Movie Valley
May 2008 Movie Reviews
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Iron Man
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Run Time: 2 hrs 6 mins

Iron Man is about a weapons manufacturer who suddenly develops a conscience about profiting from arming the bad guys after he is kidnapped and tortured. He builds a bodysuit out of iron and blasts his way to freedom. He then takes it upon himself to stamp out the bad guys he brought to power with the weapons he sold them.

This is one of those movies where a lot of the funny parts and cool parts are shown in the previews, too many previews. When you finally see them in the movie itself, they're not as funny or as cool.

Jon Favreau, who is known for directing comedies and not action movies, has taken a page out of the Michael Bay book of directing action packed flicks. I was consciously aware of the heavy metal soundtrack laden scenes. It was a bit overwhelming.

Despite my two paragraphs of criticism, I must say that I really liked this movie. It was funny. It was action packed. It was well acted. And it was very well directed. I do have to say that the lead-up to the superhero scenes - what led to Tony Start becoming Iron Man - was long and painful to watch. You know he gets kidnapped in Afghanistan. Those scenes, particularly with the Gulf war still going on, are tough to watch.

I loved the little robots. They made me giggle. A lot. I just wish they had faces. That would have made them cuter, more lovable.

Robert Downey, Jr was absolutely wonderful. I know before the movie was released that a lot of critics were wondering if Downey was the superhero type. No, and he's not supposed to be. He's the jerky weapons manufacturer type. He had that part down wonderfully and convincingly transferred to superhero by necessity. His subtle, dead-pan comedic delivery is amazing. He did a great job. I loved the fact that Jon Favreau played Tony Stark's bodyguard. I would have thought it was absolutely brilliant if he didn't have any lines. His bits were great. I was just hoping for that extra bit of funny. I wasn't as big on Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper. I found her too mousy. I wanted her to be a bit more assertive, a bit more firry, a bit more sassy. Her comedic timing was a bit off, particularly in the scene where she asks, "Oh, what is that thing? Something to blow the door open?"

Good movie. It pokes fun at itself and superhero, comic book movies. It was a good time.

Baby Mama
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sigourney Weaver, Dax Shepard, Greg Kinnear
Directed By: Michael McCullers
Run Time: 1 hr 36 mins

Baby Mama is about a single, successful businesswoman named Kate (played by Fey) who wants to have a baby but can't. She enlists the aid of a surrogate named Angie (played by Poehler). When Angie breaks up with her common law husband Carl (played by Shepard), she moves in with Kate. They're the odd couple. Kate is neat, professional, and a bit rigid. Angie is messy, not as educated, and a bit loosey-goosey.

I'm not what you'd call the maternal type. I have no desire to have a baby. I'm not like most women who when passing a baby, clutch their chest and say, "Isn't that the cutest thing?" Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against children. I just don't have that urge anywhere inside me, not even in the slightest. When my friends tell me they're expecting, I am truly happy for them because that's what they want. I smile and think to myself, "Better you than me."

With a lot of movies, half of the connection to that movie is either having been in the lead character's shoes (or the quirky sidekick's shoes) or wanting to be in the lead character's shoes (particularly if they're Jimmy Choo's). Admit it. You've always wanted to have super powers. I know I have! Or you've wanted to travel cross-country with an elephant you've just inherited. Or you've had whacky encounters with the exhibits that came to life at a museum. We've all been there. Wait. Is that just me? With Baby Mama I had absolutely no connection to either main character. It was an odd feeling, or so I told my best friend Clyde the orangutan after slapping his hand that was reaching for my popcorn.

I did find it interesting that the storyline wasn't quite as it is depicted in the previews. Too many times, if you've seen two versions of the previews, you've seen the movie. I found it interesting that the male leads were never show in the previews. And there's quite a little twist that makes this movie a bit more exciting than simply watch the shenanigans between the Oscar and Felix style roommates (and no, I'm not old enough to actually have watched an episode of the The Odd Couple).

