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August 2008 Reviews

By Shawn McKenzie 08/07/2008

Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in August of 2008.  Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.

Go directly to my review of Swing Vote, Bottle Shock, Hamlet 2, Disaster Movie, and Transsiberian.

Swing Vote Review

Earnest “Bud” Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a divorced father who works in an egg-packing factory in Texico,  New Mexico along with his longtime friends Walter (Judge Reinhold) and Lewis (Charles Esten.)  He’s a little bit of a simple-minded redneck who frequently gets drunk, which means that his intelligent 12-year old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) has to be the parent in the family…now that her mother Larissa (Mare Winningham) is off trying to start a singing career.  On Election Day, Molly really wants Bud to pick her up so that he can vote at the local polling place.  Unfortunately, Bud’s boss Carl (Ivan Brutsche) calls him in to fire him for being caught on camera drunk on the job.  He gets drunk in the local bar to drown his sorrows and forgets to pick Molly up to vote.  A bitter and disappointed Molly decides to sneak into the polling place, forge Bud’s signature, and cast his ballot.  The cleaning lady accidentally unplugs the polling booth with the ballot still in the machine.  Molly takes the stub and walks to the bar to drive her dad home (yes…the 12-year-old drives him home!)  The next day, federal officials arrive to tell him that his vote wasn’t counted, so he has ten days to recast it (Bud thought that they were from child welfare services.)  The reason why they care so much about this vote is that the election is a virtual tie between incumbent Republican Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and his Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper.)  It has come down to Bud’s county, and since his vote was the only one that was cast invalid, his re-vote means that he will be deciding the next President of the United States.  The officials tell Bud to keep the re-vote a secret, but local TV reporter Kate Madison (Paula Patton)…who had previously done a feature story on a paper Molly wrote for school about the importance of voting…finds out about Bud being the swing voter.  Soon the rest of the press picks up on her scoop, and they camp out around Bud and Molly’s trailer.  Kate’s boss, John Sweeney (George Lopez), is overjoyed, because this is an opportunity to put Texico on the map and give them some national exposure…so he encourages her to forget about her conscience and ruthlessly find out how he plans to vote.  Both Presidential candidates…along their campaign managers, Martin Fox (Stanley Tucci) with the President (he has never lost a campaign) and Art Crumb (Nathan Lane) working for Greenleaf (he has never won a campaign)…court Bud’s vote.  They go so far as to change their political platform just to sway Bud’s vote.  Meanwhile, Molly starts getting disillusioned by the whole thing, because all she wanted to do was to get her father to become more mature.  Costner hasn’t been this funny in years.  He played the redneck thing perfectly.  Carroll is very good in her first major role.  Highlights of the movie are the political commercials intended for Bud to influence his vote.  The movie is about the election, but it isn’t overtly political (except for a speech that Bud gives near the end.)  Even though it’s rated PG-13 (mostly because of Bud’s coarse language…something that Molly lectures him about), it almost feels like a family dramedy.  It’s a good movie to get you hyped for this year’s political season.

Bottle Shock Review

Based on the true story of famous 1976 Judgment of Paris wine taste test, which proved that good wine could be made anywhere and not just in France, it concerns an English wine expert named Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman.)  He owned a small wine shop in Paris he called L’Academie du Vin (The Academy of Wine), but since he isn’t actually French, his French wine isn’t selling too well.  His only customer is Maurice (Dennis Farina), a travel agent from Chicago who runs a limo service in Paris next door to Spurrier’s shop…but he seems to only just sample the wines, but not purchase a bottle.  He does spark an idea in Spurrier’s head for a publicity stunt that might promote his business.  Maurice tells him that the wines in Napa Valley in California are almost as good as any French wine that you could taste, so Spurrier decides to go to Napa Valley to purchase some California wines for a blind wine-tasting competition between American and French wines.  Meanwhile, Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman)…a former senior partner in a law firm…is the owner of Chateau Montelena…a winery that makes great wine, but is struggling financially.  It doesn’t help that his son Bo (Chris Pine) is a long-haired slacker who doesn’t take his job seriously.  His friend and co-worker at the winery Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez) is a little more serious about winemaking though.  He is the son of a Mexican immigrant who is a wine making and tasting expert that is secretly creating a new wine with a partner named Mr. Garcia (Miguel Sandoval.)  He and Bo like to go to the local bar, run by Joe (Eliza Dushku), and scam wine novices with wine tasting competitions (they don’t think that a Mexican can appreciate a good wine.)  Along comes a hot young blonde intern named Sam (Rachael Taylor)…a hardworking woman who is eager to learn…to give Bo and Gustavo a love triangle plotline.  When Spurrier comes around to Chateau Montelena to purchase some bottles for the competition, Jim refuses because he thinks that Spurrier is trying to make California wines look bad.  It will take Bo finally stepping up to save the winery from foreclosure.  I would be the first one to admit that I know jack squat about wines.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Chardonnay and Chablis.  Part of the problem is that I’m not much of a fan of alcoholic beverages in general, much less wine.  I had the same problem watching 2004’s Sideways, but I still enjoyed that one.  Rickman is always so good playing the droll, snooty Englishman.  Pullman didn’t have much of a part…other than to be cranky.  Pine was fun as the surfer dude type who steps up his game (though I wondered why he didn’t do something with his hair when he finally matured.)  Emmy-nominated actor (for HBO’s “Six Feet Under”) Rodriguez is one of those underrated actors that I always like seeing, and he is good here as well.  I just wish the movie had done more with his character (I know that the movie focuses on the Barretts, but I’m surprised that it didn’t mention at the end that Brambila went onto success with his own wine.)  Taylor was just the pretty face, but she wasn’t bad.  Overall, I liked the movie, and I bet more than one person might be thirsty for some wine after watching it (me not included.)

