Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 So Far...

The same as 12 months ago, I haven't seen anywhere near the number of the current year's movies as I want to. I'm a little over 30 deep. To this point here are the 5 best (a couple of which I'll reviews up for in the coming week):


1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2. The Help
3. Rango
4. The Lincoln Lawyer
5. X-Men: First Class

And the 5 worst:

1. Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son
2. Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2
3. Sucker Punch
4. Madea's Big Happy Family
5. Source Code

See ya next year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Men Who Stare at Goats


Directed by Grant Heslov.
2009. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Cast:
George Clooney
Ewan McGregor
Jeff Bridges
Kevin Spacey
Stephen Lang
Robert Patrick
Waleed Zuaiter
Nick Offerman

Reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) follows Lyn Cassady (Clooney) around the Middle East in hopes of writing an exposé about a secret military program to train soldiers with paranormal abilities. As the movie itself tells us, “more of this is true than you would believe.”

Clooney gives us another of his quirky, paranoid performances. Think O Brother, Where Art Thou? It’s one of the two types of roles he’s perfected, the ultra suave cynic being the other. He knows how to work us with excellent comic timing. Most of the movie’s best moments are his. The rest belong to Jeff Bridges who lets us know what The Dude from The Big Lebowski would be like as a soldier.

It wants to be a great oddball comedy. It’s definitely oddball but not consistently funny enough to keep us from noticing just how silly all this is, even though we’re not laughing. Ewan McGregor turns rather bland work. Part of the problem is he shares so much screentime with Clooney he never gets a chance to shine despite the movie being about his character. Finally, Kevin Spacey is underused as our villain if, for no other reason than it’s Kevin Spacey. Forgive me, I’m all about some Spacey.

It’s a premise with loads of potential that just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Unfortunately, even if it had it still may have been too strange for some.


MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Directed by John Landis.
1977. Rated R, 83 minutes.
Cast:
Bill Bixby
Donald Sutherland
George Lazenby
Evan C. Kim
Bong Soo Hun
Marilyn Joi
Uschi Digard
Marcy Goldman
Saul Kahan
Tara Strohmeier
Richard Gates
Jeff Maxwell
Jack Baker
Manny Perry

If the nineteen-sixties had thrown off the nation’s cloak of innocence, the seventies found the country disrobing completely. Grindhouse cinema was at its absolute peak. Even porn found mainstream acceptance as people openly flocked to theaters showing Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door. Raunchy comedy became our preferred style of humor. “Blue” comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin became superstars. Ushered in by the success of Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the “not ready for primetime players” of the first season of Saturday Night Live becoming household names was only the next logical step. Despite our seemingly collective attitudes towards the depiction of sex and potty-mouthed comics, a few issues weighed heavy on our minds. The ever escalating Cold War made the threat of nuclear destruction feel imminent. Many of us felt like the leaders of both the Soviet Union and our own USA spent much of the day with their fingers on the proverbial button waiting for the other to give them an excuse to launch their growing arsenals. We were also dealing with a national oil crises which saw gas prices practically multiply. Perhaps things weren’t so different, after all. This is the climate which created The Kentucky Fried Movie.

As you can probably tell by the title, this is not your typical movie. There is no plot, no conflict, no love story, heroes nor villains. TKFM is a collection of skits and faux-movie trailers. Some of it makes what was then very pointed social commentary, a surprising amount of which remains relevant. Some is raunchy and/or silly simply for the sake of being so. Finally, the trailers pay homage to the exploitation flicks that inspired them. Almost all of it will be funny to the right viewer. I fear that those under thirty-five just may not get it unless they have both knowledge of and appreciation for the era. No, being a fan of That 70s Show doesn’t count. So many things seem to be a product of that time they’ve become in-jokes for those of us old enough to remember and young enough not to have forgotten.






Due to the recent spike of the interest in exploitation flicks, the faux movie trailers hold up best. They are so much something either Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez could’ve dreamed up. You’ll likely howl, and possibly be titillated by the “ads” for “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” and “Cleopatra Schwartz.” Ironically, it’s the movie within the movie that falls most flat. Instead of a trailer, we get a full-blown spoof of Bruce Lee’s most well-known movie, Enter the Dragon. It certainly has its moments. However, clocking in at over twenty minutes, it drags considerably in comparison with the rest of the film’s rapid-fire assault.

The passage of time has made TKFM feel like a love it or hate it affair. Oldheads like me are likely to lap up every minute of it and giggle throughout most of its runtime. Younger folks will likely think parts here and there are hilarious but find it lacking as a whole. They’ll wonder what the big deal is while we admonish them for not knowing.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Enjoy Today!!!



