Extract (***)

Posted on September 5th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Sympathy for the Bossman

Sympathy for the Bossman

When we heard that Mike Judge had a new movie coming out, we knew it was a must see for us on opening weekend.  His previous films Office Space and Idiocracy are considered to be works of genius in our house, even though it took us a while to discover and appreciate the masterpiece-i-ness of them both.  But we now know and love them, and regularly quote both on a daily basis.

For those unfamiliar, Office Space told the story of downtrodden workplace drones who rise up to throw off the shackles of their e-dentured servitude  and stick it to the man, while Idiocracy tells the story of the evolutionary decline of mankind into mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, mono-syllabic morons.

In counterpoint to those films (particularly Office Space), Extract tells the story from the perspective of “the man”.  Jason Bateman plays Joel, who is the owner of a successful food flavoring extract company.  While he was in college he developed a unique way of creating extracts that retain their flavor when heated, leading to tastier results.  Through years of hard work he has parlayed his breakthrough into a moderately large factory, which he runs from his office overlooking the shop floor.  He’s so successful that General Foods is sniffing around and thinking about buying him out lock, stock, and barrel, which would allow Joel to retire a relatively wealthy man.

However, even with his professional success, Joel is not happy.  He and his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) have drifted apart, and Joel finds himself lusting after the flirty new company employee Cindy (Mila Kunis) who seems to be fascinated by the world of flavoring extracts.  But, Joel is honorable and can’t bring himself to be unfaithful, so his spacy bartender friend Dean (Ben Affleck) suggests that he secretly hire a gigolo to seduce his own wife.  If she goes for it, then Joel is then morally free to also cheat, and if she doesn’t go for it then he’s learned a valuable lesson about his wife’s fidelity.  So, in a fit of chemically-enhanced miscalculation, Joel hires the himbo gigolo to “clean his pool”.

And then – everything goes wrong for Joel.  His wife Suzie jumps at the chance to jump the new pool guy’s bones, Joel’s Idiocracy-like workers perform a ballet of OSHA violations that result in a sprung bolt performing a half-masculation on his floor supervisor Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.), who decides to sue big, which scares General Foods into delaying their buyout until the lawsuit is settled.  Add to that the fact that Cindy, the cute new employee, is also a sociopathic grifter who is pilfering the purses of her workmates while she dates Step and pushes him to sue for bigger money (which she presumably plans to get her hands on).

jim-adler

Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer!

To help Step score the big civil case win, Cindy hires bombastic lawyer Joe Adler (Gene

District 9 (***½)

Posted on August 15th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Prawns a la Apartheid

Prawns a la Apartheid

If you are planning to see District 9, I urge you to stop reading reviews and just go see it.  It will best be seen with as little foreknowledge as possible, so that the film can be experienced without preconceptions.  I will warn you that this film is not for the squeamish, and the R rating is well deserved.  I don’t recall there being any sex or nudity, and the language isn’t all that bad, so you can infer from that where the R rating comes from – the violence, evil, and inhumanity.

You’ve been warned, the information starts flowing below – seriously, just go see it, then come back here.

Really, just go.

Okay, for those still reading, this film as that rare cinematic gem in that it is both completely unique and absolutely entertaining.  It took a few minutes to get my bearings as the film started, but I was quickly absorbed into the story and felt like I didn’t blink for the entire running time, except when diverting my eyes from the carnage on the screen.

We jump into the middle of a story where a gigantic alien spacecraft is hovering of Johannesburg, South Africa, and has been there for 20 years.  The aliens on board, numbering in the millions, were “rescued” by earthlings and put into a holding camp, which over the years devolved into a ghetto.  The aliens are referred to, derogatorily, as “prawns” because of their resemblence to roughly human-sized shellfish.  The prawns from the ship seem to be all be from a worker-class, and aren’t particularly smart, communicative, creative, or industrious.

They do have language, consisting of very alien-sounding clicks, grunts, and squeals, and they can understand English, and the human governmental workers that interface with the aliens can also understand their language.  The prawns are enamored of cat food, and the local Nigerian criminals are only too happy to provide it to them, at a price.  The Nigerians are also accumulating alien weaponry, even though each weapon is genetically locked and can only be fired by the aliens.

As the movie opens, the residents of Jo’burg are tired of having the aliens around, and a private conglomerate called MNU has been contracted to build a new settlement for the prawns 200 miles outside of town, and then forcibly relocate the aliens there.  Technically, the aliens have rights and there is at least a superficial attempt to try to make it all seem legal, but the aliens don’t really understand what an eviction notice is, so the logistics are kept on track by private mercenaries, who are only too happy to…uh…incent the prawns into cooperating.

