182: Whip It

Whip It (PG-13) - 2009 - Runtime: 111 minutes
Starring: Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig
Director: Drew Barrymore

When I first heard about this movie I was skeptical. Drew Barrymore & roller derby? I'll pass. But then the trailer came out (I'm really influenced by trailers. Some would argue that I'm a trailer whore. I'll get to that later...) and it really turned me around from uninterested to I really want to check it out on opening day. It doesn't hurt that a lot of the movie was filmed in Detroit and Drew Barrymore came to the skating center right next to my apartment complex to promote this movie. Yes, I did get a glimpse of Barrymore, but from a distance and she's extremely tiny.

So when I first found out about free screenings, I had to go and I'm tempted to go again on Saturday. Not only because they're handing out free t-shirts, but the movie was actually really, really good.

The movie's based on a young adult novel (which I read and adore) about Bliss Cavendar, a too-hip for her small Texas town 17 year-old. Bliss wants out of Bodeen, Texas and out of her mother's stifling, beauty pageant grip that has consumed her whole childhood and teenage life. Enter fate: a flyer for an upcoming bout between two Texas roller derby teams that happens to spike her interest. She goes with her best friend, Pash and her life is changed forever. She quickly dons the skates and tries out for the team. But being 17 isn't exactly Roller Derby friendly, so she quickly lies about her age. Obviously, that will come to bite her in the ass later. It's a coming of age tale that's both very real and very funny. I'd compare it to Adventureland in how dorky and sweet both Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg play their characters. Bliss knows what she wants, but is too afraid to stand up to her mother, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who has a knack for playing overbearing mothers.

I really dug this movie, it's got a lotta heart and real, genuine teenage moments and the women are tough and fiery, but way sexy and cool. It's also pretty funny - Jimmy Fallon provides some good color commentary as the announcer during the games and Andrew Wilson puts on a great performance as the head coach of the Hurl Scouts (yeah, roller derby has some fun names). Look out for this guy, because if he lands some roles in high profile movies, he's got the talent to be really, really good. Also, Kristen Wiig is way talented, too. She was really funny but had her share of really touching moments as a single mother who loves to cause some mayhem (pun intended) on the rink as her alter ego, Maggie Mayhem.

As for Drew Barrymore and her directorial debut, she definitely knocked this out of the park. It was just a good, refreshing take on teenage comedies and coming of age tales. It didn't rewrite the book on the genre, but it felt more organic and real. And the whole movie really did justice to roller derby, a fascinating sport with which I became intimately known with after watching A&E's series, Rollergirls. It's a great send up of the sport and the women involved.

There's a sneak preview (and free t-shirts!) this Saturday and I definitely advise you to go check it out, otherwise you'll have to wait until October 2 to see this one. And believe me, it's worth it!

Rating: See It!

182: Zombieland

Zombieland (R) - 2009 - Runtime: 81 minutes
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Director: Ruben Fleischer

It seems like zombies and vampires are all the rage nowadays. You can't navigate your cable box or the internet without running into some sort of flesh-eating, slow-walking dead person or a fang-toothed, blood-sucking vixen (or stud, if you prefer). For me, I've steadfastly refused to jump on this whole vampire bandwagon. I don't mind some (Twilight was good and Let the Right One In was pretty fantastic), but True Blood (I swear to god if someone mentions how I should be watching that show I will literally - literally - snap their neck and drain their blood into a bucket and wash my car with it. Okay. I'm fine. Just had to get that off my chest), the Vampire Diaries or any other countless number of Vampire projects coming up - I'll pass. There's really only so much you can watch.

But zombie movies? I can deal with them a lot better. Yeah, I haven't watched too many zombie movies (28 Days/Weeks Later and Shaun of the Dead are the only ones, actually) and it's kind of nice that they've taken a back burner to this sudden vampire love fest. I've actually read articles devoted to this phenomenon and why. One mentioned it's because vampires relate to our troubling times. That's just pretentious bull - we all know it's because vampires are just symbols for sex. And sex sells.

