Monday, January 31, 2011

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "These Amazing Shadows"

Films worth preserving get a light shone on them in this Sundance Doc Premiere.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: These Amazing Shadows on Blogcritics.

The power of preservation should propel you… or at least in the case of film. Did you know that 80% of the silent film era is gone? Eradicated from history thanks to either outright neglect and/or deterioration. I did not know this, and I am really not too surprised, but there’s a lot of things I learned from watching the Sundance documentary, “These Amazing Shadows.” Hitting all the points on the head for being educational and informational as well as entertaining, this film basically outlines why I watch such a broad spectrum of film.

As I mentioned before, documentaries are far from my favorite genre. As my wife pointed out, I seem to be far more interested when they have anything to do with film. She is correct. I am in no way against documentaries; I just want to watch most films for escapism from the real world which is all documentaries want to show you. Counterproductive by my standards is all.

The National Film Preservation Act of 1988 was established by the Board to select 25 films every year for preservation in the Library of Congress. These films have to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.” To be considered for inclusion each film must be at least ten years old. Ranging everywhere from shorts to features to music videos and all across the wide spectrum from Hollywood classics to the orphaned film there are also newsreels, silent films, experimental films, serials, documentaries, independent films and even television movies. From the oldest film selected, “Newark Athlete” (1891) to the most recent, “Fargo” (1996), I can’t help but want to try to seek out and see the films on this list of which I have not yet seen.

Whether directors Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton are pointing out the shame that “2001: A Space Odyssey” was not even nominated for Best Picture or showing us a “hockey puck” (a film reel so neglected and deteriorated that it is literally a brick of film), the film also becomes rather moving as the film “Topaz” (shot illegally, documenting life at the Topaz War Relocation Center in my own backyard of Delta, Utah during World War II), which was never meant to be a home movie in its inception, has now moved on to become so much more than just a documentary at the same time. I’m sure in time this film will also be selected into the Registry and rightly so as it tells us why it’s so important to preserve these treasures and maybe if we’ve gotten clumsy over the next ten years can remind us once again.

“These Amazing Shadows” features interviews ranging from members of the Preservation Board to directors and writers (Rob Reiner, John Waters, Christopher Nolan, Amy Heckerling), actors and actresses and even film critics (Zooey Deschanel, Leonard Maltin), there’s no stone left unturned as to why film preservation has become such a necessity. These films truly reflect the times or milestones of which they were created. I won’t be surprised at all if “The Social Network” (while I feel is undeserving of its probably Best Picture win) is deserving of inclusion upon the list as the film is a genuine snapshot of a generation that cannot be ignored as are the rest of the films showcased here – particularly the restored version of 1933’s “Baby Face” along with 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation.” So now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a NetFlix queue to start updating.

Photos courtesy Gravitas Docufilms

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "Uncle Kent"

The worst film I've seen at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival so far.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: Uncle Kent on Blogcritics.

As I already mentioned in my review for “On the Ice,” not everything is made of wine and roses at the annual Sundance Film Festival. While it is nice to report back about all the good that happens in theaters up in frosty Park City, UT, one should also take it upon themselves to make sure they forewarn about the things that people should avoid. While the film may not find distribution anyway, if you happen upon the film “Uncle Kent” with some blurb about being featured at Sundance, move along folks, there’s nothing to see here. IFC Films has picked up distribution duties as they are surely the only ones who ever would.

Kent Osborne (playing “himself”) is a kid’s show cartoonist looking for love or something in all the wrong places. He spends his days sitting around working, smoking pot, searching for hip reading glasses, complaining about how he’s too old to date at 40 years old (i.e. he’s too selfish to commit) and playing Chatroulette chatting with either families he draws or guys masturbating on camera for no reason other than to possibly fulfill director Joe Swanberg’s own sense of shock and awe. When Kate (Jennifer Prediger) comes to stay with him for the weekend he thinks he’s finally hit the jackpot but she immediately shuns his “advances.” Eventually the two head straight into a threeway with a bi-curious girl they find on Craigslist (Josephine Decker) only to wind up putting even more strains on their newfound friendship.

If you think the characters here are wishy washy, check out the directing. While the actors are all fully capable and ultimately likeable, it’s the characters that get in the way. I’m not one to judge, but if this is how adult cartoonist spend their weekends, the film leaves a bad aftertaste to think about what goes on behind the scenes of your favorite “Spongebob Squarepants” episode (Osborne also happens to be a writer for that beloved kids show). One joke involving Kent’s reading glasses, the threeway and a camera really works and the whole film attempts to pretend that it’s been leading up to the big “punch line” in the last scene which really just makes you shrug and think, “that’s it?”

What Swanberg (along with Osborne as co-writer) has essentially made is a smug non-commentative version of everything that’s wrong with some Sundance films. As my friend, critic Jeff Vice said, “It’s the kind of movie that makes people hate Sundance movies.” And he’s completely right. While the Duplass Brothers keep chugging along finally breaking into the mainstream while keeping their indie cred intact, at least they’re giving the recent “mumble core” scene a good name, its people like those involved with “Uncle Kent” that keep audiences away and make the everyday movie-goers continue to call Sundance movies artsy-fartsy… fartsy indeed.

