MEGAMIND, starring Will Ferrell and Tina Fey

It must be really hard to make a good movie. You have to come up with interesting characters. You need a plot–that is, a beginning that leads to the middle, that works toward the end. The beginning should capture your interest with fascinating characters placed in complex situations that will require courage and growth of character to overcome. The middle should be full of twists and turns so that you are wondering how it will end. The end should be emotionally satisfying. 

Pixar knows how to do this. Dreamworks, not so much. In fact, with the exception of the gorgeous  How To Train Your Dragon,  Dreamworks and I don’t get along at all. Case in point: Megamind. 

This movie is about nothing. OK, there’s a bad guy (Megamind) and a good guy (Metro Man).  Bad Guy beats Good Guy and has all of Metro City (which he pronounces so that it rhymes with ‘atrocity’)  to himself. After a little while he gets bored because there’s no Good Guy to battle.  Bad Guy then attempts to make a Good Guy so there’s someone to fight with. It goes wrong. There’s a girl (Ms. Fey) they’re all in love with. Bad Guy realizes that bad guys never get the girl (This is not true in real life, of course. In real life, Scott Peterson has women writing to him in San Quentin.) and this makes him sad.  In the end the Bad Guy decides that the Badder Guy is too bad so he has to be beat. Now Bad Guy is Good Guy. 

That is literally the entire story. There are no villains, no imminent destruction of Metro City, no babies trapped in burning buildings, no nothin’.  Furthermore, the characters are not endearing. Metro Man is a Fopped Up  Mr. Incredible with a Liberace cape. Megamind is petty, scrawny, and blue. He’s a liar and an opportunist.  Hal is simply horrible.  Ms. Fey’s character (Rochelle? Roxanne? I can’t remember.)  lacks that little something–that Need to be Saved–that all damsels in distress need. We never worry about her.  There’s no emotional tension.   Boring.

There were two particular moments that jarred me as a Christian: in one scene during the time Megamind is Overlording Metro City, he takes everything he wants–piles of money, art treasures, and even,  apparently, the Ark of the Covenant.  Huh? In an earlier scene, Metro Man walks on water. Why? Why trifle with the Holy?  The Lord’s name is taken in vain twice. 

 I also did not care for the scene in which the tallest tower in Metro City is destroyed by the bad guy. Did someone even think about this? Let me think…No. (Here’s the meeting: a bunch of people working on the film sit around in a room and one says, “Hey, let’s make a city that resembles New York in that it has super-giant buildings and is on the water, and then–hey, howdy!–let’s knock down the tallest building!” and everyone else says, “ooh, neato.”)   

On the plus side, there is no potty humor and there are no sexual innuendos. Too bad my kids still won’t get to see this one, not even when it comes to the $3 theater. Not even on Netflix. On more of a plus side, Despicable Me just went up in my estimation. At least it had cute kids.

Speaking of Despicable Me, it had a lot of minions. Megamind has a minion–it’s a fish, but it’s called “minion.” Gru had a shrink ray. Megamind has a dehydrater, which if you think about it, is the same thing. Gru wanted to be the greatest villain. Megamind wants to be a great villain. Gru had cookie bots. Megamind has brain-bots. At least Megamind doesn’t photocopy his little blue butt.

So, back to the idea that it must be really hard to make a movie. Of course, these studios have to Keep Making Movies. They can’t say, “Nope, nothing good in the in-box this year, let’s take a year to cultivate some stories.”  Still, this movie had some giant names involved. I think they should have hired less-costly Voices and spent the money on a Story Writer.

RED, starring Bruce Willis

It’s too dramatic to be a comedy-with-dramatic-themes and too silly to be a drama-with-jokes. They should have picked one genre and gone with it instead of flailing around between the two. “It’s a dramedy!” you say, but no, it actually isn’t, because the genres do  not seamlessly mesh–they crash sloppily.

The premise is riveting: in 1981, a young Lieutenant commits mass murder when an “action” in a Guatamalan village goes wrong and every man, woman, and child in the village is killed.  His father is a US Senator who engineers a cover-up. No one has peeked under the covers until now–present day–when a New  York City reporter finds out that the one-time Lieutenant is none other than the current Vice President of the United States. The reporter gets sloppy, lets word out that she knows about the cover-up and is about to plaster it on Page One. She is murdered. Then, one by one, all those who had been part of the cover-up turn up dead. Also on the hit list, retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis). The VP’s hit squad comes after him at his home in the middle of the night, blasting it with so much firepower, I thought it would collapse on itself from perforation.