Okay, let's finally get to the movie, sorry to keep you in such suspense! I didn't really know what to expect - the trailers for the movie looked decent but for some reason I was expecting the movie to take itself and its zombies a little too seriously. But from the opening montage, I knew I was in for a treat. Jesse Eisenberg narrates and plays "Columbus," a name originating from where his hometown is. The rule is to never get too close, hence the name. And Columbus has a lot of rules when living in Zombieland. Like rule #2: Double Tap. Don't ever try to save your bullets - make sure that you shoot them twice.

What I liked about this movie was how fun it was. The style was perfect - you have the rules digitally written on screen when they happen - it's very cool and adds to the quirky characters and plot. Columbus is just trying to survive when he meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and they're both heading the same way - so they decide to work together towards their respective homes. And then they meet up with two uber-cool, tough as nails sisters Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who happen to be just as good as con artists as they are at surviving Zombieland. They both eventually end up riding together and having fun (well fun for us anyway) along the way towards a supposed zombie-free amusement park, Pacific Playland.

And although this movie is full of guts and blood and a healthy dose of humor - it's got some heart and there are moments of total dread in the characters' eyes. And there is a very hilarious cameo that I will not spoil because it's just too great. That cameo is worth the price of admission alone! The movie may not take itself too seriously, but the characters were not just reasons for us to see zombies get blown up or smashed to bits. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to watch it again, like a couple dozen times. It's really that good! This one comes out October 2 - so check it out!

Rating: See It!

182: The Girlfriend Experience

The Girlfriend Experience (R) - 2009 - Runtime: 78 minutes
Starring: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos
Director: Steven Soderbergh

Despite being continually let down with Soderbergh's experimental, for-me movies (like The Good German. Ugh, what a horrible experiment in torture that was), I thought I was in for something good with The Girlfriend Experience. Consider my expectations totally let down. I mean, you don't get much cooler - at least for a movie about the economy - than this. I mean, Sasha Grey pulls off a pretty good Hepburn in the trailer and looks the part of high class. But prepare to not feel too much connection with anyone in this movie and to be totally confused with what's actually happening.

Chelsea (played by real life porn star Sasha Grey) is a high-priced escort who not only delivers in the bed, but provides her clients with the "girlfriend experience." She's there to listen and have a conversation, go to dinner and see a movie. And boy, there's a lot of listening going on in this movie. Mainly about the nervousness of Wall Street execs expressing their concern for their enormous wealth evaporating. But apparently it doesn't hit them hard enough to not pay thousands of dollars for this illusion of a relationship. As Chelsea puts it to a journalist who's interviewing her: They're paying for her to be somebody that's she's not. If they wanted her to be herself, they wouldn't be paying money.

The film does cover some interesting territory, like the aforementioned irony of wealthy men paying for something they really can't afford or need. But also Chelsea has a real boyfriend and her profession continually puts that relationship to the test. Although as I've pointed out - it's hard to feel anything for these characters - they all seem so weirdly isolated from the real world. It's hard to connect when you know that most of her clients are wealthy dickheads and even Chelsea and her boyfriend seem to live a fabulous lifestyle. And there's really no mention or showcasing of how much they love each other - why are they in this relationship?

But the big problem with this movie lies in how it's presented. One scene is in the present, while the next one will take place weeks (possibly days?) before. And I didn't figure this out until halfway through because there's no mention of a timeline. And the timeline is important to this movie because Chelsea's relationship with her boyfriend starts to crack and there's clues leading up to this, but it's told in such a convoluted way that I couldn't follow it. You see things happen and half an hour later it sort of explains itself, but I'm not too sure. I'd have to watch it again and that's not happening anytime soon.

So those of you expecting lots of glorious nudity and sex scenes, you're going to be let down (time for some Skinemax!). And if you're expecting an engaging experience about relationships and living in our troubling economy, you will be let down. But at least we got a cool trailer out of it.

