Saturday, June 26, 2010

Knight and Day

The Flick: Knight and Day

The Cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Saarsgard, Viola Davis, Dale Dye, Paul Dano,Marc Blucas, etc.

The Dealio: Derring-do stunt-a-thon meets romcom meets nudge-nudge-wink-wink caper flick meets summer popcorn fodder in a movie that starts off sprinting, then jets (literally) into action overdrive. After not one, but two meet-cute run-ins (ordained by the cinematic overlords so that we are able to establish that Cruise's Roy is up to something besides getting his casual flirt on and that Diaz' June is both cute and oblivious), there is more snap, crackle and pop going on here than in a cereal factory during a milk tsunami. Ready? Seat belts on? Off we go:
Roy, a charmer-with many flashes back to the ol' patented Risky Business glance over the Raybans- abruptly morphs into a one man killing machine with, inexplicably-at least for now-a soft spot for June, a car restorer with great legs and terrible taste in men. On an airplane. In midflight. While she is in the bathroom, applying make-up and talking herself into startin' somethin' with the dude.
After walking away from a crash site (it's in all the ads, so I am not giving anything away), Ray slips June the first of several mickeys in order to whisk her-a citizen without passport-or really any sort of utility belt features, save an indestructible cell phone with intergalactic reception, but in possession of a learning curve of a Einstein/McGiver clone- to, variously, Spain, Austria and some sort of tropical island. Because, you see, Roy is actually some sort of rogue agent for an alphabet-named government agency. That, or one truly heroic, honest man amongst myriad cheater faces, who also happens, despite being on the lam, to have unlimited access to the most ultimate accessories known to any agent since double oh seven himself.
The story is that, supposedly, Roy is protecting both a unique and powerful battery, (yes, yes, a battery...and better than the one that keeps on going and...well, you know), and the young genius who created it (a remarkable, low-keyed Dano, who plays Simon like a newly-hatched chick, staring around him in eye-blinking lack of comprehension of the vagaries of man. With maths, he has no peer. With the affairs of daily life, the man-child has no experience). Ooooorrrr, all of that is cover for the agent having snapped his cap and gone on a killing rampage. You pick.
Dump in a few switchbacks- I love the way that any time our dynamic duo gets into seemingly inescapable trouble, the film has us see things through June's befuddled, knock-out-drops-fuzzed eyes. Hop to one instant after the crises have passed. Why mess about with the deets? Simply take it as given that Roy is indefatigable and undefeatable. Wrap the whole thing up in the only acceptable way possible: direct confrontation between the goodies and the baddies. And some encounters with rampaging bulls, flipping motorcycles, Publishers' Clearinghouse wins (2!), some truly inspired driving and a coupla really choice explosions.

The Grading Session: 4.189 pengies out of 5. This was the equivalent of going to the caterers to have a taste-test for your major event: lots of nibbles: some inspired and tasty, some attractive but not very nourishing, others unfortunate in their impertinence. None of which will stay with you for more than 2 hours, but neither should they send you at high speed to the nearest hospital for a round of stomach-pumping, either. In short: your classic, 'get-out-of-the-heat alternative to the World Cup afternoon at the movies'. Also- a bit less dwelling on Cruise's eye-crinkles and Diaz' make-up free complexion would be keen.

Lessons Learned: Roy can apparently re-rig an orbiting satellite with nothing more than an Allen wrench and a junior mint. Question: where is this man when I can't get my copier to produce anything more than an error a:25 media alert message?
Also this: whoever the governmental agency is using to book their travel- I want them to handle mine from now on. Great accommodations at the last minute, fab vehicles of every description at their beck and call, replacement clothing-better than the originals- apperate, seemingly out of thin air. Is it so wrong to want this, too?

Oh, come on. Go see it; it'll get you out of the house and is distracting and non-fattening, too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3

The Film: Toy Story 3

The Voice Talent: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Estelle Harris, Don Rickles, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Andy is headed off to college. After years of neglecting his toys, his mom issues an ultimatum: pick out the toys you want to save and retire them to the attic. The rest are destined for the trash/donation to a preschool. Through a series of misunderstandings (par for the course when dealing with attempted communication between teens and their 'elders'), most of Andy's (and our) most beloved toys wind up entering the third ring of Hell- AKA The Sunshine Preschool, a bright, promising-looking place, which masks a suppressive dictatorship run by a seemingly benevolent toy.

