Thursday, November 26, 2009

“Elf”

Around this time of year, there’s an endless parade of saccharine-sweet holiday movies trying to tug at your heartstrings. Fortunately “Elf” is one of the few that won't leave you with sugar shock. Most of credit for that goes to Will Ferrell’s charming portrayal of Buddy the elf. (More on that later) As a baby, Buddy crawls into Santa’s (Ed Asner) sack unnoticed and ends up at the North Pole. Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) as his own, Buddy grows up to be a misfit who towers over the other elves and doesn’t have their knack for building toys. When he’s told that his real father (James Caan) lives in New York City, Buddy sets off to find his roots. And that’s where the real fun begins. As an actor, Will Ferrell excels at playing clueless characters and Buddy provides him with the perfect conduit to channel his inner doofus. There’s such a wide-eyed innocence about Ferrell’s performance, that you truly believe Buddy is experiencing the City’s “charms” for the first time. And after a rough start in the Big Apple, Buddy manages to win over his stepbrother (Daniel Tay), get the girl (Zooey Deschanel), change his father’s heart and save Christmas. All that earns “Elf” a place on the nice list. Not just because of what the movie does, but because of the way it does it. My tweet: Elf-Hollywood retelling of SNL alum Will Ferrell’s first visit to New York City. 7.5 (out of 10)

Another holiday movie you might enjoy: “A Christmas Story”
Another Will Ferrell movie you might enjoy: “Blades of Glory”

“Elf”

Released: 2003

Rating: PG

Length: 97 minutes

Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart

Director: Jon Favreau

Genre(s): Comedy, Fantasy, Holiday

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

“Knowing”

Now that “2012” has been released there has been a lot of buzz about end of the world movies like “War of the Worlds,” “Armageddon” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” “Knowing” is another one to add to the list. This one’s a little difference because of its a cryptic, spooky, sci-fi storyline that revolves around a 50-year-old time capsule dug up at an elementary school. One student’s time-capsule entry, a page filled with seemingly random numbers, ends up in the hands of MIT astronomy professor John Koestler, (Nicholas Cage). He deciphers the code and discovers that the list has predicted man-made and natural disasters for the last 50 years. So while Koestler is trying to contain himself (Cage kicks his natural intensity into overdrive here), his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) is being stalked by a group of otherworldly men. “Knowing” is the kind of movie that will strain your willingness to suspend disbelief. But if you manage to get past that, it can be a fun popcorn movie. There’s a lot of action, surprises, and cool special effects, including a plane crash at Logan Airport, a subway car that careens through a station in New York City, alien spaceships and, of course, the end of the world. My tweet: Knowing-A page of numbers retrieved from a time capsule tells Nicholas Cage the future. Unfortunately, none of them match the lottery. 7 (out of 10)

“Knowing”

Released: 2008

Rating: PG-13

Length: 121 minutes

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Adrienne Pickering

Director: Alex Proyas

Genre(s): Action, Thriller, Supernatural

Thursday, November 19, 2009

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”

Like a lot of married couples, John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) are trying to reignite the passion that’s evaporated from their quiet suburban lives. They’re even in counseling, which, from the looks of it, doesn’t seem to be helping. But the excitement returns once they discover they’re both professional assassins working for competing agencies with each other as the target. (What spices up a relationship better than a little gun play?) Feeling betrayed, John and Jane shoot up their home only to realize they can’t shoot each other. When their employers decide to finish the job, it brings John and Jane even closer. They finally open up and communicate, which includes some amusing revelations during a high-speed car chase in the neighbor’s minivan. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is a slick, sexy romp that rarely slows down and the heat between the two stars can make you understand the off-screen pyrotechnics that Brangelina set off. Which, of course, is the inspiration for my tweet: Mr. and Mrs. Smith-Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie are hired to kill each other. And in the end, Jennifer Aniston wants to kill them both. 7.5 (out of 10)

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”

Released: 2005

Rating: PG-13

Length: 120 minutes

Cast: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn

Director: Doug Liman

Genre(s): Romance, Adventure, Action

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

“Flash of Genius”

