Posted by: Michelle Mitton | November 20, 2008

Recent DVD Rentals Good and Bad

27 DressesI think it’s because half of our furniture–including the television–is piled in our bedroom and that for the first time in our married life we’ve had a chance to watch movies in bed we’ve turned to our Netflix account more than normal.

We’ve been whipping through the DVD rentals and let me tell you there are some stinkers out there. So I’m giving you the advantage of our movie renting labors and reviewing a few of our recent picks. May you enjoy those we enjoyed while learning from our mistakes, I’ve graded them on a standard A, B, C, D, F scale with a C being average–there is no grade inflation here folks, I’ve got myself a nicely spread bell curve if I do say so myself. Feel free to disagree, I can take it! Better yet, leave me your recommendations because I’m planning on stretching out on our couch and watching some good flicks over the holiday weekend.

And don’t worry, I’m pretty good about not throwing any spoilers at you.

1. 27 Dresses. Saw this poster all over the place when the DVD was coming out but I completely missed the trailers when it was out in the theaters. Katherine Heigl plays a 27-times-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride role in this romantic comedy that really wasn’t heavy on either comedy or romance.

I knew we were in trouble when the opening “comedy” scene has her helping to hold up a bride’s dress while the bride uses the restroom. Something about that image says to me “We’ve really come a long way baby” when we’re supposed to consider women using the toilet high comedy. Classy. Add to that her getting drunk and then . . . nevermind I said no spoilers but let’s just say it was completely out of character.

This one gets a D.

Mad Money2. Mad Money. Also a movie poster sell, I missed this in the theaters and I’m so usually all over the Queen Latifah scene I’m not sure how it slipped by me. With Diane Keaton, Katie Holmes and Queen Latifah in the cast maybe I was prejudiced toward loving it from the get go. Love is too strong of a word, I quite liked this comedy where Diane Keaton’s suburban housewife falls into a life of crime when her family’s bankruptcy forces her to work as a janitor at the local Federal Reserve.

Not to be taken too seriously it was kind of funny, rather entertaining and certainly worth the price of a rental–one of Katie Holmes’ more pleasant roles, she tends to weird me out somehow though Diane Keaton’s character really isn’t too likeable despite my fond memories of Father of the Bride. Deep down I really wished for her to get what she deserved.

I’d give this one a B, maybe B+ if I was in a relaxed and funny mood.

Rails and Ties3. Rails and Ties. One of the approximately 4,568 movies to Kevin Bacon’s credit it follows the intertwining relationships between a young boy whose mother kills herself in front of the train driven by the Senor Bacon himself. Marcia Gay Harden rounds out the story as the wife dying of breast cancer–oh yes, this one is the cinematic answer to Prozac.

I’m not sure what possessed me to put it in our queue, I must have been in one of my Morrissey moods (and you’d have to have listened to him in the 80s to even remotely understand what I mean by that). It was plodding, overly somber, depressing and generally grating–complete with a blouse-dropping move by Ms. Harden that luckily was predictable enough to allow me avert my eyes before the image was seared into my corneas. Unrealistic, maudlin and forgettable. I’d advise you to avoid this one at all costs.

Sorry, but it gets an F.

4. Wild Hogs. Heh. Sure, rip into the artsy film that’ll probably get some kind of an Academy Award nomination then say I like this one and it’ll destroy any credibility I could possible maintain here. So sue me, I think John Travolta, William H. Macy, Martin Lawrence and Tim Allen are funny together as mid-life crisis victims taking a road trip to find their unfulfilled dreams–there were some parts that were laugh out loud funny though the language was cutting-edge enough that I wouldn’t let the kids see this one. I think the best part of the movie is probably Ray Liotta as Crazy Vengeful Biker #1 because half the time you can’t tell if he’s going to make you laugh or punch someone in the face.

Another B+. I wouldn’t pay full price at the theater but as a rental it’s not a bad deal.

