Jade's Trick

Reviews, Spotlights, and Randomosity of all things under the sun.

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Location: Hartford, Connecticut, United States

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Friday, March 17, 2006

"Are you some sort of crazy person?"

So yeah, I’m briefly coming out of blogger retirement only because this movie rocks so hard and I got to see the first mainstream showing of it. So don’t expect me to return to once-weekly.

Remember, remember,
that small, waiting ember
that flared up the moment V fought.
I see a reason
for V’s so-called treason
to ever and always be taught.

Oh yes, I’m talking about V for Vendetta, “that thing with the guy with the creepy mask, and Big Ben blows up, and isn’t Natalie Portman in that too?” That one. The dystopia SF subgenre isn’t exactly lacking in masterpieces, but V goes once more to the breach anyway, and succeeds. Ok, so yes it’s kinda a soapbox in parts, and yes it’s obviously got its finger pointed at certain specific current events, but it would be a mistake to deprive yourself of this shining gem just because it chose to focus on something conveniently contemporary.

Quick plot summary: England has become a tightly fascist state ever since a terrible biological attack killed over 100,000 people some years ago. Now, a certain man who gives us only his Christian name, V, happens to hold the opinion that fascism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so he sets into action events which he hopes will bring about the downfall of the system (but you’ll have to watch the movie to see if he succeeds. No spoilers here!). Oh, and Natalie Portman’s in there too.

Now to the good stuff. V was adapted from the Alan Moore book surprisingly titled V for Vendetta. Now, I’ve conscientiously avoided reading this book precisely because I wanted to be able to evaluate the film objectively, but the rabid fangirls I saw the movie with approved of the changes made, so all you V fans have nothing to fear (except for the onset of fascism, of course). And as you can probably tell, I thought the movie by itself was rather fetching, so all you fellow comic book virgins out there presumably won’t have a hollow experience either.

V has this nearly supernatural ability to tell a very start-and-stop story while still maintaining violin-string suspense from the first time you hear Natalie Portman’s sorry attempt at an English accent to the fading-away of the climactic fireworks. Better still, this plot schema leaves you with next-to-no idea of where things are moving next, just the assurance that they are moving, and dropping just enough hints to keep things lucid. Leave your contacts at home, my friends, and expect to spend two hours and twelve minutes without blinking.

With only a very few exceptions, this movie does drama right. That continuous suspense I mentioned owes itself in large part to the way the film makes every little moment so compelling. Each interaction, every moment between, really, anyone and anyone just exudes this magnetic aura that latches onto you and belligerently refuses to let go. The moments that lack that intensity, and they are few and far between, are strategically placed to give the audience that split second above water to gasp in a mouthful of air.

Acting. Hugo Weaving. Need I say more? Well, no, not really, but I’m not paid to throw sentence fragments at you (shut up). Hugo Weaving plays V, and consequently spends the whole movie behind a Guy Fawkes mask, which you might think would tend to stifle his ability to convey emotion and act, an obstacle exacerbated by the mostly consistent tenor of voice that V uses throughout most of the movie, but you would be wrong. It’s frightening to think of how monstrously well Hugo Weaving fills out V through really little more than the tiniest movements of his head and the most subtle tweaks of his voice. V wants to transcend his humanity and become an idea, but through even this, Weaving manages to pull off making him a veritably vibrant human, giving and receiving compassion with flaws and perfections all his own. V is real. The other actors all do exemplary jobs as well, and I can think of no real sour spots amongst the cast. Natalie Portman pulled a stellar turn as Evey, although I can’t say that she was superlative; no major problems, but a few scenes were a little iffy, and her English accent… well, they should have just done without it (although a shrewd decision was made in making hers the first voice we hear, as putting her shoddy accent out front and on its own allows us to come to terms with and thereafter ignore it).

Oh and by the way, this is also a brutally funny movie, mixing clever repartee with a little dark comedy, slapstick, absurdity, and a little more dark comedy. The explosions, though somewhat scarce considering the subject material, are hilarious; V holds my second favorite explosion of all time (the first being the explosion from Eulogy). V cooking breakfast or fencing with a dummy or admitting to assassination… these, capsules of true joy filched from the Merry Pranksters themselves!

Allright, I think that’s quite enough. Go watch the movie and see for yourself!

