Friday, August 31, 2012

Frank & Robot: BFFs

The place: Cold Spring, N.Y.
The time: The not so distant future when technology is taking over the planet.

Frank (Frank Langella) has been divorced for 30 years, has memory issues, and lives in an ever-expanding mess. Now his son, an excellent James Marsden, makes him choose. Either he goes to an assisted living facility or he consents to share his life with one of the new health care workers.

Enter Robot. He's glossy white, has no name and speaks with the endearing voice of Peter Sarsgaard. Robot cooks and cleans for Frank. Indeed, everything he does adheres to his basic program. He's technically dedicated to Frank's physical and mental well being.

And that's where the fun begins. Robot lacks, not only emotions and reasoning powers, but also nuance and subtley and long-term thinking. What's good for Frank in the short run, may not work in the long run. But Robot doesn't grasp this.

Langella and Robot are a winning team, but the movie is also helped by the excellent supporting cast: Marsden, as Frank's son; Liv Tyler as his daughter; and Susan Sarandon, who's the last human employee at the library where books are being replaced by DVDs and she has a robot of her own, aptly named Mr. Darcy.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Premium Rush: Surprise of the Summer

The Movie Slut hates chase scenes. Whether they're on foot, in cars, on planes, trains or hover crafts, she finds them an uber-snore.

So why did she see this flick about a bike messenger streaking around a metropolitan area?

Two reasons: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and New York City.

And she was thrilled that she did. Thanks to director David Koepp, the movie managed not to be a brainless zooming-around bore.

Gordon-Levitt is Wilee, the city's fastest and most daring messenger, who rides without brakes, gears or fear. He has only one worry. As a graduate of Columbia Law School, it's a future in a gray flannel suit, driving a desk, that puts him in a panic.

The movie careens into action when he's hired to deliver an envelope from Columbia University, 116th Street, all the way down to Chinatown. During rush hour. And if that's not challenge enough, a raging bull of a guy is determined to prevent this delivery.

If this still sounds like a mindless movie, consider two more enticements. You'll be swept along the magnificent streets of Manhattan, through Central Park, around Columbus Circle and alongside the breathtaking Chrysler Building.

And when you learn why this letter must reach the correct recipient at the right time, you're heart will truly be engaged by this surprisingly excellent film. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sparkle: Yes It Does

There's a short scene at the end of Sparkle in which Whitney Houston, in the audience at her daughter's first solo concert, blows a kiss up to the stage. Movie-goers can be forgiven for interpreting it as a farewell kiss by Houston to her fans.

The flick, a remake of a 1976 movie of the same title, wrapped up filming just three months before Houston's death and serves as a reminder of what a classy gal she was.

Houston stars in the movie and was the executive producer, but she had the grace, humility, generosity and maturity to step back and allow the three young women, who play her daughters, to grab the spotlight for most of this sincere and entertaining strive-and-succeed film.

The plot is simple: It's 1968 —oh the fashions!—and three sisters are trying to make it in the Motown scene. Through ups and downs and more downs, the Movie Slut could not help but cheer them on. The music soars. The emotions are raw. And when Houston sings her one solo in a church, where she began her career, she reminded us of what star power is all about.

And then she passes the baton to the next generation.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Queen of Versailles: A Riches to Rags Story

When we first meet Jackie and David Siegel, they're joyously building the largest single-family dwelling in the country. Fashioned after the palace of Versailles, it's what this Orlando, Florida couple believes their family of eight children, countless canines, and huge staff deserves and needs.

Think of it as the American Dream on steroids.

Jackie is 42 and a former beauty contestant. David, 30 years her senior, is a businessman who built a time-share empire.

At first glance, they're an odd couple. Not so. In fact, they bring to life the old Yiddish expression: "For every pot, there is a lid."

Together, they're the excess express.

Until the 2008 stock market collapse plunges them into relative ruin. Their Versailles remains unfinished. They may even lose their present home, a sprawling McMansion with a pool and Rolls Royce driving chauffeur.

Now the movie becomes more interesting. And infinitely sadder.

Jackie and David are hardly the only Americans who've suffered because of the shenanigans of greedy bankers. And they are certainly not among those most egregiously harmed. Still, they pull at your heartstrings. Not because they're victims of a corrupt economy, but because they're victims of their own issues and insecurities —the very same problems that led them to believe they needed their very own Versailles.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Campaign: Vote No Go

The Campaign starts off promisingly with a quote from Ross Perrot.

