Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Men in Black Movie Review

Men in Black
Father: *** 1/2 Son: *** 1/2

William the Younger:

This is easily one of the funniest movies I have seen in my entire life. It combines a ton of the things I really like to make something that is near perfect. And it gets points for being a superb film that came out in 1997, the year the film industry was on cocaine, pot, or something, and produced some really big piles of crap like Batman and Robin, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, Steel, The Postman, The Saint, and many others, but I don't have enough time to talk about them right now. And it gets even more points, because 1997 was the year of my birth (man, I was born in the year where just about every movie that came out sucked. It must be my destiny to review them. YIKES!).

So this is the pl-- You know what, since this movie is just so hysterical, I think that it is best for me NOT to tell you what the plot is. Now that I have thought of this, I think that is how every one of my reviews is going to be like, from now on. Hmmmm....I've got another idea! How about I quote hysterical lines from this movie, and put a picture from the scene that I am reciting next to the dialogue!

There is a scene in this movie where Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) has Agent J (Will Smith) help an alien mother deliver a squid-like baby, while K escorts the father out of the scene to talk to him. This is pretty much the scene:
Agent K, p
ointing at the mother: You take care of her.
Agent J: What? How?

Father: Are you sure about this?
Agent K: Oh sure, he does it all the time.
Agent J, looking at the mother: OK, just breathe, yeah....Oh! K! Damn man! Damn!
And the result is the picture you are looking at now.

Oh, I can barely breathe I am laughing so hard! This movie is brilliant! I would love to post more of these, but I'm afraid I can't, because I would probably spoil something for everyone reading this. Oh what the heck! I'll do it anyway!

There is another scene where Zed, pretty much the boss of The Men in Black tells Agent K to get Agent J a weapon. They go to a chest full of weapons, and this is how the scene goes:

Agent K, pulling out a pretty large gun: A Series Four De-atomizer.
Agent J: That's what I'm talking about.
Agent K, pulling out an extremely small gun and handing it to J: Noisy Cricket.
Agent J, looking at the small gun: Hey, K, no no. Come on man, you get a Series Four De-atomizer, and I get a little midgy cricket?
Agent K, noticing that J is pointing it at him: Woah!
Agent J: I feel like I'm gonna break this damn thing!

Hilarious! Pure comic gold! Oh, man, I think I might pass out from laughing so much!! Once again, hilarious! Definitely pick this one up! Surprisingly though, this movie has flaws. Sometimes being just plain weird is an advantage, but if you use it enough, it will get kind of old. But all in all, this movie is superb. Pick it up NOW, if you can. I give Men in Black, being a very near perfect movie, three and a half stars.

For those of you who are wondering why my dad didn't give you his review yet, he is very busy and will try to get to his review as quickly as possible.

William the Elder:

Men in Black resides near the top of the short list of movies I would love to see again for the first time. And yet it loses little of its manic comic energy over the course of repeated viewings.

It has a "flake"* similar to the one that inspired Ghostbusters: It presents patently implausible situations in a sober, deadpan fashion that accentuates their comic value, where a more over-the-top approach would reduce the material to sophomoric camp.  

Men in Black was not the first film that attempted to capture the elusive quality that made Ghostbusters a comic milestone; that distinction, such as it is, belongs to that film's wan and regrettable sequel. Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman tried another version of that formula in 2001 with Evolution, only to find that the ingredients didn't quite cohere. In fact, it's difficult to think of a film apart from Men in Black -- including its own thoroughly unnecessary sequel -- that managed to play as a Ghostbusters-style hip action comedy, rather than a derivative, self-aware corporate attempt to mimic that approach.

It's difficult for me to imagine how the pairing of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith came together. This could easily have been the cinematic equivalent of a sauerkraut sundae -- an unpalatable amalgam of two elements, each of which is delectable in its element but prove lethal in combination. Instead, the result is akin to a salted nut roll, in which the seemingly incompatible elements play off each other delightfully.

