Friday, July 30, 2010

Penny Thoughts: July 23-29

A Clockwork Orange (1971) ****
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess (novel)
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, Carl Duering, Paul Farrell, James Marcus

Welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, well, my droogs. Stanley Kubrick’s topsy-turvy adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel criticizing civilization’s system of crime and punny-wunishment looks real horrorshow on Bluray. It works naughty-knots into my gulliver every time I viddy it. I ponder whether viddy houses today could tolerate such scenes of ultraviolence without a good milkbar for a companion of young droogs to rest and relaxate within afterward.

The Book of Eli (2010) ***
Directors: The Hughes Brothers
Writer: Gary Whitta
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Tom Waits, Michael Gambon, Malcolm McDowell

A movie about faith in which a man is driven by his faith to bring the book of faith to a safe place where it can reestablish faith for the people, “The Book of Eli” is a rather novel idea for a post-apocalyptic dystopian future movie. I like how laid back the movie feels. There are the typical dangers of an anarchic society following the fall of civilization, but the pace established by the Hughes Brothers is fitting for its subject matter of faith. Rather than ratcheting up the tension to drive the characters to the actions scenes, of which the are several impressive ones, the filmmakers use the faith of its main character as a tempering device on the plot, often working in counterpoint to the story’s violent action. I very much liked that they resisted ending the film in a trumped up action finale, but instead they give the villain his comeuppance in a much more appropriate manner. There’s nothing amazing going on here in this film, but it’s a good solid story told well.

The White Ribbon (2009) ****
Director/Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch, Ulirch Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Burghart Klaussner, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf, Josef Bierbichler, Rainer Bock, Susanne Lothar, Roxane Duran

This Palme D’Or winner reminded me a great deal of M. Night Shyamalan’s film “The Village”. Although it is by far the superior of the two, “The White Ribbon” shares with “The Village” a sense of claustrophobia in the way the community represented seems to have isolated itself from the rest of the world, and through it’s restrictive older generation, it has developed a dark secret that runs through the younger generation. Haneke’s direction is as stark as the material and the beautiful black and white cinematography by Christian Berger. I can see how the Academy of Film Arts and Sciences might have found it difficult to award its lack of resolution over such serious occurrences in the story, but I believe the French had it right by giving it such high praise in Cannes.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) **½
Director: Steve Pink
Writers: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clake Duke, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan, Chevy Chase

Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for stupid, crude comedy. “Hot Tub Time Machine” was a bit of a let down considering what other critics were saying about it at the time of its theatrical release. Yes, it has humorous references to the differences between the 80s and today, but beyond that there really wasn’t much else there to amuse. Even those references were mostly jokes recycled from countless other references to the 80s in other movies and television shows.

I’m not often bothered by foul language, but it seemed as if the screenwriters were trying to evoke a comedy written by David Mamet with their prolific use of the f-bomb. Rob Corddry provides the closest thing to a developed character with his alcoholic, pathetic mess that wishes he could be a teen in the 80s for his entire life. The others come across more like stunned faces throughout the proceedings. I don’t want to be a complete sourpuss on this one. I did laugh, but I’d prefer to watch the actual 80s John Cusack comedy “Better Off Dead”.

V for Vendetta (2006) ***½
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: The Wachowski Brothers, David Lloyd (graphic novel), Alan Moore (uncredited graphic novel)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rae, Stephen Fry, Tim Pigott-Smith, Roger Allam, John Hurt

I may have over praised this movie when it was originally released. Yes, I can change my mind. I think my initial exuberance was because they hadn’t totally messed up this graphic novel to film adaptation. I was a huge fan of the comic book, and the filmmakers did a great job retaining the spirit of the original story and updating it to fit a modern political criticism rather than the criticism of Thatcherism that the 80’s graphic novel encompassed. There are a couple of action sequences that really don’t belong, but I’m still a huge fan of the film, even if my initial enthusiasm has diminished slightly.

Don’t You Forget About Me (2009) **
Director: Matt Austin
Writers: Matt Austin, Michael Facciolo, Kari Hollend, Lenny Panzer
Featuring: Roger Ebert, Kevin Smith, Judd Nelson, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck, Jason Reitman, Andrew McCarthy, Kelly LeBrock, Ally Sheedy, Annie Potts

On the one hand this movie is a wonderful retrospective of the best movies of filmmaker John Hughes, who was the voice of the American teenager throughout the 80s. According to the many modern teenagers interviewed in this film, he’s still the voice of the American teen.

On the other hand, the filmmakers have injected themselves into their own documentary in a lame “search” for the whereabouts of John Hughes. Filmed before the writer/director’s tragic death in 2009, this crew of filmmakers do not present a compelling search for their filmmaking idol so much as they prove their own ridiculousness conducting a search for a man whom is not actually missing. He just doesn’t do interviews, nor does he have anything to do with movies anymore. There isn’t a chance these idiots will ever get an interview with the reclusive director. The interviews of former Hughes film stars, critics and other filmmakers, however, make for some good retrospective documentation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inception / **** (PG-13)

Cobb: Leonardo DiCaprio
Arthur: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Ariadne: Ellen Page
Mal: Marion Cotillard
Saito: Ken Watanabe
Eames: Tom Hardy
Yusuf: Dileep Rao
Robert Fischer, Jr.: Cillian Murphy
Browning: Tom Berenger

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Running time: 148 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action throughout).

“I’ve gotta tell you about this crazy dream I had!” How many times in your life have you heard that exclamation from a friend or family member? My wife uses this line all the time. Usually I’m in trouble because of something I did to her in her dream. But any way you turn it, we all have dreams, and when we’re awake, those dreams can seem both weird and wonderful. I have no doubt that Christopher Nolan’s new movie “Inception” will seem weird to many, but it is also oh, so wonderful!