Action: 4/5 shimmering knives (All things considered, this movie is a little light on action for it’s genre, but what’s here is really very well done, just not awe-inspiring).
Acting: 5/5 Guy Fawkes masks (I think I already rambled enough about Hugo Weaving, so I’ll spare you a rerun. Needless to say, I was very impressed by virtually everyone).
Drama: 5/5 toilet-paper gospels (If nothing else, this movie really knows how to hit ya good and hard. It runs the audience through the gamut of emotion, all the while never feeling as if it’s forcing itself upon you. I’m getting chills just thinking about it).
Story: 5/5 cases of St. Mary’s (Despite its many moments of "downtime," and despite the already well-worn trail it takes, V manages to spin a truly enrapturing, unpredicatable yarn. This is an example of what some truly creative, motivated, and well-bankrolled people can really do).
Sound: 5/5 loudspeakers (The music here is really superb, although I guess it helps that V’s taste in music includes some of the best scores ever penned. Like all really good music, it nicely supported the action without overwhelming it or, worse yet, shoving the emotion we “should be feeling” down our throughts. Likewise with the sound effects. All in all, exemplary).
Visuals: 5/5 violet carsons (Waiter? yes, I’d like to order a round of Wowness for the theater, thank you. Words are insufficient. Just go see).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4.75/5 gunpower plots (Definatelly nicely nestled among my tippy-tops. Master your excuses and see this movie).

Sunday, July 31, 2005

"What's a 'vag'?" -- Eulogy

Hey, what do you know, a decent review! Go dance.

The Eulogy: a speech attempting to find the good things about a person after death, no matter how few or far between they may be, and to gloss over the bad, no matter how heinous or wretched. Well, I don't know where that was going, so I'll just say that Eulogy is a pretty good movie and you should go watch it.

Eulogy starts just after the death of Edmund Collins, the grandfather of Katie Collins, our protagonist. Along with Barbara Collins, his wife, Edmund managed to raise four extremely screwed up children: Daniel (Katie's father) starred in a peanut butter commercial when he was 8, choked during an audition for a toothpaste commercial a short while thereafter, and spend the rest of his life regretting it while working in obscure porn films; Alice is extremely angry, critical, and loud, to name a few, and has verbally beaten her husband and three children into continual silence; Skip fakes being a lawyer for a living and his extreme crassness has rubbed off onto his twin ~12 year old boys; and finally, Lucy, who's only problems seem to be complete ambivalence for her father's death, a trait she shares with her siblings, and extreme resentment to adn anger at Alice (for justifiable reasons that quickly become obvious). Forced back to the family home for the funeral, hilarity ensues as this terribly dysfunctional family somehow manages to resolve a few of its ongoing problems in time to "bury" their father. Fortunately, Katie, the one seemingly normal person here, tells us the story from her point of view.

This movie purports to be a dark comedy, and although it is undoubtedly very very funny in a dark sort of way, I feel it actually works best as a drama and character study. The humor tends to arrive in spurts, hitting with good regularity but hardly saturating the picture, whereas the drama unfolds for the full 90 minutes, even (perhaps especially) during the laughs. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This flick certainly stimulates the funny glands, catalyzing laughter throughout. It's fun just to watch these disturbed individuals walk around and interact with each other, but combine that with their twisted reactions to these extraordinary situations and you can reliably get enough laughter to cure some mild anthrax, or at least a case of the snuffles. Sometimes, dark comedy can provoke a polarized reaction wherein half the audience is appalled and the other half is floored, but my patented Funny Analyzer here tells me that the dark comedy in Eulogy has just enough of the absurd in it to minimize the percentage of viewers who'll storm out in disgust and maximize the number who giggle into incoherence.

But it is as a drama that Eulogy truly glistens. The family's situation is an extremely odd one, and perhaps the most fun to be found here is internally plotting how its oddities caused each individual unit of dysfunction. In fact, I've found that the second viewing is even better than the first because despite losing the twist you now know exactly what to look for along the way, and it all fits just perfectly. Skip's crudity, Alice's bitchiness (especially Alice's bitchiness), everyone's ambivalence, and even Daniel's self-centeredness to some degree: all is explained without anyone really explaining it. The resolution also fortunatelly works well; at no point would any but the most cynical of filmgoers call the sequence of events unlikely or improbable.