Both Jones and Smith (could the actors have been chosen to play the anonymous "Men in Black" because of their nondescript surnames?) play the material absolutely straight; any other approach would have been disastrous. Rip Torn, as their supervisor, exudes a certain curmudgeonly authority while getting off what I think was the movie's funniest line ("Sucks, doesn't it?" -- you have to see the context in order to understand). The creature effects and other visuals are effective without being obtrusive.

Watching this film recently more than a decade after its release, it became obvious to me why Will Smith has emerged as the largest box-office draw in the world. He is effortlessly charismatic and compulsively watchable, combining athleticism, shrugged-off wit, and enough legitimate acting chops to play more serious dramatic beats. He could have done credit to the role of Phil Lynott in the proposed (but aborted) bio-pic. Tommy Lee Jones, who has both an Emmy (Lonesome Dove) and Oscar (The Fugitive) to his credit, is used here primarily as a reactive lead: His stolidity gives Smith plenty of space to engage in his more kinetic brand of action comedy.

The only negative aspect of Men in Black is the fact that its success prompted the studio to attempt to make it into a franchise, rather than permitting audiences to savor it as a unique pleasure.

*"Flake" in this sentence is used in the same sense as in the film The Color of Money. It describes an eccentric creative gift.

(Father & Son Reviews uses the four-star rating system, not the five-star or anything like that.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop Movie Review

Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Father: *** Son: * 1/2

William The Younger:

Booorrinnggg!! *sigh*

Kevin James plays the title character in this movie, so that should be warning enough! Man, does this movie give me a migraine!!! Ooooh...OOHH....Ahhh...and it makes me feel sick, I'm serious. I dodge under a table and take a little while off to vomit in a very large cup. It overflows onto my copy of this movie. Lucky me.

Oh, OK, I'm fine now. Our family saw this in the theater, thanks to Roger Ebert. Curse you and your phony review!! This is the last time you fool me!!! Wait, this came out before Knowing didn't it? Grrrr...Well, this is the NEXT to last time you fool me!!!

I guess I shouldn't be that harsh. For heaven's sake, the poor man had his jaw removed because it was cancerous!

Anyway, on to the plot: Well, Paul Blart is, you guessed it, a mall cop who lives with his mom and is trying desperately to become a part of the New Jersey State Police. But, he obviously fails. So he drives his Segway to work and meets a girl...oh whatever!!

Screw this, I'll just tell you what happens. Some people take over the mall while he's rocking out in the video game corner, and they take hostages. One of them is the girl he met. He must rescue her.


Ohhh! What? I fell asleep while typing, sorry.

This movie is just so flat-out boring, that it makes watching wet paint dry seem like a blast! *Stare* Anyway, the music is annoying most of the time, the acting is hideous, the jokes are focused around fat people a lot of the time, the story is crap, but strangely enough, since I am anti-cop (not mall cop) and anti-government, I liked how... well, I can't tell you.

Hmph. I hate not being able to spoil stuff for people. Anyway, I guess it would be OK as a Redbox rental, if you have a Redbox around. Or you could use it as target practice for your 50 caliber sniper rifle, or hypnotize yourself by flushing it down the toilet. But you want to know something? Some of this movie was actually pretty funny!

But Paul Blart: Mall Cop suffers from too many "surprises", way too many hypoglycemia jokes, an overdose of fat jokes (I'm not encouraging movies to have any fat jokes at all), and sometimes it will take itself WAAAAAAAYYYYY to seriously.

Overall, this movie sucks. I recommend that if you buy it, which you hopefully won't, buy it in the value pack named "PAUBLANG!!!!!" which includes TNT and Duct Tap.

(WARNING: DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT buy this movie unless you can afford the value pack or if you get sick a lot, like I do). If you want to see a much more positive review, go and read my dad's review.

(Father & Son Reviews uses the four-star rating system, not the five-star or anything like that.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Knowing Movie Review

Father: ** 1/2 Son: **

William The Younger:

. It was sort of fun at times, but the kind of fun that doesn't put all of its heart into something. Yeah, it did have a lot of the stuff I really like (extremely awesome/gruesome violence, a little bit of Beethoven, creepy soundtrack), but that just doesn't really help it.

