Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Burning Plain

The Burning Plain appeared in 2008 and promptly disappeared, but you can catch it on DVD. The movie stars Charlize Theron as a very accomplished restaurant manager, but whose personal life seems aimless. Parallel storylines concern a teenage girl and her difficulties with her mother when the latter isn't spending a lot of time lately with the family, and a young pre-teen girl who accompanies her father when he gets a job in Mexico as a cropduster.

This is a story of regret, of loss, of redemption. There are no car crashes in The Burning Plain. There's not even a lot of action. Most of what happens, the action, per se, is in these actors' faces. Interesting storyline, an intertwining of all these storylines, and excellent acting jobs from the entire cast.

Theron is marvelous, minimal movement in a difficult part. Kim Basinger has found a role that suits her aging face, and she's wonderful, magnetic. It's great to see Robin Tunney, so marvelous in The Mentalist as we see her finally hit her stride given the chance, and John Corbett, as Theron's character's friend in the restaurant who doesn't understand why she has to self-destruct. The Hispanic actors, however, are the ones who shine here, particularly Jose Maria Yazpik as Carlos.

The acting is what drives this drama. I recommend it.

Thumb's up.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife is actually the story of a time-traveler, Henry (played by Eric Bana), who discovers this talent and curse at the age of 7, right before the car in which he's riding is smashed.

But the story, although obviously about Henry's struggles, is not about Henry's travels. I was curious as to where he ends up each time, naked and exposed to the world, but this movie did not feed that wish. Instead, the title, as well as the story, is about the time traveler's wife, Clare (played by Rachel McAdams), and the story of her struggle to be in love with and eventually married to a time traveler.

The film is a bit slow, as many love stories are, but if you have the patience, you'll find a poignant, lyrical film about a man who would rather be with his wife but cannot control what happens to him, and the woman who loves him. This movie has a real epic feel to it, and quite a few surprises. I found it magical.

Thumb's up.

Alice in Wonderland

A lot of movie reviewers have skewered Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton's latest movie, claiming the film has very little plot, no emotional impact. While I have to agree to those two comments, I thoroughly disagree with the conclusion. Alice in Wonderland is charmingly funny, curious and curiouser, and definitely worth watching.

No small amount of credit should be given to actor Johnny Depp for making this happen. His Hatter is an interesting character, intriguing because you think he's mad, right? but he's not. He has a plan. And he talks Alice into pursuing it with him. In the end, the Hatter is a hero, an action hero. Who would've thought that was coming?

The 3D is not as good as Avatar, but that doesn't seem to matter much. At the end of the movie, I realized that I didn't notice the 3D effect at all, except for an occasional scene, like the one where the Dormouse stands in perfect, three-dimensional proportion to everyone else in the scene. Brilliant.

Some of the best part of the movie is what we see in the beginning and then at the end: Alice in the real world, and her struggles to be understood and accepted. This background story for Alice bookends the action, most of which concerns the Red Queen (played by Helena Bonham Carter), who's been cursed with a bulbous head, and her evil cohort, played so sleasily by Crispin Glover (the Back to the Future dad and Charlie's Angels' enemy). So cleverly does Burton show us this world, where the Queen's court consists of characters who must show some ugly benefit in order to serve Her Majesty. Otherwise, it might be "Off with their heads!"

Great fun. I highly recommend it. And this portrayal adds to Depp's long list of memorable characters.

Thumb's up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


This review is about the recent movie, Fame, not the 1980 version. Unfortunately, we don't hear the theme song until after the movie is over. Fame -- the musical number, that is -- is a perfect anthem; its lyrics perfectly describe what these kids are feeling, and the music is catchy. "I'm gonna live forever..."

Unfortunately, this movie doesn't live forever. It shouldn't have even been re-done. I never saw the first one, but this second one is rather dismal.

The film follows several students through their 3 years at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, what they go through, the fact that many of them don't wait until graduation to enter the hard-knocks school of reality when they perform outside the school environment.

One big reason, in my mind, to see this version was its "adult" stars: Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles Dutton. Unfortunately, the first two only have about six lines. Dutton fares a little better, but not much. And Debbie Allen, star of the original film and its resultant T.V. show, although not in the film all that much, makes an indelible impression.

But the worst part about this film is that its musical pupils don't seem to learn anything from their musical education. And, the second reason not to see the film is that their musical talent doesn't seem transcendant. There should be some really wow! kind of numbers, and there aren't. I can't figure out why each of these student was picked in the first place. In the end, you really don't care about any of these kids, kids who don't seem to have learned anything, and who really don't show whatever their talent is.