The acting is good, for the most part. I wouldn't call it stellar, but there aren't really any sour points either. I don't think that this is due to any deficit on the part of the actors; it's just that the movie didn't call for many really hard tests of an actor's skill and thus they didn't have many chances to shine. Debra Winger's Alice is particularly well done throughout, however, and Kelly Preston also had an above-average turn as Lucy. Anyway, all the characters were believable, and that's all that really matters when all is spoken and finished.

Action: 3/5 flying grandmas (Surprisingly, there was some action in this movie, and it was mostly pretty well done, although I thought the scene where grandma flew was a bit fake).
Acting: 3.25/5 lobster bibs (Mostly pedestrian, the acting had a few crests and almost no troughs).
Comedy: 4/5 falling next-door neighbors (This picture evokes its fair share of laughs).
Story: 4/5 joints (Engrossing and interesting, the plot did everything a good plot should and then some).
Visuals: 3/5 minivans (They weren't anything special).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4.25/5 video tapes (I really like this movie, and it ranks high on my list of recommendations. I especially recommend watching it again, to help hunt for the clues along the way. If I have one major grievance it's with the movie's length; I feel that Eulogy would have been better if lengthened to 105 or 120 minutes. Other than that, two-point-one-two-five thumbs up).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"Don't understand what's going on?" -- Everything2.com

This week's review is totally different (and therefore much shorter) than anything I've even done before. Innovative, no?

Everything2.com is interesting, informative, easy to use, addictive, and (like most websites) free. Part encyclopedia, part message board, Everything2 is similar to the Wikipedia except that it's more informal (which is part of why I prefer it for surfing).

I find that it's best to venture into this realm sporting a tab-based web browser, a large amount of RAM, and a fair-sized block of time. The website itself doesn't have anything that's particularly taxing, but because each "node" (as the pages of information are called) has a system of cross-referenced links to other nodes at the bottom, it's fairly easy to find several that looking worth following up, and then several more in each of those, and so on. And thus is the joy of Everything2: come in looking for information on a jazz band and leave having downed a tidbit cocktail with ingredient's as far ranged as mongooses and string theory.

Here's an example of a possible node web:

As you can see, it can get quite complicated very quickly. There's a certain euphoria in moving from The Matrix to duct-tape bras in just five steps.

In short, I highly recommend this website.

Entertainment Value: 4/5 user picks (Veeeeeery fun to just drift).
Quality of Information: 2.5/5 FAQs (The nodes are created by whoever wants to create one, so there's no guarantee that the information is at all accurate. It's a good site if you're looking for a general idea about something, but you can't exactly cite it in your term paper on Shakespeare's hygiene).
Ease of Use: 3/5 searches (The search does a pretty good job of compiling lists of likely intended searches with you misspell things, and the crosslinks at the bottom are very easy to use. However, the "Back" browser function isn't supported, which can be rather annoying).

Overall (Not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4/5 passwords (This website is a great way to kill time and learn a few things about truly bizarre, out-of-the-way topics).

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"Things involving plastic toys and soft cheese?" -- Johnny English

I have nothing to say except that I'd better find a movie to rip on sometime soon.

Johnny English is one of the better examples of James Bond parody. Although the protagonist is a screw-up, he's not so much of a screw-up that it's inconceivable that he could get the job he has. This movie knows, for the most part, when to stop, and is, above all, really rather quite funny, wouldn't you say dear boy?

Johnny is an employee in the British Secret Service; although he would like to think of himself as a low-level agent, his duties more closely resemble those of a file clerk than anything else. That is, until Agent One ("the greatest secret agent England ever had") dies during a mission, apparently from an acute case of drowning, and all the other agents are killed when a bomb planted inside Agent One's coffin explodes. With no one else to turn to, at least for the moment, and important events happening, Johnny shoots up the ranks to full agent status and starts taking on missions.

