Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie Review: "Visioneers"

An overlooked Galifianakis movie gets new life with a re-release.

*** ½ out 5
Not Rated
94 minutes
Fireside Film

Article first published as Movie Review: Visioneers on Blogcritics.

Having just seen “The Hangover Part II, it’s interesting to think about all the characters Zack Galifianakis has actually played over the years. Most of them are rather similar, but what he brings to all of his quirky loveable roles is a darker, snarky side that I can’t help but personally relish. He’s the kind of person who would normally come off as a flat out asshole if you knew whether he was being serious or not. I can’t help but love this about him. I’ve been playing the same part in my life for years. Gotta keep people on their toes right?

The other thing he also brings to the comedic table is the ability to act. He never plays the wacky sidekick the way that, say, Chris Farley used to. Fat guy in a little suit Zack is not. He’d be a bully if he weren’t so damn cuddly looking with his bushy beard and all. Having played bit parts in many films (most notably in things like “Bubble Boy,” “Corky Romano” and “Out Cold”), it’s when he pops up in more surprising films such as “Below,” “Into the Wild,” “Up in the Air,” “Gigantic,” “Youth in Revolt,” and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” that he really brings it home. So alas, it’s with B.D. Fox Independent’s DVD re-release of director Jared Drake’s “Visioneers” that he’s used to full effect in a lead role.

In “Visioneers,” Galifianakis plays George Washington Winsterhammerman who’s living amongst a growing epidemic. Working as a Level 3 TUNT at the Jeffers Corp. George has everything he needs in a loving wife in Michelle (Judy Greer) and a huge house. But worldwide, people are literally exploding from stress. Think “Scanners” full fold. We’re not just talking exploding heads; these are full body explosions here. Recently, George has started dreaming, which we learn is symptom number one of impending doom.

George is determined to keep himself stress-free ranging from working with his own personal life coach, Rodger (Matthew Glave), to Michelle obsessing over the book “10,000 Things to be Happy About” she ordered off the Oprah-esque television show “SAHRA” (Missi Pyle). It’s after his co-worker and possibly only friend Charisma (Mia Maestro) leaves the Jeffers Corp., and another co-worker succumbs to the exploding epidemic that George decides that maybe fate needs to be taken into his own hands. He sets out in search for Charisma and hopes to live the happy existence his returned home brother Julieen (James LeGros) talks to him about when he’s not running a hippie compound in George’s backyard and pole vaulting.

Director Jared Drake, bringing his brother Brandon’s witty and satirical screenplay to life with Galifianakis showing he really can carry a whole movie. With the help of the supporting cast, Greer in particular playing the increasingly crazy wife, also keep the tone of the film from ever getting too bleak even if the ending seems a little too emotional by contrast. A happy ending is always welcome and it’s nice to see a character actually earn one on their own.

There are some hilarious gags throughout including the Jeffers Corp.’s idea of salutations and Georges’s dream sequences as the real George Washington. While the film may be three years old now, it’s a great way to get a nice Galifianakis fix while treating yourself to a great little dark comedy as well. “Visioneers” is a little on the slow side but the explosion subplot always feels like a time bomb waiting to go off which adds a tinge of suspense. It’s definitely worth checking out with a new release on home video and for those of you with NetFlix, it’s available streaming in HD as well.

Photos courtesy Fireside Film

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Movie Review: "The Hangover Part II"

Second verse exactly the same as the first as Todd Phillips' films keep getting progressively darker.

** ½ out of 5
Rated R for Pervasive Language, Strong Sexual Content including Graphic Nudity, Drug Use and Brief Violent Images.
102 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Hangover Part II on Blogcritics.

When there’s two sequels headed our way in one weekend, it’s hard to not reiterate the beginning of the other. However, sometimes one film is more deserving of accolades. The two films in question are both “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “The Hangover Part II.” One follows the simple rules of sequels where it’s simply more of the same while the other attempts to add deeper characterization and expands upon its own universe. It should come as no surprise that the lesser of the two sequels would fall upon the shoulders of “The Hangover Part II.”

