Flickerings: INDEX OF MOVIE REVIEWSmovie camera

Jump to movies beginning with  

Baby Mama

You could call this an Amy Poehler tour de force, if zany comic actresses can have tour de forces in such light fare.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A 37-year-old single woman wants to have a baby and goes the surrogate mother route in the lightweight but funny comedy Baby Mama. Former Saturday Night Live writer and first-time director Michael McCullers give us a rather ordinary movie spiced up by plenty of zingers from stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Kate Holbrook (Fey) is a corporate executive for a national organic grocery store chain. All around her she sees people with babies and realizes her biological clock is ticking — yet she has no man. When it turns out she can’t have her own baby, she decides to hire a surrogate mother through an exclusive surrogacy service. So appears Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), an uneducated girl from the sticks, who, because the price is right, agrees to carry Kate’s baby. One thing leads to another, with Angie moving in with Kate, and the two of them learning plenty of lessons (ick) from each other.

The film is not quite up to the sharpened standard of usual Tina Fey fare, probably due to the fact that Fey, a former Saturday Night Live head writer, did not write this film. That doesn’t change the fact that Fey is playing what we have now become familiar with as the typical Fey character. Indeed, she might as well be Liz Lemon from TV’s 30 Rock. It also doesn’t prevent Fey and Poehler from improvising scenes and lines. Perhaps director McCullers deserves the most credit for staying out of the way and letting Fey and Poehler do their thing, while keeping the proceedings going at an amiable clip.

Best of all is Poehler. Indeed, you could call this film an Amy Poehler tour de force, if zany comic actresses can have tour de forces in such light fare. Who knew she could milk that redneck character of hers for over 90 minutes? Almost all the best laughs go Poehler’s way, usually with Fey alongside playing her straight woman comedic teammate.

The film features plenty of nifty cameos, including Steve Martin as an egomaniacal hippy corporate head and Sigourney Weaver as a genetically superior-surrogacy entrepreneur. Unfortunately, the plot is ultimately commonplace stuff, and this film winds its way to all of the sappy conclusions we expect But with Poehler and Fey cracking us up along the way, it comes out all right.

Good comedy • PG-13 • 96 mins.

Balls of Fury

Underachieving underdogs enter ping-pong: competition to save the world. Not good. Not funny. Game, set and match.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A heavy-set former ping-pong prodigy is asked to go on a secret mission to help capture an Asian crime kingpin and in the process become a champion again in the flat and unfunny Balls of Fury. Brought to you by the guys responsible for the reliably humorous Comedy Central hit show Reno 911 (Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon), Balls of Fury is just another stupid comedy seeking a sophomoric audience.

Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) was a pre-teen American superstar in the 1988 Olympics. It was there that Randy’s fate was sealed and his career tabled. Beaten and humiliated by German ping-pong nut-job Karl Wolfschtagg (Lennon), Randy also watches his gambling father taken away by Asian henchmen who murder him.

Fast-forward nearly 20 years. Now Randy is a Reno, Nevada, nightclub performer who hits ping-pong balls in an entertaining fashion. He is recruited by an FBI agent (George Lopez) to help capture underworld boss and ping-pong fanatic Feng (Christopher Walken), who happens to be the man responsible for offing Randy’s dad. Randy trains ala the Karate Kid and enters a deadly ping-pong championship to help the feds and to get his revenge.

The plot is loosely constructed as a rip-off of countless other Karate Kid-inspired movies to allow silly things and make plenty of dumb innuendo jokes (see movie’s title). But the movie is just not funny. The only mild chuckles are thanks to George Lopez (you know him from his reliably unfunny sitcom), who makes a tired wisecrack or two that almost score.

And who is Dan Fogler and how does he get a staring role in any Hollywood movie? Actually, Fogler isn’t that horrible; he would be fine in a supporting role. But this guy doesn’t have the charisma, stature or comedic ability to carry a film, which is pretty much what he is asked to do.

In many ways, Balls of Fury is similar to an atrocious comedy from last Labor Day weekend, Beerfest. Underachieving underdogs enter a world competition under very, very silly comic pretenses. Beerfest at least had all those clever drinking games to spark our interest. Here it’s ping-pong: boring. Not good. Not funny. Game, set and match.

Poor comedy • PG-13 • 90 mins.

