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6 posts from May 2010

May 27, 2010

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Prince of Persia - The Sands of Time' In the new fantasy adventure, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) stars as Dastan, a brave orphan who’s adopted by a King and goes on to be his most capable military leader.
    When word that the nearby city of Alamut is forging weapons that might jeopardize the peace and stability of the empire, King Sharaman orders Daston and his brothers to launch a preemptive attack. Easily breaching the walls, the invaders find nothing threatening inside; the only item of significance being a curious dagger, a spoil that goes to Daston, the victor.
    At the celebration, the King is poisoned by a robe presented to him by Daston forcing the once-favored son into exile. There he joins forces with Alamut’s deposed princess to clear his name. The Princess, though, is only interested in reclaiming the dagger, a mystical blade that can reverse time. Daston’s uncle, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), is interested in it as well. With it, Nizam can go back to the moment when he and Sharaman were boys and an act of unselfish courage cost him the throne.
    Prince of Persia is based on the popular video game series and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer whose films have grossed more than $11 billion (yes, “billion”) and include blockbusters like Pearl Harbor and the National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. This one’s entertaining and satisfying though remarkably “unspectacular” – special effects are limited to spider-like wall climbing and elaborate minaret leaps that suggest ancient Persia and the moon have similar gravitational pulls.
    Thankfully, CGI is just plays a supporting role. The real stars are Kingsley, who makes a wonderful villain, and Gyllenhaal, who is cast as something of a villain himself: a Swede (gasp!) portraying a Persian. [George Lucas drew similar complaints when he cast a London actor, rather than a native Wookiee, to play Chewbacca. People: that’s why it’s called acting!]
    At times I found the story unnecessarily partisan, almost to the point of wincing. Alamut is a “peaceful” city, but, according to a hired spy, they are manufacturing high-quality metal for an imminent attack. After the occupation, surprise, the search turns-up no forges, only the bromide, “you have to have more than 'indications' to occupy a holy city.” For comic relief (or to be “Fair and Balanced”) the wonderful Alfred Molina plays Amar, an anti-tax ranting ostrich racer who complains that small businesses have to pay for ridiculous government programs like, I suppose, rug manufacturer bailouts and rope bridges to nowhere.
    Ahh, but if you look too deep you’ll miss all the fun. This one, at its core, is precisely what a summer film ought to be: an escapist adventure.   

2 1/2 Honks
MPAA Rating: MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.

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May 21, 2010

"MacGruber" MacSucks

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'MacGruber' starring Will ForteIn the new comedy MacGruber, Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte spoofs iconic TV crime stopper ‘MacGyver’ in the worst film of the year. Maybe even of the decade. Put another way, if you’ve ever seen someone walking a dog and wondered what was in that plastic supermarket bag they dutifully carried behind, I’m pretty sure it was the script for this movie.
    He has sixteen Purple Hearts, seven Presidential bravery awards and three Medals of Honor. That’s all in the past. After his wife died, MacGruber (Forte) swore-off aggression and joined a monastery. But he’s called back into action when a master villain (Val Kilmer) steals a nuclear warhead.
    So he assembles a team that includes sister-in-law Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and a young Lieutenant (Ryan Phillippe). Under the auspices of his old commander (Powers Boothe) and armed with only his legendary resourcefulness, he uses all means at hand -- including, apparently, grossing-out his victims -- to reclaim the weapon.
    MacGruber joins that ignoble clump of SNL sketches that are funny in small doses but ruined when brought to the big screen. Coneheads, It's Pat, The Ladies Man – none could match the quality or success of the only two skits that worked as films: The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World. I hoped against logic that this one would be different. A Night at the Roxbury, and Superstar flopped, but expectations were high, after all, the head-bobbing, night clubbing Bubati Brothers (Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan) and Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon) were TV cut-ups. MacGruber was a one-joke premise to begin with. It had nowhere to go but up.
    Instead, it did what co-star Val Kilmer unapologetically lauds, “The writers challenged each other to be as vile as possible, and they succeeded.” With 90% of the laughs from high school boys’ reaction to the villain’s name and the other 10% equally divided between unholy uses of celery and the protagonist’s obsession with the license plate KFBR392, it’s an odd standard for someone once regarded as one of Hollywood’s most intense and respected actors for his work in films like The Doors and The Saint.
    Sophomoric at best, the proclivities are contrived (the Miata, the propensity to rip throats) and the best gag is lost on the target audience (toting the pull-out Blaupunkt everywhere). MacGruber was doomed out of the gate. Yes, they should know better, but after Stuart Saves His Family and Blues Brothers 2000 all I can say is: when can we expect The Mango Story?


