Archive for November, 2009

MOVIE: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

November 29, 2009

It’s been a really long time since I saw Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992), starring Harvey Keitel, and all I really remember about it is that it was viciously sexual and absolutely grim from start to finish.  So, it’s no wonder, I’d say, that it took me nearly the entire two hours to accept the fact that this film, billed as a “remake” but anything but, is at times more comedy than drama.  It’s a little more complicated than that, though, which may have been part of the problem.  As the audience was laughing around me in the theater, I confess I frequently found myself sinking down into my seat, uncomfortable and uncertain.  The next day, I’m still thinking about this film, completely unable to decide if it was good or not.

The plot was pretty much beside the point — as near as I could tell, its only purpose was to provide a stage for the rest of the movie to creep around on.  It’s set in post-Katrina New Orleans and is about a detective, Terence McDonaugh (Nicolas Cage), investigating a drug dealer who has been killing African immigrants trying to move in on his territory.  One of the things I liked immediately about the film was the fact it made absolutely no effort whatsoever to turn post-Katrina New Orleans into a character itself.  It’s just scenery, really.  The setting is almost an afterthought, or a convenience.  It helps to color the movie in a tint of despair and provides the excuse for some unusual reptiles, but it’s nothing like the heavy-handed metaphor we’re used to seeing when it comes to post-Katrina NOLA in TV and films these days.  I thought that was kind of interesting.  Maybe even slightly refreshing, if that’s not an awful thing to say.

That said, the movie started off by annoying the bejesus out of me.  It opens with McDonaugh and his partner Stevie (Val Kilmer) going into a jail to rescue a prisoner who’s been swimming up to his neck in water since the flooding started, and when McDonaugh dives in to save the guy, he somehow injures his back.  Cut to the doctor’s office — here’s a prescription for Vicodin, your back pain will probably be chronic.  Cut to six months later, and McDonaugh is now snorting cocaine, smoking crack, stealing and hustling as many drugs as he can from anywhere he can find them, and gradually working his way up to a full-blown heroin addiction.

Those of you who have heard me rail on about the TV show House know why that would’ve instantly made me purse my lips and arch an impatient brow (wait, can brows be impatient?  I guess mine can do whatever they want).   Did you know that chronic pain patients on opioid painkillers DON’T actually always become addicted to them?  You wouldn’t know it from watching TV and movies, that’s for sure.

Nevertheless, though I was all set at that point to dismiss this movie as but another in a long line of frustratingly unoriginal drug addict films,  it ended up being a rather fascinating study of a detective who is completely cracked (pun intended).  It was weirdly mesmerizing to watch a man so obviously brilliant at his job completely unravel while still somehow managing to remain so obviously brilliant at his job.  He wasn’t even bothering to compartmentalize.  As he dips more and more into heroin, McDonaugh starts hallucinating — singing iguanas, dancing dead bodies —  and begins acting astonishingly erratic (holding a gun to an old lady’s head, for example).  And yet, not only does almost no one he works with even look twice at him for it (“There aren’t any iguanas in here”), but he still somehow manages to solve the crimes.

The crazier and higher he gets, the more effective he becomes, and his relationship with girlfriend/prostitute Frankie (Eva Mendes) was such a sad, believable combination of mutual enabling and comfort it made McDonaugh all the more real a character to me.  Unlike with Keitel’s lieutenant, who was engineered only to inspire fear, I found myself oddly caring about McDonaugh.   I felt actual compassion for him.  And the different spin on this very similar character coming from the two actors and two directors is something I found pretty intriguing.  I’m looking forward to rewatching the original soon so I can give it some more thought; will report back after I have.

I did have some issues with Nicolas Cage in this film, though.  This is a weird, weird movie, and though Cage’s usual exaggerated mannerisms and pulled facial expressions seem like they’d be perfect for the part of a crazy cokehead, there were several moments for me in this film where I got bumped out of the experience because Cage missed a beat.  But was he doing that on purpose, is the question.   I can’t tell.  And therefore, I can’t actually tell you if he was brilliant in this or terrible, that’s how befuddled about the whole thing I truly am.  It was such a strange combination of both it’s almost unquantifiable.  But I’ll tell you this much:  it was definitely memorable.