Before the original “Hangover” was even released this sequel was greenlit. Warner Bros. knew they had a surefire hit on their hands and they were right. Only costing $35 million to make, “The Hangover” went on to gross $277 mil domestically with an astounding $467 mil worldwide. A hit? You betcha! Now what to do with a sequel. Questions arose when the trailer was released as it seemed virtually identical to the original. Did director Todd Phillips, with long-time screenwriting partner Scot Armstrong and new addition Craig Mazin, simply remake the original film using Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s original screenplay as a literal template and just set the film in a new locale? That’s exactly what they did.

But as the old adage may say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Well you could at least attempt to try something, anything, new. It’s a good thing this movie is so damn funny. The main cast of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zack Galifianakis - along with supporting players in the likes of Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor, and Bryan Callen - have all returned. This time we get a few new additions with Stu’s (Helms) fiancée Lauren (Jamie Chung) and her brother Teddy (Mason Lee). That about sums everything up and, if you’ve seen the first one, that’s all you need to know about the plot in this one. They are literally identical. This time its Stu getting married and they wake up in Bangkok; hilarity ensues… at least for the most part. What you see is what you get and, like I said before, it’s a damn good thing the cast is having fun because this one is raunchier, grosser, and even more mean spirited.

Try as Phillips may, there’s absolutely nothing new to see here. Oh sure, there’s been lots of supposed controversy over a much publicized cameo appearance. It was originally supposed to have been played by Mel Gibson and has since gone on to be covered by Nick Cassavetes. I’m not exactly sure how this counts as a cameo anymore when absolutely no one in the target audience will even know who he is.

The only thing that comes close to a real cameo is Paul Giamatti playing a seedy character named Kingsley who’s in need of bank account numbers and access codes that Mr. Chow (Jeong) has stashed in the vest of a drug running, cigarette smoking monkey. This subplot is so extraneous it defeats the purpose of even being in the film. Every scene is supposed to contain some kind of clue as to what happened during the group’s blackout, but not one thing here pertains to anything else. It’s a huge ten minute gap that could have so easily been excised for whatever is going to wind up on the unrated Blu-ray release anyway.

In the end, as I said before, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Warner Bros. knows they have a good thing going here. The cast is fully engaging and give it their all in spite of pretty much simply remaking the original in a new city. But while the first one contained so much freshness, here it comes off as repetitive. Especially if you just recently rewatched the original as I did last week. However, everything works to make for a crowd pleasing raucous time at the movies.

It’s just a shame that this will probably outgross the far superior “Bridesmaids” Bridesmaids in its opening weekend when all it really does is just outgross the movie if you get what I mean. There’s already been talk of interest in making a third to close everything as a trilogy as the word continually gets thrown around in Hollywood like it does these days. If they don’t come up with something better than this next time, it’ll be a good thing they only thought about taking it that far.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Movie Review: "Kung Fu Panda 2"

“2” times better than the original!

***** out of 5
Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.
90 minutes
DreamWorks Animation

Article first published as Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 on Blogcritics.

When it comes to sequels, I think it’s usually fair to assume that while live-action films tend to suffer, it’s the world of computer-animation where they thrive. Hand drawn animation sequels on the other hand generally get thrown to the shelves of direct-to-video-land where they rightfully belong. Just thinking about how many adventures they’ve squeezed out of Little Foot & Co. is beyond comprehension. However, there are also now four “Shrek” flicks and a fourth “Ice Age” headed our way in 2012. Now with “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it looks like DreamWorks has realized (as they did in “Shrek 2”) that Pixar isn’t the only one who can make a successful sequel.

The first rule to making a great sequel is about carrying on the story while also bringing forth deeper characterization. It also doesn’t hurt to aim to outdo the original but sometimes that results more in cinematic travesty than anything. Thankfully, director Jennifer Yuh takes over the reigns and shows that she’s more than up to the task of following up the fantastic original. Surprisingly, returning screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, also have brought themselves up to the sequel challenge. I’m sure it also didn’t hurt when DreamWorks decided to bring in Charlie Kaufman and Guillermo del Toro to do some script polishing (with del Toro added as an executive producer). While the film stays true to its roots through Aibel and Berger, Kaufman and del Toro’s fingerprints are all over this as well.

In “Kung Fu Panda 2,” we catch up with Po (voiced by Jack Black), Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and the Furious Five: Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen), and Crane (voiced by David Cross), in the Valley of Peace. But before the new plot is set into motion we get a gorgeously shadow play-animated prologue involving the creation of fireworks amongst Lord Shen’s (voiced by Gary Oldman) peacocks. Shen goes on a rampage wiping out the panda civilization and thus the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) determines a prophecy that Shen will be brought down by a black and white warrior and then Shen is banished from his parents’ kingdom.