“Inception” is delicious cinema. ‘Cinema’ is really the word for it. It’s not a movie. It is epic in scope and imagination. It is sublimely beautiful to look at. It is intellectually engaging. It is far out. And it’s just plain cool. It’s also quite simply a unique way of telling a basic cinematic mainstay—the big heist picture.

The caper flick has been around for almost as long as cinema. With “Inception”, writer/director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) has not so much reinvented it as he has displaced it into a world with different rules than any in which it has ever existed. Nolan places his heist inside the world of dreams. Not the dreams of children, or even the nightmares of grown ups, but in the very refined and structured imaginations of men of high power and business. The dreams of men you might actually gain something by stealing from.

The thieves are just as refined as their victims. Lead by Cobb, they consist of men and women with specialized intelligence and skill. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “(500) Days of Summer”) is the team’s point man; he guides the direction of the job in the dreamscape. The architect builds the world of the dream, which is themn populated with people and details by the dreamer. After a job goes wrong in the opening sequence, Cobb recruits and trains a new architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page, “Juno”). Eames (Tom Hardy, “Bronson”) is the team’s forger, a specialist who can impersonate other people in the dreamscape. Because of the complexity of the job they’re hired for, the team also recruits a chemist named Yusuf (Dileep Rao, “Drag Me To Hell”), who designs a drug that will keep the mark and the team in the proper state of unconsciousness throughout the duration of the job.

Cobb is the team’s extractor. On most jobs it’s his duty to extract the information the crew is trying to steal. On this caper, the twist is that they are not extracting information, but rather planting an idea, this is called inception. As played by Leonardo DiCaprio (“Shutter Island”), Cobb works with a heavy heart. He used to be an architect, but something happened and he refuses to build dreamscapes any longer. The most disturbing thing about Cobb is that his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard, “Public Enemies”) has a habit of showing up in any dream he finds himself in and she acts out violently. These mysteries about Cobb drive much of the first half of the film, which might otherwise only consist of exposition.

Nolan’s greatest accomplishment with this film is the way he works the dreamscape itself into the explanation of how the dreamscape works. Even in the visually stunning opening dream sequence, before the audience understands the rules of how the dreamscape works, his direction leads the audience through not one, but two dreams, without missing a step. While we don’t necessarily understand everything we’re seeing, it unfolds with clarity and with efficiency. Even when Cobb spends a lengthy section of the film explaining to Ariadne how they are able to manipulate other people’s dreams, Nolan surrounds the exposition with stunning visuals, such as one scene where Aridadne folds the city she constructed over on itself.

By the time the team finally zeroes in on its mark, an heir to a multibillion dollar oil company (Cillian Murphy, “Batman Begins”), we have a sound understanding of exactly how these dreamscapers operate and to what rules they must abide. Even when an untold element of the caper is revealed to the team, we aren’t thrown by being unfamiliar with the way this game operates.

The dream sequences are filled with thrilling action, stunning visuals and, somehow, a strange sense of familiarity. I believe the familiarity is caused by the fact that Nolan has built his fantasy heist on such a strong foundation of rules and restrictions of how dreams work. There is one sequence involving a car crash within one of the dreams that, I felt sure, held some sort of gaff in its execution. I went over and over it from different angles trying to prove its flaw after the film. But no matter how I came at the scene, I couldn’t produce a flaw in its logic. Not that it would’ve mattered. I was already in love with the film, flaws or not.

“Inception” is by far Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious project. This is no slight claim, since Nolan has made his career out of ambitious project after ambitious project. He almost single handedly turned the comic book genre into legitimate drama with “Batman Begins” and its even more impressive sequel “The Dark Knight”. His overlooked “Insomnia” realized the psychological tension of the crime thriller with its stunning winter visuals alone. And his breakthrough film “Memento” proved that even the most confusing of conceptual work could be clearly rendered by his sure-handed story and structure. I’m beginning to wonder just what cinematic barriers Christopher Nolan can’t push.

Inception | Movie Trailers

Friday, July 23, 2010

Penny Thoughts: July 16-22

The Jensen Project (2010) *
Director: Douglas Barr
Writers: Monica Macer, Jeff Davenport, Steven Manuel
Starring: Kellie Martin, Justin Kelly, Brady Smith, Alyssa Diaz, David Andrews, Patricia Richardson, LeVar Burton

Ever since NBC started their Family Movie Night on Fridays throughout the summer my wife has been trying to convince me that their original movies looked fun and that we should watch them with the kids. Well, I figured it couldn’t be any worse than watching the kids’ favorite show “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. Well, assumptions can be wrong. I guess it wasn’t really that bad, but it wasn’t good. Boy, I can’t wait till the summer television season is over and we can get back to some real shows.

The Eiger Sanction (1978) ***
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Hal Dresner, Warren B. Murphy, Rod Whitaker (also novel as Trevanian)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee, Jack Cassidy, Heidi Brühl, Thayer David, Reiner Schoene, Michael Grimm, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Brenda Venus, Gregory Walcott

A couple of months ago I watched the new film “North Face” about one of the early failed ascents of the infamous north face of the Eiger mountain in Switzerland. I had been inspired at that time to revisit the late 70s Clint Eastwood thriller “The Eiger Sanction”, about an assassin who is hired to kill a climber on an expedition to scale the north face of the Eiger, but he doesn’t know who in his climbing party is his target. Due to lack of sleep at the time, I never got around to screening the fictional climbing/spy flick.

On Thursday, July 15, actress Vonetta McGee passed away, and I saw another opportunity to watch Eastwood’s strange thriller amalgam. McGee became famous appearing in the blacksploitation pictures of the 70s, including such titles as “Blackula” and “Shaft in Africa”. “The Eiger Sanction” was one of her more mainstream roles, although her character was still stamped with a blacksploitation name, Jemima Brown.

