Tag Archive | Reviews

Bidula’s Last Word – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

A few months ago while sitting in the theater for what might have been GI Joe or some such other messy summer blockbuster, the wife and I originally saw a preview for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.
My wife excitedly shouted that she remembered that book from when she was a kid. She couldn’t believe they were finally making a movie out of it.

I was at a loss. I’d never heard of such a book. I was raised primarily on Dr. Seuss and kinda skipped right into the “young adult” literature from there. Totally not gloating, but I had an advanced reading level and was sorta coaxed to avoid the typical 20- to 30-page books that most young kids were into at the time, so I probably missed that one.

From the sight of the preview, the movie looked to be nothing more than the average children’s animated movie. Ridiculous premise, ensemble cast, dumb jokes, the usual. Not something which would make me cry if I missed it.
Still, it was an animated movie. As a former computer animation student and continuing cartoon junkie, there was a little part of me that still wanted to see it. I couldn’t really resist, either, because my wife expressed interest in seeing it and she so rarely actually wants to see animated movies with me that I usually end up catching them when they’re on one of the movie channels. At least that way I don’t have to pay for the mediocrity that is most of the recent animated movies not done by Pixar.

That being said, I was absolutely floored by Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. From beginning to end, this movie was shockingly funny and entertaining.

We follow the story of inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), a man-child still trapped partially in his own imagination, as he strives to create something that will make a difference in the world.
After numerous busts, he comes up with a device that will change water into food. Due to a lack of power at his home preventing his invention from fully working, he attaches some jumper cables between his machine and a high-voltage transformer. When the machine takes off into the sky like a rocket, he is convinced that he had completely failed.
However, once the machine starts to convert the moisture in the air into “food weather”, he realizes that his invention is a success.
His small town of Swallow Falls, a burnt-out rust-belt metaphor as the former Sardine Capital of the World, is saved when the mayor realizes that they can market the town as a major tourist destination.
Of course, from here, mayhem ensues.

What sounds like a fairly simple plot actually hides some awesomely comedic sub-stories. From Lockwood’s budding romance with Weather Channel intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), to Flint’s relationship with his old-school father Tim (James Caan).
Other spectacular performances include the ever-expanding Mayor (Bruce Campbell), an arrogant Weather Channel Anchorman (Al Roker, hilariously enough) and Flint’s pet techno-enhanced monkey Steve who speaks through a thought-translating talk box (and is voiced in surprisingly high-pitched and unrecognizable fashion by Neil Patrick Harris).

It turns out to be a wonderfully well-rounded, clean, family comedy which doesn’t fall into the classic “family comedy” traditions of over-employing slapstick or relying solely on kid-style toilet humor.
I was surprised at how well written this movie was. There was that perfect balance of youthful and more mature jokes which all good kids movies and television shows employ to keep both kids and parents interested. At times, it seems like it’s more of a movie for the parents than it is for the kids, but I suppose that’s also the mark of a great family film. It’s got something for everyone.

It was a short movie, so it’s a short review. Suffice it to say that, if you’re interested in seeing a good clean flick, get out to the theater and watch this one. ESPECIALLY in IMAX 3D.
This was my first experience with the newer 3D technology and it was absolutely fantastic. Very absorbing and it leaves tons of room for the classic old 3D gags, which are employed quite expertly throughout this flick. So much so that, I dare say, it may not be worth seeing unless you can get the full on 3D experience.

Bidula’s Last Word – 9/10. It loses one just for being a kids’ movie, because I’m a dick like that. Just can’t bring myself to give a kids’ movie the whole 10. If it wasn’t for Up, this would be a front-runner for best animated feature hands down.

Just don’t go to the theater for the next two days, if you’re local. Bad juju out there with these G20 protests. I won’t say anything more about that unless asked. Trust me, I have a nasty rant ready to go.


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Bidula’s Last Word – Inglourious Basterds

I’m honestly not sure how much education is being perpetuated around the school systems currently regarding World War II.

I’m sure that the kids are being taught about D-Day and Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust, but I don’t really remember how far my class got into the war. We were, of course, taught that Hitler was an evil man who had to be brought down. I don’t quite recall how much we dove into his background in class. I don’t remember getting into any actual battle scenarios (except the two mentioned above). I’m sure something was there, but I was in High School and I didn’t pay attention. I looked it up later, after class, but that was for me. I was a slacker in class and a researcher after.
I think I agree with the guy sitting in front of me in the theater who, when we had reached what was essentially the short epilogue of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, shouted “Fuck History Teachers!”