Photos courtesy IFC Films

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "Kaboom"

A head trip in its own right if you can take it, otherwise completely enjoyable and highly recommended.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: Kaboom on Blogcritics.

While I may not have seen Gregg Araki’s previous films, I am aware of them. I have seen “Smiley Face” and it is definitely one of the better “pot head” movies. All of his films seem to be on drugs themselves while also featuring either wild violence or lots of gay and hetero sex. I guess maybe this is why he has now had five films play the Sundance Film Festival.

After “The Living End,” “Splendor,” “Mysterious Skin,” the already mentioned “Smiley Face” and now with “Kaboom,” the content seems to be made up of exactly what lots of art house film goers are looking for. Something another film at this year’s festival managed to do the complete opposite of (“Uncle Kent”). While none of these would be considered even close to mainstream, Araki seems to have a cult following and as such, it was of no surprise to see John Waters thanked during the closing credits.

While being described as “A sci-fi story centered on the sexual awakening of a group of college students” on its IMDB page, the sci-fi elements are actually kept to a minimum. However, the sexual awakening on the other hand is out in full force. Smith (Thomas Dekker) lives in a dorm and doesn’t consider himself to be heterosexual, homosexual or even bisexual. As my wife pointed out, he definitely seems to be more trisexual as in he’ll try sleeping with anyone.

Smith crushes on his roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) when not meandering around campus or eating in cafés with his sarcastic best friend Stella (Haley Bennett). This is of course when he’s not taking drugs at a party, having bad trips involving a Red-Haired Girl (Nicole LaLiberte) getting stabbed in the head by animal mask wearing men or having orgasmic sex with London (Juno Temple) and eventually birthday threeways with her and Thor’s best friend Rex (Andy Fischer-Price).

Meanwhile, Smith is having weird dreams involving people he’s never met (but eventually does of course) and a red dumpster. He also keeps receiving weird notes consisting of things like, “You Are the Chosen Son.” Smith’s mother (Kelly Lynch) also seems to be keeping secrets from him about his “dead” father and London finds it coincidental that her father abandoned her as a child because he was an “alcoholic.” If everything seems too coincidental of course it’s not. Everything leads up to a crazy showdown between the animal mask wearing kidnappers and witches who melt when sprayed with water. Welcome to the wacky, kaleidoscopic world of “Kaboom,” oh what a world.

Araki seems to be channeling early Kevin Smith and brings a fun sense of style while showing that his tongue is placed firmly in cheek. It’s only when the film gets to the exposition that things start to go awry. Suddenly the film seems to be in hyperdrive to a conclusion that doesn’t make anymore sense than anything else that’s gone on before, but for what it’s worth, the titillatingly porno-structured storytelling and laugh out loud dialogue will keep you enthralled if you’re not too close minded. This is definitely a film you’ll be more comfortable watching next to your wife than say, a co-worker.

A final screening for “Kaboom” will take place Saturday at 9:30 p.m. at the Holiday Village Cinema II in Park City.

Photos courtesy IFC Films

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "On the Ice"

The film leaves you colder than a night on the ice without a parka.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: On the Ice on Blogcritics.

As a famous theme song once said, “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.” This very much holds true when it comes to the annual Sundance Film Festival as it does with everything else. While the last four films I’ve reviewed (“Like Crazy,” “My Idiot Brother,” “The Music Never Stopped” and “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel”) were all pretty topnotch, sadly, it isn’t always so.

Case in point: the Alaskan Iñupiaq thriller, “On the Ice.” On the surface it sounds like a great crime study with a new outlook on the genre by showing how things work in that world. However, sometimes authenticity of one aspect of a film can get in the way of another. This time it happens to be the acting that gets in the way. While using English and native languages throughout the story, I have a feeling that some of the actors could have boosted from getting to use more of their native tongue. Let alone the fact that everyone seems to be first time actors doesn’t help and should have given some leeway. But that could only have been afforded given that the characters were sympathetic to begin with.

Qalli (Josiah Patkotak) and Aivaaq (Frank Qutuq Irelan) are obviously close friends. They rap together, party together, go hunting together and eventually murder together. During a hunting trip gone awry between Aivaaq and another friend, James (John Miller), Qalli comes across the two squabbling and he rushed to Aivaaq’s aid tackling James and accidentally spearing him in the neck with Aivaaq’s knife. The two decide to dump the body into a crack in the ice but its Qalli who winds up being the bad guy here as he lets Aivaaq believe it was him who killed James and then Qalli also goes after his long-time unrequited love interest Michelle (Adamina Kerr) who just happens to be James’ now ex-girlfriend. With Qalli’s suspicious father, Egasak (Teddy Kyle Smith), snooping around town and at home, it’s only a matter of time before the unsurprising dénouement comes rearing its head.