The Proposal (2009) ***
Director: Anne Flethcer
Writer: Pete Chiarelli
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenbergen, Betty White, Malin Akerman, Dennis O’Hare

I believe this was my wife’s favorite movie of 2009. I wouldn’t put it up quite that far, but it’s an enjoyable romantic comedy, clichés and all. Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds make for a charming screen pair, however, I can’t say as I’m sure just why Reynolds fell in love with Bullock’s character. I laughed. I didn’t cry. Not even from laughing. But it made for an enjoyable Saturday evening with my wife.

The Big Picture (2000) **½
Directors/Writers: The Spierig Brothers
Starring: Robyn Moore, Michael Priest

The Spierig Brothers have risen pretty quickly in the Hollywood establishment, creating fairly unique visions of once typical fare with their feature films “Undead” and “Daybreakers”. Next they’ll be handling the reboot of “The Dark Crystal”. Their short film “The Big Picture” is presented on the Bluray version of “Daybreakers” and shows how they gained the attention of film investors with their original idea of a television that allows a woman to see her future. Although, the end of the film is a surprise that you don’t really see coming, it also seems an unnecessary trick to punctuate what is already an original film.

SPOILER WARNING! In fact, I’m quite disappointed in the use of CGI to show people getting hit by cars in movies in general. It never looks realistic, and often it seems the filmmakers are satisfied merely by the shock value involved, rather than being interested in having it realistically rendered. This makes a cheap joke out of something that should be very serious.

Daybreakers (2010) ***
Directors/Writers: The Spierig Brothers
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Claudia Karvan, Willem Dafoe, Michael Dorman, Sam Niell

It’s surprising to see a vampire movie with some brains behind it in this day and age of vampires being reduced to an expression of teen angst. But “Daybreakers” isn’t so much a vampire movie as it is a critique on the corporate and political climate in America today. As the lines blur daily between American big business and political practices, “Daybreakers” acts as a mirror to our current times with the classic sci-fi approach of showing us the “not too distant future” where a vampire virus has not only taken over most of the human race, but has created a vampire crisis where the world’s blood supply has become dangerously depleted. The vampires must race to find a blood substitute. Finding a cure is out of the question, since there’s no money in that. The production design reminded me of another Ethan Hawke sci-fi flick, “Gattaca”.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) ***½
Director: John Huston
Writers: John Huston, Dashiell Hammett (novel)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet

There’s something pure about classic cinema. This most famous of film noirs is neat and clean in ways that film noir would never look today and often didn’t in the years immediately following “The Maltese Falcon”. But the clarity of storytelling found here helps to bring out some of the great aspects of this movie, most notably the harsh self-preservation displayed by Bogart’s Sam Spade. Even in today’s noir anti-heroes there’s often some attempt by the filmmakers to get the audience to empathize with him, but in this film you root for Spade with no such hooking by the filmmakers. Spade has no sympathy. It’s just that none of the other characters are up to any good, so by process of elimination, Spade is the audience’s man. That’s simplifying his character, but he is nothing like what we see as a worthy protagonist in most films today.

The Player (1992) ****
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Michael Tolkin (also novel)
Starring: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Cynthia Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Stockwell, Richard E. Grant, Sydney Pollack, Lyle Lovett

I’ve seen Robert Altman’s attack on Hollywood filmmaking many times, and I continue to find new things in it. There are all the cameo appearances by stars playing themselves, the biting racial and topical politics, all the fine background details of a movie studio lot, the ongoing references to Hollywood’s rich cinematic history, the incredible cast, the surprising comedy and even more shocking and subversive darkening themes. “The Player” is one of those movies you can watch over and over again, and it never gets old.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Predators / *** (R)

Royce: Adrien Brody
Isabelle: Alice Braga
Edwin: Topher Grace
Stans: Walton Goggins
Nikolai: Oleg Taktarov
Cuchillo: Danny Trejo
Hanzo: Louis Ozawa Changchien
Mombasa: Mahershalahashbaz Ali
Noland: Laurence Fishburne

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Nimród Antal. Written by Alex Litvak & Michael Finch. Based on characters created by Jim Thomas & John Thomas. Running time: 106 min. Rated R (for strong creature violence and gore, and pervasive language).

“Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter.”
—Ernest Hemingway

I never expected a “Predator” movie to quote Hemingway, but this one does. That’s about the only thing in “Predators” you wouldn’t expect from a movie about alien monsters hunting a bunch of human soldiers in the jungle, but even the expected elements in this movie are done with a reverence to the original “Predator” and even a bit more style than that one.

If anything, “Predators” has the most abrupt beginning of just about any movie I’ve ever seen. We discover our hero free falling through the atmosphere, waking up in midair. He’s just as shocked as we are. Later, we will learn he is Royce, a former black ops soldier turned mercenary. His parachute opens just before he hits the jungle canopy. He slams to the ground. Then the title “Predators” slams across the screen.

Royce (Adrian Brody) isn’t alone in his fate. Other soldiers, killers, tough guys and girls, and one doctor have arrived in this jungle in the same manner. Some weren’t lucky enough to have their chute open in time. Why are they here? Where is here? What is Topher Grace from “That 70s Show” doing here playing a doctor amongst all these tough guys? Do these questions even matter? Not really. Because the audience has purchased tickets to a movie called “Predators”, and we all know why we’re there. We want to see a version of the ages-old story of “The Most Dangerous Game” with a bunch of bigass aliens playing the hunters of a bunch of badass humans as the game. I mean, come on! Really, there aren’t any surprises here. It’s really only a question of how well it’s done.

