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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beverly Hills Chihuahua review

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua”

by Bob Garver

Every so often, the news will run a feature on rich people and their dogs.  These pieces usually focus on things like expensive food, lavish spas and kennels, and ridiculous human-like outfits.  People watch these pieces and think to themselves, “Who are these people who waste all this money and attention on their dogs?  And do the dogs even like it?”  “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is the story of one such dog.  Apparently, she loves it. 

Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore) is the spoiled pet Chihuahua of Vivian (Jamie Lee Curtis).  Vivian is the wealthy president of a makeup company.  A company president should have a packed schedule, but Vivian seems to spend every waking moment paying attention to Chloe.  Chloe laps all that attention right up.  She loves the gourmet food.  She loves the expensive grooming.  She even loves all the little doggy outfits, which most people would consider a source of embarrassment.  Disappointingly, the scenes where Chloe acts spoiled, as opposed to the ones where she learns lessons, seem to be the most popular. 

Eventually, Vivian is pulled out of the country by business and Chloe is left in the hands of Vivian’s irresponsible niece Rachel (Piper Perabo).  Rachel ignores Chloe, opting instead to enjoy her aunt’s mansion for herself.  Chloe is infuriated by this, and wreaks havoc to ruin Rachel’s fun as much as possible.  Both are mad at each other as Rachel drags Chloe along for a holiday at a resort in Mexico. 

The mean streets of Mexico are no place for rich, weak Chloe.  She is quickly dognapped and imprisoned in the vicious world of dogfighting.  She breaks out with some help from the gruff but good-hearted Delgado (voice of Andy Garcia).  From there, the two embark on a quest to get her back to Beverly Hills.  The trip is full of obstacles and adventure, especially with the dogfight people wanting to capture Chloe and take her diamond collar (why they didn’t take this when they first captured her is never made clear).  Being that this is Disney, it should come as no surprise that lessons are learned all around:  humility for Chloe, responsibility for Rachel, and compassion for Delgado. 

Kids may enjoy the film’s humor and storyline, but adults will find it predictable at best, painful at worst.  Those who don’t enjoy the film may enjoy passing the film’s 91-minute runtime by playing Popcorn Games.  For those who missed my “Eagle Eye” review last week, Popcorn Games are where you eat a piece of popcorn when something particular happens in the course of a movie.  Sometimes you have to eat the popcorn in a special way.  Here are some Popcorn Games that I would recommend for “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”: 

             -Rachel gets help from Vivian’s gardener Sam (Manolo Cardona).  Sam is a Latino, and Rachel assumes he only speaks Spanish.  Every time she tries to communicate with him by adding an “-o” to every word, eat a piece of popcorn-o.

             -Sam’s dog Papi (voice of George Lopez) has a crush on Chloe.  Every time he refers to her with a “pet name,” eat a piece of popcorn.  Two pieces if it’s in Spanish. 

            -Cheech Marin and Paul Rodriguez voice a rat/iguana team of con artists who want the diamond collar for themselves.  Every time they make reference to wanting the collar (despite the fact that diamonds have no value to animals), eat a piece of popcorn.

           -Like most collars, Chloe’s diamond-collar has Vivian’s contact information.  But Delgado points out that they can’t just go to the nearest animal shelter because the dogfight guys “have people everywhere.”  When he says this, eat a fistful of popcorn.  It’ll be easier to swallow.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is one of those bullets that parents have to take for their kids.  The ones at the screening I attended ate the movie right up.  Everyone else might have to settle for eating popcorn.  Just make sure you clean up anything you spill once the movie’s over.
2:51 pm edt          Comments

Eagle Eye review

“Eagle Eye”


by Bob Garver


            It is clear within the first ten minutes of “Eagle Eye” that it is a bad movie.  It is clear within the first fifteen minutes that it is a terrible movie.  And it is clear within the first twenty minutes that it isn’t about to get any better.  But just because the film is dreadful doesn’t mean your experience has to be dreadful. 

The film is about two twentysomthings (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) who are pulled out of their dull lives by a mysterious female voice that calls them on their cell phones.  The voice has apparently framed Jerry (LaBeouf) as a terrorist and kidnapped the son of Rachel (Monaghan).  Jerry and Rachel have to follow the voice’s instructions and travel across the country to perform a task that will be either very helpful or very hurtful to the United States government.  Tracking them is an FBI official (Billy Bob Thornton) who is determined to catch them, but also thinks there might be something bigger going on. 