All in all, I left the theater after this one sort of dazed and confused.  Is this is a good film?  I think it might not be, actually.  In fact, I sort of felt like it was  an absolute mess.  But where my confusion comes in is the part where I start getting this little nagging feeling that director Werner Herzog, one weird dude himself, may have made it a complete mess on purpose.  If that’s the case, he did a bang-up job.

Possibly even a brilliant one.

Man.  I knew I should’ve gone to 2012 instead.  Ow, my head.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif

TV: Nurse Jackie, Season 1

November 27, 2009

nursejackieOh man, MAN, this show is great.  After a summer/fall season of an amazing number of utterly awful new medical shows (Mercy, Trauma, HawthoRNe, Three Rivers – did I miss any?) it was absolutely thrilling to sit down and watch the entire first season of this brilliant show from start to finish.  Directed by the great Paul Feig (of Freaks and Geeks), I had seen the pilot when the show first premiered on Showtime last year and had been really intrigued by it.  But I wasn’t sure if it was going to be able to sustain its awesomeness for an entire season so I just parked the episodes and waited to see if it would make it through a whole season without being canceled.

Good news – it DID.

Jackie (the amazing Edie Falco) is an ER nurse in a big city hospital.  As the series opens, she’s taken on a young protégé, a n00b straight out of nursing school named Zoey (Merritt Wever).  Zoey is optimistic and chipper and sunny, which drives Jackie completely bananas.  It’s kind of ironic, though, because despite Jackie’s no-nonsense nature, the more we get to know her, the more we begin to realize she’s one of the most caring, accepting, loving people on staff at the hospital.  She’s amazing with the patients and their families, and her compassion for her friends – eventually even including Zoey – is intense and persistent and solid.

But Jackie’s not perfect, thank god.  For one thing, she’s a drug addict, snorting and swallowing painkillers on the job and at home.  She’s also carrying on an affair with a pharmacist at the hospital, who has no idea she’s married with children.  I don’t judge on either thing, but I still found it fascinating to watch how both these vulnerabilities pull and tear at Jackie’s steely facade.  At some point, Jackie is going to bust wide open, and not knowing when, how, or where is part of what makes this show impossible to stop watching.

There are obvious comparisons to be made between Nurse Jackie and the FOX series House – both feature main characters who are cantankerous drug addicts, after all.  But the thing is, of the two characters, I found Jackie infinitely more interesting than House ever has been.  One of my biggest complaints about House is that, while we occasionally catch a glimpse of something deeper, for the most part, he’s actually pretty boringly static and predictable.  Jackie, on the other hand, is a disaster of much more intriguing complexity.

I have no idea if this show has been renewed for a second season, but if it has been, it might be the first time since Deadwood I’ve been tempted to pay for a premium channel just to watch a single TV series.  Let’s do this thing, Jackie.  You and me together, girl.  Let’s break it all wide open.  WIDE.  OPEN.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Edie Falco, Eve Best, Peter Facinelli, Merritt Wever

MOVIE: Passchendaele (2008)

November 25, 2009

As with Harry Connick Jr. from yesterday’s review of New in Town, it probably goes without saying that I’m an absolutely ridiculous fan of Paul Gross.   Due South to start with, of course, and then Slings & Arrows to do me in completely.  And even though I couldn’t get into Eastwick this season on TV, it wasn’t because of him.  I love this man.  I love him.  I love him.  I love him.  If he asked me to get down on my knees and kiss his feet, I would do it and love it and only feel the tiniest bit like a schmuck later.

And that’s why, when I heard he’d made a WWI movie that had been released in Canada to fairly respectable reviews, I couldn’t wait to see it.  I tried to wait, I failed.  They kept not releasing it here in the U.S. and I kept wanting them to and they kept not, so I finally caved and made an end-run around the problem.  I will make it up to the problem just as soon as the problem lets me, though, I swear.

Now let me tell you how absolutely gut-wrenching it’s going to be for me to write the rest of this review.  Because, oh GOD, my gut is wrenched that I have to do this.  Monkey wrenched, in fact.  Socket wrenched.  Because this film, which was written, directed, and stars Paul Gross, is pretty unbearably awful.   And you know what the problem is?  The problem is, it’s just exactly as self-indulgent as a film written, directed, and starring the same guy sounds like it would be.  Goddamn it.  Ow, my guts, I hate you.

Let me ‘splain.

As the story opens, Gross’s character (Michael Dunne), is in Europe fighting in a battle in which he finds himself face-to-face with a German soldier who couldn’t possibly be older than about 17.  Despite the fact the kid had surrendered, Dunne makes the decision to kill him, and before he even has a chance to process that, he’s blown up by a grenade.