As a matter of fact, it’s done about as well as it’s ever been done for this particular film franchise. The operator of the theater I saw it in asked me what I thought after the screening. “It was about as good as a ‘Predator’ movie could be,” was my response. Now, this statement could be taken two ways. A.) This series is a pretty brainless premise, and therefore you’ve got a fairly brainless movie. Or B.) This is as good as “Predator” gets; therefore it’s the best of the bunch. Well, frankly, both of these statements are true.

The truth is I very much enjoyed this ultimate brainless summer blockbuster experience. You’ve got a bunch of tough guys with big guns mowing down the jungle, trying to fend off invisible monster aliens. The aliens pick them off one by one, until only a few key players are left on the field. Who will ultimately survive? Who will be sacrificed, either by one of the other ruthless humans or of their own accord? It’s a pretty safe bet that Adrian Brody (“King Kong”), despite his unlikely candidacy to take over in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role, is going to be at least one of the last men standing. But there are some surprises that have not been entered into this particular formula before. Whether they remain surprises until they’re revealed depends on just how savvy a filmgoer you are.

I applaud that director Nimród Antal (“Vacancy”) seems to be very respectful of the first two films in the “Predator” series, something that cannot be said for the disappointing “Alien vs. Predator” films. There are references to both heroes from the first two films, and for the first time in over twenty years, audiences get a good look at the original Predator monster. I also like that the madman character that shows up halfway through the movie, is truly mad, rather than a misunderstood prophet of some sort. Some people may feel his fate is a little anticlimactic, but I’m glad they didn’t make more of him than he was.

My only problem with the movie is how they handled the Topher Grace character, about whom it is pointed out almost immediately that he doesn’t fit in with the mercenaries and killers that find themselves inexplicably transported to this foreign jungle. His difference is pointed out and then ignored until the final ten minutes of the film. I think his true reason for being there would’ve come as more of a surprise if some other sort of explanation for his presence had been presented earlier. I also find it hard to believe that Brody’s detail-oriented character would’ve let this inconsistency with the pattern in the Predators’ game go unchecked.

“Predators” is just about the best ‘Predator’ movie you could ask for. So if you are a fan of the series, this one is a must see. If this type of movie doesn’t appeal to you, “Predators” is not going to change your mind. It’s more action than science fiction. It’s more brawn than brains. But as Hemingway might’ve said, “You who seek out movies about hunting man, and those who do will find they enjoy this one, you will not really care whether there’s anything more profound thereafter.”

Predators | Movie Trailers

Friday, July 16, 2010

Penny Thoughts: July 9-15

Pirate Radio (2009) **
Director/Writer: Richard Curtis
Starring: Tom Sturridge, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Tom Brooke, Will Adamsdale, Ralph Brown, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Davenport, Emma Thompson

I read a blog last week that talked about how movies that are a big party on the set for the cast never end up being good movies. From the looks of “Pirate Radio”, this cast had a blast on set. It looks like they’re having a great time. I’m not sure if anyone was in charge of the script though. Perhaps they were caught up in the free spirited atmosphere that this ‘60s based British comedy takes place in. Perhaps the director just couldn’t be heard over all the partying.

Rolling Stones: Stones in Exile (2010) ***
Director: Stephen Kijak
Starring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Anita Pallenberg, Marshall Chess, Dominique Tarle

Last week, I watched a documentary about The Doors that I found sadly disappointing. “Rolling Stones: Stone In Exile” is like an answer to my despair over the disappointment of last week’s rockumentary. Everything that The Doors movie lacked this one has. The Door doc just felt like a list of events in the band’s career. “Stones in Exile” doesn’t simply state that the Stones weren’t making enough money to pay their taxes, so they decided to move to France and record an album in their basement. No, instead it shows us the experience they had recording their album “Exile on Main St.” through super-8 footage and off screen interviews of the people who were there in the house as they wrote and recorded the album. An eight month long party is described and with years of retrospection behind them, the participants recognize the chaos of what was going on at the time and the miracle that one of the band’s best albums came out of it all.

The Gleaners & I (2000) ****
Director/Writer: Agnès Varda
Starring: Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer

I don’t know if Roger Ebert ever selected this film to be screened at his film festival, but if not, it should go on next year’s lineup. This is the perfect film for the Roger Ebert Film Festival. It’s so good and so unexpected and so rare in the way films are generally made. Agnès Varda is such a treat. How wonderful that she injects herself as such a prominent feature in her own film. This is a documentary to be treasured as it treasures its subject. I love the sequence where Varda uses her hand in front of the camera lens to “capture” each truck she passes on the highway. Who on this planet that was ever bored on a car trip hasn’t done this? And for those of you who don’t know what gleaning is, this film explains it.

The Wolfman (2010) **
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self, Curt Siodmak (1941 motion picture screenplay)
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin, Art Malik

If the new version of the classic horror film “The Wolfman” proves anything, it’s that the classic approach no longer works. Audiences are more sophisticated today, and although the themes of the classic Universal monsters are stronger than those of most modern horror films, the notion of watching two men fight each other while wearing werewolf make-up is just a little too goofy to pull off. The film teeters between success and failure throughout its running time. Perhaps this is because director Joe Johnston fills the screen with the shock and gore that modern audiences have become used to, and he dials back on the human duality themes of the story a bit. But ultimately it is the goofy nature of the werewolves themselves running around looking as much like men as wolves and always wearing their torn clothes from their transformations that makes this movie look a little too silly.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Airbender / *** (PG)

Aang: Noah Ringer
Prince Zuko: Dev Patel
Katara: Nicola Peltz
Sokka: Jackson Rathbone
Uncle Iroh: Shaun Toub
Commander Zhao: Aasif Mandvi
Fire Lord Ozai: Cliff Curtis
Princess Yue: Seychelle Gabriel

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present a film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Based on the animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Running time: 103 min. Rated PG (for fantasy action violence).

