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!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Johnny English Reborn

My claim to shame is that I am one of the few people to have watched the original "Johnny English" in the cinema though it wasn’t by choice.  Under the duress of direct questioning you might get me to admit that there were a few funny (albeit completely asinine) scenes between Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English and Ben Miller’s Bough.  Fast forward to the present day: when the opportunity to watch "Johnny English Reborn" free of charge presented itself, well…I took it.  After watching this film, I have to say that this film made its predecessor look like an exercise in comedic genius.

The main problem with "Johnny English Reborn" – and oh there are so many – is that the film is just not funny.  The physical comedy is a total miss; the verbal gags are void of wit and humor; and there is absolutely no chemistry between any of the principle characters.  In his previous incarnations, Atkinson has displayed a moderate sense of comedic timing and the ability to sell some seriously-hard-to-sell physical comedy, but watching him go through the motions in Reborn feels like watching Jackie Chan in "Rush Hour 3" performing action sequences when clearly he had lost a few miles per hour off the fastball.  As for the plot – if there even was one, it is flimsy and completely forgettable. 

The more perplexing question about this film is the presence of Rosamund Pike and Gillian Anderson.  Pike of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Die Another Day” fame exudes grace, style, and class on screen and her participation in this project leads one to believe she was in need of a paycheck.  As for Anderson, we can only hope that she finds her way back into the role for which she is best known (Scully in "X-Files").  As for the rest of the cast, Dominic West delivers his typical performance, but his turn as the heavy is completely telegraphed because he is typically cast as one and Daniel Kaluuya’s Agent Tucker is a very cheap man’s version of Ben Miller’s Bough.

There really is not much more to say about this film except that it is horrible and I will never get back those 105 minutes of my life (another 15 minutes wasted if you tack on the time it took me to write this review).  Don’t see it.  Don’t rent it.  Don’t even talk about it.  I think that about sums it up.

Standout Performance: Rosamund Pike for being Rosamund Pike.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Paranormal Activity 3

There are some things that never get old – like pizza and Seinfeld reruns, and then there are some things that just won’t go away – like American Pie sequels and Occupy Wall Street protestors.  Well, despite the hype, I am sad to report that "Paranormal Activity 3" moves the incredibly profitable franchise further from the former and dangerously close to the latter.  This is a no easy fete when you consider that this is the same genre that has spawned a seemingly never-ending series of “Saw” and “Friday the 13th” films.

Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman make sure that all the usual Paranormal Activity conventions are present in the latest prequel – unsteady cameras, night vision, cheap thrills, date and time stamps, and mediocre acting, giving the film the same look and feel as its predecessors.  While these are the mechanisms that made movies one and two cult hits, they are precisely the reason that number three seems to lack the same vigor and punch.  All the setups have become overly familiar and all the visual cues seem far too choreographed.  So while false scares still account for a handful of pulse-raising gags, the true pivotal moments in the film appear completely telegraphed.  

That’s not to say that there are some good things about the film.  Christopher Nicholas Smith does a decent job as the perfectly affable man-behind-the-camera lacking just enough common sense to make sure that reason does not get in the way of the slaughter that is sure to come and Dustin Glitz brings a nice bit of comic relief to the otherwise tense proceedings.  Unfortunately, their respective performances are not enough to usurp the shortcomings of the script, which completely unravels in the third act when the film tries to flesh out the origin of the menace we were first introduced to in the original film.

As for the rest of the cast, Lauren Bittner is uninspired as Julie – the mother of Katie and Kristi, while Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown as the tormented sisters are utterly as pedestrian as child actors come.  However, the strength of the series has never been the acting chops of the respective casts, but instead the conventions and execution of the film.  When you consider that the first film was an unknown project with a budget of $15K that went on to become one of the most successful films in cinematic history based on ROI ($107M domestic), then perhaps one can conclude that perhaps this film felt like a disappointment simply because it came with higher expectation.

