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!

Friday, June 29, 2012

July 2012 Movie Guide

The Amazing Spiderman – July 3, 2012
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Sally Field, Denis Leary
Why You Should See It: A strong cast to go along with Marc Webb as director ensures that from a character development standpoint, the movie should be very good.
Why You Should Avoid It: It’s been five years since Sam Raimi’s disastrous Spiderman 3.  It is a relatively short amount of time to warrant a complete reboot of the franchise.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  AMC, here I come!

Katy Perry: Part of Me – July 4, 2012
Starring: Katy Perry
Why You Should See It: Because you want to get back at your girlfriend for making you watch that Justin Bieber movie.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because it turns out your girlfriend likes Katy Perry too!
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Not even if someone pays you to see it.

Savages – July 6, 2012
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro
Why You Should See It: Because once upon a time Benicio Del Toro was a good actor and Salma Hayek can still bring the thunder.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because Taylor Kitsch has a proven track record of disappointing movies.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  A premium cable channel viewing at best.

Red Lights – July 13, 2012
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen
Why You Should See It: Because it has an extremely talented cast.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because DeNiro is coming off three pedestrian efforts in New Year’s Eve, Killer Elite, and Limitless - ditto for Sigourney Weaver with The Cabin in the Woods, Rampart, and Abduction.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  A flip of the coin.

The Dark Knight Rises – July 20, 2012
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
Why You Should See It: Because it is the final chapter of Chris Nolan’s trilogy that established comic books as a source for serious filmmaking.
Why You Should Avoid It: ummm...because you're no longer amongst the living.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  IMAX: purchase your tickets in advance. 

The Watch – July 27, 2012
Starring: Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Richard Ayoade
Why You Should See It: Jonah Hill has the hot hand coming of off Moneyball and 21 Jump Street.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because Vince Vaughn is ice cold coming off of Fred Claus, Four Christmases, Couples Retreat, and The Dilemma.  Ouch!
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  It’s an absolute NO that will turn into a yes at some point during opening weekend.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Ted

I have never watched an episode of Family Guy or American Dad and I missed the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen so I am unfamiliar with Seth MacFarlane’s work.  In fact, I would have no idea what he even looks like had someone not told me a few years back that I had just seen him in a karaoke bar in Koreatown.  Initially I had little interest in his directorial debut in Ted as the traditional trailers and TV spots did little to pique my interest.  It was not until I saw the red band trailer (or R-rated trailer) on YouTube that I took an interest in the movie as it became evident they weren’t going to pull any punches in this comedy.  My one trepidation about the movie was whether or not the live teddy bear gag would wear thin within the first fifteen minutes of the film. 

Thankfully, it does not.

The plot of the film is a where-are-they-now story set twenty years after a lonely ten- year old boy wishes that his teddy bear would come to life.  What ensues is a brand of vulgar yet lovable idiocy.  The premise is ridiculous and the jokes profane and vulgar, but despite the best efforts of the raucously foul mouth teddy bear to misdirect, this film is a very much the amalgamation of romcom and buddy flick that has proven to be a big box office winner.  So what makes the movie all come together?

It starts with Mark Wahlberg.  I am in no way a fan of Mark Wahlberg - the serious actor, but as I mentioned in my review of Contraband, I am a huge fan of Mark Wahlberg - the comedic actor.  In my opinion, his best work leading into this movie is in the vastly underrated The Other Guys.  What makes him good at inducing laughter is the ever-so-slight awkwardness that underlies his machismo that translates easily into a punch line.  As John – the man-child owner of Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, he is such a likable character because he delivers line after line of absurdity with a high level of sincerity.  To say that he and MacFarlane have a strong chemistry trading barbs and engaging in sophomoric repartee is a huge understatement.

As for the aforementioned MacFarlane, his voice work as Ted is equally important to the success of the movie.  He perfectly complements Wahlberg’s more methodical verbal pacing with his quick delivery and sharp one-liners, which fire off faster than the punch lines at a Chris Rock standup set (circa 1999) and are just as funny.  As I watched the movie, I was amazed that no matter how raunchy or borderline offensive the jokes were, the mask of a fuzzy teddy bear worked miracles in dulling any sense of impropriety.  But make no mistake about it, underlying the boatloads of vulgarity that spew forth from Ted’s mouth, is a ton of heart.