1/2 Honk
MPAA Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity.

May 14, 2010


Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Greenberg' starring Ben Stiller Reality bites in the new Ben Stiller comedy, Greenberg when the Tropic Thunder star is forced to move into his brother’s home after a failed music career and midlife crisis send him over the edge.
Roger Greenberg (Stiller) is ostensibly house-sitting for his affluent brother in Los Angeles. In fact, he’s just suffered a nervous breakdown and needs a safe and quiet place to collect himself (think Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine). “I’m really trying to do nothing for a while,” he says. But when he quickly realizes that he can’t sit still he tries to reconnect with his old crowd, girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and old band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who are less than thrilled to see him again.

Keeping an eye on Roger is his brother’s personal assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), who’s something of a lost soul herself. A singer by night and a ‘gofer’ by day, she stops by periodically to check on the dog and run whatever errands Roger may have (“grocery list: whiskey, ice cream sandwiches”). As the pair spend more time together they fall for each other.

Ben Stiller. Midlife crisis. We waited fifteen years for this Gen-X karma to finally come around. How could Greenberg miss?

It did. By a mile.

Brief moments of cynical gold notwithstanding (for example, to a friend’s lament that youth is wasted on the young, Stiller replies, “I’d go further, life is wasted on … people!”), Greenberg is an hour and a half whine. Everything bothers him. The incessant letters (“Dear Starbucks, in your attempt to manufacture culture…”) and sarcastic restaurant narration (“laughing already demonstrates appreciation, applause seems superfluous”) is all very funny until we realize that’s all there is. Then it becomes a dark film and as an audience, we feel duped. Stiller did precisely the same thing in Permanent Midnight, the biopic of TV writer Jerry Stahl.

There are some brilliant monologues -- “rants” some would call them -- like his assessment of the current coddled generation, “I hope I die before meeting one of you in a job interview.” There’s some purposeful humor, as well, but too much leaves moviegoers tired from connecting all the dots and concluding ... what? That cynicism is Greenberg’s buffer against the realities of the world, but it also absorbs the joy? Maybe. If I knew there was a test I would have paid better attention. Instead, I left dry-eyed and confused.

Through another prism, Greenberg might shine, but sold as a comedy, it disappoints.


1 Honk
MPAA Rating: R for some strong sexuality, drug use and language.


May 06, 2010

"Iron Man 2"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Iron Man 2' starring Robert Downey, Jr Robert Downey, Jr. reprises his 2008 role in the new blockbuster Iron Man 2, this time as a more sassy and more savvy Tony Stark -- first hectoring a Democratic Senator then successfully privatizing World Peace. In other words, the Tea Party may have found their 2012 Presidential candidate.
Stark Industries’ Iron Man technology is under assault on multiple fronts. The penniless son of the company’s original partner, who was deported back to Russia, wants it as restitution; a rival weapons manufacturer wants it to gain an edge; and the US government just plain wants it.

Those, however, are less pressing problems for the scion than the palladium that powers the arc reactor in his chest. Yes, it’s keeping him alive, but it’s also slowly poisoning him. Sensing that the time until he succumbs is short, Tony starts taking big risks, not the least of which is naming as his successor former personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Meanwhile, back in Butyrka, toothpick-chomping Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and Stark competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) are collaborating on an electric bullwhip-wielding super scourge to bring down Iron Man. It all comes to a head, as these things do in the movies, in an epic battle royal and when the smoke clears, good triumphs over evil, father saves son from beyond the grave, and Samuel L. Jackson teaches the Hathaway shirt guy how to sport an eye patch.