There’s nothing directly wrong with the technical aspects of “On the Ice” so much as with the performances. Even the pacing is kept methodical and there are some surprisingly clever plot points but at any given moment all scenes with potential tension are killed quicker than an injured nayiq by his inept cast. Director/screenwriter Andrew Okpeaha Maclean has some great writing/directing chops when all is said and done, especially for managing to flesh out his original short film (“Sikumi”) and the cinematography by Lol Crawley is beautifully impressive, but hopefully next time Maclean can find a better group of actors more capable of delivering the goods in front of the camera to better match the quality he’s shown behind the camera.

One more screening for On the Ice will be held Saturday at noon at the Yarrow Hotel Theater in Park City.

On a final note, the film has gotten this song stuck in my head ever since the screening...

Photo courtesy On the Ice Productions

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "Like Crazy"

More than just “(500) Days of Blue Valentine,” I loved this movie “Like Crazy”

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: Like Crazy on Blogcritics.

At the 2010 Sundance Film Festival I saw a film called “Douchebag” from director Drake Doremus. I have somehow not noticed that another film I just saw at this year’s festival is also from Doremus. I loved both of them for very different reasons. In “Douchebag” I loved the relationship between the Brothers Nussbaum because it was so natural and felt almost too real at times. Now, with “Like Crazy” comes a film about the age old boy-finds-girl-loses-girl-finds-girl-again scenario that just may be one of the most honest portrayals of young love Paramount Pictures has ever paid for.

While “Douchebag,” nor any of the rest of Doremus’ films (“Spooner,” “Moonpie”) have received proper distribution (“Moonpie” is available on DVD and “Spooner” will be released on March 15), if it weren’t for the appropriately titled “Douchebag” (one of the brothers most definitely is) it, too, could definitely find an audience all its own. Now with “Like Crazy,” it seems maybe the studios have found more confidence in Doremus’ naturalistic approach to directing and his mostly improvised dialogue, which is probably why I find his films to be so realistic.

In “Like Crazy,” we find American Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and British Anna (Felicity Jones) meeting-cute while she’s delivering a speech in class. After not being able to take their eyes off each other in class, she leaves a note on his windshield along with a disclaimer that he not think she’s a total nutcase. They go out for coffee and kick start a whirlwind romance of romantic proportions.

Eventually, we learn that she’s here with a student visa and must return home for the summer. Neither of them thinks they can bare this burden and she decides to stay until she has to return home for a wedding. Barely able to keep apart, Anna returns to the States only to find herself banned from entering after violating her student visa. Now she must return to England and let the long distance relationship pitfalls commence.

It’s a good thing this film has its cast and director. It also doesn’t hurt that so many of the scenes were improvised – proving just how good its cast really is. Aside from Yelchin and the mesmerizing Jones, Ben York Jones returns for a third outing with director Doremus and last year’s Sundance fave; “Winter’s Bone’s” Jennifer Lawrence (just nominated for Best Actress by the Academy) even pops up as a girlfriend-of-convenience for Jacob when he’s not trying to make things work with Anna. Also, Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead give hilarious performances as Anna’s parents and Charlie Bewley as Anna’s new boyfriend brings a new brand of awkwardly priggish to the table.

The only thing that really doesn’t work quite as well as the rest of the film is its No Ending. While it feels almost like a bit of a let down and slightly a cop out, there’s 99.99% of a fantastic movie that some may wind up not getting to see as it will surely get rated R without some trimming. With a PG-13 surely broadening its appeal, it would undoubtedly only wind up killing the film’s honesty. Once “Like Crazy” finally gets a wide berth, be sure to catch this one as you will doubtfully find a better date flick all year.

“Like Crazy” will screen on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden and on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Egyptian Theater in Park City.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "My Idiot Brother"

So far my favorite film, if not necessarily the “best.”

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: My Idiot Brother on Blogcritics.

Can a film with a too-good-to-be-true cast still pull off the most sincere, truthful, and flat-out hilarious film of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival? If the cast of My Idiot Brother is any indication then it’s a most emphatic, yes! Just seeing all the names together seems like a work of inspired insanity. Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Adam Scott, Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones, T.J. Miller, Kathryn Hahn – see what I mean? Phew, talk about expectations!

Clearly no film can live up the hype that could possibly surround a film with this many people involved. Thankfully Jesse Peretz, working from a script by Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall, brings out the big guns. Not only does this cast know comedy, but they can all act too. That helps make the funny seem even greater for obvious reasons. Instead of the film just being a big smorgasbord of routine sketch comedy, everything comes together as a whole and leaves you wanting more. If you wouldn’t want to spend your time with this bunch then who are you hanging out with?!

Ned (Rudd) has just sold a cop some weed. Now he’s thrown in prison and eventually let out early and has earned the moniker, “most cooperative inmate, four months running.” After meeting up with his hysterical scene stealing parole officer, Omar (Sterling Brown), and shacking up at his mother Ilene’s (Shirley Knight) house in Long Island, it isn’t long before his sisters (Banks, Deschanel and Mortimer) all realize that maybe having Ned around isn’t as awful as they think. Of course Ned is always trying to help, but his hippie ways tend to get in the way while his verbal diarrhea makes it hard for people to accept their own truths.