Rating: Not Worth Paying For

182: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (PG-13) - 2009 - Runtime: 100 minutes
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas
Director: Mark Waters

Well, at least this movie wasn't a complete train wreck. Just a mild fender bender. After the movie was finished, I told Maggie that this movie was better than I expected, while she told me it was worse than what she expected. So I guess this chick flick (and believe me, this one falls dead center into the chick flick genre) has that mediocrity thing going for it.

So everyone knows the plot - it's Christmas Carol, but replace old codger with Mr. McCoNaughty and money with women. Like lots of them. Ridiculous, Wilt Chamberlain-levels of women. I'm surprised they got through the movie without any STD jokes. Because I was definitely making them throughout. And that's really the only way you could possibly enjoy this movie - by making fun of it.

Jennifer Garner and Matthew McConaughey really have no business being together in this film. This was just a paycheck for both of them. Although I would argue that McConaughey coasts through all of his movies this way. But Garner is better than this - she was fabulous in Juno - but sometimes you gotta pay the bills, I guess.

There's really not a whole lot of good stuff in this movie. Not too many jokes that are worthy of laughing at and the "chemistry" between the two leads is pretty non-existent. I've seen more love displayed between my dog and my cat than those two. I'm trying to think of other snarky, bitchy comments about this movie, but I'm completely drawing a blank as to what happened in the movie. And I'm way too lazy to think about it, let alone go to wikipedia for the plot info. I mean, I have my standards.

So stick with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, it's by far a better chick flick and worthy of repeat viewings. Trust me, you're better off.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague


182: Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver (R) - 1976 - Runtime: 113 minutes
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Director: Martin Scorcese

So I'm totally used to seeing De Niro being past the age of 50. He's just so young in this movie. And not to mention cute! If he was promoting this movie today, I'm sure those female jackals on The View would be salivating.

Although at this point in his career he made some significant hits, Travis Bickle was De Niro's break out role. Taxi Driver was his second collaboration with Scorcese and by this point they seemed to have mastered both of their professions. Taxi Driver is in AFI's Top 100, but to me, I could find 100 better movies than this boring, and pretty much, useless piece of cinema.

Did I come off too harsh? Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you adore slow moving, pointless melodramatic plots and movies that seems close to boiling, but never rises to the occasion. Maybe I don't "get it," but I just thought the movie was long and tedious.

Travis Bickle is taxi driver (big surprise, huh?) who sees all the filth and scum come out at night during his night shifts. And he's the only one to take care of it. He's mentally unstable - although if he just had a friend or woman in his life (possibly Cybill Shepherd - but he makes the classic mistake of taking her to a pornographic movie on their first date. After weeks of stalking her, too. Trust me, I've been there! Women, they just don't understand...) to straighten him out, he wouldn't have snapped near the end of the movie. But I guess the movie was saying it was inevitable. Whatever, too late, Mr. Scorcese. I was bored after the first half hour.

I understand this movie is a portrait of a man who's a ticking time bomb and how just a few seconds of time could either make him a hero or a villain in society's eyes. He either ends up killing a senator or killing the pimps and drug dealers. But what I don't understand is how this can't be done in an entertaining way. I say this a lot, but this movie could have been cut down by thirty minutes. Performances and direction are deserving of the accolades, but it's just not enough to get past how much I wanted something to happen.

Although De Niro in a mohawk? Classic.

Rating: Not Worth Paying For


182: Observe and Report

Observe and Report (R) - 2009 - Runtime: 87 minutes
Starring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña
Director: Jody Hill

Seth Rogen was so 2007. Nowadays he's too much, say the critics. While only two years ago he was riding a crest of critical praise. What gives? As far as I can tell, Rogen hasn't really whiffed on anything and Observe and Report just continues his funny streak.

