Thursday, June 23, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Michael Bay knows how to make the summer blockbuster. His formula starts with a simple story that could probably be told in about 30 minutes, but then he expands upon that story with a lot of explosions and debris flying every which way. He then inserts a romantic plot element between two attractive people that grabs the attention of teenage boys and girls. He never shies away from his special effects and the result is a movie that you will enjoy a bucket of popcorn with. The third Transformers film in the series that started in 2007 fits the bill perfectly.

The film starts with the historic moon landing in 1969 of Apollo 11 balancing between archive footage of President Kennedy in black/white and an actor in color, which was somewhat distracting. The background for the film is a government cover-up that there was an alternative purpose to the mission and of course it involved the Transformers.

The script for Transformers was not supposed to impress anyone, but the subtle use of memorable quotes from “Star Trek 2: Wrath of Kahn” spoken originally by Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and then used by Sentinel Prime who is voiced by Leonard Nimoy was a bit too lazy for me. The plot attempts to show the humanity of the Autobots and Decepticons as compared to the previous films which focused more on the government relationship with the Autobots in the war on terrorism from the Decepticons. The visuals of the movie lend themselves to the humanity theme by showing the robot equivalent of blood at times. The writing around the growing romance between Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf)and Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitel does not come across as believable. Almost too much attention was given to trying to explain why Megan Fox wasn’t in the film, by writing her out of the story and being reminded of her on several occasions. With such a lack of attention to the script also came a lazy ending. With some impressive visuals and battle scenes the film appears lost on a way to wrap up the story. Enter the voice of a woman who apparently is even more conniving than Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons.

Absent from the previous films is Megan Fox who had issues with director Michael Bay and was fired for some choice words that producer Steven Spielberg took offense to. Megan Fox was replaced by Victoria Secret model, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who more than adequately performs her roll in the film. Lets be honest there isn't a lot of acting in a Michael Bay film, so her ability to look beautiful was one of the few criteria.

The film franchise has done well in the box office, but I have a feeling that this will be the last one in the series as there were some robot deaths that were more extreme than in previous films. While the film is better than the other films it is still only 3 Quacks, which if is probably all I would have given the two previous films if I had been blogging at the time. You should see it in the theater, only because of the special effects and audio track. However, there shouldn’t be a rush to the theater to do so.

(screening date 6/27/11, release date 7/1/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Green Lantern

In a summer of sequels and comic book films, "Green Lantern" is following "Thor", "Priest" and "X-Men: First Class". It isn't the worse of the bunch, but also not the best.

For those that do not know the first thing about Green Lantern, the film is about Hal Jordan, a test pilot who receives a mystical green ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers, as well as membership into an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe. A lot of the background is given in the intro through an extensive voice-over that provides almost too much information, and borders on putting the audience to sleep. However, if someone would like to read the comic that appears to be heavily leveraged from for the script, the Green Lantern series "Secret Origin" appears to be the closest reference material. The visuals of the movie are reminiscent of "Ghostbusters 2" (1989) with the play on anger, traded in for fear in Green Lantern.

Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern) didn't quite fit the image of the comic book and the writing allowed for him to rely too much on witty one liners and humor. Blake Lively (Carol Ferris) as the main love interest for Hal Jordan was emotionally flat in how she was supposed to care about Hal Jordan. However, the performance from Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond) was the strongest in the film even though his character deviated the most from his comic book origins. Other than a voice with his customary accent, you couldn't really tell that Mark Strong was even Sinestro given the significant amount of CGI used. A surprise for the fan boys was the inclusion of Angela Bassett as Dr. Amanda Waller who is considered one of the favorite comic book villains of all time.

The Batman franchise set the bar for other comic book movies. However, it isn't entirely fair to compare a comic book movie to that of the Batman franchise and the main reason is the villains and extreme fantasy. While Batman is a regular human with no special abilities much like his gallery of rogue villains, the other comic book films rely on super heroes with super abilities and matched against villains with a goal of taking over the world (or destroying it) through the use of special abilities. These abilities require significant special effects and reduce the film into a project for the post production crew and restricts the acting and writing to a minimum.

While the film is about the ability to overcome fear, it unfortunately does not have the ability to overcome itself. A superhero with the ability to create whatever he can imagine requires a considerable amount of special effects and CGI. However, there was too much CGI, and came across more as a video game. Green Lantern isn't as bad of a film as some critics are saying, but it isn't a great film either. The special effects are not going to overly impress and you can easily wait for this film to go to the discount theater, DVD, or even TV. For me it is just 2 Quacks, but the audio track partially pushes me to suggest the discount theater for everyone.