Happy Movie Watching!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Directed by Joe Johnston.
2011. Rate PG-13, 124 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Evans
Hayley Atwell
Tommy Lee Jones
Hugo Weaving
Sebastian Stan
Stanley Tucci
Dominic Cooper
Toby Jones
Neal McDonough
Derek Luke
Samuel L. Jackson

To say Steve Rogers (Evans) is weak is an understatement, at least in a physical sense. Mentally, he’s uncommonly pig-headed…er…determined. It’s 1942, and he’s hell-bent on getting into the military. After all, he hates bullies and there are none bigger than Hitler and his Nazis. Unfortunately, 90 pound asthmatics get turned away from service repeatedly. As it turns out, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci) has been watching him. The doctor thinks Steve’s qualities, both physical and mental make him the perfect candidate to be the guinea pig in an experiment to create a super soldier using a special serum the doc invented. Lest you think Rogers is the only pumped up soldier in the world, high-ranking Nazi Johann Schmidt (Weaving) had already gotten a hold of an early version of the serum. He’s also gained possession of an ancient magical thingamajig that pretty much eviscerates anything its pointed at. So there’s that to deal with.

Captain America pulls the trick lots of other comic book movies struggle with. The origin story is at least as good as what happens after our hero becomes super. Rogers is established as such an underdog and is so feisty we can’t help but root for him. He feels ripped straight from the pages of the old comics. Not from the stories themselves, mind you. He’s from that ad in the back where the weakling gets sand kicked in his face. By the way, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that this early portion of the film contains some of the more remarkable uses of cgi. We have no problem believing Chris Evans is short and scrawny. This also aids Evans in giving one of his very best performances.





Once our guy actually becomes the hero, which takes a while after he undergoes his metamorphosis, we get the action we came for and of course, the villain we came for. In the role of the bad guy, Schmidt AKA Red Skull, Hugo Weaving delivers the goods as usual. It’s not quite the iconic work he turned in as Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy, but he has a way of making us feel uneasy without going over the top. When his true face is revealed, it does enough on its own. Wisely, he doesn’t break out in histrionics trying to act crazy. He has the confidence of a man who knows he’s frightening. He doesn’t have to prove it.

Marvel has managed to get its last few films right. This, along with Thor and Iron Man 2 before it, works as stand alone entries into the comic book giant’s film canon. They also work as catalysts for translating the idea of a Marvel universe to the big screen with this upcoming summer’s The Avengers. Before these three, each comic book movie was its own self-contained reality. Things have changed. Allowing these characters to be linked also allows for them to develop. We see Captain America do just that. Along the way there are bumps in the road. How he arrives where he does by the finale is bittersweet. It also leaves us very ready for The Avengers.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cars 2

Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.
2011. Rated G, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Owen Wilson
Larry the Cable Guy
Michael Caine
Emily Mortimer
Eddie Izzard
John Turturro
Bonnie Hunt
Joe Mantegna
Peter Jacobson
Brent Musberger

The original Cars introduced us to Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a championship racecar who finds himself stuck in a small town. Before getting back to the big city, fame and glory he learns some homespun values, lessons about humility and makes some friends along the way. Most notably he gets the girl, Sally (Hunt) and becomes best buds with Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). It was okay. Overhyped and overrated, but it made goo-gobs of money. That there would be a sequel was inevitable so here we are.

Given the events of that first movie, it’s only logical that the second would follow McQueen as he continues his career in big time racing, but with his new found friends along for the ride. It sort of gives us this, but not really. The sequel is actually an international spy thriller starring Larry the Cable Guy and Michael Caine. Um…okaaaayy. I’ll give you the short version. Sir Miles Axelrod (Izzard) has developed an alternative fuel named Allinoll and is inviting all the fastest racers in the world to compete in a three race series using it. Someone is sabotaging these races mainly by killing off the competitors during the events. Hmmm…a little dark for a G-rated kiddie flick but I’m game. Anyhoot, it’s up to super sleuth Finn McMissile (Caine) and his sidekick Holly Shiftwell (Mortimer) to stop the madness. Yes, they accidentally involve Tow Mater, mistaking him for a fellow spy.





As with lots of sequels, this one does everything bigger. There is more racing, more action, more jokes, etc. Narratively, it doesn’t hold together as well as its predecessor. How can it? It’s trying to reconcile two incompatible storylines and subjugates the main character of the first movie to the lesser of them. On the other hand, it is simply more fun. Where the first lumbers along at a Romero zombie’s pace until it reaches its Aesop-like moral of the story, this one zips along from one action sequence to the next. True, it culminates in a quick commercial for bio-degradable fuel but it doesn’t lecture us about it.

