Monday, January 25, 2010

Film Yap: Tooth Fairy

We all know puns are easy. Right now my mind is racing as I think of how to connect Tooth Fairy to root canals or gingivitis. I could not have been one of the five screenwriters for this movie because I am thinking too much. In this movie Derek (Dwayne Johnson) has several puns about his situation. They are hilarious like “You can’t handle the tooth!” or the brilliant “I pledge allegiance to the tooth.” Oh man. I had to stop typing for a bit in order to catch my breath.

You may be wondering: Okay obviously this movie has the humor down pat, but what about the plotting? Plotting is important and if the premise doesn’t make sense, then the whole movie may not work. Well don’t worry! Since Derek made a comment to his girlfriend’s daughter that the tooth fairy may not be real, he is forced to serve as the real tooth fairy for two weeks. Apparently tooth fairies exist secretly, which confused me to no end. If tooth fairies are real and they are the ones putting the cash under the pillows, shouldn’t every parent know that tooth fairies are real since they aren’t the ones doing it? So then why does being a tooth fairy have to be a secret? Also what the bloody hell do they want with all of those teeth? No, no it does not run Fairyland (I kid you not) because apparently that is fueled entirely by people believing in the tooth fairy. Want Fairyland to be prosperous? Stop going through all of these absurd ways to keep this job a secret! I digress. I am clearly not as smart as the five screenwriters.

I do understand that kids movies are meant to be fun. Plots don’t have to be logical and profound; they just have to be entertaining. Tooth Fairy isn’t, though. Yes Stephen Merchant and Billy Crystal (who is oddly uncredited) provided some surprising smiles from what appeared to be improvisation. Aside from a few of those moments, I can’t image kids actually liking this movie. There are so many awkward silence pauses and situations that are just bizarre. Why would kids enjoy a confusing subplot about why some fairies don’t have wings? Why would kids like an ongoing erection metaphor? Why would kids like a Seth MacFarlane scene where he plays a shady drug-dealing fairy?

This movie makes so little sense and each scene is just propelled towards the next set piece. The film even stops caring about the set pieces because some of the magical acts they build up to aren’t even on-screen. Johnson tries to save a few scenes with his charisma, but too much of it becomes undeniably embarrassing. Kid movies don’t have to be like this. If the studios treat children with a degree of intelligence, they may actually create a movie that will be remembered and adored after the kids have grown up. Sadly, this is the type of movie that will make kids no longer excited to lose their baby teeth.

The Film Yap

So I have an exciting piece of news. I'm now writing reviews and articles for this great website called The Film Yap. It's a cool website composed of a lot of writers I respect, like Christopher Lloyd and Joseph Shearer. I'll be reposting my articles on this blog, but I strongly recommend you check out their site every day. I really like the "Heroes of the Zeroes" project that Nick Rogers is doing. He made a list of the best 365 movies of the last decade and every day he releases a new review.

My first review went up last weekend and I felt a bit of hazing with their assigned movie...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: Alone

If you follow this blog or know me at all, this will be the most boring review for you. I read Loren Estleman’s latest book, Alone, and I loved it. Of course I loved it! This is the second novel about Valentino, the “film detective” who works for UCLA to find lost films. At a costume party he meets a wealthy man who has the famous short that has Greta Garbo’s first on screen appearance. As most mysteries go, a dead body must appear. This time it’s the tycoon’s assistant.

The mystery is well done, as expected from Estleman, but what really shines are the Garbo love and the character advancements. Throughout the book, various characters bring up her movies and the Swedish beauty in general. She truly was one of a kind. It’s hard to find such on screen elegance like that anymore, even when she’s in a comedy like Ninotchka. In Alone, there’s a nifty subplot that debates one of the big questions surrounding Garbo. Like I mentioned earlier, a pleasant surprise was seeing the characters evolve in an interesting format. At this point I can come to expect good stuff featuring Valentino and his girl Harriet. However what I really thought shined brightly was the plotline involving Broadbent, the older film historian who is searching for a proper drive.

I know this book just came out a month ago, but I already want the next entry. I wish this was a famous series and I can go to a bookstore and find the next twenty in the series waiting to be devoured.

Book Review: What the Dog Saw

Like the rest of the country, I really became addicted to Malcolm Gladwell’s books. His pop sociology angle was fun and slick. It worked very well in his book lengths works, but he has finally stumbled in my mind with his shorter writings. What the Dog Saw is a collection of 19 articles he wrote for The New Yorker. The topics are the kind of things that I love from Gladwell: “Are Smart People Overrated?”; “What the Inventor of the Birth Control Pill Didn’t Know About Women’s Health.”; “What Do Job Interviews Really Tell Us?”

