‘The Process’ – a proprietary invention that can be used to make a fortune. He is in the Caribbean with friend/coworker George Lang (Ricky Jay – the human acting equivalent to the cartoon character Droopy Dog) and new coworker Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon). It’s a big meeting where he’s pitching the use of ‘The Process’ to the head of the company, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazarra), and other members of the company’s board.

More than anything he wants to make sure he makes out well financially because his work is going to make the company boatloads of money. Much to Joe’s distress, every time he tries to bring up with subject with Mr. Klein he is brushed off with vague promises that everything will be made right in the end. He begins airing his concerns to Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a wealthy American on vacation with whom he strikes up a quick friendship. Jimmy comes across as serious, successful, connected and charming. (Big, red flag, anyone?)

Everyone returns back to New York and once there, Joe gets more and more worried that he’s going to get screwed out of any big payday. Jimmy offers to help arrange a meeting with a lawyer to gain some leverage. Susan begins flirting with Joe shamelessly, seeing that he is heading for much bigger things.

Of course, this is a con movie so nothing is what it seems. Soon Joe enlists the help of FBI agent Pat McCune (Felicity Huffman) because he realizes he cannot trust anybody. Joe is played time and time again, eventually ending up on the lam for crimes he did not commit.

The truth is revealed, of course. Joe learns who everyone really is. But by that point, I just didn’t care enough about him to worry that much. Joe’s character never gets fully developed, only played. That’s surprising to me in a Mamet movie.

This isn’t a terrible movie or anything. It was a bit long and ponderous for me and in the end, just didn’t feel all that remarkable. My high expectations may have doomed this movie but personally, I would guess that most of you would find it a tad underwhelming as well. This is a movie that just doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

I give The Spanish Prisoner a disappointed C-plus.

Written by the bee dub

October 13, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Hermit Cinema: Let The Right One In

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A couple of people I know kept bugging me to watch this movie and they were very much in the right to do so. I’m not much of a horror movie fan and to be honest, once I heard it was about a vampire I could think of nothing but the vampire overload that is jamming much of our pop culture.

The long and short of this movie is this is one very interesting movie. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, this Swedish movie is well worth the effort required by its subtitles. Oskar is a lonely, bullied boy who dreams of exacting a violent, humiliating revenge on his tormenters. He ends up befriending Eli, a girl who moves into the apartment next door. Initially, she tells Oskar they cannot be friends but eventually, they form a growing bond. Eventually, Eli encourages Oskar to stand up to his bully tormentors and to take them on.

Oskar notices some strange things about Eli but  doesn’t suspect the truth: she is a vampire. Eli lives with an older man who tries to kill victims and bring their blood back to Eli. He is, however, not a very successful serial killer so Eli is sometimes on her own to take care of her needs. Lacke is a local townie who swears to get the vampire himself, after his good friend Jocke is killed and his girlfriend, Virginia, is attacked but survives. Virginia is not left unscarred however. She becomes painfully aware that she has now become a vampire herself.

Meanwhile, Oskar makes a bold and somewhat anticlimactic stand against his main tormentor and he and Eli form a deeper and deeper bond. On the way, Oskar begins to realize that Eli isn’t what he first thought.

This movie is very well done. What really stands out is the note-perfect way it captures the loneliness and uncertainty of adolescence. The awkward beginnings and development of their relationship, the dynamic of the bullies with Oskar and each other, all of it feels so real. Seeing both Oskar and Eli struggle through it – one a weak, lonely outsider while the other has strength and powers yet is trapped in adolescence for perpetuity – gives their relationship a really unique and intriguing dynamic.

The deft use of gore and effects gives you just the desired result, no more. Nothing is done for shock value but rather for the best interests of the movie and the characters’ relationships. (I’d imagine that won’t be true for the recent release fo the American version of this film, Let Me In.) What you don’t see is used just as powerfully as what you do.