Cars 2 is the rare instance where the action driven sequel is at least equal to, if not greater than the plot propelled original. The first time around I got the sense that the kids enjoyed the marketing campaign far more than the actual movie. The toys, video games, books and tons of other stuff were all huge hits. However, judging from my own kids, nephews and nieces included, I never felt like it was one of their favorites. This time, the opposite seems to be true. I haven’t seen a ton of Cars 2 merchandise floating around but the movie is more enjoyable.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bad Teacher

Directed by Jake Kasdan.
2011. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Cast:
Cameron Diaz
Lucy Punch
Jason Segel
Justin Timberlake
Phyllis Smith
John Michael Higgins
Eric Stonestreet
Matthew J. Evans
Molly Shannon

When we meet Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) she’s quitting her job as a teacher because she is about to marry the man of her financial dreams. He abruptly dumps her because he’s finally figured out, with the help of his mom, she’s only in it for the money. With that, she goes slinking back to the classroom. She also hangs out late every night trying to snare another rich guy. Not surprisingly, teaching isn’t something she actually does. Day after day she pops in a “school related” movie for her class (Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, etc.) and then catches up on her sleep. She’s also under the impression that getting breast implants will help her get her man, whomever he may be. Her never ending quest to save up for a boob job and find that wealthy husband ensues.

The first criteria most of us use to judge a comedy is how often it makes us laugh. With that solely in mind, Bad Teacher is merely okay. It goes for big laughs by being constantly irreverent. It also gets a lot of mileage out of juxtaposing the squareness of Elizabeth’s co-workers with her too-cool-for-the-room aloofness. This is most obvious in our heroine’s feud with a fellow teacher, the overzealous Ms. Squirrel (Punch). The two despise one another and both vie for the attentions of the same man, substitute teacher Scott (Timberlake) who happens to have a very rich family. From time to time it gets the laughs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get them often enough. Too much of the time our bad teacher just comes across as pathetic, not funny. This makes Cameron Diaz’s performance in the lead role both an asset and liability. It’s an asset because she actually gives an outstanding performance. She plays it just enough over the top that she can still maintain believability. It’s some of her best work. However, it’s a liability because she is so believable she can’t help but engender some sadness towards her, detracting from the humor.





A comedy that doesn’t keep us constantly in stitches allows other things to eat away at it. In this case, we first notice the symptom before the actual problem. The symptom is that this film is totally void of character development. Every person here is a one dimensional caricature that never deviates from the way they are when we first meet them. There is some attempt to round out our heroine but it’s debatable whether or not she actually changes or just gives up. This leads us to the problem. This movie’s morals are out of whack. To paraphrase Elizabeth herself, it’s priorities are screwed up. Maybe it’s because I have kids close enough to the age of the students here but the misplaced sense of right and wrong is off-putting. Sure, Ms. Squirrel is on the annoying side but should caring about the kids she teaches make her a villain? Why is it a good, or funny thing that Lynn (Smith), a grown woman and a teacher who should know better, is so easily susceptible to peer pressure? Finally, Elizabeth ends up in a different job which I won’t spoil. However, when you see it ask yourself this: Is it really a good thing she got that particular job?

Before you go labeling me a prude, understand that I’m not at all against the idea of the anti-hero. After all, I’ve been called a degenerate because I think The Godfather, Part II outshines the original. I root for Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver). Do the Right Thing gets my heart pumping. The difference is in those movies there is something to debate. The ideas of what we believe to be right and wrong are at odds, struggling against each other over whether the adage that the ends justifies the means is true. In BT, the character we’re supposed to champion is simply wrong.


MY SCORE: 5/10

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Movies of 2010

As promised a few days ago, I've finally gotten around to listing my top movies of 2010. Of course, this is based only the movies I've had the pleasure of watching. So if you don't see your favorite here, either I didn't see it or didn't like it quite as much. By the way, my feelings on some movies has changed a bit since first watching them. Some for the better, some worse. This means that the list below doesn't strictly follow numerical order based on the scores I intitally gave them. Oh well. Anyhoo, enough of my yapping. Here are my top 20 movies of 2010:



Exit is intriguing, funny and cautiously triumphant. It’s also visually captivating watching thes guys take a guerilla style approach to getting their work seen.


This is a parable that’s divisive, much like religion itself. The naysayers will quickly point out the ridiculousness of all Eli accomplishes given a certain fact about him which I won’t spoil. Supporters will note that it’s a metaphor, not meant to be taken literally. Count me among the supporters.

Brazenly, but wisely, Easy A juxtaposes itself with the Hawthorne classic, “The Scarlet Letter”. It even takes the time to note the similarities and differences for us. It goes so far as to defend not only the novel, but the original film version while throwing barbs at the much more recent cinematic attempt starring Demi Moore. I find it funny and very smart. It doesn’t cause uncontrollable laughter, but extracts the grins and soft chuckles that come from being able to relate to what we’re seeing.

This takes two genres and mashes them together to create a triumphant inspirational film. The plot outline follows the template of a sports movie with our Duke in the underdog role and the therapist, his charismatic coach. However, what plays out amidst the machinations of the plot is pure bromance. When we get to the end, we’ve become vested in these men, their friendship and their quest.