Look I probably accidently sold you on this book. The problem with these articles is that the spark is gone. Is it really Gladwell’s fault though? He wrote these articles for The New Yorker, not the general public. These articles are so dull and lifeless that I assume they fit right in with the magazine. No, I do not read The New Yorker. I’ve been told that magazine is for smart people. I only pretend to be smart, so I am not interested. Gladwell is still a talented writer, but I’m just going to stick with his full-length work.

Ticket Stubs: Nine

To remake a film that is considered one of the greatest of all time is quite a task. Another extremely challenging task is to adapt a beloved Tony-award winning musical. Guess what Ninehad to do? From screen to stage and back to screen Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ has gone through the treatment. However does anything remain from the surreal character study? God, I wish.

In Italy, Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is preparing his ninth film with much anticipation. Despite the fact that production starts in a few days, not a word of the script has been written. In fact Gudio is in a complete funk, unable to think of a premise. Like most tortured geniuses, he retreats to internal musical numbers. (I was worried it was just me for all these years.) Yet…it doesn’t really make sense. The effect worked well in Rob Marshall other film, Chicago, but it’s always unclear who is concocting the numbers. It can’t always be Guido because most of sad ballads of his wife, played wonderfully by Marion Cotillard, are oblivious to him. Also if these are his songs, shouldn’t they be insightful into what surrounds him?

If the songs connected in a meaningful way, this would be something special. I have a friend of mine who believes I should not think about what the movie could be but examine what it is. Well I apologize Pedro, but the film made me do it! So many of the characters talk about the magic of Italian cinema and how Guido is the embodiment of it all. I had no choice but to compare that to what I was watching. This movie was so different from what it was praising, that it became depressing. I started to wonder why this movie was even set in Italy. This is a bland Hollywood movie through and through. There’s no spark or rawness that I’ve seen with Fellini or Vittorio de Sica. Nine needed someone who wasn’t afraid to try and truly capture that spirit, like Steven Soderbergh. (I would pay top dollar to see a Soderbergh musical.)

I seem completely grim, but Day-Lewis saves the film in many instances. He is very entertaining as the self-absorbed and conflicted artist. He may not tap dance across the sets like Marcello Mastroianni, but he is able to address the world like he is always directing. Even when he’s throwing up his arms and wanting nothing from anybody, there is a style to it. As great as he makes certain moments, the movie ultimately lets him down. Due to the mediocrity of the musical numbers, which is the main narrative push, his big moments aren’t deserved or anyone’s moments for that matter. That’s too bad.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ticket Stubs: It's Complicated

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s not complicated. Right away the title is lying to you, which is a no-no. Benjamin Button certainly had a curious case, Richard Gere was an officer and a gentlemen and that is exactly where the wild things were. This isn’t that difficult. To the movie’s credit, it certainly thinks it’s complicated. Unfortunately it is completely alone in that belief.

Jane (Meryl Streep) has been divorced from Jake (Alec Baldwin) for about ten years now. He’s married to the younger woman he cheated with and things aren’t so great at home. At their son’s graduation they hook up and decide to start an affair. Meanwhile Jane is flirting with her architect Adam, played by Steve Martin. That’s it. To the sane eye, this seems rather simple and mundane, but in the eyes of the characters this is ZANY! Twice Jane talks to her one-dimensional friends where she repeats the entire plot. I actually pitied these non-characters. They all sound exactly the same and only existed to listen to Jane’s quasi-problems. They disappear midway through the movie. The only way I would be amused by those nauseating scenes would have been if Judy Greer had been cast as all three of the “friends.”

Often times the dialog is one of my favorite parts of a movie. Everyone can’t be Cary Grant or Rosalind Russell, but wouldn’t it be great? Dialog doesn’t have to be witty, but there is an art to progressing the story with words. Perhaps my ultimate pet peeve in film is what I call “looping dialog.” Instead of moving the plot forward, like a straight line, looping dialog unnecessarily backtracks and the line now looks like a loop-de-loop on a roller coaster. This movie has so much of this I felt motion sickness. It was like this was a single TV episode painfully stretched into two hours.

Now I do not want anybody out there to play the age or the gender card. My youth does not mean I cannot enjoy this film. In fact I would rather watch a romantic comedy with these three over three random airheads from my generation any day. How about my Y chromosome? Does that stop me from enjoying this movie? No. This movie’s poor quality transcends gender.

Every scene is uninspired and dull. The actors, at times, seem to be struggling to find anything to latch on too. When they aren’t sitting around talking about their dull and static emotions, they are just embarrassing themselves. Yes, the leads get high during their son’s graduation party. (I would talk about how I can’t think of a single college senior who would enjoy that party, but since I am a sophomore I obviously can’t relate.) The scene goes on, I believe, until the end of time. It could have been fresh and interesting, but it chose not to be. This happens throughout the entire film. There is a scene when Streep disrobes in front of Baldwin. It was reminiscent of the scene from Something’s Gotta Give. Turns out Nancy Meyers wrote and directed that one too. Come on!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book Review: Shades of Grey

Whenever people ask me my favorite author, Jasper Fforde always springs to mind. His Thursday Next series is hilarious and imaginative and I’m even a fan of his Nursery Crime books. So when he has a new book out, it’s a big deal for me. Shades of Grey is the start of a radically new series. It’s so new that I still have difficulty describing it.