Hamlet 2 Review

Actor Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) used to be a professional commercial/infomercial actor (with the occasional bit part thrown in on TV shows like “Xena: Warrior Princess”), but he now teaches drama at Tucson, Arizona’s West Mesa High School…essentially because he is not very talented.  His playwright aspirations are limited, because he tends just to adapt movie screenplays, like Erin Brockovich, Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Dangerous Minds.  He does have two overly passionate students in his class, Rand Posin (Skylar Astin) and Epiphany Sellars (Phoebe Strole), but his plays never enough to satisfy the ninth grade drama critic, Noah Sapperstein (Shea Pepe.)  Things aren’t much better at home.  He is married to Brie (Catherine Keener), who is a nasty woman when she gets drunk…but he is unable to father a child with her.  He also has to roller skate everywhere due to having lost his driver’s license a while ago, and in order to pay the bills, they take in a boarder, Gary (David Arquette), who is extremely boring.  One day, Principal Rocker (Marshall Bell) tells Dana that this year’s drama program, now taught in the school cafeteria, will be the last due to budget cutbacks…since his plays don’t generate any income or interest.  Oh…and his “classroom” will have to include some inner-city Latino kids who have to take an arts elective requirement, like the rebellious Octavio (Joseph Julian Soria), Ivonne (Melonie Diaz), tech wizard Chuy (Michael Esparza), and accident-prone Yolanda (Natalie Amenula), among others.  He finds one bright spot during a visit to the fertility clinic when he meets Elisabeth Shue (playing a fictional version of herself), the Hollywood actress who has decided to give up acting and become a nurse in the clinic.  He manages to convince her to speak to his class about the business of acting.  In a last desperate bit of groveling to Noah about the loss of the class, the pint-size critic suggests that Dana write something original instead of film adaptations, so he comes up with the idea to do a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Since everyone died in the original, he gets around that particular plot roadblock by having Jesus Christ (played by Dana himself) use a time-traveling device to bring Hamlet back to stop all of the original’s tragedies.  Dana casts Octavio as Hamlet, and the production starts coming along smoothly.  Buzz about it starts controversy…especially when it contains a musical number called “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” and features the Gay Men’s Choir of Tucson singing songs like Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” and Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”  It eventually gets the community upset and the production kicked off the school property because of the controversy.  Fortunately, ACLU lawyer Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler) shows up to support Dana’s freedom of speech rights to keep it going.  When I saw that Pam Brady, the writer of several projects with “South Park’s” Matt Stone and Trey Parker, like 1999’s South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut and 2004’s Team America: World Police, I got excited for this movie…until I remembered that she also wrote the screenplay for last year’s unfunny Hot Rod.  Either way, I kept an open mind, because I’ve liked Coogan’s movies so far (with the exception of 2004’s flop Around the World in 80 Days.)  Director Andrew Fleming’s movies haven’t been bad (1994’s Threesome, 1996’s The Craft, 1999’s Dick…and yes, I didn’t hate his 2003 remake of The In-Laws), so I accepted him as a director.  I then remembered that he did the stupid remake of teen detective hero Nancy Drew last year…so both he and Brady didn’t have the best 2007 (they did collaborate on last year’s very funny “The Loop” on FOX though…so they have that going for them.)  Coogan was a riot, Keener proves that she can stand out (instead of just being the good-looking older woman from movies like 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and Astin and Strole were funny in their individual scenes.  Like usual, Arquette was the least funny person in the movie…but I’ve come to expect that from him now.  Maybe this might be the beginning of a new trend.  Othello 2Macbeth 2Richard IV?  Nah…let’s just go back to remaking the originals with a modern-day setting.