Finessing a tightrope of hilarity and pathos, the jokes may fly fast and furious but every one of them hits the mark no matter how subtle or broad. And Paul Rudd truly has become one of the absolute funniest people on the planet working in film today. In particular, there’s a scene featuring some verbal sparring between him and Adam Scott that could have quickly devolved into just another “you know how I know you’re gay?” moment that transcends the familiarity and drives home one of the films’ most hilarious scenes.

Everyone brings their A-game to provide Sundance one of its best Premiere films and thankfully I was able to stick around for a great Q&A featuring Rudd, director Peretz, Deschanel, Banks, Mortimer, and Brown. I can’t wait for The Weinstein Company’s wide release for the general public to see what a masterful thing the world of comedy truly can be.

My Idiot Brother will be screened on Saturday at 6 PM at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City.

Photos courtesy The Weinstein Company and Cinenerd

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "The Music Never Stopped"

Tear jerking and funnier than expected. The best thing I've seen at Sundance 2011 so far.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: The Music Never Stopped on Blogcritics.

When it comes to the end of the year, sometimes I find myself caught between trying to decide between what is the best film of the year versus what could just be my favorite. In 2010, that movie was definitely one and the same (“Inception”). As far as the 2011 Sundance Film Festival is concerned, right now they couldn’t be more different. While my favorite film so far is definitely “My Idiot Brother,” the best film I have seen happens to be the first film I saw: “The Music Never Stopped” (a Premiere film and the Salt Lake City Gala opening night film).

Henry and Helen Sawyer (J.K. Simmons and Cara Seymour) haven’t seen their son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) in about 20 years. One day they receive a phone call that their son has been hospitalized with a brain tumor. Doctor Biscow (Scott Adsit) informs them that the tumor has hindered Gabriel from being able to form any new memories and no one seems to be able to tell where his memory stopped. Henry brings in a music therapist, Dianne Daley (Julia Ormond), to try to pinpoint where his memory has ended and maybe find a way for Gabriel to begin forming new memories against Dr. Biscow’s insistence.

After stumbling across the Beatles “All You Need Is Love,” Gabriel immediately perks up and acts as if no years have passed; Dianne begins to think that maybe the music can help him remember. She is correct in this theory. Any time they play music from Gabriel’s past, particularly The Grateful Dead, he starts walking around the room and becomes fully engaged in conversation, even so much as remembering things that happened 20 years ago as if they were yesterday. That’s because these things were just yesterday for Gabriel. Henry and Helen eventually find out that this may be the only way they can have their son back even while Gabriel can still learn something new by making up rhymes to a beat about Celia (Mía Maestro) who works in the café.

Director Jim Kohlberg (in his feature debut), along with his cast and a spectacular screenplay from Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks broadening Oliver Sacks’ essay, “The Last Hippie,” to feature length, weave a tear jerking tale that will see a theatrical release via Roadside Attractions. Whether it will be seen at a theater near you is one thing, but be sure to check this one out as it is bound to be remembered come next year’s Oscar season. Also be sure to seek out the film’s soundtrack, it is quite a feat. If there was a category for Best Film Soundtrack to coincide with Original Score this would give most film’s a good run for their money.

You can still catch “The Music Never Stopped” on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Yarrow Hotel Theater in Park City.

Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel"

Corman finally earns himself a worthy documentary on top of his Academy Honorary Award.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel on Blogcritics.

In all honesty, documentaries are not one of my favorite genres. Usually they spend way too much time being informational winding up feeling like a 90 minute infomercial. Bare in mind, that’s my own opinion. Lots of people love these more than actual feature films and that’s fine. But I tend to like them more when they focus on something I really care about – the film industry. Premiering this year at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Alex Stapleton’s new documentary, “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel” (featured in the Park City at Midnight program), more than fits this bill.

Having grown up with a life long obsession regarding monster flicks ranging from “Jaws” to “The Howling” to the older classics such as “The Wolf Man” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” most of these flicks get a bad rap. Nowadays, the B-movies are of varying caliber ranging from “Tremors” to “Eight Legged Freaks.” While many of these are some of my favorites, and as much as “Jaws” is my all-time favorite film, there’s one little movie that I have watched countless times and never grows old, and that would be the original Roger Corman executive produced “Piranha.”

While having just been remade last year, I think between that, this documentary and a few new features fresh out of the water (“Sharktopus,” “Dinoshark”), supposed young film buffs of today may finally be enlightened to a man who has probably made more films than most filmmakers would ever agree to even have been associated with. Featuring everyone from Joe Dante, John Sayles, Pam Grier, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, William Shatner, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, David Carradine, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdonavich, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino and at one point Jack Nicholson shedding a tear, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s worked with such a voracious degree of writers, directors and actors. Let alone a bigger group so thankful to have worked alongside him.

Spanning from his early years working at American International Pictures to his own production company at New World Pictures, including current footage on the set of his newest feature “Dinoshark,” the man who’s never been afraid of blood, boobs, car chases and explosions is still as hard at work as ever at the incredible age of almost 85 years old (his birthday is this April). So sit back and relax as “Corman’s World” titillates and educates while making one want to rush over to their NetFlix queues to add something a little different whether it be his 1960 “Little Shop of Horrors,” the film no one involved with to this day can explain (“The Terror”), or a couple of classics (“Piranha,” “Rock & Roll High School,” “Grand Theft Auto”), there’s something for everyone whether you realize it or not.

