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Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Last Mountain

If the name "Massey Energy" rings a bell, it may be because of the bad press it's gotten in recent years for its 60,000 environmental violations. Massey operates the W.Va. mine where workers were trapped and killed a few years ago. Yes, mining is inherently dangerous, but the documentary points out that Massey seems to make it more so by disregarding worker safety.

Apparently, they've also disregarded the environment and the residents of the impoverished little hollow towns where they operate.

It's easy enough not to know about or think of the residents of the trailer park near Massey's mountaintop removal (MTR) operation on Coal Mountain. These people have a higher than average incidence of brain tumors. Way higher. Six people in the same cul-de-sac developed brain tumors, including one fetus who was born with a tumor. But, when you consider that W.Va. coal provides the power for (and pollutes the water of) a wide swath of the population from Pa. to Ga., it starts to matter.

The movie's heroes are the brilliant environmental attorney/activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and a band of citizen-activists (including former coal miners) who are fighting Massey, their local governments and their state government. (W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin is a Democrat, so this is not a liberal-vs.-conservative issue.)

The film doesn't offer a balanced view (what documentary does?), but the filmmakers do give the coal industry a chance to respond. The president of the W.Va. coal miners association gets a good amount of screen time and comes across as a smart, affable guy. Massey's CEO appears in film footage, but he isn't interviewed. He comes across as a jackass.

The Last Mountain is the kind of movie that makes the audience jeer the bad guys and cheer (literally) the small victories by the people fighting City Hall -- and larger authorities. See it.

The Last Mountain

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I loved this movie. I want everyone I know to see this movie. I want people I don't know to see this movie. I want this movie to be nominated for and then win a bunch of awards. It could happen ... but people will have to see it first. And, there's been very little marketing for this tiny jewel. I don't know why.

Submarine has a lot of similarities to another movie I loved, The Squid and The Whale. But by comparing it to that fine film, I don't want to take anything away from Submarine's originality.

On its surface, it's a funny, painful coming-of-age story about an awkward Welsh teenager with delusions of grandeur. (He imagines himself as the star of his own movie, and -- in a hilarious sequence -- imagines his own death, including grieving classmates, candlelight vigils and news coverage.) But as the title suggests, there's a lot more going on below the surface.

Craig Roberts is charming -- and carries the movie -- in the role of Oliver Tate. His parents' marriage appears to be falling apart, and he takes it upon himself to intervene and keep them together. It's a lot for one 15-year-old boy to handle. Especially when he has a new, somewhat ambivalent girlfriend who turns out to have troubles of her own. And, he's trying to keep the bullies at bay.

Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor play the parents, who are mostly ambivalent toward each other. Paddy Considine is a great comic foil as a mulleted New Age guru who's somehow drawn the attention of Mrs. Tate.

Oliver is an unlikely anti-hero we can't help but root for. He's one of the most memorable characters I've seen on screen all year. Do not miss this one. See it!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Friends with Benefits

Friends with Benefits was just the fun, funny, well-made romcom I needed on a miserably hot July afternoon. And, it removed the bad taste in my mouth leftover from another alleged romcom I saw this week -- Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Much has already been made of the magical chemistry between the two gorgeous leads. If you were lucky enough to catch Lester Holt's TODAY show interview with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, then you know their chemistry extends beyond the big screen. They do more than look good together. They have fun together.

The movie's premise should be obvious from the name ... although Lester (a grown-up, more handsome, Urkel, if e'er there was one) acted like he wasn't sure what "friends with benefits" could possibly mean.

Dylan (JT) and Jamie (Kunis) have each been dumped -- in hilarious scenes -- by their respective mates. They've been accused of being emotionally unavailable and emotionally damaged. They meet when Jamie (a headhunter) recruits an L.A.-loving Dylan to be the art director at GQ in New York. Since Dylan doesn't know anyone else in town, he and Jamie start having lunch, getting together for beers and watching romantic comedies together.

Neither is romantically interested in the other, they swear (on a Bible app on Jamie's iPad) so they should be able to get together for no-strings-attached sex. We know this isn't a sustainable plan, even as they try to convince themselves it's perfect. Complications ensue.

The supporting players are almost all uniformly great. Even those who have just one scene (Andy Samberg and Emma Stone) are memorable. Patricia Clarkson is perfect as Jamie's irresponsible, sexually liberated mom. Woody Harrelson plays against type as a macho, gay sports editor at GQ. ("I'm strictly dickly," he tells Dylan.)

I could've done without a miscast Jenna Elfman as Dylan's big sister, but then again, I can always do without Jenna Elfman.

But, I shall not pick nits. The movie and its leads are a pure delight. I'm hoping Timberlake and Kunis will team up again. I'd like to see them become a latter day Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. See it!

Friends with Benefits

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Page One: Inside The New York Times

If you're a reader of newspapers (the old-fashioned, print variety) and have shaken your head -- or your fist -- over the ever-shrinking daily paper, you'll likely be devastated to see what the state of journalism looks like to the reporters who bring us the news.

The New York Times is (or was, depending on where you stand) the gold standard of news organizations. This documentary makes the point that The Times was even where other papers got their news. A story would run in The Times one day, and other newspapers would run that story, or a version of it, the day after. The Times has defined what news is for as long as most of us can remember. We never imagined that it would be otherwise.

Neither did the people who work there.

In intense interviews with Times reporters (mostly those on the media desk), other journalists, bloggers and media professors, we see up-close how swift and shocking the downfall of print journalism has been to the very people in the thick of it. People who dreamed of nothing but some day getting to write for The Times have now been canned by The Times.

