Justin Ellis (Portland Press Herald) & I on the new releases for 3/16/10

It’s been over a week since Oscar night and Jonesy and I have fully recovered from that night of mayhem. Many thanks to all of you who were involved in the hijinks. On this week’s docket for new DVD releases we have fresh work from Pedro Almodovar, a set back for Laurence Fishburne and an unsatisfying ninja movie. Who knew that was possible…

Broken Embraces

Videoport Jones: There are a few names in the current cinematic landscape that I take as guaranteed solid-fried gold when it comes to movies: Pixar. Miyazaki. Coen Brothers. Mirren. Raimi. The Cloon. Anderson (Wes). Anderson (Paul Thomas). And Almodovar. Say it with me- “Almodovar.” Now say it with a seductive Spanish accent- “Al-mo-DO-varrrrr.” Ahhhh. For those of you who don’t know the decades-long filmic output of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, well, I actually both pity and envy you; pity because you’ve missed out on nineteen of the weirdest, sexiest, funniest, most downright affecting and beautiful films you’ve ever seen, and envy because you now have the opportunity to experience them all for the first time (if you listen to my smarty-pants advice).  “Broken Embraces,” like most Almodovar, is a peerlessly-balanced mixture of high melodrama, gorgeous visuals, creatively kinky sex, absurdist comedy, and genuine emotion. This one is an intricately-flashbacked tale of a blind former film director coping with the present-day fallout of a tumultuous affair he had with the voluptuous star (voluptuous star Penelope Cruz) of his last film who happened to be the former-prostitute mistress of a powerful industrialist who financed the film to keep her happy and to keep an eye on her. Whew – you got all that? Anyway, like usual, Almeda takes this would-be convoluted plot and imbues it with a lush, resonant thematic weight. Plus, did I mention sexy? Seriously, Penelope Cruz is never more breathtakingly beautiful or magnetic than when she teams up with Pedro; if I were an American actress justifiably upset at the dearth of decent roles for women in Hollywood, I’d start taking Spanish lessons and get Almodovar on speed dial. Great movie.

Justin: Oh Jonesy, you’re placing too much faith in Hollywood and it’s actresses. How many American actresses do you think are open to staring in a foreign film? It doesn’t seem like you often hear of Reese Witherspoon or Rachel Adams rolling the dice to star in a movie where they speak anything other than English. While understandable on one hand (learning other languages is hard), on the other hand who wouldn’t want to give it a shot? You could potentially build a bigger fan base, right? Anyhoo, you are correct on several counts, Almodovar has a singular eye for combining humor, drama and yes, a little naughtiness, that I think makes for good movies regardless of what language is being spoken. But I’d also say his films, though they often have these emotionally wrought themes at the center (Anyone see “Volver?”), I’d say they’re more than accessible to American audiences. And since Almodovar has a thing for Ms. Cruz, that doesn’t hurt.

The Fourth Kind

VPJ: The undeniably-hot, yet increasingly-seemingly-less-than-copiously-talented Milla Jovovich stars in this alien abduction scare flick and, well, she’s still very, very pretty. As for the movie, it’s a blend of sci fi thriller and “documentary” recreations of the Alaska abductions which are still going on to this day, which I’d find a lot more compelling if alien abductions weren’t silly, easily-explainable, new agey koo-koo crap. There a couple of decent (fictional) scares here and there, and some decent support from actual actors Elias Koteas and Will Patton, but like all of the “based on a true story” supernatural films (like the supremely silly “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), “The Fourth Kind” hopes that audience gullibility will make up for its inherent mediocrity. (Oh and for anyone trotting out the “based on a true story” business with wide-eyed, new agey fervor, just direct them to the IMDb’s trivia page…BOOM, lawyered!)

JE: Did someone just get SERVED? Legal-style?! I love it when that happens. Look, I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say I don’t particularly fancy Ms. Jovovich. She doesn’t really, ahem, raise the meter for me in any significant way through her acting or her looks. In fact, the acting just undermines everything else. So let’s start from there. Second, I am so flippin’ tired of this “based on a true story” hokum. Yes, hokum. If you are using that tag line, please, please save it for a political drama, autobiography or war epic. All you’re doing by slapping that nonsense on a 3rd rate thriller or horror flick is making a desperate grab for credibility and shock value. That’s pathetic. Make a better movie or get out of the way.