Almost as good as Wahlberg and MacFarlane is Mila Kunis, who has mastered the art of playing the incredibly attractive yet utterly approachable woman who is almost too cool to really exist.  She has the difficult task of playing the part of the unsatisfied girlfriend who acts as the foil to the juvenile chicanery, without losing favor with the audience.  This is no easy fete to achieve – one that Katherine Heigl has failed to master in just about all of her movies, but Kunis pulls it off perfectly. 

As for the rest of the cast, the work is spot on.  Giovanni Ribisi excels at playing an uber creep - likewise for Joel McHalePatrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld) and Ryan Reynolds are awkwardly funny in very small doses and even Laura Vandervoort – who is brought on to be just another pretty face, fits that bill perfectly.  But to me, Sam Jones, who is best remembered as Flash Gordon in the 80’s cult classic, turns in the breakout performance from the supporting cast.  His appearance in the film is a great gag that delivers huge returns.

I would definitely recommend this movie.  In fact, I myself am planning to see it a second time, as there were almost too many jokes to digest.  Without a doubt, this film is right there with 21 Jump Street as one of the funniest movies I have seen this year and that it is filmed against the backdrop of Boston, Massachusetts is a huge added bonus.  See this movie ASAP and see it with a friend, a sibling, or a significant other.  Ted is a hilarious movie that has a nice balance of romance and raunch that ensures a good time will be had by all. 

Standout Performance: Sam Jones from the cult classic Flash Gordon – a campy movie that is perfectly described in Ted as "so bad and so good” – steals the show.  If you haven’t seen that film, you should see that one too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

It’s funny how two live action movies based on the story of Snow White got theatrical releases this year – namely Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.  That kind of symmetry takes me back to 1990 when two movies about Lambada (Lambada and The Forbidden Dance) were released or the year 1992 when Hollywood went gaga for Christopher Columbus with 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery.  I can’t speak to Mirror, Mirror because I didn’t see it, but I can tell you that Snow White and the Huntsman shares something else in common with the four aforementioned films; that it is very mediocre.

This movie is rife with problems none larger than Kristen Stewart.  There’s no way to mince words here.  She is a bad actress.  I know I’m not the first person to write this and I will definitely not be the last, but who knew that the highest paid actress in 2012 was as sullen and apathetic onscreen as she appears to be off screen.  This is a real revelation to me because I have completely steered clear of all her work – especially Twilight.  Casting her as the epitome of innocence and beauty as well as a beacon of hope is an incredible stretch that cripples the movie.

The problems don’t stop there.  The plot of the film is uneven – almost schizophrenic.  At times director Rupert Sanders’ film plays like a re-imagining of the story with a harder edge and gritty action, but almost in that same breadth it bends over backwards to incorporate the most trivial and extraneous aspects of the original fairy tale.  This duality leaves the film feeling like a patchwork effort rather than a complete narrative. 

Charlize Theron however does rise above the muck to turn in a strong performance as Ravenna.  There is a genuine sense of rage and fragility wrapped around narcissism that brings Theron’s character to life and makes her scenes in the film the most interesting to watch.  Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane are decent as dwarfs in very limited screen time.   As for the would be paramours of Snow White - namely  Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin as The Huntsman and William respectively - both their performances are neutral and muted but this has as much to do with Stewart’s performance as anything else.  To say that neither had any romantic chemistry with her would be a gross understatement.  Hemsworth's and Claflin's best work can be found in the action sequences, which unfortunately lacked great choreography and cinematography – as if they were mere pit stops on the way to more scenes loaded with Kristen Stewart's apathy.

This one is hard for me to recommend.  I actually wanted to like this movie and had high hopes for it, having enjoyed Chris Hemsworth in Thor as well as countless Charlize Theron performances.  As you watch the film, you can see what it could have been – a brisk, visually stunning, action-packed narrative, but sadly it amounts to nothing more than a bad movie starring a bad actress.  Under just the right circumstances, this is a TNT/TBS/FX/USA movie, but in reality it’s really a no-go.  Sadly, this is the second Charlize Theron movie that has been a disappointment this summer (though she hardly is to blame).  Hopefully, she finds better luck in her next outing – Mad Max: Fury Road.