“Corman’s World” will be screened on Thursday at midnight at the Yarrow Hotel Theater and Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Holiday Village Cinema IV, both in Park City.

Photo courtesy American Pictures International

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Movie Review: "No Strings Attached"

Careening from sweet to sour it works far better than it should.

Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material.
108 minutes
Paramount Pictures
*** ½ out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: No Strings Attached (2011) on Blogcritics.

Last week I talked about Seth Rogen, who had been MIA for awhile and returned with a comedic vengeance in “The Green Hornet” and now it’s time for at least a step in the right direction for someone else. Ivan Reitman has only directed three films now in the last ten years and could possibly be on a comeback tour. As lame as “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” was at least “Evolution” had more elements to it that worked than didn’t. With “No Strings Attached,” Reitman may finally have a true hit on his hands even if he’s still not up to par with his greatest hits of the 80s.

With all the buzz surrounding Natalie Portman as of late (“Black Swan”), most people are already considering “No Strings Attached” to be her “Norbit.” It seems like there’s always someone following up a powerhouse Oscar-bait performance with another disastrous film right before the big show. At least this time Portman has again chosen more wisely than others (“Valentine’s Day, “The Back-up Plan”) in her walk of shame through the rom-com genre. And were it not for the association of her co-star, Ashton Kutcher, and being released mid-January, no one would be speaking as ill of the film before seeing it as they already are.

Starting “15 Years Ago,” we meet the younger versions of Adam (Dylan Hayes) and Emma (Stefanie Scott) having the worst meet-cute ever. While he seeks condolence over his parents divorcing, Adam point blank asks Emma if he can finger her. (Yeah, you read that right.) Skipping ahead to “5 Years Ago,” we find the Kutcher/Portman versions of Adam and Emma meeting again at a college pajama party where Emma’s idea of appropriate attire is long johns deeming her a “sexy pioneer.” Emma likes Adam enough to innocently ask him to go with her to “some stupid thing” the next day. Turns out “some stupid thing” is her father’s funeral where afterwards she sends him on his way telling him that if he’s lucky he’ll never see her again.

Now, “1 Year Ago,” we have Emma and Adam running into each other yet again where she gives him her number so they can hang out even while Adam’s current girlfriend, Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond), kisses everyone hello in the background. Finally getting to the present day we find Adam working as an assistant on a TV show, “Secret High,” amidst a floozy boss (Jennifer Irwin) and her assistant/Adam’s unrequited love slave, Lucy (the dreadfully awkward and super annoying Lake Bell). Adam used to write in college and has written a script for the TV show but first he takes it to his dad, Alvin (Kevin Kline), for a once over. While Adam and Alvin smoke some dope and we find out Alvin is now sleeping with Vanessa since she broke up with Adam, Adam goes on a self-destructive binge-drinking contest to find anyone in his phone who will sleep with him.

The next morning Adam wakes up naked in an apartment filled to the brim with people he may have or may not have slept with, we also find out that Emma lives there too. She takes Adam into her bedroom so he can get dressed where of course their genitals take over for a meeting of the minds. After they decide they had so much fun bumping coitus they come up with the “brilliant” idea to just be sex buddies. They even set up a list of rules such as, “no fighting” and “no jealousy.” With this being a rom-com and all, you can only guess what eventually rears its ugly head.

The standard will they/won’t they pitfalls happen and the pace courses along from one gross-out joke to the next. You’ll never think of Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got the World on a String” the same way again after its inclusion on a menstrual mix-tape. While it is refreshing to hear girls say natural lines such as, “It’s like a crime scene in my pants,” not all of the so-called gags work as well as the others. The never-ending barrage of Alvin’s-trying-to-be-young-and-hip jokes wear thin right from the first scene and most of the film plays out like a bawdy '80s sex comedy butting heads with the Farrelly Brothers heyday of the '90s while incorporating as many Judd Apatow sensibilities mingling amongst the tech-savvy culture of today. Reitman even tries to set his sights on his own “Jerry Maguire” moment but it only sort of works.

Holding everything together is its cast. While the supporting players are hit and miss (featuring an eclectic bunch including Greta Gerwig, Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Olivia Thirlby, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges and Abby Elliot) everyone seems to be vying for screen time. Thankfully, Portman more than rises to the occasion here and shows that she is perfect no matter what the genre. Rumor has it too that she’s written a raunchy sex comedy for herself to star in and if this is her warm up, I can’t wait to see her in real action. She nails every joke with precision sometimes even making Kutcher have an honest disbelief on his face. If you don’t laugh at Portman driving down the freeway eating a box of donut holes, crying and singing along to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” or spouting lines like, “That hole is my bitch!” while miniature golfing then something’s wrong.