He wakes up back in Canada in a hospital where he’s being tended to by a pretty nurse named Sarah Mann (the wonderful Caroline Dhavernas, who some of you might recognize from the series Wonderfalls).  Of course, he falls in love with her, and she with him.  After he’s recovered, he takes a job in town as a recruiter, ostensibly because he’s a hero, but everybody knows it’s actually because of a diagnosis of shell-shock — something they all translate internally as “cowardice.”

Long story short, Sarah’s younger brother, who has terrible asthma, decides he wants to enlist and go fight, and he gets someone to forge his paperwork for him so he can head off to war.  Madly in love with his sister, Michael feels he has no choice but to follow her brother back into battle so he can protect him.  And, of course, madly in love with Michael and terrified for her brother, Sarah feels she has no choice but to join the two of them as a nurse on the battlefront.  So, the next thing we know, we’re all of us back in Europe with stuff exploding over our heads and a whole heck of a lot of misery and awfulness.

Now, quick — the things this movie does well:

I liked that so much of the movie was set in Canada instead of in battle, focusing more on some of the emotional complexities the war had both on returning soldiers and the men who were not allowed to fight in the first place.  I knew the movie was going to have to move back to the actual war at some point (because the title refers to the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917, which you can read more about here), but I enjoyed the way this movie gives us a little time to get some insight on the many emotional elements of war for men, as well as, to a lesser degree, the politics of recruitment.

I also really liked the actual battle scenes themselves — in Passchendaele, Michael and his platoon find themselves forced to dig into trenches, as was typical during WWI.  Only, it had been pouring down rain for months and their trenches end up being more like swampy swimming pools than holes.  Shots of these men and boys literally waist-deep in mud brought home the horror of trench warfare in a way no other movie I’ve seen about that really has.  My god.  No wonder so many WWI soldiers died of diseases instead of bullets.  I can’t even imagine what that must have been like.  I get cranky when it rains here in Seattle and I’ve forgotten my umbrella.  At least I can still keep my socks (and matches) dry.

But now, and I hate this part, I really do, but here’s what this movie does really, really badly:  ALMOST EVERYTHING ELSE.

Put simply, the number one flaw of this movie is that it just tries WAY too hard.  Gross obviously feels extremely passionate and proud about Canada’s involvement in WWI, and he’s also obviously seen just about every brilliant war movie ever made.  He knows that brilliant, powerful war stories involve things like imagery, motivational speeches, love that may or may not be totally doomed, and the shock of the violence the Everyman is forced to take part in just to survive.

But in trying to incorporate every one of those elements into his own film, he just couldn’t pull it off.  He didn’t seem to understand what makes each of those elements truly powerful — the emotions behind them, the meaning behind them.  His imagery, for example, focused heavily on the concept of martyrdom (Jesus on the cross, especially) and birds, especially birds of prey.  But there wasn’t any actual MEANING to those images.  The martyrs were not martyrs.  And the  birds — the birds made no real sense at all.  It was like he thought “imagery” simply means repetition of a visual.  But the visuals have to be representative of something; they can’t just hang out and be all, hey, it’s me again, hi.  Know what I mean?

And the speeches, oh man.  They were just painfully vacuous, I’m sorry, Paul.  Delivered with such poignant tone, and yet without any actual power whatsoever.    I’m not even going to talk about the total lack of chemistry between Gross and Dhavernas, either.  It just crushed me.  It seriously did.  It was that painful to watch.  If only he’d cast me instead.  Seriously.  That would’ve been some third-year P-Chem, let me tell you.

In any case, are just SO many things about this movie that do not work.  It struck me as disastrously amateurish and was ultimately completely without impact.  There were some good ideas in there, but Gross needed to pass his script along to a pro when he was done with it and get some better thinkers involved.  As it stands, it seemed like the kind of script I would’ve written in high school, when I tried to make all my writing sound “deep,” without any real comprehension of what “deep” truly was.

Lordy.  This is what I get for pirating a video.  And now I have to buy it when it comes out just to assuage my guilt.  Damn.  I am so not thankful for that.  (But hey, to all my American readers:  Happy Thanksgiving!)