Standout Performance: Charlize Theron and her rage infused narcissism act as the lone bright spot in an otherwise pedestrian production.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I had to do it.  Sure, the mere mention of the title elicited incredulity and every time the trailer ran, it drew rounds of mockery and snickering.  Despite the fact that talking heads claimed that the book upon which the film is based, is an interesting read with an attention to historic detail, I knew not a single person who had read it.  Critic reviews, cinema scores, and box office figures be damned, I was not to be deterred.  Now having seen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I can tell you that while some of the derision thrust upon it is understandable, it may not be completely warranted.

The movie follows the life of Abraham Lincoln from small boy in Illinois through the Civil War adding a fictionalized element to his biography – that the sixteenth president of the United States was a vampire slayer (pause for laughter).  The plot goes on to weave vampires into the state and affairs of the U.S. government as it rumbles towards the Civil War.

I think a lot of what has kept people away from this movie is that they feel the premise is ridiculous, which in many ways it is.  But then is it any more ridiculous than the plot of some other movies?  We know that Abraham Lincoln as a vampire slayer never existed, but then neither did Van Helsing, Buffy, nor Blade.  That the movie is so grounded in history and that it gives vampires a prominent role in the Civil War seems to be another point of contention for critics and viewers alike.   Again, I would counter that it is no more preposterous than placing the X-men at the center of the Cuban Missile Crisis in X-Men: First Class or placing Jack and Rose near the center of the Titanic sinking.  After all, last time I checked, this film never claimed to be anything more than fiction. 

With all this having been said, this movie is incredibly flawed but still manages to be somewhat entertaining.  There is not a lot of character development in the film; the dialogue is quite clunky; the CG is second rate; and outside of Benjamin Walker – who at times bears a striking resemblance to honest Abe – the rest of the cast fails to impress.   This is particularly disappointing since Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are capable of delivering strong performances.  Still the movie moves at a brisk pace and builds tension through some well imagined action sequences and typical cheap scares.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is really going to challenge your “willing suspension of disbelief” and if you cannot get past the notion that you are watching the Abraham Lincoln that you know from history books twirling an axe while chasing blood sucking fiends from beyond, then watching this film will turn into two hours of eye-rolling.  If you can take the film as a piece of fiction designed only to entertain, then you will be treated to mediocre summer action fare which is light on depth and exposition but loaded with explosions and fisticuffs.  If you’re the former, then avoid, avoid, avoid.  If you are the latter, catch it on Netflix somewhere down the road when you’re in need of mindless entertainment.

Standout Performance: Benjamin Walker bears a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln late in the movie so perhaps the MVP of this movie should go to the makeup artists.

June 2012 Editorial: Music in Movies

I don’t really listen to the radio because most stations have a rotation of the same eight songs playing over and over again ad nauseum.  So I pick up new music mainly from hearing a song randomly in public, through friendly referrals, and through movies.  The best thing about catching tunes through films is that if you pay attention, you’ll find a really obscure song or perhaps a cover of a well-known song with a unique spin.  Music is such a big part of motion pictures, so I thought this month I would highlight five musical performances that really made a difference in their respective films.

BLACK SHEEP – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
The soundtrack from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is absolutely loaded, but of all the songs, this one particularly stands out.  Originally performed by Metric, Brie Larson (21 Jump Street) provides the vocals and performs this song in the movie.  Below is the scene:
  
FADE INTO YOU – Angus (1995)
In the context of its time, Angus was a hidden gem of a movie that almost nobody saw about an overweight socially awkward kid who puts up with all kinds of bullying on his way to that one great high school moment.  Fade Into You by Mazzy Star plays during the key scene near the end of the movie, which I couldn’t find video for.  But this song, like the movie, is a bit obscure.  However I can  guarantee that many of you will add it to your playlist after hearing it.  Below is the music video:

SOMEBODY KILL ME – The Wedding Singer (1998)
This song is from back when Adam Sandler was still making good movies.  The song Somebody Kill Me had that fresh appeal that much of Sandler’s work exuded back in those days on the set of SNL.  Just one caveat, this video is NSFW (profanity).  Below is the scene from the Wedding Singer:

POP GOES MY HEART – Music and Lyrics (2007)
I grew up in the 80’s so the opening credits to Music and Lyrics really cracked me up.  This video reminded me of about 100 bands from the days when MTV still showed music videos.  Hugh Grant and Scott Porter absolutely kill it in the video.  Music and Lyrics was actually a bit underrated as a romcom, but got overlooked mostly because Drew Barrymore didn’t quite fit the bill.  The music was great though.   Link to the opening credits scene below:

THE SHOW – Moneyball (2011)
I was curios to see how Moneyball (the book) would translate into a movie, and was pleasantly surprised at how good the film turned out.  In the movie Kerris Dorsey performs Lenka’s The Show and I have to say that Dorsey’s version is infinitely better and really makes the last scene stay with you long after the final scene fades to black.  The link to the last scene of Moneyball is below (spoiler alert):

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Wanderlust

I can usually find entertainment in just about any movie (excluding anything starring Sarah Jessica Parker), so it’s a rare occasion that a film agitates me so much that I start to feel downright hostile.  I had survived some real clunkers these past few months  - Apollo 18, Drive Angry, The Darkest Hour, and of course the immortal Jack and Jill – so I was feeling relatively safe with a Judd Apatow produced comedy starring Paul Rudd.  After all, who didn’t love Anchorman, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall? 

Wanderlust follows the journey of Rudd’s George and Jennifer Aniston’s Linda as they flee financial ruin and the New York City rat race in search of a new life.  Their journey takes them to an isolated commune in Georgia where a band of misfits live practicing veganism, smoking marijuana, playing guitars, and completely annihilating any sense of personal boundaries.  Does any of this sound like fun?

The problem with the movie is that it purports itself a romantic comedy but is completely devoid of both sentiment and humor.  Rule number one to a romcom is that you actually have to root for the protagonists who are usually fighting any number of obstacles to get together.  I spent two thirds of the movie urging Paul Rudd to just bounce.  Rule number two to a romantic comedy is that the cast must feature a likable bunch that adds levity and laughter to the narrative.  Unfortunately no one fits this bill and each time you start to think that perhaps there is someone, said person goes and does something completely crude or asinine to remind you that you’re watching cinematic rubbish.

I have come to realize that my faith in Apatow’s work is unfounded and really based on past laurels.  In the past five years, he has been attached to nine projects – five (Wanderlust, Funny People, Pineapple Express, Drillbit Taylor, Year One) of which I felt were horrible; two (Step Brothers, The Five-Year Engagement) of which I thought were less than stellar; and only two (Bridesmaids, Get Him to the Greek) that I felt were entertaining.  As you can see, this is not exactly a winning track record.  The problem then with Wanderlust is really the continuing trend of mediocrity for Apatow and his productions.

The cast isn’t given much to work with and in return they don’t bring much to the table.  Paul Rudd is on cruise control delivering the same performance he has given a dozen times, but this time sans the earnestness that makes his characters so endearing.  Likewise, Jennifer Aniston delivers her usual performance – the same one that for the last ten years has failed to resonate with cinematic audiences.  Kathryn Hahn almost literally copies and pastes her performance from Our Idiot Brother; Malin Akerman serves only as eye candy; and Justin Theroux’s Seth literally made me want to throw the remote control at the television.

Every good actor eventually makes a poor choice.  Al Pacino had Jack and Jill; Leonardo DiCaprio had J. Edgar; Matt Damon had Hereafter (ditto for director Clint Eastwood).  Wanderlust is Paul Rudd’s faux pas.  I suggest you avoid this movie at all costs and as you go forward in life exercise extreme caution any time a new Judd Apatow movie crosses your path, because you’re more likely to find yourself disappointed than entertained.  Here’s hoping that Apatow and Rudd can right this wrong with the forthcoming This is 40.  I for one am not particularly optimistic.

Standout Performance: Alan Alda brings nothing to the table in this movie, but he doesn’t do anything prolifically wrong so that earns him this distinction. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

2012 Mid-Year Theatrical Review

Standing at the midpoint of the year and looking back, it truly has been an interesting year thus far at the cinema.  Coming into 2012, there was a lot of anticipation for the diverse slate of movies, but outside of a handful of flicks – most have underwhelmed and under performed.  With that in mind, here is my mid-year ranking of the top 20 (out of 22) theatrical releases that I have seen this year:

The “I DEMAND A REFUND” Category.