The Grading Session: 5.19 pengies out of 5. Yeah, you could say I was moved by this film...just a skosh. We caught this in 2D- but I could see the areas that lent themselves to 3D effects- especially in the last 1/4th of the story. This was not a case of shoehorning in effects for the heck of it, and to jump on the 3D gravy train. The script remained true to the original, and even advanced it. The voice characterisations were inventive and consistently superior, as was the artwork. I am in awe of the devotion to detail that goes into PIXAR productions, and this one was no exception. Extra points for the Spanish-language version of Buzz (which prompted tons of laughter in our audience) and back-referencing previous Toy Story movies. A great job was done in toy selection, too. With the exception of Woody and Buzz, all were actual 'vintage' toys from our youth- or aliases for the same. This is animated film-making at its very best and touches all the right notes- not for one instant does the tale misfire, condescend or hare off in meaningless directions. And the audience was right with that storyline: laughing, nudging our next-seat neighbors, shedding some tears and enjoying the 'catch up' furnished by the over-the-end-credits scenes. (I always award extra points when the film-makers go to the trouble to do this)

Lessons Learned: Toys have feelings, too. And when those feelings get hurt, some toys turn to the dark side. So- watch out for that strawberry-scented stuffed animal, if crossed!
Also- always suspected that that monkey banging cymbals was absolute evil in a toy chest. The first 'siren' from the one in today's movie sent me straight up out of my seat. Hair-curling.
Not all clowns are evil. OK, so, I will probably have to repeat this about 1000 times before I actually accept that novel notion).
Oh, yeah, and Ken has girl-y handwriting.
Miss this heart-strings-tugger (and funny bone tickler) at your own peril.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Girl In Translation

The Book: Girl In Translation

The Author: Jean Kwok

The Dealio: This is your basic innocent in the promised land type story:9 year old Ah-Kim ( 'Kimberly') comes to America via the generosity (HA!) of her mom's older sister (AKA Dog mama). In unbelievably negative circumstances, they find themselves working at least 15 hours a day at subsistence ('piece work') wages, in incredibly depressed situations. Constantly undermined by relatives who show only their 'dark selves', Ah-Kim and her mother struggle to survive, then find that the expression 'quality of life' can mean merely having enough money to buy underwear, instead of having home-made undies.

The Grading Session: 4.298 pengies out of 5. This book would have earned about 0.992 more pengies, had the editor spent just 30 minutes more snipping and sprucing. I loveloveloved this novel, but, by the last 1/3rd, I grew impatient. One after another bad thing befell our heroine and her family, and we relied-just a skosh, mind you- on circumstance and coincidence.

Lessons Learned: An indomitable spirit counts far more in both the promised land and the long run- than talent and book larnin'. Also this: there is NOTHING like a scrappy, down-on-her-luck- plucky heroine to bring us all over to the side of the protagonist.
Lastly: reunions are not always all they are cracked up to be. Sometimes, they are just an excuse for people to come together and air dirty laundry. I mean...who needs that!? Really.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Karate Kid

The Film: The Karate Kid

The Actors: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, etc.

The Dealio: Sticking close to the original, but offering a locale swap, this version of the '80's flick, transplants the action to China, the newest go-to setting for movies.
What remains unchanged is this: we are presented with a faintly undersized kid, a sorta square peg not even aware that he should be trying to fit into a round space, meeting, in his own haphazard way an assortment of 'coming-of-age' issues, as well with cultural, language and alienation challenges.
Dre Parker's mom, a widow transferred from Detroit to Beijing for an unspecified job (something to do with an auto factory, because, as we all know, there are no Chinese who can either build cars or work in the offices of the places which do), drags her completely unenthused son with her.
Before they have been in the country 24 hours, 12 year old Dre is regularly zigging when he should have zagged, being hazed and beaten up, in the new place. Be it ever thus. During one such encounter with a group of boys who appear to be about 25 years old, Dre is saved from having his face caved in. His rescuer? The enigmatic, mostly non-verbal apartment-house handy man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Before you can say 'wax on, wax off', Han is training Dre for a kung fu tournament, where he has the potential of engaging not one or two, but pretty much all the young thuggies who have been dotting his eyes and awarding him pink bellies that glow in the dark. Aaaand, out of the frying pan, into the fire we go with him. Along the way, his mom remains totally clueless about what is going on, knowing, deep down inside that he is just not trying hard enough to fit in and accept China as his new home. As if this kid doesn't have enough going on, he also meets and begins to fall for a local girl, being groomed as China's next great violin protege by her family and teacher (who all exist in an uptight, emotion-free universe, where Dre is a polluting presence to be excised at any cost by the young lady in question. Natch).