MNU puts a man named Wikus Van De Merwe in charge of the move.  Wikus is a middle-management type, not really too bright or ambitious, not really evil, either…just sort of banal and thoughtless.  He doesn’t seem like he’s spent any time examining the awe-inspiring fact that humanity has

Michael Vick is Back in the NFL

Posted on August 15th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Sports by EngineerBoy
An Eagle?  More Like A Vulture...

An Eagle? More Like A Vulture...

So, Michael Vick is out of prison after serving time for illegal dog-fighting, and is returning to the NFL as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.  I believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and while I would prefer to have never seen or heard of this chump ever again, I can’t begrudge him the fact that he’s served his time and is going on with his life.
 
For a refresher on his recent history, see these previous posts:

Michael Vick Needs Psychological Treatment
Michael Vick Should Be Thrown To The Dogs

Although it’s rare, I’m sure that it’s possible for people to undergo fundamental changes in their psyche, and it may be the case that Vick has done exactly that – he had it all and then lost it all, and his fall from grace could have been enough to lead to a soul-searching epiphany wherein he achieved the enlightenment to understand that it is simply and completely wrong to  torture and kill animals that are trusting and innocent.

But I seriously doubt it.  Tigers rarely change their stripes, and people rarely change their fundamental nature.  Torturing dogs ranks up there with beating children in my book – not that the life of a dog is comparable to the life of a child, but that the mental state of a person who can inflict pain and horror onto a being that is completely dependent on, trusting of, and subservient to them is the same in both cases.

But, again, everyone deserves a second chance.  Many people who are violent to their own children are passing on what they learned at home growing up, and if they take steps to break the cycle that is an admirable thing.  Michael Vick has claimed that the torture and abuse of dogs was part of his culture growing up, and I hope that what has happened is that he has seen the light and realized that what he did was horrific. 

However, my fear is that his essential nature hasn’t changed, and all he has learned is that he shouldn’t have gotten caught dogfighting, and that he will simply find some other outlet for his narcissistic sociopathy that will lead to his re-downfall.  I am not wishing for this to happen, and hope that it does not…but I fear that it is the most likely outcome.  I just hope nobody else gets hurt in the process.

Funny People (***)

Posted on July 31st, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
funny-people

L'Chaim...and the turkey, it's kosher?

Funny People is the latest film from adult-comedy king Judd Apatow, and only the third that he has directed, after The 40 Year Old Virgin in 2005 and Knocked Up in 2007.  If you’ve seen either of those, or Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall (where he was the producer), you should have a read on whether or not you’ll enjoy this new film.

George Simmons (played by Adam Sandler) is a successful star who parlayed his beginnings in stand-up comedy into a mega-career and a string of blockbuster films.  However, as the film opens, George receives bad news about his health, and faced with the gaping maw of his own mortality, begins to re-examine his priorities.

He picks Ira Wright (played by Seth Rogen) out of the string of aspiring comics performing for free at the local comedy club and asks him to take over as his personal assistant, and also write some jokes for him.  It’s difficult to tell if this move is selfish (he needs somebody around so his loneliness doesn’t consume him) or generous (he wants to pass on his comedic legacy by helping out a struggling nobody), and Adam Sandler doesn’t give us a clear read, because he plays the character as a realistic-feeling combination of neuroses, talent, affection, and dickish-ness.

Seth Rogen continues to be able to play a believable every-schlub, in spite of his rocketing stardom, and he imbues Ira with a sympathetic combination of self-doubt, opportunism, diligence, and nascent talent.

Part of the realistic feeling in their relationship may come from the fact that Judd Apatow wrote the script, and back in the day he and Adam Sandler were struggling unknowns together, but Sandler’s star caught fire long before Apatow’s, and it feels like some of the real-life dynamics they experienced have been folded into the story. 

I mean, if you look backward from today, you see that both Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow have parlayed their abilities into larger-than-life careers making people laugh, and back in the beginning they must have known that they were roughly equivalent in the talent department.  The fact that one of them (Sandler) hit it big before the other (Apatow) can easily be interpreted as luck, and the inexorable hand of fate plucking one of them from obscurity while leaving the other behind had to introduce some kind of tension and ill-feelings into their relationship (unless they were both saints).

And that dichotomy is played out in startling contrast in this film.  Ira Wright sleeps on a pull-out sofa in an apartment he shares with two other guys, one of whom (Jason Schwartzman) has scored a recurring role in a throwaway sitcom and finds endless ways to flaunt his new liquidity in the faces of his roommates, and the other of whom (Jonah Hill) is faring much better on the stand-up circuit and claims the other bedroom by virtue of being able to pay rent.

