October 2008 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 10/08/2008
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in October of 2008. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is a celebrity reporter for a small independent publication called the Post Modern Review. He has always been fascinated with the celebrity lifestyle…partly because he grew up watching his now-deceased famous actress mother (Janette Scott) on television…but he is constantly being thrown out of the celebrity parties and events. His latest attempt is an after-party following the Apollo Awards being held by American publishing magnate Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), the editor-in-chief of his flagship publication, Sharp’s magazine. While Sidney manages to use a celebrity pig to gain access (and he even manages to hob-knob with Thandie Newton, playing herself), the pig escapes and causes all sorts of trouble, prompting Clint Eastwood (in an obviously Photoshopped picture) to throw him out in a headlock. Clayton is impressed by Sidney’s gumption, because it reminds him of how he was in his formative years, so he hires the reporter to work for the I Spy department of Sharp’s. Sidney moves to New York and rents an apartment run by Mrs. Kowalski (Mirian Margolyes), but he makes a bad first impression Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst), a future co-worker of his and an aspiring novelist (who writes her book in longhand.) Sidney’s immediate boss in his department is Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston), a married man who seems a little too friendly with the ladies when his wife Elizabeth (Hannah Waddingham)…the daughter of the owner of the magazine…isn’t around. Sidney gets to meet powerful publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson) and two of her biggest clients…up-and-coming director Vincent Lepak (Max Minghella) and It-Girl Sophie Maes (Megan Fox), star of the erotic biopic Teresa: The Making of a Saint…the latter of which Sidney would like to sleep with before Lawrence does. Unfortunately, he keeps rubbing people the wrong way. Alison…the woman whose unseen boyfriend Sidney insults on their first encounter…ironically ends up being his only friend at the magazine. As he makes strides to up his profile, he tries not to sell out his integrity at the same time. Based on former Vanity Fair employee Toby Young’s book of the same name, it reportedly strays far from its source material, but it’s cute nonetheless. Pegg is doing his second romantic comedy in a row (following Run, Fatboy, Run from earlier this year), and once again, he is hilarious. He has some great chemistry with Dunst…which I wouldn’t have guessed, since he is twelve years older than her. The supporting cast played their roles well. They were all highlights in one way or another without overplaying their roles. Bridges underplayed his role slightly, but it worked for his character. Fox looks like she is having more fun playing a sex kitten than she did playing a sexy action star in last year’s Transformers. This is yet another chick flick that guys won’t mind seeing with their wives or girlfriends because of Pegg…but I’d still like to see his next collaboration with director Edgar Wright (the director of 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s Hot Fuzz.)
I will admit…I’m not a religious person myself. I’m not an atheist, but I’m just not a 100% believer in most religions. However…I can respect another person’s beliefs, even if I don’t always agree with them. Comedian Bill Maher (Comedy Central/ABC’s “Politically Incorrect,” HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”) obviously doesn’t share those same sensibilities. Using documentarian Michael Moore’s style of one-sided comical attacks on the subjects he documents, Maher, directed by Borat director Larry Charles, delves into and questions a mixture of religions around the world by interviewing those of faith about their beliefs. I should say that he really doesn’t question them…he just sort of inquires as to why they are wrong. He interviews research neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, MD, from the University of Pennsylvania, who discusses the process of imaging people’s brains as they pray, meditate, or speak in tongues…and why it is considered a brain disorder and not faith. He also essentially mocks Holy Land Amusement Park in Orlando, Florida…an amusement park that has various settings depicting Bible stories as well as a passion play with an actor playing a crucified Jesus walking the streets. While I can agree with some of the things that Maher questions, it is unfair of him to point out the bad things religion has caused (such as terrorism) and ignores the good things about it (like charity.) Like a Moore movie, I chuckled at some parts, but overall, it’s going to be the type of movie that will be preaching to the choir (pun intended) while angering the religious right. As I said…I’m not religious, and I’m not exactly angry, but while I may not be religious…I also don’t think that all religions are ridiculous.
When you make a biopic of a sitting President, it’s bound to be biased. Surprisingly, it’s not the hatchet job you would think would come from liberal filmmaker Oliver Stone…director of Presidential biopics JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995.) The films opens in 2002 with President George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) conversing about what they are going to do about America’s pending invasion of Iraq with his top advisors, including Vice-President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Scott Glenn), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (Dennis Boutsikaris), CIA Director George Tenet (Bruce McGill), National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton), General Tommy Franks (Michael Gaston), Republican strategist Karl Rove (Toby Jones), Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans (Noah Wyle), and Press Secretary Ari Fleischer (Rob Corddry.) Only Secretary of State Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) questions what they are doing. We then flash back to W.’s hard-partying days rushing the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale University with frat brother Thatcher (Jesse Bradford.) Further flashbacks show him failing and/or quitting various jobs, like working for an oil refinery, a sporting goods store, the Air National Guard, and investment banking (though the last three are just mentioned)…all the while drinking heavily and disappointing his father, George H.W. Bush (James Cromwell), the future 41st President of the United States. Then, at a backyard barbeque, he meets Laura Welch (Elizabeth Banks), a librarian who becomes his future wife. With her help and the help of Reverend Earle Hudd (Stacy Keach)…a fictional character who is a composite of W’s religious advisors…he becomes a Born-Again Christian at the age of 40 and kicks the booze. He decides to enter into politics, though his dad and his mother, Barbara (Ellen Burstyn), don’t think that he should, because younger brother Jeb (Jason Ritter) is the real politician in the family. After losing to Kent Hance (Paul Rae) in the race for the House of Representatives from Texas’s 19th congressional district in 1978, he worked on his father’s Presidential campaign and then co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball franchise. In 1994, he ran for Governor of Texas against popular Democrat incumbent Governor Ann Richards and won. Finally, he told Earle that God told him that he needed to run for President. Back in the present (or at least the present of the first scene), Cheney appears to be the puppet-master behind the war on Iraq, with W. just going along with everything he says (though W. exclaims that “I’m the decider.”) You don’t see him buying the baseball franchise, but baseball is used as a metaphor throughout, with W. imagining that he is catching a fly ball in an empty stadium. Almost everyone plays their roles straight, with the exceptions of Brolin and Newton, who do “impersonations” of their subjects. Brolin does his very well, while Newton looks like she is doing Condi on a comedy sketch show. Otherwise, every performance is done very well. While there were funny moments…mostly concerning W.’s famous speech flubs…it was certainly a drama. From the trailers, I thought that Stone was making his first comedy (I looked at his filmography on IMDb to confirm that he has yet to make a comedy.) When I finally I saw it though, I realized that it was just a portrayal of a flawed man escaping from the shadow of his famous father to strike out on his own. I think that he probably thought of Cheney as the father he never knew, and so he was so easily duped into going along with Cheney’s plans. As someone who isn’t a Bush supporter (partly because I’m a Libertarian and not a supporter of candidates from either of the two major parties), I almost felt sorry for him, so I was amazed that Stone didn’t take advantage of the big budget and talented cast to send a Michael Moore-like message to the President. Unlike Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous from a couple of weeks ago, this movie was almost fair and balanced in telling the tale of Dubya. Liberals are going to love it, and conservatives probably won’t, but as a Libertarian movie critic sitting in the middle…I endorse this movie.
In this third installment of Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise (the first one to premiere on the big screen), Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) is still the most popular student at East High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico…being that he is the captain and star player of the school’s Wildcats basketball team. He is still in love with his attractive and intelligent girlfriend, Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens)…but there is trouble in paradise. Troy is on track to go to the University of Albuquerque to play basketball with his best friend and fellow Wildcat Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu)…something that his father, Wildcats Head Coach Jack Bolton (Bart Johnson), his mom Lucille (Leslie Wing Pomeroy), and Chad are pressuring him to do. Gabriella, on the other hand, is planning to attend Stanford…and it is over a thousand miles away from the U of A. The movie begins with the big win of the last game of the season for the Wildcats. Troy, Chad, secret baking expert Zeke Baylor (Chris Warren Jr.), the naïve Jason Cross (Ryne Sanborn), nerdy hip-hop dancer-turned head cheerleader Martha Cox (Kaycee Stroh), and sophomore player Jimmy “The Rocket” Zara (Matt Prokop)…the latter of whom managed to shoot the winning point…participated in and celebrate the win. The next day, they all go on with other matters in their lives. Troy needs to fix his broken-down truck; he and Chad have to pick out tuxedoes for the prom…as soon as Chad properly asks his girlfriend/Gabriella’s best friend, student body president/yearbook editor Taylor McKessie (Monique Coleman), to the prom…and they need to shake “The Rocket” and his towel-boy best friend Donny Dion (Justin Martin) off their tails. To make matters worse, composer Kelsi Nielsen (Olesya Rulin) has signed up everyone in their homeroom to participate in drama teacher Ms. Darbus’ (Alyson Reed) big year-end spring musical…cleverly titled “Senior Year”…in order to keep the school’s drama prima donna, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) from dominating the show and making it all about herself yet again. This ticks off Sharpay, so she has her flamboyant fraternal twin brother and the show’s choreographer, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), get close to Kelsi in order to find out more about the composition that she is writing as a duet for Troy and Gabriella. She also has her new British sophomore transfer student-turned-personal assistant, Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Brown), do some dirty work research to find a way to split up Troy and Gabriella. An additional pressure has been put upon Troy though…his name was surprisingly submitted for possible acceptance into the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, along with Sharpay, Ryan, and Kelsi. He loves basketball and theatre…but neither school is anywhere near Gabriella. Meanwhile, Gabriella has been offered early acceptance into Stanford…so she might have to miss participating in the musical…and possibly the prom. Oh…the drama that director/choreographer Kenny Ortega and screenwriter Peter Barsocchini have cooked up for these kids! When the first movie came out in 2006, I didn’t think much of it…since almost every Disney Channel Original Movie I had ever seen included cheesy acting and plotting. I ignored it originally for this reason, but when it started to become a phenomenon, I finally checked it out. While the acting and plot were still cheesy, the dancing/singing routines were top rate…sort of along the lines of 1978’s Grease. When the second movie came out last year, I watched the first showing…but I had the same reaction to it as the first one. This bigger budget third movie is about the same as the first two…and my reaction is the same as well. One parent at the screening I attended thought that it was a little more adult than the first two movies, but I would only agree in the fact that the two leads’ relationship is now in solid ground and they have to face some adult choices, like college and continuing on with their relationship beyond high school. Otherwise, there was nothing in this G-rated flick that was too adult that could possibly corrupt the tween set. Also, Ortega definitely previewed his musical version remake of 1984’s Footloose with Troy angrily dancing around the school in the “Scream” scene that suspiciously looked similar to Kevin Bacon’s angry dancing barn scene (coincidentally, Efron is tapped to play Ren McCormack in the remake, scheduled for release in 2010.) The demographic that liked the first movie will love this one as well (I took my girlfriend’s 11-year-old niece to the screening, and she squealed in delight throughout it), but I don’t see older audiences finally understanding what the big deal is about the franchise, other than having an appreciation for the singing/dancing routines. Where do we go from here? They have announced a “High School Musical 4,” set for release in 2009, but leads Efron, Hudgens, and Tisdale said that they won’t be participating, and it won’t be re-titled “College Musical.” My theory is that they will concentrate on the three new characters (Jimmy, Donny, and Tiara), and it will be back on TV as a Disney Channel Original Movie. You can almost “Bet on It” that they will “Get in the Game!” (Okay…the music is catchy.)
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