Monday, May 30, 2011


Spoiler alert-o-meter: Lots of spoilers ahead, but does it really matter?

Priest is another movie predicated on the latest fads in pop culture: graphic novels, 3D, and vampires. And other than some wasted opportunity, Priest plays like a cultural placeholder waiting for the next big thing. Not to say that it’s entirely bad, but where the movie takes you is not completely surprising if you have any experience with certain accepted cultural touchstones. Not being an expert on vampires, I can’t say for sure if Priest introduces new paradigms. Unless it's Cowboys & Vampires (much like the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens).

There are vampires that look human, and they can sort of go out in daylight. Then there are more monster-looking vampires that have no eyes and a mouthful of razor-like teeth who move faster than you. Then there’s, like, a mother vampire. If you happen to be a human killed by her you will become a sort of superhuman vampire, with superior strength. The nomenclature goes on.

If you read the graphic novel of Priest upon which the movie is based, then you would know how the movie opens. For viewers coming in cold, Priest The Movie opens with a handy animated sequence with a nifty voiceover that informs us about vampires taking over the country and these class of humans called priests infused with vampire-killing powers and they help contain the vampire break-out. After that, for some reason, Americans either live in dark, Blade-Runnery, Dark City-ish cities overseen by a religious society or they live in barren sundried landscapes that look like the American West.

Lots of set up here, and in terms of the movie, all for naught much. This nomenclature and mythology probably made a lot more sense in the graphic novel. For the movie, it’s just a set up on which to base the last half of the movie. Paul Bettany plays one of these priests (named Priest) who, after the vampires are contained, is given a menial job and shunned by society. Until evidence comes to light that vampires are back and stronger than ever. And this time it’s personal.

Priest heads outside the walls of the city in search of his niece, kidnapped by one of these new stronger breed of vampire. This part plays like a remake of The Searchers. In that movie, John Wayne's niece is kidnapped and he heads off to track the kidnappers. Here Priest rides a motorcycle (hey why not?) off into the bleached landscape, working with a young sheriff who is in love with the niece.

There are some nifty 3-D effects, but mostly the movie forgets all about the 3-D part after the first twenty minutes. The final third of the movie has Priest, the sheriff, and a beautiful young Priestess (Maggie Q) chasing a bullet train full of vampires through the desert. They plan to stop it before it reaches the city and unleashes all the eyeless vampires. Karl Urban plays Black Hat, the main baddie vampire who just can’t forget the time when he too was a priest and was left to die by Priest in a hive during the great vampire wars of, when, last year? Who can say? There’s very little context, and you just watch and nod and say, okay.

Full disclosure of ending: So, there’s the train blasting through the desert, the good priest against the bad priest/vampire and I thought, I’d like to see what happens when that train reaches the city. But, it was not to be. The train was stopped before that. And while that sequence was exciting-ish, it seemed like an anticlimax. Earlier in the movie, when the two priests and the sheriff come across an empty hive, well what fun is that? What if the hive was full? Of vampires?

It's another lost opportunity for the movie to spend some of that production value on something original and worthwhile. Priest makes promises it doesn’t quite keep, predicated on a set up that, to be honest, looked more fun than what ended up on screen. Read the graphic novel, and then watch this Priest if you just haven’t gotten enough.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday night, May 24th, 7:20 pm. Price: 6.00 bargain night! Viewed solo. Snack: Apple, chopped, bagged.

Coming Attractions:

Change Up. Ryan Reynolds is a single guy popular with the ladies, but tired of his lifestyle. Jason Bateman is a married guy with a couple kids, also tired of his lifestyle. After pissing in a magic fountain (seriously!) the two switch lives. It's an R-rated Freaky Friday rip off. But, this one has potential.

Columbiana. Zoe Saldana. "A young woman, after witnessing her parents' murder as a child in Bogota, grows up to be a stone-cold assassin."

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Brought to you by Guillermo del Toro. A big screen remake of a 1973 TV movie. With Katie Holmes and Guy Pierce.