This is not thematic material for a comedy. This is serious stuff, and if they had made the movie as a thriller, I would have been on the edge of my seat. But they threw in so much nonsense, it takes the satisfaction right out of it. Here’s satisfaction in a thriller: remember the end of The Departed when Mark Wahlberg walks away down the hall? That works. This movie takes incredibly serious scenes and juxtaposes them next to complete stupidity.

I wanted to like this movie because I want to like Bruce Willis because (name-dropping alert) his daughter went to school with my daughter, and truly, I did like Mr. Willis and his character Frank Moses. I didn’t even mind that his love interest is decades younger than him, because c’mon, art may as well imitate life on occasion. I also liked Karl Urban playing Agent Cooper. His entire performance could be picked up and moved to the Serious Version of this movie without one hitch. When he learns that Moses is at his house and that his children are in danger, his reaction is dead-on correct. Of course, we don’t feel any suspense at all because we know Moses and crew are a bunch of jokers in a film they must have thought was some sort of Oceans Goes CIA farce. 

Helen Mirren is fantastic, and the moment where she swaps her stilletos for combat boots is classic. At least she knows (as Agent Salt does not, apparently) that a woman in a dangerous spot needs a good pair of practical shoes. But the idea that an MI6 agent would fall in love with a Soviet agent and live to tell the tale is ludicrous.  Can MI6 agents retire in the US? Really?

Here’s a weird scene: Morgan Freeman, retired CIA Agent Joe,  lives in an assisted living facility ogling girls’ behinds. One of Vice President Stanton’s thugs comes to murder him. Moses hears from the Facility that Joe’s been murdered, however, Joe later shows up! How did he convince the Ogled Ones that he was dead when in fact it was the assassin who bought it? They don’t let us know how he pulls off this bit of trickery, so we have to guess that he played dead long enough to steal the ambulance he arrives in later just when an ambulance is needed.  Never mind. I like Freeman as Mandela, so I’ll let this slide. You’ve got to give people some slack sometimes.

In short, the actors are fine. The script is a mess. It is apparently written by two brothers. Maybe one of them wrote a comedy version, the other wrote a drama version and they spliced it all together. The end is a horror–cheap, mocking potshots at former Soviet slave-states are not funny.

SOCIAL NETWORK, starring Jesse Eisenberg

Everyone is raving about this movie. I’m just scratching my head.  Sure, it’s well put-together and nicely acted. Yes, the script is tight and smart. But “Best Movie of the Year”? Really?

The Social Network is about college kids partying too hard and getting mad when one of them hits the mother lode and leaves the rest of them behind. It’s about the rise of Facebook. It’s about the lawsuits brought against Mark Zuckerberg, the World’s  Youngest Billionaire by some non-billionaires who want some of his money.  

The story:

Harvard kid Mark Zuckerberg (played very well by Jesse Eisenberg) is dumped by his girlfriend because he thinks conversation on a date is supposed to be Edgy and Smart instead of Sweet and Companionable. He thinks their relationship is a contest of who has the fastest and most cutting conversational come-back.  When she walks out, he doesn’t examine himself to see if he is the blankety-blank she says he is, but instead proves that he is by blogging bad things about her, including some personal vital stats. Not satisfied with hurting just one woman, he decides to diss girls in general by comparing them two-by-two in an exercise of Mass Subjectification of Women that is instantly so  outrageously popular that it crashes the Harvard servers.

Zuckerberg gets called on the administrative carpet for hacking through Harvard cyber-security, but gets the attention of the Winklevoss twins (kid you not, their real name is Winklevoss), a couple of rich Harvard rowing stars who want to start a social network to link the Harvard student body. They ask Zuckerberg to write the program for them, and then they go back to the rowing tank to work on their Olympic aspirations. Weirdly, they meet Prince Albert of Monaco.

The social site the Winklevosses envision would be different from MySpace because it would allow users to manage who sees their information. Exclusivity is the name of the game, which makes sense: we’re talking about Harvard, after all. Zuckerberg jumps on board, then decides he wants to play this game by himself, gets The Facbook up and running in a few short weeks and completely cuts the Winklevi (his term) out of the loop. They sue.

The movie goes back and forth between the legal depositions and the development of Facebook from a little Harvard-only social network to the behemoth we all know, love,  and use daily (okay, several times daily). The Winklevosses want a cut of the pie, and Eduardo, Zuckerberg’s former friend and original Facebook CFO (who gets cut out of the deal along the way) wants his share in the company back. In between there is a lot of college nonsense (including hazing and chicken “cannibalism”) and a lot of young men and women partying too hard–some of them fornicating in public toilet stalls. 