Bella5. Bella. Oh gosh, I wish I’d been able to sit through this one because it was so bad, so exquisitely horrifying that if I’d watched the whole thing the review I could write would be a piece of art. It’s kind of about this Latino soccer team but kind of about this waitress who gets pregnant but kind of about the chef who befriends her but kind of about these two other guys that I never could figure out who they even were . . . a movie that tried sooooo hard to be deep that there is absolutely no end to how low it can sink into the boredom and plotless ramblings. I guess you could say that it’s so deep that the mindlessness is bottomless.

I remember seeing somewhere someone else mentioning that it was a stinker and I should have listened. I don’t even really remember how it found its way into my queue but PLEASE for the love of all that is cinema DON’T SEE THIS MOVIE.

Not even worth an F, that would be too good.

6. Scooby Doo and the Goblin King. Yes even this one was better than Bella. And it’s got Casey Kasem doing the voice of Shaggy. That’s saying something. I was sent this one to review and while it’s far inferior to the original series and not even as good as most of the full-length movies that have been produced since then the kids liked it well enough. David’s a big Scooby Doo fan so he’d pretty much watch any of the movies they produced.

A C if you grade by Scooby Doo standards, a D by animated feature standards.

Flawless7. Flawless. With Demi Moore (which, I have since learned is definitely pronounced de-MEE as it’s short for Demetria. Since she and I are practically best friends now I thought you all ought to know) and Michael Caine it’s probably my favorite movie of Mrs. Kutcher’s though I didn’t care for Ghost that much and never saw the Brat Pack movies she made.

I mentioned this one a month or two ago when we rented it and it’s very good. Moore plays this vulnerable woman making her way in a man’s world and simultaneously projects the strength and uncertainty that make her character quite interesting–not unlike her role in A Few Good Men (a good one if you haven’t seen it). It’s a heist movie set in the 60s that has the feel of the original Italian Job (also a Caine movie) but more psychologically engaging. You’re not sure where it’s going but it keeps you guessing.

Definitely an A–why else would I have mentioned it again?

The Invasion8. The Invasion. I understand that this is basically a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers only starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (who is only appealing as James Bond, thank you very little) as the obligatory humans-running-from-an-organism-bent-on-destroying-all-mankind. The opening storytelling sequence of back-telling, while compelling, certainly isn’t enough to carry this mediocre thriller and probably at the heart of all these types of movies (War of the Worlds, I Am Legend, Independence Day etc.) is the problem with an ending.

How a thriller ends is really really important to how I’m going to rate the movie overall. I’m just not going to buy a scenario where a computer virus gets uploaded to the mother ship or the invading organism conveniently breaks down of its own accord. Invasion‘s ending is weak–I can’t give any spoilers here because it’s so weak I’ve forgotten what it even was, I just remember that it was disappointing and anti-climatic.

How would I have ended it? Hmmmm . . . let’s see. How about Ms. Kidman riding through the streets of New York on a horse with an automatic rifle blasting away at zombies while Daniel Craig hang glides behind her dropping bombs on the crowd? He swoops down, grabs her, horse and all, and they fly off into the sunset to a deserted island where no zombies can ever get them. Ever. Well it would have been better than whatever it was that they gave me for real.

A D+, maybe a C- if you don’t count the last 30 minutes of the movie.

Breach9. Breach. Oh! Oh! In case you think I’m too hard on movies this one proves that I’m totally not because both Andrew and I really liked this one. Of course it’s got Chris Cooper who is a fine actor and he carries this story well. It’s the true story of Robert Hansson, the Russian spy who was in the C.I.A. back in the 80s. It’s slow but not plodding, it’s more about systematically leading and building your emotions until you are really at the mercy of the director and Cooper as to what to think. Interesting and intelligent, it was a great investment of two hours of our time.

An A, and maybe another A just for good measure.