You have to see it to believe it. And, I’m here to make you want to see it.

Inglourious Basterds is almost definitely the best movie I’ve seen so far this summer. There are a lot of ambiguous terms in there, but I have to qualify.
Quite a few people thought Tarantino had hit the wall (no pun intended) after seeing the B-side of Grindhouse, his 70s car chase homage Death Proof. I agree, this was not my favorite Tarantino flick, but it had to be taken for what it was: another part of a two-part tribute to schlock cinema by respectable directors. This was a way for them to cut loose and have fun with a picture instead of pushing the envelope.
If you don’t think Tarantino is back in full-force after seeing this movie, check your pulse. You may be a zombie and I don’t count the opinions of the living dead. Call me prejudiced.

Let me first tell you that this is a dialogue heavy movie. If you’re going into this expecting an absolutely action packed thrill ride, you’re not going to get it. There is plenty of action, don’t get me wrong. Explosions and blood and the absolutely brutal slaying of Nazis are main themes throughout the entire flick, however, it’s almost not even about the action involved. It’s more about the dialogue.
Tarantino shines as a writer in this movie. From the opening sequence, you are left to hang on every word, every uncomfortable moment of silence, and every look in the eyes of the characters. The dialogue is so good, in fact, that you won’t even notice how much of the movie is subtitled for the characters speaking German, French, and even a spot of Italian.

Though you are lead to believe that the story revolves solely around the exploits of one Lt. Aldo “the Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) and The Basterds – a group of eight Jewish-American soldiers out for blood, retribution, and the 100 Nazi Scalps demanded of each of them by Lt. Raine – it is actually about so much more.
As Tarantino has done in the past, he takes common elements throughout three separate storylines and ties them all together by the end of the movie. One of those common elements is Nazi SS Colonel Hans Landa played to marvelously evil perfection by Christoph Waltz, an Austrian-born actor who is making what some might consider his American debut in this movie, as he’s got some pretty extensive cred within the German film community.
Col. Landa’s cool, cruel, and slightly insane character provides for some of the films most tense and also most hysterical moments. I’m calling a Best Supporting Actor nod right now, actually. This guy was nothing short of fucking fantastic in this movie and almost completely stole the show.
Almost, that is, if it wasn’t for Pitt’s portrayal of Aldo Raine, a hard man with an intense job and gruesome sensibilities who, while taking things seriously, has a light-hearted, care-free, and funny demeanor about him that instantly makes Lt. Raine one of those unforgettable movie badasses.

Other reviewers and critics have said that it’s too violent. I don’t agree. I believe that it is just violent enough. It doesn’t go over the line with the amount of violence, but it does toe it quite a bit. There is blood and gore and moments that make you cringe, but certainly no more than your average war movie a la Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart. Sure, there are some (a few rather comedic) differences in circumstance, but nothing which could truly be complained about.
Every piece of blood and skull and brains and Nazi scalp fit into the movie like a glove. There is not one graphic moment where the more squeamish among us would say “That was uncalled for,” or “Why did they have to put that in the movie?” It was perfectly executed and just enough to make you squirm before they cut away.
Even though Eli Roth was involved (much to the dismay of at least one of my friends), this movie doesn’t reach his level of gore. After all, he was just an actor in the flick (playing Sgt. Donkowitz, “The Bear Jew”, another awesome character). He, thankfully, wasn’t supervising the bloodbath.

Also giving dynamite performances are Melanie Laurent, a 26 year-old veteran of the French film scene, as Shoshanna Dreyfus, a Parisian theater-owner with a deep seeded hatred for Nazis, Col. Landa in particular, and Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark, a German film starlet with an interesting agenda.
There are the classic Tarantino plot twists which you’re not even really suspecting when they actually happen. You will be legitimately surprised as to who lives and who dies by the end of the film.
To be honest, the main reason I wasn’t anticipating the deaths was because this, except for a very few extremely notable moments, was so unlike anything Tarantino has done that the whole preconception of “Tarantino Movie” was lost to me until the start of the credits flashed his name.
He pulled out all of the stops, actually using native language speakers for the proper characters. The tempo of the speech, the authenticity of the expression, and even the shortened slangy dialects of those foreign languages lead to such authenticity with the roles. Personally, I’m proud of Quentin doing this. When I looked on imDb trivia after the movie and saw that DiCaprio had been approached to play Col. Landa, I was amazed at how horrible of a mistake that would have been. Not only because the role was not really fitted to Leo, but because Leo would not have been able to speak German, French, or Italian with the same timbre as Christoph Waltz.
Also, I heard that he had approached Adam Sandler to play “The Bear Jew”, but Sandler couldn’t hang because he was filming Funny People.
I’m actually very pleased with the casting as, with too many big stars, the focus of the story would have been lost on minor characters as all of the names jockeyed for screen time. The movie wouldn’t have been nearly as strong without that character development and cavalcades of stars usually drag it down.