The Bank Job

Bank Job smartly wastes little time getting to the good parts: How it is all planned and how it all turns out.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A group of East End London small-timers attempt to rob a bank as part of a much larger government conspiracy in the enticing, though far from flawless, The Bank Job. It’s hard to make a bad bank heist film; and try as he may, director Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, No Way Out) can’t ruin the layered-plot fun.

It’s based on a true story, circa 1971. Terry (Jason Statham) is a small-time London hood whose legitimate profession is as a failing car dealer. Terry is approached by old neighborhood beauty Martine (Saffron Burrows) to put together his gang of cronies and break into the safe deposit vault of a neighborhood bank branch. Unbeknownst to Terry, the robbery’s real purpose is to purloin some compromising photographs being used by prominent Black Nationalist Michael X (Peter De Jersey) to blackmail his way out of jail. As the boys set to rob the bank, they are watched by government spies and crooked cops The underbelly of London’s smut society are about to get involved: They’ve got stuff in that vault too.

How it is all planned and how it all turns out is, of course, what always makes such bank job capers so interesting. The movie smartly wastes little time getting into the planning and heisting, along with subsequent complications. We are spared the intricate details of the public officials in question; we know they’re important, and that’s good enough.

Unfortunately, this swiftness of foot is about the only well-executed part of the film. Director Donaldson, for some reason, gives the whole film an air of bad soap opera melodrama through silly mood music and painful close-ups. Added to the mix is really bad acting all around. I’m not sure if I blame the actors or Donaldson, who seems to go to great pains to take the fun out of this bank caper and turn it into As the World Turns.

Despite Donaldson’s attempts, the thrill of the robbery and the delicious somewhat-true-to-life facts involving England’s ruling class overcome the film’s faults. So much so that it’s not until the end that we even mind rooting for the crooks. After all, they’re just burglars. It’s not like they are murderers or smut merchants or corrupt cops or sexually deviant members of parliament. For shame.

Good drama • R • 110 mins.

Because I Said So

There’s nothing wrong with a romantic comedy being a little light in the originality department, but this film has no new slant on anything.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

Diane Keaton plays an overbearing mother and Mandy Moore is her daughter on the make in the simple-minded and unfunny comedy Because I Said So. Director Michael Lehman (My Giant, Hudson Hawk) offers up a film that is like a lame sitcom without an original idea in its head. The only thing less frequent than the laughs are the surprises.

Daphne (Keaton) has three pretty daughters. Two of them are recently happily married without children (Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo), while a third, Milly (Moore), is continually getting her heart broken or being stood up before she can even get anything started. Mother-hen Daphne takes her usual meddling advice to a new level by secretly placing a web ad in search of a Mr. Right for Milly, with Daphne screening the applicants. The winner is upstanding waspy architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott). Milly starts to date him and handsome musician and competition-also-ran Johnny (Gabriel Macht). Predictable predicaments happen, and love naturally finds a way.

With its run-of-the-mill plot, the film tries to get its laughs out of putting Keaton in clichéd comedic situations. This is truly a situation comedy, with Keaton responding ‘humorously’ to porn on the Internet, to a stuck navigation system in her car, to a gauntlet of bad prospective dates for her daughter, to having sex with the only other person over 40 in the movie, to spying on her daughter. To top it off, she has this strange penchant for falling into cakes. It’s the Diane Keaton clown show.

We feel like we’ve seen most of the scenes in this film countless times. We feel like we’ve seen Diane Keaton do many of these scenes countless times before. How many times is a woman over 60 enjoying sex funny? Or a dog humping a pillow? Or the odd people who respond to a personal ad?

You can almost see the big-shot exec who green-lighted this project explaining: “Because I said so.” Too bad.

Poor comedy • PG-13 • 107 mins.

Be Kind, Rewind

A lot of fun wrapped around a thought-provoking morsel

reviewed by Mark Burns

A couple of friends stumble into creative enlightenment in this whimsical message comedy.

Be Kind, Rewind is an old-school (VHS) video store just clinging to life in Passaic. Mike (Mos Def: 16 Blocks) is left in charge of his boss’ buck-a-night library when conspiracy-theorizing friend Jerry (Jack Black: Margot at the Wedding) threatens to sink it. For, after a perilous attempt at fighting the power, Jerry is magnetized and unwittingly erases every tape in the place. In desperation to please the owner’s friend and keep Mike out of trouble, they grab an old camcorder, make an abbreviated rip-off of Ghostbusters and hand it over with hopes she’s too far gone to know the difference. The dollar-video con ends up a hit, and soon the neighborhood is clamoring for their Sweded versions of Hollywood hits.