Justin Timberlake makes a great villain as Napster founder Sean Parker. Parker is on the take in every way, but he does have the smarts to point out that, for the savvy capitalist, it makes sense not to sell to the first bidder if your company might go global and eventually be worth A Billion Dollars.  

Given, no one wants to be the dumpee in an ended relationship, but am I supposed to feel sorry for a 26-year-old billionaire because a girl dumped him at 19 and won’t friend him back? Wasn’t everyone dumped at 19? No one wants their intellectual property to be heisted, so maybe it’s the Winklevoss Twins I’m supposed to feel sorry for with their Harvard educations, their Olympics, and their Family Money.  I actually did feel pity for the hard-working Eduardo, who ends up soaking wet, forgotten, and dismissed, but am I really to believe that it matters whether someone does or does not gain admittance to a Harvard “final club”?  Am I to wince with pain  (or, alternately, feel some sense of civic justice) when a man with a Billion Dollars has to write a few checks?

The ending is emotionally unsatisfying. There is Mr. Zuckerberg writing checks and pining over a girl he didn’t appear to really like all that much.  I’m thinking that if you asked Mr. Zuckerberg (now 26), he’d tell you that being the world’s youngest billionaire is not as lonely and/or depressing as the movie would have us believe.   

Very good acting. Great writing.

WALL STREET, starring Michael Douglas and Shia Labeouf

I liked this movie from the very beginning, through the middle, and all the way to the end. It has two layers: the solid concrete story–the massive buildings, the  jewelry, the money, the money, the money–overlaying the soft, tender story of aching longing for love; for real, satisfying, lifelong human relationship. Happily, the movie comes to the correct conclusion about what’s important, and even more happily, the principals don’t have to eke out a living on some Iowa farm when the dust settles. They still have barrels of money and they still get to live in Manhattan.  Win-win.

The actors are all at the top of the game, and if there’s a weak link here, I don’t know who it is. It certainly isn’t Susan Sarandon, who is a slam-dunk as Jake’s mother, a real estate agent who deludes herself that the freight train of the oncoming housing meltdown does not have her name on it. (Great line: “Defending your father is like defending smallpox.”) Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko is great, although you can’t quite forget that this man is battling stage 4 throat cancer: this adds a poignancy to the picture it would not otherwise have.  It’s a brilliant performance, and I am sure Oscar is watching.

Shia Labeouf as Jacob (Jake) Moore is a joy to watch. If every man emoted like this man does, there would be no divorce in America: “I miss you like crazy. I love you, Baby.” With what appear to be actual tears and a truly broken heart. You can’t blame Winnie for breaking his heart. He broke hers first. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as the understated quiet woman who knows what she needs and that this isn’t it. She doesn’t rage. She doesn’t weep. Importantly, she forgives. 

There is a vast amount of money in this movie. Starting with the city-scapes of the billion-dollar NYC office buildings,  into Jake’s six-million-dollar Manhattan apartment with his many computers and floor-to-ceiling windows, through the richly-decorated investment bank board rooms hung with priceless art, into the charity fundraiser peopled by gorgeous women dressed in jewel-toned satin and dripping with diamonds. It is luscious to see beautiful people in opulent settings.

Gordon Gekko (Douglas)  has been released from federal prison where he spent 8 years for financial shenanigans. His daughter Winnie is dating Jake who works for a big-time Wall Street firm that’s up to its eyeballs in toxic paper.  Stocks tank on innuendo and rumor, firms crumble, a bankrupt who was yesterday a gazillionaire gives up.  I felt guilty.

First of all, because I had brought in Sam’s Club water instead of buying $4 movie-theater water, and secondly because during the Crash of ’08, I sat on my self-righteous bottom in my unmortgaged rental and thought–“Wow, too bad for all those people who are losing money! What’s for dinner?” with nary a thought that real people were really suffering. Were really afraid.

In the fiscal disaster of ’08, Jake  plays hardball for love of his former boss, collapses into the arms of his arch enemy, the overly-tanned and delightfully corrupt Josh Brolin, then tells him where to put his Ducati.  He then turns to the just-released Gekko for financial advice, not understanding quite so well that people are who they are, minus massive spiritual reformation. Sadly, as we learn, prison hasn’t done the trick for Gekko. It will take something more personal…something more valuable than money to get him to understand what counts.

There lies the tale of Gekko desperately trying to re-acquire his daughter who blames him for everything and with good cause. He loves Winnie, but he loves the Money Game more. Winnie loves Jake, but she loves her integrity more. What price money? What price love? 

The soundtrack is not just background music conspiring with the photography to grab you emotionally. Rather, it’s a collection of songs fit perfectly with action, propelling the plot. I enjoyed the music-as-almost-narration immensely. I may even purchase the CD.