All in all, in the end you know how the movie is going to turn out, but at least it doesn’t fall under all of the rom-com clichés. Much of the film feels like they took the original script from Elizabeth Meriweather and ramped up the language factor. For a movie centering so distinctly on sex and trying to wear its R-rating with pride, too much feels forced and there’s not even an ounce of real nudity (sorry, Kutcher’s stunt butt doesn’t count). This is almost the exact opposite of “Easy A.” There director Will Gluck took an R-rated script and toned it down to a more accessible PG-13 with ease. And it almost seems too coincidental that Gluck has his own movie coming out in July aptly titled “Friends with Benefits.” With Ivan Reitman stumbling as much as he scores here, we’ll just have to wait and see which of the two winds up being the real winner in the battle of the sex flicks.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Movie Review: "The Green Hornet"

2011 starts out with a surprising bang!

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content.
108 minutes
Columbia Pictures
**** ½ out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: The Green Hornet (2011) on Blogcritics.

Oh Seth Rogen, how I’ve missed you. It’s been about a year and a half since your last starring role (“Funny People”), and while I was one of few admirers of that film, it’s nice to have you back where you’re obviously far more comfortable. As great as it is to see you improv scenes with your buddies, you seem especially at ease when you’re working with your own material and it rings even more true now with “The Green Hornet” finally gracing the big screen.

As Rogen has shown through his work on TV (“Undeclared,” “Da Ali G Show”) and even more so in film (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express” and even “Drillbit Taylor”), along with long-time best friend/co-writer Evan Goldberg, there’s no material they can’t make spectacularly funny. Having the luck of working with such directors at the helm (Judd Apatow, Greg Mottola, David Gordon Green and finally, Michel Gondry), they were all surprising choices having mostly indie cred amongst them.

Having been a fan of Gondry’s since “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” some of his misfires have still been great work if a little misguided. “Human Nature” had an interesting enough script but it appeared as if the studios didn’t have enough faith in him to bring all his talent to the table. “The Science of Sleep” was more heavy-handed than some would have anticipated but was still a great peek into the psyche that is Gondry’s. Admittedly during the first act of “The Green Hornet,” while he brings on the funny, it’s not until the middle act that he finally unleashes the director we came to see.

Britt Reid starts out like any young and troubled youth. All he wants to do is keep a girl from getting picked on and is sent home from school; sent home really meaning going from the principal’s office to his father’s office. James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) is not your typical superhero father. He’s a single parent trying to run his own “Daily Sentinel” while keeping his dignity intact. If it’s at the expense of his son’s respect while ripping the head off his favorite action figure then so be it.

Twenty years later and dad’s mean spirited parenting techniques have turned Britt into a spoiled overgrown man-child who just wants to keep the party going. Whether making out with girls in every other car in his father’s garage to consensual sleepovers on his pull-out (insert Rogen’s own infectious laugh here), the best part of his day is his morning coffee. The time to grow up comes full force when James is found dead from an allergic reaction to a bee sting while out in the garden. As corny as that may sound you never doubt there’s a reason for something so mundane.

When Britt wakes up to find his morning coffee tasting nothing the same he realizes that’s because the house staff have all been fired including his father’s personal mechanic, Kato (Asian pop star, Jay Chou). After being introduced by Kato to his homemade cappuccino machine and shown a few tricks of his trade in the garage they swap stories of their horrible upbringings they run out to act a fool and cut off the head of his father’s cemetery statue. After Kato proves himself to be a human Swiss army knife during a fight against a band of street thugs after which they decide to band together to strike back at the tyranny happening in the streets as vigilantes.

Meanwhile, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz thankfully replacing Nicolas Cage) has moved in on the Los Angeles territory and has decided to take over. After an explosive meeting with supposed crime syndicate “Crystal Clear,” Chudnofsky thinks the underbelly of L.A. now belongs to him. But soon enough, The Green Hornet is burning down meth labs and striking his own fear into the heart of the underworld making Chudnofsky and making District Attorney Scanlon (David Harbour) a little edgy about the rise in crime as he’s about to re-run for office. Now Chudnofsky wants to take down The Green Hornet and his nameless sidekick and it’s up to Britt and Kato along with their new secretary Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) to keep anonymity and save the day.

For everyone who balked at Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, he’s pretty awesome and hilarious as always. No one understands the true man-child better than Rogen. He truly shows Adam Sandler how such characters are supposed to be portrayed. While he may not have gotten all buffed up for the role, it’s not a necessity. He’s just your average Joe who has lots of money and builds his own tools, sound familiar? So, ok, Kato builds the tools, but how else would we get to the scene where Britt calls himself, “a schmuck who shoots farts at people,” after accidentally shooting himself in the face?

Yes, Britt’s very much like Batman, however, there’s a huge case of egomania happening here. A scene where Britt gets jealous of Kato for hitting on Lenore and orders him to fetch his coffee then almost bursts into tears after Kato punches his fist through a cabinet door handles this to great effect and detail. Jay Chou certainly proves himself a great Kato. At first I was worried about Stephen Chow being replaced but this Chou manages to steal every scene. And even Cameron Diaz manages to bring herself back into the fold with yet another finally likeable character (the last one was in the highly underrated “Knight and Day”).