Perhaps I’m a little too easy on movies this year. I do seem to be handing out three stars like it’s going out of style. But I’m genuinely enjoying a great many of the movies being released this summer that I never thought I would.

My most recent cinematic enjoyment came under the title “The Last Airbender”, a live-action treatment of the popular animated children’s television series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. Critics have universally despised director M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of this mystical story of a future world where people are divided into four tribes, each dedicated to one of the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire. Although, the box office receipts indicate the fans don’t agree.

As I watched the movie, I couldn’t see what had caused such a rash of criticism against it beyond fairly minor and typical blockbuster flaws. One of the most vehement voices against this new movie has been that of Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert. Although I usually write my reviews without consulting other reviews, I had to know what I was missing that he couldn’t stand about it so much.

Ebert’s primary argument against the movie was the use of the 3D format. This is neither fair to the movie, nor to the 3D format. Now, I’m not a complete advocate of the 3D format. It does seem designed mostly for studios to capitalize on the higher ticket prices. The shame of it is the way it takes advantage of a film like “The Last Airbender”, which was never intended to be in 3D to begin with. Ebert complains that the 3D images in “Airbender” are flat and never really utilize the added dimension. While I watched a standard version of the film, rather than the 3D, I’m sure he’s correct. This is because the movie wasn’t filmed in 3D, but rather transferred to the format after the astounding success of James Cameron’s “Avatar”. To blame the movie or the filmmakers for the poor use of 3D is just wrong. That was the studio’s decision and the 3D postproduction team’s fault, not Shyamalan’s. He did not film a 3D movie, and my guess is audiences are better off seeing the standard version.

Secondly, Ebert is critical of another format issue, the fact that this is a live action version of a cartoon. Ebert is famously a huge fan of anime, the form of traditional line drawn animation embraced by Japanese film culture. Anime places a great deal of emphasis on character facial expression and mystical action. Since this live action movie is based on an anime style television show, Ebert argues the movie should also be in the anime style. While I am also a fan of anime, I’m not sure what the point of that would be, since it already exists in the anime format.

The movie retells the exact story as the first season of the television series. Certainly if one prefers the anime format, they can just rent the TV show. The movie takes 16 23-minute television episodes and compresses them into a 103-minute movie, so there’s a great deal of trimming down on material. Some fans of the series might feel the movie rushes some aspects of the story; and it does, as it must. However, most of the essential elements are here.

Ebert complains, “This plot is incomprehensible.” As one who has not seen more than a couple scattered episodes of the show, I can assure you it is not. It involves a world where the four elemental tribes contain some gifted members known as “benders”, who can manipulate their own tribal element. A sort of deity known as the Avatar helps to keep these tribes in peaceful relations, but with the disappearance of the Avatar over 100 years ago, the Fire Nation has implemented war against the other nations. When a boy named Aang appears that may be the Avatar, the Fire Nation makes his capture their primary goal. A brother and sister from the Water Nation become the boy’s protectors. While there is more to the plot than that, it’s hardly incomprehensible.

A great many critics, including Ebert, have also attacked the movie for not casting Asians in the lead roles, accusing the filmmakers of discarding the culturalism of the series. This is the most absurd criticism I’ve heard against the film. First, although the show is done in the anime style, it is an American television show, not Japanese. Nor is anime a purely Asian style of animation as its origins can be traced back to Europe before the Japanese adopted it. Plus, the casting of the film is quite racially diverse, with actors from many cultural origins including, Chinese, American, Indian, Iranian, New Zealander, and Korean, all in major roles.

Ebert does go on in his critique of the film to point out some problems that I can agree with. The characters are underdeveloped, especially the relationship between the exiled prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko, and his protector and uncle, Iroh. Shyamalan’s more old school direction, which often involves the audience not being able to see certain actions, doesn’t work well with this movie’s more modern fantasy elements. Ebert cites a good example in an opening scene where the Waterbender Katara manipulates a ball of water through the air and accidentally soaks her brother Sokka with it off screen. This gag would’ve been more effective had we seen the soaking.

What Shyamalan does right with “The Last Airbender” is create a new and original movie fantasy universe with a deep mythology, exciting action, and even a slight environmental message to be learned. He recreates the television series storyline faithfully and makes me want to revisit this world to see where the story goes from the end of this chapter. “The Last Airbender” is certainly not the best film I’ve seen this summer, but it’s effective in what it wants to be, and I was involved in the story in a way that didn’t have me looking for the strings being pulled. “The Last Airbender” was better than I anticipated, and now I anticipate further chapters to improve upon this one.

The Last Airbender | Movie Trailers

Friday, July 09, 2010

Penny Thoughts: July 2-8

The Long Goodbye (1973) ****
Director: Robert Altman
Writers: Leigh Brackett, Raymond Chandler (novel)
Starring: Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton

In watching “The Long Goodbye” I am reminded of some of the praise the Coen Brothers received for their surprising adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men”. Critics who had read McCarthy’s novel said that they were concerned before seeing the movie because the style of the Coens seemed at odds with McCarthy’s style of storytelling. They praised the end result because the Coens didn’t change their style and yet somehow made it work with McCarthy’s story. The film was at once a McCarthy movie and a Coens movie. I think the same can be said for Robert Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s crime novel “The Long Goodbye”.

Altman is about the furthest thing from a film noir director you could get, making hard to imagine Altman’s vision of a noir novel adaptation. Altman’s brightly lit, dialogue overlapping, non-plot oriented world is most certainly at odds with the dark, dialogue light, plot heavy world of noir crime, and yet somehow he makes the two work together. Altman finds the one element of noir that plays into his strengths as a filmmaker and exploits it to incredible effect, the element of misdirection. Everything throughout the entire film steers away from the shocking conclusion of the film and yet it all adds up when it’s over. Amazingly, Altman finds a way to make noir humorous. I continue to be impressed by this cinematic master.