Johnny English's strength lies not so much in it's absurdity as in it it's more mundane aspects. Yes, it is very absurd, and yes, that absurdity is the catalyst for most of the laughter, but the thing that sets this movie apart from other Spy Spoofs is that it rarely, if ever, passes out of reality. Although the story and the characters are admittedly odd, they are, for the most part, plausible. Rowan Atkinson, famous for his role as Mr. Bean, portrays a character with a fair degree of skill who's just clumsy and hair-brained enough to prevent him from moving higher up heretofor. Although he incessantly bumps into things with his head and can barely pass mustard as a charmer, he knows a thing or two about spy equipment and it's use and can drive his Aston Martin with great proficiency. Although the plot relies on a few iffy events (would the queen really step down just because someone threatened her dog?), they are nevertheless not as utterly impossible as, say, a time-traveling VW Beetle.

Comedically speaking, Johnny English lies somewhere between "pretty darn funny" and "very funny." Although it doesn't reach the summit, it still lands far above base camp. The movie is very fun to watch, with a laugh-out-loud every ten or so minutes and a few really really good ones over the course of the film, but some of the jokes fall flat and it's not as consistent with the funny as it could be.

Johnny himself is a rather interesting character. Although he plays the role of an underdog, he's got some negative points as well to complicate him up. Yes he's our hero and yes we want him to save the day and yes he's a very loyal servant of his country, but he's inappreciative of his extremely helpful and loyal assistant Bough, rather arrogant, and quite stupid from time to time ("The Bedouin Monks of the Al Maghreb mountains developed a system of sonic chanting. The sound of their chanting would bounce back off any obstacles, and using their highly tuned ears they could paint a mental picture of the path ahead." Which, of course, means that anyone can do it, right?). Unfortunately, few other characters are anywhere near as interesting as our hero. Lorna Campbell, the requisite spy babe, is predictable. Bough, the aforementioned assistant, is a rather good agent but takes Johnny's BS and abuse so good-naturedly and without even so much as a sigh or a roll of the eye to indicate that he realizes his boss' shortcomings that I got somewhat sick of him and by the end wanted to scream at him to, just once, talk back to Johnny. However, Pascal Sauvage, our villain (played by John Malkovich, surprisingly), evokes some interest despite being the perfect stereotype of both a Frenchman and an evil capitalist bad guy.

I particularly dislike the scene wherein Lorna basically throws herself at Johnny (who, of course, mucks it up) right before they infiltrate Sauvage's evil lair. This scene is exTREMEly poorly written, and since it's virtually all dialogue, there's little the actors can do to save it. Unrealistically awkward, Lorna says things that almost no one would ever even consider saying and made not only Johnny but even me very uncomfortable. Little of her speech is coherent, which only adds to the feeling of dread. Fortunately, it's a rather quick scene with nothing in the way of plot in it, so skipping over (a plan of attack that I highly suggest) it is not crippling.

And that's pretty much it. I'll mop up on comments during the ratings.

Action: 3.5/5 dead traffic cameras (Although it will win no awards for the action scenes, this flick actually does a decent job with its car chases, explosions, special effects, and whatnot).
Acting: 4/5 doses of paralytic compound (Rowan's portrayal of Johnny English is really what makes the movie work. It's really just a modification of his Mr. Bean act, but is nevertheless quite fun and funny).
Comedy: 3.75/5 ultimate acquired tastes (I went into greater detail above. Basically this movie's a funny one, but not as funny as it could be).
Story: 3.8/5 unlabeled DVD's (Mostly plausible and highly entertaining, the plot is pretty good all around. Docked slightly for those few elements which are just a tad too absurd).
Visuals: 3/5 triggerless barrettes (A big "meh" here from me).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 3.5/5 Aston Martin's (If you're a fan of Spy Spoofs or Rowan Atkinson, you should definitely see this movie. If you're a fan of comedy in general and you're tired of rewatching Stripes, go ahead and rent this for a few laughs. If you're anyone else, this probably shouldn't be at the top of your list, but it's not a bad way to spend an hour-and-a-half).

Sunday, July 03, 2005

"Everyone's a critic!" -- Dragonheart

Ok, screw it. Someday, I may get around to revising this blog. But that day is not today.

Dragonheart is a great example of slightly-above-average fantasy. It blends good acting, good characterization, good story, good special effects, good cinematography, good setting, good combat, good humor, and good drama together to make something entierly good, but manages against all odds to avoid creating a masterpiece.