And who would have suspected that Michel Gondry would prove himself to be such a competent action director. His films thus far have deftly proven him in the comedy department, even through most of “Be Kind Rewind,” but here’s a man who knows where to place a camera, how to choreograph a fight scene and how to edit. You always know what’s going on and that sells the action more than anything. As spectacular and over-blown as the set pieces grow, they never get so outlandish that they require a Michael Bay editing approach to make the audience think something bigger is going on. It’s all there for you to take in, sometimes in what appears to be single shots.

So while most are expecting the movie to flat out suck, and admittedly I was not enthused to have the 3D version thrust upon me, give it a chance. Here’s a movie that wholeheartedly belongs in the middle of summer where it would be totally destroyed by the rest of the oncoming onslaught. This may be the best January Hollywood tent pole film in years. Sporting huge action, even bigger laughs and a ridiculous amount of insane fun, “The Green Hornet” is a great start to 2011 and absolutely should not be missed. Here’s finally our first reason to head out to theaters this winter.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 Mid-Winter Movie Preview

Everything's not quite as dreary as the typical season's film forecast.

Article first published as 2011 Mid-Winter Movie Preview on Blogcritics.

As if some of the end of year offerings from 2010 weren’t lame enough (“Gulliver’s Travels,” “Yogi Bear,” “The Tourist” and worst of all, “Little Fockers”), in comes 2011’s doldrum winter season. There’s hardly anything too exciting coming up aside from maybe a few guilty pleasures. But alas, better warned than sorry. (Ok, I had to come back after writing this article to add that there are some fun things ahoy after all, dear mateys.)

January isn’t a complete failure, although the box office numbers will probably prove otherwise. Kicking the year off this weekend, January 7, is another awful looking Nicolas Cage, CG-enhanced actioner, “Season of the Witch.” Coming from Dominic Sena, who also directed Cage in the “Gone in 60 Seconds” remake and “Swordfish,” I think we all know why this one is the first “big” release of 2011. The TV commercials make me laugh out loud, but I don’t think that’s their purpose.

There’s also no more question as to why “Country Strong” wasn’t screened for awards consideration after all the hype and buzz from Gwenyth Paltrow’s stint on “Glee.” Finally finding itself a wide release: what a disaster. When “TRON: Legacy’s” Garrett Hedlund gives a better performance than anyone else, you know you’re in trouble. But that could be a good thing; at least it will get keep his career moving along. As for the film itself, imagine if Nicholas Sparks decided to remake the George Strait-starring “Pure Country” and you’ve just saved yourself the cost of an admission ticket. You’re welcome.

On January 14, Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) hopefully offers up the month’s best wide release bringing an update to “The Green Hornet.” With star Seth Rogen beefing up and taking on co-writing duties with pal Evan Goldberg (they previously brought us “Pineapple Express” and “Superbad”) and bringing in Jay Chou to replace Stephen Chow, hopefully Gondry can bring his usual visual flair while Rogen and Goldberg can provide some big laughs with Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”), the “Jew Hunter” himself, as the villain no less. Meanwhile, Ron Howard tries to get wacky along with his throwaway cast of Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Channing Tatum, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly and Queen Latifah in “The Dilemma.”

January 21 gives us the first of two bed buddy rom/coms headed our way and at least this one gives us a dirty mouthed, scantily clad Natalie Portman. Ivan Reitman is in desperate need of another great movie, and maybe the new decade can inspire him with “No Strings Attached.” I’m biting my tongue however, as he also cast Ashton Kutcher who’s not totally ingratiating but far from the rom/com inspired leading man Hollywood seems to think he is (“Just Married,” “What Happens in Vegas,” “Valentine’s Day” anyone? Anyone?!).

January 28 sees two helpings of possible guilty pleasure releases: one for being true to its big dumb fun action roots, and the other headed for "so bad it’s hilarious" territory. “The Mechanic” stars Jason Statham (who knows action all too well) and Ben Foster (who definitely knows a lot about acting). The two seem to pair well judging by the trailer so here’s hoping director Simon West (“Con Air,” “Laura Croft: Tomb Raider,” and TV’s “Keen Eddie” and “Human Target”) can bring the aforementioned fun even if the remake proves to lean towards dumb at some point. The other offering this week will be Anthony Hopkins playing a spiritual version of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in “The Rite.” Demonic possessions will ensue as Mikael Håfström returns to “1408” territory. Fingers crossed but I suspect giggles will abound.

Pressing on into February where things usually get worse, things don’t look quite so bad as usual. On February 4, if you’re looking for any reason to get out of the house and brave the cold it’s hopefully to see the James Cameron executive produced “Sanctum.” With a plot resembling “The Descent” but without the crawlers, here’s hoping Cameron protégé Alister Grierson can use Cameron’s PACE Fusion 3-D cameras to better use than “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” Looks fun; I’m in. Check me out however, from sitting through “The Roommate,” a film you’ve probably never even heard of. Having the luck of starring Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl”) and Minka Kelly (“(500) Days of Summer”), maybe Screen Gems and the hilariously named director Christian E. Christiansen can bring some tongue-in-cheek to the proceedings. If this thing headed is into “Black Swan” territory then maybe it could be worth checking out; highly doubtful.

