Author Archives: wes

“Eclipse” Movie Review

“Eclipse” is the least offensive in the Twilight Saga series, but that’s like choosing your favorite flavor of liver. All in all there was marginal improvement, just not exactly the hockey-stick charts of growth that reflect its money sucking nature. I still can’t truly say that I have seen any character growth whatsoever, even though there was finally an afterthought of such a novel idea, but Bella is still the wavering pit of self-centeredness that we’ve witnessed since the first unfortunate installment of this ill-fated franchise.

Why you’ll like this:
You dearly love the books and/or the other Twilight films and there’s no hope for you save amnesia.

Fine, from the top. “Eclipse” starts a few weeks after “New Moon” leaves off, Edward and Bella are eternally-ish in love, and willing to sacrifice anything-ish in order to be with each other. Sadly, there’s murders lingering in the air and it seems to once again to be tied to Bella, but now there may be a truce between vamp and wolf in order to stem the rising tide of death.

There’s few things I can honestly say I actively enjoy about “Eclipse”, but at the top of the list absolutely has to be that they shot the daylights out of it. The Director of Photography earned his paycheck, and hopefully his way onto a better project. I cannot think of a single shot in the film that wasn’t superbly nailed, and even a few that I wouldn’t mind trying to emulate myself. I know Seattle is a great terrain to shoot on, but they took full advantage here, capturing the gothic mood and intensity, even when the acting and dialogue failed to deliver. In that same vein, the music took a slight dip from the first two films, but still contributed a noteworthy effort.

The acting is a virtual mess. Taylor Lautner does a mostly adequate job, and I’m also Dakota Fanning and Anna Kendrick fans, and Peter Facinelli also proves that despite being a vampire he does in fact have a pulse. Them and Ashley Greene are the exceptions. All the other principals are living somewhere that doesn’t require much more than modeling for the camera, not that the source material gives them a lot to pull from anyway, that didn’t stop the aforementioned from being believable, but I also suppose less was riding on their shoulders.

Dear Hollywood, has this franchise not earned enough money to get some mildly decent CGI yet? Awful. Poor effort all around. The wolves still look highly computer-y, and nearly everything that required CG suffered for it. Thankfully, the opening scene showed some improvement in the lightning speed that vampires move at, rather than showing them in fast forward it was much more of a blur and an audio effect, far superior. See? You don’t need to show something for me to believe it, it’s called painting a picture in the mind’s eye.

Why you won’t like this:
A lack of story-arcs, character development, good dialogue, chemistry, logic and everything else that makes the Academy Awards meaningful.

If only visual effects are where the pain stopped. The action sequence was a decent delight, the big battle between vampires and werewolves, but the issue there was the fact that there was still nothing truly at risk. The risk would only come if we ever felt anything for Bella, or the victims of these “mysterious murders”, but the emotional depth is as subtle and original as a fireworks show with nukes. At the end of it there’s nothing to enjoy, because it’s been two hours of poorly painted teenage puppy love and the golden rule of film is continually betrayed: show me, don’t tell me; and good GOD all they do is talk about their feelings. “Friday Night Lights” will continue to be a superior realization of how teenaged drama can be universally appreciated by the young and old alike, with nuance and realism. “Eclipse” knows neither nuance nor realism, despite its desperate flailing attempts that scream “love me” at the top of its lungs. Drama.

2 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli, Dakota Fanning
Director: David Slade
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 4 min.
Release Date: June 30, 2010

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” Movie Review

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" movie poster“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is full of win. I can’t say I’ve read the comic book, ERRRR, graphic novel, but Edgar Wright did a phenomenal job of creating a universe where everything makes sense, even when it shouldn’t. The debate will now rage on whether this gets the belt for movie of the year, my money is still on “Inception” for that, but this is no featherweight, it’s a full fledged Iron Mike lacing up, only using pink gloves to throw you off the scent until you’re inside the ring getting a classic jaw-crushing blow.

Why you’ll like this:
Quick-cutting, comic book style storytelling; tons of geeky references; young love storyline; *plenty* of top-notch action; verbally, visually and auditorially funny.

The plot: Scott Pilgrim likes a girl. Scott Pilgrim wants to date the girl. The girl has a past. The past includes seven evil exes. If Scott wants a future with the girl, his present includes a clash with the exes. And clash they shall, in heroic comic book and vintage video game style. “FIGHT!”