The “YOU COULD’VE CAST ADAM SANDLER AS THE LEAD AND THE MOVIE WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER” Category
17. CONTRABAND - C+

The “YOU COULD’VE CAST NICOLAS CAGE AS A LEAD AND THE QUALITY WOULD HAVE REMAINED THE SAME” Category
15. THAT'S MY BOY - C+

The “CARMAGEDDON CATEGORY” for movies that are hyped up but fail to deliver.
12. CHRONICLE- B-
11. PROMETHEUS - B-

The “MY GIRLFRIEND STRONGLY HINTED THAT SHE WANTED TO SEE THIS MOVIE” Category
8.  THIS MEANS WAR - B

The “OLD GUYS STILL KNOW HOW TO KICK BUTT” Category
7.  SAFE HOUSE- B
6.  THE GREY - B+

The “FAIRLY DECENT MOVIES THAT ARE ONLY RANKED THIS HIGH BECAUSE IT’S BEEN A WEAK YEAR THUS FAR” Category
5.  THE DICTATOR- B+
4.  MEN IN BLACK III - B+

The “BEST MOVIES NOT NAMED ‘THE AVENGERS’” Category
3.  TED- A-

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE…
1.  THE AVENGERS - A

And as for a few standout performances:

Best Male PerformanceRobert Downey Jr. (The Avengers)
Best Female PerformanceJennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games)
Best Comedic PerformanceChanning Tatum (21 Jump Street)
Best VillainGiovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Best Supporting MaleMichael Fassbender (Prometheus)
Best Supporting FemaleMila Kunis (Ted)
Best Overall CastRobert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers)
Worst Movie EverProject X

As for the rest of 2012, the outlook is still bright as there are a number of promising titles on the horizon – most notably The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall, Bourne Legacy, The Great Gatsby, Skyfall, Taken 2, and of course, The Dark Knight Rises.  Here’s hoping that the next six months produce more hits than misses.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: The Woman in Black

I find that the horror genre is one of the most polarizing amongst fans of movies.  Most either love them or hate them.  I am on the pro-horror side of that argument though I must say I don’t care much for films within the genre that amount to little more than gore fests or torture porn.  I am partial to suspenseful storytelling mixed with the occasional cheap scare.  The problem is that these movies have increasingly become homogenized.  Take a look at titles such as The Ring, The Tooth Fairy, Insidious, Shutter – the list goes on and on.  These films and so many others overuse mechanisms such as the veiled vengeful female ghost as an antagonist, images in windows and mirrors, photographs, scary dolls, and creepy kids, that it’s become hard to discern one film from the other.  Still, the fan base is loyal and so the movies keep coming.  Unfortunately The Woman in Black is the next entry in this extensive lineage of uninspired films.

The movie stars Daniel Radcliffe as a windowed father struggling to make ends meet, who is forced to a small town to settle the affairs for an estate that has a deep dark secret that grips the youths of the town.  The set up is perfect to weave a story that will include: a vengeful female ghost, mirrors and windows, photos, scary dolls, and you guessed it…creepy kids. 

The issue here is that there is not enough in this film to illicit a reaction - neither like nor hate.  The credits roll, bad things happen, and then the movie fades to black.  Anyone who has seen a horror movies in the last five years will undoubtedly get the feeling of been there and done that.  The real question is whether or not this matters, as at the end of the day, viewers are looking for goose bumps, spine chills, and an excuse to sit closer to the person with you on the couch.  The Woman in Black provides enough of those moments, just not in a way that is either unique or memorable.

A good number of people who see this film will do so to see how Daniel Radcliffe fares in a role other than Harry Potter.  I’ve seen Radcliffe on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and know that he is a talented performer.  However, I spent half the movie thinking that I am watching Harry Potter rocking Luke Perry’s sideburns as he stumbles through a series of bad decisions while in a cursed house.  In my estimation it will probably take a while for him to shake the baggage that comes with playing a near iconic character over the course of eight films.