Astro Boy

VPJ: Anime nerds went bananas over the changes made in the original. Right-wingers went bananas over the plot’s transparently pro-environmentalist, anti-militaristic politics. And while I am pleased on general principles whenever right-wingers are thrown into a tizzy, I have to say I have never had any feelings for the titular robotic hero, a Bob’s Big

I'm Astro Boy!

Boy/Lard Lad-lookin’ little guy with rockets in his butt. The participation of Nicholas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Billy Nighy, Samuel L. Jackson, et al is the standard “I’m doing it for the money/the grandkids/the IRS” overqualified-yet-undistinguished voice actor shuffle, and, well, I’m just gonna trail off right about here…

JE: Uh, no Jonesy, everyone knows Astro Boy’s rockets are in his feet, which is the way Dr. Tenma designed them to give Astro better stability when…wait, oh crap…I just went into obnoxious nerd mode. Everyone I am so, so sorry. I have no genuine feelings for Astro Boy, I can’t say I’ve watched all the cartoons and collected all comics. I have not. But I’ve seen enough that I can say it is moderately enjoyable fun, minus the almost Disney-like origin story where the doc creates Astro to replace his dead son. Yes, Dead. Son. So THAT’s creepy. Still, I think it’s a fun little trip and in this case the CGI, while not great, is not a detriment. And if it’s got a few famous voices (let’s not forget Kristen Bell, Eugene Levy and Charlize Theron), all the better.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

VPJ: Having never read the late hipster god David Foster Wallace’s source book (Back hipsters! Back! I’ll get around to it, geez…), I can’t speak to the difficulties encountered by writer/director/costar/’Office’ cutie-hunk John Krasinski as he sought to turn Wallace’s typically-sprawling, aside-laden treatise on man-woman relationships into a movie. However, since the adjective most often applied to the book in reviews is ‘unflimable,’ well, I guess it was pretty hard. What I can say is that our own Jim Halpert has done a creditable job crafting a funny, moving, and decidedly oddball indie flick with more to say about those pesky relationships than a shelfload of Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, or Gerard Butler flicks combined. Basically, the film takes the form of a series of monologues where pretty much every famous friend Krasinski has tells their own story of romantic misbehavior. Sure, he grafts a framing story about a recently-dumped young woman conducting the interviews in order to gain some insight into what went wrong and to gage the effect of feminism on relationships in general onto the proceedings, but really, the film is just an excuse for some really interesting actors to do their thing. Chris Meloni, Chris Messina, Timothy Hutton, Will Arnett, Will Forte, Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon from “The Wire!”), Bobby Cannavale, Josh Charles, Frankie Faison, and more bring their own particular gifts to the party and, if it’s a little uneven in tone, and perhaps a tad self-indulgent that Krasinski gives himself the final, and most important interview, well, Halpert really knocks it out of the park. By the way, this seems like a perfect compromise for that ‘date night’ movie; it’s got a certain chick flick pallor to it, but is loaded with cool actors and has more substance than anything Kate Hudson’s slinging this week.

JE: Sweet fancy moses…what if you’ve hit on something? Can such a thing as the perfect date night movie exist? Something to satisfy the pining for emotionality and gooeyness that your lady wants combined with cool, identifiable actors? They said it couldn’t be done! I have not seen this one yet, but it is nearing the top of my list, largely because it is based on Wallace’s book and because Krasinski took a chance on it. I’m gonna say Halpert is at a crucial point in his career now, he could go on being the guy we know and love  (and will be typecast as) from “The Office,” or he could branch off and see what happens. I liked him a lot in “Away We Go,” and am anxious to see what he does here. I’d say it’s probably best to measure this on whether it’s a good film and not whether it lives up to Wallace, because really, nothing can ever do that.