I'm not sure this movie should be in the "comedy" category because it's only sorta funny. Maybe there should be a genre called "pleasant and mildly entertaining." I did enjoy this movie. I just didn't laugh as much as I thought I should have. Fey and Poehler work well together. Although I did see Kate as a smart, somewhat neurotic woman, I didn't see Angie as the polar opposite, which is where most of the comedy was - or should have been - derived from. I kept seeing too many beacons of intelligence and likeability from Angie. And interestingly enough, because of that, the two had more in common than was pronounced. Kate, although an uptight businesswoman, worked for a new-agey, organic, Whole Foods-esque company. She had to "accommodate" her boss' flighty behavior on a daily basis - and she seemed the only one in the company to be capable of translating and embracing her boss' nature. Angie, although seemingly uneducated and unemployed, had a holistic nature. Both woman possessed strong underlying intelligence - whether from education or nature - and both were in-tune with the organic/holistic phenomenon. Not exactly opposites in my book. And that's probably where the comedy part went wrong. The characters were too alike to be "The Odd Couple."

So... it's a mildly entertaining, do no harm kind of movie. It was very touching - I actually had tears in my eyes in the hospital for Kate. Fey and Poehler play well off each other. I liked it. It just wasn't as funny as it should have been.

The Visitor
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass
Directed By: Tom McCarthy
Run Time: 1 hr 48 mins

The Visitor is about a Walter Vale (played by Jenkins) who is a college professor, a man merely going through the motions of life. He travels from Connecticut to NYC to attend a conference. There he discovers that two illegal aliens have illegally sublet his apartment in New York. Out of pity, he lets them stay and then develops a friendship with Tarek (played by Sleiman).

This is an interesting movie. It is pretty slow. Nothing much really happens. And then it ends, without any sort of resolution or proper ending. It is merely a snapshot into a week in the life of four people whose lives accidentally intertwine. It is a huge commentary about the unjust treatment of illegal aliens, particularly post 9/11, particularly illegal Muslim aliens. But no matter how simply I sum up this movie, I really liked it.

Walter is a man who has been beaten down by life. He doesn't like his job - he's an economics professor. He's been teaching the same class for 20 years and yet somehow doesn't have the ability to teach his class well and write his book. He doesn't particularly find life interesting. His wife, a marvelous pianist, has been dead for several years. Walter tries to embrace her musical legacy by taking piano lessons but his nonchalentness with life affects his ability to play the piano. I particularly loved the scene - watched through cringes - where the elderly piano teacher tells Walter that he just doesn't have the quality needed to play the piano. It's not in him. Such soul crushing and mean news. Perhaps he'd have it in him if someone were to draw it out of him... Enter Tarek, the illegal subletting alien.

Tarek is from Syria. Zainab, his girlfriend, is from... some country in Africa I've never heard of. Wow. It embarrasses me that there could be a country I just don't know about but it's nonetheless true. Somehow someone got the keys to Walter's apartment in NYC and has sublet it to Tarek and Zainab, unbeknownst to Walter. He hasn't been to the city in years. After realizing the mistake, Tarek and Zainab leave. They don't want to be a bother. Walter, after an incredibly long while, offers to let the couple stay. I say "an incredibly long while" because he watches the couple pack, watches them struggle to leave with their belongings, and even after that, takes a lot of time before he unenthusiastically and without any emotion, allows the couple to stay with him.

The actor who play Tarek is absolutely wonderful. He has this simple charm to him that makes him seem so pleasant, so warm, so inviting. You absolutely have to like him, he's just that endearing. Tarek is quiet and yet so incredibly friendly. He teaches Walter how to play the drums. Zainab is inexplicably grouchy and standoffish. You can't help but not like her. She seems cold and rigid. When Tarek gets arrested for something he didn't do (he swipes his Metro card at the subway station but because he has so much stuff on him, he gets stuck in the turn-style. Cops swarm in and arrest the illegal alien), you suddenly realize why Zainab is so cold. She's guarded for the same reason Tarek is quiet - they don't want to call attention to themselves for fear of being discovered (and arrested) as illegal immigrants.

The rest of the movie is frustrating (intentionally so). Poor Tarek tries to cope with being in a detention center but as his fear of the unknown (many of the other detainees have been in prison for years) and deportation grows increasingly and panic sets in. He is trapped behind the unknown. Walter is trapped in trying to help. He does what he thinks is right - hires an immigration attorney for Tarek - but Walter's inexperience with these matters prevents him from being able to do anything more than that.