That all said, my verdict is that this movie kicks ass. Go see it right now. Everyone.

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

It only loses the .5 because I almost wish we could have spent a bit more time with the Basterds than we had. But, with an already lengthy run-time of 153 Minutes, I can excuse it in the grand scope of the story.

Remember: Christoph Waltz, Best Supporting Actor. You heard it here.

Oh, and yes, my wife liked it, too. I might be out of the movie dog house now.

Bidula’s Last Word – The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

My wife still did not get what she was promised this week.

Though we took a break from the big action blockbuster (and thankfully the season is almost over), we still wound up seeing a movie about which I was much more excited than she. I owe her, though, and may wind up seeing 500 Days of Summer just to set the keel back to even. (I hope she doesn’t kill me when she reads this sentence and finds out that I’d like nothing more than to see Inglorious Basterds sometime before the next week is out…)

So yeah. We got The Goods.

The main reason I wanted to see this is because I think Jeremy Piven is an absolute comic genius. I remember seeing him showcased in PCU like a million years ago and that performance sticking with me enough to steal some of his sound bites about college from less-than-reputable internet sources so that I could pepper my college radio show with his awesomely sarcastic, and now especially timely, dialogue. Now, of course, I watch him on Entourage, often wading through 20 minutes of crap show just to see the 10 that he’s on the screen kicking serious ass.
I am glad to see him returning to the big screen in a title role. Yes, “The Goods” is the middle, quotation-marks nickname to the main character, Don Reddy. A mercenary sales person of questionable repute whose sole purpose is to sweep into a town, sell a ton of cars, and get the hell out with a fat chunk of change in his pocket.
These people really exist, too, which was surprising to me. Auto-Sales Mercenaries are out there using every shady weapon in the salesman’s arsenal to get you to buy another piece of heavy equipment and they are typically employed during the most advertised sales of the year.
This is not a cautionary tale, however, this is a comedy.

Riding along with Piven are his crew of auto privateers consisting of large, sensitive man Jibby (Ving Rhames), tough-guy Brent Gage (David Koechner aka “That Bald Guy from Anchorman”), and ultra-horny cougar Babs (Kathryn Hahn). Pepper in a supporting cast of Ed Helms, Alan Thicke, James Brolin (sporting the narrow Bush eyes that his son used in W), Will Ferrel in a great cameo, as well as a cast of other car salesmen too long to list here (you wanna know, look it up on imDb, dammit) and you’ve got exactly what the title promises.
Does it deliver? I thought so. I wasn’t going into this movie expecting Oscar-quality cinema, but I was going in expecting better than the last two movies I’d seen, as referenced in this very blog. I got what I wanted, if only because this was a different type of movie. This only had the potential to ruin my night instead of raping my entire childhood.

There were more than a few theater-consuming laugh-out-loud moments, which is always the sign of a movie that is truly funny, at least the first time you watch it. The comedy of the flick is really accented by Piven’s ability to talk. Piven just has a way of talking that you know has been well used many times in his personal life. I don’t know if its improv or if it’s scripted but his acting is so natural in his latter day roles as great convincers and connivers (see: Ari Gold) that, even in the most extreme of circumstances, he seems completely believable as both a character and a real person. It almost makes the jokes funnier.
The cast is hysterical, the situations and the sales (and the Eric Bice Riot) are, in some spots, laughable because they seem like, if you were trapped in the sleaziest used car lot of all time, they could actually happen. I’m sure some of the story was based in true fact, though I highly doubt that a term quickly mentioned and defined in the movie, a “Nigerian Buyback”, has ever really happened. If it has, I’d like to meet that sucker and punch him in the face for being so stupid.
The only semi-complaint I have is that they stole a gag from Aqua Teen Hunger Force when Farrel makes his cameo, but it’s used to much more comedic effect than it was in the show, so it’s forgivable. If you know Aqua Teens, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I mention singing women and John Kruk.