So this is pretty much the plot: In the year 1959, a school in Lexington, Massachusetts has decided that all the students in the school will draw a picture of what they think the future will look like, and then they will put it into a time capsule and unearth it 50 years into the future.

One little girl named Lucinda does not draw a picture. Instead she writes numbers all over both sides of her paper. After everyone is finished drawing, they take everyone's paper and put them in envelopes with the student's name on them. The envelopes are then put into the time capsule, not to be opened until 2009.

Finally, the capsule is opened. Every student at the school in the year 2009 gets to see one of the pictures. Caleb Koestler, the son of the main character receives the the envelope with Lucinda's name on it. He opens it up and finds all the numbers she wrote on it. He brings it home, and goes to bed.

John Koestler, the main character and Caleb Koestler's father studies it overnight. He discovers that each of the numbers shows the date of every major disaster in the world. It also shows how many people were, or are going to be killed. There are only three of the numbers left.

Really exciting, isn't it? That's what I first thought when I saw Roger Ebert's review. He gave it four stars out of four!!! The man is mad nowadays!!! Giving Star Trek two and a half stars, and MI3 two and a half stars!!! He must have something against J.J. Abrams!! And not to mention giving the Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor three stars?!! The Mummy 3 was sooooooooooo hideously diabolical, that if you look up "A Complete Disaster" in the dictionary, this movie is right alongside Batman and Robin!!! But that is a rant I will save for later.

Anyway, the movie has some very intense violence, the kind I'm looking forward to in the new movie, 2012. And it has got some pretty awesome music in it, the kind of disturbing music that should, again, be in 2012.

Seriously though, I've seen some awful child actors in my time, but the one who plays Caleb is the worst of the bunch. For instance, there is a scene in this movie where the to main adult characters are investigating something, and they leave Caleb and a little girl inside the van. Out of nowhere these creepy people come up and stand right next to the van, while Caleb doesn't display any emotion WHATSOEVER!! This "Keanu Reveesness" of his goes on for the entire film.

Besides the boy who plays Caleb, the acting is occasionally stale, and the special effects aren't the best, but then again, it has Nicholas Cage as the main character. Gotta hand it that. This film actually had a very disturbing opening, and a very emotional scene very close to the end. But all in all, it's not my type of disaster movie (Hmmm.... I wonder if Cloverfield is any good...maybe I should pick that one up...). I do recommend you to pick this up for a cheap price if you can, or rent it.

Speaking of disaster movies, I've gotta go and re-watch Deep Impact. And I wanna see Mr. M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. That one isn't a disaster movie, more like a horror, but from what I've heard, it's awesome. Anyway, this concludes my review. Hopefully you like mine almost as much as my dad's (that would be a new record for me! :D)

William the Elder:

Knowing was much better on the page than on the screen. The story is based on a terrific idea and it unfolds at a good pace. The direction is crisp, the cinematography exceptional, the score appropriately atmospheric and the visual effects satisfactory (and occasionally exceptional).

Yet the film seems inert rather than involving, as if the producers had gathered the ingredients for TNT and followed all the proper directions -- and ended up with a damp squib, rather than a satisfying, ground-shaking explosion.

In some ways, Knowing builds on the eerie "twist" film gimmick that made, and then destroyed, M. Knight Shyamalan's career. The conceit at the center of the story strongly resembles the one offered by Signs, which was Shyamalan's last decent film. Knowing deals with the issue of cosmogony: Are we here simply because "s**t just happens," as Cage's character says at one point, or is the universe the product of an Intelligent Design? Knowing offers an answer not all that different from the one presented in Shyamalan's vastly superior film.

Unlike Knowing, Signs succeeded was in creating a small ensemble of well-wrought characters brought to life through effective performances. And Signs, like most of Shyamalan's films (at least the ones that work) successfully evokes a sense of a specific place, his beloved Pennsylvania. Where his films work the events and action, however implausible, are made believable by the involvement of apparently real people in a recognizable place. Knowing never manages to accomplish this critical illusion, which demonstrates just how difficult it is to accomplish what Shyamalan has done, and how genuinely remarkable his gifts are, despite his regrettable recent career trajectory.