There’s a lot to be said for the visual effects here, but halfway through the movie I absolutely had to pause and marvel at the editing. I mentioned “Inception” for good reason, the editing in “Inception” was masterful, and “Scott Pilgrim” is the only serious contender if not outright winner in the category. The thought of working out a single scene makes my head spin, but it’s all quick and furious, yet still makes time to breathe out a story with a heartbeat, and “Inception” can’t even claim that. Splicing together so much story, action and character development while making it seem so easy and logical can’t be easy, especially while still trying to retain the comic book roots, I guess it helps to stay close to the source material.

The Scott Pilgrim world is constantly fleshed out with graphic visual aids, video game noises (particularly my favorite game of all time), and well-timed character reveals. It’s all mixed together perfectly, like an Iron Chef making his specialty dish with the most random ingredients, all coalescing in harmony to practically reinvent flavor. Yes, I’m gushing. Few films these days make me feel like something new actually happened, something fresh that reminds me why I love movies.

The cast is also on the money. A lot of relative unknowns accompanying Michael Cera, Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman. Alison Pill (HBO’s “inTreatment”, which she also is great in) keeps her angst on display, but my favorite is absolutely Ellen Wong playing “Knives Chau”, she’s all nails in such a critical role, going toe to toe with nearly everyone in the movie and more than holding her own. If anything else needs to be said about the supporting cast then it must be said about Kieran Culkin, playing Scott Pilgrim’s roommate “Wallace” and he feels almost like a main character unto himself, so much confidence and soul, a great highlight. As for Cera, he’s good, he’s not quite his normal boyishly awkward and insecure self, but for the most part he is, mixed in with a lot of excellent action sequences that gives his character an edge and it made me sit straight up and consider: Your saturation point just may not have arrived yet good sir.

Why you won’t like this:
If you don’t like music or “new fangled” anything.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, go see the movie in theaters. I could tell from the voracious clapping that the “graphic novel” fans were thoroughly pleased with whatever crazy references they were catching, there’s plenty to be caught. Hopefully the world will take up the Scott Pilgrim challenge, the winner here is clearly everyone. Rarely relying on cliches, you feel like you explore every nook and cranny, without a stone unturned, and never getting bored. So, without ruining any story elements I’ll simply say that it’s pretty brilliant stuff.

5 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Michael Cera, Chris Evans, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong
Director: Edgar Wright
Genre: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Release Date: August 13, 2010

“The A-Team” Movie Review

“The A-Team” is much like director Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces”, but with more humor and  a clunkier plot, but still maintains most of the enjoyability. The original TV show this is based off of is iconic, no doubt about that, but please don’t think it’s hallowed ground, because it was far from master piece television so this is prime territory for a remake. The TV show, as most things 80s, was pure silliness, from the plots to the humor and especially regarding the adherence to the show’s formula, none of which was left out of the big-screen adaptation. Essentially, it’s the same show without as much censure but with a bigger budget.

Why you’ll like this:
Stupid amounts of action, escapist entertainment

“The A-Team” is a tight-knit group of special ops military personnel who are accused of crimes, crimes which they are of course innocent. Though rather screw-looose, their moral fiber demands their name to be cleared. The leader and master mind of the pack is Hannibal (Liam Neeson), the clinically insane pilot is Murdock (Sharlto Copley), somewhere in-between those two shades of crazy/smart lies Face (Bradley Cooper) and the bruiser made famous by Mr. T, B.A. Baracus (Rampage Jackson) provides the muscle. These men comprise the A-Team, who are great at getting themselves into jams, but even greater at busting their way out in outrageous fashion.

I haven’t seen the TV show in quite some time, but I will admit that the cast was well chosen. Liam Neeson is easy to get behind no matter the part he plays, but Bradley Cooper is carving out quite a name for himself in such films as “The Hangover” and “Wedding Crashers”, his comedic timing is pretty solid. Perhaps the biggest surprise over the past twelve months has to be Sharlto Copley, his excellent performance in “District 9” set the tone for what he’s capable of, but for someone with only a few acting credits to his name he is killing it, and you can tack this on as another smashing success for him, the guy is legit. Easily the hardest role was handed out to Rampage Jackson, it’s just not fair to have to “re-imagine” Mr. T’s infamous B.A. Baracus, it really isn’t, but he managed to do a decent job, not stellar but not underwhelming either, the guys around him helped bring a lot of life to him and certainly made him entertaining.