Shen now sets out to develop a weapon so powerful it can stop kung fu forever and Shifu sends out Po and the Furious Five to stop a band of wolves who are stealing all the metal from the Valley of Peace. Turns out that Shen has figured out how to use black powder and is now producing canons aiming for world domination. Meanwhile, every time Po gets a flash of a certain symbol he becomes victim to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and starts having flashbacks. To anyone who’s ever seen a movie before it should be obvious as to what’s going on here as the flashbacks pertain to classically animated sequences involving Po as a baby and two characters that just may be his true parents. Yes, Po is adopted, as Mr. Ping (James Hong) tearfully finally explains to Po in a hilarious flashback sequence all his own. Now, Po must stop Shen and find inner peace, along with who he really is, before the Valley is destroyed and eventually, the world!

One of the things that the filmmakers immediately get right (as they did in the first one) is in making “Kung Fu Panda 2” first and foremost, a true kung fu film. The fight sequences here are true stand outs and bare multiple viewings. They are some of the best choreographed and beautifully animated action sequences outside of a Yuen Woo Ping live-action film. And the 3-D is finally used to bring out all the stops and looks surprisingly pretty fantastic. I’m still holding on to the belief that the only films that benefit at all from the use of a third dimension are computer animated films, but then it also gets wasted on the likes of such things as “Hoodwinked Too.” The second in keeping with the long standard tradition that all animated family films be tear jerking comedies.

And finally, that they still manage to keep things from getting too dark as to lose their target audience. Bear in mind that as was the original, this is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence. Characters get hurt and bad guys can die; even if hilariously in a few instances. But in that this is animated, the proceedings never become too overbearing that it would ever frighten the younger audience. Peril is a most welcome return to the realm of family films as it used to be a major staple and has gotten lost as we proceed with each generation of filmgoers becoming even more sheltered pansies than the last.

Just when I thought “Rango” had this year’s Best Animated Feature all wrapped up, now here comes something even bigger and better. While “Rango” is still undoubtedly one of the best films of the year so far, it looks like Memorial weekend 2011 sets things back on track after the dismal hiccup that was last week’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Here’s hoping that audiences will eat up another helping of Po and crew as so far this is the most deserving out of this year’s summer movies. Three years ago, the original “Kung Fu Panda” went on to gross $631 million worldwide ($215 mil domestically) and honestly, “2” deserves to make twice that much.

Photos courtesy DreamWorks Animation

Friday, May 20, 2011

Movie Review: "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

To yarr or not to yarr. More like yawn. The first sleep inducing summer flick is about to set sail.

** ½ out 5
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.
137 minutes
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides on Blogcritics.

Oh the law of diminishing returns how I loathe thee. This year sees so many sequels that it sort of makes your head spin if you think about it too hard. I’m bound and determined to approach each one with their own grain of salt, but some should deserve more credit walking in than others. Or so you’d think. Being predisposed to enjoy the likes of ”Scream 4” and ”Fast Five” were a given. But now, just when you thought it was safe for a fourth adventure of the ”Jester of Tortuga” comes “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

It’s been four years since Captain Jack Sparrow last graced the silver screen and Gore Verbinski was apparently the only one smart enough to move on to better things. As Johnny Depp returns to one of his most signature roles, screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have also returned. At least this time the two have taken the “suggestion” of basing “On Stranger Tides” upon the 1987 novel by Tim Powers. While they may know the Sparrow character rather well and Depp can officially play the part in his sleep, Disney has brought along a new director in Rob Marshall. Maybe the studio is still living in their heydays of 2002 when Marshall and company took home six Academy Awards including Best Picture for “Chicago,” but evidence suggests they also probably missed his last two films (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Nine”).

In “Pirates 4,” we begin in Cadiz, Spain; a fishing crew has netted a man bearing evidence of the long lost ship of Ponce de León. Next we’re shuttled away to London, England where returning cast mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is standing trial under scrutiny of being Jack Sparrow. Sparrow plops down incognito as presiding judge sentencing Gibbs to a life of imprisonment. Of course Sparrow has set everything up to help Gibbs escape. After being recaptured and taken before King George (Richard Griffiths at his fattest). Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) makes his existence to the plot known and a slick and polished “harrowing” street chase ensues. (Here’s where we find the most random cameo in years from Dame Judi Dench.)