Youth in Revolt (2010) **½
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writers: Gustin Nash, C.D. Payne (novel)
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Ari Gaynor, Justin Long, Adhir Kalyan, Fred Willard, Zach Galifianakis, Ray Liotta

There are some comedies that just don’t rely on typical comedy practices. “Youth in Revolt” may be one of them. It may be better than it seems at first, but it may be that it just doesn’t quite work. I’m not sure. One thing that does work in this movie is Michael Cera. I wouldn’t say that Juno’s boyfriend has grown up, but he makes a case here that he may be capable of more than just that innocent, wimpy, charmer he’s been locked into his entire career. Of course, he is all that in this movie, but he also creates a bad boy, alternative personality here that is subtly, but most definitely, a different Michael Cera than I ever imagined. The movie itself is also subtle and subversive; and although it felt like I was supposed to be laughing out loud at certain sequences, I wasn’t. But then, maybe it isn’t intended to be a laugh riot. I may need to see it again.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) ***
Director: David Yates
Writers: Michael Goldenberg, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Imelda Staunton, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson, Katie Leung, Tom Felton, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, Robert Hardy

The only Harry Potter book not to be adapted to the screen by Steve Kloves, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” suffers in both its dampened humanity and in a jagged application of plot. This is the choppiest of the bunch and is almost utterly lacking in any cheer. Yes, as the series goes along the children grow older and the themes darken, but there should always be humor. The movie stays alive due to its strong source material, the enduring personalities of its now well-established characters, and as always its magic. As part of the entire series, its flaws are easier to forgive. On its own, it’s a strange cinematic anomaly with a good foundation and glowing exteriors that doesn’t show well because of its cosmetic flaws. As long as you keep moving, everything will be fine.

Read my original review here.

Lord of the Flies (1963) ****
Director: Peter Brook
Writers: Peter Brook, William Golding (novel)
Starring: James Aubrey, Tom Chaplin, Hugh Edwards, Roger Elwin, Tom Gaman

This 1963 version of William Golding’s shocking dissection of what we generally refer to as civilization gets it right through its simplicity. It doesn’t bother with why or how a group of English boarding school children end up crash landed on a deserted island, but gets right to their instinct as human beings to establish an organized society and its eventual disintegration into their more basic animal instincts to terrorize and persecute the weak and dependant. The focus on a mysterious creature or ghost that may inhabit the island illustrates society’s use of fear to manipulate and attack the public’s general interests of equality and structure to favor those with resources and power over the masses. I had been saving this one for a future Horrorfest entry, and I still feel it would be an appropriate entry for my annual celebration of the horror that insists on fascinating us as humans.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) ***½
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford (screenplay & novel “The Short Timers”)
Starring: Matthew Modine, Arliss Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Adam Baldwin, Kevyn Major Howard, Dorian Harewood, Ed O’Ross, John Terry

Ranking on IMdb’s Top 250 at #82, it seems video life and time have been kind to Stanley Kubrick’s take on Vietnam, which he did not restrict to Vietnam itself. The first half of the film famously looks at the 8-week boot camp endured by the Marine recruits before sending them off to Vietnam. Real-life retired Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey portrayed Gny. Sgt. Hartman, who unhinges one of the recruits played by Vincent D’Onofrio. It’s generally felt that this portion of the film is superior to the Vietnam portion of the film. I’m not so inclined to think the first half is so much superior as it is merely a less explored aspect of the war. If anything the first half is weakened by the D’Onofio character because this was not likely a typical portrayal of what boot camp was like for most recruits. But then, since the main character is a Stars & Stripes journalist in Vietnam, neither should the war scenes represent the typical Vietnam experience. Either way, Kubrick’s vision of the Vietnam War is an exceptional cinematic example of the subject and well worth the investment to see. As it’s currently available for free streaming on Netflix, that investment is minimal.

March of the Penguins (2005) ***½
Director: Luc Jacquet
Writers: Luc Jacquet, Michel Fessler, Jordan Roberts (U.S. narration)
Narrator: Morgan Freeman

Luc Jacquet’s beautifully photographed “March of the Penguins” was a surprise documentary hit when it was released in the U.S. It re-introduced audiences to a cinematic fascination with the hardships and majesty of nature, and spawned the awful CGI musical “Happy Feet”. Having not gotten caught up in the penguin fever at the time, I’m now surprised the doc was such a hit, because it doesn’t really make much effort to appeal to the fast-paced tastes of modern American audiences. This is not a weakness in the film, however. It tells the fairly simple, if surprising, story of the emperor penguins’ life cycle, giving it the proper amount of time and attention to capture its power in nature’s grand scheme.

Tropic Thunder (2008) ***½
Director: Ben Stiller
Writers: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Brandon Soo Hoo, Reggie Lee, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise

I was stirred to re-watch “Tropic Thunder” due to my recent screening of “Full Metal Jacket”. But the movie I kept thinking of while watching it was “MacGruber”. “MacGruber” is by far the funniest movie I’ve seen since “Tropic Thunder”. Although I seem to be in a minority opinion on that film, “Tropic Thunder” was universally praised at the time of its release. Perhaps this is because “Tropic Thunder” skewers something very specific in it’s spoof of the action genre, the Hollywood machine. “MacGruber”s target is much broader, while its humor is much narrower. I won’t back off my opinion of “MacGruber”, being the first 2010 release I’ve seen fit to award four stars. In fact, I laughed even more during “MacGruber” than “Tropic Thunder”. But then “Tropic Thunder” operates on slightly more brainpower. See ‘em both.