If the cast and action are what makes this movie worthwhile, then the plot is what scratches the needle on the record. I honestly didn’t understand half of what was going on in terms of motivation and logic, I almost would’ve preferred it if Hannibal just looked at the camera and said, “We’re doing this because it’ll look cool in a minute.” However, I never considered seeing this because of a well formulated plot, this isn’t the world of Jason Bourne, it’s an over the top romp that tries to outsmart you with a visual punchline, which it fails to execute due to sloppy storytelling. And I am okay with that.

Why you won’t like this:
Poor plot, highly ridiculous

There’s a lot of “win” here, but it absolutely depends on what you’re expecting/wanting out of this. The action is ridiculous, point blank. The humor is very guy-ish, plenty of juvenile banter back and forth, but without ever crossing into coarse joking, so I’d say it’s family friendly. Just watch an episode of the original A-Team TV show, then imagine it was directed by Joel Silver, boom, that’s what you got here: forgettable explosions and punchlines, just good enough for me for a couple hours of escapism.

3 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton Rampage Jackson, Sharlto Copley
Director: Joe Carnahan
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.
Release Date: June 11, 2010

“The A-Team” is a tight-knit group of special ops military personnel who are

accused of crimes, crimes which they are of course innocent. Though rather

screw-looose, their moral fiber demands their name to be cleared. The leader and

master mind of the pack is Hannibal (Liam Neeson), the clinically insane pilot

is Murdock (Sharlto Copley), somewhere in-between those two shades of

crazy/smart lies Face (Bradley Cooper) and the bruiser made famous by Mr. T,

B.A. Baracus (Rampage Jackson) provides the muscle. These men comprise the A-

Team, who are great at getting themselves into jams, but even greater at busting

their way out in outrageous fashion.

I haven’t seen the TV show in quite some time, but I will admit that the cast

was well chosen. Liam Neeson is easy to get behind no matter the part he plays,

but Bradley Cooper is carving out quite a name for himself in such films as “The

Hangover” and “Wedding Crashers”, his comedic timing is pretty solid. Perhaps

the biggest surprise over the past twelve months has to be Sharlto Copley, his

excellent performance in “District 9” set the tone for what he’s capable of, but

for someone with only a few acting credits to his name he is killing it, and you

can tack this on as another smashing success for him, the guy is legit. Easily

the hardest role was handed out to Rampage Jackson, it’s just not fair to have

to “re-imagine” Mr. T’s infamous B.A. Baracus, it really isn’t, but he managed

to do a decent job, not stellar but not underwhelming either, the guys around

him helped bring a lot of life to him and certainly made him entertaining.

If the cast and action are what makes this movie worthwhile, then the plot is

what scratches the needle on the record. I honestly didn’t understand half of

what was going on in terms of motivation and logic, I almost would’ve preferred

it if Hannibal just looked at the camera and said, “We’re doing this because

it’ll look cool in a minute.” However, I never considered seeing this because of

a well formulated plot, this isn’t the world of Jason Bourne, it’s an over the

top romp that tries to outsmart you with a visual punchline, which it fails to

execute due to sloppy storytelling. And I am okay with that.

There’s a lot of “win” here, but it absolutely depends on what you’re

expecting/wanting out of this. The action is ridiculous, point blank. The humor

is very guy-ish, plenty of juvenile banter back and forth, but without ever

crossing into coarse joking, so I’d say it’s family friendly. Just watch an

episode of the original A-Team TV show, then imagine it was directed by Joel

Silver, boom, that’s what you got here: forgettable explosions and punchlines,

just good enough for me for a couple hours of escapism.

3 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton Rampage Jackson,

Sharlto Copley
Director: Joe Carnahan
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.
Release Date: June 11, 2010

“Splice” Movie Review

Movie poster for "Splice"“Splice” suffered the same issue as its implied title character, an identity crisis that ultimately turned this film from the advertised science-fiction horror to a comedic melodrama. I’d like to say I’m a big Vincenzo Natali fan, but I’ve only seen “Cube”, which I really liked, and “Paris, je t’aime” which doesn’t exactly belong to a single director, so I’m still on loose soil when it comes to his work. I think it’s clear he has the chops to create an inventive low-budget sci-fi thriller, but perhaps he is still missing the necessary self-critical skill set to polish his writing.

