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!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Movie 43

The year was 1991.  I had hopped on the train to Boston to enjoy a saturday with friends.  After a fine meal, we decided to see a movie at the Loews Copley Plaza (gone but not forgotten).  Someone insisted on seeing a movie I had never heard of called Drop Dead Fred and we all acquiesced.  I was basking in the glow of a perfect day away from school and thought nothing could ruin the moment.  Twenty minutes into the movie, I realized that I was horribly wrong.  There was one thing that could do just that…and I was now watching it.  As I walked out of the cinema some ninety minutes later I uttered these three words: “worst movie ever.”  In the two decades since, I may have echoed that sentiment a few times, but no movie has truly been able to seize that moniker from Drop Dead Fred.  All of that changed yesterday when I watched Movie 43, because it is indeed the “worst movie ever.”

Movie 43 is a collection of self-contained sketches directed by a collection of individuals featuring casts that are accomplished to varying degrees.  The comedic (and I use that word lightly) skits are tied together by a plotline featuring Dennis Quaid as a deranged screenwriter who desperately and forcibly pitches script ideas to a film executive (Greg Kinnear).  What ensues is a litany of asinine juvenile sketches that wouldn’t even be good enough for the SNL cutting room floor. 

Let’s cut to the chase.  Yes, it really is the worst movie I have ever seen and were it not for extreme boredom I probably would not have made it past the first twenty minutes.  However, what is most surprising about this movie is some of the names attached to it.  Some of that can be explained away by the fact that each actor’s awareness of the production was contained to their own respective sketches.  While that nugget absolves absolutely no one, it makes things a bit more palatable.   Peter Farrelly (There's Something About Mary, Kingpin) however has no such excuse as he championed this project from start to finish as a writer/producer/director.

So what makes it so bad?  The skit about an eligible bachelor with testicles on his neck (Hugh Jackman) would in most cases mark the low point for any film, but not in this one.  With sketches about coprophilia (Anna Faris), female menstruation (Chloe Grace Moretz), and rowdy birthday leprechauns, the film manages to reach new lows every time you think it could not possibly get any worse.  The experience of watching Movie 43 is best likened to following the real life exploits of Lindsay Lohan on TMZ.  It’s repulsive and disgusting yet demands attention because you just can’t help but wonder how far the once mighty can fall.  Rest assured, this film will plummet beneath whatever depths of idiocy you can fathom.

If I absolutely had to pick out a bright spot or two in the movie, I would single out real life couple Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts for their portrayal of a married couple who has opted to home school their son.  Likewise, Terrence Howard as the coach of an all black high basketball team stands slightly above the other sketches.  Sure, those two skits have moments where they pander to the lowest denominator in society, but there are also some genuinely funny punch lines that almost make you forget the shame and regret that mounts the longer you watch this movie.

To spend any more time discussing Movie 43 would be a disservice to myself and to the rest of humanity.  Before you clicked on this post, you were probably not inclined to watch this movie and hopefully, nothing I have written will in any way change your opinion.  There’s bad; then there’s terrible; and then there’s another level that you should completely avoid and this is one of those movies you should never watch…ever…under any circumstances.  In fact, should this DVD ever find its way into your life, you should treat it as you would the VHS tape from The Ring.  Break it; burn it; throw it in a well; whatever you need to do to make sure your eyes never see a single frame.  You’ve been warned.

Standout Performance: Everyone who passed on this movie.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Whoa.  That’s my first reaction to Pain & Gain.  Not because it is so amazing or because it is horribly bad, but because the movie from start to finish is all over the place.  This probably doesn’t sound like a shocking reveal since Michael Bay was the man behind the camera.  No person cinematically represents the antithesis of “less is more” to a greater extent than he of Armageddon, Bad Boys, and Transformers fame, but his latest film has a decidedly different feel then its frenetically paced predecessors.  Slower and more drawn out, the pacing allows you to take in everything that is unfolding onscreen.   But is this necessarily a good thing?

The plot of the movie is based on the real life activities of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg); a low rent con man that spends the bulk of his time cultivating his muscle more than his mind.  Driven by self-help drivel, he enlists the help of two of his fellow gym mates Adrian Doorbal and Paul Doyle (Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson) to kidnap and rob local douche bag Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).  This kicks off a series of miscalculations that leads to a crime spree.

The premise seems interesting enough, but is prone to stretches where it’s just not that interesting.  For a director who is known and panned for over-the-top action sequences unfolding at breakneck speed, the pacing of the film is startlingly slow and bogged down at times in exposition.  Another problem with Bay easing on the rapid cuts and taking his foot off the gas pedal is that it allows the viewer a chance to see all the warts on his production.  And there are more than a few. 

