Tuesday, April 26, 2011


While visiting a rather successful old friend (Donald Faison) in Los Angeles, Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) find that the entire city is being besieged by aliens who clearly are bent on killing every human possible.

This is a small budget film, although it certainly doesn't look like it. The amount and quality of special effects the moviemakers squeezed out of $10 million is amazing. Your first clue, however, is that the actors are "the-guy-from." You know, the guy from 24. The guy from Scrubs. And no other name actor in the cast.

And, in effect, this is a bottle show. The action never leaves their apartment building, if you include the garage.

I found the action rather boring although there are one or two spectacular scenes that make you wonder how they did it. I didn't particularly care for the characters. However, I must admit that it was interesting seeing Eric Balfour's Jarrod, who is not willing to make a decision throughout the first four-fifths of the movie, spring into action once he committed himself. Jarrod was following everyone else's decisions -- his buddy's, his girlfriend's, even some stranger they met in the building -- until that moment. That was a nice moment for Balfour.

The ending is just bizarre. I can justify it by saying that there is no way to properly end a movie when the enemy is clearly winning and the Earth's population is going to lose (even though Battle: Los Angeles found a way to do it, even though that was somewhat pieced together), so the director (?) or screenwriter (?) came up with something weird to end the piece.

Those who demand to see every sci fi film out there (paint me among them) or just like weird endings so they can talk about them might see this movie. Everyone else should skip it.

Thumb's down.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Love and Other Drugs

The "Other Drugs" in the title refers to the life of a successful pharmaceutical salesman, and half the film is devoted to how he got there. It's a really interesting, actually a fascinating trip, and, if it's at all true, rather horrific. I've known -- well, friend of a friend -- two, and while one says it isn't so, the other says it is. According to this movie, it depends on how successful you want to be as to how vague your moral line will be.

Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is perfect for this new job. He's a sleazebag from 'way back, humping his way through several jobs, totally bored with his parents, and not knowing which way to turn. He's told this job will bring him money by utilizing his charm, and charm it takes -- plus bribes of all sizes -- anything he needs to use to get inside those doctors' offices and leave his free samples of what drugs his company is pushing.

I was surprised when, during the storyline, Viagra is introduced as a new drug. I apparently missed the note at the beginning of the movie that action starts in 1996. Even the more fascinating.

Anne Hathaway, the woman with a condition that no drug can cure, is the ballast that steadies Jamie. Their love affair seems very real and poignant.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It's got heart, it's got a sense of humor, especially in the beginning, and I liked the lessons learned. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are an unbeatable dual force.

Thumb's up.

Back to Space-Con

This movie is a documentary about the old days in Star Trek. Not the TV show, but the fan conventions built around the TV show.

As a fan who has been to probably 100 conventions in my lifetime, my first thought upon seeing this film was, Why couldn't I have lived in northern California as I was hitting my twenties? Because on February 22, 1975, the first Star Trek convention was held at Lincoln High School in San Francisco. It was called the "Red Hour Festival," and was a huge success as thousands showed up on their front door. And you have to remember that this was six years after Star Trek was cancelled. These conventions were obviously a testimonial to Star Trek's worldwide appeal.

I thought it was an interesting point the movie made that Paramount wasn't protecting its Star Trek trademark in the early days, because they obviously didn't think there was anything to protect. Star Wars apparently was the end of the sci fi stores, as George Lucas' lawyers insisted that anything made be licensed with licensing fees. But in the mid-seventies, fans were making their own costumes, phasers, starships, etc. And the first Star Trek stores were having their merchandise made in bulk to sell to eager fans.

The film is terribly repetitive; it could've been an hour long and that would have sufficed. Footage and photos were interspersed with interviews from those fans and dealers who were there. It's great to see the original cast as they looked back then, and to hear details about their appearances and what they talked to the fans about.

As Spock would say, "Fascinating."

Thumb's up.

Jane Eyre

Do we really need another movie adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's book, Jane Eyre? Apparently we do.

You probably know the story: A quiet and young governess, who has spent most of her life in a torturous institution for wayward children, becomes the governess to a man who's hiding a terrible secret.

Only in this version, as in no other, the words -- the dialogue, really -- takes flight. Other adaptations have sought to insert action here and there, because, let's face it: Jane Eyre is rather static and wordy. But, also let's face it: that's a good thing.

So there's no extra action inserted. And the wardrobe is very period. Jane's outfit, in particular, is rather drab. When you picture a girl walking out of the orphanage with one or two dresses at most and no income, wouldn't that be the case?

And that's as it should be. The magnificent countryside, and those stately mansions, all decorated in such detail, are eye candy.

The acting is wonderful. You may remember Johnny Depp's recent Alice in Wonderland. His Alice was played by Mia Wasikowska, and she's our Jane here. Not too old, not too brazen. Just right.