Why you’ll like this:
You enjoy SyFy bunk like “Frankenfish”; you see anything with DNA splicing as a win, regardless of actual quality standards

“Splice” is about two genetic scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), who decide to push the limits of DNA engineering to a new level by creating a hybrid species that include human genes. Every step they take prompts them to see how far this experiment can go, resulting in a cognitive being (though voiceless) that has both human and animalistic features and tendencies. In an unspired moment they name the feminine creature “Dren”, not the only uninspired moment I might add.

How Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley both read this script and thought, “Yes! This is something I absolutely must be apart of!” is beyond my comprehension. I’ll grant the science-fiction aspect, since it clearly dances around with the subject matter, but the only horror found is some of the most ridiculous pieces of cinema that was tackled better in such classics as “Species” and “Species 2: Offspring”. To be fair, I haven’t seen “Species 2: Offspring”, but I’m sure it was more to the point than what we have here, mostly because it’s a clearly labeled project.

Most of the film is spent as a drama, the characters uttering awful dialogue (that’s acceptable in an actual horror film, not a drama), hemming and hawing about their huge dilemma and finding how much they care for their creation. The real thief of the cake, however, is some of the outrageous decisions that were meant to build tension and suspense but only produced laughter and guffaws. Hardly the hallmark of a sci-fi horror when your big moments are met with mockery from the audience. Not only that, but the creature loses my suspension of disbelief by betraying its physical features by the noises it emanates and its velociraptor-like head bobbing. Hey Dren, I don’t believe you!!

Why you won’t like this:
Not horror/thriller as advertised; predictable; ridiculous attempts at invoking emotion

Maybe this could have been a good product had someone wrote the script with the thought of suspending plot points that invoke eye-rolling dismissal. It is shot well, the actors are trying their hardest to emote, but someone forgot to mix in the DNA of good writing, I’m looking at you Vincenzo.

2 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: R (nudity, violence, language)
Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: June 4, 2010

“Julie & Julia” Movie Review

Movie poster for "Julie & Julia"“Julie & Julia” took me by surprise and will probably force me to use every bad pun I can cook up to garnish this sweet little film with equal parts appreciation and admiration. I didn’t know really what this movie was about prior to watching it other than it was based on a true story, but I’m somewhat of an Amy Adams fan after seeing her excellent screen-work in “Junebug”, “Enchanted”, and one of the more under-seen and under-appreciated films, “Sunshine Cleaning”, so it was only a matter of time before this came across my ‘telly” (fine, I’m American but sometimes wish we’d use some of these fun little phrases that Brits use, innit?).

Why you’ll like this:
Great acting; well told tight narrative; the food looks amazing

It didn’t take long to notice that “Julie & Julia” isn’t based on a true story, it’s based on two of them. Played by Meryl Streep we see the amazing Julia Child’s brush with French cooking and how she took on the challenge of learning the ways of a chef that soon blossomed into her own book. This is juxtaposed with the burgeoning life-crises of Julie Powell (Amy Adams) who decides she needs to jump-start her writing career once again by taking on every recipe in Child’s first book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with the deadline of one year, and blogging about it along the way.

Adams delivers a tone-perfect performance of a befuddled wife who loves to prance and complain about her issues and how nothing ever works out for her while railroading anyone who dares to listen to such self-centered drivel, but she maintains an air of sweetness that manages to never turn you off, because you actually care. No easy feat, that. Harder still? Streep’s continuing brilliance of portraying real people with extreme personalities. Seeing her onscreen and knowing that it’s Meryl Streep, yet completely buying into yet another performance, well, it’s worthy of every nomination she receives and frankly, she should perhaps teach a class to some of the elite A-listers who have forgotten how to be completely consumed as someone else (Deniro, Pacino, you could attend, please). In honesty, there were no poor performances here. Tucci is quickly growing as a must-have member and someone to look for, not merely be happy when he shows up. I was also highly pleased to see Jane Lynch in a role that didn’t require her normal audacious sense of humor, which I love, but I’m glad to see her have a chance to show her chops a bit more. She’s great and I hope to see her with more opportunity in the future.