Paranormal Activity 3 opened this past weekend at $54M (estimated) to account for the largest October opening ever and it will be interesting to see how word of mouth affects its second weekend take.  If you are a thriller junky you should see this film because it will give you the occasional scare and seeing it in the cinema will definitely will heighten the experience.  For the average viewer though, I would watch it as a rental.  It is not groundbreaking and not clever, but it is just entertaining enough to make the experience not a total waste of time.  However, be warned; even a mediocre horror film such as this one will make you start to wonder what that noise coming from your closet is. 

Standout Performance: Toby and the bed sheet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: Scream 4

I was walking out of a grocery store the other day when I saw, tucked away in the corner of the parking lot, a hunter green 1993 Mazda MX-6 – the make, model, and color of my youth.  I hadn’t seen one in years so a flood of great memories flooded my mind.  A funny thing happened as I walked across the lot. The longer I looked at the car under the unforgiving midday sunlight, the more I wondered what it was about the car that I thought was so great. Perhaps it was the dull luster and the dated lines of the body, or maybe my tastes had changed with the time, but whatever the reason, it was clear that the tread on those tires were worn.  This is exactly how I felt when I sat through a viewing of Scream 4.  Everything and everyone seemed tired and old.

Let me preface this review by saying Scream 4 was not my first choice.  It was actually more like my tenth, but a midweek bout of insomnia makes me susceptible to poor movie choices.  But I digress.  The three principles – Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox – have returned in this installment and right from the outset it is clear that they’ve lost a few miles per hour off the fastball as the years have not been very kind.  And if you look close enough you almost feel like you can see them running to the bank between takes to cash their checks.  The resulting malaise and apathy could be overlooked were it not for the fact that the premise and plot mechanisms are just as ready to be put out to pasture as the stars. 

But like every sequel, there has to be some new layer or plot devise that differentiates it ever so slightly from its original.  For this most recent installment in the franchise, it feels like Wes Craven has hired a social media consultant to make the plot tech relevant. At times I felt like I was sitting through an Internet marketing class waiting for someone to talk about the value of tweeting and search engine optimization.  My best guess is that this was their solution to making the franchise fresh, edgy, and relevant again. 

Beyond Campbell, Arquette, and Cox, the cast features a number of actors who at one time or another were considered cinematic up-and-comers in Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Hayden Panetierre, and Emma Roberts.  Their respective appearances in this film say as much about the film as it does their careers – going nowhere.  What makes this film particularly disappointing is that expectations for this genre are typically fairly low – a thinly written script with little character development, but enough suspense to make the 90 minutes entertaining.  For this film, the bar is set very low, yet Scream 4 still manages to sneak below it.

So here it is plain and simple: don’t see this movie – not as a rental and not on cable TV.  Once upon a time it was an interesting franchise that was clever and satirical in its approach to the genre.  Watching this film can only ruin your view of those other films.  There are plenty of films on the market and on TV that will do a better a job of giving you a cheap scare or two especially since this is the Halloween season.

Standout Performance: Anthony Anderson’s death scene is so incredibly camp that it has to get a mention.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher was a movie set up for me to hate.  I am not a Cameron Diaz fan, and not a fan of Justin Timberlake either.  I am a fan of Jason Segel but he doesn’t play as much of a role in the film as the trailers for its theatrical release would have had you believe.  With all this being said, I actually enjoyed this movie a lot.  It is not because the script was incredibly well written or because the cinematography was absolutely breathtaking.  No, the winning formula for this film was much more simple.  The reason that this movie worked for me is because the film asks the viewer to dislike Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey and Timberlake’s Scott Delacorte.  That’s something I found incredibly easy.

The film firmly rests on Diaz’s shoulders and she owns it.  In the past I think Diaz has been miscast in roles that ask her to portray the cute, sweet, and endearing type when in fact she really hasn’t fit that role since “There’s Something About Mary” some thirteen years ago.  In this movie, Diaz’s Halsey is mean, self-centered, and trashy – and whether it is perception or reality, these are qualities that really suit her.  Fair or not, I could not help but feel like I was not watching Cameron Diaz act, but instead I was watching Cameron Diaz play herself.  The fact that her character is on a quest to raise money for breast implants becomes inconsequential.  The show is her degrading, mean spirited, selfish approach to the world around her.