The dialogue is stiff, the special effects are crummy, the action scenes are poorly shot, and the plot is nonsensical to the point of insult.  And yet, “Eagle Eye” is still actually a lot of fun.  Don’t get me wrong, after a while the film grows stale even by “so bad it’s good” standards.  But, with a little imagination, you can have a lot of fun with the film throughout its entire two-hour running time. 

For example, if you’re with friends, study their reactions to the film’s stupidity.  I guarantee their facial expressions alone will get you through the movie.  Or you can count the other, better movies that “Eagle Eye” rips off (off the top of my head:  “Phone Booth,” “The Fugitive,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”).  You should come up with several dozen.  But it might be best to play Popcorn Games.

Popcorn Games work a lot like Drinking Games, except that they’re appropriate for a movie theater.  Every time a certain thing happens onscreen, you eat a piece of popcorn.  Sometimes you have to eat the popcorn a certain way.  Here are some Popcorn Games that I would recommend for “Eagle Eye”:


-Every time the characters force “small talk” about their personal lives, eat a piece of popcorn.

-Rosario Dawson plays an FBI agent.  Eat a piece of popcorn every time you think she’s the voice on the phone because she talks in monotone (she isn’t). 

-Every time the characters survive something that would probably kill them (endure a crash, fall from a height, etc.), eat a piece of popcorn. 

-Every time a computer does something that a computer should not be able to do, eat a piece of popcorn.

-Every time the camera gets a good shot of Shia LaBeouf’s ill-advised facial hair, balance a piece of popcorn on your chin and try to tilt your head back so it rolls into your mouth.

-Every time you see blatant product placement, go buy more popcorn.  You’ll need it to have enough for the computer impossibilities and shots of LaBeouf’s ratty beard. 

-Every time there’s an unnecessary car crash or explosion, take two pieces of popcorn, smash them together, and eat the crumbs. 

-Every time there’s a gratuitous shot of Monaghan changing clothes (since the filmmakers wanted the film to have some kind of sex appeal, even though the plot doesn’t call for it), strip the puffy parts off a pieces of popcorn, eat those, and throw the kernel away. 

-Every time the characters are instinctively able to follow really complicated instructions, throw a piece of popcorn up in the air, have it bounce off your forehead and into your mouth.

-And finally, eat a piece of popcorn for every time the characters survive encounters with professional killers who are supposed to shoot first and ask questions later. 


Play Popcorn Games like these, and you’ll have fun with “Eagle Eye.”  Just be sure to clean up any popcorn that spills onto the floor. 
2:49 pm edt          Comments

Burn After Reading review

“Burn After Reading”


by Bob Garver


            Two of the most acclaimed films of 2007 were “No Country For Old Men” and “Michael Clayton.”  “No Country For Old Men” was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.  It won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (or Best Directors, as it were).  “Michael Clayton” starred George Clooney and Tilda Swinton.  Swinton won for Best Supporting Actress, Clooney was nominated for Best Actor, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture. 

            “Burn After Reading” is directed by the Coen Brothers and stars Clooney and Swinton.  Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, and Frances McDormand (Joel Coen’s wife) are thrown in for good measure.  This is supposed to equal two successes plus more.  We should be in for a good show.  And we are… until the film’s ridiculously complicated plot kicks in.  For the summary, I’ll use the actors’ names so you don’t have to follow the names of all the characters. 

            Malkovich is a disgraced former CIA analyst writing his memoirs.  His snooty wife Swinton wants to divorce him.  Her lawyer advises her to make a CD of their shared hard drive so she has a copy of all their financial records.  Swinton is having an affair with Clooney.  Clooney is also having an affair with McDormand.  McDormand is a dimwitted gym employee who desperately wants plastic surgery.  She works with the even more dimwitted Pitt, who finds the CD in the gym’s locker room.  The CD contains all of Malkovich’s memoir notes, and there may be some sensitive CIA information on it.  McDormand and Pitt think they can blackmail Malkovich with it and pay for McDormand’s surgeries. 

            Believe me, that was the short version.  There are plenty of little twists along the way.  McDormand’s boss (Richard Jenkins) has a surprisingly sweet little crush on her.  McDormand and Pitt try to sell the secrets to Russia (yes, Russia).  Both Clooney and Malkovich are served with divorce papers (Clooney by one of the most annoying less-than-a-minute-of-screen-time characters in movie history).  Clooney builds a shockingly obscene contraption in his basement.  One main character accidentally kills another.  And so on. 