Director Nora Ephron once again proves she’s quite capable of providing compelling narrative and I absolutely loved how a story could be told about two married women, with encouraging supportive husbands, and still maintain a great sense of dramatic need. I wish more stories were filmed without every driving action revolving around dashes to the airport to profess love and mend a misunderstanding. I know that it sells, but perhaps our cinematic tastes would be as well-rounded as Child’s Hollandaise sauce if we gave up the “Big Mac” of storytelling a little more often in favor of smaller indie films with more character and nuance.

Why you won’t like this:
No explosions; no grandiose magical kiss

No real complaints to report, other than the film quality was either oddly chosen or I watched a bad transfer with a rather bad yellow tint covering most scenes. However, I can’t say that even that held me down from enjoying a movie about two women cooking in different eras. Dealing with different issues, from communism to the internet. Now, when do I get Amy Adams to cook me a bunch of French food for a year?

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanely Tucci, Chris Messina, Jane Lynch
Director: Nora Ephron
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 3 min.
Release Date: August 7, 2009

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” Movie Review

Film poster for "A Nightmare on Elm Street"“A Nightmare on Elm Street” is yet another remake that suffers unoriginality, but such is the lot of remaking something that is well established in pop culture. The production company Platinum Dunes has chosen their position in film to be the re-makers of classic horror films and found early success with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” giving them the green light to run wild with remakes including “The Amityville Horror”, “The Hitcher”, “Friday the 13th” and of course “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.

Why you’ll like this:
You’ve never seen the original and like the premise

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” stars Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger, a scarred killer sporting a wicked glove with knives attached atop the fingers who invades your dreams to kill you. In this rebirth we kind of follow Nancy, I say “kind of” because the narrative jumps quite a bit, but I think she’s the main character since that’s how the original went down, anyway, she’s played by Rooney Mara (younger sister of Kate Mara). Well, Nancy and her friends are being tracked down by Freddy and they aim to get to the bottom of it, preferably before they die.

This film is wrought with issues. The CGI is decidedly awful and seeing as how the original managed to do it in-camera, rather unnecessary. The makeup of Freddy himself is inspired in contrast of the Robert Englund version, going for a more burn victim effect rather than the demonically burned, but it was an epic fail in that he could hardly move his lips, which steals away the suspension of disbelief. Movie logic was never really a big factor in any of the original films, so I’m willing to overlook “nitpicky” flaws inherent when mixing dreams with reality. However, the sheer lack of originality left much to be desired. I can understand why you would want to pay homage to memorable scenes, but homage doesn’t mean it needs to be a shot-for-shot recreation.

That’s not to say I didn’t find something good lurking in the shadows. Despite makeup setbacks, I thought Jackie Earle Haley still turned in a solid performance, striking that balance of dark creepy mixed with wit, teetering on the line of campy without fully committing to it. The non-CGI effects are also decent enough, though hardly unique and worthy of more than a passing mention.

Why you won’t like this:
Uninspired rehash of something that was executed nominally better 25 years ago

In the name of creativity I hope that someone else starts to helm these remakes if they indeed must be “reimagined”. There was only an elementary attempt at being inventive here. The story lacked any character depth whatsoever, at least in the original we see the normal lives of these people before everyone starts dying to get an idea of who we’re dealing with. Therefore the acting is rather shallow with the exception of Jackie Earle Haley and an always enjoyable Connie Britton. I think this movie ultimately suffers from spending too much time in the dream world, an understandable attempt at giving us more of “what we want”, but it dooms the already stretched thin narrative and prevents us from ever developing an attachment to anyone. The one question that aptly sums up this rather blah remake is one that the filmmakers never took time to address with an inkling of passion or inspiration: “Why does this film need to be made?”

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton
Director: Samuel Bayer
Genre: Horror
Rating: R (gore, violence, language)
Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Release Date: April 30, 2010

“Get Him to the Greek” Movie Review

Movie poster for "Get Him to the Greek"“Get Him to the Greek” is just like its predecessor “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” except that it isn’t as original, clever, funny and the returning character isn’t quite the same. Other than that it’s an awesome followup, oh and the writing isn’t as good either. But that’s the only differences, and the humor comes from a different angle too. Otherwise it’s right in line.