A short review for a short movie. Not much controversial to talk about. If you’re tired of the blockbuster scene, get out to see this flick and have yourself a good couple of toilet laughs. It’s not the most fantastic movie ever made, but for me, it was a welcomed oasis in a desert of multi-million-dollar mayhem.

If it helps, it was even released on an Indy label! Though, Paramount is still going to get your money (if they haven’t already with Transformers and GI Joe), it’s still nice to think that it’s a smaller flick done by people who actually care about what they’re putting out. Even if my wife thought some of the gags were pretty recycled.

Bidula’s Last Word: 7.5/10

Like I said, a welcome break for anyone looking to take their mind off of blockbuster travesty. A worthy watch, if only just once.

Bidula’s Last Word – GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

My wife caught me off-guard when we decided to go see GI Joe Monday night. Especially because it was at her suggestion that we actually went to see it. I honestly felt kinda bad because I knew that it was going to be a two-hour explosion-fest and the last movie we saw (Transformers 2) was relatively the same thing.

Regardless, we went. We saw. I now review.
There aren’t many people who are unfamiliar with the name GI Joe. Even my 90 (almost 91) year old Grandmother probably knows the deal with GI Joe. It’s all about oversaturation and brand marketing. If you were a kid of any age in the 80s (and of either sex, probably), you played with GI Joes at one point in your life. It’s got to be at least the second most successful toy line in US history, probably even beating out Transformers and I’m sure right behind Barbie.

The thing is, not everyone followed the story of GI Joe. I know I watched the cartoon when possible, but I never really read the comic books until later in my life (when I got the chance to sit down and read some collecteds and backissues). Let me tell you, the comic book gets much deeper than the cartoon.
The more fleshed-out comic book continuity explains the origins of the few more mysterious Joes and Cobras as it goes on, delving into much more character and plot development than just having big vehicles and guys with guns shoot blue/red lasers across a non-descript desert(ish) battlefield from each other. Of course, everything you may have known from either the comic or the cartoon continuity is quickly dashed, disregarded, disfigured, or destroyed. Such is the fate of most established other-medial properties when reaching moviedom.
We see the “origins” of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. We see the McCullen family legacy begin (that’s Destro, in case you didn’t know) which is maybe the only piece of actual continuity backstory to make it through. We see Duke and Ripcord (WTF, really? Ripcord?) as they’re brought in to the Joe fold and we also get the backgrounds of Cobra Commander and the Baroness. More on that later.
If you’re not a fan, even a peripheral fan, of GI Joe, this movie will play like any other summer action blockbuster.
It retains the fantastic aspects of the original premise, so if you’re going for a straight up military vs. terrorist thriller, don’t see it. Matter of fact, if you’re expecting anything to be serious or believable about this movie, don’t see it. This is mother fucking GI Joe and there are gigantic, ridiculous explosions everywhere and sometimes for no particular reason. There are people who wield pistols who cleave vehicles in half. There are species of aircraft that play more like UFOs. There are massive amounts of submersible vehicles that the world would never see, ever.

To me, all of this was awesome.

It does strain credulity to the realists in the audience to say that this is happening in the not-so-distant future (which is explained by a title card at the start of the movie). Holograms, VTOL hover planes that turn on a dime in midair, rail guns, nanobots, sub-arctic underwater bases, personal accelerator suits… Sure, they’ve all got their roots going on right now, but do we really think we’ll hit that target within a decade? Within three?
Just remind yourself that this is complete fantasy. You’ll have more fun that way.

The plot plays out like a million other action movies before it. Group of highly trained soldiers vs. group of extremely dangerous and apparently well-funded criminals and terrorists in a race to save the world or bring it to its knees. You didn’t really expect to come into the GI Joe movie with another plot point, did you?
Sure, you get some of a love story, a bit of a triangle or trapezoid or something freaky weird, but it’s not the main focus. Sure, you see the resentments that a few of the Joes and Cobras harbor which made them the way they are by the time the movie strikes. None of these points are anything spectacular or new.