Like the verse our heroine aspires to write, this film is lyrical and prefers to show rather than tell. The answers are all right there in front of us. However, they aren’t spoon fed to us. We often have no clue what decisions she reaches until she carries them out. Poetry challenges us and we’re better for it.

This is about the decade we’ve just lived through. It’s about how technology in general, and Facebook in particular, alters our world in increasingly rapid ways. It’s about how prepared or unprepared we are for those instantaneous changes. It is also about relationships disintegrating. We’re intrigued to see if anything can be salvaged. However, the winds of sudden success has wreaked havoc on these people. Essentially, we’re watching a divorce procedure. At stake, the custody of their 500 million “kids” worldwide.
In Let Me In, the characters are not in some totally foreign dimension where everything is glossy and nice where vampires can go out in the daytime and wean themselves from human blood. Instead, the vampire is dropped into our reality. True, it is rare that a remake can stand up to the original, particularly when the remake is American and the original is not. This one does.

A healthy dose of graphic and over the top violence keeps our inner-sadists sated. This includes beheadings, impalings and even a crucifixion. There’s also enough nudity to live up to the exploitation flicks to which Machete owes its existence. It basks in the light of outrageous, testosterone driven fun. The key here is that although nothing that actually happens is to be taken seriously, the movie’s message is.

For Scorcese, it’s a departure from the norm. This is no gritty urban crime drama, but his storytelling is as effective as ever. This is a top notch psychological thriller. It diminishes its own predictability with a heavy dose of ambiguity. It also plays with our heads by using lots of smoke and mirrors, but in a good way. This isn’t your uncle pulling a penny out of your ear, it’s a really slick sleight of hand that would make David Blaine proud.

The eye-patch, unruly beard, weathered skin and gruffier-than-usual voice all help our leading man get lost in his character. He is not Jeff Bridges, he’s Rooster Cogburn. Aside from who’s playing the lead, a few of the other changes are pure 21st century. The Coens have effectively trimmed the fat, giving us leaner and still fulfilling meat. This remake not only stands up next to its inspiration, I believe it surpasses it.

This movie is not for the squeamish. It may be one of the more brutally violent films you’ll ever see. Still, despite the seemingly gallons of blood spilled and dozens of blows to various heads with heavy blunt objects (pipe, fire extinguisher, etc), this is no simple gore-fest. It blends the genres horror, thriller and action to create an unflinching and slyly complex revenge flick.

Does art imitate life? Or, is it the other way around? That’s the question hovering just above the surface of Black Swan. Below it, the question is: what happens to us when we push ourselves beyond our breaking point? There are no easy answers to either and along the way you might come up with more questions. Because of this, our journey is always fascinating despite it also being occasionally confusing. The true beauty of this film is that even though we get a definitive ending in the physical sense, we still have to deal with those questions.

Every now and then you watch a movie that just shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is one of those movies. Here’s the thing: I get the sense this is a love it or hate it type of deal. People like me will sing its praises. Others will roll their eyes at all the madness, complain about how unrealistic it is, proclaim it moronic, and me a moron for liking it. It boils down to this: if you can’t understand the brilliance behind the “pee meter”, you’ll never get this movie.

Director Danny Boyle keeps us engaged by letting us into Aron’s mind. He doesn’t merely point the camera at a man stuck to a rock. He explores the man. To make this work, star James Franco is willingly explored. For my money, this is easily his best performance. To be honest, I haven’t liked him in anything I’ve seen him in. Here, he plays his role wonderfully. It’s easy for an actor to be over the top when they’re often the only person on the screen. However, taking a cue from Tom Hanks in Cast Away, his emotions fluctuate perfectly throughout. The movie as a whole does the same. We ride the roller coaster anxiously as it ascends, afraid as it drops and excitedly through the loops.

Even though this is a remarkable film, it’s not for everyone. As mentioned, it is not a date movie despite the fact we’re focused on a relationship. That means it’s certainly no rom-com. It’s not an over-the-top melodrama, either. It might be a tear-jerker. Whether you cry or not, it’s not a feel-good movie. What it does is give us food for thought, something to discuss. This isn’t about characters in a movie. This is about people we know, perhaps even about the people we are.

For starters, it’s a more modern remake of “True Grit” than what the Coens gave us. It is also a terrific blend of colloquialisms and menacing statements that build all sorts of tension. The film is shot in a perfectly bleak manner reminiscent of The Road. This has a similar feel of hopelessness. That feeling also comes through the music. Mostly sang by Marideth Sisco, who appears in one scene, the sad songs about the futility of the singer’s efforts mirrors Ree in a manner we can’t deny. We hear it. We feel it. This is an excellent movie experience that is as much about the language we hear and the music we feel as it is about what we see.