My original review of “Tropic Thunder”.
My review of “MacGruber”.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009) ****
Director: Lee Daniels
Writers: Geoffrey Fletcher, Sapphire (novel)
Starring: Gabourey Sibide, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Sherri Shepard, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz

Life is hard. It’s a hell of a lot harder than most of us will ever realize. It’s a hell of a lot harder for many more people than we can imagine. “Precious” is an original telling of this story, a life that is hard and somehow improbably becomes better. I’m not saying this story is not believable, but rather the fact that anyone can pull themselves up from such a horrific existence as Precious does in this movie is improbable. I’m impressed by how much I enjoyed this film, and by how much I got behind the leading character, with whom I shared so little. After seeing this, I wonder if Gabourey Sibide was not robbed by not bringing home all the best actress awards for last year. A powerful performance for a powerful life portrayed on screen.

Waiting for Guffman (1996) ****
Director: Christopher Guest
Writers: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean (songs), Harry Shearer (songs)
Starring: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Lewis Arquette, Matt Keeslar, Larry Miller, Don Lake, Deborah Theaker, Michael Hitchcock

I thought “Waiting for Guffman” was hilarious before I moved to Missouri. After I moved here I realized it was scary, because I knew now it was true. I was part of the local theater group. I was the guy from New York City. I was Corky. At least, my wife was real. I had that comfort. But it’s hard not to look at Marshall, MO’s big claim to fame, Jim the Wonder Dog, and not think of those clueless idiots from the thankfully made up Blaine, MO.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) ****
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg, Stieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Michael Nyqvyst, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Marika Lagercrantz, Ingvar Hirdwall, Björn Granath, Ewa Fröling, Lena Endre

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the best movie I’ve seen released this year. It is a classic thriller in the same vein as “Seven” or “The Silence of the Lambs”. It’s a Swedish film made with a Hollywood flair. I’m sure the Hollywood version that’s scheduled to hit theaters in 2012 will tone down the sexual violence a notch or two, but none of the violence is gratuitous. It’s a lean thriller in that everything in it serves a purpose. The characters, which undoubtedly will also be altered in the Hollywood version—even though they are, for the moment, well cast with Daniel Craig and Carey Mulligan rumored in the leads—are some of the most original I’ve seen in this type of thriller. This is better than anything Hollywood has put out so far this year. If you can stand to read the subtitles, rent this movie. It will not disappoint.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Knight and Day / *** (PG-13)

Roy Miller: Tom Cruise
June Havens: Cameron Diaz
Fitzgerald: Peter Sarsgaard
Antonio: Jordi Mollá
Director George: Viola Davis
Simon Feck: Paul Dano

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by James Mangold. Written by Patrick O’Neill. Running time: 110 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language).

I hear a lot of people calling Tom Cruise crazy. Maybe he is. I don’t know. What I do know is that he’s an extremely appealing actor. He can take a small cameo role of a despicable character and turn it into a sensation big enough to spawn its own spin-off movie, as he’s done with his studio executive character Les Grossman from to 2008 Hollywood spoof “Tropic Thunder”. He also has one of the most winning smiles in the business. I know, that’s part of what creeps some people out about him.

Another one of the most winning smiles in Hollywood belongs to Cameron Diaz. Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”, “3:10 to Yuma”) has had the brilliant idea of putting those two smiles together in an appealing summer blockbuster action comedy called “Knight and Day”. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know how the story plays off the crazy angle on Tom Cruise, and he embraces that potential craziness, possibly a little more than the script does.

The plot follows June Havens (Diaz, “Charlie’s Angels”), a grown tomboy on her way to her sister’s wedding when she bumps into Cruise’s Roy Miller in the airport. It is obvious to the audience Miller is up to something, and it probably should be obvious to June when Roy bumps into her again after they get through security. It seems, however, their ways will part when June is denied boarding. But when an FBI agent named Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard, “An Education”) seems to pull some strings behind the scenes to get June on the flight, we find that Roy is suddenly a little more uncomfortable with the situation. This leads to a wonderful scene where the two seem to seduce each other with those smiles while Roy hides a grave secret.

It turns out Roy is a spy of some sort. He warns June that some government agents will come to her and tell her he has gone rouge. This comes true. Although Roy is the one whose actions appear to be crazy, it’s hard to believe he really is since he’s Tom Cruise and Fitzgerald acts like a more typical bad guy. There’s much more to the plot, however, this movie isn’t about who’s who and what’s what so much as it’s about the smiles and vibrant screen personalities of Diaz and Cruise.

Mangold and first-time screenwriter Patrick O’Neill capitalize on Diaz’s personality by making June both naïve and smart at once. There aren’t many moments in the movie when Diaz isn’t sporting that broad smile of hers, and Mangold’s camera seems very aware of this. The same can be said for Cruise, but Diaz made more of an impact on me. You just want to spend time with her, and Cruise only compliments that sentiment.

Spending time with Diaz is a necessity for this movie, as the filmmakers pull off the rare feat in modern filmmaking of presenting only one character’s perspective throughout the duration of the film. Everything is seen from June’s standpoint. By doing this, the audience must decide, just as June does, who is lying to her, why and how. While the plot is not as important as the perfect looking leads, this helps propel the action forward with a bit more at stake for the audience than your average thriller where you get to see the bad guys doing all their bad deeds and see how the hero reacts. Here, you don’t know if June’s reactions are correct or not.

The truth is, however, you do know. The filmmakers don’t seem as interested in concealing the truth about Roy as much as they’re interested in presenting Diaz’s and Cruise’s beautiful bodies and smiles. But that’s OK, because you don’t really want Cruise to be the bad guy. You don’t really want Diaz to be crushed. You want to see these two together. And when you do, it’ll make you smile.