Overall, this is a strong choice for a movie that entertains while also defying any familiar categorization. It’s not a perfect film, mind you. Frankly, I found it to be fairly predictable. But just because you know where your car ride is going to end, doesn’t mean the trip can’t be a unique and enjoyable experience.

I give this movie a strongly recommended A-minus.

Written by the bee dub

October 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Hermit Cinema: Avatar

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I had strong doubts about this movie from all the hype I heard about it. I’m not one to think more highly of a movie on sheer technological advancement alone. (A lot of people apparently are, however. Just don’t count me among that group.) James Cameron is a movie maker with an impressive record of pushing the boundaries and capabilities of filmmaking technology on a very grand scale. When married with an original or interesting story, this is a potent combination. Avatar is not one of those cases I’m sorry to say.

Being the hermit that I am, I did not see this in 3D in a theater. But when watching, it became obvious that 3D would have added a lot of visual depth. But I’m glad I didn’t see it that way. For one, it cost more. Secondly, that’s a layer of glossy wow factor that really works very, very hard to overcompensate for the complete lack of original story or any character development.

I watched this with my brother and I kept looking at him and jokingly saying, “Tatonka,” because this movie is as close to a clone of Dances With Wolves that you can get by simply dropping it into another setting. Many have argued to me that Dances With Wolves wasn’t the most original story either. That may be true but at least that movie felt as if it’s following its own path. In Avatar, just about every character is a stereotype you’ve seen before elsewhere.

There’s Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who is recruited to remotely control an avatar made from a combination of alien and his brother’s DNA. Jake is sent to find out more about the Na’vi, the native people of Pandora. If he does, he’ll get his spine repaired so he can walk again.

The Na’vi are a noble people who value, respect and live in harmony with nature. Surprise! He begins empathizing more with them than his fellow humans. The evil Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) wants to kill all the Na’vi for any given reason. The sinister Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), that’s right he’s named Selfridge in a not-so-subtle attempt at symbolism, is a corporate type who will stop at nothing to mine and collect a very valuable mineral. Joel Moore, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana also have starring roles and frankly, I don’t have the desire or energy to tell you more about their characters.

Why? Because this movie’s script was that laughable. Jake infiltrates the Na’vi. Jake falls for Na’vi girl. Girl discovers Jake’s true identity. Jake must then win back the girl’s and the Na’vis’ trust so he can save them. Mind you, it takes nearly three hours to get through this very predictable premise.

Are you still reading? Then I’d like to remind you of the Hollywood myth that tells of Cameron having written this script years ago and waiting until technology would be able to do it justice. He should have spent that waiting time coming up with many revisions or something else altogether.

This movie was visually stunning. Does that make it a good movie? Not in my book. The fact that many people feel it should have won a Best Picture Academy Award undermines my faith in those who utter the thought.

I give this movie an overhyped, overrated C. It’s eye candy, nothing more.

Written by the bee dub

August 31, 2010 at 11:56 am

Hermit Cinema: District 9

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Racism. Violence. Corporate power and influence. This well-executed movie tackles a lot of heady themes and comes pretty darn close to pulling it all off. Produced by Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, and directed by Neill Blomkamp, it begins in non-linear fashion; past, present and future are seen in a mixture of interviews, security camera footage and news reports. This is an ingenious way to give background on a premise not unfamiliar to most – aliens are here on planet Earth.

The backstory goes like this. An alien spacecraft arrives over Johannesburg, South Africa. It sits idle for months giving no indication what is going on within. Eventually, people cut their way into the spacecraft and find a million starving insect-like aliens. The aliens are given refuge in an area called District 9, which is heavily barricaded and guarded. Decades later, District 9 has disintegrated into something like a slum, drawing the ire of their human neighbors who derisively refer to the aliens as ‘prawns.’ Despite the low opinion most hold about them, the aliens have their own advanced technology and weapons that only works for beings with alien DNA.