Why you’ll like this:
Puff Daddy steals the show; Over the top antics; forgettable fun

The idea for this movie was actually kicked around while filming “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, since Russell Brand’s character Aldous Snow was going over so smoothly it seemed like a no-brainer to create his own spin-off. In this film, Aldous has fallen off his rockstar pedestal by dipping back into drugs, he’s broken off his tumultuous relationship with long time girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) and in dire need of some success after the disaster of his last album “African Child”. Sean “Puffy” Combs plays Sergio, a head executive of a music label charges Aaron (Jonah Hill) with the task (and big career chance) of getting Aldous to L.A.’s Greek Theater for a 10th anniversary concert. The challenge of course is to overcome Aldous’ “god of rock” habits to get him to the concert on time from London. Let the hilarity ensue.

Make no mistake, I am an enormous fan of “Sarah Marshall”, I’ve kept it on my DVR for over a year and have seen it quite a few times, but what was delivered is pretty much the same failure every spin-off ends up with. “Let’s take this awesome and interesting character and tell an entirely new tale!” They definitely picked a great character, Aldous Snow was awesome in “Sarah Marshall”, but the problem is that Jason Segel didn’t write this script, and now the tone of the character is completely different, as is the rest of the film.

That isn’t to say there’s no laughs here, but they don’t come from where you expect it, and certainly not in the same inventive understated delivery that stemmed from interesting characters. Instead, “Get Him to the Greek” flips it and tries to create interesting situations for an over the top delivery by loud and straining punchlines. I can honestly say I didn’t expect the best comedy to come from Puffy (he’s “Puffy”, not P. Diddy, he will always be “Puffy”), but Puff gave some awesome lines and nearly all my laughs came from him, he killed it. It actually took me a few scenes to realize he wasn’t playing himself, I didn’t piece together that they kept calling him Sergio, he really seemed to be playing his same caricature from “Making the Band”, and it worked in brilliance.

Why you won’t like this:
Nothing remotely close to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”; not well developed characters

The biggest disappointment was that Aldous did not feel even like a close relative to his original version. I guess the whole “going back to drugs” thing was supposed to be the reason for this, but it never felt true, which again comes back to Jason Segel not writing this. I can’t recommend this for a theatric viewing, but definitely catch it on DVD for some good laughs, just don’t expect the same quality that this attempts to steal from.

3 out of 5 Stars.

Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Rose Byrne, Sean “Puffy” Combs
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr.49 min.
Release Date: June 4, 2010

“MacGruber” Movie Review

Movie poster for "MacGruber"“MacGruber” is pretty much what you expect, ninety minutes of SNL style ridiculousness much in the vein of other Saturday Night Live inspired movies like “Night at the Roxbury” or “Stuart Saves His Family”. The setup is quick and obvious, MacGruber is an elite government weapon unto himself, coming out of retirement to stop his arch nemesis (played by Val Kilmer) from unleashing a nuke. Out of necessity MacGruber teams up with Lt. Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki St. Elmo (Kirsten Wiig) to form his crew of misfits.

Why you’ll like this:
Silly, idiotic humor, SNL-style

The surprising part was that the opening scene is fairly serious, certainly the only piece that maintains a straight face, but I suppose that sets the tone to allow the rest to contrast so heavily. The rest of the film continues a series of plays on formulaic movie cliches ranging from gathering your super-group of heroes to the bad guy’s fancy party. I can’t say it doesn’t all work, because a good deal of it will generate the laughs you’re wanting, but a lot of it depends on shock factor.

Why you won’t like this:
Crude; if you prefer high brow comedy this isn’t for you

Outside of pure over-the-top antics, the other side of the coin is that MacGruber lives in the 80s and this is reflected in his awesome ‘do, his radical threads and refined musical tastes. Some of it becomes rather one-note and grows a bit tiresome, much of it feels pretty cliche in a movie about movie cliches. “Oh, you’re character has a mullett! That’s such a fresh take!” But that’s the playing field we’ve been expectedly dealt.

The overall mix is enough that I got a few solid out loud laughs and more than a few reliable “Wow, really going there right now…..still going there….any moment now….really…”, but if you’re in the mood to check your brain at the door and laugh at Will Ferrell style nonsense, then this is probably right up your alley, but you’ll never look at celery the same. ::shudder::

3 out of 5 Stars.

Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe
Director: Jorma Taccone
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.
Release Date: May 21, 2010

“The Hangover” Movie Review

Movie poster for "The Hangover"“The Hangover” is the epitomy of a guy-movie, lots of ridiculous situational comedy combined with filthy language and a bachelor part in Vegas. If that doesn’t sum up man-flick then I’m at a loss for words frankly. With relative unknowns helming this I think it was a pretty large gamble to shoot without a single marquis star, but I honestly dig that about this film, just get some strong actors together and let them do their thang. It’s what needs to happen more often in Hollywood, make room for new faces.

Why you’ll like this:
Raunchy guy humor; wittier than a “Dude Where’s My Car”; wild situations in Vegas

The setup couldn’t be more simple, four guys go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party and wake up the next morning to realize they’ve lost the bachelor and cannot remember a single thing from their outrageous night of partying. This leads three of them on an epic quest to find their friend by looking for clues of what transpired during their drunken stupor. Enter strippers, tigers and Mike Tyson.

Now, I’m a year late on this film, so I wasn’t sure if the magic would still be there or if it was a moment in culture that you had to ride the wave in order to appreciate (how I envision “Lost” will be a year from now), but this worked on pretty much every level. During the time between its release and my viewing I’ve become a fan of Zach Galifianakis via his strange interview clips, I’d head over to YouTube if you don’t know what I’m referring to. Zach plays the insane moron with scary precision and I was kind of shocked at how well his kookiness mixed with Ed Helms’ brand of humor and Bradley Cooper’s smoother intensity, because I didn’t quite see how I would buy them as a legitimate entourage, but I think the kudos here have to go to Cooper for getting it all to gel appropriately. Of course, Bradley Cooper supplied his own stamp of insanity as well, lest we forget his comedic chops from “Wedding Crashers”.

For a guy’s movie surrounding idiocy in Vegas I was actually surprised by the lack of raunch overall, but I suppose what it lacked in quality it made up for in male genitalia quantity. Tomato, Tuh-mott-oh. For a $35 million budget, there was no shortage of great shots and locations, which I can’t imagine is an easy feat in Vegas, but I suppose that’s where it helps to not spend all your cash on actors since a big name often runs $20m on its own these days. Considering the piles of cash this raked in, I’m sure we’ll be seeing far more of Todd Phillips in the near future, along with a sequel to “The Hangover”.

Why you won’t like this:
Girls won’t like this; should be watched with the fellas

The laughs came pretty frequently and reminded me of Todd’s other work like “Old School” which has picked up its own little cult following, so I’m sure he was glad he gained a much faster audience this time around and if he can get a solid sequel out of this we’ll probably be seeing his name attached to trailers much like we’re seeing with Judd Apatow nowadays. This is a total guy movie, not to be watched without a few compadres, and certainly not with your girlfriend lest you sober up before knocking back a few laughs.

3.5 out of 5 Stars.

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Mike Epps
Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R (language, sexual content, nudity, drugs)
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: June 5, 2009

“Letters to Juliet” Movie Review

Film poster for "Letters to Juliet"“Letters to Juliet” is surprisingly not as awful as I had thought it would be, I suspect many people will thoroughly like it despite it’s shortcomings of obvious setups and payoffs. I’m no stranger to chick-flicks or good romance stories, “The Notebook” and “Notting Hill” are among some of my favorite rainy day films, so don’t discount my critic point-of-view as nothing more than guy-hate towards girly movies.

Why you’ll like this:
Light-hearted; great scenery

Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie who has been engaged for a year to Victor (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), a budding Italian restaraunt owner in New York City and they decide to take a pre-wedding vacation to Italiy. Sophie works for The New Yorker as a fact-checker but aspires to upgrade to full-fledged contributor, so she is instantly intrigued by a wall in Italy where women of all ages write letters to Juliet, of Shakespearean lore, and there’s a group of wiser women who collect the letters and write back as the fabled star-crossed lover giving sage wisdom. Sophie uncovers a fifty year-old letter and writes back which invokes a journey with an elderly woman, Claire, and her grandson Charlie, this quest takes them in search of the lost love of Claire’s life.

I suppose one of the things I actually appreciated about “Letters to Juliet” is that they didn’t make Sophie’s fiancee a complete jerk so much as a self-involved hard working jerk, the difference is subtle and mostly pulled off by the fantastic Gael Garcia Bernal, who manages to make his character both likeable yet not enough for Sophie. On the other side of the coin is the obvious “they hate each other so much, oh look, they’re growing closer” setup of Charlie. Yawn. The humor is also rather blunt, though it’s far short of flatulence jokes, it’s still rather on-the-nose in terms of cleverness and wit.