Their poignant struggle to remain relevant is captured in this well-made documentary. Former crack addict-turned-reporter David Carr is first among equals. Editor Bill Keller is a thoughtful, intelligent dreamboat. See it.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Monday, July 11, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses is a great movie that made me laugh out loud and remember, with anger and bitterness, my own worst boss. The characters played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston are horrible, to be sure. But, they've got nothin' on "Frieda."

Frieda’s doughy face, ample figure and pathetic fashion sense endeared her to me. The mousy woman in the ill-fitting '80s power suit (although this was 20 years hence) with the suntan pantyhose and thick eyeglasses ("trifocals," she told me) looked so harmless. She looked like she had gotten ahead in spite of her wardrobe.

I reasoned that she’d have to be seriously smart to overcompensate for the wardrobe malfunctions. And, the more I saw of her, the more I realized her wardrobe didn’t reveal someone who was unconcerned with her image. It revealed someone so woefully out of touch that she believed the navy blazer and skirt ensemble conveyed "polished executive." It’s as if she were stuck in a time warp, not to mention stuck – literally – in a too-tight suit.

The time warp has added significance for me now. In one of our "one-on-ones," Frieda flung this zinger at me: "If you didn’t understand what I said to you earlier, I cannot travel back in time to make you understand."

Frieda didn't miss a chance to critique me. She once asked, "Why do you begin your e-mails with a name and then a colon? You should begin with a name and then a comma – or better yet a friendly 'Hi' or 'Hello there.'" Apparently, my e-mails were too professional for her.

"The type size in your e-mails is too big," she told me once. I apologized and reduced it from 11 point back to 10 point. I wanted to ask if Frieda was OK with Arial – or if she preferred Times New Roman.

Morale in this group was dreadfully low. Frieda was asked to bring it up. She stood before all of us at a group meeting to unveil her plan to boost our spirits. I watched with perverse pleasure as the woman who had made me miserable turned ashen. Her neck got splotchy, and I delighted in her obvious nervousness. (Why had she bragged to me about her Toastmasters public-speaking award?)

She rambled on, and I even took notes on the gibberish because I wanted an accurate account of it later. She actually said that she had formed "teams, subteams and teams within teams" to "drive out" the morale-boosting plan. Subteams and teams within teams … now there's a sure-fire way to make your workforce happy.

Until I met Frieda, I thought having a positive attitude, a solid work ethic and getting results  would lead to some level of success. Frieda demonstrated that some people can be successful without having any of those things. Frieda's talents were limited to an uncanny ability to suck up and a willingness to build a fortress around her own incompetent boss and reign hell down on anyone who might get wind of the incompetence.

And, if I myself could travel back in time, I wouldn't make any assumptions about Frieda based on her utter lack of style. I'd judge her instead on her utter lack of common sense and dearth of any discernible talent.
Oh, and you should see the movie.

 Horrible Bosses

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher is just plain bad.

Which is unfortunate, because there's really nothing funnier on film than a teacher who's just in it for the meager paycheck. Jack Black created the definitive bad teacher with his Dewey Finn in School of Rock. Dewey (a.k.a. Ned Scheebly, Dewey's schoolteacher/ roommate whom he impersonates) is a lovable loser who lives to get stoned and rock out. He ultimately comes to life -- and his humanity is revealed -- when he ignites a love of music in his students.

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) doesn't have any such kindness hidden within. She's a superficial bee-atch who's out to land a rich husband and get a new set of ta-tas. Falling asleep or sneaking a swig at her desk are mildly funny at first. But, screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have no other tricks up their sleeves. Seeing Elizabeth slumped at her desk for the fifth or sixth time is just tiresome.

Justin Timberlake has a few cute scenes as the substitute with a big family inheritance whom Elizabeth sets her sights on. Other generally funny performers are generally wasted in this bland flick. John Michael Higgins, Phyllis Smith (Phyllis from The Office) and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family's Cam) try their best, but they're given too little to work with.

Even the affable Jason Segel, the school's gym teacher and Elizabeth's hapless suitor, flounders his way through the material. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen not just the funniest bits of the film. You've seen the only funny bits to be had. Skip it.

Bad Teacher

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Super 8

J.J. Abrams's Super 8 can't decide what it wants to be.

On the one hand ...

... it's a sweet, coming of age tale and an homage to both filmmaking and to producer Steven Spielberg's E.T. and other kid-focused films of the same era. Young Elle Fanning and young newcomer Joel Courtney deserve award nominations for their unself-conscious portrayals of lonely, motherless adolescents fumbling with their feelings for each other. Both are along for the ride with the kids who are in love with filmmaking and secretly shooting a movie at a train depot one night. They happen to be filming when a train crashes -- and not by accident -- and then they have a mystery on their hands.

Dogs in their little town go missing, the military gets involved and seems to be covering something up and the amateur filmmakers are forced to become amateur detectives.

On the other hand ...

... the cargo aboard that derailed train turns out to be hundreds of very uncuddly, white blocks resembling Rubik's cubes. Hardly the heir to E.T. These little blocks, that can hurl themselves through walls, aren't even the heirs to gremlins. At least the gremlins started out cute. The sweetness evaporates, and we're suddenly hit head-on with a violent, fiery, smash 'em up, sci-fi stew. It's dark (both the mood and the lighting), and there's hardware flying everywhere. Abrams doesn't seem to know where to take it.

In that respect, it reminded me a little of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a movie I never could get hyped up about. That much-lauded film felt to me like a lot of build-up that led to a big let-down.

Since Super 8 really felt like two competing movies, my advice is, of course: See it/Skip it.

Super 8