Movie Valley
April 2009 Movie Reviews
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State of Play
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn
Directed By: Kevin MacDonald
Run Time: 1 hr 58 mins

State of Play is about a story reporter Cal McCaffrey (played by Crowe) stumbles upon and how it intertwines with his old college roommate turned Congressman's life (played by Affleck). Congressman Collins is embattled in a congressional hearing over defense spending when his research assistant, whom the Congressman is having an affair with, dies a mysterious death. At first, McCaffrey takes the high road and refuses to write anything about his friend the Congressman. Enter Globe blogger Della Frye (played by McAdams) who does write the story about the affair and death of Sonia Baker the research assistant. In an attempt to clear his friend's name, McCaffrey and Frye team up as interesting details begin emerging and the real story unfurls. As they dig deeper into the story, their lives become at risk.

When I saw the previews for this movie, I immediately figured out the whodunit, but when nothing else worthwhile was showing this week in theaters, I decided to see the lesser of two evils (the other choice being The Soloist). After watching this movie, I can boast that I actually did figure out the whodunit, just not why the whodunit did it. I will say that the movie does not make the whodunit obvious; the previews do. To me, the movie was more intriguing and enjoyable, partly because I was hoping that my initial assumption was not right, plus I was having fun following along with the clues. The movie did suck me in and with each twist, I was convinced the whodunit was everyone but my guy. Part of me is glad to say I was right, but the other part of me is sad that I was right because that means that I wasted two hours of my life. I went in knowing what I did coming out. It's sad that a three minute snippet allows you to gleam the ending. I almost didn't watch this movie because I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen. Good thing for the moviemakers that this was an incredibly slow week otherwise I wouldn't have bothered.

The acting was so-so. Russell Crowe's Australian accent kept slipping in here and there. And, of course, once I heard it, I was painfully aware when it slipped back in. Rachel McAdams was just there. Her character had no oomph, no pizzaz. I know she was supposed to be green and not street, but she came across as blah rather than innocent and naive. There was really no reason for her character other than to emphasize how archaic McCaffrey's character seemed... although archaic ruled in the end with wisdom. The opening scene shows McCaffrey driving around in a barely held together rusting junk-filled Saab, scarfing down Cheetos and listening to Irish folk music. I was initially incredibly off-put by this overweight, slovenly reporter but his character grew on me.

I also found it incredibly interesting how they made such a black and white distinction between the internet blogger "reporter" and the grizzled seasoned print reporter. Sure, Della the internet blogger may have had a bigger audience and brought in more money as well as had the ability to write more articles (posted hourly) but they definitely made a point that the print reporter is the REAL reporter (and as a former print reporter, I whole heartedly agree). Della wasn't willing to track down a story in the wee hours of the morning but that's sometimes what it takes to get the whole story, nor did she have nearly the expansive connections Cal did. It was interesting to see how the two styles were depicted in different lights. The way of the internet may be slicker and have more allure but there's something to be said for the all around dedication and skills of print.

This is an incredibly compelling movie full of bobbing and weaving, I had a hard time following all the points but I think I got the gist of it all in the end. I liked the movie. I enjoyed the ride down the slippery path to dead ends and hairpin turns. One part I didn't like - the kibosh on the final story and the near firing of the paper's ace reporter all because he pushed a Congressman with the pending doom of a little thing called the truth. I did not buy that the editor would not sick up for her ace reporter. Seemed like the "and now we insert a cliche because we need to come up with another frustrating turn but we can't come up anything else because we fried our creative juices." I think the cliche then forced the movie to continue. It was an easy out. We needed one more twist before the true whodunit could be unmasked (although Cal's final detection of the whodunit seemed a bit Scooby Doo-esque).

In keeping my new tradition of movie rants, here is my frustration with this movie: 1). The way Sonia was pronounced. Could we get a better name for this poor girl, please? Why couldn't it have been Sonya or Sonja with a nicer sounding "o"? It so grated on my nerves.

This is a decent movie. Good mystery. I kept falling for all the ways the movie managed to name different people, different explanations as to what happened to Sonia Baker and who was involved for it. I admit it. It suckered me in (in a good way). I liked that. I also really liked the ending. I found it very touching. It will keep you guessing.

Crank 2: High Voltage
Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins Jr, Bai Ling, Dwight Yoakam
Directed By: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Run Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Crank 2: High Voltage takes up right where Crank 1 left off - with Chev Chelios falling from a helicopter... only he doesn't die. Instead, he gets scooped up by the Chinese mafia and has his heart removed and replaced with an artificial one. After learning of their plan to harvest more organs from his body, he escapes and goes on the hunt for his heart. And when his artificial heart's battery pack dies, he must then find ways, albeit most of them interesting and shocking (ha), to keep his heart charged during his pursuit of his ticker. Of course, along the way he runs into various bad guys who try to stop him from finding his heart. Ah, the battles and mayhem that ensue.

If you haven't seen Crank 1, there's no need for you to see Crank 2, not that you wouldn't be able to follow along with the continuing storyline (because if you do have a problem following along with this type of movie, I'll type slower for you). Crank 2 follows the rule that sequels are never as good as the original. Crank 1 was a decent movie; Crank 2 is... not.

Wow. Not sure who the intended audience is for this movie. Probably 14 year old boys, but there's no way they could get in to see this movie. It's unbelievably gory and waaaay too many gratuitously naked bodies (and none of which were Jason Statham - what was up with that?). The acting absolutely sucked, but what can you expect from a movie that cast Bai Ling? The dialog was supposed to be funny but fell flat - flat with a splat, not just a mere thud. The whole dog collar shock scene was horrible (the foley added farts sealed that scene's fate). I think the writer of this movie took the Geena Davis/Susan Sarandon exchange at the Oscars too much to heart. One of them was happy about the possibility of doing a sequel to Thelma and Louise when the other one pointed out that there was no way that could possibly happen because the movie ended with them driving off a cliff. The first replied that a sequel meant another paycheck to which the second quickly amended her disagreement by coming up with a plausible way for the sequel to be made - they bounced. When Crank 1 ended, Chev Chelios (played by Statham) was falling thousands of feet through the sky from a helicopter. In Crank 2, he bounced off the roof of a car and landed with a thud (not a splat) onto the pavement. I did find it incredibly funny that they scooped him off the road with a shovel, an honest to god shovel. And now you understand the high-brow aura of this movie. They scooped him off the pavement with a shovel. It all went downhill from there.

I'm not sure if the director has ever seen a human heart before, or any heart for that matter, but the plastic thing they tried to pass off as a real heart looked just that - plastic like a kid's play toy. And I'm also pretty sure they put the artificial heart in upside down. And can someone tell me why Chev was wearing boxers and how the nurse could have taken his temperature rectally through those boxers? We missed a darn good reason to see Jason Statham's butt and I, for one, am appalled, particularly since there was no shortage of female butts (and a lot of those butts weren't good butts, either). I think someone wanted to see how many butts and boobs they could fit into one movie and still keep it under an R rating (and I think putting one male butt in it might have pushed it over the edge to X). Sigh.

This movie had none of the charm of the first installment (and I'm calling it "installment" because I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Crank 3 judging by the ending... although if Crank 3 isn't a hybrid of Freddie Krueger and Jason Voorhees, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. I should probably start preparing for the disappointment now). The wit wasn't there. The slapstick was just dumb. And the comic book-esque style was distracting and tedious instead of fun and different. The film was also stacked to the brim with rampant and blatantly inexplicable bigoted stereotypes (What was with David Carradine playing an old chinese man? And thanks for the gay epithets thrown at the two guys in the park with the dog because I wouldn't have known they were gay without the disgusting insults). And finally, the gore. Wow. I gotta tell you, for a non-squeamish girl, I spent more time looking down at my feet to avoid the carnage than I did actually watching the movie.

The one thing I did love about this movie - one of the final fight scenes with the Godzilla parody. I giggled. Jason Statham's monster face was hilarious.

If you do happen to watch this movie (I assume a dare would be involved), keep your eyes peeled for Corey Haim (yes, of the 80s Coreys). Wow. Life has not been kind to him. And how does someone lose the acting ability (or did he never really have it?)?

I'd like to say this movie tried too hard. It definitely did try, but try at what I haven't quite figure out. Perhaps they just weren't consistent in their attempts to try. They went full gusto with their stereotypes. You can't be that racist and not try. But then they lost momentum when trying to be funny. It's not that hard to be funny. I'm funny all the time and I just don't try. A lot of the gags just weren't that funny to begin with and yet they kept them up throughout (the full body Turrets Syndrome). The moviemakers definitely tried to spill blood and exploit skin! The bloodshed was beyond gruesome. The naked bodies weren't that pretty. And it stole way too much from the original movie (the public sex scene was kind of funny in the first; in this one it went on just way too long). The subtitles when the people were speaking English already was insulting (they were speaking with thick accents).

Ugh. I read one review that said, "Not for the faint of heart." Um, it's not for anyone with a beating heart. I'd like to say this will make my Worst Movies of 2009 list but I'm pretty sure I won't even sully my list with this flick. Why bother?

