Review: Jurassic World

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson

Review: Entourage

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon

Review: San Andreas

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino

Review: Ex Machina

Starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The Pitch is Back!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: X-Men: First Class

I was a fan of comics as a kid – definitely DC over Marvel.  I would save all the coins I could find until I reached seventy-five cents and then I would harass my mom into stopping at the local comic book shop on the way back from the supermarket.  Some forty-five minutes later, I would have whichever issue of Superman featured the slickest artwork that month.  So whenever a film comes out based on a hero straight out of the funny pages, I am always excited to see these visuals on screen that during my youth could only be realized through the imagination.

X-Men: First Class is a good movie.  It will not crack my Top 5 Superhero Movies list (Thor, The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2, Iron Man, and of course Superman the Movie) but it is a very strong entrant in the genre.  That it did only $146M domestic and $206M foreign speaks more to a bit of franchise fatigue and the stink of Brett Ratner emanating from the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand.  It also had to overcome the stigma of prequels that historically do not do justice to the original (i.e. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd).   What makes this film better than its peers is that it features a storyline reasonably grounded in reality executed by a solid cast.

One does not necessarily think of a superhero narrative as a period piece, but the film is firmly grounded by the fact that it is loosely set against the backdrop of significant historical events of the 1960’s.  James McAvoy and his “John Lennon sideburns” do an admirable job of playing an unfamiliar version of Charles Xaviero – a fully ambulatory non-follicularly challenged one, while Michael Fassbender brings a sense of brooding to the proceedings minus the camp that plagued Ian McKellen’s Magneto.  Director Matthew Vaughn has the two friends/foes leading a group of young mutants mostly unfamiliar to the general public, and he strategically breaks from the canon of X-Men mythos for the sake of good story telling.  

As for the rest of the cast, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult stand out amongst the young X-Men; Kevin Bacon is thoroughly unlikable as the chief villain amongst villains; and Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt do a fine job of playing G-Men working furiously to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis.  My one complaint about the cast is about January Jones who fails to deliver a single line with any kind of conviction.  I have not seen this kind of apathy in an actor since Natalie Portman played Padme in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

I would absolutely recommend this film.  You don’t have to be a fan of the genre or familiar with the history of the X-Men to enjoy it.  The film has good pacing and a bit of humor to accompany the action that drives the film, thus avoiding the overwrought sense of gloom that at times overrides Nolan’s Batman films.  Watch it as a stand-alone though because while it was a very good film, it may not have performed well enough at the box office for 20th Century Fox to greenlight another installment.

Standout Performance: Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence stand out amongst the accomplished cast.  Look for them in the upcoming “Prometheus” and “The Hunger Games” respectively.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: Limitless

In watching the film "Limitless," the first thing I found is that the title in no way reflects the quality of the film, because while the premise of the movie is interesting, the plot itself is little more than a glorified drug caper movie.  Bradley Cooper plays a run-of-the-mill underachieving writer who is suffering with a bout of chronic apathy masquerading as writer's block.  When he is presented the opportunity to take an experimental drug to cure the malaise that ails him, he jumps at the opportunity.  Jack Kerouac would be proud.

While watching this film, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a script born from the reject scraps of “Go,” “Boiler Room,” and “Two for the Money.”  Incompetent drug dealer? Check.  Cheesey Russian loan shark? Check.  Douche bag bankers? Check, check, and check.  The plot jumps from place to place quickly with such little exposition that I was hard pressed to remember why anything onscreen was taking place and worse still, why I should even care.  The plot has more holes in it than LA’s Wilshire Blvd. has potholes.  To remedy fhis, the director Neil Burger takes the lazy route and opts for a Bradley Cooper voice over to tell us how these logic issues will be ironed out in the future.  It makes me wonder if the movie would have been better if it were just one quick voice over telling viewers that eventually in the future things get ironed out.

Ultimately the movie is doomed to fail because if you are making a movie about a guy who becomes exponentially smarter than the average person, then the source material for the character had better be intelligently written.  It’s simply not enough for the protagonist to tell everyone on screen that he sees all the angles; the script has to set up the plot in a way that depicts this.  Unfortunately throughout the movie, it is more of the former than the latter and the movie suffers from credibility issues because of it.

As for the cast, Bradley Cooper is satisfactory in this role.  His natural delivery as an actor is perpetually tainted with a hint of sleaze and douchebaggery, which when coupled with a lack of plot development makes any kind of redemption for his character a tough sell.  As for Robert DeNiro, he has become a caricature of himself since "Analyze That” and does nothing in this film to reverse that trend.  I liked Abbie Cornish more in “Sucker Punch” but that matters very little because she completely fades from the picture in the third act.  And Andrew Howard deserves recognition for the worst Russian accent on screen since John Malkovich played Teddy KGB in "Rounders."

“Limitless" is one of those films that looks really slick when viewing its trailer because of its catchy premise, but ultimately the film fails to deliver. What you are left with is a movie that is only mildly entertaining and will most definitely be forgotten fifteen minutes after the credits begin to roll.  Watch this movie if you are really bored or if you have a long flight somewhere and are in desperate need of mindless distraction.  When viewed under these conditions, then it seems less like a waste of time.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Our Idiot Brother

If you have been following my reviews recently then you may have noticed that the quality of movies that I’ve been subjecting myself to has been trending downward – most likely the result of a dearth of quality options - although bad decision making cannot be completely dismissed. Regardless, this thinning of the marketplace is not unusual as August gives way to September, but occasionally a diamond can be unearthed from the rough. Well, said diamond has been found in the slice of life “dramedy” entitled "Our Idiot Brother."

There is a lot to like about this film from its quirky comedic sense to its well-constructed cast that is anchored by the always-affable Paul Rudd, whose character is an unfailingly genuine and overly simple man-child. His harmless indiscretions cast him as the idiot burdensome brother to his three intelligent but distinctly misguided sisters. Through his various trials and tribulations, Rudd’s character Ned unintentionally flips the script on his sisters and shows them that it is in fact their lives that are in dire need of repair.

It is not an easy thing to be funny, witty, and emotionally genuine but this cast pulls it off with flying colors. Paul Rudd is his usual funny and genuine self - the type of protagonist who is easy to root for. Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, and Zooey Deschanel are perfectly cast in their respective roles as Rudd's complex sisters struggling with problems ranging from infidelity to career stagnation. The complexity of their lives is in sharp contrast to the simplicity of Rudd’s character and the resulting dynamic is what drives the film.

As for the rest of the cast, Stephen Coogan and Kathryn Hahn deliver their stock performances, which set them up perfectly as the two foils of the film, while T.J. Miller of “She’s Out of My League” fame shows a good comedic sense and compliments Rudd nicely when the two share the screen. My one complaint is the work of Rashida Jones as Cindy. Her character in this film is drab, uninspired, and very much a cliche– a far cry from her performance in “I Love You, Man.”

I would recommend this film for any occasion. Both entertaining and endearing, the film manages to avoid getting bogged down in minutiae. It is refreshing to watch a film where the only agenda is to tell a good story at a brisk pace and that is precisely what we have here. It was the perfect film to watch as the summer movie season draws to a close.

Standout Performance: T.J. Miller is surprisingly funny and holds his own when sharing the screen with seasoned comedic actors.