Ninja Assassin

VPJ: “NINJA ASSASSIN!!!” How could I not watch a movie with that title?! I mean…”NINJA ASSASSIN!!!” Ninjas! Assassinating things! Wahoo! Yeah…this movie sucks. Here’s a (partial) list of its cinematic crimes against ninja-osity: 1. The lead character, the titular N.A. is simply the most boring ninja the world has ever seen. An expressionless, charisma-less wispy-thin little fella, Rain (a mono-named Korean boy-band superstar) clearly has no real martial arts skills (although he can do a mean handstand on a bed of nails and has been doing his crunches). 2. CGI blood anyone? Lots and lots of it! N.A. overloads on it, and on strategically-placed and wholly-uninvolving over-the-top gory set pieces, also populated by the only Asian action actors in Hollywood who haven’t got “martial arts” on their resumes. 3. All the talking taking up the space in between the unconvincing “ninja” action is as dull as it is humanly possible to be, spoken by the most nondescript collection of knockoff actors you’ve seen outside of a Lifetime original movie. Seriously gang, this is the ninja movie for people who’ve never heard of Sho Kosugi (who has a supporting part in the film, and who could snap Rain-man into tiny, little faux-ninja pieces, even at 62). Disappointed!!!! Ninja Assassin, my ass…

JE: Is there anything worse than a crappy ninja movie? Is there nothing that won’t make a grown man more angry than a lackluster, underwhelming ninja film? (Well…other than trauma involving their favorite sports team, or body part, or running out of beer, or being stuck in an elevator with your lady and Jon Hamm. Seriously, no one wants that. You’re doomed.) Though hearing your assessment of NA does save me the trouble of watching this one, it’s more disheartening than anything else. I mean…it’s a ninja movie! There are only a few things in life as pure and enjoyable as a ninja movie. Stealthy butt-kicking against impossible odds, that’s a ninja movie, right? And seriously, if you’re casting a ninja movie and your lead has no discernible martial arts chops or ability to learn some convincing moves, you should be arrested. See what happens when you give us a bad ninja movie? We turn into Andy Rooney.


VPJ: Take an overqualified cast of movie tough guys (Fred Ward! Laurence Fishburne! Jean Reno! Matt Dillon!), throw in a halfway decent armored car heist plot, toss in a dash of the fact that you’ve never heard of this movie despite the cast, and that it’s essentially heading right to DVD, and what have you got? Well, this, of course. I wanted to see it, sort of. But then, well, you know…

JE: No, no, no! NO JONESY! Do not be deceived by false promises of awesomeness. Look, we all love Laurence “Don’t call me Larry. Don’t you dare” Fishburne, but that doesn’t mean he’s gonna get me to watch this one. I watched “Fled” and that was the last time he tricked me. I’m a man of reasonable tastes, who enjoys heist movies and even Matt Dillon in small doses, but this one has an unreasonable odor of mediocrity. You can do better Jonesy. Laurence can sure as heck do better. Dare I say, America can do better.

The Princess and the Frog

VPJ: New Disney animated flick. First African-American princess lead character, which is fine, if, you know, fifty years kind of late. Some decent voice actors (John Goodman, Keith David, Oprah, Terrance Howard). Not by Pixar, though. Pass.”

JE: I’m of conflicting minds on this one. While I have no desire to see it, I recognize the significance (no matter how late). It may not seem like much, but for kids it does help to have cartoons or characters who look like them (just ask the spazzy young nerd growing up in Minneapolis who wondered why the only black dude he’s seen in the Justice League if Black Lightning. That’s another discussion). On the other hand, Disney has clearly run it’s course creatively. While I give them some respect for trying to make a more modern fairy tale, I think the kids have passed them by. Not that they don’t want fantastic fare or fun stories, but I don’t know if the whole “princess” thing holds as much sway as it once did. Dear Mouse House – leave it to Pixar.

RAPID FIRE – And the rest: Breaking Bad – Season 2 (Everybody’s favorite drug dealer hero – well, except for ‘Weeds’, but…), Wonderful World (Matthew Broderick stars, alongside “The Wire’s” Omar himself, Michael K. Williams!), the last season of Monk, and a new four movie set of Mystery Science Theater 3000, (featuring “The Beatniks,” “The Crawling Eye,” “The Final Sacrifice,” and “The Blood Waters of Dr. Z!”)


– Why don’t more American actresses work in foreign films?

– Name a good use of the “Based on a True Story” tag for a movie

– Is there anything worse than an underwhelming ninja movie?

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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