There is a BONUS SCENE after the credits that you actually don't want to miss.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Killing

"The Killing" (2011) is a dark crime drama based on the Danish miniseries "Forbrydelsen" (2007) centering on the murder of a young girl and the subsequent police investigation through the perspective of the detectives, the grieving family, and the suspects. The season one final episode aired tonight and what an amazing series it has been. I don't usually review tv shows, but AMC is doing something that the other networks are not willing to do. If you haven't been watching this series, you will have to find it on DVD or when the replay the series later in the year. I am sure they will run it in anticipation of season two.

The cast it filled with a largely unknown cast and they provide a passionate performance throughout the series. The most familiar cast of the series is Bill Campbell who plays a politician running for the Mayor of Seattle, Washington; and Michelle Forbes who plays the mother of Rosie Larsen. Bill Campbell has been in several tv series, but none that stand out. Michelle Forbes was most recently seen on HBO in the hit "True Blood". Both have very significant roles, but the majority of the screen time is for Mireille Enos as the lead detective and was also known for her role in "Big Love". Her partner is played by Joel Kinnaman who offers up one of the better performances in the series. The father of Rosie Larsen is played by Brent Sexton and gives the other most memorable performance in the series.

Every episode there is another prime suspect providing for the fans of the series to follow along on various fan pages and web applications to guess who the killer is. Using the city of Seattle, Washington as the backdrop for a crime drama allows for the dark and light to be played against each other with overcast days and heavy rains. The series has such a heavy tone that it feels like you are watching a movie and the writing is delicate enough to allow for nearly any of the cast to be a suspect keeping the fans interested and tuning in every week.

I don't know who killed Rosie Larsen, but I do know that this is one of the best tv series in a while and receives all 5 Quacks from me. It will very likely be nominated for various Emmy and Golden Globes awards.

Please check out my other movie reviews...and remember "don't quack during the movie!"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the Art of Getting By

What a debut for first time writer/director Gavin Wiesen with "the Art of Getting By". The film is absolutely beautiful in every way from the script that likely includes life experiences from Gavin Wiesen, to the genuine acting from the two leads, and tightly wrapped up by a smart soundtrack. Freddie Highmore continues to offer up strong performances reminiscent of "August Rush" (2007) and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005). Emma Roberts has also recently joined the list of young actresses in their 20's to follow after her role in "It's Kind of a Funny Story" (2010).

The film is a typical coming-of-age story following George (Freddie Highmore) through his final year of high school who struggles with living after having a realization that every day we are coming closer to our death. So rather than deal with the daily requirements of being a student he finds better things to do with his time by doodling in his math book and skipping school. Gavin Wiesen is quick to point out that George doesn't have ADD, which is too quickly diagnosed in children today for parents that don't take the time to understand what their child is experiencing. George describes himself as the "teflon slacker", as all the medications and counselors haven't been able to figure him out.

Even though it is apparent that George has attended this school in previous years, the attention of Sally (Emma Roberts) and other students comes across as sudden. I know that not everyone had a high school group like I did where I knew a lot of the same kids from elementary school through to our high school graduation, but George and Sally should have crossed paths before.

As good as the performances from Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts are, the scenes involving Harris the Art Teacher (Jarlath Conroy) are by far some of the best. The other teachers come across as cliche, but Harris is the role model that George is lacking. Harris is trying to motivate George to say something meaningful and is able to recognize his bullshit even in the doodles that his classmates and mentor Dustin (Michael Angarano) want to praise.

Watching this film reminded me of a first kiss, including the awkwardness leading up to that magical moment. I would like to see it receive some consideration in the award season for the script and performances from Freddie Highmore and Jarlath Conroy. I cannot give the film the full rating, but 4 Quacks is more than respectable I feel. In a film season of sequels and overused 3D attempts a film like this is refreshing.

(screening date 6/16/11, release date 6/17/11, location AMC Mazza Gallerie)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Trip

"The Trip" is a film that has made the rounds at various festivals and is finally getting a limited release for the public. I found the film to be very reminiscent to "Sideways" in the relationship between Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon. They are two guys that are friends, but you wonder why they maintain their friendship as you follow the pair on a sophisticated journey through Northern England experiencing high-end restaurants and stunning scenery.

For most of the American audience, Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon may look familiar, but you may not recall why. Steve Coogan in the UK is known for his character of Alan Partridge, however in America he may be better known for "Tropic Thunder" or "The Other Guys". Rob Byrdon in the UK is known for his various TV series performances and his list of voice impersonations, however in America he is mostly known for "a small man trapped in a box".

Whether you know Steve and Rob is absolutely irrelevant to the enjoyment of the film. Apparently, the two are known for a TV series of the same name and some familiar may hold a preference towards the original. I feel that the film stands on its own and is designed to reach a larger audience. The TV series and the film is about Coogan as a food critic for the UK's Observer who is joined on a working road trip by his friend (Brydon) who fills in at the last minute when Coogan's romantic relationship falls apart. The film comes across as being improvised and forcing the emotional element. With the talent of Steve and Rob the comedy works well with their many voice impersonations and competitive banter. However, the melancholy moments seem trite and lack the background necessary to properly connect with the character.

