Friday, July 30, 2010


The question posed in the trailer, and very quickly in the movie, is, "Who is Salt?" Who is Evelyn Salt (played by Angelina Jolie)? This is the question the movie purports to answer. The film doesn't do a great job of answering that question, but we're too busy holding onto our seats to wonder about it.

The famous scene where a Russian spy accuses Evelyn of being a spy who will kill the Russian president is not the first scene in the movie, but the first to get things moving. We actually start when the North Koreans are torturing that beautiful face. This scene sets up that (1) she's in a dangerous job, no joke, and (2) who her husband is going to be. It's an important scene. It also introduces Liev Schreiber, who plays Ted Winter, Salt's mentor, as a no-nonsense boss of their section of the CIA.

Salt is a stuntwoman's dream. It's hard to believe that Jolie and a hundred stunt people didn't injure themselves making this movie. One jump is more fantastical than the next. But if you want fantastical, examine the plot, which winds in circles around a double of Lee Harvey Oswald, Russian children being trained to kill some 25 years later, and, of course, the who-can-the-audience-trust matrix. The whole Russian plot thing is pretty silly, but it's the structure that holds up a solid hour-and-a-half of Jolie bouncing off trucks and brick walls.

I found the movie, despite the laughable bad Russia theme, very entertaining. Jolie is quite good, emotional enough to let us see inside. Schreiber is always interesting. Chiwetel Eliofor, who plays FBI agent Peabody, is outstanding, as he's the guy we're measuring our emotions and trust against.

Cool stuff. Thumb's up.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Inception is the new rage out there, with thousands flocking to see it, just based on word of mouth and scattered, raving reviews.

I don't want to spoil anything about the movie, as you should watch from the beginning and try to unravel all the strings of the puzzle ball yourself. I will say, though, that Leonardo DeCaprio's character, Dom, has a team where he structures people's dreams for whatever purpose they're being paid. A new team member, the architect, is a young college student (Ellen Page), and we see and understand everything about this dimension through her eyes.

Dom wants to pull off one last job so that he can retire and return to his kids. You can guess, however, that this job is a bit more complicated than he imagined it would be.

It's part Memento (also directed by Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan), part The Matrix. Well, The Matrix without the fun and the love interest. It's a bit disturbing, to be sure. The effects are mind-blowing. And DiCaprio gives enough emotional impact to the scenes to keep you involved to see how it all plays out.

I've heard of theatre-goers who have gone to see this movie two or three times to help them figure out what really happened. I believe it. In fact, the movie just might make you a little confused, a little mad. Be prepared.

Thumb's up.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Wolfman

Is there any way to scare anyone in the movies any more? I mean, of that select group of people who still go to scary movies.

I don't go to slasher movies. But I am a great fan of the original Universal movies: Frankenstein. The Mummy. The Wolfman. The holy trinity of horror.

There are some very good scenes in the new movie showing the latest Lawrence Talbot, Benicia del Toro, who certainly has the haunted look just walking in the door. I frankly don't know anyone who could top the original, Lon Chaney Jr (whose father played the original Phantom of the Opera), but we try not to hold it against del Toro.

Thankfully, the newest incarnation doesn't spend a lot of time in build-up. Talbot's brother is killed mysteriously, and he comes back to his father's mansion after many years away as an actor in America. There he meets Ben's fiance, played by Emily Blunt.

There are many different takes on the tale in this one, including a different view of the gypsies. They're mysterious, they're powerful, but they're not portrayed as bad. Instead, the religious are pictured as the villains here. Except, of course, that they're right...

Of course, we know what happens when Larry Talbot is bit by the large and powerful beast who's roaming the countryside during the full moon. The same transformation has happened time and time cinematically, including the excellent Rick Baker effects in American Werewolf in London. Rick Baker, makeup specialist, is again part of this art team. So, the real question, besides the obvious one of scary moments, is: will the transformation be worth watching? And the entire movie needs to build up to this moment, as townspeople set their traps and the lone Scotland Yard inspector sets his own. We wait for the next full moon, wait for the howl.... and wonder.

I can tell you this: the whole effect lives up to Baker's legacy. This movie is worth seeing for those who wonder, and for those who don't mind, actually revel, in limbs being torn from the body.

From one who loves a good makeup and special effect, and a decent try at an old gem: Thumb's up.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Road

It's the Apocalypse. We don't know why, but our planet is in a death spiral. All the birds and animals are gone. Plants are sparse. For those humans left on this earth-as-hell, food is the main priority.