10. Evan Almighty. Didn’t see Bruce Almighty–which I can only imagine was made by the same group of people and involves a popular Hollywood figure impersonating Deity, most delicious of ironies. And by the way, why is it that Morgan Freeman, next to George Burns, plays God more than anyone else? Why? Is it the voice? Must be. But anyway this one was kind of funny, probably because I think Steve Carell is a funny guy and the movie is not only very clean but has a nice little message packaged to go along with it.

Evan AlmightyThough I must interject here about that message and say that Steve Carell plays Evan Baxter, a new congressman who is going to “Change the world” so what does he do? What does Hollywood give him as his major task? How will he make humanity better? Will he eradicate disease? Stave off hunger? Destroy poverty, crime, pornography, corruption or violence? How about improve education, send disadvantaged children to college or help poor single moms to get better jobs and get off welfare? Even in one little town or precinct?

Nope. He saves him some big fat environment. Apparently Hollywood believes that by saving the world you literally mean SAVING the WORLD. Forget about the humans living on that world or any of the other oddly disastrous problems facing them–such as, say, banks folding, massive unemployment from defunct auto makers, deflation (or inflation, take your pick), war, international mayhem and despair the biggest way to make a difference is to keep the evil developers from destroying the raccoons’ habitat. He doesn’t even save the environment for poor people fighting to save land from the ravages of over worked soil and too many chemicals, he saves rich people’s land so they can have a pretty view.

I don’t know, forgive the rant but while protecting our planet is important and morally correct of all the problems we face as a human beings I think we have a much greater chance at destroying ourselves through our own violence, ignorance and vice than by running out of clean water and ozone. At least at this point. But I guess Hollywood really couldn’t preach against silly little things like violence or greed. That might start to eat into box office sales.

But despite what you might think following these last three acidic paragraphs I did think the movie was cute. And as I said it was very clean and while it was an example of most of the funny parts being in the previews it was nonetheless a decent video rental.

I give it a B. B for Baxter. And baby raccoons because I’m really not the monster you might think I am.

Next11. Next. I’m sorry but in my humble opinion Nicholas Cage will always and forever be enshrined in my memory as he was in Raising Arizona. That was the funniest and best thing he has ever done and nothing–NOTHING–can compare with the comedy he produced for those two hours.

So to see him and Jessica Biel in this psychological thriller really is just setting myself up for a bit of disappointment. It’s not a bad movie, just kind of ho-hum average. Cage plays a guy who can see into the future up to two or three minutes in advance and the movie opens with him using this to his financial advantage until the plot thickens and suddenly he’s on the run.

Biel is his love interest (d’uh, she’s not exactly designed to play the ugly stepsister is she?) but I’ve never really liked watching her on screen. She seems rather flat–in a character way, certainly not in other ways.

It reminded me of Deja Vu, another movie of the same style and genre, but which I thought was slightly better. Next is rather forgettable, certainly not Cage’s best work (Matchstick Men is better if you’re interested).

It would have to be a C-.

The Invisible12. The Invisible. Okay this one might be the hardest to review because I’m not entirely sure how I’d grade this. From the producers of the Sixth Sense it’s about a teen boy who gets inadvertently mixed up with some nasty teen thugs who beat him up and leave him for dead. He “haunts” them, particularly their female ring leader, as he tries to solve his own murder.

Another Marcia Gay Harden role in there somewhere (if I remember correctly, I’m too tired to go Google it and make sure) it’s not stellar but it’s not bad either. The connections between the characters are interesting and intriguing and they keep things going along pretty well until the end which isn’t entirely as one would expect. Definitely not near as good as the Sixth Sense but still it’s not bad.

I hereby award this one a B-, a solid B if I get to watch it with Andrew.

140813. 1408. Stephen King has some movies that are just great. Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, even The Green Mile. I’ve only caught them on television in their edited formats but even then they were good stories. Then there are his other ones–I remember watching The Langoliers that was hyped as a miniseries years ago and it didn’t take me long to realize it was so stinkin’ bad it was funny. Really funny.

