Monday, March 31, 2008

Blades of Glory

There's little to be said about Blades of Glory that hasn't been said. Except...

There are so many ridiculous scenes, things that would NEVER be seen in the noble sport of ice skating! I mean, Jim Lampley as an announcer? He couldn't lift Brian Boitano's jockstrap. "These guys put the bone in Zamboni!" I mean...please!

It's so sad to see Nancy Kerrigan, well, anywhere. I think this movie dragged out every single female skater that's ever been in the sport. Poor Peggy Fleming must've needed the paycheck. Thank God we were spared Tonya Harding.

Will Ferrell is not a skater. However, Jon Heder is a natural. Natural blond, I'm not sure, but beautiful. Graceful. I totally believe him as the figure skater who was dumped by his father because he didn't score the gold, and slid into helping kids try on skating shoes in a shoestore. He's a thing of beauty, pure as the

One thing that makes this movie work is the restraint of Will Ferrell. Sure, he's manic and crazy in the lead role of a sex addict/ice skater whose manner makes MSNBC's Jim Cramer look like an introvert. But he's not in the entire movie, thank goodness, and keeping to his own quadrant allows the other actors to do their thing, do their one-liners, and shine.

Blades of Glory has a story, albeit a small one. And there are enough jokes to fill in the empty space. One of them has to be the "woman" in a male-male Skating Pairs competition, a pairing, it seems, not against the rules. Sounds like a hackneyed trick, but it really works here....and macho Will Ferrell gets to throw Jon Heder's lightweight frame across the room. It just sets up so many jokes, it's amazing.

Jon Heder for President! Or perhaps First Lady. I'm not sure.

Thumb's up.

White Noise 2: The Light

I watched this film for its two actors: Nathan Fillion (from Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity projects) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica and The Bionic Woman). As it turned out, these two actors suffuse their characters with human emotion and charisma, enough to lift this movie from the usual and common "shock and awe" material.

Abe Dale's family is mysteriously murdered in front of him by a man in a diner. Abe (Nathan Fillion) attempts to take his own life, and, before the doctors pull him back, experiences the white light in his near-death experience. After this moment, he finds that he can identify who will die in the near future.

Thankfully, the plot doesn't end there. There's much more to it, and the visual effects amplify Abe's quest -- and fear -- greatly. There are a lot of things in the movie -- particularly aural effects -- which don't make much sense, don't tie into the plot, and are just plain irritating. But on the whole, the movie works well and comes together in an almost satisfying way at the end.

The best movies of this genre are those where clues are given and the viewer can piece them together to see where the storyline may lead. This movie almost captures that feeling, enough so that I was kept watching the entire time, trying to tie the fragments together.

Was it frightening? After all, that's the sense the moviemakers were going for. Let me put it this way: I had to watch another movie after this one so that my last thoughts before bedtime weren't of Abe and his "problem."

Thumb's up.

The Last Legion

The tagline states, "Before King Arthur, there was Excalibur." This is the story of how Excalibur came to be, and how it was stuck in that stone for Arthur to find with Merlin's help. It is an untold story that, let me say right now, should never have been told.

We are at the scene of Rome crumbling and the Goths taking over, and young Caesar -- Romulus Augustus -- fleeing the city to avoid certain death. With the help of Aurelius, one of the last Roman fighters, they search for Julius Caesar's sword, which is hidden in the very fortress Romulus is sent to by the Goths.

This movie is so bad, it's occasionally good. The casting consists of good actors in bad roles, particularly Colin Firth as the last Roman fighter, and Ben Kingsley, as Romulus' teacher. Surely they were rolling their eyes as they said this dialogue.

Some of the fight scenes are very well done, particularly the ones featuring Indian actress Aishwarya Rai. The choreography is something to study. But a weak plot, badly written dialogue, two-dimensional characters and villains, all doom this movie to C status.

Thumb's down.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Invasion

Nicole Kidman's character, Carol, who is a psychiatrist, knows something's going on when her little boy keeps having nightmares. Well, just wait: he'll never get to sleep again after...

Naw. It isn't THAT scary.

If you've seen one Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you know the plot. The original, iconic version where Kevin McCarthy throws himself on a windshield in the beginning of the film, a portent of things to come. The Donald Sutherland version where advances in technology and make-up give us a definitely creepy effect as we see how the pod people are made. And then there's Invasion, a new version offering few thrills already covered. There are some changes in plot, to be sure, but no significant changes.

The cast almost rises above it all. Nicole Kidman is thinly beautiful in her professional suits, until her makeup steadily washes off as time, and the danger, increases. Daniel Craig, as her doctor boyfriend, is a solid influence; I almost believe him when he tells us to just go to sleep, and all the ills of mankind will be cured. And Jeremy Northam, poor Jeremy. We usually see him in Jane Austen epics; he's reduced here to being the ex-husband, already taken over, who just repeats simple sentences without emotion.

If you grew up on horror films that have become slasher films, anything after the original Halloween, go back and see the original Invasion, and have a little talk with crazed Kevin McCarthy. You won't regret it. Just don't go to sleep.

Thumb's down.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

No Reservations

I don't have aspirations about becoming a chef. Let's just get that out of the way. However, I do like to see wonderful food prepared, especially if I get to eat it. This movie covered the first part wonderfully.

There's a great scene in the beginning, where Kate (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) is explaining to her shrink how she would prepare a certain dish, in great detail. Cut to a close-up of Bob Balaban, the psychiatrist, who has a glassy look in his eyes, obviously picturing the dish and longing for it.

It's a charming movie, full of wonderful details, mostly in the kitchen. Think Ratatouille with humans. And Zeta-Jones and her romantic sparring partner, played by Aaron Eckhart, hit every note and look like long-time chefs. They swing the dishcloth. They taste a little of everything they prepare.

The story sounds familiar. Kate works at her dream job as a chef at a restaurant run by the owner, who is played by the marvelous Patricia Clarkson. She's intense. She's not well-liked because she's not nice. And she's been known to confront critical customers who pass on that the beef isn't rare enough. However, her sister dies suddenly, and leaves a 10-year-old child, played by Abigail Breslin. While she takes some time off, Clarkson moves Eckhart in to temporarily sub. Sparks fly and romance grows.

The movie is short on plot, for sure. We know at some point Breslin's kid is going to cause a scene and wake Kate up. But we needn't worry about that. What the movie lacks in story it makes up in the details of the chef's life, details that give us an inkling of how demanding this life is. Zeta-Jones lets her hair down, literally, and leaves most of the makeup behind. She actually underplays Kate's personality, which may be one reason why the movie is so slow at times, and bland. Eckhart is the variable in the plot, and is unpredictable, but he still follows all of the sous chef's rules, so how out of control could this character really be? I keep using the word "charm" -- in truth, Eckhart exudes all the charm here. In a rather sincere way.

I was expecting a comedy. It's not a comedy. There are a few funny lines, but not at the expense of character. It's a romantic kitchen drama, I guess.

Think Ratatouille without the laughs. Oh, and without the wonderfully written story. Oh, but with beautiful people and great looking food. I really wished I could have had a taste.

Thumb's up.