Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Movie Reviews - 'Be Kind Rewind', 'Mammas Boy', 'Nims Island', 'Flawless', 'The Riddle'

Sorry for shoving all of these reviews into a single post rather than having in-depth posts for each, but I'm feeling backlogged and wanted to give a quick blurb about each of these movies that my family and I have watched over the past ~10 days: Be Kind Rewind, Mamma's Boy, Nim's Island, Flawless, and The Riddle. (clicking the links 'should' bounce you to the individual review for each film)

Be Kind Rewind
Basic Plot: Mos Def is working in a video store run by Danny Glover in a sort of run down neighborhood in New Jersey. Jack Black is a friend of theirs who's always getting into trouble. While Danny Glover is out of town, Jack Black gets magnetized (through a crazy plot in an electric substation) and inadvertantly erases all of the movies on the VHS tapes. He and Mos Def then try to make amends by making their own low budget versions of the movies that people in the community want to rent. The whole thing snowballs and the community becomes part of the filmmaking process.

From the previews, I thought this would be a rip-roaring comedy full of hilarious misrepresentations of Hollywood blockbusters. While there was some of that, the overall tone and theme of the movie was more serious as we watch a man's dreams threatened (the city wants to condemn the video store) and a community actually pulling together for the first time. Even with the potential for a "feel good" movie, the ending left you wondering what would truly happen. It didn't resolve any of the situations brought up.
The weight of the overall plot overshadowed the humor of the movie remakes and the ridiculous nature of Black & Def's characters. Go into this movie expecting a heavy comedy or a light drama and you'll be fine. Go into it expecting a wild and cheesy comedy, and you'll be disappointed. Still, it was entertaining.
2 1/2 stars

Mamma's Boy
Basic Plot: John Heder plays an adult (~20+) living with his mom and determined to "protect her" from pain and suffering since his father died. When his mom (Diane Keaton) begins dating Jeff Daniels (and later becomes engaged), Heder is determined to break up the relationship to save his mom.
Again, the preview here suggested an irreverent comedy full of slapstick plotting and lots of physical humor and pranks. The scheming was actually fairly humorous and it was good that Daniels' character also got involved in trying to sabatoge Heder.

However, Heder's character was an absolutely unlovable jerk. His first appearance with the movie comes when his mom calls to him and he gruffly replies "What do YOU want?!" This is an adult man replying to his mother calling his name. His tone is always rude and condescending. As the movie goes on, you see that his behavior isn't only directed to his mother, but to everyone he interacts with. He rudely takes advantage of the old family friend who's given him a job over the years. He is cruel and heartless towards a girl who actually takes an interest in him (even to the point of selfishly destroying her dreams by whining and begging as he demands that she help him destroy his mother's relationship rather than work on her own goals).

Heder's character was well portrayed as being filled with angst and totally self-centered. I had a hard time feeling bad for him and instead found myself wishing somebody (preferably his mom) would smack him upside the head and stick him in counseling.

By the end of the movie, Heder tried to redeem himself for his actions. I was glad that the movie stayed moderately realistic by still letting him play the selfish prick since it was unlikely that he would turn around that quickly. At the same time, it left for a somewhat dissatisfying conclusion and I had a hard time believing anything would truly change in the future. A deeper movie than anticipated. Similar to 'Be Kind Rewind', the depth of the tone overshadowed the humor.
2 1/2 stars

Nim's Island
Basic Plot: Nim is a young girl (~10?) living with her research scientist father, Jack, on a tropical island out in the middle of the ocean. He's trying to discover a new protozoa. He's out on his little boat taking samples when a huge storm comes up, destroys his sail and sends him who knows how far out into the expanse of the ocean, leaving Nim along in their house. At the same time, an email comes from "Alex Rover", a hero from some of Nim's favorite novels. Alex is asking for research information from Jack. Nim replies to Alex and tells how her father is missing and she's scared. Alex, who is actually "Alexandra" the author of the novels (played by Jodi Foster), becomes concerned for Nim and sets out to try and find her and keep her safe.

I had very little expectations for this movie. I expected a cheesy kids flick filled with corny humor, pathetic acting and disjointed plot. While there were some over-the-top and overly-stretched plot elements, the overall story was well crafted and a lot of fun. The characters had good depth and the performances were good. Everything was done remarkably well, especially considering this was a movie primarily for young children.
To comment on the audience, even well written and well performed/directed, this still IS a children's movie and should be approached as such. If you go in expecting a tight and exciting adventure movie from a teen/adult standpoint, you'll be disappointed. While it doesn't get as campy, think of the adventure more "Home Alone" and less "Mummy."