Strawdogs. An apparent shot-by-shot recreation of Sam Peckinpaw's Strawdogs. All the violence and half the brains. Why do this? With James Marsden as the Dustin Hoffman character and Kate Bosworth as the Susan George character. Location switched from rural UK to the American South.

Transformers 3. This is the third or fourth variation I've seen in a trailer of this movie. It looks intense, and really, who can see all the details on screen when it moves so fast? Destruction of Manhattan, if that's your thing. Hopefully the good Transformers can (finally) stop the bad Transformers. Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces not so super model Megan Fox without any real change in the story line. Go figure.

X-Men 1st Class. An origins story, telling you how Professor X and Magneto met. If those names mean nothing to you, then maybe you should watch The King's Speech again. Takes place during the Cuban missile crisis.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Spoiler alert-o-meter: A few spoilers ahead, but nothing to worry about.

In the new Judd Apatow-produced comedy Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig graduates from SNL and co-starring/cameoing movie roles (Adventureland, Paul, Date Night, MacGruber, Whip It, Extract, Knocked Up) steps into the forefront and perfects a character type I’ll describe as a charming, passive narcissist. Well, not always that charming. If you’re a fan of contemporary comedies starring today’s funnymen (Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill) you already know that narcissism, both passive and aggressive, is definitely a part of these characters' descriptions.

Maybe what makes Bridesmaids so groundbreaking is that all the main characters are women, and they share many of the same characteristics as those funnymen. Except in Bridesmaids they feel like actual people who talk honestly and are allowed to experience honest feelings. It shouldn’t feel like a revelation, but because so few movies explore the relationships between women, it does. [Nicole Holofcener has been doing this for years with movies like Friends with Money, Walking and Talking, and Lovely and Amazing, but her films are niche marketed to the Art House crowd, and aren't laugh-out-loud funny.]

Kristen Wiig plays Annie, a woman in her thirties who is treading water in her life: her bakery has tanked and she now works retail in a jewelry store whose owner is doing her mother a favor by hiring her. Her boyfriend is not really a boyfriend per se, but a sleazy booty call (which Jon Hamm plays with gleeful, guileless douchiness). And her best friend since childhood, Lillian (earthy, straight-gal Maya Rudolph) has just announced she’s getting married.

This news hits Annie hard sending her on a mini mid-life crisis. Next to Lillian, Annie’s life suddenly feels pathetic. As comic fodder, weddings and funerals exacerbate any mid-life reflection, and in Bridesmaids Lillian's impending nuptials are played up for all the comic possibilities.

Lillian chooses Annie to be her maid of honor, but Lillian’s fiancé’s boss’s wife, the rich and perfect Helen (played with condescending snobby perfection by Rose Byrne) decides to trump and/or steal every good idea Annie has for the festivities. Helen can’t help it. She needs to be perfect. And being perfect is a kind of unspoken ideal in Bridesmaids. Either you are perfect, or you have to accept the realization that you aren’t, can’t, and never will be perfect. We can see the concept of female perfection (the right guy, the right marriage, the right job) infect every decision made by these women.

In a male-centric comedies (The Hangover, I Love You, Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Funny People, Grown Ups), guys don’t even strive to be perfect. Being perfect is for losers, it’s an idea that doesn’t exist. Guys in modern comedies have other things on their minds and the audience is relieved. A comedy of humiliation plays off of any attempt at guys trying to be normal—talking to the cute girl, sticking up for themselves, dealing with bullies. Just to get through these relatively minor life decisions makes even the most schlubby loser a charming lady-killer. Maybe it’s a revenge of the nerds mentality. Nerds are now cool. Being a popular jock/Adonis type is the new loser.

The ladies of Bridesmaids have it a hundred times tougher. Each Bridesmaid has regrets. There’s Megan (the brilliant Melissa McCarthy), overweight and awkward but dealing with it. Rita (Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey) is married with kids to a guy who is great in bed but who never kisses her any more. Becca (The Office’s Ellie Kemper) is the young innocent one, a newlywed who is married to a totally sweet guy, and who has a rosy image of what her marriage will be like even if her man is often too tired to make love to her. Even Helen, the pretty perfect one, dislikes herself for how she competes with Annie during the wedding plans. These women have all struggled with their hopes of ideal careers and marriages, and by the time they hit their thirties have to deal with reality.

