madness

I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing...

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Saturday morning movie reviews
madness
firebluespinel
Some people watch Saturday morning cartoons. But since I am at work, I will post Saturday morning movie reviews instead! (Since apparently I can only ever post on Saturday anyway, lol.) Here they are:

Coach Carter
3 stars

Every feel-good sports movie comes with a message of hope, usually including the overcoming of great adversity and/or developing a much stronger work ethic than was in place before. Coach Carter is no exception to this rule, and it adds the impact of being based on the true story of a coach who emphasized academics over athletic prowess while still fielding a successful team. Its basketball action scenes are exhilarating, much of its ghetto-banter dialogue is very funny, and it tackles several real-life teen issues in fairly realistic ways. Additionally, Samuel L. Jackson is flawless in the lead role, combining his usual badassity with great maturity and believability.

The problem I find with Coach Carter is small but significant: it tries too hard. It wants to have a big b-ball action sequence every ten minutes, it wants to show the high school players' perspectives and the coach's perspective on practically equal footing, it wants to tell the true story while adding several side sequences and subplots (including one involving a drug dealer and another about teen pregnancy), it wants to contrast the dead-end ghetto world with the hopeful possibilities of going to college, it wants each team member to have an individual presence, it wants to be both a funny teen-marketable party/sports flick and an inspirational movie for parents and coaches...in short, it wants to do everything. And while it actually manages that juggling act passably well, it suffers as a result by being really long. Varsity Blues, which focused largely on the teen aspect, and Glory Road, which focused only on the sports inspiration, were both under two hours. Even Miracle, of comparable length to Coach Carter, just doesn't FEEL as long, largely because it focuses on its story absolutely and doesn't get bogged down in additional material.

That said, however, Coach Carter is not a bad film, nor does its length and complexity completely cripple it. It's simply one of those films where you need to know going into it that it's not just a teen sports movie (and Paramount, knowing this, was wise not to market it as one).


Duplicity
2 stars

My reaction to Duplicity can be summed up as follows: "wait...what?" I think I got everything that happened in the plot and why, but there was literally so MUCH that happened in quick (though not chronological) succession that I lost track of the film's driving purpose halfway in.

I like a good spy double-cross flick as much as the next guy, but there's a point of saturation at which the flashbacks, side-switches, and abrupt changes in action and attitude are so frequent that they stop being clever and start getting confusing. After that point, twists that would otherwise have been mind-blowing end up merely weary, and the viewer starts to question whether the herky-jerky double-cross gimmicks were included to make the film work or to disguise how badly it doesn't work. And while Ocean's Eleven, Mission: Impossible, Chaos, Vantage Point, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and many others have lived right at that point and been very successful in doing so, Duplicity pushed past it within its first half hour, never looked back, and suffered accordingly.

On a positive note, this film does include two of the best character actors working today: Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti. You don't get to see much of either of them, but their presence alone makes the film worth seeing once. It's a pity that Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, Duplicity's actual stars, don't command that kind of watchability--or at least, that they don't do it here.


Fast and Furious
3 stars

I've seen three of the four Fast/Furious films (I ignored the Tokyo Drift one), and this is the only one I really wanted to review, for two reasons. One, it was the culmination, the one that brought everything together from the previous two (or three); two, it managed to be exactly what it advertised itself to be and still be pretty good. The driving action stunts were very impressive, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reprised their frenemy roles admirably, Jordana Brewster was smoking hot, and the film ended with a sens of things being as they should be. For a film like this, I really can't ask for more than that.

Firewall
3 stars

So for 2006, its year of release, Firewall is probably one of the least original films that could have been made. The ideas of hacking an impassable computer security system and of a clever protagonist having to think himself out of a similarly clever setup have been done in various forms a hundred times before and since--and Harrison Ford has appeared in several of them. So the deck was already stacked against this film from the start.

The nice thing about that, though, is that it gave Firewall a chance to show that it had more going for it than an aging action star and a recycled plot--and while the film didn't have TOO much more than that, it did have more than I expected it to. In particular, Paul Bettany showed great poise and villainy in his role; watching him is definitely the film's highlight. Robert Forster and Virginia Madsen are bright spots also, and Ford brings his usual gravitas to the lead. And for all that it was not particularly original in concept, the elaborate setup of the protagonist and the ways he finds to get around it were fun to watch.

So really, while Firewall played more like a film from 1998 than from 2006, it delivered a much more powerful punch than I thought it would, and I don't regret watching it at all.


Fighting
1 star

Sub-optimal, underdeveloped and farfetched in almost every way. Channing Tatum can't act even with an unintelligent character to play, Terrence Howard can act but decided not to, the love interest theme inexplicably jumped from a dishonest scam to thinly-veiled stalking to a one-day stand to a family(?!?!), the fight scenes were less than realistic and more decided by luck than by the skill or heart the film implied they were, the supposedly honorable character motivation was nothing of the kind, and the backstory behind the protagonist was not developed enough to draw any of the sympathy it was supposed to. Oh, and just because "Zulay" is an exotic name does not mean that you should take the actress' name for her character. That was just dumb, and led to one of Tatum's dumbest lines. Bottom line: avoid this movie. If you want good fights, go watch Jackie Chan's or Jason Statham's movies, not this tripe.

Inglourious Basterds
2.5 stars

The problem with many films with great trailers is this: sometimes the trailer is better than the movie. Inglourious Basterds was not a bad movie, an ill-directed movie, or even an un-entertaining movie. What it was, at base, was a movie only partially about what it was advertised to be about. I went into it with a pretty specific set of expectations, and proceeded to spend the majority of the film going "wait...what?"

Here's what worked in this movie: Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger and the few scenes where the Basterds actually behaved with competence. Here's what didn't work: pretty much everything else. The whole Shosanna plot wasn't terrible, but since I had no foresight or warning of it, I really didn't know what to make of it. Meanwhile, the Basterds part of the plot wasn't terrible either, but the eight weren't given nearly enough character development, nor nearly enough to do onscreen--and once they were, it only went to show how little they actually knew what they were doing. And the complexity with which the two plots were slowly developed in such a way that they overlapped each other while still remaining independent really only did one thing: it made the movie LONG. To be honest, one or the other of those two plots belonged in this movie, not both.

I expected this film to be about the Basterds, who they were and how much ass they kicked, kind of like a cross between Band of Brothers and The Italian Job. And really, it wasn't that at all. And while some films--even some Tarantino films--have managed to be really good despite not being exactly what I expected them to be, Inglourious Basterds could not and did not make that grade for me. I was so busy looking for what it wasn't that I couldn't enjoy what it was.


That's all for this morning. Have a great weekend, everyone.

FBS

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I haaaaated Inglorious Basterds with this burning passion. It made me so uncomfortable in a way I've never been uncomfortable in a movie before and I left the theater with a massive migraine. >:| Sucked because pretty much all of my favorite German actors were in it.

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