Category Archives: 2.5 stars

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011): United States – directed by George Nolfi

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some mild violent content, slightly mature themes, mild language

The Adjustment Bureau is not a standard sci-fi romantic thriller, as there is an interesting philosophical undercurrent that runs through much of the action.  And while it rarely rises to greatness, a good number of casual discussions will be started by a viewing.  Hard-core movie-goers will perhaps shy away from the simplicity of the themes, but casual seekers of entertainment will find something more to appreciate in the film.

Adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, The Adjustment Bureau has just the right amount of plot to keep an audience engaged without becoming a science fiction epic.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming politician.  The film opens as he runs for U.S. Senate, representing the state of New York.  His rough upbringing in Brooklyn has the masses cheering for him, but a slightly indiscreet photo ruins his chances of being elected.  But on the night of the election he runs into a young lady named Elise (Emily Blunt), and a tragic romance begins.

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Adam

Adam (2009): United States – directed by Max Mayer

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some mild sexual content, brief strong language

Adam is a fairly conventional romantic dramedy, albeit one with a slight twist.  The poster proclaims that it is a story about two strangers, one a little stranger than the other.  This may be true, as the titular Adam (Hugh Dancy) has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a label that may soon no longer be diagnosed, as it will perhaps be described as simply autism, albeit high functioning).  And while this small twist does make for a slightly elevated telling of a conventional romantic drama, it isn’t enough to make the film entirely memorable.

At the beginning of the film Adam loses his dad, though he doesn’t react as most NT’s (neuro-typicals) might in the same situation.  He doesn’t cry, doesn’t emote at all.  He simply goes home and continues his life, going to work at a toy company where he is able to practice his electronic engineering skills in relative isolation.

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010): United States – directed by Michael Apted

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some scary moments and action violence

This third entry into the Chronicles of Narnia series has a new distributor, and a smaller budget, but this is not immediately evident.  After Prince Caspian failed to live up to its enormous budget, Disney dropped the Walden Media production, and Fox picked it up.  Thus, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes to us courtesy of Fox Walden.

I have not read the Narnia books in many years, and will take other’s word that this entry includes some of the plot of Dawn Treader, with some other strains from The Silver Chair.  Nevertheless, the plot here is rather straightforward.  Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are the two remaining Pevensie children, stuck in England during the war.  Peter and Susan are in America, along with their parents.  So Lucy and Edmund stay with their cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), a whiny, petulant boy who sneers at their fanciful notions of Narnia and its magic.  Naturally, a painting on the wall starts pouring water as they fight, and they are all sucked into the sea.

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For Colored Girls

For Colored Girls (2010): United States – directed by Tyler Perry

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, domestic violence, sexual content, sexual violence

Tyler Perry’s first foray into straight drama is an interesting mix.  I’m not familiar with “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” Ntozake Shange’s seminal choreo-poem often considered a cultural marker.  I do know many African American communities were up in arms when it was announced Perry would be adapting it, and Oprah and other influential people were brought in to consult.  The play, an assortment of poetry expressing the lives of seven African American women, is fluid and impressionistic, I’m told.  It lacks the hard details necessary for a successful translation into film, but this very characteristic made it so powerful on stage.

Perry has worked many of the themes from the poem into a screenplay, adding characters and settings in an attempt to make it real.  His version has nine women whose lives are all interconnected, like a facile version of Magnolia [review here].

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Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007): Canada – directed by Jon Knautz

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, gore, language

Note: As I will be out of the country for a period of time, I have decided to inflict upon anyone who reads these reviews a sampling of my earlier work.  These will be shorter, less formal, poorly written, and generally crappy.  They will lack stills and links, and I will apologize in advance for their poor quality.  They have received minor edits to (very slightly) improve readability.  Enjoy.

(review originally published 10/26/08)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jack Brooks is done by the same couple guys who made Still Life, a very nice short film.  I remember watching it a while back and quite enjoying it.  Nice and violent for a short, too.  That must have been how I heard about Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.  It’s not a bad thing that I did, either, as it’s a rather enjoyable low-budget horror.  Now, I say low budget, but that comes more because the movie doesn’t try to overreach itself, not because the effects are bad.  In fact, the effects (which according to IMDb use no CGI) are quite good.  They did things the old fashioned way: latex and plenty of colored corn syrup.  While the movie wasn’t quite what I expected, if you go in expecting something closer to what it is you might enjoy it more.

The title makes it sound like there’s a guy who goes around killing monsters.  Not exactly the case.  The film opens with a couple monster scenes, the second of which involves a young boy witnessing his family getting torn to shreds by a forest troll.  We learn his name is Jack Brooks, and now that he’s all grown up he has an anger problem.  Fact is, he punches out just about everyone that pisses him off. And he gets pissed off quickly.  So he goes about life as a plumber (yes, Jack the Plumber), has a crappy college girlfriend, and pops in on his shrink occasionally, mostly to yell at him.  Now it may seem that Jack is an obnoxious prat, but he’s played well enough by Trevor Matthews that he remains rather likeable.

His girlfriend has made him go to an evening chemistry class, so he does.  The professor is a nerdy Robert Englund, who one day has plumbing issues out at his old house on the hill.  To sum up the remainder of the movie briefly (in order to avoid too many spoilers), there’s an evil Japanese demon heart that the professor finds that threatens to unleash evil in the chemistry class and on toward the end of the movie Jack discovers the reason the movie is called Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.