Okay, if all this sounds internalized, tedious, and the stuff of Oscar-bait drama, it’s not. It’s a Judd Apatow production so there are no dull moments. And director Paul Feig (The Office, Freaks and Geeks, Nurse Jackie, Arrested Development) has the comic timing of a TV veteran (I mean that as a compliment) to craft scene after scene of unforgettable, hilarious, and yes often humiliating set pieces.

There’s the engagement lunch at a questionable ethnic restaurant Annie picks out. Afterwords almost everyone gets horribly sick while shopping for the wedding gowns a chic bridal gown boutique. Oh, you’ve seen men do what these women are forced to endure, but until you see a woman drop to her knees in a wedding gown in the middle of a busy street to take an emergency shit, you have not quite lived.

Then there’s the bachelorette party. After the ladies board a plane to Las Vegas all hell breaks loose. The extended in-flight sequence showcases Wiig’s comic timing; she comes alive as a character within the character she’s playing. Drunk and sedated at once, Annie’s fears and anger bubble up in a tour de force of her id gone wild. And this sudden streak of discomposure rubs off on the rest of the bridesmaids. I won’t give away the many wonderful comic moments of this scene.

The film is never boring, but after Annie’s mid-flight debacle the film lapses into a stretch which finds Annie acting sorry for herself in a way that made me want to reach up and slap her out of it. Lillian rescinds the maid of honor offer and gives it to Helen. Annie gets fired from her lame job because she continually talks customers out of buying jewelry. She ignores the advances of the nice guy cop she genuinely likes. She gets kicked out of her apartment by her creepy British brother/sister roommates and has to move back in with her single mom played by Jill Clayburgh (in her last performance).

And just when I started down the aisle to slap some sense into Annie, the comic wonder that is Melissa McCarthy’s Megan shows up at Annie’s door and does it for me. Another wonderful moment. From here, literally snapping out of her funk, Annie starts taking control to put her life back on track.

Here's to more movies where all the main characters are women. Here's to more movies starring Kristen Wiig. Here's to more ribald, hilarious, and honest movies Bridesmaids.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Saturday night, May 14th, 6:40 pm. Price: Free Movie Passes (thanks Laurie!). Viewed with Liz. Snack: Derrell Lea Strawberry Liquorice, Diet Coke.

Coming Attractions:

Bad Teacher. Cameron Diaz is a sexpot teacher, a role she was born to play if this trailer is any indication. With Justin Timberlake as a hot, nice-guy sub.

Change Up. Ryan Reynolds is a single guy popular with the ladies, but tired of his lifestyle. Jason Bateman is a married guy with a couple kids, also tired of his lifestyle. After pissing in a magic fountain (seriously!) the two switch lives. It's an R-rated Freaky Friday rip off. But, this one has potential.

Horrible Bosses. The summer of Jason Bateman continues. He, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis play guys who have bad bosses. So, what do you do when you have a bad boss? Quit? Complain to their bosses? Not in this movie: They set out to kill their bosses. It's a comedy. Really. Although, with bad bosses played by Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey, it has potential.

Larry Crowne. This one could be cute in a not-too-cloying way. Tom Hanks plays a guy who is fired from his job, downsized because he doesn't have a college degree. He goes back to school, and gets grumpy but cute teacher Julia Roberts. Lessons and love ensue. Tom Hanks also directs.

Super 8. The kind of movie Spielberg (who produced) would have made when he was ten. It's about a bunch of kids making a little home movie, on Super 8 film, about an alien invasion. And then, guess what happens? Do I really have to spell it out for you? Let's just say, they inadvertently capture some cool stuff on film.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fast Five

Spoiler alert-o-meter: A few mild spoilers ahead.