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  War, Drama
Cast:  Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Adam Harrington, Joe Dinicol, Michael Greyeyes

MOVIE: New in Town (2009)

November 24, 2009

newintownIt’s obviously no big secret that I have  a serious weakness for Harry Connick Jr. So, when Mom and I were scoping out vids for our pile the other weekend and stumbled across this one — added bonus of being set somewhere snowy, which we love — there was really no resisting it.  Yes, I knew it was a romantic comedy.  Yes, I don’t typically go for those (unless they also involve zombies, of course).  But when you get a good one, they can be really fun.  And you know what?  This one is a good one.

The story is your fairly traditional “fish out of water” type thing — it reminded me a lot, actually, of another favorite of mine, Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard’s Baby Boom.  In New in Town, Renee Zellwegger plays Miami businesswoman Lucy Hill, who, as the film opens, is living up her fast-paced lifestyle with a jog in the warm Florida morning before work.  She then changes into a sexy skirt-suit with serious high heels and heads into work, where she’s promptly told the company is sending her to Minnesota — in the dead of winter — to oversee the downsizing of the corporation’s food processing plant in the tiny town of New Ulm.

Armed with eight suitcases of completely inappropriate clothing, Lucy gets off the plane in New Ulm to discover a whole new, thoroughly frozen world.  There’s a great shot here, actually, set at the baggage claim in the airport, where the camera pans down to focus on everyone’s feet — boots, boots, boots, boots, what the HELL are you thinkin’, lady?!

New Ulm is different in other ways, too.  Her new secretary, Blanche Gunderson (the always awesome Siobhan Fallon) is a frumpily-dressed, scrapbook-loving, tapioca maniac.  The plant manager, Stu Kopenhafer (the also always awesome J. K. Simmons) keeps doing things to exploit her city-girl naiveté (closing the plant for the fictitious “Gopher Day,” e.g.).  And then there’s the head of the union — truck-driving, beer-guzzling, unshaven, plaid-wearing Ted Mitchell.  Only Ted — well, Ted is played by Harry Connick Jr.  ‘Nuff said.

The story follows the standard trajectory for these sorts of films and there’s nothing all that original about it.  But what makes this one stand out is that it is truly, authentically charming and funny.  Zellwegger is great in this sort of role — think the opposite of Bridget Jones but played with the same sense of humor — and Harry Connick Jr., SAY NO MORE.

Mom and I both really enjoyed this one and I think any fan of the genre or any of the actors will love it too.  Recommended, and a great one if you’re looking for something to watch with family of all ages over the holidays!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Cast:  Harry Connick Jr., Renee Zellweger, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Siobhan Fallon

MOVIE: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

November 18, 2009

pelhamIt’s probably been five years or more since I saw the original Taking of Pelham 123, which I rented back when I was going through a massive Walter Matthau phase.  And now that I’ve seen this film, the recent remake starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, I’m eager to see the original again because I can’t remember what the original bad guy’s motives were, and I have a feeling they weren’t the same as they were in this version (this version’s motives being somewhat timely).

I figured this would be an entertaining, but not brilliant, movie, and I was right.  It’s not flawless, but it’s definitely a lot of fun to watch, especially if you’re a Denzel or/and Travolta fan, which I obviously am (hubba hubba x 2).  The story opens on a regular day in New York City’s MTA offices, with Washington playing Walter Garber, a former bigwig in the MTA who has recently been demoted to dispatcher following a scandal involving a bribe.  Unfortunately for Walter, he’s on duty the day a group of recent parolees, led by a man named Ryder (Travolta), hijack the Pelham 123 train.

It quickly becomes clear to Walter that the group knows a lot about the MTA subway system.  They stop the train in exactly the most advantageous spot in one of the tunnels, and quickly release most of the cars and passengers to make it easier for them to handle the set of hostages, which they then announce they are holding for $10 million in ransom.  But as the day goes on, it also becomes increasingly clear that Ryder has ulterior motives — that the ransom may not be his end game.  Can Walter, the mayor (played by James Gandolfini), or the lieutenant in charge of the hostage negotiation team (played by John Turturro) figure out what’s really going on before Ryder kills the hostages and/or absconds with the $10 million?

You can probably guess the answer to that question.  Go ahead, guess.  Yep, you’re right!

As I said, this movie isn’t perfect.  For one thing, I had the “ulterior motive” thing figured out way earlier than I should have and it was because of some heavy-handed hint dropping that could have been a lot more subtle.  Despite that, though, I found the whole ulterior motive thing pretty clever, all things considered, and it was fun waiting to find out if my theory about it was going to be proven right.