As for the rest of the cast, I had no idea who anyone was beyond Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Daily, who doesn’t do anything particularly great in this film other than serve as a vehicle to aid Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps as he spirals into a morass of paranormal negativity.  The kids in the cast are sufficiently creepy but that is probably more due to the fine folks in the makeup department than any actual acting.  In this film, the supporting cast is truly relegated to the background as the suspense and success of the movie rests on the shoulders of Radcliffe.

I cannot really recommend this movie.  There are other films out there for you to see that play in the same genre and utilize similar suspense mechanisms to tell a story.  If it’s on television on a rainy Saturday night then I guess it is worth a watch, but anything more than happenstance is probably wasted effort.  If it is more Daniel Radcliffe (or Harry Potter) that you crave, then be on the lookout for Kill Your Darlings - a film in which he is cast to play Allen Ginsberg (which is no easy task).

Standout Performance: Janet McTeer as Mrs. Daily does a decent job of advancing the storyline by legitimately displaying the anguish of a parent who has lost her child.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: That's My Boy

I have spilled a lot of proverbial ink (most recently in my Jack and Jill review) about how I repeatedly hoodwink myself into watching Adam Sandler movies.  I estimate that I have sworn off Happy Madison productions at least ten times.  So when Sandler’s latest movie That’s My Boy dropped, I told myself to stay strong.  I knew at some point, I would see it (I admit as much in the June Movie Guide), but I didn’t want to shell out $15 to see this train wreck on the big screen.  I am here to report with mixed feelings that I caved in.

The movie is a complete mess, but that’s not to say there aren’t some very funny moments.  The plot is loosely based on the Mary Kay Letourneau story about an inappropriate student / teacher relationship that results in the birth of a son.  Adam Sandler plays the student some 30 years later and Andy Samberg the estranged son.  Sprinkle in some elements of childhood stardom, 80’s nostalgia, the usual slew of celebrity cameos, and the grotesque shattering of social norms and you pretty much get an idea of what’s going on in the film.

My expectations for Sandler’s movies are so low that it could have been two hours of a blank screen and I probably would have considered that an improvement so that may be a contributing factor as to why I didn’t completely loathe the film.  The one thing that is clearly happening in this project is that Sandler and his crew are trying to go bigger and badder in the raunch department in an attempt to capitalize on the increased popularity of the rated-R comedy.  The result is a slew of cringe-worthy moments flanked by the occasional laugh-out-loud moment (the latter of which has been painfully absent from his last five films).

The cast of the film is mediocre and Sandler is up front and leading the way.  He seems resigned to using the scratchy rumbling voice inflection from Little Nicky, which can be incredibly grating on the nerves.  Samberg compliments him with an uninspired performance that makes one wonder if he should really be leaving SNL at this point in his career.  As for Leighton Meester, her greatest acting talent is bearing a strong resemblance to Minka Kelly, which is to say that she is not the most gifted thespian and so she adds very little to the film.  Those with minimal screen time deliver the best performances.  Eva Amurri Martino, James Caan, Tony Orlando, and Milo Ventimiglia are very solid in supporting roles and Vanilla Ice (Rob Van Winkle) steals the show.

I can’t outright recommend this film, but there is some entertainment here.  You will find yourself oscillating between liking it and loathing it depending on the scene.  It really is one of those movies you’re almost embarrassed to say that you enjoyed on some level.  Don’t see it in the cinema, but instead catch it as a rental or on cable.  You’ll have a laugh or two (and likewise a gag reflex or two).  I have a feeling that this movie will play very well for the 18-25 male demographic, but then I think we all can occasionally enjoy a bit of low low low-brow idiotic hijinks.  After reading this review, if you are still trying to figure out whether or not I liked this film, then join the club.  I am still trying to decide myself.

Standout Performance: Vanilla Ice a.k.a. Rob Van Winkle steals the show in this movie.  Every time he shows up on screen utter bedlam breaks out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: John Carter

It is hard to go into a viewing of John Carter without some sort of predisposition towards the movie, which is noted as not only being a huge financial flop that almost singlehandedly put Disney in the red for the second quarter of 2012 thus putting an end to Rich Ross’ tenure at Disney Studios but also for being one of two theatrical disasters this summer starring Taylor Kitsch formerly of Friday Night Lights.  When you get past all the noise in regards to why the movie tanked – the weak theatrical marketing, the lack of consumer awareness, the head-scratching decision to remove “of Mars” from the original title (“John Carter of Mars”) because of the poor performance of “Mars Needs Moms,” what you realize is that the final product is incredibly mediocre.