Disaster Movie Review

I know this is sounding like a broken record…but when will we get back to spoof movies that are…funny?  It used to be that they would concentrate on parodying a specific movie or genre and they would stick within the boundaries of that target.  Now it’s a generic free-for-all to spoof every movie that has come out in the last year or two.  In this one, it is attempting to spoof disaster movies, but it doesn’t zero on a specific movie (1996’s Twister, 1998’s Armageddon, 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, and this year’s Cloverfield are referenced though.)  Will (Matt Lanter) is the main character.  He is commitment phobic when it comes to his hot girlfriend, Amy (Vanessa Minnillo), but he has bigger issues on his mind this day.  He is having nightmares of he being a caveman from 10,001 BC and getting a message from a saber-tooth version of Amy Winehouse (Nicole Parker) who warns him that the end of the world is coming on that day…August 29, 2008 (a.k.a. the day the movie was released in theaters.)  He is attending his Sweet 16 party (even though he is 25) thrown by his best friend Calvin (Gary “G Thang” Johnson) and his girlfriend Lisa Heller (Kim Kardashian.)  A familiar smart-aleck pregnant teen, Juney (Crista Flanagan), with her shy boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Devin Crittenden), attend the party, along with others…like Jonah (Noah Harpster) and McLover (not McLovin’; Austin Michael Scott), who crash the party.  Unfortunately, Amy also shows up with a Calvin Klein underwear model (Nick Steele) who is literally in his underwear.  Suddenly, meteorites start raining from the sky.  Will is determined to get to the museum where Amy works to rescue her (I’m not sure where when she and the model left the party.)  Calvin, Lisa, and Juney follow him (Juney had previously knocked Paulie out with a guitar back at the party), along with a fairy tale Enchanted Princess (also Nicole Parker) and her Prince (Tad Hilgenbrink) who’ve shown up from a manhole in the street.  They run into rabid singing chipmunks and middle-aged women who have sex in the city (including a manly-looking Carrie Bradshaw played by Jason Boegh) on their way to the museum.  Aside from the movies already mentioned, it spoofs many other movies from this year, including Jumper, Step Up 2: The Streets, Kung Fu Panda, Hancock, The Love Guru, WALL·E, The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Speed Racer, Get Smart, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and many more.  Of course, these spoof movies are brought to you by “two of the six writers” of 2000’s Scary Movie (the original one), Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.  The writers/directors/producers are also responsible for the other horrible spoof movies of the last three years…2006’s Date Movie, 2007’s Epic Movie, and this year’s Meet the Spartans.  Not only are they being redundant by parodying comedies like Juno and Superbad…but they are now parodying movies that hadn’t completed production when they filmed their spoofs about them!  The production values are almost worse than a porno movie, and it has so many cast members from FOX’s “MADtv” that I’m surprised Bobby Lee wasn’t in it!  I always chuckle once or twice during these movies.  When I find myself rolling my eyes more than laughing though…well…that is the disaster.


Transsiberian Review

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) Nusser are a Midwestern couple who have left their Chinese church humanitarian mission in Beijing and are heading back home to the US.  Roy, who is a hardware store owner and a fan of trains, convinces Jessie that they take the Transsiberian Express to Moscow on the first leg of their route back home instead of flying.  His incentive to her is that it would give her a chance to take some cool photos, with her being an amateur photographer and all.  The couple is having some marital tension anyway, so he figures that this six-day train ride will do them some good.  The make friends with their sleeper cabin mates…a Spanish man named Carlos Ximenez (Eduardo Noriega), traveling with his younger American girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara.)  Roy is accepting of the couple, while Jessie is suspicious of them (it doesn’t help that Carlos flirts with her while he is having sex with Abby.)  At one stop, Roy and Jessie are accidentally separated, and Carlos entertains her by showing her a suitcase of Russian nesting dolls he is carrying.  He also takes her to an abandoned church during one stop to have her take pictures of it.  That’s when the trouble starts.  Jessie should be suspicious, because a Russian narcotics agent named Ilya Grinko (Ben Kingsley) and his partner Kolzak Ushenkov (Thomas Kretschmann) are investigating the murder of a heroin dealer and the smuggling of a shipment of heroin transporting itself across Siberia.  Who should Jessie trust…the charming Spaniard, or the friendly Russian detective?  Director Brad Anderson started out his career with quirky indie comedies (1996’s The Darien Gap, 1998’s Next Stop Wonderland, 2000’s Happy Accidents), but now he seems to specialize in psychological thrillers like 2001’s Session 9, 2004’s The Machinist, and this one.  Everyone in the cast is believable in his or her own parts…from Harrelson’s innocent boyishness, to Mortimer’s inner struggle with her past (and ability to keep an American accent throughout the film), to Kingsley’s calm evilness.  While I saw some plotlines coming a mile away (I mean really…have you ever seen Russian nesting dolls in a movie that weren’t filled with something illegal?), this Hitchcockian tale was entertaining from frozen beginning to chilling end.


Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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