After narrowly escaping certain death by the likes of Sparrow’s dear daddy, Captain Teague (Keith Richards), Jack investigates a doppelganger scouring for recruits. A dual proceeds and ends with finding out that Angelica (Penélope Cruz) has been manning Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) ship. Upon said ship we learn that Angelica may or may not be Blackbeard’s daughter but that doesn’t stop Jack from trying to take over with a case of mutiny when he doesn’t believe it’s really even Blackbeard’s ship or that he’s even aboard. More swords clang clang and we learn that Blackbeard really is on board and now everyone sets sail in search for the Fountain of Youth. Also along the way, they must capture a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) whom they need one tear from for whatever reason is explained. Meanwhile the swashbuckling continues scene after scene with the requisite explosions and one-liners along the way.

Just because there’s some new additions to the plot as in a few zombies, mermaids and voodoo dolls, doesn’t mean anything else has changed. Jack goes about his misadventures through jungles and across tree tops with some of the silliest looking CGI this side of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” when he’s not fulfilling plodding filler involving attempts to seduce Angelica. Davey Jones’ Locker is a far better place for the series than up on the big screen. Usually these films tend to spend their runtime trying to outdo each successive action sequence with the next but I suppose the only way to phrase things here is with Marshall trying to undo everything. The action gets progressively more boring as it goes along and become simpler with just a few sword fights once it gets past the big mermaid sequence. The 3-D only helps to hinder everything giving the whole film a strange murky look.

And if you thought the last two “Pirates” outings were exasperating; nothing in “Stranger Tides” attempts to change that. While the plot may be the most straightforward since “Curse of the Black Pearl,” that doesn’t mean it’s any more exciting. Marshall brings absolutely no more razzle dazzle to the proceedings than Verbinski brought cohesion to “At World’s End.” All I can really do now is sum things up that this installment is strictly for die hards. But even with that in mind, no matter how many people try to tell you to just stay home and revisit the original, moviegoers are still going to come out in hordes. There’s no stopping Disney’s cash cow and they’ll continue to beat their dead horse till every last penny is squeezed from your pocketbook.

Photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Movie Review: "Bridesmaids"

Raise a glass and toast to the funniest movie of the year!

***** out of 5
Rated R for some strong sexuality, and language throughout.
125 minutes
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Bridesmaids on Blogcritics.

When’s the last time you laughed so hard in a movie your face hurt? Tears streaming, clutching your sides, panting for minutes afterward. It can happen. It may be few and far between lately, but just when you thought we’d seen it all from the Apatow Productions canon comes a film that does this for the first time since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” I won’t tell you when it happens, but just be sure to prepare yourself when you buy your golden ticket to see this year’s hands down funniest film, “Bridesmaids.”

While producer Judd Apatow may be better known, director Paul Feig has had his hand in some very funny productions as well. Mostly working in the TV realm, his feature films have been fleeting with only three before this (“Life Sold Separately,” “I Am David,” “Unaccompanied Minors”) and of those three you may have only heard of one. But now Feig finally stakes his claim on the big screen. Bringing with him a “stone-cold pack of weirdos” of leading ladies comes the funniest (and surprisingly heartfelt) comedy we’re bound to see in 2011.

Special thanks has to go to the film’s First Lady, Kristen Wiig. Making her name in TV as well, she’s managed to bring us some of “Saturday Night Live’s” most memorable and outrageous characters seen on that show in some time. Mostly kept in the background stealing scenes from the likes of everyone from Jason Segel to Katherine Heigl (admittedly not hard on this one), to John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell. And don’t be so quick to pass this off as another Lorne Michaels offering. This is a shining example of the hilariously heartfelt that Apatow Productions has been offering since Feig’s own “Freaks and Geeks” first aired all the way back in 1999.

In “Bridesmaids,” Wiig plays Annie who lives with British siblings Brynn and Gil (Rebel Wilson, Matt Lucas) and works at a jewelry store owned by Don (Michael Hitchcock) as a favor to her mother (Jill Clayburgh) who sponsors him at AA. She’s also recouping from the failed opening of a bakery with her ex-boyfriend. Now Annie tortures herself through repeated one night stands with Ted (Jon Hamm) who always just wants to ask her leave feeling like a dick one minute then picking her up stranded on the road proclaiming, “Hey, fuck buddy,” the next.