We watch this drama unfold in a fashion that feels excruciatingly real. This is where the power of The Fighter lies. We’re either a part of, or have known families exactly like this. If we’re a part of such a family, our empathy for Micky is boundless. If we’ve only known families like this, he has our sympathy. We wish we could save him. We root hard for Charlene (Adams) because she is obviously trying to do just that. We cheer her every action during her run-ins with Alice and the sisters. Carrying out such a display of not always humane humanity requires great acting. This movie has it in spades. Every rolling of the eyes, raising of the voice, expressing of concerns, swilling of a shot and puffing of a cigarette rings true. More than becoming familiar with these people, we really know them. The Fighter also utilizes many of the same conventions as other sports films. Somehow though, it makes them feel much more true.

This isn’t just an action-comedy. It’s a brilliant spoof of all things superhero. It’s simultaneously reverential and irreverent. It lovingly skewers the genres of literature, television and cinema that birthed it, holding their feet to the fire even as it gives them a hug. Comic book fans will notice the subtleties that make it special. For instance, notice the unspoken joke of our hero wearing glasses in his regular life but not when dressed as his alter-ego. What makes it great is that even if you miss those little touches you can still have a great time watching it. This is because the best spoofs use the genre they’re spoofing for inspiration, making fun of that genre’s absurdities while also working within its confines and stand alone as narratives. You needn’t have seen any specific movie to get most of the jokes. You only have to be familiar with a certain type of movie. This is why Young Frankenstein works for people who’ve never actually seen the original Frankenstein or Scream for people who aren’t necessarily fans of slasher movies. Kick-Ass is one of the best spoofs.

This is a great way to either extend or end the series. Unlike so many other sequels, it doesn’t feel like a money-grab, whether it is or not. It feels like the logical next chapter of a great book. With three outstanding entries, it firmly places itself among the best cinematic trilogies of all time. I would be hard pressed to keep it out of the top handful. Even better than that, there could logically be a TS4. Why yes, I’d be pumped for that, too.

This is far from a simple movie. Like many fantasy or science-fiction films, it asks us to accept something seemingly preposterous as a sort of reality. The difference between Inception and the majority of others is simple. For the two hours or so we’re watching those others, it’s mutually understood that the reality on screen is wholly separate from our own. We know that no amount of exposure to gamma rays is going to transform us into The Hulk. Here, we’re given cause to wonder about our own dreams and the odd events that occur during the portions we can remember. And what about those parts we can’t remember? Amazingly, even with all the jumping in and out of dreams and playing with reality, Inception is not nearly as convoluted or complicated as it could’ve been. Like I said, though, nor is it simple. With incredible special fx, astute storytelling, enough action infused into the proceedings and another great performance by DiCaprio, it strikes a perfect balance between entertaining us and challenging us.


Honorable Mention: Biutiful, The Ghost Writer, How to Train Your Dragon, The Kids Are All Right, Megamind, Mother, The Town.


So there you have it. What are your top flicks from '10?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Worst Movies of 2010

I know, I know. It's that time when everyone tells you what they thought the best movies of this year were. Well, I work a little slow. I like to amass a decent sized sampling of movies and it takes me a little while to get there. I like to end on a positive note, so we'll get to the flipside in a couple days. I'll start with the bad news. These are my worst movies of 2010.

We get lots of drawn out scenes of meetings where old men try desperately to save their own backsides. We get lots of one-on-one meetings between others, either trying to save themselves or talk tough to one another. We get lots of clips of CNN. All of this is steeped in joyless financial jargon. The movie only moves away from feeling like economics class when it involves Gekko’s daughter, Winnie. However, with her constant whining she’s much more an annoyance than the reprieve we need.

This is a string of rom-com and action flick clichés positioning themselves one after another right through the inevitable, totally unsurprising ending. Somewhere, there’s a room full of trained monkeys banging out a class action suit on their keyboards because they didn’t get credit for churning out the screenplay. In short, the jokes aren’t funny, the action isn’t exciting, there are no twists we don’t see coming.

The latest version of the classic tale Gulliver’s Travels is pure Jack Black through and through. Either he cracks you up, or he doesn’t. There isn’t much else to tip the scales in the movie’s favor. That’s because the story constructed around his hijinks and shenanigans is merely bland when it is at its very best. Most of the time it just takes all that’s good from its source material and pummels it into submission.

Dance movies are pretty much critic-proof. Take the original Stomp the Yard, for example. It’s largely a rip-off of Drumline, right down to how the climactic battle plays out. Still, it was a modest financial success and has developed a devoted following of people who won’t hear a negative word about it. The high energy routines are infectious. People enjoy dance movies, regardless of their narrative issues. This is why Stomp the Yard was made in the first place. It’s why lots of people still tune in to cable airings of You Got Served and Honey. It’s why there have been three Step Up movies. Alas, it’s the only reason why we have Stomp the Yard: Homecoming.