This leaves Ira as the bottom dog,

The Hangover (***½)

Posted on June 27th, 2009 in Commentary,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
We call this "The Loser Bench"

We call this "The Loser Bench"

It would not be possible for me to recommend “The Hangover” highly enough.  This movie is laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, and is driven by the script, the story, and the situations, not by “stars”.  Hollywood has gotten lazy about making deals instead of making movies, and have developed a pattern of putting A-list stars into films with mediocre scripts and huge advertising budgets, and just expecting us to show up because we don’t know any better.

Well, now you know better, at least about this film.  Parts of it are raunchy, but that’s not its purpose – the raunch is essential to the plot.  And the plot sounds hackneyed, but it is *not*.  This is the story of four friends who go to Las Vegas for a bachelor weekend to send off one of their group.  They plan to spend the night doing anything and everything, and then leaving it all behind because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

The film starts conventionally, setting up the four main characters – Phil the school teacher (Bradley Cooper), who feels trapped by his wife and family and thinks nothing of pilfering his students’ field trip money to embiggen his Vegas stake; Stu the dentist (Ed Helms), whose harpy girlfriend is the distillation of every man’s worst nightmare; Doug the groom (Justin Bartha), the nice guy marrying the nice girl and whose nice families are nice; and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) the…the…cipher? …the…uh…weirdo? …er…pedophile? …um…genius??  Well, Alan is a puzzle as it’s hard to describe a man who is legally restricted from getting with 200 feet of a school (or a Chuckie Cheese), who learns card counting from a book and scores a bundle at the tables, who wonders if Caesar ever really lived at Caeser’s Palace, who blames Al Qaeda for society’s intolerance of masturbating on a commercial airliner, and who actually seems like a nice, if misunderstood (or un-understandable) guy.

These four borrow the prospective father-in-law’s classic convertible Mercedes and head across the desert to get their groove on in Vegas.  After they check-in to the hotel and do Jäger shots on the roof, the story flashes forward to the next morning, when Phil, Stu and Alan wake up to a Gordian knot of repercussions from the previous nights festivities.  Their $4,000/night suite is a wreck, a rooster struts and clucks among the carnage, there’s a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom, and Doug is missing (and so is one of Stu’s teeth).

The rest of the film is the story of them trying to remember what happened so they can find Doug and get him to the church on time.  They piece the night together from clues and guesses, and retrace their steps on their quest for Doug.  And their path was long and winding, as well as outrageously hilarious.  I won’t go into any more details, but let’s just say that the movie deserves a

Drag Me to Hell (*)

Posted on May 31st, 2009 in Entertainment,Movie Reviews by mynagirl
Gimme my $3.50 matinee ticket price back!!

Gimme my $3.50 matinee ticket price back!!

What a terrible waste of an afternoon out of the house!  At least we ate sushi.

When the ad campaign for Drag Me to Hell came out a few weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic.  Over the years, Engineerboy has educated me in the way of Sam and Ivan Raimi: Evil DeadEvil Dead II, and even Army of Darkness.  Hilarious, silly, fun, campy, sly horror.  Classics.  I’ll watch them any time they come on cable.  Who can resist … uh… deciduous molestation, anyway?  And Raimi’s a big-time director now, and the three Spidey films to his credit have given him the stick in Hollywood to go back to his old schtick.   

If only he had. 

Drag Me To Hell isn’t a fun, campy Raimi flick.  It isn’t even a straight-up good fright of a horror movie.  There elements of each are there, but you can’t just toss frozen beef and an uncut carrot into a pan and call it stew.  Nor can you splash some wine and lob a cupcake in the pot and hope it makes a whole meal.  A movie’s only campy if you commit to it and have some humor.  If you play it straight, even a little bit, the campy parts become lame.  At the same time, you lose your ability to do effective horror if you kowtow to the current market and, pardon the vulgarity, pussy out with a PG-13 rating, unless you’re really really creative.  

And this movie wasn’t.  Give me some exploding intestines, give me chopped up brains, if it’s straight up horror I’m okay with it.  (Although the best horror movies show some of the least, à la Jaws and Aliens).  But seriously?  This stuff?

Spoilers, blah blah blah…

A gypsy curse, really?  A fortune teller?  A girl who’s thin now but used to be fat as a kid?  Animal sacrifice?  The “I’m a Mac” guy?  (Actually he wasn’t bad with what they gave him to work with). 