Nicholas Cage has made a mini-career out of playing the Earnest Unraveller of Esoteric Truths in the National Treasure films; here he recycles most of his acting beats from those movies while leaving out the wit and offbeat charm that made their implausibilities palatable. This probably reflects the fact that Knowing is an End of Days story, which really doesn't permit character bits of that kind. But the pace and unremitting grimness of the movie -- along with a completely lifeless performance by the main child actor, who behaves as if he's been overdosed on Ritalin -- likewise impedes the development of the central characters to an extent sufficient to enlist the audience in their fate.

All the ingredients were here, and they were competently assembled, yet Knowing lacked the fundamental creative spark necessary for ignition. Perhaps this is an ironic validation of the need for genuinely intelligent design: Worthwhile stuff doesn't just "happen" by itself.

(Father & Son Reviews uses the four-star rating system, not the five-star or anything like that.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Star Trek Movie Review

Star Trek
Father: *** 1/2 Son: ****

William the Younger:

Yup, we saw Star Trek. Of course we would, dad and I are BIG Trekkies, so we went and saw this on opening day, and I can't say that we were disappointed.

The opening of this movie is set in the year 2233, and most of the movie is set in the year 2258. This is about the plot: Nero, the Romulan villain of this movie, is from the future. In the future were Nero is from, a star has gone supernova, and threatens to destroy Romulus. The future Spock has decided to help the Romulans by manning a ship called "The Jellyfish," which is equipped with "red matter" that, if shot into the supernova, would create a quantum singularity that would consume the supernova.

But Spock is to late and Romulus is destroyed. Nero, enraged that Spock did not save his world, promises that he will destroy all of the worlds that have anything to do with the Federation.

That's about it. I can't tell you anymore, otherwise I will spoil all of the awesome things in this film, and we wouldn't want that. Anyway, the acting in this is amazing, specifically Zachary Quinto who plays the younger Spock.

My dad thinks that Bruce Greenwood, who plays Captain Christopher Pike was the best, but that's besides the point. Chris Pine, who plays Kirk was great, and just about everyone else. Even Chekov, who has some hilarious Russian stereotypical scenes like pronouncing Vulcan "Wulcan." The special effects are life like, and the action is spot-on.

And I have to mention that the score is just awesome!! This film is just so amazing because it is beautifully written, and superbly directed. So if you're into awesome special effects, great adventure, a superb cast, big explosions, Star Trek, and amazing storytelling like I am, you should see this.

William the Elder:

As a Trek-Dork of long standing I have made it a policy -- nay, a law as insurmountable as the decrees of the Medes and Persians -- that I must see each new Star Trek film at the first available showing.

This means, of course, that I've been front-row center at the unveiling of some epochal cinematic debacles, such as "Star Trek V: The One that Sucked," and "Star Trek: Cure for Insomnia" (aka "Insurrection," a title that pioneered new territory in the practice of bombastic overkill).

Star Trek (2009) is considered to be a reboot/origin story akin to "Batman Begins" (the best of that genre) or "Casino Royale" (which is a respectable second). It is actually an alternative history for the established series, branching off at a tangent from the familiar "time-line" established in the classic 1960s TV show (aka The One True Trek). This approach offers some intriguing dramatic possibilities, since it will allow the custodians of the franchise to put the characters into peril in ways the series had avoided until now. And as the events of the current film illustrate, there is no "reset button" in the new continuity. Cool.

Trek '09 is blessed with an astonishingly good pre-credit teaser sequence that is the most riveting 10-15 minutes I've ever experienced in a Star Trek film. The first act is nearly flawless as well, sketching out the main characters in bold strokes and (with one critical exception) some depth -- particularly Spock.

There is an abundance of honestly earned laughs solidly rooted in character, and a few silly but effective bits of near-slapstick. When the crisis descends, however, the laughs are savagely silenced by a catastrophe that is shocking on both personal and cosmic levels.