"War has rules, mud wrestling has rules - politics has no rules."

So far. So good. But as it lurches forward in fits and spurts, the film forgets to trust in the intelligence of its audience. There are scenes bordering on the clever. And the cast, with Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis as the candidates, and John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as the manipulating moneybag Motch brothers (sound familiar?), is first rate. Dylan McDermott as the soulless campaign manager is the movie's brightest spot.

But instead of mining the absurdity of modern American politics for satiric humor, the screen writer stooped to fart jokes and other desperate, unfunny stabs at cheap laughs.

The Campaign will go down on The Movie Slut's list of missed opportunites. With a timely topic like candidates gone wild, this flick could have been a gem. Instead it's just cubic zerconia.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Bourne Legacy: Survival of the Fittest

Where's the plot?
In this, the fourth Bourne movie, Jason Bourne isn't the only MIA situation. Though there's tons of mumbo-jumbo about Treadstar and black ops, the situation is rather simple.

Bourne is gone. (We miss you Matt Damon.)
We now have Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner).

He's a chemically enhanced spy/contract killer for the CIA. And not the only one. But now, due to a lapse in security, the program must be disbanded. All operatives are destined for annihilation.

And there you have it. The rest of the movie is about Arron Cross fighting to stay alive. To do this he must bounce around the planet from Alaska to the Philippines, to Chicago, to Pakistan, to Virginia and a bunch of other places. Along the way, he enlists the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weicz), who lights up the screen and brings out the best in Renner and and his character, Cross

The Movie Slut went into the theater with low hopes, which were surpassed. Ever so slightly. Perhaps if she'd done her homework and reviewed the three previous movies. Then again, never underestimate the importance of a good plot.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ruby Sparks: It Sparkles. It Glows. It Glistens.

Falling in love and writing fiction are both magical experiences.

That's what we learn in this brilliant rom-com, which is not as much a boy-meets-girl story as it is a boy-creates-girl tale. Or is it?

Movie-goers can decide for themselves if Ruby is real or the fictional creation of a young writer who reached literary greatness while still a teen and has suffered from writer's block ever since.

With Zoe Kazan in the staring role — she also wrote the screenplay — and her real life romantic interest Paul Dano, playing her movie lover, this flick has the feel and texture of early Woody Allen.

The Movie Slut's interpretation is that this film takes you inside the life and mind of a fiction writer — the agonies and the ecstasies of living with figments of the imagination, who don't always comply with the wishes of those who created them.

But she's also open to other interpretations. See it and let her know what you thing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hope Springs: Infernal

HS is an adult flick. And it's about sex.

But now that we've got your attention, we're sorry to say it's not erotic in the least. Doesn't even try to be.

Kay and Arnold (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for 31 years and aren't getting any. They sleep in separate rooms and share about six words a day.

While he seem fine with the arrangement, she wants and needs more.

Enter Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell), a couples therapist. Kay sees him hopefully, Arnold, reluctantly.

Carrell, who plays it straight as the marriage doc, offers little insight into their arctic rift. We never learn why Arnold is so angry, but somehow this marriage is saved so we can have a happy renewal-of-vows scene at the end.

The Movie Slut doesn't know any women like Kay. She's a throwback to the pre-Feminine Mystique days. Obviously, she's never read Cosmo or attended a sex toy party. It's difficult to believe she exists outside the confines of the 1950s or an ultrareligious cult. Still, it's great to spend time with Meryl, whether she's a cookbook writer, a British prime minister or a housewife from the dark ages. She makes the unbelievable seem possible.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Total Recall: Unmemorable

"I may not remember who I was," Colin Farrell says in TR. "But I know who I am."

That promising line reminds us that this hectic, mindless sci-fi thriller began life with a decidedly more cerebral bent.

Based on a Philip K. Dick short story and following in the heels of a 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick of the same name, it's a post-apocalyptic story of a restless young man who may or may not be a super spy.

The Earth is now inhabitable in only two places: The Colony and The United Federation of Britain. The former is a soggy slum that supplies workers for the posher Brits. Bored and unhappy, Doug Quaid (Farrell) visits a Rekall center that promises to implant memories that will lift his spirits. The question is whether this takes place or if the interrupted process triggers the reality of who he really is.

Unfortunately, most of the screen time is spent dashing around in various chases: on foot, in hover crafts, in boats, cars, etc. And the more Doug runs, the less we care about who he is. Or was.