But what a weird, twisted little movie this is. Paul Blart should take some kickin' ass lessons from Ronnie Barnhardt, the bi-polar, dysfunctional, anti-hero of Observe and Report. You see, Ronnie thinks that he's what the world needs right now. Someone to kick some ass and take names waaay later. He's a complete asshole, even to the lonely girl who harbors a secret crush on him working in the food court. Even to his second in command, Dennis (played wonderfully and hysterically by Michael Peña), who always has his back with his weird little lisp.

But make no mistake, even though you're really not rooting for Ronnie, deep down inside you want to know how the hell he's going to mess up everyone's life. Yeah, it's a good ride - after about an hour I honestly didn't know where this movie would end. And that's a good thing, because this isn't a typical, road to redemption story. See, Ronnie takes a flasher in the mall parking lot as the embodiment of all that's wrong with society. And much like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (I'll get to that movie later...), Ronnie has decided it's his mission to protect the mall, but more importantly protect the queen of skanks, Brandi (Anna Faris). It sounds a bit familiar, but trust me I found this more delightful that Paul Blart. Whereas Paul Blart was pretty harmless, O&R has a flapping penis on screen for five minutes.

And it's quite hysterical, although probably not on repeat viewings. There are some really funny montages (every movie needs a montage!) and whenever Michael Peña talks I was giggling maybe a little too much like a school girl.

As for the movie, it's worth renting and checking out - I wouldn't doubt this movie goes on to share cult status among other twisted, like-minded movies like Death to Smoochy and Election. So if you're in the mood for some laughs (possibly flapping penises? Is that a good sell?) then check it out!

Rating: Rent It!

182: Mystic River

Mystic River (R) - 2003 - Runtime: 137 minutes
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon
Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood must really love misery. Like love it. If he could marry an emotion, I'm sure we'd be reading about how much they make a great couple. Just look at his directing resume. Seriously. Nothing but downers - even Space Cowboys doesn't really stand out as a "feel-good" movie.

I mean, I don't expect Eastwood to go ahead and direct something like Happy Feet. Although as a side note, I think Eastwood's version of Happy Feet would be, if nothing else, very interesting. I'm sure it would include a penguin serial killer and a really awful penguin rape scene (too far?).

Mystic River is one of my Kevin Bacon movies. Weird choice, right? But I've always wanted to check this one out and after watching Gone Baby Gone and really liking it and also reading another Dennis Lehane novel, Shutter Island (which I'm uber-excited about, but also uber-disappointed that they moved it back to February) and falling in love with that book, I thought I'd really enjoy this movie. So I figured I was in for a treat - murder, mystery, past lives affecting the future. It all sounds so good.

But then the misery comes into this movie and sucks any sort of life out of it. If you don't know already, the movie follows three childhood friends who've parted ways after an incident where one of them gets abducted by a child molester. Fast forward twenty-five years later and one of the friend's daughter is found dead in the park. And it becomes quite clear to some that the formerly abducted kid (now a parent himself) has been involved.

I guess I just don't understand why most people I talk to love this movie. Sure, there's some good, Oscar-worthy performances, but man this movie just beats you over the head with melodrama and moral dilemmas. Gone Baby Gone was the same way, but I never felt cheapened by the surprise twist at the end, nor being spoon-fed how to feel about the movie. And the ending is a big problem for me in this movie. I found that the motivation for the killer was a cop-out and lazy. And Laura Linney's monologue at the end was just so pretentious and obviously trying to say something (and we're supposed to believe that the movie's giving us this moral dilemma without an answer, but really Eastwood is winking at the camera, saying "Here's how you're supposed to see this movie.")

So if you love misery (and who doesn't nowadays, right?) and love Eastwood and love Sean Penn acting all crazy, this is definitely your movie. But otherwise, you can just skip this somber, heavy-handed slow burner of a movie.

Rating: Not Worth Paying For


182: Management

Management (PG-13) - 2009 - Runtime: 94 minutes
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson
Director: Stephen Belber

This has been on my radar for a while and when we got a DVD screener for the movie, I immediately took it home. I really like Steve Zahn - he's always doing something interesting, so I knew I might enjoy this movie.