The Grading Session: 4.67 pengies out of 5. No new ground is broken in this retelling of the intriguing tale, but none is actually required. We all know that we want to see Dre grow and develop as a fully-realised, decent human being, who cares as much about others as himself, and works his way through several types of uncharted, dangerous territories- not the least of which is this whole becoming a teen-person thaang.
A lot of reviewers have made much of what an exquisite little gem Jaden Smith is; I agree that he does do a fantastic job here. However, for me, the real revelation came from Jackie Chan- not an actor known for his restraint and moderation in whatever role he assumes. Here, he is as surprisingly nuanced and absorbing as Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. Careful, now: I am not comparing these two movies, only two actors moving outside their usual comfort zones and showing us something very small, personal, and different than what we are used to seeing from them.
The music was okay (Justin Beiber? With Jaden providing the rap? Pu-leez), and not offensive in any overt way. The classical music soars.
There are breathtakingly beautiful scenes set against the grim snapshots of the workaday world of life in any super-large city, any place in the world, where premium is placed on not standing out and defensively blending in.
Too, here is a lovely scene, near the end of the film, set at Mr. Han's house. The scene calls for what I call 'precision acting'. There is initially a great deal of noise and bombast- but not spoken. The ending of the scene is a shadow play, gentle as the first snow flake of a blizzard, as it drifts down, almost imperceptibly, to the ground. Wonderful moment for everyone involved.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, 'Kung fu is everything; it is in everything.' Did not know that. And now I do.
Also: there are really creepy dojo masters all over the world, not just in LA.
Lastly, this: Jaden's parents may have cherry-picked this project for their son as his foot-in-the-door vehicle into acting as a long-termed career, but he holds his own in a cast of more mature, seasoned and recognised adults.
What a nice surprise. It would have been tragic to have had The Karate Kid reboot turn out to be a sort of Paris Hilton redux.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sex and the City 2

The Film: Sex and the City 2

The Perpetrators: SJP, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, Kristen Davis, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Willie Garson, Mario Cantone, Liza Minelli, etc.

The Dealio: Oh, come on! You know what the dealio is: the gals from Sex and The City- HBO series and the first movie- reunite to harvest some more moolah from their faithful. Of whom I was one. But, really, seriously: with two years to work on it, this is what they came up with. The beginning sequences, Stanford and Anthony's wedding, was really fun and enjoyable. Except for the whole Liza thing. I am sure Beyonce had a thought or two along the lines of 'Next time, pick one of your own songs to assassinate! Take New York, New York, for example.'
As soon as we get the wedding out of the way (and if I had to hear the words, snorted over unceasingly, 'gay wedding' one more time...),we settle down to 'breeder' bashing, wherein Big and Carrie get to feel superior to anyone who has a child. When they find their wedded bliss suddenly less than blissful, all is grand tragedy and whininess. Samantha is going through menopause- and when ever has that not been a hoot and a half (she said grouchily)? She is using a pharmacopoeia of drugs to turn back the relentless slippage of time. The solution to all this malaise and dissatisfaction with the status quo obviously should involve a trip to Abu Dhabi -definitely be my first choice. Forget about Tuscany or Province or even Cape Cod. Nope. Gotta go to a place where Samantha is constantly scandalising the locals with a show of swim suit, or bare arms, or more (ooh, la-la!). I especially took exception to a scene where Samantha spills condoms onto a street full of men going to prayer. I do believe that in the real world? (as opposed to the opulent Eden for shoppers that is supposed to represent A.D.), none of those women would have made it out of that street alive.
OK, enough of the grim reality stuff. On to the superficial: I hated the clothing, except for the occasional bib-necklace-d caftan. The make-up was garish and aging. Carrie behaved like she had never been to the Show before- instead of the staunch and battles-of-dating-hardened New Yorker she actually is.
We simply had to dump Aiden back into the mix, then promote discord with Big, who 'punishes' Carrie with a tiny blue box holding an eternal gobstopper of a rock. What madness is this? Grab the reins. Just say 'no' to a SATC3.

The Grading Session: 2.351 pengies out of 5. Whittlin' away a few more points for the soundtrack, so called, although I loved, loved, loved the rendition of Sunrise, Sunset at the nuptials.

Lessons Learned: Do not rely on a pretty good franchise to successfully make the journey to the big screen successfully. Twice. Also- I am not as gullible or accepting as I was 2 years ago.

The Losers vs The A Team

The Films: The Losers and The A Team

The Actors: For The Losers: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Jason Patric, etc.
For The A Team: Liam Neeson, Jennifer Biel, Bradley Cooper, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Shartlo Copley, Gerald McRaney, Brian Bloom and several original A Team actors.