Eventually, the South African government enlists Multinational United, or MNU, to relocate all the aliens to a new settlement – District 10 – farther outside the city. Our main character Wikus van der Merwe, a bumbling mid-level executive, is appointed to head up the relocation effort. Accompanied by heavily armed security-types, Wikus goes about serving eviction notices throughout District 9. During one eviction he discovers a mysterious metal cylinder which sprays a black mist into his face. The cylinder is then confiscated by MNU.

He later becomes ill, vomiting, bleeding black liquid from his nose and losing fingernails. An alien named Christopher has been collecting and distilling a mysterious liquid from alien technology parts over the past twenty years and has put it all into that cylinder. That cylinder is the key to the aliens being able to escape and return to their home planet.

Wikus isn’t merely ill. The liquid seems to have begun transforming Wikus into an alien. That makes him a very valuable commodity, especially to the diabolical types at MNU, as they hope it can open the doors to the use of the very advanced alien weaponry.

From here, we follow Wikus try to elude MNU, befriend Christopher and return himself to fully human form. This movie is well conceived and executed. I was especially impressed with the aliens themselves. The way they look, move and communicate is done in a way that never undermines their credibility as an alien life form. That’s hard to pull off.

Unfortunately, this movie suffers from one very major and nearly fatal flaw. Wikus’ character is just stupid enough to make him entirely unsympathetic. It saddles the whole movie with a layer of frustration that cannot be overcome. That’s a shame. Otherwise, this is a fine and enjoyable movie. It’s worth watching but never lives up to its obvious potential.

To me, that makes it a somewhat disappointing B-minus.

Written by the bee dub

August 19, 2010 at 11:27 am

Hermit Cinema: Green Zone

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I’ve become a big fan of Paul Greengrass. In my mind, he is a master manipulator of movie tension. I’ve come to this conclusion based on three films; the latter two Bourne franchise installments and Bloody Sunday. The two Bourne movies he helmed were both quite good, with a constant flow of action that kept the viewer engaged and on the edge of their seat. Bloody Sunday was more like a very large pot of water slowly, but inevitably, coming to a roiling boil.

Now comes Green Zone and the now familiar pairing with Matt Damon. This movie was proof of Greengrass’ mastery behind the camera as he makes much more of a movie than the material deserved. It sort of felt like Jason Bourne had detoured into Iraq. Damon doesn’t play much of a different character at all, nor does the script ask him to.

This is one of those fact-based exposé kind of films. Here we explore the nature of the WMD claim that was the basis for going to war with Iraq. A couple of characters seem to have real life counterparts. Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is a Paul Bremer/head of the Coalition Authority character who is the film’s ‘villain.’ Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) seems a clone for Judith Miller, the disgraced New York Times reporter, as she seems to take whatever Poundstone tells her as fact only to realize she may be losing credibility as a result. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) heads a squad of WMD hunters and becomes frustrated and suspicious of the faulty intel they are getting about supposed WMD sites.

He meets CIA man Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who confirms the lack of real intel behind Miller’s assignments and also warns him of the factionalized nature of the U.S. presence, ending Miller’s belief that they were all on the same team. General Al Rawi (Yigal Noar) is an ex-Iraqi General who may be connected to a highly classified intelligence source codenamed Magellan who has been feeding Poundstone information that confirms the presence of WMDs in Iraq.

As Miller tries to get to the bottom of this mess, he comes across a cooperative Iraqi he called Freddie (Khalid Abdalla) who agrees to help Miller and act as his interpreter. Meanwhile, Miller finds himself butting heads with Special Forces Operative Major Briggs (Jason Isaacs) who follows direct orders from Poundstone.

Miller tries getting to the bottom of it all and ends up getting in way, way over his head. This movie is predictable and most of the characters never really develop beyond typical stereotype. Yet Greengrass keeps the action coming in an enjoyable way which never overcomes the movie’s faults, but does make the movie watchable.

This is probably a below average movie that is directed with enough skill to add several layers of popcorn-flavored glossy coating. That shiny veneer is enough to keep me interested in anything else Greengrass is involved in, but not enough to give this movie anything more than a C-plus.

Written by the bee dub

August 11, 2010 at 10:10 am

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