After watching it, I'm still not sure if I merely just like the movie or if I love it. It's definitely worth renting and checking out. It's not a very typical romantic comedy. It's not overtly funny, but it's not quite as serious, either. It's a quirky little movie.

Steve Zahn plays Mike, a socially inept hotel manager who decides to try and flirt with Jennifer Aniston's Sue, who definitely uglies up for this role. Pant suits, bad hair and all. I feel like she's always trying to distance herself from Rachel, the role that made her famous. But she's just fine in this movie as someone who doesn't really know how to make herself happy. She's a traveling salesman, which reminds me of a joke, and has a chance encounter with Mike and there is a connection, but one she's intent on not following up on.

After Sue leaves, Mike decides to follow her and follow up himself. One could argue that Mike becomes a little too stalkerish, but he's not doing any harm and besides, it's not like he's doing anything that most other movies don't resort to. So I didn't have a problem with it and the story moves quickly and the ending is satisfying. Like I said, it's a quirky movie, but full of heart. I will say, Zahn is quite hilarious as the naive and slightly zany Mike. He just has a dumb grin on his face sometimes in this movie that made me laugh.

The DVD comes out on the 29th, so check it out if you're looking for something whimsical and nice.

Rating: Rent It!

182: Heathers

Heathers (R) - 1989 - Runtime: 103 minutes
Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty
Director: Michael Lehmann

Maggie was really excited for me to watch this. So excited, in fact, that I don't think she watched most of the movie because she was so busy looking at me to see my reaction to the movie (and possibly because I'm just so good looking). Well, no fear, this is a great cult movie. It's got so many good lines - "I love my dead, gay son!" (Maggie's favorite) which would alone put it in many top cult classic lists.

At first I thought this movie was going to be like Mean Girls (although Mean Girls definitely drew inspiration from this movie) because it's all about status - Ryder's character, Veronica, is part of the Heathers clique who rule the school. But things suddenly change when Veronica meets Christian Slater, aka J.D. aka drooling teen heart throb. Suddenly, head honcho Heather, Heather Chandler, "accidentally" gets poisoned by J.D. and things take a very twisted and dark turn.

And I loved it.

This movie may not have a whole lot of basis in the real world - but the world that's created is full of cliches and stereotypes, some of which are turned up on their head. I love how girls are not afraid to be like boys in this movie. Dick and fuck are normal slang for these ladies and they have enormous power in the school. It's a great ride - once the head Heather gets axed, she becomes even more popular - no longer is she feared, but envied. They rule her death a suicide and suddenly, it becomes hip to commit suicide as more "accidents" happen and are further ruled as suicide. The message is even more pronounced through the faux song Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It) that everyone loves. The movie definitely hits both notes - funny and dramatic - perfectly. I found J.D. to be a bit too cheesy with his monologueing at the end of the movie, but it doesn't hurt all the great quotes throughout the rest of the movie ("Our love is God, let's go get a Slushie.").

There hasn't been a teen comedy with such a dark tone in a while - it's refreshing. Mean Girls is close - but didn't quite have the bite like this movie (obviously the R rating only helps). But it's a great, fun movie - full of laughs, but not dead behind the eyes when it comes to saying something about teenagers. Even though it's 20 years old - a lot of the stuff is still relevant today. It's a movie that (I think) would be great on repeat viewing.

One more thing that stood out. Sherwood, Ohio. That's where the movie takes place. According to wikipedia, Sherwood is a fictional suburb of Columbus. They mentioned it A LOT in the movie, which seemed kind of absurd (I thought maybe the writer is from Ohio, but no, he's a native Californian). What's weirder is that Sherwood, Ohio is a real town just 20 minutes from where my hometown is. But town is being too generous, it's more like a rest stop. So I was a little weirded out when they kept mentioning Sherwood in the movie because I'm pretty sure no one in Sherwood would be caught dead playing croquet.