You also have the classic (if not stereotypical and expected) “black guy who is the comic relief but can still save the day in the end” formula with Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. You have the same guy courting the hot chick, as Ripcord shamelessly hits on Rachel Nichols’ Scarlett (actually making some progress by the end of the flick). You have the tragedy of the main hero as you find out Duke used to be engaged to the Baroness before she was the Baroness and Cobra Commander is really her older brother Rex (insert Speed Racer joke here). This all seemed pretty contrived and convenient. Though I suppose it made for a better story, it also took away a key good guy/bad guy element which, in my opinion, puts the credibility of GI Joe as a whole on trial. The way things played out in the end, as well as the other stereotypical elements, made me believe that this movie could have been any other action movie.
You could tell that this movie was, more than likely, sculpted out of the clay of another unrelated original screenplay. The GI Joe parts were slapped on, smoothed in, and fired as part of the final project. If all references to GI Joe were removed from the movie, it would still probably be the same movie. That’s not to say anything terribly bad about it, as it’s a half-decent fantasy action flick on its own. I’m just staying that most of the Joe stuff seemed ancillary and coincidental. As if it didn’t need to be there in the first place.
To try and counteract its shortcomings, the movie tries to work in every possible bit of fan service, from the vehicles and the technology to the old “knowing is half the battle” bit. In some ways, it’s gratifying to see these things you knew as a kid in live-action (or, in the case of most of the vehicles, in CGI coupled with live-action). I was half-expecting to stay after the credits and see a live-action PSA that would end with the big banner and the triumphant “GI Joooooe!”

My wife was already sick of what she’d seen and stood up immediately as the credits started rolling (to a remix of Boom Boom Pow, and again, WTF?!?) and took off. Does anyone know if there was anything after the credits?

The plot of this flick was, as mentioned, amazingly transparent, as was the ending, that they drew a straight line to the sequel and almost laid the entire first half of the script out on the table without saying a damn word. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected something twisting through blind curves at breakneck speed as far as a plot goes, but I always hope for the best. Even with action flicks.
It was fun, but it was as predictable as any other action movie. There are constants you know about that stay true. Big guns, lots of explosions, and Snake-Eyes whipping the shit out of Storm Shadow through multiple ages, Scarlett . You’ll see what I mean. I will repeat, aside from the whole GI Joe angle, this is a typical action flick. If you don’t like typical action flicks, you won’t like this movie at all. I, personally, kinda dug it based solely on the Joe element.
And, aside from the whole Duke and Baroness thing leading into the big reveal at the end that the Baroness has been brainwashed the whole time by Cobra Commander, who was really her brother with authentic battle-damage and a hard-on for snakes (and again, WTF?). I was ok with the changes to the continuity due to the movie being its own franchise, I suppose. Except for Ripcord having a huge role and pretty much winding up with Scarlett at the end. Dude was a background paratrooper in the comic who had one measly storyarc and he was a non-presence in the cartoon, now he’s macking on who was originally Duke’s woman in the cartoon? Not only that, but she was Snake-Eyes woman in the comics? Seriously, Ripcord?? But, I guess they had to push her aside to get to the whole Duke/Baroness angle and the whole “lonely, mysterious warrior” angle for Snake-Eyes. Plus, I don’t think Ray Park should really do anything in a movie but kick-ass and take names, but only if the name taking doesn’t require him to speak or act.

So, how was the movie? I’m going to be realistic with my rating.

Bidula’s Last Word: 6/10

Now, the real question: Will this movie destroy your childhood? No.
The second real question: Will this movie glorify your childhood? No.

It will neither build up nor completely tear down anything you held sacred, friends. It is not the anti-christ. It is not Armageddon. It was just a fun action flick. It’s worth a watch if you can get to the theater on the cheap or if you are just that much of a GI Joe fan.
My wife, as predicted, hated it and declared that because the last two movies we’ve seen have been mostly about who can produce the biggest explosion that these are the only types of movies I like anymore. On that tip, you can expect my next review to be about a movie without a paper-thin plot and decidedly less explosion-laden. I’ve got no problem with that. Maybe the next movie I see will be the first truly good movie I’ve seen all summer. I haven’t been getting out to the theater enough, but I think that’ll change soon.

Also, I was hoping for a cameo from either Sgt. Slaughter or Refrigerator Perry, but hey, I guess you can’t win ’em all.

Keep fighting the good fight.

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