The second act loses both narrative momentum and emotional resonance, and the third builds to a pretty standard -- albeit exceptionally well-produced -- action-movie gotterdammerung: Lotsa stuff gets blowed up reeeeeeeeeeal good, the Bad Guy gets to bellow that he should have killed one of the Good Guys when he "had the chance," the skies alight with phaser and torpedo fire -- all of that good stuff.

We're even treated to the sight of huge cracks carving themselves into the Enterprise and fissures spider-webbing their way across the Bridge viewport (which is actually a large window in this version) as, for the first time, Scotty's Caledonian brogue rends the air with the soon-to-be familiar exclamation, "I'm givin' her all I can, Captain!"

As I said, this is all very entertaining, albeit rather heavy on cinematic empty calories.

You've probably noticed that I've said nothing about the plot. That's entirely intentional, I assure you. The story rests a bit too heavily on coincidence and exceptionally unsound pseudo-science. The biggest weakness in this vastly entertaining film, however, is the thinness of one characterization in particular, and it just happens to be the central one -- James T. Kirk.

Chris Pine is a splendid actor who does a heroic job taking a one-dimensional cari-Kirk-ture (sorry; I should have, but couldn't, resist) and making it likeable. He clearly has studied Shatner's work, and his performance displays consistency with Shatner's posture, body language, and subtle (yes, I used that word in proximity to "Shatner") eye movements.

There is one sequence in particular in which Pine seems to be channeling Shatner in a way that is neither caricature nor homage; it's simply a case of a talented young actor nailing a role. The problems with Kirk in this film are not Pine's fault; they all lie on the written page.

In writing Kirk, the people responsible for the screenplay seem to have had their keyboards set permanently to "cocky."

Sure, Kirk is both very impressive and quite impressed with himself. But he was also capable of profound self-doubt, which is why McCoy was so important to him. Yes, Kirk had a Hall-of-Fame batting average with the ladies; in this film, however, he suffers from something akin to Satyriasis. He's a horndog of such relentless appetites that we see him making a pass when he's got one foot in the grave -- and on another occasion, trying to hit on Uhura immediately after making out with her Academy roommate. This sort of behavior might have struck Bill Clinton as a bit improper.

Near the end of the film -- I won't say where, but if you see the film, you'll know where it is -- there's a huge missed opportunity for a truly Kirkian moment. What distinguished Kirk from other action heroes of his vintage was his principled commitment to peaceful solutions where possible, and humane treatment of defeated enemies where conflict is irrepressible. There is a feint in this direction in Trek '09, but the writers apparently decided to go for the high-yield "Ka-BOOM!" approach over an ending that would have been more dramatically satisfying and truer to Trek's worldview.

Pine's Kirk is engaging and a lot of fun, but it's hard to say that he -- unlike Spock, for instance -- was changed by the events of this story. He started out as a charismatic, cocky, talented, sometimes obnoxious young man, and ended the story as a charismatic, cocky, talented, sometimes obnoxious young man with greater responsibilities. Comparisons to Tom Cruise's character in "Top Gun" suggest themselves, but I think Lord Flasheart from the Blackadder series offers a better comparison.

Zachary Quinto's Spock is both written and acted splendidly. Karl Urban as McCoy was terrifyingly good; as was the case with his performance in "Comanche Moon," in which he played a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' Capt. Woodrow Call, Urban simply inhabits this role.

A word or several must be said about the best performance in this film, which was offered by Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike. He plays a very different Pike from the one seen in "The Cage"; the earlier version was a young, grim, driven captain tormented by self-doubt and eager to escape the responsibilities of command.

Here, Greenwood plays Pike as an older, wiser captain who radiates confidence, competence, and calm courage. He has only a few brief moments at the helm of the Enterprise but Greenwood uses them to depict someone who belongs in the center seat -- someone to whom command authority comes naturally.

The characters are all in place at the end of the film, and the ensemble has signed on for two sequels. In case anyone connected to Paramount reads this review, I'm making it known that I've already written a treatment for a sequel; c'mon, won't you give a middle-aged Trek Dork a shot?

(Father & Son Reviews uses the four-star rating system, not the five-star or anything like that.)