Rating: Own It!

182: Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard (PG) - 1950 - Runtime: 110 minutes
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson
Director: Billy Wilder

I always wanted to be some rich woman's pool boy. That was my plan growing up. So I can sympathize with the main character, Joe, in Sunset Boulevard. He was living the dream: playing boy toy for some rich woman past her prime, enjoying all the wealth and extravagance that comes with being famous.

But no, Joe, wants a normal life, he wants to have options - to work and write! C'mon, I would have gladly given up everything just to lounge around the pool all day. It would only be a matter of time before the old bird croaked. And then you can go out and party all day with younger, more hip and more sane ladies. This is a classic tale of boy meets older woman, finds comfort and solace in her money and then the woman gets crazy and decides to kill boy. Like I said, classic. Some great performances here by Swanson and Erich von Stroheim, who plays her ex-husband turned butler. Creepy, yes?

This whole movie gives me the creeps. Swanson plays a fading silent film star Norma Desmond, where the pictures got too small (one of the most classic lines in movie history), according to her. And Joe stumbles upon her mansion by accident and gets lured in. He quickly becomes her boy toy simply because he has nowhere else to go and can't find a job. Norma is increasingly isolated from the real world - to the point where she only watches movies that star her and never goes beyond her property. She even had a pet monkey that she buries near the pool. Oh and did I mention her butler used to be her lover? So we got all kinds of bat-shit crazy running around in this film and Joe is smack dab in the middle of it.

It's a pretty fascinating watch. A story of betrayal and murder - much like a film noir, with a narrator adding extra cornball with bad metaphors and one liners. That's probably the worst part of the movie - I really don't care too much for narration and for some reason, Holden's narration just grates on my nerves. But the metaphors in the movie - power and corruption, the evils of Hollywood - have been beat to death since this movie has come out - but not one does it so beautifully as this movie does it. If you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out!

Rating: Rent It!


182: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia (PG-13) - 2009 - Runtime: 123 minutes
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina
Director: Nora Ephron

I had a free ticket that I needed to burn, okay? Alright, I admit, I'm the one who asked Maggie to go see this. I was actually really enthusiastic about seeing this movie. No it's not Streep, it's Adams. It seems I have a bit of a crush on her. I've enjoyed all of her movies (yes, even the bore-tastic Junebug and Doubt for which she was nominated). So I was pretty high on this movie because it just looked like a fun one and it doesn't hurt that half the story is about blogging. Right down my alley, as Julie Powell's blog is pretty much the first "countdown" blogs that existed or at least was made popular.

The movie was pretty much what I expected, but in a good way. It jumps from Julie's story to Julia's story (I am intentionally trying to confuse you...pay attention!) and somehow it manages to find parallels to both women's journey (whether fictional or not) that never seems forced or unnatural. There's ups and downs just like any movie, but the performances, especially Streep, are what stand out. It's no surprise that most critics think it's Streep's Oscar to lose. Every time the story went to Julia's timeline, I found my self enthusiastically grinning with each scene.

Julia's story is uplifting and she's so full of energy and life that it brims over into the theater. This may sound naive and maybe a bit pretentious, but I thought her relationship with her husband, played by Stanley Tucci, was so refreshing. There weren't any scenes of dysfunction in that relationship. Sure, they went through hard times, but never once did you think they didn't love each other. It feels like to me, I haven't seen relationships treated that way in a long time in movies - especially marriages. It was a subtle and nice touch that I noticed and appreciated.

A lot of critics loved Julia Child's part of the movie, but felt Julie Powell's quest seem a bit flat and only full of complaining and whiny bitching. That's not the case. Maybe's it's because I understand her viewpoint because we both live in the realm of blogs, but her story was just as important (maybe not as fun) as Child's and you're with her all the way. It's a good story to tell and Adams was perfect for the role.

If you haven't seen it, check it out - it's worth a matinee showing at the theater!

Rating: See It!