Well 1408 sucked me in because 1) it has John Cusack whom I tend to enjoy and 2) Samuel L. Jackson who I nearly always enjoy as well. The synopsis sounded decent so into the queue it went and it started out pretty good. Cusack plays a writer specializing in debunking paranormal occurrences until he gets coerced into staying at a certain hotel claiming to have the Most Haunted Room in the World. Room–you guessed it–1408.

He wants to stay, he’s begged not to, he and the manager go rounds to see who will win but you know he’ll get to stay because if he doesn’t there will be no movie.

The whole thing builds the suspense pretty well at the beginning and Andrew and I both said, “Hey, this is pretty good!” at first. Then it just kind of spirals downward until by the end you’re just clueless as to what you’ve seen and if the whole cast got together and sang “It’s a Small World After All” it wouldn’t feel more bizarre.

I think I ended up answering emails on my laptop about 2/3 of the way through the movie when I lost interest though Andrew saw it through to the end. Don’t bother renting. This post is probably all you’d ever need to know about the movie.

A rock-solid D. Sorry Stephen. Keep working at it, I’m sure you’ll do better next time.

As You Like It14. As You Like It. I like Shakespeare, love retellings of his famous stories, love Bryce Dallas Howard but this all didn’t add up to a good movie experience. The famous comedy is set in colonial Japan with the part of the Duke being played as a samurai and while the women are lovely the whole thing is just so darn flaky that we ended up abandoning ship.

I bet there are those of you out there who are smart enough to figure out that Shakespeare and samurai on a date night is just asking for trouble but I’m a little slow and didn’t figure it out until half way through. I know now. Maybe if I was smart enough to have figured it out I’d be smart enough to get the movie. Hey–that’s quite a catch 22 there isn’t it?

A D. I’m being generous because it is still The Bard.

Girl with a Pearl Earring15. Girl with a Pearl Earring. I’m saving this one for last not only because it was our most recent viewing but because I really loved it. It’s been out on DVD forever and maybe most of you have already seen it but both Andrew and I gave it two big fat thumbs up.

Why? First of all every scene is constructed like a painting, with composition, lighting and color carefully balanced until you feel as if the whole thing is just completely beautiful. It’s one of the best movies, cinematographically speaking–if that is really a aword–that I’ve ever seen.

Second, while I’ve never thought Scarlett Johanson to be pretty (her face looks a little pinched and fat-lipped to me) I thought she was absolutely perfect for this part. By the end I thought her beautiful and from beginning to end she was fascinating to watch. You get a lot of beauty on screen but you don’t get many faces that are interesting. Hers was interesting.

Third, it was not only clean but the tension between the characters was brilliant. Reminded me of an Austen period movie where though you see no skin or romping but the undercurrent of tension, emotion and desire is driving the characters forward. To me that’s much more interesting and engaging than a movie where all the characters spend their time in bed.

Anyway, loved it. I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy, “artsy” movie when Andrew put in the disc but it didn’t take long to get me hooked, if you haven’t already seen it I’d highly recommend it.

An artistic and elegant A.

16. The Guardian. I was only going to have fifteen but by the time I finally got around to posting this we’d seen yet another film. Kevin Costner’s back in all his sagging glory to star with Ashton Kutcher in a drama about the men and women of the Coast Guard. The opening scene is pretty darn good. Predictable but I didn’t care because it was good–kind of like the train wreck in the Fugitive. But the movie slides into such a rut that even the mild quips from Kutcher aren’t enough to satisfy.

I will say this though, I’m going to give this one an honorary B because by the time the end was drawing near we were so bored and so without care as to what would happen that we started doing the commentary thing like you see in MST 3000 and it was hysterical. Haven’t seen a movie in quite a while where we could make so many hi-larious comments. The mockery was brilliant I’d say. So if you want a good movie for making fun of, this could be it.

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