The biggest surprise for me was that there were actually a few genuine moments, where the movie takes its time to allow the moment to happen rather than rush through it like so many romantic comedies. So a big kudos for spending a few more minutes to earn some authentic emotional points. There was also no way to not love the photography here, shot on location in Italy it was probably as easy as pointing the camera, but none the less it’s gorgeous and shot with lots of amazing countryside. The soundtrack is okay, utilizing Taylor Swift where appropriate. As far as audio goes I was taken aback by the final scene with some extremely poor ADR work, but I think I was the only one who noticed.

Why you won’t like this:
Simple, not very clever; cookie cutter

While the setup and payoff can be spotted a mile away, everyone involved is still rather competent and makes this not quite a task to watch, but that hardly is qualification for excellence. I suspect many girls will love this, and many guys will find it bareable if not enjoyable, but it should not come up in conversation as anything close to other romantic films like “Far and Away”, “A Walk in the Clouds” or even “Serendipity”. Between good scenery and a variety of Italian characters there’s plenty to keep you entertained, even if it’s a little on the shallow side of character development and creative story.

2.5 out of 5 Stars.

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Gary Winick
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Release Date: May 14, 2010

“Letters to Juliet” is surprisingly not as awful as I had thought it would be, I

suspect many people will thoroughly like it despite it’s shortcomings of obvious

setups and payoffs. I’m no stranger to chick-flicks or good romance stories,

“The Notebook” and “Notting Hill” are among some of my favorite rainy day films,

so don’t discount my critic point-of-view as nothing more than guy-hate towards

girly movies.

Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie who has been engaged for a year to Victor

(played by Gael Garcia Bernal), a budding Italian restaraunt owner in New York

City and they decide to take a pre-wedding vacation to Italiy. Sophie works for

The New Yorker as a fact-checker but aspires to upgrade to full-fledged

contributor, so she is instantly intrigued by a wall in Italy where women of all

ages write letters to Juliet, of Shakespearean lore, and there’s a group of

wiser women who collect the letters and write back as the fabled star-crossed

lover giving sage wisdom. Sophie uncovers a fifty year-old letter and writes

back which invokes a journey with an elderly woman, Claire, and her grandson

Charlie, this quest takes them in search of the lost love of Claire’s life.

I suppose one of the things I actually appreciated about “Letters to Juliet” is

that they didn’t make Sophie’s fiancee a complete jerk so much as a self-

involved hard working jerk, the difference is subtle and mostly pulled off by

the fantastic Gael Garcia Bernal, who manages to make his character both

likeable yet not enough for Sophie. On the other side of the coin is the obvious

“they hate each other so much, oh look, they’re growing closer” setup of

Charlie. Yawn. The humor is also rather blunt, though it’s far short of

flatulence jokes, it’s still rather on-the-nose in terms of cleverness and wit.

The biggest surprise for me was that there were actually a few genuine moments,

where the movie takes its time to allow the moment to happen rather than rush

through it like so many romantic comedies. So a big kudos for spending a few

more minutes to earn some authentic emotional points. There was also no way to

not love the photography here, shot on location in Italy it was probably as easy

as pointing the camera, but none the less it’s gorgeous and shot with lots of

amazing countryside. The soundtrack is okay, utilizing Taylor Swift where

appropriate. As far as audio goes I was taken aback by the final scene with some

extremely poor ADR work, but I think I was the only one who noticed.

While the setup and payoff can be spotted a mile away, everyone involved is

still rather competent and makes this not quite a task to watch, but that hardly

is qualification for excellence. I suspect many girls will love this, and many

guys will find it bareable if not enjoyable, but it should not come up in

conversation as anything close to other romantic films like “Far and Away”, “A

Walk in the Clouds” or even “Serendipity”. Between good scenery and a variety of

Italian characters there’s plenty to keep you entertained, even if it’s a little

on the shallow side of character development and creative story.

2.5 out of 5 Stars.

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal, Christopher Egan, Vanessa

Redgrave
Director: Gary Winick
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Release Date: May 14, 2010