Basic story: Einon is the son of a tyrant king. Bowen is a knight who teaches him the Old Code of Camelot and basic combat skills. Einon sustains a stabbing to the heart immediatelly after relieving his dying father of his crown, so his mother takes him to a dragon with a Scottish accent (voiced by Sean Connery) and begs for his help. He helps by cracking open his scales, pulling out half of his ectoplasmic heart, and shoving it into Einon, not only saving the young king's life but also bonding the two such that each feels the hurts of the other. Oh, and Einon can't die unless someone kills Draco. Einon, of course, follows in his father's footsteps, and Bowen, thinking that Einon's evil is the result of the dragon's mischief, swears to hunt down and kill every dragon in the world until he kills the one that saved Einon.

In fantasy, plot tends to play a large role, and this film is no different. Fortunatelly, the story is rather compelling. Although there's never so much as a stray thought that it might end differently than it does, the precise twists and turns tend to be more unexpected than obvious, but they never take turns that one would think illogical or unlikely. This is still stock fantasy, mind you, and other than the concept that dragons are actually good, it doesn't really stray far from the beaten path.

Dragonheart's characters, however, are what make the movie. Bowen makes a number of U-turns throughout the movie, changing from an idealistic young knight into a cynical antihero and then back into an idealistic knight. Like the plot, his development is relatively predictable and stock, but still good. Einon plays the unadultured villain, which is one of the flaws of the movie in my opinion; I personally like some complication to my baddies, but the movie offers every reason to hate Einon and no reasons to not. Draco is an excellent character: clever, funny, deep, suitably emo, and yet he maintains his edge. Brother Gilbert has the interesting distinction of being kinda the bumbling sidekick but also kinda not; his poetry is highly suspect, but he offers some very funny moments and serves as a quasi narrator from time to time, plus he's an archery savant. Kara is the stock idealistic plucky female empowerment symbol (which is cliche that doesn't think it's cliche). Overall, the characters were quite good.

The visuals in Dragonheart were very good when the film first came out nearly ten years ago and they've held up quite well. The CG is particularly good, particularly in the case of Draco; he moves like a dragon should move, with a combination of serpentine and cat-like grace without forgetting his huge size, and is overall very convincing. Costumes, makeup, and props are accurate enough for the time period. And finally, the Landscapes are breathtaking (which is admittedly personal preference, as I have a strong affinity for bright settings).

And that's pretty much it.

Action: 3.5/5 bladed tails (The fight scenes with Draco are very well done, very realistically done. The battles against Einon and earlier his father, less so, primarily because the number of troops involved seems much lower that one would think it would be).
Acting: 3/5 shining stars (The acting is good, but mostly unremarkable).
Comedy: 3.75/5 cleaving axes (This flick can be quite funny when it tries to be).
Story: 3.5/5 stationary spear-chuckers (The story's good, but almost entierly average).
Visuals: 4/5 dragon hearts, har har (Perhaps one of the more expectional aspects of the movie, all the visuals are really quite beautiful).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 3.5/5 dragon-tooth-lined shields (If you're a fan of the genre, you should definatelly see this movie. If you're looking to sample it, this movie fits your bill. But if fantasy isn't really your thing, look elsewhere).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

"I don't get out of bed for less than half a million dollars." -- Mr and Mrs Smith

Two things: this week's review will be shortish, because there's not really all that much to say about the movie, and the proposed edits of all reviews has been postponed until next week, so that it can be done at the conclusion of the first half of the year. I like symmetry.

Mr and Mrs Smith is one of the movies that's part of the inauguration of the Summertime, when the weather is warm, the sun is shining, that there book-learnin' is forgotten, and the movies are light and fun. There, review over. Have a nice week.

Just kidding.

No, I'm not simply trying to fill space. Shut up. *cough*

Ok, time to get seriously serious. Mr and Mrs Smith starts out rather mundane and pedestrian; our protagonist couple has been married "five or six" years now and their marriage has become a little boring. So, we see a marriage counseling session, a flashback to when they first met and fell in love, and a few scenes at their cold steel-and-glass house. In other words, these two appear entirely unspectacular (although that's not to say the audience is here bored). Then, the bomb drops, and we find out that they're really assassins who have been keeping their nightlives from each other all this time. They discover each other's secret and a consistent, low-level current of humor and copious action/violence ensues. Rinse, repeat, and you've got the rest of the movie. Yes, it's very predictable, but since the point of the movie is to have a little care-free fun, this doesn't really detract.