I also thought Denzel was great in this — I completely believed his character and, what’s more, I was really rooting for him as well.  Less convincing was Travolta, but only because I still think of him as more snuggly than bad-ass, even if the make-up department does kick down with a sinister goatee and neck tatt.

Overall, though, this is a pretty entertaining flick with some good acting, authentic suspense, and a fairly satisfying, if unbelievable, ending.  Definitely recommended to anybody looking for a good thriller.  And hey, gentlemen in the audience, they even somehow managed to throw in a couple of spectacular car wrecks for you, even though 95% of this movie takes place in an office and a tunnel.  Now THAT’S movie-making magic, my friends.


[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Thriller
Cast:  Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Michael Rispoli, James Gandolfini

MOVIE: 2012: Supernova (2009)

November 18, 2009

2012supernovaOkay, so, I was down in Oregon this weekend visiting my parents, which means, of course, that I’ve got about five movie reviews in the works, at least one of which is going to be for a totally terrible disaster movie.  You know how this goes.  You’ve been here before.

THIS movie?  Is that one.   And while we were in the video store looking for our magical totally terrible disaster movie, it occurred to me that we actually have developed, over the years, an extremely detailed set of criteria for our selection process, believe it or not (and I suspect you do not, but listen up anyway).  Since you guys have been loyal readers for so long, I figured it was about time I let you in on the secret.  The secret to picking really entertaining terrible disaster movies.

First of all, you have to know, and know well, the disaster genre.  There are four primary categories of disaster movie, each of which has numerous subcategories.  All four primary categories are worth checking out, but, and this is key, not all of their SUBcategories are worth checking out.  Listen up:

Monsters — Good choices: snakes, gators, komodo dragons, zombies (see also: virus), dinosaurs, cave monsters, sea creatures (esp. sharks, squids), The Thing, The Blob, The Abominable Snowman (esp. incl. Lance Henriksen).

Bad choices:  bugs, rodents, bats.  Well, sometimes bats can be okay, but only if they are accessories for more interesting cave monsters.  Also, Bigfoot can occasionally be substituted for The Abominable Snowman (see: Abominable, which is actually about Bigfoot even though it doesn’t seem to know it — all the better to love you with, Matt McCoy).

Mother Nature — The best Mother Nature disasters are volcanoes, fires,  tornadoes, and other storms (including ice-age-inducing weather phenomena), as they tend to involve the greatest duration of actual disaster.  Earthquakes are over far too fast, as are tsunamis, and movies about either of those two things tend to focus more on the depressing aftermath than the build-up and actual disaster itself.  (Tornadoes work for this, by the way, because they frequently come in multi-packs.)  Stuff being destroyed = good.  People cleaning up debris = bad.

Space — Space disaster movies often bring as part of the package a ton of hilariously bad science (for example, gravity in places where it does not belong), as well as a healthy affection for nuclear weapons, computers and other gadgets, meteors, and exploding space debris.   Sometimes there are even aliens, though not nearly as often as we’d like.   These are all good things.   The key to a successful space disaster movie, though, is that it has to FOCUS ON THE SPACE DISASTER.  Not to go into too much detail, because it’s really not worth talking about (trust me), but that is where 2012: Supernova fell down on the job.   It may be worth noting, incidentally, that space disaster movies are 6.3 times more likely to feature naked women.  Do with this information what you will.

Diseases – Virus and other disease movies, as with storm or fire movies, are good because they tend to involve long-term actual disaster.  We like to problem-solve when we’re watching disaster movies — a good virus story leaves a lot of room for that sort of thing.  Also, some of the best zombie movies of late have technically been virus movies, and this is a combination I think can work extremely well (examples:  28 Days Later, Zombieland).  Overall, I have to say the Disease Disaster category tends to produce the most consistently watchable films, even though those films tend to be exactly the same in most regards.  If it works once, it’ll probably work forever, right?  Just ask the people who keep cranking out Saw movies.