There are lots of times in my life when I’ve heard the phrase, “it’s not about money, it’s about the principle.” That usually means it’s about the money. But “Flash of Genius” presents one of those instances when it really is about the principle. (At least as presented in the film.) This is the “true” story of Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), the electrical engineer and college professor from Detroit who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. His invention is so obvious, it’s surprising no one had thought of it before. Well, the Big Three had all thought of it. But none of them had, to use their term, “cracked it.” Engineers from Ford are amazed when they see the device work for the first time. Feeling leery, but advised that it would cement the deal, Kearns delivers a prototype to Ford’s engineers for testing. Then the company quietly abandons the project. This doesn’t make complete sense to Kearns, but he accepts it. Until he spots a new Ford with intermittent wipers on the road. From that moment on, Kearns’s sole mission in life is to right this wrong: to get Ford to recognize his patents, declare that he is the true creator of the intermittent wiper and admit they stole his invention. His business associates, friends and family plead with him to give it up and move on. But Kearns keeps pressing on, turning down Ford’s ever-growing settlement offers and losing almost everything, including his sanity, in the process. But in the end, Kearns gets what he wants when a jury declares him the victor in his suit against Ford. Intrigued by the story, I visited Wikipedia to do some “fact” checking and discovered that Kearns also sued Chrysler, GM, Mercedes-Benz and a host of other automakers. He was awarded somewhere in the vicinity of $40 million. So despite the protestations of the on-screen Kearns, maybe it was, at least in part, about the money. My tweet: Flash of Genius-Greg Kinnear invents the intermittent wiper & Detroit rips it off. Could their current hard times be the karmic boomerang? 7 (out of 10)

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“Flash of Genius”

Released: 2008

Rating: PG-13

Length: 119 minutes

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Bill Smitrovich, Aaron Abrams, Dermot Mulroney

Director: Marc Abraham

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Biopic

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Graduate: Here's to you, Dustin Hoffman

The Graduate is one of my all-time favorite movies and I've seen if more times than I can count. This time I made note of how brilliantly miscast Dustin Hoffman is as Benjamin Braddock. He’s a California native, but sounds like he was raised in New York. He doesn’t look like either one of his parents, William Daniels or Elizabeth Wilson. And he’s supposed to be a track star and “ladies man?” Director Mike Nichols took a tremendous leap of faith, because Dustin Hoffman is a disaster on paper. But on-screen he’s perfect. His fumbling responses to Mrs. Robinson’s (Anne Bancroft) seduction, the awkwardness of their first “meeting.” The way he tries to disgust daughter Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) on their first date only to apologize for his boorish behavior. His frenzied drive up and down the California coast as he tries to track her down and that final smile on the bus. The point is, there were a lot of actors in Hollywood who looked the part. (In fact, Robert Redford was originally considered.) But I can’t imagine anyone occupying it as well. My Tweet: The Graduate-Dustin Hoffman beds his father’s business partner’s wife and falls in love with their daughter. Then things get complicated. 10 (out of 10)

“The Graduate”

Released: 1967

Rating: PG

Length: 106 minutes

Cast: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross, William Daniels

Director: Mike Nichols

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Comedy

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

It’s not often that a sequel surpasses the original, but James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” certainly does. The reason is that Cameron wisely decided not to rehash the hugely successful Terminator movie. He turned his nascent franchise on its ear by making the original T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) this film’s hero. This T-800 is sent back from the future to protect the teenage John Conner (Edward Furlong) from the shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick). In the process of rescuing mom Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) from a mental hospital and convincing Cyberdyne’s lead inventor Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) to destroy his work, the T-800 and John, forge an unlikely friendship. It almost takes on the air of a buddy film with John teaching the socially-awkward Terminator (He is an android, after all.) catchphrases like “Hasta la vista, baby” while the T-800 becomes the father figure John’s never had. Robert Patrick’s T-1000 is imposing because of his dogged determination and the serious expression he maintains throughout the film (Android, again). And the special effects still stand up today. There’s a sequel (a lackluster retread of this story, wisely not directed by Cameron) so you know that judgment day will still arrive. But that shouldn’t spoil the enjoyment of watching John, Sarah and the Terminator trying to keep the future from happening. My tweet about the Terminator turned Governor: Terminator 2: Judgment Day-Cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger finds Robert Patrick’s T-1000 almost as challenging as the California legislature. 8.5 (out of 10)


“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Released: 1991

Rating: R

Length: 139 minutes

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong

Director: James Cameron

Genre(s): Sequel, Action, Thriller