Ok, obvious stuff first: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. If you didn't know it before, well, gird your loins: these two are fabulous actors. During the intro, they are suitably cold to each other; it is very very easy to believe that they are in a slowly failing marriage. Then, the other overpriced foot-protection device manufactured by under-paid children in third world countries is affected by the force of gravity and impacts with the floor: their respective occupations become known to each other, the excitement with and understanding of each other kicks in, and a flow of many electrons discharges between the two. In short, they very effectively display perfectly realistic chemistry.

Action. At it's heart, this movie is a mindless action flick with a mind. There's a lot of action to be found here, and although it isn't as mind-blowing as The Matrix or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it consistently entertains and titilates with big explosions, dramatic gunfights, and complex chases. After all, these two are high-class assassins; flashy, unrealistic killing and bullet-dodging is part and parcel of the job. However you put it, the action scenes go a long way towards making the movie the fun summer popcorn flick it was meant to be.

You know that mind part I mentioned? Although the arguably allegorical plot and terrific acting are aspects of this mind-of-the-mindless, the humor is really what makes the movie a slash above the average action flick. Only rarely laugh-out-loud funny, the film maintains a very consistent level of low-key humor meant to do nothing but keep a very wide grin on your face for the two hours of mayhem and slaughter of faceless enemies. The dialogue is always witty, but never too witty, always interesting, but never too deep. Another fun thing that the movie does is to make the occasional self-conscious crack; for example, take careful note of the captive's T-shirt whilst the two Smiths interrogate him.

Mr and Mrs Smith expertly twirls with your character alignments, batting them around like a cat playing with a catnip-laced ball of yarn. Once the two Smiths find out that the other is a spy, obviously so do their respective agencies, which promptly sic each one on the other. However, the movie does not play favorites, and it sets up the situations such that you never really root for one character over the other, making especially scenes in which the two are hunting each other particularly delicious.

Like I said, rather short. Look, it's over already!

Action: 3.5/5 bulletproof windshields (The action is big, loud, over-the-top, and entirely not groundbreaking. I don't think that that's necessarily a bad thing, as it's still quite fun to watch, but in all truthfulness, the action isn't anything new).
Acting: 4.5/5 streaked tears (I've already praised Lara Croft and Tyler Durden en mass, but I've got to say something about Vince Vaugn: great one-liners this man has and deliver them well he does. Every scene with him is a joy and rapture).
Comedy: 4/5 steak knives (The mostly-black humor adds just the right touch to what would otherwise be a mere morass of explosions).
Story: 2.5/5 ski masks (Predictable and with a few plot holes gumming up the works, the plot is definitely not one of the movie's better selling points. I don't think this holds the movie back as a whole, but others may disagree).
Visuals: 3/5 weather channels (The action was well shot, the camera angles suitably nonstandard, and the explosions very big, but the cinemetography of this movie isn't really anything special).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 3.75/5 riding crops (I definitely recommend this if you're in the mood for some very fun, very fluffy action, but this flick is no Casablanca).

Sunday, June 19, 2005

"I'm leaving, and I'm taking the monkey with me." -- The Majestic

Now, I've got a metric ton of free time this week, so I thought instead of a review, I'll give all my other reviews a nice polish for next weekend. I might end up doing a review as well, but if I don't, I'll toss up another post reminding you why. In other news, I'm going to stop forcing myself to use passive voice for the first sentence of the actual review.

I know I'm in the minority, but I really like The Majestic. It's not The Godfather or Star Wars: The Empire Striked Back, but it is nevertheless one of my favorite movies, sporting great acting, great drama, great cinematography, good humor; basically, it's the whole package. In my oh-so-humble opinion, the movie did as poorly as it did because of the expectations the public had of Jim Carrey. Audiences thought they were in for a standard Pet Detective-like mindless poop joke romp and instead got a mostly serious acting-heavy drama.

The story sounds a little cheesy, and it kinda is, but for the most part, the movie pulls it off pretty convincingly. Peter Appleton (played magnificently by Jim Carrey) writes movie scripts for Hollywood in the early 50's and is on his way to catching a Big Break when someone fingers his for a Commie, causing the movie studio to suspend all business with him (at least, until after he gets by the charges), his actress girlfriend to dump him, and a local bartender named Jerry to glean a small fortune from profits made by selling the very depressed Peter quite a bit of alcoholic beverages. After filling his stomach with said alcoholic beverages, Peter decides that a nice long coastal drive would really hit the spot. He drives for a while, crashes his car on a bridge, falls into the water, and thwacks his head against the concrete foundation of a leg of the bridge, causing (gasp!) amnesia! (This is the Limburger of which I spoke; don't worry, it only looks bad from the outside) . And it goes from there.