Okay so in the future, it’s really oppressive. Something has happened and colors are all goofy. Or people’s perceptions of colors are off, I’m still a bit unsure. Basically there’s a new class system dependent on the percentage of a certain color you can see. Those who can only see purple are higher ranked than those who can only see red and so on. Eddie Russet, who can see red very well, is content just going with the flow. Not questioning why they stopped making spoons or why the number 73 is outlawed. Until he meets a feisty Grey named Jane.

I’m usually not a fan of dystopian futures, but this one is definitely one I haven’t seen before. Fforde proves his imagination can kick my imagination’s ass every day of the week. Despite occasionally being confused about the world, I became surprisingly invested in the central characters. This really seems to be an evolution in Fforde’s character design. The back of the book says this will be a trilogy and it’s clear Fforde is being patient with the plotting. I predict this will end up being a really interesting set.

Book Review: Long Lost

I’m no sports guy, but I love Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series. This is how he started he career writing about a smartass sports agent who has to solve crimes for his clients. After a handful of those Coben went onto stand-alone thrillers after the huge success of Tell No One. It has only been recently that Coben has been returning to Myron. Yet it doesn’t feel the same as it once was.

You can always count on Coben to be a strong plotter. He knows how to have a lot of fun twists scattered throughout and the pacing is always quick. In Long Lost Myron gets a call from a former lover asking him to meet her immediately in Paris. Unable to not help someone in need, Myron and his best friend Win cross an ocean and get caught up in an murder investigation. The whole story is compelling, but I was so disappointed the all of the humor painfully fell flat. The sarcastic jabs didn’t stick and there is a vaudeville like act involving the word Mee that became embarrassing after awhile. Myron and Win are still characters I want to revisit, but I hope Coben can find the same spark he had back in Deal Breaker and The Final Detail.

Book Review: The Guinea Pig Diaries

Yes it’s true! I do occasionally read books that aren’t about mysteries or movies. I do have a little bit of range. I’m a sucker for lists or marathon projects. Thus, I’m a big fan of A.J. Jacobs. I don’t remember how I found Jacobs’ first book, The Know-It-All, where he decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. That book ended up being really funny and an interesting view on knowledge. I just recently found out he has two follow up books: The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries.

The first title is pretty self-explanatory; Jacobs spent an entire year attempting to follow every law in the Old and New Testament. The latter title is more of a grab bag. Instead of one long endeavor, Jacobs takes on mini-projects that change his day-to-day behavior. The experiments are always entertaining especially when he tries to be brutally honest or pose as a celebrity. Jacobs is a naturally funny guy and all of his books are constantly entertaining. These are some of the easiest books to recommend.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Book Review: Pictures at a Revolution

I am a complete sucker for film history. The way movies are made are sometimes more epic than the movies themselves. A perfect example for that are the stories surrounding the movies in this book. Mark Harris examines the five movies that were nominated for Best Picture in 1968: The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Doctor Doolittle. Yes, I know. One of these is not like the other. Harris addresses this and even Doctor Doolittle plays a part in how these films really changed Hollywood forever.

This is the end of the Hays’s Code and a lot of key players in Hollywood were turning to French filmmakers for inspiration. The influence of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard spurred more unconventional storytelling and approaches to hot-topic issues. The whole process is riveting. Sure there are the amusing anecdotes of how Rex Harrison acted on the set of Doolittle, but I was really interested in stories like how Dustin Hoffman seemed like such a gamble at first. Such a thing seems preposterous now, but there were major doubts against him. Ultimately this book is a must for film fans especially if you want to see what set the way for 70s cinema.

Book Review: The Angel's Game

The Shadow of the Wind became one of the most beloved books of last decade and it really came out of nowhere. I found out about it because Stephen King and Jim Huang raved endlessly about it. Sure enough everyone who read it agreed with them, including myself. Wind was written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and he’s a popular Spanish author, which means it takes a little time to get an English translation. Well now his second book is out is finally out and…

I really like it. Zafón writes in such an addicting majestic style. Even though it takes over a hundred pages to really get the plot going, I’m with it for every page. The Angel’s Game is about a writer named David Martín living in Barcelona during the 1920s. He writes fun genre fiction for a living, but is approached by a mysterious French editor for a new project. I won’t ruin what the project is, but it’s intriguing to say the least. Much like Wind, Game is surrounded by a true love for books. The effect is intoxicating and it’s what spurred me to read this epic in wonderfully large chunks. The ending is not perfect, but it didn’t come close to discourage me into anticipating the next entry into the world Zafón created.