Annie’s best friend since childhood Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has just gotten engaged and asks Annie to be her maid of honor. While Annie may not live for the finer things in life, Lillian has moved on and is about to marry the wealthy Dougie (Tim Heidecker, who interestingly has maybe two lines in the whole movie). At the world’s most extravagant engagement party we meet the rest of the wedding party and our pre-mentioned “pack of weirdos.” There’s Lillian’s resentfully married with children cousin Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), newlywed Becca (Ellie Kemper from “The Office”), and Dougie’s sister Megan (Melissa McCarthy), a female Gary Busey spinoff who talks like The Narrator in “Fight Club.”

Finally, there’s Lillian’s seemingly new best friend Helen (Rose Byrne) who’s married to Dougie’s boss and the two have become very close over the past eight months. Immediately it becomes a competition vying for Lillian’s affections between Helen and Annie with one being able to afford her the finer things in a friendship while the other brings a lifetime of companionship and memories. Annie won’t budge from her position that Lillian will always be the friend she grew up with while Helen continues to fight her tooth and nail that people grow up, change and move on with their lives. Hilarity swiftly ensues and to say anything more about what that entails would be a huge disservice. What Wiig and her co-writer Annie Mumolo (hilariously playing Nervous Woman on Plane) have in store for you is true comedy gold.

For a comedy like this to work, it’s a good thing Feig knows the first rule to such outlandish set pieces. Any time something happens that’s so funny you’re sure the audience will still be laughing five minutes after it’s happened you have to have a tiny bit of padding. While these scenes themselves feature some hilarious bits themselves, Feig, Wiig, and Mumolo know that you have to allow time for the audience to catch their breath. The Farrelly Brothers used to know this back when they made “There’s Something About Mary,” Apatow has always known this, and thankfully everyone here knows it. It’s also nice to see the rom-com elements actually work for a change. There’s surprising chemistry between Wiig and local law enforcement Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), who’s nothing but encouraging about both their relationship and Annie getting back into the baking business.

While some of the film plays out like small vignettes, everything slowly snowballs into outright hysterics but in the sense that they should be, meaning that the audience is dying laughing. Every single cast member brings their A-game and even one of the funniest jokes gets saved for the end making sure to leave a lasting impression. Just when it looked like chick flicks had been finally run into the ground last week by “Something Borrowed” (the “Little Fockers” of romantic-comedies) comes “Bridesmaids” to set the bar (for comedies in general as well here) right back where it belongs.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Friday, May 6, 2011

Movie Review: "Something Borrowed"

For the love of all that's holy please go see "Thor" and not this reprehensible piece of "filmmaking."

1 star for Krasinski
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, and some drug material.
113 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Something Borrowed on Blogcritics.

I hate it when some films are just so deplorable they don’t even necessarily deserve a review. Now let me just say this up front, in no way do I hate the chick flick genre as most would assume. I mostly just hate what it has become. Every film is exactly the same and in some ways that’s completely acceptable. What’s never acceptable is a film trying to be a warm and fuzzy feel good romp filled to the brim with absolutely loathsome, despicable, scandalous characters that we’re expected to “sympathize” with. Falling directly off the tree that was her last failed romcom – “Bride Wars” – comes Kate Hudson yet again in “Something Borrowed.”

Director Luke Greenfield should be absolutely ashamed of himself for having directed such a reprehensible piece of garbage. Screenwriter Jennie Snyder could also be to blame but surely all of this is a direct result of the source material, Emily Griffin’s novel of the same name. Why anyone would want to spend any amount of time with the trio of so-called friends gathered in this one film is beyond me. Detestable is another word I failed to mention in the first paragraph so I’m throwing it in as well. After bringing the surprise heart and hilarity that abounded throughout “The Girl Next Door” hopes were pretty high for Greenfield’s next project but now he’s somehow managed to make a film that’s even harder to sit through than his debut film, Rob Schneider’s “The Animal.” Yup, it’s seriously that bad.

“Something Borrowed” begins with a not-so-surprise party for Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) by her since-childhood BFF Darcy (Hudson). Darcy makes a drunken speech/presentation stealing the spotlight from Rachel so she can make sure that Rachel, and anyone unfortunate enough to have bought a ticket, knows just how much she loves her dearest friend. This is also to inform her fiancée Dex (Colin Egglesfield) that her first love will always be Rachel.