Iron Man 2 is one of the best sequels and is nearly as good as its predecessor in spite of unfortunate casting choices like Don Cheadle subbing for Terrence Howard as Stark’s Air Force liaison pal “Rhodey,” or Scarlett Johansson, whose agent Natasha Romanoff would not last five minutes in the same room as “Hit Girl.” After all, it’s Robert Downey, Jr. fans come to see. Rich, smug and able to fly.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that is a dream trifecta. Iron Man 2 took-in a whopping $125+ million over its opening weekend (the 5th highest gross ever) and it’s easy to see why. Like a Geritol-laced espresso, “Iron Man” is at the same time stimulating and fortifying. It’s action-packed and engaging without being tiring. Best of all, it’s witty. Downey, whom I have called “the Lionel Barrymore of our time,” is a master of wry and here he brings it. For example, when an evaluator accuses him of displaying “textbook narcissism,” he pauses masterfully before replying, “Agreed.”

Clever and entertaining, it’s a worthy heir to the franchise.


3 Honks
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

May 03, 2010

"Beethoven's Guitar Shred"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Beethoven's Guitar Shred' Watch for the micro-review soon ...



May 01, 2010

"Furry Vengeance"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Furry Vengeance' starring Brendan Fraser In the new family comedy, Furry Vengeance, Brendan Fraser stars as a real estate developer trying to replace a forest with a new “green” community. The soon-to-be-displaced critters, though, aren’t planning to go down without a fight.

Dan and Tammy Sanders (Fraser and Brooke Shields) moved their family from Chicago to rural Rocky Springs, Oregon where Dan is developing a new eco-friendly subdivision for Lyman Industries. Other than the company's hardball-playing owner (Ken Jeong), for whom the only green that really matters is the cash he stands to make, no one is particularly excited about the project. Dan’s son doesn’t like his new school. He’ll adjust. His wife got roped into organizing the town’s festival. She’ll be fine, too. The forest faunae? Well, that’s another story. They have no intention of giving-up their homes so they take matters into their own paws.

Led by a raccoon with thought bubbles of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, the animals battle the encroachers with a combination of booby-traps, sabotage and good old fashioned natural defenses (skunk squirt and bird droppings). When it’s all over, Dan learns a little about coexisting with nature and a lot about sham “green” initiatives.

Furry Vengeance is targeted to young audiences. Pratfalls, silly jokes and high-fiving raccoons get a lot of giggles from preschoolers in whose worldview human and marmot offspring are equals. The rest of us might enjoy seeing “eco-hypocrites” get their comeuppance. Lyman, for instance, travels in a private jet to lecture on environmentally responsible development and advocates solar panels only because “you can charge more for them;” while Fraser, whose physical resemblance to Al Gore cannot be overlooked, drives an oversized hybrid SUV (alone) and insists that he cares about the environment even as he is dynamiting a beaver dam.

Unfortunately, the jokes are all recycled (from compost, no doubt) and are so childish that the movie is, at times, painful to watch. The best gags -- the port-john called “The Throne Depot,” flashbacks to earlier failed development efforts by prehistoric cavemen, and cute but curious end-credit spoofs of films like The Blue Lagoon, and Grease – are too abbreviated and leave us concluding that Furry Vengeance could have been a much more clever and entertaining film.

Instead, we get Brendan Fraser, the once-admired star of The Mummy and Blast from the Past, fighting with a yard sprinkler and traipsing ridiculously through the neighborhood wearing pink ‘Yum Yum’ sweats.

 It’s a waste of talent.
 And it’s a waste of time.


1 Honk
MPAA Rating: PG for some rude humor, mild language and brief smoking.