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June 17, 2010

"Summer Screening List"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- Summer Screening List Rochester students of all ages are sent home with a summer reading list. So that the rest of us have something to do on rainy days, as well, I’ve created a summer “screening” list of essential contemporary classics that everyone ought to be exposed to. Watch them closely, there will be a test.


Gangs of New York (2002)
Director Martin Scorsese sets his most epic film against a backdrop of 19th century New York City’s notorious “Five Points” and all the contentions we may have heard about but have never seen personified: the Draft Riots, Irish immigration, Boss Tweed’s legendarily corrupt Tammany Hall. Yes, it sounds like a history class we slept through, but Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, and Leonardo DiCaprio (in his first of many Scorsese collaborations) bring it to life.


Defending Your Life (1991)
Albert Brooks dies in auto accident and wakes in Judgment City where he must justify his life in order to move forward in the universe, elsewise he will be relegated back to Earth to try again. Meryl Streep co-stars as his motivation to push past the fears that hold him back. A visit to the Past Lives Pavilion is particularly revealing. Brooks’ best comedy.


Rain Man (1988)
It was the best film of 1988 thanks to brilliant performances by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Cruise is the headstrong Charlie Babbitt who only learns he has an institutionalized autistic brother when he returns home for the reading of his father’s will. Raymond got three million dollars (but he didn’t get the rose bushes), so Charlie takes him on a cross-country road trip assuming the bequest comes along for the ride. It doesn’t, but when it’s over, Charlie gets something more valuable, “a connection.” My favorite moment: “Rain Man, let’s play some cards.”


Man on the Moon (1999)
In case you didn’t know, Andy Kaufman was a hit-or-miss entertainer. But when he hit it was amazing. “You're insane,” Danny DeVito, as manager George Shapiro, concludes, “but you might also be brilliant.” In truth, Kaufman, who Jim Carrey masterfully channels here, was both and this film, like the similarly titled R.E.M. track, is a dignified tribute.


Tombstone (1993)
Kurt Russell does an admirable job as the righteous Wyatt Earp in the lawless west but it’s Val Kilmer as sidekick Doc Holliday who steals the show delivering innocuous lines like “I’m your huckleberry,” and “let’s have a spelling contest” with such panache they’ll forever be part of your own vernacular. Easily the best of all modern westerns and to Silverado fans who’ll call me out for that endorsement I say, “You’re a daisy if you do.”

"Split Ends"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Split Ends' The owner of a small hair salon in a gentrified area of Manningtree, New Jersey learns her entire block is being taken under eminent domain for a huge urban project.


Cut and Run? Never.

Relaxed pace reminiscent of Burt Lancaster's Local Hero. Co-stars Sopranos' Vincent Pastore.





June 10, 2010

"The Karate Kid"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'The Karate Kid ' starring Jaden Smith and Jackie ChanWill Smith scion Jaden and action star Jackie Chan have big “gis” to fill in the new remake of the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid.
    Twelve year-old Detroit expat Dre Parker (Smith) is not fitting-in well at his new Beijing school. He knows little about the language and less about the protocol. Distracting a local girl from her violin practice, one afternoon, puts him on the wrong side of a bully named Cheng, leaving him little choice but to fight back.
    After observing Dre futilely prepare, and later intervening in the boy’s shellacking, Mr. Han (Chan), the building maintenance man, agrees to take him under his tutelage. Han visits the Kung Fu school where the boys are wrongfully taught a darker application of the discipline: “No weakness. No pain. No mercy.” He convinces the master there to agree to a tournament to settle the matter. The rest, as they say, is history.
    The Karate Kid is a dignified retelling of a revered film. Jackie Chan is restrained, nothing at all like either his Rush Hour Detective Lee or Pat Morita’s original and more likable sensei, Mr. Miyagi. Neither is Jaden Smith’s broody Dre reminiscent of Daniel LaRusso, Ralph Macchio’s archetypal Newark to Reseda transplant. Nonetheless, they’re good fits for a film that feels richer than it is cliché (and let’s be honest, any martial arts movie that manages to avoid the Carl Douglas song “Kung Fu Fighting” is automatically pretty remarkable).
    But there’s a cost. Much of what made the original a fixture of pop culture is absent. Macchio’s Jersey boy. Miyagi’s wit. These couldn’t be improved so it’s wise that they didn’t try. They’re missed, of course, though not nearly as much as marked high points like Daniel’s climactic execution of the ‘wounded crane’ or that moment when he realizes ‘wax on, wax off’ and ‘paint the fence’ weren’t chores after all, but defensive techniques. This one’s much more measured. That doesn’t make it worse, it just makes it different … and, apparently, extremely popular.
    The Karate Kid topped the box office its opening weekend, twice-over besting another 80s fixture: The A-Team which alienated at least one original cast member (Mr. T refused a cameo). On the contrary, Macchio embraced this one as “a testament to the legacy that we created.” That may be a little too much back-patting for someone whose last major role was as a “yute” opposite The Munster’s Fred Gwynne.
    Yes, the original was formidable, but this one’s no slouching tiger.
    It’s a good film, a great story, and a respectable remake. 


3 Honks
MPAA Rating: 
PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language.

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June 04, 2010

"Get Him to the Greek"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Get Him to the Greek' starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand Jonah Hill tries to corral British comedian Russell Brand’s little-bit-Jagger little-bit-Lohan spoof-rocker in the new comedy “Get Him to the Greek.

After his last release, “African Child,” was panned as the "the worst thing to happen to that country since apartheid," Aldus Snow (Brand) went into a self-imposed exile. Now, ten years later, an anniversary show at the Greek Theater might not only resurrect his career but also save the jobs of everyone at the label, not the least of whom is intern Aaron Green (Hill) who’s been assigned the task of getting the notoriously unmanageable talent from London to Los Angeles in 72 hours.

For the trip, they’ve packed too much emotional baggage. Green needs to overcome an infatuation with the rock god and balance his own delicate relationship with his girlfriend; Snow needs to reconcile a failed marriage and patch things-up with his estranged father. Oh, and there’s the music. Snow insists on opening with his last release. Green, however, knows it’s the classics that fans want but is under strict orders from record mogul Sergio Roma (Sean Combs) not to chance bruising the star’s delicate ego, “tell him you brush your teeth to that one every morning!” A near-fiasco on “The Today Show” ultimately set a course for the comeback of the century.

Aldus Snow was a break-out character from the 2008 romcom Forgetting Sarah Marshall, arguably the highlight of that film (though I found the puppet opera, “A Taste for Love,” a snippet of which can be found on YouTube, more entertaining). Brand’s parody of an iconic self-destructing nihilistic rocker is spot-on and hysterical … in small doses. But director Nicholas Stoller (who helmed both films) comes dangerously close to ruining the caricature by adding dimension (pseudo-introspect and detachments from various loved ones, a dweebish son, for instance).

What works best are the hit-and-run gags: the opening mocumentary, Sarah Marshall’s cameo in the promo for “Blind Medicine,” and the knifing in Las Vegas. Clearly the most bizarre is the green room encounter with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman; a surreal attempt that only accomplishes making the liberal columnist look smallish.

This is one film that should have stuck to the formula. Miss the flight? Rent a car, take a bus, hitchhike. No cash? Take an odd job or put-on an impromptu concert in Peoria and pass the hat. Instead, it’s little more than one big sex, drugs and rock-and-roll cliché.

Get Him to the Greek could have been a funny movie instead of settling for just a few funny moments.

2 Honks
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language

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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.