I won’t even bother to detail the plot to great length, it’s so pedestrian.  Aspiring-career-girl-not-good-enough-for-rich-boyfriend’s-family, bank, gypsy, foreclosure,  tough moral decision, curse.  It’s exactly what you expect of throwaway PG-13 marketed-to-teens crappy-ass pseudo-horror dreck.  The soundtrack is obviously ominous to a fault, with omnipresent screeching Eastern European violins.  The girl hears weird sounds but oh it’s just a rusty gate.  On the path to her $2 million dollar rusticly completely furnished adorable house above the LA hills.  Oh but wait it’s the wind.  Oh wait it’s really the ghost of what must be the devil, because it’s a shadow with horns.   Oh, it breaks windows.  Yawn.

Then here comes the stuff that I couldn’t watch, the only way you can make PG-13 horror: the gross-out crap.  Ok, maggots,  fly in the sinuses, kinda creepy, we’ll allow it.  But the old lady’s body spewing embalming fluid all down the girl’s mouth?  (From which girl stands up shocked and marvelously

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (***)

Posted on May 25th, 2009 in Commentary,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Honest(ly huge) Abe

Honest(ly huge) Abe

We had never seen the first movie in this series, Night at the Museum, but ended up watching it a couple of days before going to see the new installment, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.  We found the first movie to be enjoyable and forgettable, but funny enough that we decided to go out and see the sequel this weekend.

Battle of the Smithsonian is, quite enjoyably, more of the same, but on a larger scale.  Many of the familiar characters from the first film are back again, and a host of new characters are added.  Also, this film takes place across the campus of the Smithsonian museum buildings, and makes sure to pull some of the personality of the museum itself into the mix.  Smithsonian isn’t trying to hide a history lesson inside a Ben Stiller action-comedy, far from it.  There are historical references, many of which will fly over the heads of the young target audience, like Sputnik.

For example, at one point in the film a couple of the characters step into the life-size print of the famous Life magazine photo of a returning sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square.  The characters wander around Times Square chased by Egyptian spearmen, and eventually step back into the Smithsonian.  Unfortunately, one of the characters has dropped his cell phone in the crowds, and a young serviceman picks it up and shouts after him that, hey, mister, you dropped your…whatever this thing is.  Later, over the end credits, we see that same young serviceman working at an electronics bench in the 40’s, and his mother calling him to dinner from the other room.  He tells her just a minute, he thinks he’s onto something, and she shouts back with the unbending will of mom’s everywhere and says, “You put down whatever that is and you get in here right this minute, Joey Motorola!”  There was a row of about a dozen 8-10 year old boys sitting in front of us, and they all spun around and stared at us when we cracked up at that line.

There are also Tuskegee airmen, simian astronauts, gangsters, Tsars, emporers, huns, painting subjects, and even NASA mission control techs (played by Clint Howard, who has recognizably played such techs in many other films) that will resonate much more deeply with older audience members, but which also provide an extra layer of humor apart from yet another predictable round of slapping the monkey.

The story of the current installment is that Kahmunrah, the evil older brother Ahkmenrah, has come to steal the magic plate from his younger brother.  The plate is what brings all the museum characters to life between sunset and sunrise each night.  Kahmunrah knows that the plate can be used to summon the army of the dead and allow him to take over both the day and night-time worlds.  It’s up to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)

An Open Letter to the Producers of American Idol

Posted on May 21st, 2009 in American Idol,Commentary,Television by EngineerBoy

Dear American Idol Producers,

American Idol...Reborn?

American Idol...Reborn?

Sigh.  Another season has ended, albeit with a surprise ending (Kris Allen defeating Adam Lambert), but the finale wasn’t watched in my household.  Again.  We didn’t watch last year, either.  And although we watched most of the episodes this season, we still watched many fewer than last season.

Over the years there have been several consistent issues we have with the show which continue to drain our enthusiasm.  If you care to know them, here they are:

Issue #1: Obvious no-talents singing before the judges during tryouts
I can see you all huddled in your planning meetings, hoping to strike some more William Hung-like ratings gold by putting through idiots, freaks, sad losers, and people whose singing talent is measured in the negative range.  However, that schtick is old and played out and should be retired.  As the judges are so fond of saying, and what keeps me watching, is that this is a singing competition.  Having your screeners put through some croaking clown to sing before the judges is a ludicrous and transparent ploy, please stop it.