The obvious fun of the movie is seeing the homespun rip-offs take shape, as the friends piece together props and sets from the castoff of Jerry’s junkyard for adaptations of Robocop, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Driving Miss Daisy and The Lion King among others. The inventiveness of the camerawork and crudeness of scriptless, memory-derived roughs shot by a couple of enterprising dudes is hilarious.

Pastiche is but part of the equation, though. Writer/director Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep) is adept, especially early on in the film, at playing up odd little moments and whimsical touches. Whether in an eccentric auto customization, the curious slapstick of Jerry’s magnetic issues or a strangely intimate moustache test, Gondry establishes a smart, offbeat comic tone for the film. His camera probes the microcosm of one corner store, blending subtle strangeness with Jack Black’s weird energy to create a relatively balanced comedy that’s evocative of European forebears. Maybe even a smidge of Jerry Lewis.

Despite its strength, the comic angle is a touch understated. Perhaps so as not to undermine Gondry’s message. Through this film, the director embraces the concept of people being architects of their own lives; through Jerry and Mike’s journey he trumpets the deeper communal joy of creating your own entertainment among friends. They are fighting to keep the store open against the homogenizing forces of urban renewal and still blander corporate influence. By the time Sigourney Weaver appears in cameo, his message takes off, and with strikingly unsubtle metaphor. The film strikes a decidedly socialist theme as the unknowing heroes bring creative power to the people.

Overall, the film is refreshing for its thinky slapstick and embrace of low-budget charms. The conflict at its core is appropriate and timely. It is a bit weak, however, in the telling.

Gondry pays substantially more attention to honing his myriad elements than he does to bringing them together in the flow. While this film is remarkably lucid by comparison to his prior, The Science of Sleep, its progress is choppy. Gondry leaves you to intuit through small skips and perforations in the tale, and he often has trouble linking moments. Additionally, his engaging characters are sparely developed, largely by ambient clues.

The film still flows well enough to follow, sparkling so consistently and brightly that it distracts from storytelling’s hiccups. It helps that Gondry’s creative eye is so keen. His inventiveness in creating the Sweded films from simple means and found materials is evocative of the better genii of the American Visionary Art Museum. The man who brought us the Lego-animated video for White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” track (one of the coolest videos ever) has no lack of ideas for creating interesting visuals from simple ideas.

The idea of Sweding is apparently catching (just check out www.youtube.com/bekindrewind). For good reason. Be Kind, Rewind is a lot of fun wrapped around a tidy morsel for the brain. This one’s definitely one worth a ticket.

Good comedy • PG-13 • 101 mins.

Body of Lies

Like a roller coaster, this one has ups and downs before its long, slow, torturous roll to a stop.

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio (or is it Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe?) star in the sort-of-thrilling CIA Middle East espionage action thriller Body of Lies. Director Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down; Gladiator) just can’t take his foot of the peddle with this promising vehicle that provides some early intrigue and excitement but continues too long after it has run out of gas.

Crowe plays Ed Hoffman, an old-school senior CIA operative who manages Middle East terrorist operations — whether from CIA headquarters or on his cell phone in his suburban backyard. DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, an on-the-ground, whip-smart field agent who is taking out terrorists at various locales throughout the Middle East. Hoffman and Ferris’ job is catching Arab terrorists. 

Their latest operation involves a terrorist safe house in Jordan and delicate operations with the head of Jordanian intelligence (Mark Strong). Not surprisingly, things go awry, and most disappointingly they do so because of Ferris’ love interest (Golshifteh Farahani), who enters the movie at just about the time we start looking at our watches. 

The movie’s best part is its set-up, showing us the way Hoffman pulls the strings from Washington, even to watching the action live as it unfolds on spy satellite. From there the film, like a roller coaster, has ups and downs, some thrilling, some disappointing, until its long, slow, torturous roll to a stop.

In what seems to be the going trend with two superstars in the same movie, Crowe and DiCaprio barely appear on screen together (twice, I think). Instead, they mostly interact through cuts back and forth, with Crowe in Washington and DiCaprio in the Middle East. When they do appear side by side, nothing all that special happens. Their first scene together feels more like an odd cameo than a climactic dramatic scene.