Love, happily, conquers all. Don’t  leave when the credits begin to run or you’ll miss a lovely ending. I was not an Oliver Stone fan or a Michael Douglas fan when I entered the theater. Different story now. These guys put together a beautiful work of art. Go see it.

(moral/spiritual issues: unmarried couple kissing in bed once; unmarried woman becomes pregnant;  the Lord’s name is taken in vain a few times by people who worship money and are under enormous stress. There are a couple of interesting statements about evolution: “We don’t understand how it happened, but it did.” Wow, there’s scientific method for you, but that’s a different topic.)

THE TOWN, starring Ben Affleck

Here’s the thing: If a movie ends with the finding of buried money and a lingering shot of the protagonist on a boat at the shore,  you know it has already been done better in Shawshank Redemption. One of the main problems with The Town is that the protagonist–unlike the framed convict in Shawshank whose served 20  years undeservedly and yet honorably–is a mass murdering bank robber. Sure, he’s cute and nice to his girlfriend-of-the-moment, but folks, come on, he just shot up the ballpark parking garage, killing multiple uniformed officers while in the commission of a $3 million heist!

Lots of worthless guys are nice to their current girls. How else would they have girlfriends?

Adding to the nonsense, the current girlfriend–even though she realizes this is the creep who robbed her bank and terrified her out of her mind just weeks before–goes with the flow and takes the stolen money that is left buried for her! This is not comprehensible. “Oh, but she uses it for a good purpose–she renovates the Boys and Girls Club!” Are you kidding me? It’s okay to steal millions of dollars if only you have a nice community project in mind?

The other thing that can’t be overlooked is that last scene where Affleck’s character is staring out over the water…he’s in Florida. He doesn’t seem to have any clue that such a crime would lead to his picture  being in every post office in the USA, and wherever else Most Wanted Felons have their pictures hung. He’s staring off into the future as if he has one, as if you can murder multiple law enforcement officers and make off with millions of dollars and not have everyone from the FBI down to Dog the Bountyhunter on your tail. He doesn’t even change his hair-do, which, as we learned in Salt earlier this summer, is a must for all people hiding from the Law.

It must be hard to be Ben Affleck and have done your best work right off the bat (with the amazing Good Will Hunting), and it’s all donwhill from there, but there it is.

Short commentary because I saw this movie in Honolulu and am still a little too sunned and sandy to write long.  However, if you do plan to see a movie at Ward Center on Ala Moana Boulevard and you arrive very early, may I recommend the fire-grilled salmon at Dave and Busters?

THE AMERICAN, starring George Clooney

After being told that my reviews are too critical (“You don’t like anything!”), I wanted to like this film. Alas.  The American is more boring than can be described. There is little dialogue, none of it interesting; little emotion, none of it satisfying.  Scenery (Italian countryside) that should be glorious is muted and hazy.  Long shots of Mr. Clooney sitting, staring, driving, stretching, doing push-ups, etc., that fail to advance the plot, were yawn-inducing, to say the least.

Speaking of plot: the movie opens with Jack (later called Edward) in a cabin with a woman. A little while later, they take a walk. Two men try to kill him, we are not told why. He kills them. Then he kills the woman. We don’t know who she is.  Jack goes to Italy. He keeps calling someone who looks a lot like Scott Glenn but isn’t Scott Glenn. The Not-Scott-Glenn person tells him to go to a certain town. He does not go there, but goes somewhere else where he gets a dark apartment.  He meets a priest, or rather, the priest keeps bothering him until Jack gives in and talks with him, and good things too, as without Father Benedetto there would have been almost no talking in the whole movie.

Not-Scott gives him an assignment: Jack meets another woman who wants him to build a specialized weapon. The whole rest of the movie is about him finding parts for this gun and leaving it for her. We can tell right off that she’s going to kill him. She has lots of opportunities, and I wish she would have used one of the earlier ones, so we could have left sooner. 

There’s a prostitute. Long, gratuitous nude scene that is not interesting and does nothing for the plot, such as it is. 

In the end everyone dies but the prostitute (Clara), and she takes the money Jack was paid to build the weapon that would kill him. Painful to watch. Very forgettable. Weird butterfly motif throughout. (I wanted the White Witch to whip out her wand and zap ’em.)

So, we left this movie not knowing who Jack is or who he works for, why people are trying to kill him, why the Mossad-looking woman (who changes her hairstyle several times, but we can still recognize her!) wants to kill him, and why she goes to such weird lengths to have him make the weapon she will use on him. Husband-of-Mine said, “Let’s go home and watch Bourne. I have to get this one out of my head.” Agreed.