So, keep in mind that this isn’t Evil Dead reborn.  Nor is it like the graphic novel series Hack/Slash, where the duo slices and dices serial killers.  It is more like an origin story of this monster slayer, which means that the first hour of the film is relatively boring, keeping mostly to his ordinary life.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad.  It’s quite enjoyable, actually.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but doesn’t try too hard to be witty or self-absorbed, either.  There are a couple annoying characters who have difficulty acting at the same level as the rest of the cast . Englund is fun in his small but important role.  And the violence is fun, even though it sometimes veers into made-for-Sci-Fi channel territory.  Overall, not a bad way to spend 85 minutes watching some gore fly with some friends.

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963): United States – directed by Vincente Minnelli

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild discussion about the birds and the bees

Vincente Minnelli was a go-to director for much of his career, assured of financial hits at every turn.  And he churned out a number of crowd-pleasers, very few of which have endured as bona fide classics.  The Courtship of Eddie’s Father is no exception.

The titular Eddie (Ronny Howard) is a young boy, innocent and naive, for the most part.  Early in the film he asks his father, Tom (Glenn Ford), “Is mommy really dead?”  When assured by a despondent dad that she is, he replies, in true 50’s/60’s down-home style, “Gosh, gosh.”  Eddie is sad that mommy’s gone, but he is also worried about his father.

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If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horsemen Do?

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horsemen Do? (1971): United States – directed by Ron Ormond

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, dead children, warnings against Sin and Communism

There are certain films that are so inexplicable that their mere existence is cause for appreciation and enjoyment.  Films like Troll 2 [review here] are feature length examples of this phenomenon, and are utterly enjoyable in their ineptitude.  Much of the running time is spent wondering how on earth such plot, acting, special effects and writing could ever be combined on the same piece of celluloid.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a wonderful and mysterious amalgam as the one presented in If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? The film is intended to be a stern warning for all Christians in America, and non-Christians, of the natural consequences if they continue their sinful ways: Communism will overrun the country and murder your children.  The director is Ron Ormond, whose film The Monster and the Stripper is another perfect example of the inexplicable film.  Unfortunately, as a fiction feature length film that combines hunting a giant monster with dreadfully boring scenes of strippers and dancers semi-stripping and semi-dancing, The Monster and the Stripper was less than amazing.

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Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D (2010): United States – directed by Alexandre Aja

Rated R by the MPAA – contains gratuitous nudity, wanton violence and gore, CG blood, drug use, bad behavior, language, and more nudity

Note: This review discusses some of the more unpleasant aspects of Piranha 3D, and should only be read by mature movie-goers.  It may also contain a few spoilers.

Rarely has a film succeeded so gratuitously in its intentions as Piranha 3D.  It is shameless in its exploitation, and manages to fill the void in true grindhouse American cinema that has been lacking for so many years.  It is what Grindhouse itself should have been.  And it’s the closest America has ever seen to the Japanese shock films of the past few years; it only took a renowned French director to bring it to life.

Alexandre Aja broke onto the horror scene with High Tension, an intense and horrific film that helped usher in a new era of European horror.  That film was initially rated NC-17, and was undeniably more unsettling that Piranha 3D.  However, it contained nowhere near the amount of gratuitous nudity or CG blood that Piranha 3D managed to sneak by the MPAA.  I would have paid a small fortune to listen in as the MPAA’s panel of “parents” discussed the film and decided it would be appropriate for any age of person if a parent or guardian accompanied them.

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Thirteen Days

Thirteen Days (2000): United States – directed by Roger Donaldson

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language and some intense war room scenarios

It is a pity that Thirteen Days is not a better film, for the subject matter is exceedingly fascinating.  It is based on the true story of how the White House had to deal with a threat closer and more dangerous than any they had experienced before, but some of the technical aspects of the production bog down the story and prevent the film from having the power that it should.  Some of the intensity of the situation and the enormous impact the players’ decisions had is worthy of a better treatment than afforded here.

Kenny O’Donnell (Kevin Costner) is the President’s top aide in 1962.  John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) is in the White House, and Kenny and his brother Bobby (Steven Culp) are his most trusted advisers.  It is the height of the Cold War, and direct conflict with Russia is a constant worry.  Then a U2 pilot makes a run of the recently Communist Cuba and discovers something frightening: missile silos that ought not be there.

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Tales From the Script

Tales from the Script (2009): United States – directed by Peter Hanson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some strong language

Tales from the Script sounds like a great idea for a documentary: get a number of famous and unknown screenwriters to give interviews on a variety of subjects ranging from the joys of seeing their imagination come to life to the drudgery and despair of having extra writers hired to replace you.  And the film is interesting, in a way, at least for someone with an interest in the creative and business process each Hollywood film undergoes.  But it is also rather sterile, with little B-roll, and poorly constructed; without having access to a number of its famed writers I imagine it would have made a great extra on a DVD.

The film is broken into a number of chapters, and in each one a number of screenwriters weigh in on a particular aspect of the filmmaking process from a writer’s point of view.  Some of the sections are rather ambiguous, and certain snippets do not seem to make particular sense within their section.  Nearly 50 writers make up the interviews, and the diversity brings a certain level of freshness that otherwise would have been lost among the dullness of talking heads.

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