This third installment of the Step Up franchise takes a disturbing about-face in philosophy from its predecessors. The original is an okay flick. Step Up 2 The Streets is dreadful, arguably racist and has a ridiculous title. However, to the credit of both movies, they have a character using dance to help them get a better education. This takes the opposite approach. It sticks its middle finger up at academia whenever possible. I understand it wants to promote dance as a way of life, but the near criminalization of education is off-putting. Ethics aside, SU3 suffers from the same thematic problems as SU2. The plot is lazily concocted. The dialogue is hokey at its very best and often cringe worthy. I may not be as young and cool as I once was, but I know when slang sounds phony and unnatural. This does. The entire movie is unnatural, for that matter. It acts like it is part of this universe, but clearly is not. And why is this is 3D, anyway?

Silliness can be well executed. Sadly, not in this case. Our hero occasionally kills people because he feels like it, is in love with a prostitute and doesn’t have the most pleasant personality. The prostitute, by the way, is named Lilah and is played by Megan Fox. She works so hard at her southern accent she neglects to ever change her facial expression. Even a face as beautiful as hers is boring if it never does anything. John Malkovich could’ve saved this thing by giving us a dynamic villain, but he’s far too restrained. As Jonah Hex, Brolin does what’s asked of him and grunts his way through the movie.

This reminds me of another Wes Craven flick, Shocker. However, while Shocker is a gleeful dark comedy and revels in its own ridiculousness, My Soul to Take is an unfocused poser. It desperately wants to be something, it just can’t decide what. It’s attempts at cleverness are anything but. As a result, we get a lot of eye-rollingly bad jokes. It’s efforts at scaring us fail miserably. Wes Craven deserves his lofty spot as a master of horror. He’s earned it through decades of scaring the crap out of us. Occasionally, he’s scared us while simultaneously making fun of how he does it. However, in a career longer than my life has been he’s made some missteps. This is one of them.

This movie plays out over the course of two hours. Two long hours. Two long, boring hours. To be fair, Eastwood manages to inject some intrigue here and there. We get a few fascinating scenes and our interest piques because we get the sense that this whole thing is eventually going somewhere. It doesn’t. Actually, it does. It just doesn’t go anywhere near where we thought it was going. Often, this is a good thing, gives a movie the element of surprise. Here, it’s a bad thing. It’s a very bad thing. It makes an already pretentious movie even more so. The three strands of the story come together in a most contrived manner for an utterly corny ending. Worst of all, it never even bothers attempting to answer the question it spends nearly its entire runtime beating us over the head with. If you’re curious about the possibility of a hereafter go speak to your local clergy, read some books on the subject or google it. Whatever you do, don’t try to find the answers here.

There is no justification for this film to last more than thirty minutes. Yet, it clanks its way through 107 excruciating hours…er…minutes. Could director Kevin Smith have outsmarted us all, and pulled a Tarantino by paying homage to a genre born of an era, long gone? Of course, that appears to be exactly what he’s done. However, doing that is simply not enough. You still have to make a good movie. The best of those movies were funny and contained big, exciting action sequences. This has Tracy Morgan dressed up like a cell phone.

To try and force some laughs, parents are treated to…subjected to a never ending stream of references to other, better movies. Lots of James Bond, some Lethal Weapon, Men in Black and countless others, including a huge Silence of the Lambs parody that can be spotted from miles and miles away by anyone who’s seen the horror classic. And it’s not funny. Yeah, during the 82 minute runtime I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at least 82 times. Story-wise, it just lurches forward with the obvious message about overlooking our differences, joining forces and working together to overlook our differences. No, that’s not a typo. It gets to the point where it’s unbearable.

The extent of the humor here is Yogi steps on, touches or leans against something and gets hit in the face, knocked down, flung through the air, etc. Verbal jokes are boiled down to him saying “pic-a-nic” instead of “picnic” over and over and over…and over again. Occasionally someone farts, references farting, or makes a farting noise. To be blunt, this movie thinks kids are dumb. Sure, some will laugh at first. However, after about ten minutes they will realize the well is dry. I’ll give the slow ones fifteen before the chuckles stop.


Dishonorable Mention:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Dinner for Schmucks
From Paris with Love
Little Fockers
MacGruber
Saw: The Final Chapter (3D)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Why Did I Get Married Too?
What did I miss?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son

Directed by John Whitesell.
2011. Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Martin Lawrence
Brandon T. Jackson
Jessica Lucas
Michelle Ang
Tony Curran
Ana Ortiz
Marc John Jeffries
Portia Doubleday
Henri Lubatti

Ken Jeong

Certain people are lucky I’ve not yet been named Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Cataclysmic events may have erupted the very moment it came to my attention that the ever-invisible and unquestionably guilty “they” were going to make another Big Momma’s House. Without doubt “they” would be immediately banished to the farthest reaches of my jurisdiction. By “they” I mean anyone involved with any movie in the series. Being a benevolent monarch I would save two souls who had the misfortune of appearing in the original. One would be Paul Giamatti who’s done all sorts of good since that time. The other is Nia Long, who was actually in the first two BM movies. She gets a pass because I’ve been in love with her ever since that fateful night in 1991 when she introduced herself to me as Brandi in Boyz N the Hood. Thankfully, neither of them are here. And “here” is where I am: watching a movie that not only violates this king’s first rule of sequels, but one which by its mere existence is evidence of an actively waged war against original thought.