Michael Fassbender, as Rochester, is also spot on -- he's not introduced until about halfway through the movie. The build-up teaches you to expect an older, brooding man, and he's all that, but he's also a sensitive man with a hollow soul, looking for some intelligence in the world, and maybe even a kindred spirit.

Jane Eyre is a wonderful tutor as to how children were treated back then, and how few resources women by themselves had. You feel her reticence to trust anybody, because she really can't.

Thumb's up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Within the first 15 minutes, we're in battle and the rapid pace never lets up. The only difference between this and, say, the Iraq War, is that the enemy is an unseen race of aliens, having come from afar to take over the west coast, and, one imagines, every other country on Earth. Obviously, the stakes are high.

We see this battle from the perspective of the Marines who are sent into an impossible situation. We get two or three minutes with each Marine in the beginning so that we can sort them out. Aaron Eckhart plays the sergeant of his platoon, a man with survival issues. And he's saddled with a first lieutenant fresh out of the academy with no battle experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I was involved from beginning to end. What I thought was rather simplistic, and its characters stereotypical, in the beginning, and totally unreal, turned into just a transition to get us to the action. After that, I simply forgot about those issues and concentrated on the characters and their dilemma. In fact, my overwhelming thought was, how the hell are they gonna get out of this?!

I've always enjoyed Aaron Eckhart, and I think this may be his best role yet as a leader of men who don't quite trust him.

My only real complaint about the movie is that some of the plot points -- why are the aliens here, how can we defeat them -- are tied up too handily and too quickly.

And it's always a convenient device to have a space alien as your enemy. No censors are going to gripe if you splatter them all over Lincoln Boulevard.

Still, I enjoyed a good story. Thumb's up.


A friend of mine recommended this movie, so I thought I'd take a look. I should bill her for the two hours I wasted.

Well, it wasn't a completely useless two hours. The musical numbers are especially well done, with a lot of glitz and imagination, thoroughly enjoyable. It's only when we delve into these players' private, mundane lives that the script fails us.

The whole plot can be summed up in a few words: A waitress (Christina Aguilera) leaves her hick town and journeys to L.A. so that she can get onto the burlesque stage. I know, that last part really doesn't make much sense.

It's a little bit Cabaret, actual stage numbers coupled with flashes of these characters' real lives, only without the biting social commentary. It's a little bit Chicago, only without the well-written plot, scintillating numbers and imaginative dancing.

The plot is totally derivative, a lot of I've-seen-this-before, and doubly tiring. A big mistake was in deciding whether to go for an actress or a singer with a big voice. They chose the latter. But certainly nobody can argue Aguilera's powerful voice. The rest of the time, however, she's just plain boring.

It's interesting to see Cher in a meaty role, although she's almost a parody of herself. She really bellows out the lead number, Burlesque, but after that, she has nothing to add musically.

I enjoyed seeing other actors I recognized - Stanley Tucci, always outstanding, and rising star Cam Gigandet, who is just lost here. In the end, the whole success-or-die plot lies in Christina Aguilera's hands, and she fails, miserably.

Thumb's down.

Source Code

I'm a fan of the technique Robert Heinlein used in his best science fiction stories: just change one little thing but keep people normal so that you'll be more interested in what happens to them. And some of the best sci fi plots have to do with a twist of time. Here's another sci fi movie with a time shift. In this case, 8 minutes.

Eight minutes is how long a person's aura last after they die, and supposedly their conscience lives on. Jake Gyllenhaal as military pilot Colter Stevens finds himself on a train, which seems normal enough, and in someone else's consciousness, he has eight minutes to figure out how that bomb in the rear bathroom was planted, and by whom.

Like Groundhog Day, Capt Stevens finds himself living that 8 minutes again, over and over, until he can figure it all out. However, somewhere along the way, he finds the bigger mystery much more compelling: why he's there in the first place and why this is his mission.

I found the screenplay to be written quite tautly, a screenplay which takes flight only with great actors in their roles. Gyllenhaal acts as any of us would react if we found ourselves in such a confusing situation. Michelle Monaghan is Christine, the woman who is always across from him when he finds himself on the train once more. Can you build a relationship with a person in only eight minutes? Apparently you can, especially if free will changes your reaction to each other: if you react differently, she reacts differently, etc.

Vera Farmiga, who was so good in Up in the Air, is the cold Captain whose job it is to keep Stevens in line with his head in the project. Farmiga really nails this role, and it's through her that we come to our conclusions about the project she's in as well as her boss (Jeffrey Wright).

As much as I'm not looking for deep questions and equally deep answers to existence, etc., I have to admit I found some of those questions here. The movie made me think -- it's not your hold-on-for-the-fun-ride kind of sci fi movie, although there are certainly elements of that, and at first glance it looks like one of those. There's more to this one. It somewhat resembles Inception in that there's more to the first layer and even the second.

Truthfully, I found it all very confusing, particularly the ending. But the movie as a whole, and particularly the ending, is haunting me still. Thumb's up.