The scope is grand and the source material full, but somewhere along the way from novel to script to motion picture the lush grandeur of the full-blown sci-fi epic is lost.  The story focuses on civil war veteran John Carter, who is mysteriously transported to Mars and joins the war that has gripped the barren planet.   From large-scale battles to alien mythology to a romantic love interest, all the elements are present for writer/director Andrew Stanton to orchestrate the kind of compelling narrative that plays to a large target audience. That the final product falls well short of this, I believe, is the product of three key problems.

The first problem is Taylor Kitsch.  The man has two followings – fans of Friday Night Lights and the Twilight crowd, but thus far he has failed to show he has the charisma and acting chops to carry a movie.  A surly demeanor and limited voice inflection can only take you so far on the silver screen and Kitsch has failed to show he has another gear to switch to.  In John Carter, it is his usual formula –  stern glares, deep monotone delivery, and the aforementioned surly demeanor.  It’s hard to care about the protagonist when he is neither interesting, nor likeable, nor charismatic, and that is a huge cinematic setback.

The second problem with the film is that the bar has been set very high for CG heavy sci-fi fantasy films set on other planets by Avatar, which represents a strong mix of creative storytelling, top notch CG, and solid acting.  Unfortunately John Carter pales in comparison across the board.  Mars is hardly a rich visual backdrop for a film and this is exasperated here because the best acting talent in this film (Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Bryan Cranston) is buried beneath bland and unimaginative computer generated characters.  As for the live action cast, the movie features C level actors (i.e. Mark Strong, Dominic West, James Purefoy) who are best known for being the fourth lead in every other mediocre action movie.

The third problem with the film is that the source material has served as the inspiration for so many other narratives that the film feels contrived, uninspired, and predictable.  Nothing feels riveting; there are no surprises; and thus the payoff is muted.  One might ask whether the film should be punished for not being groundbreaking?  The simple answer is no, but this film feels oddly like a B-level retread despite the fact that it came with a $250M price tag.

I wouldn’t suggest you go out of your way to see this movie or throw any money at it.  Put it on your Netflix queue or borrow it from a friend; maybe even catch in on cable in a few months.  It’s not going to wow you and you’ll probably at some point after watching it mistake it for some other movie, but it’ll help you pass the time if you’re bored.  If you’re interested in following the theatrical box off train wreck that is Taylor Kitsch, he next appears in the Savages opposite Blake Lively.

Standout Performance: Lynn Collins delivers her lines with conviction.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Review: Prometheus

There’s a lot of debate in the blogosphere as to whether Prometheus is an Alien prequel or if it resides in the same universe or if it has some other conceptual meta-connection with the aforementioned film.  Really, that’s all just a matter of semantics, because it is in no way a spoiler to say that there are many connections between the two films.  Television spots and still photos are loaded with iconography that confirms this.  The real debate should be about what constitutes intelligent storytelling?  Because from my point of view, Ridley Scott’s much anticipated return to the sci-fi genre is an example of something that has such lofty aspirations, but fails to ever get off the ground.

The plot focuses on a mission to an unknown destination spurred by the archaeological discoveries by Noomi Rapace’s Shaw and Logan Marshall-Green’s Holloway.  Along for the ride is a rag tag group of scientists, a grizzled captain and crew, and two individuals in Michael Fassbender’s David and Charlize Theron’s Vickers who seem to be up to no good.  The trailers would have you believe you’re in for a wild ride with its techno trance beat, its rapid cuts of explosions, blood, and tense stares, and majestic shots of space, but what you really are in store for is a juvenile attempt to address religion, creation, et al.