If you were wondering, this king’s first rule of sequels is this: If a movie sucks, there should not be a sequel. Of course, this assumes the first BM did indeed suck. Whether you like it matters not. In my kingdom, I am the sole judge of good and suckiness. As such I have deemed it terrible. Armed with this knowledge you should be amazed at the audacity it took to make a third movie in the franchise. The nerve! To the guillotine with them! Off with their heads!



Wait. I’ve not told you what this atrocity is about. To refresh your memory of the basic franchise construct, Malcolm (Lawrence) is an FBI agent who occasionally dresses up like an old lady to solve crimes. This time he’s working a highly dangerous case completely by himself. Strike one. His stepson Trent (Jackson) has just been accepted to Duke University. However, he would rather pursue his rap career than go to college. Strike two. Oh no, no, no. Don’t go jumping to conclusions. The strike is not for him wanting to follow his dreams, especially since anyone who knows me understands I am a rap fan. The strike is because we’re supposed to believe that this guy is intelligent enough to gain acceptance into a school known for high academic standards yet he does nothing smart in the entire movie. As a result of the first of Trent’s not-so-smart moves, he winds up witnessing the bad guy murder an informant over an incriminating flash drive we’ve already learned is hidden at an all-girls school for the arts. Yup, you guessed it: the only way our heroes can get their hands on the drive is to dress up like women and go undercover at the school. Absolutely nothing funny ensues. Strike three. Sigh.

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Sire, if in this fantasy you truly are Supreme Ruler of the Universe why would you bother to watch this?’ It’s really rather simple. A good king wants to keep his subjects as happy as possible. Executions and other scare tactics used to keep them in line are messy and best reserved for the most heinous crimes. Diplomacy is often the better choice for the morale of the kingdom. With this in mind, I’ve noticed that the peasants often take their cues from the Queen. You know the old saying: if mama ain’t happy…yada yada. Logically, she must be appeased from time to time. In other words, the Queen decided upon the evening’s entertainment.

MY SCORE: 0/10

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thor

Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
2011. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman
Anthony Hopkins
Tom Hiddleston
Idris Elba
Stellan Skarsgard
Colm Feore
Jamie Alexander
Ray Stevenson
Rene Russo
Kat Dennings
Clark Gregg

Jeremy Renner

Though he’s long been one of the more prominent heroes in the Marvel Universe, Thor (Hemsworth) has not been the same type of pop-culture icon as others such as Spider-Man, the Hulk and Captain America. His previous forays into the mainstream have mostly been as a secondary character in multiple hero outings. Even next summer he will appear again on the big screen as part of Marvel’s most beloved team of do-gooders (by me, anyway) the Avengers. Here the god of thunder gets his own time to shine in a full-length feature.

Perhaps Thor has been kept just outside of full blown icon status because the mythology surrounding him makes for a difficult transition. Indeed, its based on Norse mythology and he is a god. It seems rather easy for this to come off hokey. As one familiar with the character, adapting him for widespread consumption seemed to be a challenge going in. The filmmakers met this challenge head on and were better for it. They don’t shy away from the cornier elements of the hero’s world, but add enough weight to them to anchor them in our psyche. They do not let them float away to join the hordes of others who wear strange faux-ancient outfits and speak in a vaguely Shakespearean manner.


The first and probably wisest choice is we get an introduction story not an origin story. When we meet Thor, he is already super. Sure, there is a period where he’s not, but it’s not the long, arduous road we often travel. It’s also more germane to the plot than just filling in some background info. Then, there is the well handled love story. It never feels sappy and doesn’t interfere with Thor’s heroic duties. Yet, it’s still effective and hangs over the story in just the right way.

That story surrounds the safety of Thor’s home realm of Asgard and his father’s efforts to stay out of war with the Frost Giants. They are a particularly ornery group still sore over having lost in a conflict with the Asgardians some years ago. There is also the sibling rivalry of Thor and his brother Loki (Hiddleston) as well as both of their relationships with their dad Odin (Hopkins), the king. Yes, this effects us on this planet because Thor is banished to Earth by the old man because his arrogance and overzealousness causes an intergalactic incident threatening the uneasy peace that has been kept between the two factions. This portion of the tale gives us comedy, redemption and romance.