I always wonder why in recent films the high-powered operatives are such serious jerks. Is this a requirement for the job? Why can’t anyone get anything done with some good old-fashioned coalition-building diplomacy, even maybe with smiles on their faces. Instead, the biggest jerks always seem to win the day. No, thank you.

Fair action thriller • R • 126 mins.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Suspend belief and you’ll have a blast. But motion sickness sufferers, be warned.

reviewed by Cathy Conway Miller

Fasten your seatbelts, folks! Amnesia victim and reluctant former assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damen) is roaming great cities of the world for a third time in search of his true identity in The Bourne Ultimatum.

The action takes place at breakneck speed, so don’t plan on getting up for popcorn once the movie starts. Don’t worry if you haven’t caught the first two Bournes (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy) or read the novels of the same names by Robert Ludlum. The good guys and bad guys are easily identifiable, and the plot is straightforward, with frequent references to the back story.

The film takes now-familiar cinematic ploys — car chases filmed with dizzying hand-held cameras, high-tech surveillance, a beyond athletic and multi-lingual hero, conspiracies directed by evil villains — to new heights. Worn-out movie-violence adversives can appreciate this over-the-top action since it gives the movie a fantastical aspect that’s a welcome relief to the constant barrage of real-life horrors we experience daily via news media. Suspend disbelief (Could even a crash dummy survive a car’s head-first dive over a wall into the pavement below?) and you’ll have a blast. But motion sickness sufferers, be warned.

So, fellow action movie fans, strap in and enjoy the ride.

Good espionage action • R • 111 mins.


A great drama of the arrogance and underlying bitterness of a man trapped in a life of compromise.

reviewed by Ben Miller

Why does a man betray his country? Breach — based on the true story of FBI mole Robert Hanssen — doesn’t quite answer this question. What it does do is show the arrogance and underlying bitterness of a man trapped in a life of compromise.

Portrayed by Chris Cooper in an Oscar nomination-deserving performance, Hanssen wears his rectitude on his sleeve. To aspiring FBI agent Eric O’Neill (played by Ryan Phillippe) Hanssen seems beyond reproach, a man devoted to his religious faith, his family and his country.

O’Neill is assigned to clerk for Hanssen, a legendary intelligence operative, while surreptitiously monitoring Hanssen’s alleged frequenting of Internet porn sites. When O’Neill questions his assignment, agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) tells him that Hanssen is selling secrets to Russian spies and has been at it for years. But they need proof and they want O’Neill to help get it.

This reviewer, accustomed to Hollywood’s poetic license when telling true stories, assumed when watching the movie that O’Neill was a made-up character, a fresh-faced idealist meant to be a good-guy contrast with Hanssen. I’ve since learned that O’Neill was a real person assigned to work for and spy on Hanssen. As in the movie, he in fact did have a close call, and he was afraid of being shot. (Hanssen was an expert marksman.)

Hanssen was arrested in early 2001, before 9/11. The FBI arrested him, but the Bureau doesn’t come off well in the movie. The FBI is portrayed as a gun-culture agency where intelligence-gathering skills are secondary to being a good shot. Its professional distrust extends, at least in Breach, to the other U.S. intelligence agencies — the CIA, the DIA, NSA — almost as much as to the Russians. In this slow-moving bureaucracy, the only way to get a good computer was to lift one off the pallets in the hallways.

There is suspense in this movie, but it is much more a character study than a thriller. Breach is a great opportunity for an actor, and Cooper uses it to cap a career of powerful, yet understated roles (Lone Star and Adaptation; for the latter, he won a best supporting actor Oscar).

Filmed mostly in Toronto, the movie still has great scenes of Washington, D.C., many shot at night because it is, in the end, a dark movie (cinematography by Tak Fujimoto). Directed by Billy Ray. Music composed by Mychael Danna.

Great drama • PG-13 • 110 mins.


© Universal Pictures

Sacha Baron Cohen rides — and perhaps tramples — the line between comedy and who-knows-what in Brüno.

Definitely not dull

reviewed by Mark Burns

Provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen takes his guerilla-style comedy to new extremes in this uneven comedy.