The films’ most ardent supporters in the press and in film geekdom would have you believe that the movie successfully broaches the lofty material with the artistic touch of Michelangelo and the philosophical sophistication of Plato and that if you fail to realize that, then you are guilty of lazy viewing, A.D.D., or plain ignorance.  With all due respect, I would counter that the movie is no way this fountain of intellectual and spiritual capital, but more an exercise in lazy writing.  Writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof have crafted a script that poses a ton of questions, but does absolutely nothing to legitimately follow up on that set up.  At some point in the narrative you have to provide something that approaches a set of answers – even in the most vague sense.

The nuts and bolts of the plot has more holes in it than Swiss cheese and for a team of scientists that are purportedly so intelligent, they consistently display poor decision making and at times a complete lack of common sense.  Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender show themselves well in the film despite mediocre source material, but without a standout performance from Noomi Rapace to bring the cast together and drive the action of the plot, the intellectual shortcomings of the film become that much more glaring.

I really enjoyed Alien and Aliens, and I think Ridley Scott is a very good director (he lost the moniker of great because of Robin Hood, Body of Lies, A Good Year) so I wanted to enjoy Prometheus.  In fact, I would say it was for me the third most anticipated film of the summer behind The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Visually it is a stunning movie, but substance wise it is incredibly lacking.  I have heard from people that the movie demands multiple viewings to digest the message and capture the metaphors and innuendo.  But sadly, I think the movie barely warrants a first viewing; and I can tell you as a well-versed student of literature that when you need to dig incredibly deep to find meaning in a narrative, then there probably isn’t much there.  There is entertainment value in this film should you watch it in the theater or at home, but you won’t walk away feeling at all impressed.

Standout Performance: Michael Fassbender until the third act when things really began to unravel.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: Men in Black III

When Will Smith decided he had been away from the big screen long enough, there was no shortage of projects awaiting the former box office king.  In the end, he and the very willing executives at Sony Pictures made sure that his comeback would begin with the franchise that helped launch him into very rarified air – Men in Black III.  However, to say that the production of this film was plagued with problems would be a gross understatement.  It was rushed at the outset (due to tax considerations), endured a long hiatus to accommodate massive rewrites at Smith’s insistence, and had soaring budget costs that some estimate at around $375M (including marketing).  Considering that this film is the third installment for a franchise that last made a theatrical appearance ten years ago to a lukewarm reception, one could understand how there might be some trepidation surrounding this project.

Having seen this film, I can tell you that it is definitely the best of the three.  Before you run out to the local AMC to see the film, I have to preface that comment by saying I was never a huge fan of the franchise as the tone was a bit too light for my taste.  The plot of the movie is standard fare.  An alien race in some way is threatening the Earth and only the Men in Black stand in its way.  The aliens are fantastical and colorful and the tone still a bit light, and that at times makes the movie seem dated, but what differentiates this film from its predecessors is two fold: the first is that you feel like there is legitimate peril and as the story unfolds you can feel the tension increase as you reach the climax of the film.  The second is Josh Brolin playing the role of Agent K for most of the film.  Tommy Lee Jones has long been earning checks by playing himself onscreen - a disgruntled human being, so it is refreshing to have Will Smith trade barbs with an actor who brings more charisma to the proceedings.

The caveat here is that the plot deals with time travel and so one should expect a plethora of logic leaps and inconsistencies.  Even the Back to the Future trilogy – as great as it was – was riddled with continuity issues that easily could have unraveled that narrative.  However, these issues with the film are offset nicely by some supporting cast work by Jermaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Alice Eve, Bill Hader, and Michael Stuhlbarg who particularly stood out as Griffin – a key cog in the proceedings.  As a whole, this is the most likable cast of the franchise and because of this makes the film about something other than weird aliens, cool gadgets, and loud explosions.

With this movie, director Barry Sonnefeld does a nice job of tying a bow around the trilogy, for which he has helmed all three entries, by infusing a sense of heart to the narrative that was completely absent from the respective plots of one and two.  I would recommend this movie to be seen in the theater or at home.  It has a little bit of everything for everyone to go along with the pace and action that define the summer action film genre.  Next up for Will Smith is After Earth directed by M. Night Shyamalan – a director who hasn’t made a good film in ten years.  Here’s hoping for the best.

Standout Performance: Bill Hader is the MVP of SNL and he does a great job of disappearing into the role of Andy Warhol.  Michael Stuhlbarg gets a very close second place.

 
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