Thumb's down to a film that should've stayed in the '80's.

Funny People

Funny People is the latest movie by Adam Sandler. There are people in it, to be sure, but it sure ain't funny.

Sandler's character, George Simmons, finds that he has an incurable disease, and has a short time to live. Noticing that his ex-wife still hates him, he calls her to say he's sorry, apparently for the first time ever. George is a very successful comic, having parlayed a stand-up career into a wildly successful movie career, a la the actor himself, but he's a jerk most of the time, albeit a rich one. Faced with his own mortality, he decides to help out some comics on their way, and hires one of them, Ira (Seth Rogen), to write jokes for him and generally be his assistant.

This is a movie where the sick-and-dying character doesn't learn anything, doesn't nice up, doesn't change at all. In fact, nobody in this excuse for a funny-but-tragic movie wisens up, even a bit. Most of the material isn't wince-proof, and hard to watch, more boring than revealing of character. Judd Apatow, writer and producer, has turned serious, but tells us nothing. He seriously misses with this production.

The only thing to recommend about this film is Seth Rogen, who seems to be getting better and better. He's the only character who rings true here, and his performance appears to be spontaneous and responsive. But that's not enough for this dismal picture. Stay away, stay far away.

Thumb's down.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bitch Slap

Bitch Slap is an homage to all those grindhouse movies of decades ago, where women were rough but ready, and guns blazed in fantastic feats. I had to see it because the producers, many crew members and actors were alumnae of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journey.

We enter the film in the middle of the desert, and watch three beautiful women -- one leggy businesswoman, one psychotic drug addict, and one stripper with a heart of gold -- try to find some hidden treasure. Of course, they're dressed in short skirts and three-inch heels, perfect outfits for digging in the sand. There are a lot of mysteries attached to each woman, mysteries whose answers are revealed in flashbacks. The flashbacks, in my mind, confused the matter, but what the hell. We're not in it to make much sense of this. After all, when Camero pulls a gun out of, well, nowhere, and Trixie pulls a ninja star out of her, hmmm, well, you know you're in for something a little fantastical, a lot sexy and little sense. Any decent (indecent?) grindhouse movie features girls, girls fighting girls, girls having sex with girls, etc. You get the picture.

I wished Bitch Slap was as good as I just made it sound. It's overlong, the characters are confusing -- damn, every beautiful girl in this movie looks alike -- and most of the time you just don't care. But, then, I'm obviously not the audience for a movie where close-ups of faces and breasts run about 50-50.

It's good to see what else Erin Cummings can do besides look demure in the current T.V. sensation, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and she's quite effective as the leader of the pack, Hel. However, it took me a good 30 minutes to figure out which one she was, she looks so different. The other two women -- Julia Voth as Trixie, America Olivo as Camero -- acquit themselves well with dialogue that often doesn't make any sense or provide any transitions. And you can tell the fight scenes, perhaps the best part of the film, were choreographed by Zoe Bell, who doubled Lucy Lawless on Xena; she puts her own imprimatur on those scenes, and makes them look gutsy and dangerous.

But much of the film is boring, particularly after Michael Hurst's character dies and the script brings in characters who are stupid, just to pass the time. Still, there are some surprises and some laughs. And there are those women.

Thumb's up for what Bitch Slap purports to be, a silly little film about sexy women who can carry their own.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The September Issue

The September Issue is a interesting film about Vogue's working staff, led by Anna Wintour, and their work in putting out the ominous, 800-page September issue of Vogue.

Wintour, it's been whispered, was the model for the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada, and this documentary certainly seems to point out their similarities. However, where we would say Miranda Priestly wears a scowl, Wintour would say merely that she has an opinion. The buck stops exactly there, and she's very aware of that. So her minions do their best to put out the best product possible, which is a pictorial display of the current fashions, but always bearing in mind that the real test doesn't rest on art, it rests on Wintour's approval.

The only person in Vogue who challenges Anna, repeatedly, is Grace Coddington, an ex British model (think Twiggy) who thinks she has a right to her own opinion. We would have to agree: her work is stunning. Anna, for the most part, agrees, and she certainly respects Grace. The two together really make up what Vogue is.

We watch designer after designer come to Anna Wintour with their designs, hoping for a good sign, something Wintour rarely gives them. They all look so serious, and we have to wonder, hey, this is fashion. It's not serious. But it is for very many people. This is a fascinating, obsessive look into that world, always entertaining, always honest.

Thumb's up.