It’s a small feat that neither the scenes on Earth nor on Asgard feel forced. They work well together. In turn, the movie works well. This makes it a rare comic book, one that tells its story in an appealing manner to both sides of the ledger. It stays true enough to the character for fanboys and doesn’t feel dumbed down for the masses. You don’t have to be a comic book geek to enjoy it. If you are a comic book geek you probably won’t be compelled to rip it to shreds for ruining another hero. Thor is not quite among the very best, but it is one of the better movies in the genre. As such, I can even forgive it for being a blatant setup for that Avengers movie I mentioned.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mars Needs Moms

Directed by Simon Wells.
2011. Rated PG, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Seth Green
Dan Fogler
Joan Cusack
Elisabeth Harnois
Mindy Sterling
Kevin Cahoon
Tom Everett Scott
Jacquie Barnbrook

Aparently, Martians know nothing about raising their young. From time to time they come to Earth to get the knowledge they need. No, no, no they don’t enroll in a parenting class or anything like that. They abduct a human mom, fly her back to Mars, extract whatever they deem necessary to mothering directly from her brain and then discard her. Yeesh. That information is downloaded to the Nannybots who do the mothering. This time they’ve snatched Milo’s (Green) mom. He manages to get on board their ship as it is leaving and soon finds himself on the red planet. Once there, he has to figure out how to save his mother.

As it turns out, Mars is a desolate, militaristic place. Like any such place in the movies, there are underground factions of rebels. Most of the ones we see are content to go about splashing color across their largely monochromatic world. One who is not a rebel, but certainly a loner becomes Milo’s most important ally. His name is Gribble (Fogler) and he is human. He’s also an adult but hasn’t had any human interaction since he was but a young boy himself. He still has a child’s rambunctiousness. With these things in place, Milo sets out on his adventure.



Our hero’s adventure is a fun one that manages to slip in a few messages along the way. Chief among them is just how important moms actually are. Like the others, this is done in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re being bludgeoned by them. To this end, things are kept fairly light-hearted until near the end when we really do get a palpable sense of danger. The daring rescue attempt manages to grab us by our throats and pull us to the edge of our seats. It takes the darkness that was harmlessly lingering just beneath the surface and brings it to the forefront. In the grand scheme of things, it’s only a few minutes of screen time. However, it’s a few minutes that drives home the message and ultimately makes the payoff more satisfying.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bridesmaids

Directed by Paul Feig.
2011. Rated R, 125 minutes.
Cast:
Kristen Wiig
Maya Rudolph
Rose Byrne
Melissa McCarthy
Wendi McLendon-Covey
Elle Kemper
Chris O’Dowd
Jon Hamm
Jill Clayburgh
Terry Crews

Rebel Wilson

Annie’s (Wiig) life is in shambles. The bakery she owned recently fell victim to the recession. She loses her job, gets kicked out of her apartment and the man she really likes only uses her for sex. She does get to be a part of something good, though. Her best friend Lillian (Rudolph) is getting married and has asked Annie to be the maid of honor. Things are all hunky dory until she meets rich girl Helen (Byrne), who also happens to be vying for the title of Lillian’s best friend. Competition inspired hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Bridesmaids is essentially a female version of a raunchy bromance. Think Wedding Crashers for women. Not surprisingly, it suffers from some of the same maladies that afflicted that movie. There are pockets that are outrageously funny and/or gross, but there are also sections that just drag along through the quagmire of rom-com clichés. Of course, Annie meets the sweet guy who is way better for her than the jerk she’s been pining for. Of course the comedy of errors she commits in trying to outdo Helen for Lillian’s friendship causes a big blowup. And of course you already know how this is going to play out.



Like I said, when the jokes come they work. Most of the credit for this should go to the “other” bridesmaids. Chief among them is Megan played by Melissa McCarthy, most recently of Mike and Molly sitcom fame. Her butch-but-hetero portrayal gets the most laughs. When given the room to breathe she, along with Rita (McLendon-Covey) and Becca (Kemper) tend to crack us up. However, they’re marginalized almost to the point of irrelevance. Instead, we get much more of Annie, Lillian and Helen interacting with one another. The problem is they’re all pretty straight-laced. To create hilarity these characters need the zany ones to react to and be affected by. This makes Bridesmaids and uneven watch. We trudge along to the beat of Annie’s pathetic drum until the rest of the gang pops in to make funnies for a few minutes then pops out again leaving us to be with Annie and her problems again.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad watch. It’s just not as funny as it should be. The pieces are all there for a truly great comedy. They just seem disadvantageously arranged like those of a chess player exposing her queen way too soon. Even after making this mistake, a skillful player can still do some damage and Bridesmaids does. Within this decent but largely forgettable film lies a couple unforgettable scenes. Most notable being the food poisoning. The whole movie definitely does not need to be that, essentially a vomit and poop fest, but it could certainly stand to ease up on the ‘woe is me’ vibe we get much of the time.

MY SCORE: 6/10