Wart 1: The plot is too convoluted.  Three guys did a bad thing.  That’s the story, but the way Bay wants to tell it, the viewer must sit through the backstory of every peripheral character and let them take turns as a third person narrator.  This is a delicate balance to maintain and Bay lacks the directorial touch to pull it off.  As a result of this, the film’s tone and congruity are completely demolished beneath the weight of mismatched machinations. 

Wart 2: The movie is just too long.  I couldn’t help thinking that if Bay pulled this movie off at his usual pace, the movie would have been more palatable.  A typical Hollywood production has three distinct acts and while we live in a world that now detests formulaic procedure, this is one formula that works.  And when something goes awry, the average moviegoer can sense it.  Pain & Gain not only has three plodding acts, it feels like there is a fourth and fifth act added on for bad measure.  Every time the narrative builds to a crescendo, it veers off into another direction and prolongs the inevitable.

Wart 3: The character mix.  It’s tough for a film to be enjoyed without one decent character that the viewing audience can identify with or root for.  Somewhere in each film, there usually needs to be that one person the audience would like to see land on their feet when all the rubble settles.  It’s why there are cops and robbers stories instead of just robbers and robbers.  Unfortunately, this is a movie about a bunch of really bad people doing really bad things to each other.  The closest we get to a sympathetic figure is Johnson’s Paul Doyle, but Bay swings him across the spectrum of good and bad like the pendulum on the clock thus compromising his likability.

As for the work of the cast, I found most everyone to be perfectly adequate.  Wahlberg does what he does and never takes an acting risk.  He doesn’t ruin the movie, but he also doesn’t make it better. Anthony Mackie proves himself to be a capable sidekick for Wahlberg’s foibles, but none would mistake this for his best work.  Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Rob Corddry, and Ed Harris are absolutely satisfactory and unremarkable in their supporting roles and never make a significant impact to the quality of the finished product.  Given that the cast is littered with people who know how to deliver a scene, one has to wonder if it was the nature of the plot and direction that accounts for the plethora of muted performance.

The two who shine best in Pain & Gain are Dwayne Johnson and Bar Paly.  Johnson takes some risks and offers genuine comedic moments with the brand of charisma that has made him a star in the action genre.  Few in the business today can combine action and humor better than the former WWE star.  As for Bar Paly, while it is easy to dismiss her as mere eye candy, she does a nice of parodying herself and poking fun at a character that is perhaps the most ridiculous amongst of a gallery of undesirables.

It would seem then that my takeaways from this film are that Dwayne Johnson and Bar Paly are good, Michael Bay is bad, and everyone else is in between.  But does that mean you should run out to the cinema to see Pain & Gain?  The simple answer is no.  It’s too long and not enough fun to pay the premium.  There are too many interesting movies on the horizon to waste your time with this one.  Instead, put this title on your Netflix and give it a spin in the comfort of your own home.  It may or may not entertain you, but at least you will have spent a lot less money and will get to enjoy it in the comfort of your own home.

Standout Performance: Dwayne Johnson.  He’ll never be confused with a Dustin Hoffman or a Daniel Day-Lewis, but he always keeps it interesting. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: 21 & Over

Films about drunken romps and over-the-top debauchery have long been a staple of the silver screen.  With the success of movies like The Hangover, Project X, and other alcohol infused narratives, we’ve seen the audacity and raunchiness of each successive film ramped up.  While 21 & Over is by no means the dirtiest flick of ‘em all, it certainly tries to make a run at that title.  And while it’s easy to quickly dismiss this movie as a juvenile hormonally driven example of societal decay, upon closer inspection it seems 21 & Over may not be a complete cinematic write off.

The plot focuses on Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), two friends from high school who show up unannounced to celebrate the 21st birthday of their other former best friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon).  The three of them go out for an epic night on the college town even though Jeff Chang has a highly important interview scheduled for the next morning.  Drunken chicanery, fisticuffs, and physical trauma force the three to evaluate their friendships and realize that all may not be right in their respective worlds.

As I think of this film, there are three levels upon which to judge it: the plot, the raunchy physical comedy, and the chemistry.  Each worked (and didn’t work) to varying degrees:

The Plot. Both Jon Lucas and Scott Moore serve as writer/director and their ties to The Hangover Franchise and The Change-Up should immediately serve notice that 21 & Over is not going to be a film of Shakespearian proportions.  Still, (and this may be a function of low expectations), there is surprisingly more going on here than the typical college idiocy.  There’s a bit more meat on the bones to these friendships and to their personal journeys than you would expect.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say the plot was well done but I will say it was a pleasant surprise.

The Raunchy Physical Comedy.  There are a few good sight gags peppered between the necessary bumps and bruises required to advance the plot.  There are also a few cringe inducing visuals that make you question exactly why you are watching this film.  However, where this film loses its comedic way is its attempt to outdo its fellow salacious films.  It seems that every time there is a lull in the plot, lewd visuals are inserted to augment the narrative – a definitive sign of the lack of experience on the part of the first time directors.  There seems to be enough verbal and garden-variety physical comedy to drive the film, but the creative team opts to introduce elements that could possibly turn viewers off.  These decisions greatly hinder the film.