The Dealio: Well, since this is, in fact, a death cage match, instead of spelling out the dealio, I will compare and contrast each of the agreed upon elements set forth previously. So, let's have at it.

Estimated Body Count: The Losers: TNTC; who could hope to keep up?
The A Team: approximately 5, give or take.

Truly Arcane Ways to Get Rid of a Rival: The Losers: Several, but lots of fails.
The A Team: A quote: 'I love it when a plan comes together!' OK? So, yeah, oodles of arcane death trap plays; also oodles of fails, flubs and high jacked TAWTGROARs.

Lethal Hot Chicks: The Losers: Zoe Saldana, in undies or less, shooting up hotel rooms, Vee-hickles, elevator shafts, stabbing, slicing and dicing as a means of displaying her displeasure, etc. Really hot, really lethal.
The A Team: Jessica Biel's Charisa Sosa: Army captain, usually in uni/business casual. Pulls a gun, never uses it. You must simply take as a fact that she is really lethal. We have seen in other movies-and in Star magazine-that she is definitely hot.

WMD's Involved?: The Losers: You bet.
The A Team: Not so much.

Personal Peculiarities/An Interesting Back Story/Ultimate 'Whoa' Moment for Villain or Hero-or Both: The Losers: One semi-ultimate 'whoa' moment for hero or villain, halfway through.
The A Team: We learn why BA is so deathly afraid of flying; Faceman used to date Sosa and it didn't end well. AWK-ward! One more towards the end, but to divulge more would be, if you didn't cotton onto this one waaaaaaay before the big reveal, I will really doubt your suitability as a PI or script writer, for that matter.

Undercover/Disguises: The Losers: Yup, in droves. Pretty inventive ones, too.
The A Team: Nope.

Reason for Mission: The Losers: Originally, set up to take a fall; new, improved mission is partly revenge, partly to restore good names, partly to save the world from evildoers.
The A Team: Ditto. Plus, want their jobs back.

Patriotism? (Bonus points if a small, elite group of renegade military reunites to clear their names/take down a traitor amongst them): The Losers: Patriotism, clearing names:si, all the rest, nope.
The A Team: Survey says: yes, yes and yes.

A Traitor Among Us: Both flix: See above.

Most Unique Mascot: The Losers: Has a mascot.
The A Team : exists in a mascot-free universe, unless Murdock counts.

Most Cohesive/Likable Team: Depends on which combo you like. I felt that both teams were composed of charismatic, good-natured members with real comradery and a sense that they liked working together. So- you pick.

Major 'Awwwwwww' Moment: The Losers: Indeed.
The A Team: 'I pity the foo' who's lookin' for an awwwwww moment!'

Bad Guy(s) Gets Left With Bum Check/Armor Car Full Of Newspaper: The Losers: Check and check.
The A Team: Nope and nope. Real money, now? Oh, indeed, color sergeant.

Parent-Child Connection: The Losers: 2
The A Team: Zip.

Really Killer Incidental Music/Soundtrack: The Losers: Yes to both.
The A Team: Surprisingly, yes to the first (especially if you dig a souped up version of the iconic theme from that TV show), and then, no, on the soundtrack.

Quality of Over The Credits Materials(Extra Points For Things Providing Closure/Catching Us Up With The Major Players): The Losers: Some of each.
The A Team: Excellent over-opening-credits 411-age; nice little lagniappe at the very, very end.

Dis N Data: The A Team: Best 3 D effect in a non-3D movie. Ever.

The Grading Session: The Losers: 4.199 pengies out of 5. Points off for gratuitous torture and extra points for that 'Petunias' tee proudly worn by Chris Evan.

The A Team: 4.47 pengies out of 5. Points off for dragging the ending out so, and for an uninspired soundtrack + not getting to see enough 'comeuppance' for various baddies. I know, shouldn't be too neat. Still. I like me some whuppin' of the baddies. Is that so wrong?

Lessons Learned: You can watch two similar flix in the same quarter and enjoy them both. Plus- who knew Liam Neeson could fit into the role of Hannibal Smith so tidily? That's Oscar Schindler over there, folks! Aaaand, as my sons would say- do not leave the movie until the very last scintilla of viewing is truly over; otherwise, you might just miss a bunch of cool stuff.

So, the first- and last?- Death Cage Match here at Cinemabibliobabble is now done. Let me know what you think about it. Just don't be cruel, as my man Ayul-vis would say. Thank you. Thank you verra much.