February 11 sees a quartet of cinematic death with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in “Just Go with It,” pretending to be soon-to-be divorcees. Armed with Sandler’s regular director Dennis Dugan at the helm (“Grown Ups,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” “Big Daddy” and “Happy Gilmore”), I think it’s further proof that they all are in desperate need of some therapy to get them out of their safe zones, but where’s America’s dollars in that? How Nicole Kidman got roped into this, we’ll never know.

Touchstone Pictures returns to cinema with what could be the saving grace of the weekend with “Gnomeo and Juliet.” That’s right, a reimagining of the star-crossed classic featuring red vs. blue garden gnomes. With a wealth of voice talent including Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Stephen Merchant, we could possibly have some fun if not immediately disposable fun on our hands. On the other hand, it also features Hulk Hogan, Dolly Parton and Ozzy Osbourne. Thankfully director/co-writer Kelly Asbury has lent a hand to a great body of work already including assistance on “Kung Fu Panda,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Rescuers Down Under,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Shrek,” “Toy Story,” “The Black Cauldron,” “Chicken Run,” and TV’s “The Littles” just to name a few. Oh, and he also co-directed “Shrek 2” so ok, maybe I have more hope now.

This year’s early offering of “Gladiator”-likeness offers up Jamie Bell, Channing Tatum and Donald Sutherland in “The Eagle.” Spawning from a BBC TV production, here’s hoping that director Kevin McDonald reteaming with screenwriter Jeremy Brock can bring some life to the proceedings. Last time they joined forces we got “The Last King of Scotland,” ah those were good times. Finally, for the tweens, we are cursed with “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.” And in 3D! As if his atrocious songs weren’t bad enough, I can’t even imagine what inkling of interest his rise to fame could possibly inspire. But at least he’ll be in your face as well as stuck in your head.

February 18 brings a saving grace from the week before with two films that fall in the already mentioned guilty pleasure category. D.J. Caruso brought some unexpected flair to his “Rear Window”-inspired “Disturbia” and hopefully continues his growing trend of mainstream with “I Am Number Four.” With Caruso behind the camera and Timothy Olyphant in front of it I’ll give it a try. But I won’t be too surprised if Alex Pettyfer fails miserably in the lead. Director Juame Collet-Serra sure has been cutting his teeth for awhile now. With the likes of “House of Wax” and “Orphan” maybe it’s time we finally got a good movie out of him. With a great premise involving stolen identities and Liam Neeson in kick-ass “Taken” mode, “Unknown” could just be a slam bang time.

Unfortunately, this day also brings upon us a third “Big Momma” film subtitled: “Like Father, Like Son.” All of a sudden FBI agent Martin Lawrence has a nephew (the hilarious yet usually misused Brandon T. Jackson) whom he goes undercover with at an all-girls school after Jackson witnesses a murder. Um, did I miss something here? If the title is “Like Father, Like Son,” why is this revolving around a nephew? Before you even consider a ticket, here’s your sign America. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

February 25 finishes out the month with a double header that I actually find quite comforting. Director Patrick Lussier returns to 3-D B-movie territory with the aptly titled “Drive Angry 3D.” With a cast including Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard and William Fichtner, guilty pleasure is sure to be headed our way. The trailer itself is hysterically bad but at least everyone looks like they’re having fun as Cage plays an escapee literally from Hell trying to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by the same cult who did the same to his daughter with some help from a waitress (Heard) and a muscle car with Fichtner playing a character called “The Accountant” who is trying to return Cage to the Devil. If this synopsis doesn’t get you excited then you need a new sense of fun. Bat shit insanity is what I smell cooking here and if we learned anything from “My Bloody Valentine 3D” it’s that Lussier knows how to have fun with the format. Bring. It. On!

Finally, the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) bring us what could be the funniest movie of the month, at least intentionally anyway. In “Hall Pass” we find Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson on vacation from their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate respectively) who’ve granted them each a “Hall Pass” – or: “a week off from marriage to do whatever you want without consequences.” Rounding out the hilarious cast with a second dose of Stephen Merchant along with Larry Joe Campbell, J.B. Smoove and surprising Farrelly regular Richard Jenkins (“Say It Isn’t So,” “Me, Myself & Irene,” “Outside Providence,” “There’s Something About Mary”), the brothers Farrelly could finally have another long-awaited hit on their hands.

While there may not be a whole lot of good coming, at least there could be enough to warrant a mad dash to the local multiplex or two. With March and April looking slightly better, maybe we’ll see the likes of something truly worthwhile before the summer season officially kicks off in May. I know I already have my sights set on two films, one featuring an alien (“Paul”) and another bringing the inevitable return of the Ghostface Killer (“Scream 4”). So for now, choose wisely, as at least we have a few things to look forward to before the summer really starts to heat up with its never-ending barrage of crazy awesomeness.

Photos courtesy Screen Gems, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Summit Entertainment