Upcoming Book Reviews

It seems like this blog is just about my random ramblings about movie, but I also ramble about books too! I've been a bit behind with some of my book reviews, but within the next few days you'll have a bunch pop up. For the past year I've been writing reviews for books that were released during 2009. After this upcoming set I'm going to be switching to only writing reviews for books I've read that came out during 2010.

The books I review are just the ones I naturally come across. However, I'm always interested in recommendations. If you have one just put it as a comment and I'll take a look at it.

As always, thanks you so much for reading. Next up will be The Angels' Game...

Top Ten Underappreciated Movies of 2009

Every year around this time a lot of smaller films get attention from the media because they are part of the Oscar Buzz. It’s the all-powerful buzz that boosts ticket and DVD sales. Unfortunately this golden treatment doesn’t happen to a lot of films that really deserve it. That’s what I’m here for! I’m going to shine a light on ten films this year that deserve more attention by the general public. Starting with…


One of the best romantic movies of the year is the unconventional story of a man with Asperser’s Syndrome and the woman he meets at his apartment complex. This trailer played at my art house theatre for two months straight, but I haven’t met anyone who actually went to go see it. The two leads (Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne) are truly incredible and the script always plays fair, which is difficult with this premise.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

Remember way back when to the days when Nicolas Cage was a respectable actor? That day may finally be coming back if he keeps picking roles like this. In the latest Werner Herzog crazyfest, Cage plays an incredibly immoral police lieutenant who has to solve the murder of an entire family. It’s more of a comedy than a mystery because the memorable scenes include Cage staring down hallucinatory iguanas. It’s so much fun.

The Box

On this site, you can find my full review of The Box but I need to bring it up again because this movie is HATED. There are some stats saying this was one of the worst audience received movies of the year. Are we all in crazy town? This is a very fun thriller that actually equipped an element of mystery to it. I think people didn’t like the answers to the mystery, but the whole movie was such a unique experience that I enjoyed every second of it.

Drag Me to Hell

This is the widest released movie of the year, but it still wasn’t seen enough in my opinion. Its PG-13 rating put off a lot of the horror buffs and a lot of the mainstream public didn’t recognize that it was as much of a comedy as it was a horror movie. Sam Raimi has a very unique sense of humor and it hasn’t been on this much display since Army of Darkness. Check this out so you too can join the chorus about how poorly this movie was advertised.

Easy Virtue

This is the most flawed movie on my list, but there are so many redeemable parts to it. This is based off the Noel Coward play that was made into a movie once before by Alfred Hitchcock during his British years. It’s about a son of a prestigious British family returning home suddenly with his new American wife, played by Jessica Biel. The pacing is all over the place at times, but the performances by Biel and Colin Firth are so great that it makes up for it.


For a while now I’ve been against the mumblecore movement. I had seen a few of the films and really didn’t like them. Then Humpday came along. This is the story about two straight men who decide to make a gay porno staring themselves to enter into an art festival. First of all, it’s remarkable that this premise actually works. Second of all, this premise allows for one of the most heartfelt and occasionally suspenseful movies of the year. This is the kind of movie that is bringing more credit back to the independent movie scene.

Shall We Kiss?

What a loveably strange movie this is. It’s reminiscent of the French New Wave as it has a creative and unique storytelling device at its center. After a lovely date, a woman refuses to kiss a man out of fear of what would happen next. The woman tells the story of her two friends who, after one kiss, had their romantic lives thrown into turmoil. The movie is thought provoking, sexy, and constantly entertaining.

Sita Sings the Blues

There are some movies that make your face hurt because you are smiling too powerfully. A lot of things are happening at once in this movie. The director tells her own story of her break-up in parallel with the Ramayana, a classic Indian story about a princess who has to fend on her own during troubling times. In addition to this we also have three Indian narrators who are constantly bickering about how the story goes. Also the princess breaks into 1920s American show tunes as escapism from her situation. Now here’s the amazing bit: It all fits together brilliantly.

Trick r Treat

This is a horror movie for those who love horror movies. Director Michael Dougherty obviously knows all of the typical horror clichés for he puts his own twist on them in this Halloween anthology. Each story is filled with obvious adoration for the genre and that brings fresh life into what would be tired stories. He knows when we’re expecting the jump-out scares and he plays with those expectations. This is how you make a horror film.

World’s Greatest Dad

The last film in my underappreciated list is not one for everybody. This is a dark comedy. Robin Williams plays a lousy poet teacher who has the worst son in the world. Truly any natural sympathy you have towards youth shall evaporate when you see how this kid behaves. About halfway through, the film has a dramatic plot turn that has a lot of ethical questions attached to it. Yet the film never loses its tone or emotion center and with this film that’s rather impressive.