Sunshine Cleaning
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Clifton Collins Jr
Directed By: Christine Jeffs
Run Time: 1 hr 32 mins

Sunshine Cleaning is about a former high school cheerleader (played by Adams) who is down on her luck but eager to find a job worthwhile (and that makes her some bigger bucks). She and her troubled younger sister (played by Blunt) team up to start their own "bio-hazard and crime scene clean up" cleaning company. When someone dies (whether by murder, suicide, bloody accident, or in their sleep but just not discovered for over a week in a trash-filled trailer), they clean it up so the living can go on living.

This is probably not a movie you've ever heard of nor is it one you're dying to see (or even will see, for that matter). I put this one on my list because it seemed different. It threatened to be edgy and dark with a quirky sickness. Unfortunately, this is one of those quirky movies that just isn't quirky enough. It tries to sell itself as both quirky and mainstream and you really can't be both. It's not as redeeming as I thought it would be. It didn't have as feel good ending as it could have been. Nice and sweet but missing something extra. I think that's what happens to quirky movies trying to launch into the mainstream - they lose that something extra. I saw this movie at an AMC theater (which, don't get me wrong, I love. I just don't think quirky movies ever premiere at a mainstream theater), if that tells you anything. There was so much potential for it to be a great little hidden movie. Unfortunately, it missed that mark.

I read somewhere that this is Amy Adams' dark movie. Um, is that as dark as she gets? Looked pretty light to me. Her character, although a bit down on her luck, does still manage to put the best foot forward and has a cheery way of looking at everything. She does have the greatest sad face ever. When she starts to cry, I start to cry. I can't help look at that sad face and not get sad myself.

I love both Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. I had to remind myself that Emily Blunt is indeed a Brit... except I really didn't need to remind myself too much because her British accent kept creeping in to her New Mexico-raised character. And once I heard it, I kept hearing (and it made me giggle). And for the longest time, I kept thinking that Norah (played by Blunt) was older than Rose (played by Adams). This factors heavily into my mis-interpretation of the flashbacks - the little one is Norah. Okay, Norah's antics were very juvenile but that still wasn't an identifying factor. Lots of older children act more juvenile than the younger siblings. It's called holding onto your childhood. But to me, Amy Adams looks so much younger than Emily Blunt (although Blunt is almost 10 years younger in real life. Who knew?).

If you look at the list of actors in this movie, you'll probably notice that "Clifton Collins, Jr" is noted. You're probably wondering to yourself who that is. I was, too, and had initially left him off the list. And then I saw Crank 2 and discovered that he was in that movie, too. What a crazy random chance of circumstance, huh, that some relatively unknown actor (at least in my mind) was in movies that I saw back to back?

As always with movies these days, I have a lot of questions rattling around in my head. For starters, who the heck is Oscar's father? Are we to believe that it's Rose's ex-boyfriend, the former football player now turned cop (played by Steve Zahn)? Or is it just some random guy that doesn't factor into the story? I also didn't understand some of their cleaning methods. Rose worked as a maid prior to starting up the crime scene cleaning service. She has experience cleaning. Why did she not think about turning on the shower and pointing the shower head to the shower wall to soak the blood off? Why would you scrub that when you could soak it? Oh, and even I knew you can't just throw blood soaked stuff into a dumpster. It's a biohazard.

My questions and frustrations aside, I did like this movie. It was nice. It wasn't anywhere near as wonderful or as heartfelt as it could have been, which is a disappointment. I loved how Rose's father interacted with Oscar. I like how Rose supported Oscar's weird behavior (although I didn't see it as that weird). I liked how the sisters, although very different, got along and seemed very loving (although the ending sort of disappointed me). I liked that they resolved their fight peacefully, the adult way. It seemed very natural. And I liked how the diner movie scene came full circle and spun into the reason the two girls are the way they are, and how the reason behind it fueled why Rose liked crime scene cleaning. That part was very endearing. The movie fell flat with the ending. It just wasn't as charming as it needed to be. It was nice... but nice don't get you on my Best Movies of 2009 list.

This would be a good movie to watch on an airplane, where you just want to pass the time with an interesting diversion that doesn't make you think too much or feel too heavy. This is light. It's okay. No harm will come to you by watching it.

Just a side note: Just because the chicks you went to high school with have a big house and have a "loving" husband and kids, doesn't make their lives better than yours. Success is not a house (and by the way, who are these women to judge? They're not successful. Their husbands are successful. They just pop out kids. Rose may not have had the most glamorous job but she was at least earning a living herself and not relying on someone else).