There's one other priority, of course: survival. The story in The Road centers on a man - who is unnamed (played by Viggo Mortensen) - who is trying to stay alive long enough to teach his young son (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) how to survive in this new wilderness, with a code of ethics intact. They stay on The Road south which will supposedly take them towards warmer weather and a better chance for hope, in the meantime watching out for marauders who aren't burdened with a sense of what's right.

The movie is dark, to be sure, but sure could have been a lot darker. There is some talk of cannibalism, and you feel the threat, but you never see it. There are certainly circumstances that would give a young boy nightmares, and in this case, older men. The entire movie is filmed not in a gray, but sort of in a brown, sepia tone. The cinematography is amazing as the landscape becomes another main character.

There are some flashbacks to fill in a few gaps, not many. Charlize Theron plays the wife and mother, and you see why she's later not in the picture.

The question here is, how do you remain human under such circumstances? What would you do to survive? The Road asks these questions eloquently and with ominous chords.

Thumb's up.

Snow Cake

We meet Alex (Alan Rickman) when a young, flighty woman named Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) talks him up in a cafe in northern Canada, hoping to get a ride to Wawa, her home. Even though Alex doesn't want any company, for some reason he finds himself giving her a ride. An accident occurs, and Vivienne is killed in his car. He proceeds to Wawa to explain the situation to her mother, and finds himself embroiled in the whole town's business.

I wouldn't call Snow Cake "delightful," but the movement never falters and there's a lot to learn about Alex, in particular, but also Vivienne's mother (Sigourney Weaver) who, as it turns out, is autistic and doesn't react the same way you or I would to devastating news. With Rickman's witty way with a sarcastic remark, we are never bored, and Weaver and the script find new ways to enchant us. A good assist by Carrie-Anne Moss, who is still unfailingly beautiful, as the neighbor helps the story along.

It's a bit ponderous, heavy on the emotion, but a good independent film bolstered by a strong cast. Thumb's up.

Ghost Writer

Ghost Writer is a dark story directed by Roman Polanski concerning the former prime minister of England (Pierce Brosnan) who wants his memoirs ghost written. Unfortunately, the first ghost writer died mysteriously. Ewan MacGregor's character is hired to pick up the pieces, but perhaps risks his life in the process.

Ghost Writer has gotten a lot of press, praising Polanski for another The Pianist, another brooding story that brings up more questions than it answers. Let's get right to my point: I'm not a fan.

This movie is a dreary mess. It really doesn't go anywhere, in the beginning, middle or end. There are some scenes that just meander all over the place, especially when our hero is on a bicycle. Literally, meandering all over the place. For no reason whatsoever. And, unfortunately, there are many scenes like that.

An intriguing piece of the storyline was to show a ghost writer with no name. We're never told who he is. But we do get some shards of his past in a throwaway line or two. And MacGregor is splendid in the role even though he has little to work with.

The whole point of seeing this movie would be to see the cast, each of whom is sharp: MacGregor, Brosnan (whose roles just keep getting more diverse), Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Kim Cattrall, and the astonishing Olivia Williams, whom we discovered in Dollhouse. However, a brilliant cast list does not necessarily make a brilliant movie, much to our chagrin. And the denouement does not justify the buildup. Pass on this.

Thumb's down.

How to Train Your Dragon

I saw How to Train Your Dragon in a most unusual venue (a cruise ship), a venue that turned out to be less than optimal (too much light, no popcorn), but within minutes I forgot all about all that as I drifted into this delightful animated world.

Hiccup, a young Viking and son to the head of the Viking nation, wants to show his father he's brave and so he believes he has to kill dragons, when he stumbles upon the most feared dragon of all in a valley from which the dragon cannot escape. To tell you any more would spoil the journey, but I found it a wonderful one that speaks to even our modern concerns.

Jay Baruchel voices Hiccup with just the right amount of youthful sarcasm, and we find ourselves laughing before we even get to the punchline of the story. We feel for the guy -- I mean, his is laughingly no Viking body -- and his plight to please his father is ageless. Dad is voiced by Gerard Butler, who never tries to approximate a Viking accent but instead sticks to his normal Scottish one (for some reason), but nuances a sympathetic, nice-guy parent who wants to be proud of his son but who understands that some have to stay behind and cook or sharpen the weapons.

There's enough action here to keep the young ones busy, enough coming-of-age sensibilities to keep teenagers watching, and enough good story to keep adults tuned in. This is a keeper, on the scale of - dare I say it? - a Pixar gem.

Thumb's up.