The voice impersonations of Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman provide most of the comedy as Steve and Rob compete with each other to prove who is better. There is a rather poignant moment when Steve realizes that he is not as talented as Rob contributing to a better understanding of why he is currently struggling in his acting career. The tone of the film can be captured by a few lines between the Steve and Rob, "you spend your birthdays in your 20s using alcohol, your 30s with drugs, and your 40s with food". The trip is a self reflective moment in the life of Steve and ends abruptly much like real life. The audience was almost surprised when "THE END" appeared on the screen wondering "now what?", but that is how life can be sometimes.

While the movie as a whole didn't exactly work, the comedy was perfect and provided many laughs. Combined with the picturesque views of Northern England captured and I feel the film is worthy of 4 quacks. You will likely have to find this film at more of an art house theater or later on DVD, but when you do it will be worth it.

(screening date 6/14/11, release date LIMITED, location Landmark E Street Cinema)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Case

"The Case" is the film within the film of "Super 8" that is directed by Charles (Riley Griffiths) and stars the detective played by Martin (Gabriel Basso) and his wife played by Alice (Elle Fanning). The detective must find the cause of a recent zombie invasion. The main zombie is played convincingly by Cary (Ryan Lee) with other supporting roles played by Preston (Zach Mills) as the Chemical Plant President and Joe (Joel Courtney) as the military guy. Keep an eye for a cameo from Charles (Riley Griffiths) as the doctor.

I hope you stay into the credits of "Super 8" for this gem of a film. This is the finest in B-movie today and gets the same 3 Quacks as "Super 8" received.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

See the rest of the Outdoor Movie Screening Schedule here.

June 6: Air Force One (1997) Crystal Screen: By the Numbers (Mondays at 9pm)

I wanted to like this movie more than I did. Harrison Ford is probably the most bad ass President ever on the big screen. Only a 3 Quack movie from me, but still a quality way to spend your Monday in DC.

June 8: North by Northwest (1959) NoMa Summer Screen (Wednesdays at 7pm)

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant need I say more? 4 Quacks and if I wasn't already busy on Wednesday this is where I would want to be.

June 9: Dirty Dancing (1987) Capitol Riverfront Front Flicks (Thursdays at 8:45pm)

I know that this is a big favorite for a lot of people, but never won me over. This one is for the fans of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayzee before Dancing With The Stars. Only 2 Quacks from me, but you know you like this one and will go see it anyways.

June 10: City Slickers (1991) Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival (Fridays at 8pm)

Jack Palance actually won an Oscar for his role of Curly the hard as grit cowboy tasked with taking the city slickers (Billy Crystal, ) and turning them into cowboys. This is a quality family film, but nothing special other than the performance from Jack Palance. A respectable 3 Quacks for the family on Friday in Rosslyn.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Super 8

For those that are saying they don't know anything about this movie, you are not alone. To jog your memory this film first got the attention of many of you during the Super Bowl with a commercial that came out of nowhere. And now nearly four months later we are finally going to be treated to the sci-fi thriller from writer/director JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg. What we do know is that some kids witness a train crash and then unexplainable events start to occur. The big hush surrounding the film has almost generated a cult like following building the expectations of the film to difficult heights.

The story is based in the winter of 1979 and spring 1980 in a rural town in Ohio. The time period is actually kind of important to make the references made worth laughing at. However, it was clever setting the time period in 1980 because the film very closely compares to "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) and "The Goonies" (1985). "Super 8" is the love child of these two films, but I still have to ask who invited Michael Bay. The explosions during the train crash seem to last forever.

I feel that the film is designed for adults that were 5-10 years old when E.T. and Goonies came out and now are grown up in their mid-30s with children that are 5-10 years old today. The group of kids that witness the train crash are very similar to the group from Goonies. As a fan I was hoping for a asthma inhaler reference, but I did notice the similarity between the character Cary (Ryan Lee) and his passion for blowing things up with Data (Ke Huy Quan) from Goonies. Towards the end of the movie he needed a line about booby-traps. I wanted to watch this film at a drive-in as it reminded me of my childhood watching movies with the family.

The acting in the film is not going to amaze anyone and the script has its plot holes, like how all the dogs leave the town and the horses are still there. Or how everything, including vehicles, are being magnetically attracted towards the water tower and the car with the kid passed out in it doesn't budge. I can look past these, but one thing that I cannot is the lack of a product placement tie-in with a popular candy. Goonies had the Baby Ruth while E.T. had Reese's Pieces. That isn't enough to fault the film; however Morgon Spurlock might have something to say about it. All that being said, the film is a quality 3 Quack film and perfect for parents to take their kids to. There is some language, but if you can get past that you will be fine.