Timberlake takes his usual overly camp approach to portraying a character and in this instance it adds significant value.  He was not as good in this movie as he was in “Friends with Benefits” but he holds his own with Diaz.  He is every bit as unlikable as her if not more and the love triangle between the two and Lucy Punch’s Amy Squirrel is awkwardly entertaining.  Jason Segel as a simple everyman with simpe values does not add much value to this project, because he is the moral compass in a movie that works because it spits in the face of socially accepted behavior. 

This is not a great movie but it is a very good movie rental.  It is irreverent, crass, and a bit of a guilty pleasure.  If you need a night of mindless laughter this is definitely the film for you.  With the exception of  “There’s Something About Mary” there is not a Cameron Diaz movie that I enjoyed more.  See it alone or see it with friends; either way you’ll be entertained.

Standout Performance: Cameron Diaz delivers her second good performance in a thirteen year span.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Moneyball

I had fairly low expectations for Moneyball when the trailer was first released.  The buzz on the film was that the source material – Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis – would not lend itself to compelling theater and that the only reason this film was greenlit was because it became Brad Pitt’s pet project. As an avid baseball fan with a recollection of the season that the film centers on, I found the film entertaining and fairly accurate albeit with the typical Hollywood spin.  Brad Pitt does a nice job of blending into the role of Billy Beane and while it is a stretch at times to view Jonah Hill as a Peter Brand (who those in the know really know is Paul DePodesta), the chemistry between the two as mentor/prodigy works very well.

One of the key strengths of the movie is that it is grounded firmly in baseball reality and director Bennett Miller pays careful attention to maintain authenticity.  It is nice to see familiar names of players who played and then disappeared into retirement obscurity flash across the screen one more time in MLB licensed attire.  A pet peeve of mine in sports movies is when filmmakers fail to strike deals with league and players associations and end up using cheap facsimiles of professional sports franchises (As was the case in “The Game Plan”).

As for the cast, their collective performance was fair.  Besides Pitt and Hill, very few were asked to do much in this film.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman for one does a great job of disappearing into the role of the cantankerous Art Howe and while Kerris Dorsey does a nice job of bringing the family element into the proceedings, I have to admit it was the scenes that were not baseball-centric that were amongst my least favorite in the film.

My one significant issue with the film is that in the interest of dramatic license, the talent on the Oakland team is drastically downplayed.  Even with the departure of Damon, Giambi, and Isrinhausen, the Oakland club was loaded with three front-line starting pitchers, a dynamic left side of the infield, and some good complimentary parts.  But those names and faces fade to the background in order to convince us that Beane and Brand are not only radical thinkers, but geniuses as well.  To the casual baseball fan or one who isn’t a fan at all, this point becomes completely moot.

I absolutely recommend this film for those who like sports movies.  Seeing it on the big screen will provide some great visuals of the ballparks.  For those who are not sports enthusiasts, this movie plays more as a rental.  Even if you’re a baseball novice, the pace of the movie is brisk, the storytelling is sound, and Brad Pitt brings his usual film presence.  All this adds up to two highly entertaining hours.

Standout Performance: In limited screen time, Phillip Seymour Hoffman shines with his complexity and authenticity.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: What's Your Number?

What’s Your Number? is a predictable mix of sarcasm, physical comedy, and awkward nudity that has become the staple of romantic comedies for mature (and immature) audiences.  Yet despite the fact that you know exactly where Anna Faris’ character is going to be when things fade to black and the closing credits start to roll, the movie is an entertaining romp through the personal past of Faris’ Ally Darling.  Faris excels at playing a spunky, quirky, walking disaster of a woman and with her knack for physical comedy she carries this film well.  Chris Evans – as her lothario neighbor Colin Shea – keeps pace with her comedic timing and manages to inject sentimentality into the proceedings when the two are not exchanging verbal barbs.

