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Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


What a mess.

I had seen this movie compared favorably with the delightful (mostly), Paris, Je T'aime. Both movies are supposedly love letters to the cities in which they're set. The Paris movie made me want to hop on a plane and revisit that magnificent city. Tokyo! (the movie) cured me of ever wanting to visit.

The movie is a trilogy of 40-minute movies helmed by three different directors. The first one is by Michel Gondry, the guy responsible for movies both wondrous (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and wretched (Be Kind, Rewind). This one falls into the latter category. A 20-something couple arrives in Tokyo to promote a film the boyfriend has made. They camp out at the world's tiniest flat with a friend. This place is too small for its one occupant. It's downright inappropriate for three. Well, the girlfriend begins to feel out of sorts and lost in the big city. And, it doesn't help that her boyfriend treats her poorly -- telling her she has no ambition. She feels like just part of the scenery. Before the whole thing is over (SPOILER ALERT!) she turns into a piece of furniture. Seriously. She becomes a chair. And, then it's over.

Surely, the next segment would be better than the previous, I thought. Not so much. In this installment, a creep with long fingernails, a milky eye and a flowing, red goatee emerges from a sewer to terrorize the city. He swipes cigarettes from passersby, steals money and eats it and wreaks havoc in general. He gets caught and is interrogated by the only person who understands his guttural language -- a French attorney who has the same long fingernails, milky eye and flowing, red goatee. Need I go on?

I hope, by now, you're getting the picture that this was one big waste of time and $7.25. If you're hoping to know who/what the beast turns out to be or what the third mini-movie was about, you will have to see it for yourselves. I walked out. My advice: Skip it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sin Nombre

It takes a certain kind of hard-core sociopath to tattoo gang insignia over his entire face, and Li'l Mago is just that kind. You do not want to get on this guy’s bad side.

But, Casper (a.k.a. Willy), a reluctant teen member of the MS13 gang in Mexico, does just that. His girlfriend, whom he has tried to keep hidden for her own safety, finds him at his gang hideout – and they both pay a steep price for it. Willy will have to endure unfathomable hardships after breaking away – in a big way – from his brothers in the gang. He has no choice but to go on the run, and at that point the two separate stories that have comprised the first two-thirds of the movie intertwine.

The first story concerns a lovely, tough teenage girl, Sayra, who is trying to get to the U.S. with her father and uncle. They, like scads of other Mexicans, are riding atop a freight train and trying to stay one step ahead of the border patrol. Mr. Scary Tattoo Face and his sidekicks attempt to rob Sayra and her family, and the fates of our two main characters become linked.

Sayra fears getting caught by the border patrol, but wily Willy lives moment to moment, barely one step ahead of his former gang members, who are determined to kill him. Sayra is determined to cast her lot with Willy, although he warns her he is nothing but trouble.

Tough, gritty, violent but with moments of genuine and affecting tenderness ... this Spanish-language (with subtitles) flick is one not to be missed. See it!

Beauty in Trouble

The beauty in question is in trouble, indeed. Floods have devastated Prague, her house has an out-of-control mildew problem which is exacerbating her young son’s asthma and she is married to an abusive man who makes a living stealing cars.

When she’s finally had enough, she takes her two children to her mother’s house. She finds slightly nicer surroundings, but mom is married to a creepy fellow with an anger management problem who is constantly saying inappropriate things – particularly to the children. She’s gone from bad to … just as bad.

While visiting her husband in jail, she happens to meet the man whose car the husband has stolen recently. He is a benevolent, rich, saintly, older man, and he takes a liking to our protagonist. Yet, he seems to want nothing more from her than companionship. Heck, he’s even good with her kids. Obvious choice, right? An abusive, low-life thug or a kind-hearted man of means. But the characters in this subtitled Czechoslovakian movie, as in real life, don’t always make the right decision.

So, beauty's trouble is partly of her own making. The pull of her lousy husband is too strong for her to ignore, and she vacillates between the attractive, wealthy older man (oh, who happens to own a fabulous Italian villa!) and her crappy husband in the mold-infested slum.

While her dilemma and the circumstances of her life are tough to look at, it’s refreshing to see characters who behave in the same confounding ways real people do. There’s nothing pretty to look at it here (save for the lovely actress who plays the title character), but a film that deals honestly with the bad decisions we all make in life is worth celebrating. See it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

State of Play

As Hollywood thrillers go, you could do much worse than this new flick with an all-star cast -- all of whom turn in strong performances. Even Ben.

Russell Crowe! Ben Affleck! Helen Mirren! Rachel McAdams! Robin Wright Penn! Even the bit parts went to A-list actors. Oscar nominee Viola Davis (Doubt) shows up in one brief scene. Jason Bateman is always a welcome sight, but I like my Jason Bateman movies on the funny/quirky side. I feared he was going to be all serious when he finally showed up three-quarters of the way through. As it happens, his smarmy PR guy is some much-needed comic relief.

The movie opens with the death (murder? suicide?) of a young, pretty Congressional aide. The congressman played by Ben Affleck is just a little too upset when he learns of her death. It's no surprise (in the movie, as in real life) that the married politician has been banging his young aide. The trouble is, Congressman Collins is in charge of an investigation into the shady dealings of a Blackwater-esque defense contractor that's supplying soldiers-for-hire for Iraq. The Congressman is in no position to question anyone's ethics.

As Collins gets into deeper doodoo, he leans on his old college roommate, Cal (Crowe) -- a star reporter for The Washington Globe. Cal is as devoted to his old friend as he is to getting the big scoop. Trouble is, there's a new hotshot blogger (Della, played by McAdams) at The Globe who hot on the trail of the same sordid story.

Washington, D.C. -- so often depicted as the majestic city I find it to be -- has never looked murkier. There are some nasty goings-on in the halls of power, and the lighting and locales match the shenanigans. But, there's more to this layered story than political corruption. The tension between old-school print journalism and the upstart blogosphere provides the movie with its heart.

This is one whodunit that's actually fairly easy to follow -- at least until the end, which unravels a bit. But, State of Play is that rare well-paced thriller with an exceptional cast. It's good, nasty fun. See it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Director Greg Mottola's latest movie has more in common with his Daytrippers (one of my all-time faves) than his more recent -- and more well-known -- Superbad.

Low on gross-out comedy, but heavy on teen angst, Adventureland follows recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg of The Squid and The Whale) during the course of his dreadful summer job at a local amusement park. A child of privilege, James was to have spent the summer in Europe before his father's demotion led to a sudden need for James to earn his own money for the first time in his young life. Since the characters who run the rickety amusement park (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) need nothing more than a warm body to man a games booth, James is hired on the spot. At what passes for an interview, they're unimpressed by his good grades and SAT scores.

There's humiliation, self-doubt and self-loathing, as you'd expect in a coming-of-age story. But, there's a lot more heart than we're used to seeing in this genre, too. Kristen Stewart is the lovely, woeful Emily -- a worthy love interest for our sweet, intellectual protagonist. She shares with him the pain over her mother's death and her father's remarriage to a bimbo. But, she hides a secret that keeps her from getting closer to James.

Thanks to a bitchin' soundtrack and lots of big hair, Mottola perfectly captures the look and sounds of the '80s. The laughs may not come at a fast pace, but this movie's heart makes up for a lack of chuckles. This is a chaste love story with believable, mostly likable characters that sweetly and painfully calls forth all the electronica and overly made-up drama of being a teen in the '80s. See it.