There are some slow bits that will be dull for younger children. My four year old wandered off for large chunks. My six year old was in and out. But my eight year old stayed for the whole thing and was wholly entertained.
Great movie for parents to watch with their kids. Both parties can be well entertained.
3 1/2 stars

Basic Plot: Demi Moore works at "London Diamond" in the 60s, a woman in a man's world...passed over again and again for promotions despite her excellent hard work. Michael Caine is a widower janitor at London Diamond, working towards retirement but certain his pension won't be sufficient to live after he leaves. Knowing her dissatisfaction and knowing that she will likely be fired soon, Caine approaches Moore with a plot to steal a small amount of diamonds (so small it won't be noticed) and then retire peacefully with their riches. Moore reluctantly agrees and the "flawless" plot is set in motion. Things escalate out of control and Moore finds herself trying to figure out what happened before things blow up in her face.

The main story is bookended by Demi Moore's character telling the story to a report ~40 years later in the 'present day'. The language in the opening suggests that she is arrested for the crime and has been in jail for 40 years which adds to the tension as the movie progresses.

Moore's performance felt very flat and unimpressive. Her accent was muddled and left me confused (we later learn that she's an American who studied at Oxford and now lives in London). Her screen presence and her anxieties and mannerisms were very controlled and rigid. While it's possible that a person in that far over their head may behave that way, it felt a little strained to me.

Caine's performance shone brightly on the other hand. There were a few instances where I felt his character was a little too pat for the action, but generally he was very believable and despite the turns the plot took, I found myself very attached to him throughout the movie.

The plot was woven together fairly well but had a few points that were strained (for example...follow the path of the diamond she shows the reporter at the start of the movie) and things that happened a little too fast or unexpectedly. There were a few moments where it looked like they were trying to suggest or impose a romantic relationship between Moore and the insurance investigator. Fortunately it never panned out as that would've been too much. But it still felt awkward when hinted at.

Overall, the story was intriguing and the plot was fun. The acting was adequate, Caine being the only shining star. The main problem for me was the pacing. It was fairly erratic, crawling along slowly and then suddenly having a burst of twists and turns and then returning to a snails pace. Back and forth. It was a bit unsettling.
3 stars

The Riddle
Basic Plot: A sports reporter, desperately trying to break into a career on the crime desk, is investigating murders and "accidents" on construction sites. A pub owner finds an apparently lost manuscript of Charles Dickens entitled The Riddle and is found beaten to death on the banks of the Thames the following morning. A tramp wandering up and down the river threads himself in and out of the lives of various characters and has found a corpse of his own on the side of the river. The reporter, who was good friends with the pub owner, becomes obsessed with trying to solve the string of murders with the help of a police press officer with whom he becomes romantically involved. At the same time, they try to unravel the mystery of the discovered manuscript.

Based on the plot, I wasn't entirely sure which direction this movie would take. I thought perhaps it would turn into some sort of conspiracy theory (a la "DaVinci Code") based on some secret in the manuscript...or alternately, that it would revolve in parallels between the manuscript and modern day actions (as in "Posession"). Neither of which was true. This was essentially two completely different and very disjointed stories. One being a modern day police drama trying to solve a series of murders. The other being a supposedly authentic manuscript from Dickens which is proposed to be semi-autobiographical.

The Dickens storyline is interesting and would have made for a fun historical/period movie rather than being a series of snippets narrated by an actor playing Dickens. The writer/director tried to 'surprise' the audience with the revelation that the narrator was actually Dickens by having a revelation scene near the end of the movie where the reporter suddenly has an epiphany that the name of the main character in the novel is an anagram of Dickens. Due to the way the narrative was presented, this parallel was painfully obvious to the viewers from the first bit of the movie and only served to make the reporter look like an idiot for not seeing it sooner. In fact, the name of the character in the novel was only told once to the audience and wasn't presented effectively enough for the audience to pick up on. We had 'closed caption' on our television and it was interesting that the caption alternated between the character name and Dickens' name when identifying the narrator when he spoke.
The biggest flaw in the Dickens storyline came at the end of the movie when the modern day tramp (played by the same actor as the narrator/Dickens) suddenly took on a greater role and broke all suspension of disbelief.

The modern day crime drama was interesting and took some fun twists and turns, but it wasn't anything spectacular to see. It set itself into the immediate present with references to the Olympic Village in London. The murder plots were fun threads, but nothing terribly exciting. Everything felt far too "convenient", especially when the construction murders/accidents were being linked to the murder of the pub owner. Having murders taking place related to two totally different construction projects was stretching things way too thin and merely painted the construction company as being led by psychopathic killers. As I mentioned above, the "tramp" character was played by the same actor as the Dickens/narrator. Another character from the Dickens storyline appears later in the crime drama and adds an unnecessary element of confusion. The writer/director probably thought it would be effective to use the same actors in both stories to try and draw parallels between the Dickens novel and the present drama. Instead, it just added confusion and distraction.

Overall, this was an interesting movie but truly it should have been two separate movies. Unfortunately, neither of the two stories felt strong enough to stand on its own without some major rework and as such probably would have become a 'made for TV' special instead of an actual theatrical release. So instead of having two well fleshed out movies, the audience is left with one movie trying every trick in the book to thread together two otherwise unrelated storylines. While interesting, it wasn't compelling.
2 stars

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