The premise of the film isn’t groundbreaking, but the concept of running through one’s list of former flames can lend itself to great comedy.  Unfortunately, the rogues gallery that represents Faris’ former flames falls short of the mark.  The filmmaker fails to make proper use of two very funny comedic talents in Andy Samberg and Thomas Lennon, instead opting for tired flimsy gags.  Despite this shortcoming, the movie remains brisk and entertaining as Faris’ charm and self-deprecating ways ensure that the film does not unravel.  The side plot that centers on issues between Faris’ Ally and her mother – played by Blythe Danner – seem contrived and extraneous and the necessity to flesh this out makes the second act come to a screeching halt. 

One thing of note that really works in this film beyond the chemistry between Faris and Evans is Boston as a backdrop to the proceedings.  As the city has become a more attractive place to film (fiscally, that is), filmmakers have become more adept at using the aesthetics and charm to add significant value to films.  Director Mark Myloid and crew do a fantastic job of capturing the city in a meaningful way.

At the end of the day film is really all about Faris and Evans and for most of the proceedings they are up to the task.  However ,if you’re looking cinematic genius then you will want to look elsewhere.  This movie really fits the bill for someone who wants to be entertained for a few hours without having to invest too much thought.  See it in a theater if you want to see some great visuals of Boston, but it is probably best suited for home viewing – preferably with a date.

Standout Performance: It wasn’t so much a product of Chris Pratt’s acting chops but every time he made an appearance onscreen it garnered a few laughs.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Ides of March

With a cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, George Clooney, and current it-boy Ryan Gosling, it isn’t hard to figure out why the buzz for Clooney’s latest directorial effort was so positive.  But I have to go against the grain here and echo what Shakespeare (or not if you believe the nonsense in Emmerich’s forthcoming film) once wrote in Julius Caesar,  “beware the Ides of March.”  It may be the result of expectations, but I walked out of the film feeling completely unimpressed by the dumbing down of political machinations that may occur on the campaign trail.  The most egregious mistake Clooney makes as writer and director is that his film finishes with the message that politics leave its participants cynical and jaded – not exactly an earth-shattering revelation - when in fact it should start with this as a premise and then build out a compelling story.

In a lot of ways, the movie plays out like the Bill Clinton pseudo-biopic “Primary Colors” minus the camp, humor, and overacting.  In its place you get a robust helping of George Clooney’s much publicized political ideologies and as you watch him on screen you can’t help but feel like he is playing out his fantasy of running for office.   As for Gosling, he wilts as the lead of the film and firmly cements himself in the same category as Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds as actors who excel at playing sharp-witted characters in comedic settings, but come off as drab and pedestrian in roles that demand more gravitas.  Case in point: can one believe that Gosling is a sharp political consultant jousting with grizzled veterans Giamatti and Hoffman?  Maybe.  But the important question is…should one even care?  The resounding answer is no.

Not even an ensemble littered with actors recognized by the Academy can save this film from becoming utterly mundane.  For the most part, all the players are solid within the context of what the source materials ask them to do – which is bring their respective B-games.  As you watch these fantastic actors spend far too little time onscreen as mere foils to advance Gosling’s plotline, one can’t help but wonder if the film would have been significantly better had the proceedings centered on someone else.  Surely the blend of paranoia and narcissism that marks Hoffman’s character could have made for a more riveting narrative, or watching Tomei’s journalist meddle and scour for the next headline could have made for better theater.  Ultimately though we are left to watch the least accomplished individual of the principle cast play the least compelling individual of the principle characters.  And that is where the film fails its audience.

This is not a film to be seen in the cinema, but it works as a midweek rental.  You’ll watch it; be moderately entertained for about half of the film, and when it is over shrug your shoulders, turn out the lights, and go to sleep all the while wondering if you missed something in the proceedings that made this film better.  This is probably the last Gosling movie I’ll watch for a while which is no easy fete since he has opted for Nicolas Cage cash grab and take on every film that comes across his plate.  

Notable Performance: Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers a genuine performance and stands out in limited screen time.