Brüno (Cohen: Borat) is Austria’s walking Studio 54. He’s an outlandish, shallow and hedonistic gay host of a couture TV show. Naturally, he entertains outsize notions of his importance. When he wrecks a fashion show and gets booted off air, he packs up and jets to America with assistant Lutz, hoping to find global fame in L.A. and beyond.

The basic shtick is the same as in Borat: Cohen inhabits a ridiculous alien personality and infiltrates strange corners of American society, coaxing out scandalous truths and tempting fate with outrageous button-pushing. His commitment to character remains steadfast, not even wavering at the heel of a leather strap at a swingers’ party.

That alone may be enough to decide this one for you.

Borat had an eye toward coaxing American prejudices into the open and seeing how far he could stretch patience in the face of the boorish character’s assertion of outrageous cultural norms. Brüno, on the other hand, specializes in outing/encouraging homophobia with mythic proportions of homosexual outlandishness while simultaneously skewering celebrity. Thus the vapid and superficial find themselves in the crosshairs alongside conservatives, southerners and rednecks. (One seemingly dangerous aside even dares to take on fundamentalists in the Middle East.)

Higher lowbrow moments such as in-character interviews and Jackass-style gags hark of Borat’s triumph. Genuine moments of contextual deceit yield healthy doses of shock and humor. Shock dominates, though, as Cohen’s goading is even more outlandish and aggressive than before. Often laughter won’t come because you’re just too busy groping around among the Goobers on the theater floor for your jaw amid echoes of omigosh, holy ___ or what the ___. The trap is sprung on us in the audience almost as often as it is on the hapless filmed, eroding the voyeur barrier. Elements of extreme sexual strangeness and nihilistic self-promotion will stun even the most tolerant.

Such shock may prove enough to dissuade the mainstream, though it has its intended effect. Where the film truly falters is in the more contrived moments. Cohen, along with director Larry Charles (Borat), seems to be trying to put more focus on the fictitious narrative as Brüno stumbles through his journey for fame regained. The perspective shifts away from documentary voyeur to something more manufactured, which fits strangely with the guerilla bits. Story is also weak at uniting some of the more disparate footage unto cohesive flow.

Serious fans of Borat will probably enjoy the shock ride, though people surprised to find themselves laughing at Borat would probably do better to skip this. However you view it, this flick is definitely not dull and will have you talking on exit.

Fair shock comedy • R • 83 mins.

Burn After Reading

This time, the inordinately respected Coen brothers miss the mark

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A group of oddball Washingtonians, some working for the government and some working at a gym, get tied up in a giant mishap of espionage and personal turmoil in the muddled comedy Burn After Reading. This frivol — if not joke on us — of a movie by the inordinately respected Ethan and Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo) is funny only in bits. It’s more depressing than anything.

Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is getting fired from the CIA and is writing a half-baked memoir. His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is sleeping with their friend Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a paranoid U.S. marshal and married sex addict. Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is a lonely, 40-something, personal trainer who can’t afford some much desired plastic surgery. One day, Linda’s colleague, the high-energy Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), finds a computer disk with what they think holds spy intelligence. It’s really a draft of Osborne’s memoir. The dimwitted pair blackmails the frustrated Osborne. Katie and Harry plan for divorces. And the CIA monitors the whole goings on. Oh what a tangled web this bunch of doofus Washingtonians weave.

From the beginning, film and characters are more sad and pathetic than humorous or even likeable. The terminally upbeat gym employees play a wobbly counterbalance to the scurrilous and selfish government lifers, but they are all pretty pathetic. None is sympathetic enough for us to laugh with or distasteful enough for us to laugh at. We can’t help but wonder if the Coen Brothers are just making fun of (and looking down upon) everyone in this movie: the smart, the stupid, the elite, the working class — and maybe that whole swamp that is Washington, D.C.

Sure, the movie feels smart in that typical there-is-more-here-than-meets-the-eye Coen Brothers way. But at the end, we realize there isn’t anything more here. Indeed, the movie admits as much to us at the inconclusive ending. Plus, the ride itself wasn’t all that fun.

Only J.K. Simmons, who appears about halfway into the film as a what-the-heck-is-going-on-here? C.I.A. supervisor, brings light and honest humor to the proceedings. With all this star power, you’d think something would catch fire. Nothing ever does.

Fair comedy • R • 96 mins.

| A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

Return to
| Top | Homepage |

© COPYRIGHT 2010 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.