Not having seen the previous four Fast movies, I was afraid I’d be lost in Fast Five. My fears were unfounded. As the fourth sequel to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, Fast Five does a decent job of setting up the story in relation to what came before. And in Fast Five what came before has as much to do with family relations and friendship than racing cars.

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (great name) are back as Brian O’Connor and Dominic Toretto, respectively. These guys have a long history, three previous film’s worth (the third in the series, The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Shift, featured different actors and only cadged the moniker). Brian used to be a cop. Toretto has escaped from prison once. Scratch that. Twice.

At least, twice after the opening sequence that starts with Toretto on a full prison bus headed through the desert toward a 25 years-without-parole stint (the reason no doubt shown at the end of the last installment two years ago). The bus ends up flipped, rolled, and flayed, thanks to a daring car stunt pulled by Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster), Brian’s main squeeze and Torreto’s sister.

With Toretto sprung, the group heads out of the country as wanted criminals. They wind up in Rio de Janeiro, where one of their old gang, Vince (Matt Schulze), is holed up. They find him heavily armed living in one of Rio’s notorious favela neighborhoods that rim the hills surrounding the city. Vince has a job lined up for them already, to steal three cars  from a moving train. Cars that have been impounded by the DEA. Oh, and a corrupt Rio businessman named Reyes—who has every cop, drug dealer, and favela resident in his pocket—is after the cars, too.

During the heist three DEA agents are killed by Reyes’ henchmen. Toretto, Brian, and Mia are accused of the murder, which brings FBI agent Luke Hobbs (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his crack team  to hunt them down. Reyes is also after Toretto and Brian, after they find a flash drive in one of the stolen cars with information about the locations where Reyes’ keeps his millions of dirty money stashed. So now everybody is after this little team of car thieves.

Many of the actors from the previous films show up (including Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot) as part of the dream team Toretto and Brian put together to pull off an insane heist of Keyes' cash. Impossible and outrageous are the cornerstones of this movie. I don’t know what humble beginnings The Fast and the Furious franchise started with, but Fast Five traffics in high octane, silly, and slick thrills, with beautiful, multi-cultural characters preening and driving fast.

Due to all the destruction incurred to the streets, buildings, and barrios of Rio, there’s a high body count. But the blood is slicked over PG-13 style. Dwayne Johnson (known in recent years for comedies and kid-friendly flicks) keeps a straight face throughout, but that just adds to the feeling that he’s in the middle of a guest host spot on Saturday Night Live.

The direction, geared toward action as it is, leaves the dialogue and character development in the dust of so many speeding cars. During action scenes, when the actors aren't driving, they hit their mark, pose, announce their lines—Dwayne and Vin mostly shout—skip a beat for effect, and walk out of the shot.

But this is a franchise, and with respect to the target audience (teen-age boys) the movie scratches an itch that young America must continually need scratching. With a military-level shootout in the streets, a daring heist of a police station (!), and a car chase through the streets of downtown Rio with our heroes literally dragging a bank vault behind two speeding customized cars, Fast Five delivers on its promise to move fast and look good, checking its logic at the starting gate.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Thursday night, May 5th, 7:00 pm. Price $10.50. Viewed solo. Snack-Apple; chopped and bagged.

Coming Attractions:

Cars 2. The gang heads overseas for a European race and are mistaken for spies. Looks cute. More Pixar magic for Disney.

Change Up. Ryan Reynolds is a single guy popular with the ladies, but tired of his lifestyle. Jason Bateman is a married guy with a couple kids, also tired of his lifestyle. After pissing in a magic fountain (seriously!) the two switch lives. It's an R-rated Freaky Friday rip off. But, this one has potential.

Cowboys & Aliens. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford: "A spaceship arrives in Arizona, 1873, to take over the Earth, starting with the Wild West region. A posse of cowboys are all that stand in their way."

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. Another Transformers sequel. This time, no Megan Fox. But a surprisingly strong lineup of actors including John Malkovich, Leonard Nimoy (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice), Francis McDormand, and John Turturro.