One interesting aspect of this movie is that there are no leaps and bounds in character advancement. Walter was a broken man when the movie started and I give nothing away when I mention that he's a broken man at the end of the movie. For a brief time, he is happier. Happier. He's not happy, he's happier. The needle on his happy meter jumps a fraction of a point. There is no moment when Walter jumps on a plane to be with the woman he loves. Walter doesn't get arrested to save Tarek. He barely cracks a smile. This movie is real life. A broken man doesn't suddenly become fixed. He's on his way... but then the movie ends.

Regardless of your stance on immigration, the lack of compassion, follow-up, and knowledge the employees of the detention center possess will frustrate you. There is one scene where Walter first visits the detention center. The man in line in front of him is of some ethnicity other than born and bred US citizen. The detention clerk is very curt with him, refusing to help him further. Then Walter, a white man with no accent, get his information without so much as a blink of an eye (but note, while he gets through security without much hassle, no one is in any way, shape or form friendly to him). You start to wonder if this is the difference between immigrant - whether legal or not - and "American" are treated but then just a few days later, Walter is being treated just as curtly and abruptly as the other man was - no one gets any information out of these detention clerks and the clerks just don't care.

This is a sweet, sad, and frustrating movie. Regardless of your stance on immigration, this movie will affect you because it affects all of us. Sooner or later, the problem you think will never happen to you does.

Made of Honor
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd
Directed By: Paul Weiland
Run Time: 1 hr 41 mins

Made of Honor is about Tom (played by Dempsey) and Claire (played by Monaghan) who are best friends. Tom is a millionaire playboy who never wants to get close to any woman. He sees a different chick every night and that's the way he prefers it. When Claire goes away to Scotland for six weeks, he suddenly realizes that he does care about someone - Claire. He misses her. He wants her back in his life, permanently. He's about to tell Claire this upon her return home but sadly, Claire does not seem to share his affections. She has landed herself a fiance and asks Tom, her best friend, to be her maid of honor. Tom agrees because he feels getting closer to the bride and her plans is the only way he can break up Claire and Colin (played by McKidd). One of Claire's bridesmaids, who had a one-nighter with Tom and is deeply resentful of that and the fact that she's not the maid of honor, has her own evil plot, a plot to make Tom look like a jerk.

In case you didn't guess it from my overly long synopsis, this is a chick flick. A true chick flick. And not a smart chick flick, either. You can probably guess the ending. Go on. Guess it. Hey, I'm not giving anything away. It's just that predictable. I knew it a few moments into the movie how it was going to end. Normally that annoys me. But because this movie has a bit of charm, I sat back and enjoyed the show. It was mildly entertaining. Claire is sweet; Tom has a lot of charm (oh, wait, is that just Patrick Dempsey oozing through?). Some of the basketball scenes with tiny shorts guy are pretty darned funny, although most of the funny bits were shown in the previews.

While there were some mildly entertaining and a few smile inducing lines, I must admit I was a bit irritated with this movie. Tom was trying to be a good guy, particularly with the bridal shower. Claire even told him she thought it was wonderful... until one particular moment that apparently ruined the whole thing. Really? How uptight and ungrateful are you that one moment ruined your bridal shower? And what girl envisions her bridal shower since she was a small girl? And how engrossed in your self do you have to be to not see the catty behavior of one of your bridesmaids? Do you think the mini kilt was an accident? Ugh. And I know Colin and Claire had only dated a few weeks before getting engaged, but should it really come as a surprise to you that he's a hunter? That never came up in conversation?

All of that leads up to the most predictable - and cheesy - ending ever.

That being said... I sorta liked this movie. I liked Sydney Pollack (the dad). I liked tiny shorts guy. I loved the Scottish scenery (although looking on imdb, I have to wonder if what I thought was Scotland was really England). I loved the Scottish accents. I loved that they poked fun at not being able to understand one single word some of the Scots said as their accent was so thick.

I knew it was a chick flick (translation: cheesy, predictable melodrama masquerading as funny with too many moments of implausibility designed to make thirteen year olds clutch their chests and wail, "Awwwww!"). I'm not a chick flick fan. I liked it for what it was - a run of the mill chick flick. Nothing special. Nothing different. Playing too much on McDreamy being McDreamy (who, oddly, didn't look that good) and when McDreamy ain't McDreamy, you got loads of problems.