After Dex and Darcy head home after the party, Dex returns to look for Darcy’s $2000 purse that she’s left behind. Dex offers to take Rachel out for an after-party at their favorite bar hangout where she admits to having a crush on him all throughout their years together in law school. Awkwardness abounds until Dex makes his move in the back of their shared cab and just wouldn’t you know it, he feels the same way and they both wake up next to each other after a night of dot dot dot. It’s here we are subjected to more awkward flashbacks involving where Rachel and Dex went wrong because neither of them made a move way back when resulting in Rachel accidentally setting up Dex and Darcy.

Now Rachel is feeling guilty for sleeping with her best friend’s fiancée but maybe not quite as much after they all spend a weekend in the Hamptons together. Rachel can’t stand hearing Dex and Darcy having sex upstairs and seeing them walking the beach together so she decides to go home early. Of course Dex offers to give her a ride back to the shuttle where he admits that he wasn’t that drunk that night and that he might feel the same way. Eventually they decide to spend the 4th of July together to figure out what’s going on, both making up excuses to get away from Darcy. Meanwhile Rachel accidentally helps Darcy write her wedding vows to Dex consisting of course of how Rachel feels about him.

Meanwhile, Rachel starts making up lies about having “affairs” with both Dex’s friend Marcus (Steve Howey) and her own best guy friend Ethan (John Krasinski). Oh, if only this movie had somehow been about Ethan. Krasinski may be best known for play Jim Halpert on “The Office” but in this film he’s literally the only actor who knows how to deliver a line and feels completely out of place. The simple reason being a plain thing called sympathy, to be exact. Ethan is so likable and genuine and knows exactly what to say and when to say it that it’s almost as if his character is from a totally separate film. If you ever have to sit through this you’ll understand completely.

There’s no real use explaining things further. Everyone begins sleeping around with someone else while feeling wishy washy about it. Let alone the fact that during the 4th of July weekend, Dex and Rachel run into and have lunch with his parents where his father (Geoff Pierson) sternly explains to him that what someone may want, isn’t always what’s right. So I guess that means the moral of this scene is that you may want to be happy (because that’s what Dex knows he’ll be with Rachel) but that doesn’t mean you should. But I just can’t shake the fact that his father’s reasoning is never ever explained as to why Dex absolutely must marry Darcy.

Is her family rich? Are they famous? Nothing is explained thus negating any reason why his father would feel this way. Thus leaving the audience scratching their head as to why Dex can’t stop being a cheating douche, call off the wedding and him and Rachel can live happily ever after. Let’s face it; anyone with a pulse knows that’s exactly where the film is heading anyway. Lest we be saved having to sit through another 40 minutes of screentime of miscommunication and not even any wackiness ensuing. But alas, then there wouldn’t be a nearly two hour movie to drudge through.

In the end, the whole thing feels like a mean-spirited cousin to one of the greatest romcoms: “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Now there’s a film that knew how everything should be wrapped up by the end and was filled to the brim with likable characters even while Julia Roberts was trying to steal her best friend away from his fiancé. My advice would be to stay home and rewatch that film instead. Because if you’ve ever wondered why all romcoms end with the two main characters realizing they’re in love with each other instead of at the beginning, now we’ve finally learned our lesson.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Movie Review: "Thor"

“Thor” has arrived and gives “Captain America” and “X-Men: First Class” an early run for their money.

***** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action.
114 minutes
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Thor on Blogcritics.

During the early 2000s it seemed like superhero movies were all the craze… okay, they were. But over the last few years they’ve suddenly become fewer and farther between. Maybe it’s because by the end of the gluttonous era it seemed to be getting a little long-winded. While I might not completely agree with that, the last few were not as favored by the hardcore geeks as they were by me. “Spider-man 3” is nowhere near the monstrosity as others may claim; “The Incredible Hulk” was not the financial one-upmanship that Marvel was hoping for after Ang Lee’s “Hulk;” and even “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” wasn’t the total disaster it’s been accused of being.