            The whole things ends with a CIA agent trying to explain the situation to his boss (J.K. Simmons).  Simmons’s dialogue basically consists of variations on “Why do we care about any of this again?”  Neither agent knows.  The audience realizes that they don’t know.  The filmmakers don’t know, but they probably take pride in nobody knowing.  The Coens love it when everybody (onscreen and off) leaves with question marks above their heads. 

            For films like this, the audience is supposed to enjoy the ride more than the destination.  Trying to enjoy the film like this yields better, but still mixed results.  Swinton is a shrill presence, constantly nagging and speaking in an obnoxious British accent that sounds out of place in Washington D.C.  Pitt has fun with the role of the dumb personal trainer, but the performance could use some fine-tuning.  Malkovich is great as always, but it’s about what you expect from a John Malkovich performance.  Clooney is a joy in his best scenes, but seems oddly incapable of pulling off dramatic moments. 

            The McDormand performance is the most memorable thing about “Burn After Reading.”  This has to be the only character I’ve ever seen who is likeable even when she commits treason.  The whole movie should have been about her.  The only major storylines that would have to go would be some of the Malkovich stuff and the affair between Clooney and Swinton.  The movie would have been better if those parts were eliminated anyway. 

            Ultimately, “Burn After Reading” is another unfortunate example of great artists failing to live up to high expectations.  The film might have come off better if it didn’t come so soon after hot successes by Clooney, Swinton, and the Coens.  The confusing plot would still be a detraction, but the film wouldn’t be such a disappointment. 
2:47 pm edt          Comments

Bangkok Dangerous review

“Bangkok Dangerous”


by Bob Garver


            The Pang Brothers’ “Bangkok Dangerous” is yet another entry in a long line of films about how great it is to be a hitman.  The job is supposedly alluring because hitmen get paid large sums of money to travel around the world and fire expensive weapons at disposable targets.  Nicolas Cage stars as Joe, a career killer who has long since tired of the job.  He travels to Bangkok for one last assignment before retiring. 

            Wherever he goes, Joe hires an assistant to help him with things like information collection and translation.  He always kills the assistant before he leaves so there will be no one alive who knows who he is.  The assistant in this case is Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm).  Kong is an irritating little screw-up, and audiences will probably hope that Joe doesn’t wait until the end of his trip to kill him. 

            As it happens, Joe doesn’t kill him at all.  In fact, Joe takes him under his wing and trains him as an apprentice.  One of the reasons why Joe’s retiring is that he starting to question his own rules.  He doesn’t see a need to kill Kong, he doesn’t see a need to kill one of his targets, he gets sloppy in assassinating another target, and he enters into a relationship with someone outside of his work.  He’s committing career suicide by having a heart.

            Good-guy hitmen like Joe need to do something loveable to keep reminding the audience to root for them.  In this case, Joe starts dating a deaf pharmacist (Charlie Yeung) he meets while buying lotion for a nasty cut.  He’s awkward around her, mainly because he lives an anonymous life without much social interaction.  The message of these scenes is that the couple has trouble communicating, with constant literal clues (her deafness and the language and cultural barriers) in case we don’t pick up on the figurative ones.  At least “Bangkok Dangerous” doesn’t stretch this point out for its entire runtime like 2006’s overrated “Babel.” 

            The clumsy date scenes may get a few uncomfortable chuckles, but they have nothing on the unintentional hilarity of the film’s big chase scene.  Joe and one of his victims engage in – I kid you not – a gondola chase.  The scene is set is a canal market, so there are plenty of overturned fruit and vegetable stands.  The market is crowded with boats one minute and then almost deserted the next.  The characters inexplicably have trouble shooting each other from close distances.  But what really makes the scene laughable is that the gondolas just look goofy and slow.  

            The rest of the movie is a yawn.  Joe has a falling out with his bosses and they try to kill him and his new friends.  Once again, the bad guys choose to hold their victims hostage (even though they are supposed to be “erasing” the problem as efficiently as possible) so they can be rescued by the hero.  Throw in a dull warehouse shootout and that’s the movie. 

            “Bangkok Dangerous” doesn’t bring much to the table of action movies.  The Pang Brothers pull off a few moderately impressive stunts involving heights, but the rest is pretty standard.  The film probably wouldn’t have even been released if they hadn’t locked down Nicolas Cage’s star power at an early stage (the film will do his career no favors).  Go see “The Dark Knight” again.  Even after eight weeks of release, it will still seem more original than a first-time viewing of “Bangkok Dangerous.” 
2:45 pm edt          Comments

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