The Chemistry.  No one is ever going to nominate Miles Teller, Justin Chon, and Skylar Astin for Academy Awards.  But the three of them have a good chemistry that is most apparent in the scenes when the actors are clearly given the liberty to ad lib.  Those scenes stand in stark contrast to the rest of the film and tend to be the ones that provide the laugh-out-loud moments.  Far and above all else, their exchanges of ridiculous banter serve as the redemptive quality for what is mostly a vacuous film.

Does any of this mean you should see this movie?  I think it boils down to this.  If you have a loose sense of humor and ninety minutes to kill, you could do worse than to give this a look on DVD or on a premium cable network.  However, if you’re a bit more serious or consider yourself something of a sophisticate, then you’ll want to take a pass on this one.  It’ll make you want to throw the remote at the screen.  I didn’t hate this movie as it made me laugh a bit more than some of its peers, but then I didn’t go out of my way to watch it.  That, plus low expectations made for optimal viewing conditions.  Be wary.

Standout Performance: Miles Teller.  He drops some of the best lines in the movie and provided most of the laughs.  Honorable mention to Francois Chau for providing a few laughs as Jeff Chang's father.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

May 2013 Movie Guide

MAY 3, 2013

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce
Why You Should See It: Director Shane Black and RDJ are a winning combination and the right way to kick off Marvel Phase 2.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because you don’t like superhero movies and you thought that Avengers stunk.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says: A most emphatic yes.
Other theatrical releases:
  The Iceman, Kiss of the Damned, Love is All You Need

MAY 10, 2013 

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton
Why You Should See It: Because F. Scott Fitzgerald is arguably the greatest American author an Gatsby is his signature work.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because you’re not a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s stylized approach to film adaptation.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  A strong maybe.

Starring: Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson, David Alan Grier
Why You Should See It: Because you just can’t get enough of the Tyler Perry comedic empire.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because you realize that most of his movies are straight money grabs for everyone involved.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  No and forget you ever heard of this movie.

Other theatrical releases:  Aftershock, No One Lives, Assault On Wall Street

MAY 17, 2013 

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve, Karl Urban
Why You Should See It: Because J.J. Abrams’ first film was a great re-imagining of the Star Trek Universe.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because you’re a hardcore Trekkie who thinks that anything other than a film featuring William Shatner and the original cast is outright blasphemy.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Yes to the third most anticipated movie of the summer.

Starring: Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell, Katie Aselton
Why You Should See It: Lake Bell.
Why You Should Avoid It: Kate Bosworth.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  No. No. No. No. No....and No.

Other theatrical releases:  Erased, The English Teacher, 33 Postcards

MAY 24, 2013 

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Gina Carano, Luke Evans
Why You Should See It: The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, and Fast Five.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because you require a sophisticated plot to achieve movie enjoyment.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Yes to the ultimate summer popcorn fare.

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong
Why You Should See It: The Hangover.
Why You Should Avoid It: The Hangover Part II
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Uno mas...

Other theatrical releases:  Epic, A Green Story, Only God Forgives, Before Midnight

MAY 31, 2013 

Starring: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Zoe Kravitz
Why You Should See It: Because you have nothing better to do.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because this is a Jaden Smith movie and not a Will Smith movie.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  A rental at best.

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Amanda Seyfried, Morgan Freeman
Why You Should See It: Because it features a good cast that can pull off a catch-me-if-you-can type of movie.
Why You Should Avoid It: Because Jesse Eisenberg’s twitchy deliver cay wear thin pretty quickly.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Game time decision.

Other theatrical releases:  Shadow Dancer, The East

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review: Oblivion

If you have seen Tron: Legacy, then you know that director Joseph Kosinski has a very good eye for visual flair.  For all of Legacy’s narrative shortcomings, it was indeed a visually stunning film worthy of an IMAX and/or 3D viewing.  In his latest film, Oblivion, Kosinski brings that same panache and combines it with stark post apocalyptic imagery reminiscent of films like The Day After Tomorrow to paint an intriguing backdrop against which the plot of the film unfolds.  Unfortunately that narrative, billed by some as a mind bending sci-fi plot in the vein of Inception and Looper, is slower, less complex, and less intelligent than the aforementioned films.  The result is a product short on substance wrapped in sleek packaging.

The plot of the movie finds us in a post apocalyptic Earth ravaged by war with alien Scavs.  Forced to abandon the planet, the human race has large machines mining the planet for water in order to facilitate their relocation to Titan – a moon of Jupiter.  The film focuses on Tom Cruise’s Jack, a tech officer who has been left behind with Andrea Riseborough’s Victoria to maintain drones, charged with protecting the machines from the remaining Scavs.  When an unknown spaceship crashes to earth, it leads to a series of events that forces Cruise’s Jack to take a hard look at everything he believes to be true.