Issue #2: The endless, manufactured backstories
During tryouts, you pick supposedly interesting/appealing contestants and provide us with behind-the-scenes looks at their lives, toils, challenges, and troubles.  However, at this early stage these are anonymous singers, so the program would be much more interesting and lively, in our opinion, if you would simply stage the singing competition.  Now, when you get to Hollywood and start paring down the contestants to an identifiable bunch, we might like to learn a *little* something about them…but just a little.  The endless biographing and attempts to manufacture pathos and drama are irksome.

Issue #3: Kara DioGuardi
Who?  Why?  The best way to describe her is to paraphrase Shakespeare thusly:  “Kara is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets her hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  Her’s is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Kara did not have one moment that we saw this season that wasn’t useless, irritating, or both, or somewhere in between.  And don’t get us started on her “song”, which is addressed further down in this article.

Issue #4: Country week
Do you have to kowtow to that demographic?  Have you even stopped to consider how many viewers it drives away (like us) compared to how many it attracts for that one, single episode?  Country music is not what American Idol is about, period, so don’t try to put a pig behind the lipstick – it insults the fans of both kinds of music.

Issue #5: Golden Idol awards
Really?  Just shorten the damn show by 15 minutes.  Please?  Even 15 minutes of dead air would be preferable.

Issue #6: An even number of judges
This puts too much power in the hands of Lord Cowell.  Have three judges…or five

Star Trek (***½)

Posted on May 8th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
startrek

Boldly Going Again

We saw the new Star Trek movie today (opening night), and it was fantastic.  To give some context, I’m an old geezer and religiously watched the original Star Trek series during its initial run, and many more times in syndication.  I’ve seen the Star Trek movies that included the original cast.  I never really got into any of the subsequent Trek series, films, fanfic, spin-offs, books, conventions, etc, so I’m not a slavish Trek nerd, but I’m an old guard, indigenous Trek fan.

And coming from that perspective, my take is that J.J. Abrams did a great job of refreshing and updating the original Star Trek series with this prequel, and he was both faithful to the original and also daring enough to make changes in what felt to be a near-perfect proportion.  The new cast, playing younger versions of the original characters, do a pitch-perfect job of capturing the essence of their characters without seeming like they are doing imitations. 

The Original Star Trek (TOST) has been around for so long that I was skeptical that it could be refreshed in any meaningful way.  However, this new episode should jump-start a whole new incarnation of the franchise.  I can tell you that I’m excitedly awaiting the next film in this series, after having seen this version once a few hours ago. 

WARNING: Spoiler ahead, don’t read any further if you don’t want to know anything about the plot.
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The film starts with a sequence that includes the birth of James T. Kirk, and I have to say that it was so well done that I got a bit misty-eyed.  As the film progresses we see early scenes of many of the main characters, prior to their meeting each other.  Eventually, fate plays a hand and puts *most* of them aboard the Enterprise, albeit not in their familiar roles/ranks, at least not initially.  However, by the end of the film, all of the key characters from TOST are present and accounted for (and in their correct roles).

In between there is a reasonably engaging story that involves time travel, the destruction of one character’s home planet, a meetup between a character’s new incarnation and their older self played by the original actor, dealing with a vengeful enemy, and unexpected love blooming.  The action and effects sequences are superbly well-done, and don’t jolt you out of your enjoyment like so many other of Hollywood’s expensive-yet-clumsy digital effects behemoths.  This film is more along the lines of Iron Man, where the effects serve only to enhance the story, never to *be* the story or distract you from the storytelling.

All of the new cast members inhabit their characters fully, and capture the essence of the original characters beautifully.  I didn’t quite buy Chris Pine as Kirk for the first few scenes, but by the end, in my mind, he *was* Kirk – and it’s hard to consider anyone but Shatner as Kirk.  But Pine

Nyuck, Nyuck…What the Fy**k?

Posted on March 27th, 2009 in Celebrities,Entertainment by EngineerBoy
larry-moe-curly

Carrey, del Toro, and Penn?!?

If today were April 1st I might think that this article was a joke:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/nyuk-nyukhuh-sean-penn-joins-three-stooges-movie/?ref=movies

That’s a blog post on the New York Times site which claims that Hollywood will be making a Three Stooges movie, and the Stooges will be played by…brace yourself…get ready…Jim Carrey (getting fat to play Curly), Sean Penn (as the bozo-fringed Larry), and Benecio del Toro (as Moe, the living superego). 

Uhhhh….huh?  My confusion led me to deduce that the film would be a tortured look at the sad reality behind the farcical public personas, but then I noticed that the screenplay is being written by the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter, most famous for There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin, neither of which had much seriousness to them).

So I can’t reconcile this information – something has to be wrong and/or it will never happen.  However, if this amalgamation ever makes it to the screen, I’ll be first in line.

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