Okay, now, knowing the genre can obviously help narrow down the selection:  put the rat movie back on the shelf, pick up the one about the komodo dragons.  But this still leaves hundreds and hundreds of potentially unwatchable movies.    How do you know which one you should rent when faced with several equally-acceptable-looking options?    Well, I am happy to report that after years and years of experimentation, my mother and I have finally discovered the secret.   We call it the 90 Minute Rule.  And it goes like this:

Any movie that is less than 90 minutes long is approximately 9.8 times more likely to be unwatchably bad (note: we did not actually do the math, but I am 87.68% positive that number is accurate).  Movies that are longer than 90 minutes, on the other hand, are far more likely to be the kind of bad you watch with giddy joy.  It’s so simple, it’s almost embarrassing it took us this long to figure it out.

There’s only one problem — what about a movie that is EXACTLY 90 minutes long.  Say, for example, 2012: Supernova?   This is where you can still run into trouble.  Because  a movie that is exactly 90 minutes long is a risk.  A MAJOR risk.  It could so easily go either way — there’s simply no predicting it.  And that’s where it helps to know someone who is willing to rent that movie and watch it for you and then tell you how it is.  For example, ME.

This is how it is:  Absolutely terrible.  (Note:  Not in a good way.  If it were absolutely terrible in a good way, I would’ve said, “Absolutely terrible (in a good way).”)  May it never be the case that the survival of our planet is ever riding on the brains of three “scientists” who are anything like the big wheels who drove the storyline in this wreck.  Because if it is, we’re DOOMED.

Anyway, try this technique out next time you’re looking for a good-bad disaster movie to rent and let me know how you do!  Just make sure you leave 2012: Supernova on the shelf.  WHERE IT BELONGS.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Sci-fi, Space Disaster, Crap
Cast:  Brian Krause, Heather McComb, Najarra Townsend

MOVIE: The Alphabet Killer (2008)

November 13, 2009

alphabetkillerI was bored the other day and in the mood for a lightweight murder mystery sort of thing, so I plopped down on the couch and started flipping through Netflix’s “Watch Now” options on my Roku box until I came across this one.  Though it sounded like a completely standard “cops hunt elusive serial killer” story, I was intrigued by the cast, which included both Tom Noonan AND Bill Moseley.  Since that’s a combination that seems much more suited to a scary horror movie than a murder mystery (those are two creepy-ass mo-fos, if you ask me), it kind of gave me hope this film might be spookier and more entertaining than it sounded.

Right away I had a major beef with the picture, though, and that beef was the casting of Eliza Dushku as a homicide detective.  Setting aside the fact she’s a terrible actress, the more pressing issue for me was this:  Since when do cops get promoted to homicide detectives in their mid-20’s?  But you know what, I said to myself, whatever.  Maybe she was the Doogie Howser of her department, what do I know?  Let’s just suspend that disbelief thing, go along for the ride, and hope that Noonan and Mosely come along soon to save us from the silly.

Dushku stars as Detective Megan Paige and is, as the story opens, the chief investigator in the case of a murdered little girl (incidentally, this movie is loosely based on an actual series of crimes in Rochester, NY in the 1970’s).  The girl’s first and last names both started with the letter “C” and so did the town where her body was found, and Megan soon becomes convinced the three Cs are no mere coincidence.  She begins spending hours and hours in the attic of her house, going over every crime scene photo and file repeatedly until, eventually, she just cracks.  It begins with hallucinations of the ghost of the dead girl and progresses from there very quickly to an attempt at suicide, all while her boyfriend, a fellow detective named Kenneth (Elwes), watches on helplessly.

Cut to two years later and Megan is back on the force after spending many months in treatment for what was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia.  To avoid a lawsuit, the force agreed to take her back on, though only in limited capacity as a records clerk.  But when another little girl’s murdered body is found — another girl with double initials found dead in a town that starts with the same letter — Kenneth, now her ex-boyfriend and also her boss, reluctantly lets Megan consult on the case, recognizing that she has insights into the original murder none of the other cops share.

(Annnd there’s where I rolled my eyes again, by the way.  Because, really?  You’re going to let the woman on thorazine for schizophrenia interview witnesses and handle evidence?  Good luck in court, fellas!)

BUT ANYWAY,this flick did keep me relatively entertained and it was almost exactly the kind of movie I was in the mood for.  And really, if  they’d cast a better actress in the lead role, it could have been a fairly intriguing examination of the conundrum that comes when the very thing that makes a person excel at their job (the intuition, insights, and focus Megan gains as part of her mental illness) is the same thing that ultimately is their undoing.  Dushku, though, overacts so ridiculously that she made the scenes that would’ve been pivotal to this theme just look silly.   Kind of too bad, because the supporting actors all did a fairly decent job, including Noonan and Moseley, as well as Timothy Hutton as Megan’s support group buddy and Carl Lumbly as her doctor.

