Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Review – Death Race

Obviously Hollywood makes a lot of movies with sequences that are thinly-disguised promos for the cross-marketed video game. Indeed, some become little more than 90-minute plugs for the game. But this is the first one I’ve seen that sacrifices all semblance of plot and character for the sake of the Xbox element. The production borrows just enough plot from Death Race 2000 to get the ball rolling, but from there on out it’s like watching someone else play the game they should have made out of Car Wars. Heck, the competition itself actually includes power-ups. My personal favorite moment was the introduction of the Dreadnought. While this thing worked just fine as a “boss level,” it made no sense within the story. Who the hell would pay to watch a “sport” in which all the contestants but two are deliberately murdered? If I’d lost money betting on one of the victims, I’d be pissed. The result here is loud, action-packed and almost completely substance-free. See if desperate

Review – Burn After Reading

This isn’t a bad movie, but the combination of espionage and the Coen brothers should have been better. Frances MacDormand and Brad Pitt both do great jobs as health club employees who stumble onto a disc full of government secrets. Their bumbling attempts to profit from their discovery bring them into contact with several “beltway insider” types and no end of screwball situations. The comedy-of-errors stuff is done to a Coen tee, but unfortunately that’s about all we get. If this had somehow involved some kind of actual spy drama running parallel to the comedy threads, it might have been more fun to watch. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Review – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

For awhile toward the beginning of his career Kurt Russell made a living by starring in live action Disney movies intended strictly for the kids. The formula for three of them was that a mediocre college student somehow gets enhanced by a mishap of science. In this one – the first of the three – a bolt of lightning zaps a computer inside his head. The upside is that it makes him great at Quiz Bowl. The downside is that the computer used to belong to a mobster (Cesar Romero) who isn’t too happy to learn that Russell now knows the details of his gambling racket. The target audience for this is composed almost entirely of people with just one digit in their ages. See if desperate

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review – Expelled

Let me start by saying something nice: this movie does raise at least some legitimate concerns about the role of cultural conflict in the proper exercise of academic freedom. Colleges and universities shouldn’t permit the whole “liberal versus conservative” thing to play any part one way or another in decisions about research, tenure and the like. And if it had stopped there, it might have been worth a look. But of course it doesn’t stop there. Fans of Michael Moore should be forced to watch this picture just so they can see what it feels like to be the target of this kind of irrational name calling thinly disguised as documentary film-making. The sight of Ben Stein getting all watery-eyed in front of a statue of Charles Darwin – after comparing the scientist to Adolph Hitler – is a grim reminder of just how out of control this kind of crap has gotten. See if desperate

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review – The Dark Knight

Here’s yet another example of a movie that never stood a chance to live up to its own hype. Heath Ledger’s final performance is emblematic: he does a solid job as the Joker, but it’s not the greatest acting job in all human history. Likewise the rest of the picture has its moments but overall just isn’t anything to write home about. I was particularly disappointed that Maggie Gyllenhaal didn’t turn out to be dramatically better than Katie Holmes in the role of Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest, though blame should most properly be laid at the script’s doorstep for that failure. Though this is by no means a bad movie, it’s just not as good as it should have been. With this cast, the Batman Begins approach to the characters, and Batman’s two best nemeses in the mix, The Dark Knight should have been the movie that critics said it was. Mildly amusing