The movie's strongest strength is it's acting. Jim Carrey pulls off Peter Appleton, Wide-Eyed Amnesia Victim, and Luke Trimble Wannabe with perfection and poise, never for a moment wavering. Jim Carrey is well known for his facial expressions (most his his characters have been built from the ground up on them), and they here serve him well, blasting out with an interior view for anyone looking. For example, although the camera is tightly on him -- and only him -- during the opening scene and he only has one or two lines, we get an extremely good idea about what his character is about (he's clearly aggravated that the movie executives are eviscerating his script, and yet he goes with the flow without blinking). Laurie Holden plays Luke Trimble's former fiance Adele Stanton who took the California State Bar Exam just prior to her appearance early on in the movie, and she also does a stellar job, particularly during the romantic scenes between her and Jim Carrey. She has this great ability to portray and communicate the awkwardness of the situations (as most of them, at least at first, are awkward; she and Luke were engaged just before Luke went overseas, and then he died) without making the audience awkward (I absolutely *loath* when movies make the audience feel awkward. I can get myself into awkward situations without paying, thankyouverymuch). The rest of the cast was good-to-very-good, but not particularly worth spending more time on.

This movie's cinematograhy sings. I mentioned the opening scene: it starts by playing the voices of people arguing over something, a movie. The darkness gives way to a closeup of Jim Carrey's upper torso and head, listening to more voices batting back and forth increasingly corny ideas about how to draw more tears from the eyes of the audiences. The shot says very specifically that although we need to know what they are saying for context, the speakers just aren't important. A bookend shot also plays near the end of the movie that functions much the same way, and I personally liked the symmetry. One more example: the pan shots of The Majestic's neon sign. Done beautifully well, these precisely capture the feelings of, well, majesty that the theater is said to possess.

Now we come to the part of the movie that is difficult to review: the preaching. Unfortunately, the movie has quite a bit of preaching against the censoring McCarthyism and the HUAC did in the 50s. The good news is that this is decoy preaching; after all, history has come to the conclusion that McCarthyism and the HUAC were wrong, so preaching against them would be a horrible waste of everyone's time. The movie is really railing against the passive, those who want to avoid moral difficulties, and thus decide to take the easy road that robs them of dignity (see the description of the opening scene to see one way this plays out with Peter). It's still preachy, but at least it's not terribly irrelevant preaching. Just remember that every single mention by anyone of Commies builds towards Peter's eventual decision to grow a backbone and doesn't really have anything to do with Commies, and the movie seems a little less eye-roll inducing.

One last thing to mention before I get to the ratings: this movie has a number of decidedly funny parts. Although not a comedy, it's got a few balloons here and there to help lift the serious, and sometimes overcast, mood. Peter's drunken blatherings, Adele's hiccups (and their "cure"), Peter's discovery of his piano talent, Peter's answers to the HUAC's questions; these are funny moments all.

Action: 3.5/5 bothersome possums (Almost completely devoid of action, there was but one scene requiring it, and in that one scene, the action was extremely well done and extremely plausible).
Acting: 4.75/5 lighthouses (Excellent performances from Jim Carrey and Laurie Holden, and at good performances from everyone else. Denied a perfect 5 because I'm a miserly bastard when it comes to Acting).
Comedy: 3.5/5 grinning monkeys (The comedy here brought a huge smile to my face, but rarely made me audibly laugh and never split my sides).
Story: 3/5 convertible Mercedes' (Although it's got some decidedly corny parts to it, I feel the story overall works rather well).
Visuals: 4.5/5 neon lights (No computer effects from what I can tell and minimum effects otherwise, this movie gets most of it's style points from camera placement, and it does that very well. The setting also gets mad props for looking like the 50s should look, feel like the 50s should feel, and overall just being nifty).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4.5/5 Purple Hearts (Consider this oft-passed-by movie strongly recommended!).