Knight and Day | Movie Trailers

Friday, July 02, 2010

Penny Thoughts: June 25 – July 1

The Guns of Navarone (1961) ***
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: Carl Foreman, Alistair MacLean (novel)
Starring: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala

I grew up with a Marine for a father. We celebrated the Marine Corps birthday every year, and we watched war movies. He initiated me to war cinema long before home video became popular, so going back and seeing the classics wasn’t as easy as it was today. I believe “The Guns of Navarone” was one of his favorites, but it was much easier for us to catch screenings of its sequel “Force 10 From Navarone”. Of course, the sequel doesn’t really have anything to do with Navarone. It shares a similar mission/adventure structure and the two lead characters, Mallory and Miller, return. It was made almost two decades after the original and benefits from the more efficient cinematic practices that developed in the 70s.

“The Guns of Navarone” is a classic World War II adventure, but the cinematic practices of the time do work against it to a fair degree. It moves at a much slower pace than its adventure requires. It was made before filmmakers were allowed to show deathblows. While people are killed on camera, the killing wound is never seen. If some one dies from a knife wound, the stab happens out of frame. If someone is shot to death, the wounds are vaguely confined to areas indicated by the actor’s body language. While I don’t feel blood and gore are necessary for a good action flick, I must admit war violence loses much of its power when it’s hidden. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t a worthwhile movie to watch, especially since it is available for instant streaming on Netflix. I just have to say, I still prefer the sequel.

The Black Stallion (1979) ***½
Director: Carroll Ballard
Writers: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, Walter Farley (novel)
Starring: Kelly Reno, Mickey Rooney, Teri Garr

I was seven when I saw this movie in theaters. I showed it to my eight-year-old this week. He has a fascination for film that I hadn’t even hinted at having at his age. I very much enjoy opening up older cinematic treasures from my childhood to him. Today’s kids aren’t really equipped for a movie like “The Black Stallion”. There’s almost no dialogue for the first 40 minutes of the film, although this section also held my four-year-old enthralled. Even the more conventional second half of the film is nowhere near conventional by today’s fast-paced standards. There are several very quite scenes, more completely silent scenes where the audience must put the pieces together in the same way the characters do, and the adults don’t talk down to children in the movie. There is a respect for the ages that seems to be disappearing from our society that is quite well on display in this picture. Adults don’t talk down to children and children have a high degree of awe and respect for their elders. It’s nice to return to times like those with a great piece of cinema like this.

The Road (2009) ***½
Director: John Hillcoat
Writers: Joe Penhall, Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron

“The Road” is dark and depressing, and upon initial viewing seems like a trimmed down version of the typical apocalyptic trials of survival. But in retrospect it begins to drill in to your psyche and reveal itself as something more than it seems. All the random encounters the hero and his son stumble upon in almost episodic rotation take shape in afterthought and you find that this apocalypse isn’t as dark as the rest, although it certainly looks as if it is. I loved the revelation near the end when the boy says to the father “No, I am the one!” I’d never seen that before, and the movie makes it painfully obvious that the boy is correct, although not until that very moment.

Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) *½
Director: Chris Weitz
Writers: Melissa Rosenberg, Stephanie Meyer (novel)
Starring: Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Anna Kendrick, Graham Greene, Billy Burke, Dakota Fanning, Michael Sheen

Nothing is more depressing to me than the fact that this series is still going. This is my immediate thought after screening the second of the “Twilight Saga” films, “New Moon”. I am still astounded at how boring they’ve made the vampire mythology, reducing it to a puppy love story that is tame even by the teenage standards to which they are marketing it. The MPAA lists the reasons for its PG-13 rating as “for some violence and action”. A vampire movie with “some violence”? There is nothing more violent and sexual than a vampire’s attack. It is a rape of the soul, while appealing to our lustful tendencies.

They can’t even seem to spice this series up by throwing werewolves into the mix. And I beg of you not to attempt the math involved with the reasoning given behind why the werewolves turn when they do. A new werewolf turns when a new vampire enters the territory. Huh? It doesn’t work out. How many Cullens are there? And how many wolves? Plus three vampires entered the Cullen’s territory in the first movie, then two of those vampires returned in this movie after all the Cullens moved away. So why did Jacob turn into a werewolf? You’re head will explode before you make sense of it.

At least this one’s prettier to look at, thanks to the capable direction of Chris Weitz. I hear the new one is the best of the three. Well, it didn’t have much room to get worse.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (2010) **
Director/Writer: Tom DiCillo
Narrator: Johnny Depp
Featuring: Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore

This would be a great documentary for someone who had just discovered the music of The Doors and just had to know their story. For those who have been there, all this material has been covered before. There must not be too many secrets about The Doors, because there is so little here that I did not learn about twenty years ago. Director Tom DiCillo tells their story only with found footage of The Doors from when it was all happening and that footage is fascinating. However, his narration, even under the sturdy voice of Johnny Depp, is The Doors by the numbers. It plays like a checklist of all the big events of The Doors’ career and nothing more. There is no real insight here, just a series of facts and a forty-year-old obsession with Jim Morrison.

It’s Complicated (2009) ***
Director/Writer: Nancy Meyers
Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald

“It’s Complicated” is a nice adult rom com. It isn’t great. It’s not the best work of the individual artists involved, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a little long. Streep and Baldwin do command their roles. Martin is funny when he’s allowed to be, but he’s seems a little constrained by his character’s personality, or lack thereof, which is unusual for Steve Martin. John Krasinski is probably the best part about the whole movie, and his role is fairly minor. He handles it as if it were major, however. There’s really not a whole lot I have to say about this movie, but I can’t say I disliked it.