It’s not a great movie, obviously.  It’s not even really a good one.  Nevertheless it’s decent, and perhaps most importantly, also FREE.  You could do a lot worse.  Trust me — I do a lot worse on a regular basis.

[Netflix me (including Watch Now!) | Buy me]

Genre:  Mystery
Cast:  Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Tom Noonan, Bill Moseley, Carl Lumbly, Michael Ironside

MOVIE: Zombieland (2009)

November 12, 2009

zombielandI realize this is going to sound weird applied to a film that features as many scenes of zombies snacking on human entrails as Zombieland does, but you know what my first thought was when I left the theater after finally getting my lame butt in to see this movie?  My first thought was, “I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the feel-good movie of the year.”

And it’s true — it’s totally and completely true!

Aside from that, though, I’m not going to tell you anything else about this movie.  Because everything else I could say (about, for example, the “double-tap,” Bill Murray, or Twinkies) is just going to ruin some of the fun of the discovery for you.  And the discovery was at LEAST half the fun of this one for me.  I had no idea most of  that stuff was coming, and I can’t remember the last time I laughed so ridiculously hard.

I will say this much, though:   I’m a little worried about Jesse Eisenberg, because this movie is essentially just Adventureland all over again, except with zombies and shotguns.

I’m also a little worried about Abigail Breslin, because this movie is essentially just Signs all over again, except with more shotguns and fewer anti-Semites (I assume).

And I’m definitely a little worried about Woody Harrelson, because this movie was essentially just Natural Born Killers all over again, except with more. . . less. . . I don’t know — something or other.

Bill Murray, on the other hand, is going to be juuuuuust fine.

So, hey!  Go see this movie, even if you are squeamish and you usually hate watching dead humans munch on other dead humans (note to my gore-hating husband:  sorry about that, sweetie).  When it’s over, you’ll be amazed at how good you feel about yourself and the world in general.  Because you know what?  Bring on the zombie invasion, just bring it on — bring it.  Now that I know the rules, I have no doubt I’m going to be JUST FINE (as long as I remember to buckle my seat belt and keep an eye out for falling pianos.  Also, thanks to a friend who recently bought me a set of THESE, my aim is improving, which can only help with the double-tap down the line.  . .).

Watch and learn, my peeps.  Watch and LEARN.

[Prequeue me at Netflix | Watch the trailer]

Genre:  Horror, Comedy, Zombies
Cast:  Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Amber Heard

BOOK: The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen (2008)

November 10, 2009

thekeepsakeAfter reading Moby Dick last month, I decided it was time for something frivolous.  Luckily, I had this Tess Gerritsen paperback handy.  I’ve read several other of her thrillers featuring medical examiner Maura Isles and police detective Jane Rizzoli and have enjoyed all of them.  Great mysteries, fairly decent science, and occasional bits of sarcastic humor from Rizzoli = good combo for a rainy day, plane trip, or the week after you’ve just waded through 900 pages about how to decapitate and gut a sperm whale.

In this one, Dr. Isles is called in to help a local museum examine a mummy they’ve just discovered in storage in their basement.  She’s pretty excited to be involved in something so big — “Madam X,” as the mummy is being called, is about to be the museum’s biggest draw ever.  But as she begins her examination, she’s startled to discover bits of metal in the mummy’s jaw — bits of metal that look suspiciously like dental fillings.  While the Egyptians WERE pretty medically advanced for their time, none of the museum curators remember ever having seen evidence of dental work like that before.

Then the good doctor begins to look a little lower in the body, only to find a bullet embedded in the victim’s lower leg.  While it’s possible the bullet could’ve gotten into the mummy later (a stray shooting, e.g.), it’s definitely not possible that the mummy’s bone would then have started to mend itself around it.  Obviously, this mummy is no mummy — it’s a modern-day homicide victim that’s been disguised as a mummy and hidden in the museum basement where the killer figured nobody would notice it.

Soon after Dr. Isles has gotten the cops involved, including Det. Jane Rizzoli, one of the museum’s curators vanishes and the plot thickens.  Where it goes from there, I’ll leave it to you to discover.  All in all, a great little thriller that kept me turning pages long past my bedtime and left me with the urge to stock up on a few more of Gerritsen’s books for the next time I need something fun.  Like tomorrow.