If the movie simply aspired to be a post apocalyptic sci-fi romp with humans and aliens squaring off, there are enough plot elements and stunning visuals to successfully accommodated this.  Unfortunately, after a number of writers and re-writes, the desired direction was something a bit more intellectual – not your average run of the mill action movie, but rather a clever tale with one or two big reveals designed to send your mind into a tizzy.  Unfortunately, the clever part may have been lost in one of the re-writes or perhaps on the editing room floor.

The best parts of the film are when there is motion, movement, and action.  There is a rich visual landscape to support this type of narrative.  The worst parts of the film are when they are setting up the more “intellectual” aspects of the plot.  Too much time is dedicated to the painstakingly slow exposition that is not as nearly clever or engaging as Kosinksi and crew believe.  Despite this, what ultimately dooms the film is its inability to engage on an emotional level.  The way it is framed and unfolded, I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t have a dog in this fight, which is odd since it was a fight for the survival of the human race.  It just never felt like the stakes were that high.

As for the work of the cast, it felt like it was Tom Cruise and then everyone else. Cruise will never be recognized as a great character actor and really only has two different gears, but he’s a workhorse who is dedicated to his craft.  He isn’t great in this movie as he spends stretches of this movie in cruise control (pun intended), but the work he does in scenes evoking isolationism and nostalgia are some of the best in the movie.  It’s not nearly his best work, but I walked out of the theater feeling he did about as much as he could considering the script.

The same cannot be said for Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko.  Kurylenko has an excuse.  She is a not-particularly-gifted actor, who is hard to connect with, as she seems nearly incapable of genuinely emoting on screen.  I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that the reason she gets cast in movies is that she is very easy on the eyes.  Morgan Freeman on the other hand has no excuse for his poor showing.  He is a very good actor (Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight) with strong screen presence, who completely mails in his performance.  It’s a lazy disappointing turn that cripples the plot at a crucial juncture of the film.  To say that Freeman’s star faded significantly for me after watching this film is an understatement.

As for the rest of the cast, Andrea Riseborough as Cruise’s tech partner Victoria is satisfactory.  She does a descent job of portraying a detached and oblivious pawn, while Melissa Leo shows herself a bit better as Sally – the face of mission control.  She is cold and robotic with just the right amount of creepy to hint that something is amiss.  However, neither of these performances is impactful enough to elevate what is completely pedestrian work from start to finish.

If the preceding seven paragraphs have said anything, it’s that Oblivion is a mixed bag that is not nearly as clever as the creative team believes it to be.  I liken this project to Icarus, the mythological figure who dared to fly too close to the sun.  In aspiring for too much, Kosinski and crew crash and burn what could have been an entertaining (albeit vacuous) action flick.  I don’t think you should go out of your way to see this film in the theater or add it to your movie library at home, but a convenient cost-effective viewing at some point on your own terms probably won’t leave you feeling completely burned.  My guess here is that Oblivion is just the first in a series of movies that over the next few months will garner this same reaction.

Standout Performance: Melissa Leo.  Her character hits just the right pitch to hint that things are amiss.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Summer 2013 Movie Preview: The Bad

As with anything in life, you have to take the bad with the good.  So for every Man of Steel or Star Trek Into Darkness on the summer slate, there's a White House Down, a Grown Ups 2, and so many other clunkers littering the calendar.  Now that doesn't mean that I won't go see these movies.  On the contrary, I will probably see most of them at some point but experience tells me that the  following ten films are doomed to disappoint.  So as you make your summer movie plans, here's a list of movies you may want to take a pass on.


9. WORLD WAR Z (June)


7. R.I.P.D. (July)




3. GROWN UPS 2 (July)


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Summer 2013 Movie Preview: The Good

I'm not afraid to admit that in the home, I don't make the calls when it comes to our television viewing habits.  I try to sneak in an NBA game here and there between episodes of Revenge and Modern Family.  It's a small concession to make in what is a wonderful relationship.  However, from May to August the decision making process gets flipped because that marks the summer movie season; the time of year when studios throw a little something (and a lot of something) out there for the fellas in order to pry those hard earned dollars from our tightly clenched fists.  Superhero narratives, juvenile guy comedies, and sci-fi fantasies dominate the calendar and leave people who share my disposition with a smorgasbord of choices.  Though this year's slate looks a bit leaner than year passed, here's a look at ten movies I am counting the days until.

10. KICK-ASS 2 (August)



6. BLING RING (June)

5. FAST & FURIOUS 6 (May)

4. ELYSIUM (August)

2. IRON MAN 3 (May)