Fast and Furious 4
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster
Directed By: Justin Lin
Run Time: 1 hr 39 mins

Fast and Furious 4 has all the original players back together in one movie (the second one only had Paul Walker; the third had none of the original characters/actors). Brian (played by Walker) is still an FBI agent; Dom (played by Diesel) is still a criminal who has a penchant for crimes committed in fast cars and who now is in exile. When a tragedy brings Dom back to US ground, his path intertwines with Brian's FBI investigation and pulls Brian back into the world of illegal activity and racing.

First and foremost, this movie is entertaining. It's a fast ride with some good acting and a fairly good plot (although some points were a bit shaky). One thing I will say about the plot, one point absolutely floored me. My jaw dropped open and I actually let out a little gasp. I was amazed that point wasn't leaked and that I didn't somehow inadvertently hear about it before I saw the movie. It would have totally ruined it for me. It happens fairly early in the movie so you don't have to wait long (and the fact that it did happen so soon also floored me). There was another plot point that almost ruined the entire ride for me. That one point had me ready to pull the trigger and drop this movie onto the Worst Movies of 2009 list. Again, my jaw dropped, but this time not in amazement but in disgust (there was even a little swearing under my breath along the lines of "You've got to be freakin' kidding me!"). But it redeemed itself about 10 minutes later (and I'm not granting this movie any leniency - it truly did pull itself out of the pit of despair) during the final race scene.

And just to keep up with my one rant per movie: Did the movie makers honestly not think women would watch this movie? I mean, come on! It has Vin Diesel AND Paul Walker, for cryin' out loud! Yes, this is an action movie. Yes, this is a fast cars movie. Yes, this movie has a lot of car chases and road races. This movie does appeal to the 14 year old boy, which is why I would forgive it for the scantily clad women and the plethora of closeups on cleavage and tushies, but I will not forgive the club scene with all the women making out in corners. How insulting. I don't even think there was one shirtless Vin Diesel or Paul Walker to be seen. Seriously insulting.

Whew. Okay. I do have to point out that the cinematography was wonderful. I was not expecting that at all. I liked the way several scenes were shot - particularly the one where Dom tries to envision what happened to Letty. Very artsy. I liked it.

The car race scenes were intense. I felt like I was in the car riding along with them. I felt very tousled afterwards. I'm not quite certain I caught all that was happening during the race scenes, though. Things happened very quickly... which is the very nature of a race. I know I missed a lot of what happened during the last race ("How'd that happen?" "How'd he get there?" "Who wrecked whom?"). I loved the qualifying race where Brian went off-course and yelled at the GPS for telling him he wasn't on course. That would be me. Quit telling me what I already know. He should have been awarded points for driving creativity, though. Loved the opening heist, although it was pretty much shot for shot, second for second shown in the previews. I could feel the intensity.

This movie had an interesting storyline... although I'm not quite sure why a team of racers were needed to transport stuff from Mexico to the US when it didn't appear they were really transporting anything at all. I'm also not certain of the message it sent out to me. Are they really trying to say that all bad guys are street racers and all street racers are bad guys? Perhaps this movie wasn't enough to hammer that point, but if you add up all four movies, I really think someone has it in for street racers.

This movie also solidified my fear of driving through tunnels. I hate driving in underwater tunnels and now I will refuse to drive through any under-mountain tunnels. What were they thinking? Ah, yes. To thrill 14 year old boys... and to scare 30-something women. Can someone tell me why they built two lanes in that tunnel, particularly when the second lane only went for a few feet every hundred yards or so. I did not understand that. It was almost as if they were setting up the final chase scene... I also didn't understand the logistics of building a tunnel through a mountain that was monitored by US Border Patrol. How did it get built unnoticed? Surely they would have had to blast the rock and haul away the rubble. Wouldn't you think they'd get suspicious when a bunch of trucks began hanging around a mountain, arriving empty but leaving full?

Just a couple more oddities: 1). When Dom got shot in the back, where did the bullet go? Even Mia says, "The bullet's not in here." So... it grazed upwards? 2). Why on earth did Brian get in trouble when the wrong bad guy got arrested during the sting? He didn't send in the troops, the jerky guy did. 3). Jordana Brewster looks an awful lot like Danica Patrick, particularly behind the wheel of a fast car wearing a jumpsuit.

Oddities aside, I did like this movie. It was a fun ride. Great race scenes. Nice seeing all the characters back together again. Well acted. I'm not sure I fully understood why the bad guys were racing about. And I liked how the ending set it up for Fast and Furious 5. Vroom vroom.