While “X-Men: The Last Stand” is far from a great film, it’s still admittedly better than either of the two “Fantastic Four” films and we shall never forget the plague of “Ghost Rider,” “Catwoman,” and “Elektra,” just because Christopher Nolan blessed us with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” And maybe Kenneth Branagh may not have been the first person who springs to mind in the director’s chair of a Marvel Comics Norse God of thunder based summer action flick. But we must remember that before he was tasked with “Thor,” he also brought us no less than five Shakespearean adaptations and has shown his hand at everything from period dramas to murder mysteries along the way. Final result – mission accomplished.

In bringing “Thor” to the big screen, I’m sure it was tasked by the credited writers (Ashley Miller, Zach Stentz, and Don Payne) to come up with something believable for modern audiences. Most people who buy a ticket probably won’t even have much background with the “Thor” character (I know I don’t) aside from knowing it’s the latest chapter in the ever-expanding universe of crossover films leading up to the big one next year – “The Avengers.” While some may have complained about “Iron Man 2” playing like just another piece of that puzzle, it definitely stood on its own and was every bit the sequel to better the original than was given credit. This summer also sees the release of “Captain America: The First Avenger;” which with the team’s inclusion of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) makes no sense whatsoever, but who’s counting? Obviously not Marvel’s marketing department.

With an opening scene featuring Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) checking out weather disturbances in New Mexico, they literally crash their car into Thor in a scene right out of “Twister.” We then cut to a prologue from Asgard, featuring the voiceover of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) telling his two sons, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the age-old drama about the evil Frost Giants of Jotunheim who’s leader Laufey (Colm Feore), is in a truce with Odin ever since he managed to seize their Casket of Ancient Winters (aka source of power).

When a trio of Frost Giants enters Asgard to take back their Casket, Thor, along with his trusty “sidekicks” the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano); and childhood friend Sif (Jaimie Alexander), wind up threatening to break his father’s truce with the Frost Giants from venturing to Jotunheim to find out how they managed to slip into Asgard undetected. After a spectacular battle sequence, Thor is renounced of his godliness due to his arrogance and cast down to Earth along with his hammer Mjolnir of which is no longer of his use after Odin casts a spell upon it allowing only someone of worth to be able to wield its power from hereon.

Cutting back to Earth, we catch up with Jane, Darcy, and Erik as they whisk Thor away to the hospital and then back to their homebase of sorts. Sooner than later, Thor is of course taken into custody by S.H.I.E.L.D. through the order of agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. has found Thor’s hammer and built a small city of scientific discovery around it. To keep things simple, Thor discovers he no longer wields his hammer’s power, Erik begins to believe Thor really may be the God of thunder, and Jane begins to fall in love with the man who smashes his coffee mug demanding another after he discovers he likes it. There’s also subplots involving double-crosses and the Frost Giants potentially wreaking havoc upon Asgard after Odin falls into Odinsleep. A word of advice would be to steer clear of the film’s wiki page to keep anything under further wraps before viewing dear reader, you’ve been warned.

Branagh and his writers keep things zooming merrily along for one of the fastest 114 minutes so far this year. The whole film features an epic scope worthy of the best Shakespearean tragedies. And while some may balk at his overuse of slant shots, here’s a film where they’re far more fitting in keeping things looking as epic as they deserve as opposed to a lack of visual ideas ala John Patrick Shanley’s misuse in “Doubt.” The converted 3-D is also less burdensome than most of what’s been offered, but unless you see it in IMAX 3-D (which I unfortunately did not), it ultimately adds little unless there’s an action scene happening. Thankfully, however, there’s many.

Meanwhile, Branagh keeps things familiar for himself by bringing in composer Patrick Doyle who’s also worked with Branagh before on every single film he’s directed. Something you rarely see outside of say, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, but a good idea nonetheless as the score is all too fitting. The cast brings a level of groundedness and surprising hilarity keeping in tone fittingly with the “Iron Mans,” along with Branagh managing to keep the suspension of disbelief from getting smashed to oblivion. I’m sure this is one of the key elements that have managed to keep “Thor” in development hell for so long before. And finally, as much as I may have loved last week’s early summer entry “Fast Five,” “Thor” officially blasts the summer movie season into the stratosphere and keeps all upcoming superhero entries on their toes. And also be sure to stick through the end credits for the expected pay-off scene.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Movie Preview: May 2011

Summer's off to a great start before it gets kicked up a notch in July.

Article first published as Movie Preview: May 2011 on Blogcritics.