Stick around for the credits to see a bonus film "The Case".

(screening date 6/4/11, release date 6/10/11, AMC Tyson's Corner 16)

X-Men: First Class

Taking on another in the long list of X-Men films was not going to be an easy assignment for director Matthew Vaughn. Having a series that is not as well known as the characters themselves makes it even more difficult. "X-Men: First Class" is not a prequel and isn't a reboot of a series. The film stands on it's own from the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009) and X-Men films that started in 2000 and followed with sequels in 2003 and 2006.

Having previously taken on a comic-based movie with "Kick Ass", Matthew Vaughn has the required background for such a large franchise. However, taking on a film like "First Class" requires the introduction of several new characters. To accomplish this task required some significant work with the casting department. The cast includes several young actors and actresses that I have been increasingly interested in lately. James McAvoy (Professor X) first got my attention in 2006 with "The Last King of Scotland". Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) received an Oscar nomination for her leading performance in "Winter's Bone" (2010). January Jones (Emma Frost) has been a beauty on the screen since 2003 in "American Wedding". Nicholas Hoult (Beast) was very good, but overshadowed in "A Single Man" (2009).

A standout performance comes from Michael Fassbender (Magneto), who finds a way to humanize the signature X-Men villain from the previous films. Completely unrecognizable is Jason Flemyng as the villain Azazel. Rather forgettable is Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. Finally, any X-Men movie (or comic book movie) wouldn't be complete without a cameo and you can probably guess who has the cameo for this one. There is also an unmentioned female cameo from someone that appeared in the first X-Men film. Quack back if you catch who she is.

With any of the comic book films the special effects are equally as important to the film as the script and acting. There have been so many comic book films that there weren't really any effects that jumped off the screen as impressive. Instead the effects were rather toned down to play off the 1960s time period. Additionally, the script wasn't the best and didn't exactly follow the comic series. The original lineup for the First Class was Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Gray and Professor X; only Beast and Professor X are carried over. For the character of Angel they replaced him with a female stripping pixie that spits fire. Rather than use Cyclops they chose his younger brother Havok. No mention/reference is made of Iceman or Jean Gray likely because they were included in the previous films out of sequence. This has become my biggest complaint about the X-Men franchise. The world they exist in is so vast and rich with characters and stories that the mix/mash of characters and stories makes it difficult to stay true to the series. A good article summarized the differences even better.

As an individual film, "First Class" was very entertaining and is worth seeing. However, if taken as cannon for the franchise it swings and misses at times. It is being set-up as the vehicle for the franchise going forward, so the fan-boys will have to accept that. Overall, the film is just 3 Quacks and is still worth seeing if the summer temperatures are getting too high for you. You might even be surprised by the award consideration this film might receive.

(screening date 6/2/11, release date 6/3/11, location AMC Mazza Gallerie)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

El Secreto de Sus Ojos

In 2009 one of the most beautiful movies was made by Jose Juan Campanella featuring Benjamin Esposito a retired legal counselor (Ricardo Darin) seeking closure for an unsolved homicide/rape case that he worked on 25 years ago with his superior, Irene Mendez (Soledad Villamil), and colleague Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella). "The Secret in Their Eyes" is based on the novel "La pregunta de sus ojos" written by Eduardo Sacheri.

The story is told with two parallel timelines from the first lines of Esposito attempting to write a novel of the incidents 25 years ago; to the brutal incident depicted on the screen. As the story unfolds the surviving spouse of the incident, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) has some of the most powerful and emotional lines in the film. While Esposito and Sandoval work the case the comic element from Sandoval and his drinking come through just enough without discounting the significance of the case. The lead suspect in the case is Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino) and without being overly cliche the look in the actors eyes is very intense.

An element of debate within the film is the death sentence or the life without parole. It is a question that only the loved ones that have lost someone to such a gruesome event can honestly answer. However, the film finds a way to delicately attempt at explaining how and why there should only be one answer. In the film the crime is rape and homicide resulting in life without the option for the death penalty. The thought of the death penalty as retribution is often argued, but without the convicted being raped and beaten to death is it truly retribution. The death penalty is a simple injection followed by a permanent nap. For those that have lost a loved one that would almost seem like an alternative they would be willing to trade for themselves. Instead the film falls to the alternative of letting the convicted grow old, living a life full of nothing.

The film received the Oscar for best foreign film and if it wasn't for being a foreign film would have earned a best actor nomination for Ricardo Darin and possibly an adapted screenplay award. A line that stuck with me came towards the end of the film between Esposito and Morales, "Choose carefully, because memories are all we end up with. At least pick the nice ones." I think the lesson that the movie gives is that the most complicated things we love are worth it, even if it means living. The film is absolutely beautiful and is a highly recommended 5 Quacks for all of you.

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