Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday Review: (Almost) New Releases

Briane Pagel won the $5 for being the first to know that Jimmy Olsen is Superman's Pal and Lois Lane is Superman's Girl Friend.
And Stephen Hayes (The Chubby Chatterbox) won the $1 participation prize.

That's how easy it is, folks.  Just tune in at noon EST (Blogger time) the second Wednesday of August for the next chance to win.  If you're not fond of noon, then vote in the poll on the right side of the screen.  Now on with the show!

I keep telling myself I should go watch movies that are out in theaters right now and review them.  That would probably be more interesting to people.  But I can't ever seem to drag myself to the theater to do it.  Except when the next Batman movie comes out.  I'll make time for that.

Anyway, so here are some recent DVD releases I've watched.  Some are probably still not on Netflix (Qwikster) or Redbox yet (according to someone at Redbox they are available now), but you can get them at Blockbuster or On Demand or in the store.  And if you notice, they all feature a proper name in the titles:  Sherlock Holmes, John Carter, Jeff, and Kevin.  Neat.

First up:  Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows

The short version:  I didn't like this one as much as the first one.  Which is too bad since Moriarity is supposed to be Holmes's the Joker or something so I'd hoped it would be better, like "The Dark Knight" to "Batman Begins."  Instead it was more "Iron Man 2":  OK, but not great.

The first thing that annoyed me was when they killed off a main character from the last movie in the first five minutes or so.  That never works, which is why in part GI JOE 2 has been pushed back from two weeks ago to March; test audiences wanted more Channing Tatum, though I wouldn't.  Then after that the next thing is pretty much this movie rips off the plot of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."  Except there weren't any superheroes or vampires or Sean Connery, but it was the same deal of Moriarty manipulating things to create a World War about 20 years before it happened for real.

While the first movie was more of a detective story with murders and searches for clues and such pretty much entirely in London, the sequel plays out like a steampunk James Bond movie.  It starts in London and then moves on through the English countryside, to outside Paris, to Germany, and then finally to Switzerland on the trail of Moriarty.  They really should have got them to Monaco or something to do some gambling as happens in most every Bond film.  Then he could have said, "My name is Holmes, Sherlock Holmes."

Something that occurred to me later is they didn't tie it to the first movie very well.  First, if Moriarty is some famous professor and lecturer, why is he always going around in the first one with his face hidden from view?  (I mean other than we hadn't really cast an actor for the second one yet.)  I mean the Rachel MacAdams character knew who he was, so why bother with all the secrecy when they met?  Also, what happened to the radio detonator he stole at the end of the first one?  That didn't seem to have much impact on the second film.  And what happened to his little gun in its spring-loaded wrist holster thing?  Why didn't we ever see that in the second movie?  Really, maybe they should have taken another year or two to work on a better script.  I'm just saying.

But it was entertaining, even if it felt a bit long and stale.  I suppose there will probably be a third one, which I will also probably watch On Demand or on DVD since I wouldn't really pay more than $5 for it.

Next:  the much-maligned John Carter

Short version:  this probably doesn't deserve to be one of the biggest flops of all time.  It wasn't really a terrible movie, not like "Plan 9 From Outer Space" or something of that caliber.  I think the biggest problem though was they stuck too close to the source material.

By that I mean it felt pretty old-fashioned.  First was keeping the setting on Mars.  That worked fine in the 19th Century but now we've landed several probes on Mars, so we know there aren't walking cities and spindly alien dudes and such nonsense.  Your target audience (teenagers) has grown up with live feeds from the Martian rover and so forth, so you can't really blame them if they thought that was kind of lame.

Also, the costumes and the machines and such all looked pretty corny.  Or maybe I should say quaint, or again old-fashioned.  OK, that worked for "Avatar" but they did not have James Cameron on staff.  I watched this on an old low-def TV while I was sick, but the effects didn't look great.  Maybe I've just watched too many of these movies, but it was pretty obvious when something was green screened, which kind of made it hard for me to lose myself in the fantasy and whatnot.  While I'm at it, the names were pretty corny too.  The big city is named Helium?  Really?  And Barsoom and Jasoom, it just all sounded lame.  But then Star Wars probably sounded lame to a lot of people too.

The meta device of Edgar Rice Burroughs being a nephew or whatever of John Carter didn't work for me either.  Especially since first you have a prologue and then you have this meta device and only then do you start to get to the freaking movie after like a half-hour.  And then it took another half-hour to get him to Mars.  I'm probably overestimating that, but I doubt by a lot.

It was OK just from an entertainment standpoint.  As I said it wasn't a terrible movie.  They just shouldn't have gone so far over budget that it cost them a huge tax writeoff.

Now for a couple of "indie" movies.  First up:  Jeff Who Lives at Home

I'm a big fan of quirky indie comedies or dramedies like "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Cedar Rapids."  So this movie was up my alley.  It's about a guy named Jeff who lives at home (obviously) where he spends most of his time smoking weed and watching "Signs" which he thinks holds some key to the universe.  (Though it's funny for how much it's mentioned we never see any footage of "Signs" or even a movie poster or other such merchandise.  I guess the rights cost too much.)

Anyway, one day Jeff gets a call from someone looking for a dude named Kevin, but there's no Kevin who lives there.  Still, Jeff thinks it's a sign.  So when he goes out to buy wood glue from Home Depot and sees a kid with a jersey saying "Kevin" on the back he follows the kid to a basketball court, which leads to him getting mugged.

Eventually he runs into his brother Pat, who's having marital difficulties exacerbated when he bought a Porsche without consulting his wife.  Pat and Jeff go in search of Pat's wife, which ultimately leads to a couple more misadventures and then something that illustrates the interconnectedness of things.  Woven into that is their mom (Susan Sarandon) has a secret admirer at work.  She finds this out via AOL Instant Message, which made me think, "What is this, 1999?"  Who uses instant messages anymore with Twitter and Facebook and so forth?

I thought this was a fun little movie.  The biggest problem with it is while it says a running time of 83 minutes, the end credits run so slow they take as long as "The Avengers" despite that the movie doesn't have 20 computer effects companies involved.  This seemed like obvious padding to me.  The actual run time is probably closer to 75 minutes, which is pretty damned short even for an indie movie.

The camera work also really annoyed me.  This movie was directed by the Duplass brothers and when I watched their movie "Cyrus" earlier in the year I noticed how they would zoom the camera in and out really quickly.  It got to be really annoying because it looked so amateurish, like something you'd see in someone's wedding video or home movies.  The same thing applies to "Jeff..." which made me think for their next movie the Duplasses really need to let someone else work the camera.  I mean if you ever want to be in the big time you need a real cinematographer.  Maybe the idea is to give it a more intimate, homemade feel but it seems kind of bush league to me.

Still, I thought it was a good movie despite the deficiencies mentioned.  Though you could probably wait for it to come out on Netflix or something.  I mean why pay $5 or so for a 75-minute film?  I'm cheap that way.

And finally:  We Need to Talk About Kevin

When a school massacre like Columbine happens, we usually think a lot about the victims and try to psychoanalyze the shooters.  (Or you just make a rambling, largely pointless film to capitalize on the tragedy like "Bowling for Columbine.")  How often do we think about the family of the killers?  In a way they're victims too.

So this movie traces the relationship between a killer, Kevin, and his mother, Eva.  Like many movies we can't do this in chronological order.  Instead it's all a mash-up of past and present.  The easy way to tell what's happening when is by Tilda Swinton's hair.  When it's really short then you know it's before the massacre.  If it's shoulder-length then you know it's after the massacre.  And if it's really long you know it's before she had Kevin.  (Sometimes I wonder how the screenwriter and director figure out how to order everything.  Do they just throw script pages into the air and then put them back together?)

Anyway, since he was born Kevin never liked Eva.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe like Stewie Griffin on "Family Guy" he resents being trapped in the womb for nine months.  Whatever the case he's never liked her and after a few months she doesn't like him either.  She tries to get through to him to love him, but it never really works.  The situation isn't helped by her husband Franklin, who spoils Kevin and always takes his side when Kevin destroys Eva's new office or deliberately shits his diaper to make her clean it.

Eventually Eva has the idea to have another kid, this time a girl who is relatively normal.  But this doesn't really help things.  If anything it makes Kevin worse.  And finally he does the unthinkable.  After which, Eva is left to pick up the pieces.  She unwisely stays in the same area instead of moving far away, or perhaps to another country.  She drags herself to prison to visit Kevin despite that they don't say much.

Obviously this is not a feel good movie.  It's not a popcorn movie either.  But it's the kind of movie that might make you think--what a scary proposition.  Maybe it oversells its message a little and the end is a little inconclusive, but it's still a good movie for when you want something serious.

Tomorrow is a guest post by none other than the Grumpy Bulldog...


  1. Pat, you're right about teenagers not getting it. It didn't have the cool look and feel of modern space dramas. I'd actually say the opposite about John Carter being true to the source material. They tried to go for a steam punk thing instead of treating it like Avatar. The books are still good even today.

  2. I didn't enjoy John Carter, I liked Sherlock Holmes but not enough to watch it more than once, haven't seen Kevin, and haven't seen Jeff (but it's on my list).

  3. I totally get what you're saying about Sherlock Holmes. The thing that redeemed it for me was that hope that Rachel McAdams didn't really die, and the speculation for the next movie. but otherwise you're right, not as good as the 1st.

    That last movie sounds really depressing, I might have to check it out.

  4. I thought the same thing about John Carter. Mars, I thought? They're still going with Mars? How positively Victorian (NOTE: I needed to explain how insanely apropos that comment was to my kids, who were too busy texting to understand).

  5. Wow! I never win anything except speeding tickets. Thanks so much. And you can sign me up with those who didn't think John Carter was a total flop. I liked the quaintness of it, sort of like the 1960 version of The Time Machine.

  6. I never saw John Carter, but I really like the lead from Friday Night Lights. I also liked Jeff Who Lives At Home, though it really is more drama than comedy. Looking forward to more of your reviews! Julie

  7. John Carter had to be on Mars, considering the title there was no way to get around that. In this case, I figure they had to stick the original story or else it would become a different story...and then you might as well toss the name "John Carter" out the window.

    And it reminded me of Star Wars at times.

  8. How did I not win a participation prize? I phrased the Bizarro response perfectly accurately for Bizarro.

    Anyway, I'm already on record as having loved John Carter, even the bits that were purely Disney (which was the struggle the film really fought to overcome). I haven't seen the others.

  9. Thanks for the reviews. I'd been wondering about Sherlock Holmes; I liked the first movie but haven't seen the second yet.

  10. I hardly ever go to the theaters any more either, P.T. My homemade popcorn tastes better, I can wear my sloppy clothes or pajamas to watch a DVD or streamed movie, and I prefer reading reviews like yours before I decide what to watch. Thanks for these.

  11. I've heard mixed reviews about, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows". Although if it's a bit long and stale as you note, it seems like the kind of movie that would cure my insomnia.
    And "Grumpy Bulldog". A guest post by such a legend. Look forward to that. Grumpy left some hilarious comments on my site. Yep, them were da daze....

  12. I think they went in the wrong direction with Sherlock myself. I want more of a detective story, not the action movie.

    And John Carter was 220 million dollars in the making. It's a shame that the fx didn't impress you, it's not like they were paying 30 million a piece to the stars of the film. I enjoyed it myself, the setting on mars didn't bother me so much, but if they were going to stay so close to the source material then they should have at least kept the name.

    I didn't see the other two, but Jeff who lives at home is on my list to be watched in the future. The last one isn't my cup of tea though.



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