So April wound up being a little more lackluster (at least in boxoffice form) than it originally appeared on paper, right? Now the summer movie season has finally arrived with “Fast Five” blowing all expectations out of the water, with an opening weekend more than doubling “Rio.” Shall we venture forth and see what else lies afoot?

May 6th

Two big pieces of counter-programming swing our way this weekend. First there’s another chick-flick rearing its ugly head in the form of Luke Greenfield’s “Something Borrowed,” an adaptation of a novel by Emily Giffin. Then there’s another “little” film by the name of “Thor.” Kenneth Branagh brings the mythical Norse God to the big screen and soon enough you’ll find out just how spectacular it really is. The only other thing opening is something called “Jumping the Broom” giving us no less than three wedding-themed films this month. Must be something in the air? Not that I would know, I got married last October.

May 13th

Another weekend, another wedding flick, but not just any when it comes to “Bridesmaids.” Kristen Wiig heads an all-star comedic cast of feminine proportions with Maya Rudolph, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy and Wendi McLendon-Covey as her backups. Wiig co-wrote the screenplay and Paul Feig takes the reigns as director with Judd Apatow producing. Should give the requisite smackdown to both of the other so-called rom/coms this month and show them just how much chick flicks don’t have to suck. On the flip side comes the horrid looking 3-D horror/action flick “Priest,” based on the graphic novel series by Min-Woo Hyung. The trailer makes this look like what the “Blade” series would have been had Paul W.S. Anderson had anything to do with it. Not even Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, or Maggie Q can squeeze any interest out of this one. Don’t be surprised if it isn’t screened for press.

May 20th

Only one major opening here, and it’s probably in all other films’ best interests. When something with the title “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is sailing into theaters, you best steer clear. Can’t really blame anything on this one, I’d never open a movie against it either. Johnny Depp returns as our beloved Jack Sparrow with pretty much an entire new cast. Something that wrings even more truth out of a quip from “Modern Family” when Claire and Phil the Dunphy proclaim their love for sequels and how eventually you get a whole new cast. Well, apparently new director Rob Marshall (Best Picture winner “Chicago”) thought this wasn’t a bad idea and it looks like only Depp and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa are back bringing along the new additions of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Gemma Ward, Judi Dench and Keith Richards on their search for the Fountain of Youth. So far this looks more in tune with the original and not anywhere near the over-blown bombast of the third but we’ll just have to see. Also, there’s “Midnight in Paris,” a new Woody Allen flick getting a limited release with an all-star cast getting paid to vacation in Paris including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, Kathy Bates and “Thor’s” own Loki, Tom Hiddleston.

May 27th

The big Memorial Day weekend sees yet another case of something for everyone as two huge sequels come beckoning. For the kiddie set there’s the return of Po in “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Originally titled “Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom” (a longer title for sure but still hilarious all at the same time), all of the advertising makes this look like a worthy successor to the original and I can only hope so. The original was hilarious and charming while staying tried and true to its kung fu film roots. Here’s hoping new director Jennifer Yuh knows a thing or two about bringing the funny while staging some spectacular action set pieces.

Finally, there’s the one most will have been waiting for; the sequel that was greenlit before the first film was even released. “The Hangover Part II” takes the sequel title high road and heads the Wolfpack for a debaucherous night in Bangkok. If there’s anywhere else these guys can land themselves that can best Las Vegas and Bangkok the stakes have been raised if they ever think of continuing on to a third outing. At least this thing wasn’t rushed out last year. Two years in the making seems reasonable enough to come up with hopefully at least a few fresh ideas? Even if there’s been a tiny bit of production issues mainly involving everything from an axed Mel Gibson cameo, reshoots, and a disgruntled audience taken aback by its hilarious trailer premiere that got itself pulled after complaints that it was inappropriately attached to “Source Code.”

Well that’s it for May. While there’s not a whole ton of openings that could be considered a good thing for all the films involved. Plenty of good stuff too. Only two rotten-looking apples in the bunch of which most probably won’t see anyway (cough “Something Borrowed”/”Jumping the Broom” cough). So you shouldn’t have to scratch your head too much in deciding what to spend your hard-earned cash on, right? I suspect box office receipts are about to go through the roof if “Fast Five’s” opening weekend is any indicator, as all of May looks better than that one film. So sit down and buckle up, it’s going to be a fun month!

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures