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Tom Benton RSS Feed (North Springfield, VT USA)
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The Smurfs
The Smurfs
DVD ~ Neil Patrick Harris
Price: $6.96
119 used & new from $0.21

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reverse Tylenol, August 4, 2011
This review is from: The Smurfs (DVD)
Raja Gosnell must be stopped. Hanna-Barbara made amusing cartoons for children. Movies based on Hanna-Barbara cartoons aren't half as amusing, but they're ten times more nauseating. Gosnell doesn't get it. First he gave us the lanky-brained "Scooby Doo" movies, and now this, an adaptation of the most obnoxious, hackbrained Hanna-Barbara cartoon, with the obnoxiousness and hackbrained quality of the small-screen TV series multiplied to fill the Big Screen. It could have been worse, and children, especially younger children, do seem to enjoy most of it, which is simple slapstick and nonsense jokes. But aren't we above this? Aren't our children above this? Pixar makes perfect films for children, films encouraging thoughtfulness, films about emotion and humanity. This is one of the many modern children's movies that are just adult films dumbed down to a childish level, with all the life cut out. On the upside, Katy Perry voices the Smurfette.


Cowboys & Aliens - Extended Edition (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet)
Cowboys & Aliens - Extended Edition (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Daniel Craig
Price: $7.50
148 used & new from $1.42

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Odd Couple, August 3, 2011
At least one critic has suggested that "Cowboys & Aliens" should have been done as a comedy, like "Men in Black," but the film wouldn't have been half as valuable if its creators had taken that approach. Half of audiences seem to think it was unsuccessful anyway, apparently confused by the blending of a genre reputed to be harshly realistic and a genre known for its driven sprint from reality. "Cowboys & Aliens" is an impressively smooth marriage of both genres, considering its straight-faced approach.

Like many newlyweds after the honeymoon, this marriage has left those involved a little disoriented: the script rarely seems confident in its direction, and there are a couple contrivances for the sake of convenience toward the end. It's wisely simple, like so much of the best sci-fi, but creative, too, more creative than the "Independence Day"-in-the-old-west ads have suggested. It's more like a pulp sci-fi fantasy from the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs, if Larry McMurtry had been around to help.

Thank goodness for the bold-chested confidence of Jon Favreau's direction, which guides the film and inspires it to carry on, and have a good time doing so. Favreau's jokester image post-"Swingers" should now be shattered post-"Cowboys & Aliens": he made "Iron Man" a surprise triumph, saved "Iron Man 2" from the meandering attention-deficit script resulting from a rushed production, and now he's shot "Cowboys & Aliens" with impressive steadyness and equal helpings of reserve and flair. It's best when it recalls "Unforgiven," although Favreau's tight panoramas have more color in them than any image from Clint Eastwood's film. His sureness is the glue that holds together this strange narrative. Its success is his own.

Daniel Craig plays the hero, an amnesiac with a bizarre bracelet. Craig was cast for his resemblance to "The Magnificent Seven"'s Yul Brenner. He performs with a hoarse brashness and undercuttingly nasal American accent that would knock Brenner off his feet. He's nowhere near as brash as Harrison Ford's domineering colonel-turned-cattle-rancher, possibly Ford's sole turn as a villain (the quality of his character in "The Mosquito Coast" is debatable). Ford's performances seem to be growing increasingly delightful: first his left-field knockout performance in the awful "Morning Glory," and now his deliciously devilish portrayal of a right American bastard (although, unfortunately, his character and thus his performance seems to have turned around at the film's end). Ford may not have enough screen time to clearly be the jewel of the cast--but he is.

Olivia Wilde, who charmed in "Tron: Legacy," charms here as well. She's so charming that the audience seems to immediately clamor for Craig to forget the woman who starts him on his journey and fall for Wilde instead. Paul Dano is also charming in the opposite way. He's mastered the role of the contemptuous hypocrite, first in "There Will Be Blood" and now here. He's on-screen for a total of no more than 10 minutes, but he makes an impression.

So does the film. It's a soft impression, when it's over: it's surprisingly good, the kind of good that keeps one happy and entertained and even occasionally riveted during the course of the film, but also the kind of good that falls short of great and doesn't cry out for further investigation. "Cowboys & Aliens" is a simple film, despite the seemingly complex task of blending the science-fiction and western genres, but it's a good one. It's pleasant and satisfying entertainment.


Gamera: The Giant Monster
Gamera: The Giant Monster
DVD ~ Eiji Funakoshi
Price: $12.99
35 used & new from $6.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A spring from which wonders have sprung--just not in this one, August 3, 2011
This review is from: Gamera: The Giant Monster (DVD)
"Gamera" is an atrocious movie, so poor the lame-duck late-Sixties and Seventies Godzilla films seem pretty good in comparison. It's one of the worst-plotted movies I've ever seen: the plot is strung together by criss-crossed, loose threads, making little sense from an objective standpoint and making less sense in the scenes, which are rife with characters who exist solely for the state of the plot and have no human emotions but those necessary to keep the plot a-chuggin'. Toho's films were no masters of plot, either, but even such a nonsense plot as "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster" seems Hitchcockian compared to that of "Gamera." It's a cash cow: just as Gamera was born to suck flames, "Gamera" was born to suck Godzilla-lovers' cash.

But a kaiju fan will find appeal in even the lamest, most painful kaiju film. Gamera has a more grotesque and interesting design than that of Godzilla. The mystic origin of Gamera--a murderous giant turtle, the only one of its kind, terrorizing an Asian continent at the Dawn of Time--may ignite the imaginations of kaiju fans, who are imaginative by trade (we have to be--how else would we be so in love with movies about guys dressing up in kooky rubber monster suits for 90 minutes?). The final solution to getting rid of Gamera is pulp sci-fi bliss. One may be too dulled by the stupidity of the movie to see it coming.

The bottom line is no secret: "Gamera" isn't "Gojira." It's "Gojira"'s younger brother of special needs. It's a cruddy movie that spawned a line of cruddy movies. But good things have come from it. Besides the bizarre monster itself, the "Mystery Science Theater" riffs, which are delightful, but above all, Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera reboot trilogy, released in the mid- to late-Nineties, which surpassed almost all kaiju movies, and then, with the astounding third film, blew them all out of the water. It's amazing Kaneko was able to make those films from a stupid kaiju flick that began with a giant turtle coming out of apparently styrofoam ice 30 years earlier. Oh, the wonder of cinema.


Morning Glory [Blu-ray]
Morning Glory [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Rachel McAdams
Price: $34.99
29 used & new from $0.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unglorious bastard, August 1, 2011
This review is from: Morning Glory [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Morning Glory" seems like a despicable film. It's the brainchild of seasoned rom-com pro Aline Brosh McKenna, who was also responsible for writing "Laws of Attraction," with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore, "The Devil Wears Prada," with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, and "27 Dresses," with Katherine Heigl. McKenna knows what makes today's Hollywood rom-coms, but more importantly, she knows what gets today's rom-coms made. "Morning Glory" is a well-constructed script: it follows the tried-and-old formula of the modern rom-com, while also leaving the possibility of snagging big talent (and thus a bigger audience)--in this case, Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford.

Rachel McAdams stars as a 28-year-old working for a New Jersey morning show, who's dreamed of getting into big-time broadcast journalism since she was 8. She gets fired from her Jersey morning show and receives a brutally cold lecture from her mother, but she immediately begins a desperate search for a new job. She gets one, by impressing a big-wig exec played by Jeff Goldblum: she's the new executive-producer on the cruddy morning show Daylight. There's no need to waste time explaining what happens from there, or the challenges she faces. One can see it coming.

What I didn't see coming was McKenna's wrong-mindedness. Harrison Ford plays a Walter-Cronkite-quality news anchor who gets fired and winds up contractually bound to Daylight. He insists on covering real news stories, things of national or international importance. He's supposed to seem an "a--hole" for doing so, for not providing the trivial, superficial entertainment Daylight viewers expect. McAdams informs him that the battle between entertainment and news is over: "Entertainment won." Are we supposed to laugh at the declaration? How can any intelligent person see Ford's ideas as being that of an old fuddy-duddy, as McKenna does?

McAdams' character's achievement is raising the ratings for Daylight and turning it into a show about which people care. She does so by transforming the show into an entertainment hour, in which the weather forecaster is forced to endure a new rollercoaster or skydiving and Diane Keaton's character has to sumo wrestle and kiss a frog. She's raised the ratings, which makes her some kind of success, and that's nice because Rachel McAdams is a likable actor--but she's done so by shirking journalistic duty for sensational, goofy entertainment. Why would we applaud this?

McKenna's script just gets more simple-minded from there. Characters have sudden, inexplicable changes of heart, for the sake of convenient plotting. She spends an hour showing us how stubborn and obnoxious Ford's character can be, then gives him an apparently complete turnaround in 15 minutes. We get a nice shot of McAdams' character's mother, the insensitive, cruel one, proudly hanging a news clipping about McAdams' success. Why do we care? Does this really make us happy? She isn't proud of McAdams: she's proud of McAdams' success.

Why is McAdams' character attracted to Patrick Wilson's lazy upper-level magazine series journalist? McKenna tells us it's because he puts up with her, but aren't there tens of thousands of men in the world who would be willing to put up with McAdams' character, let alone McAdams herself? Isn't it possible someone might not just tolerate the character, but love her for her drive or her eccentricities--you know, the human stuff?

Not in McKenna's manufactured world, which fortunately has little to do with life as I know it. Rom-coms are usually devoid of characters or storylines with human quality, since the genre itself relies on superficial targets to elicit its audience's pleasure. But they can still be lively ("Bridget Jones's Diary"), or clever (anything by Judd Apatow), or even meaningful ("Definitely, Maybe"). "Morning Glory" is none of the above. It's as familiar as the formula of "Sesame Street," without such good intentions. It seems as though one owns the piano score on a dozen different soundtrack CDs.

There is one redeeming feature of "Morning Glory" (although there should be two: Diane Keaton is surprisingly misused): Harrison Ford, whose performance is unfathomably fun, funny, and emotional considering the shallowness of the material. Hollywood is really enjoying itself, milking Mr. Ford for his Grumpy Old Man quality, but in this movie, his sulking curmudgeonly performance makes all the difference in the world--the world being the thing about which "Morning Glory" doesn't know a thing, nor care.


Green Lantern
Green Lantern
DVD ~ Ryan Reynolds
Price: $4.99
188 used & new from $0.60

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nauseating simplicity 'til you're green in the face, June 17, 2011
This review is from: Green Lantern (DVD)
An awful movie, the worst potentially good superhero film since "Daredevil." The problem stems from an excruciatingly simple script, composed by a quartet of television writers, which is entirely devoid of creativity, the absence of which the writers compensate with gaping plot holes. The hero of the picture is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), an arrogant fighter pilot who walks away from everything he cares about because he has daddy issues. Reynolds doesn't have the power to play a superhero. He's never seemed so gratingly foolish as when he's trying to do so. He's like a guy who went to a superhero-themed kegger and started taking himself seriously. The core fault of this "Green Lantern" is that I never for a moment believed Hal Jordan could save anyone, let alone the universe.

Blake Lively, on the other hand, is charming and underused, making her transition from "Gossip Girl" to the big screen. But God save the scene if she has to act emotional. The rest of the cast, which includes Peter Sarsgaard as an increasingly deformed scientist, Mark Strong as Sinestro, Jordan's mentor in the comics and his bully in the film, and Temuera Morrison as Abin Sur, the dying alien who grants Jordan his powers. They're all forgettable, perhaps save for the aforementioned and appropriately named Ms. Lively.

It's only so much their fault. Besides the trash script, Martin Campbell, who previously directed the Antonio Banderas "Zorro" films and twice revitalized the James Bond series (minorly with 1995's "GoldenEye," with Pierce Brosnan; majorly with "Casino Royale" in 2006, Daniel Craig's debut), has an uninspired directorial style which also produces dull visuals and poorly-constructed scenes--big pitfalls in what should be a flashy film. The filmmakers are clearly trying to emulate Richard Donner's original "Superman," from 1978--but that was 1978, and this is 2011. Superhero films have grown by leaps and bounds since then.

This film seems unconscious of that fact, so it also seems derivative and lifeless. The visual effects are up and down: some are underdeveloped (landscapes, especially on the Green Lanterns' homeplanet, Oa), while others are impressive (Parallax, the demon space entity with an insatiable hunger for fear). The underappreciated "Thor" is a better bet as far as superhero movies are concerned. Better yet, wait for "Captain America: The First Avenger," released July 22, which, with a sturdy cast, Joe Johnston's direction, and a script co-written by Joss Whedon, the maverick of creative genre writing, seems likely to be the best superhero movie we've seen since "Iron Man 2."
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2011 5:30 PM PDT


Black and Blue
Black and Blue
Price: $10.99
85 used & new from $4.58

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than doing it yourself, June 5, 2011
This review is from: Black and Blue (Audio CD)
"Black and Blue" is the rock-music equivalent of a quickie, an album on which the Rolling Stones were motivated not by love or excitement so much as a simple need to do it, to get it out of their system. They're slightly funkier and noticeably more relaxed, like addicts finally finding release (more accurately like randy guys getting laid): one can hear it on "Hot Stuff" or "Hand of Fate," even on the lackadaisical reggae "Cherry Oh Baby." The Billy Preston-inspired "Melody" is memorable, because it's odd, but it's the album's emotional centerpieces, the designed centerpiece, "Memory Motel," and the real thing, "Fool to Cry," that stand out. The music of "Memory Motel" shamelessly reaches for sentiment--shame on it--but Jagger's rawhide vocal and the honesty it adds to the lyrics save the song. "Fool to Cry" is less appreciated than the album itself: it's straightforward, emotionally true, and sweet as the whisper of the song's little girl. Not to be mistaken for a great Stones record, but sometimes a quickie just hits the spot.


The Resident [Blu-ray]
The Resident [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Hilary Swank
Price: $11.70
40 used & new from $3.90

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Resident" evil, June 4, 2011
This review is from: The Resident [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
We who were happy to see Hammer resurrected after thirty film-less years may wish it'd stayed dead after seeing "The Resident," the first film produced by the notorious schlock-gothic-horror production company since the 1970s. There are two core faults. The first is the casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the antagonist. Morgan is just too lovable, too blindingly charismatic, to play a character we're supposed to fear or hate, although Morgan's performance is almost astonishingly good considering the material. The second is the script: co-written by the film's ruthlessly unimaginative director, Antti Jokinen (this is his first film), the story was a dead horse two decades ago, and the writers can't even fathom why it might need to be injected with something fresh or original. Who can't predict every point of the plot progression? "The Resident" is offensively dull, a sure disappointment for Hammer fans. On the upside, Christopher Lee is amusing.


The King's Speech [Blu-ray]
The King's Speech [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Colin Firth
Price: $10.00
100 used & new from $0.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars British TV on the big screen, May 22, 2011
"The King's Speech" is charming, because its makers' intentions are visibly so modest and noble. David Seidler's script is simple but witty, eloquent without aiming for eloquence. That's because it's a tribute to one of Seidler's inspirations, as Seidler himself worked to overcome his stutter as a young man. Seidler puts the focus on the people rather than the history, which is precisely why the film succeeds. Colin Firth is perfect casting, his firm, regal brow and humble humor just what the part needs, and his chemistry with Geoffrey Rush, whose own charismatic majesty sometimes outshines Firth's own, brings to life the bond of their characters. The film's great oddity is its director, Tom Hooper, versed almost exclusively in British TV, and it shows in the dreary colors and muted lighting. Hooper uses the oldest trick in the avant-garde book, constantly framing each character in the right or left corner of the image. It's to his credit because it works.


The Black Dahlia [Blu-ray]
The Black Dahlia [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Josh Hartnett
Offered by Super Fast DVDs
Price: $7.10
35 used & new from $4.12

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Murder of the twelfth degree, May 22, 2011
"The Black Dahlia" is a mess. Everything's impressive and nothing is right. It seems like Aaron Eckhart's character should be played with more darkness, like Josh Hartnett's character should be played with less boyishness, like Scarlett Johannson's character should be more emotionally complex. The story is convoluted and the storytelling is awkward. I can explain the film's core storylines, but to tie everything together is a task beyond me. There is one person involved who deserves praise: Mia Kirshner, who portrays the thin, secondary character of Elizabeth Short with surprising emotional depth. Brian De Palma's original three-hour cut supposedly was a horse of a different color. The cut with which we're presented is boring, absurd, and unpleasant.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2011 8:43 PM PDT


The Short Films of David Lynch
The Short Films of David Lynch
DVD ~ Dorothy McGinnis
6 used & new from $49.99

3.0 out of 5 stars The great, the good, the decent, and the not-so-good, November 10, 2010
"The Short Films of David Lynch" compiles six of David Lynch's short films. Two were made while Lynch was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. These are "Six Figures Getting Sick (Six Times)," a three-minute loop of nauseating animation and sound seemingly consciously or subconsciously designed to make the audience sick, and "The Alphabet," a disturbing, bloody incarnation of one of the former Mrs. Lynch's nightmares. "The Grandmother" is the longest of the shorts at just over half an hour, and was the first film Lynch shot at the American Film Institute. "The Amputee" features young Catherine Coulson, the Log Lady of "Twin Peaks," and was shot to test film stock while Lynch tried to secure funding for "Eraserhead." The subtle slapstick and absurdity of "The Amputee" is amusing. It's the first of the six pieces in which Lynch seems to be discovering himself as a filmmaker. Its predecessors are avant-garde bulls--t, interesting but unorganized, lacking purpose or theme, experiments in which Lynch searches for himself at the cost of emotion and humanity, those feelings which compelled his greatest works. The final segment was Lynch's contribution to the "Lumiere" project, in which filmmakers created a minute-or-so silent film in a single take on the Lumiere brothers original Cinematographe camera, the greatest cinematic technology of 1895. What Lynch's Lumiere film achieves in 52 seconds is intriguing, as well as disturbing, and surreal, even by Lynch's high standards of surrealism. The crown jewel of the collection is "The Cowboy and the Frenchman," a 25-minute short created for French T.V., featuring Lynch regulars Harry Dean Stanton and Jack Nance. Lynch's knack for comedy is often overlooked. It shines in "The Cowboy and the Frenchman," Lynch's hilariously absurd vision of the French. A scene in which Stanton's fellow cowboys unpack the titular Frenchman's suitcase is one of the most enjoyable and outrageous Lynch has filmed.


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