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MOVIE: The Fourth Kind (2009)

November 10, 2009

Fourth KindI didn’t know much about this movie when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go see it with her last Saturday.  All I knew was that it was set in Nome, Alaska and had something to do with a psychologist doing a study on a group of patients all claiming to have been abducted by aliens.  Snowy Alaskan backdrop, extraterrestrials — sign me right up!

As it turns out, this movie is quite a bit more complicated than that (“convoluted” might be a better term), and quite a bit less entertaining than I’d hoped.

The story opens with actress Mila Jovovich as herself, telling us the film we’re about to see is a true story that will feature video and audio footage of the real Dr. Abbey Tyler and her patients interspersed with a series of dramatizations based on the doctor’s notes, starring Mila as Abbey.

I was sort of intrigued at that point, not because I believed anything Jovovich had just said, but because I thought the gimmick of combining a standard movie with a documentary-style one was kind of cool.  This interest did not last long, I’m afraid.

The story itself is pretty hokey — I know as soon as I say that, someone is going to harangue me for it in the comments (see thread from my Paranormal Activity review for an example), but, I’m sorry, I’m stickin’ to my guns on this one.  I do believe there’s intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  In fact, I believe this so strongly I cannot understand how anyone could NOT believe it.  (And on that note, by the way, happy birthday, Carl Sagan!)

But I do not — repeat, not! — believe that if intelligent life comes to visit us on our planet, things are going to go down the way they always seem to in these kinds of movies.  For one thing, aliens in these movies always try to wipe out their victims’ memories so that the victims won’t remember anything that’s happened, right?  And, of course, this never works because the physical trauma is always so violent the victims’ brains end up giving them flashbacks that eventually trigger the reinstatement of the entire memory, right?  But here’s the thing — if the aliens are smart enough to fly here, beam us up, torture us, and then erase our memories, why aren’t they smart enough to make it so that our brains never record the trauma to begin with?  It’s not really that hard.  I mean, we can already do this right now on our planet, and we don’t even know how to achieve warp speed yet.  One word:  flunitrazepam.

But that’s just a minor dig, all things considered.  At heart, I simply have a lot of problems with the concept that life that is SMARTER than we are would also be MEANER than we are.  It seems to be a fairly universal concept that you can catch more flies with honey than with anal probes, and I think any intelligent alien civilization would probably also recognize this, even though we dumb humans don’t seem to put it into practice all that often.  Plus, there are plenty of crazy people on this planet who would willingly participate in alien medical studies.  Just put an ad in Craig’s List, fellas.  You’ll be all set.

The silliness of the plot, though, was not, in fact, this movie’s biggest problem.  Instead, its biggest problem was the very thing that intrigued me about it in the first place — the attempt to combine “dramatizations” with “actual footage” and sustain a sense of realism and suspense at the same time.  It just didn’t work for me.  Every shift was a jolt that took me back out of the story, and not only that, but the actors and actresses playing the “real” characters were absolutely awful, overacting to an almost laughable extreme (especially the woman playing the real Abbey Tyler and the guy playing her interviewer).   I never for a moment believed that the “real” footage was real; it had no sense of reality to it whatsoever.

Note to directors:  just because you shoot the crappy actors in grainy black and white video doesn’t mean we’re all suddenly going to believe what we’re seeing is an authentic home movie.  You have to do more than just lo-fi your camera equipment, I’m sorry.  (Though I do thank you for not even making an attempt to show us what the aliens looked like — props.)

Speaking of crappy actors, Will Patton must have had a terrible stomach ache after two hours of chewing all this movie’s scenery.  But Mila Jovovich wasn’t terrible — in fact, she and Elias Koteas (who is aging quite nicely, my friend and I agreed) were the only two decent performers in the entire film.  Unfortunately, they were given such an abysmal story to work with there was really nothing they could do to save the picture from its own inanity and cliché (oh, alien abduction genre — will no one ever try anything new with you?  You deserve so much better).

About halfway through the film, I looked at my watch, groaned upon realizing I still had at least an hour to go, and started thinking about all the laundry I needed to do once I got home.

That’s right — halfway into this movie, I started thinking about LAUNDRY.

I believe I need say no mo’.

[Prequeue me at Netflix | Watch the trailer]

Genre:  Horror, Crap
Cast:  Mila Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas.