Friday, September 28, 2012

Movie Review: “Hotel Transylvania”

Don't expect too much and you should be fine.

*** ½ out of 5
91 minutes
Rated PG for some rude humor, action and scary images
Columbia Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania on Blogcritics.

When your movie’s main character consists of Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) repeating “bluh bluh-bluh,” you better have something more up your sleeves than “blah blah-blah.” Unfortunately for director Genndy Tartakovsky, that’s about all he really has going in his big screen debut, Hotel Transylvania. After cutting his teeth in the land of TV (including but not limited to his work on the Emmy-winning Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Emmy-nominated Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory), it seems as if maybe Tartakovsky has lost some of his bite with Sandler’s cronies joining the party.

Beginning in 1895, Dracula is keeping busy taking care of and entertaining his young daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). Professionally, Dracula has aspired to build a giant vacation fortress sanctuary for his fellow monsters to escape from the monster-hating humans. Everyone from Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James) and his bride Eunice (voiced by Fran Drescher), werewolves Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon), mummy Murray (voiced by CeeLo Green), and Griffin (voiced by David Spade) the invisible man, have come to celebrate Mavis’s 118th birthday. While Dracula has kept Mavis secluded inside the castle her entire existence, it’s not until backpacking Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg) accidentally stumbles into the hotel that dear daddy Drac’s plans begin to go awry.

In another battle of tug of war, Tartakovsky does everything he can to try and fill the film with (sometimes) brilliant visual gags while writers Peter Baynham (Arthur Christmas, Borat) and Robert Smigel (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, TV Funhouse, and creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) give the voice cast next to nothing to do say as it gets inexplicably smothered in a slathering of family-friendly sap. On a positive note, at least every scene involving Mavis surprisingly works, feeling good-natured and even sweet, but it’s no surprise that this is always when another supporting character shows up to try and spoil things.

If the film had focused more on the budding relationship between Mavis and Jonathan they could’ve been onto something. But alas, monsters just wanna have fun and the humans are a huge afterthought even though we’re supposed to be a big plot twist when they find out we’ve evolved from torch wielding mobs to tweens in love with glittering “vampires.” I guess maybe the best part is that if as parents you can get past the idea of Frankenstein pulling fart pranks; it is nice to see the likes of the original monster squad back together on the big screen. Anything that can serve as a springboard to a child’s classic film appreciation gets a pass in my book and that’s where Hotel Transylvania should’ve really focused its aspirations.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Friday, September 21, 2012

Movie Review: “Trouble with the Curve”

The real trouble is just about everything.

** out of 5
111 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Trouble with the Curve on Blogcritics.

Baseball was the only sport I ever played growing up. And I was only able to force myself to play through one season. I just am not what you would call a sports nut in any way, shape, or form. For some reason, though, I have a pretty high tolerance for sports films. Maybe it’s the fact that most of them are either comedies or treat whatever sport it is like an action film. But for every “Bull Durham” or “Happy Gilmore” comes films much like the new Clint Eastwood-starring “Trouble with the Curve.” A film that feels like it was “made 30 years ago,” to quote a colleague.

Gus (Eastwood) is an over-the-hill talent scout for the Atlanta Braves. He has a failing prostate, diminishing eyesight, and eats Spam for breakfast right out of the can. His rocky relationship with his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) isn’t any better than with his prostate ever since her mother died in 1984.

Word has spread about high school power hitter Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill, an appropriate last name as there ever was for someone playing a huge douche and who throws around the term “bangin’” ad nauseam). Pete Klein (John Goodman), Gus’s best friend of 30 years and co-worker, sends him to check out Bo. Meanwhile, Pete finds out that Gus isn’t in the best of shape and sends Mickey along with him. There’s also a subplot revolving around Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) gunning to be the Braves’ General Manager who believes that computers are the future of scouting.

Along the way, Gus and Mickey meet up with Johnny “The Flame” (Justin Timberlake) who’s out to watch Bo for the Boston Red Sox. It isn’t long before life lessons are learned, comeuppances rear their unintentionally hilarious head, and out of left field (and out of place) pedophilia shows up to ruin what might have been salvaged had the film stuck to the only thing that works for even a second — the bantering between Mickey and Johnny.

Unfortunately, just when things look like they might be finally kicking up a notch, at least in the pace department, they cut back to the Gus/Mickey dynamic of which there is none. Which is a shame because Timberlake shows he’s still as likeable as ever and Adams is trying to be as radiant as possible even though in some scenes she looks like she’s about ready to fall asleep trying to act against the horribly aging Eastwood.

At one point Johnny tells Mickey, “You need to lighten up,” and it sounds more like he’s speaking to the whole crew. The whole film feels like “Grumpiest Old Men at the Ball Park,” but at least then it would have starred the late and great Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and would have been intentionally funny. It also feels like first time writer Randy Brown is trying to graft this same line of thought onto a “Moneyball” rip-off. But Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin he most definitely is not. Even “Grumpy Old Men” scribe Mark Steven Johnson could have found something better for anyone in the film to do more than director Robert Lorenz (also making his debut after spending years working as Eastwood’s protégé) does than simply have Eastwood amble around and growl through gritted teeth with his trademark scowl. Eastwood needs to start playing a zombie before people start to think he may actually be one. The bottom line here is the true “Trouble with the Curve” winds up being just about everything.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blu-ray Review: “The Babymakers”

A comedy that never even comes close to shooting its load.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Babymakers on Blogcritics.

One of the biggest mistakes with any failed comedy is when it’s excruciatingly boring. No matter how many jokes hit or miss, sometimes good directing, editing, or simply the joy of a good cast can overcome your biggest hurdles. With Jay Chandrasekhar, lead member of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, behind the camera and in a minor role, you expect far more than we get with his (as yet) only true blunder, “The Babymakers.” Even sadder is the fact that he’s roped in at least one other member, Kevin Heffernan, and a lot of their familiar faces (M.C. Gainey and Nat Faxon).

Failure abounds in astounding measures as we muddle through the turbulent relationship of Audrey (Olivia Munn) and Tommy (Paul Schneider) trying to have a baby after they’ve just celebrated their three-year anniversary. Come to find out his sperm’s no good, but little does Audrey know, he bought her engagement ring using “beat off money” from donating sperm. Paul finds out that there’s one batch left and he recruits his best friends Wade (Heffernan) and Zig-Zag (Faxon) to pull an “Ocean’s 11” with the help of Ron Jon (Chandrasekhar) for $5,000.

Slapstick and more bodily-function jokes than you can shake a stick at to no effect whatsoever as Chandrasekhar works with one of the worst scripts imaginable courtesy Peter Gaulke (“Strange Wilderness,” “Black Knight,” “Say it Isn’t So”) and Gerry Swallow (“Black Knight” and “Say it Isn’t So” again). That resume alone should tell you what to expect. Olivia Munn is surprisingly the most sympathetic character of the bunch, with Heffernan’s Wade coming across as the most brash. While the film may be seeking lowest common denominator guffaws, there’s one scene in particular that I pray wasn’t a case of adlibbing because it’s outright racist and offensive to even the most desensitized ears.

Anyone looking for a film filled to the brim with masturbation and bestiality jokes, along with the cast slip sliding around on a floor covered with semen look no further. Everyone else can hold out hope for Broken Lizard to return to form with “Super Troopers 2” and the long rumored “Potfest.” In the meantime, hang on to the glory days of their past comedic successes as even the fans who didn’t like “Club Dread” and/or “The Dukes of Hazzard” will find absolutely nothing in “The Babymakers” to fill the void.

The “Babymakers” Blu-ray comes courtesy Millenium Media sporting a 1080p presentation that’s fine for what the film is. No one would ever expect this to shine like a new “Transformers” movie. Most of the film takes place during the day where the transfer looks the best but toward the end scenes come across as too dark resulting in some minor crush but looks due to Frank G. DeMarco’s cinematography. There’s one instance where noise crops up and a few cases of shimmer in the wardrobe. Weirdly, the most annoying aspect is a couple bouts of judder. Like I said, no one expects this to look like a big summer blockbuster transfer and I won’t be surprised if anyone but the most ardent Broken Lizard fan seeks it out anyway. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is front heavy as expected with almost all modern comedies. Although there were at least two instances where things came alive in random moments whenever a car seemed to be driving by. But maybe that was just a case of my 7.1 system pumping things up more than they were.

As far as special features go, there are four trailers before the film starts for “Little Birds,” “Bernie,” “Red Lights,” and “Intruders.” Clearly Millenium Media is focusing on low budget affairs and more power to them. There’s also an unbearably long 19-minute edition of Cast and Crew Interviews, a five minute Featurette, and an excruciating 11 minute Behind the Scenes consisting of behind the scenes footage that seem to show that everything on set was as forced and uninspired as it winds up in the final product. Everything also seems recycled from one special feature or another. The single-disc Blu-ray release is available on September 18 but should be considered a Redbox rental at the very most for only the least discerning viewers.

Movie Review: “For a Good Time, Call…”

The battle of the sexes for Hollywood comedic supremacy wages on.

**** ½ out of 5
85 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content throughout, language and some drug use
Focus Features

Article first published as Movie Review: For a Good Time, Call... on Blogcritics.

There’s been some decent buzz surrounding the new raunchy comedy “For a Good Time, Call…” since it played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In a third entry of what I didn’t see at Sundance this year, now we can all share in the hilarity as two frenemies decide to go into business together and start up a phone sex hotline. Director Jamie Travis makes an assured debut working with a screenplay by star Lauren Miller (aka Mrs. Seth Rogen) and Katie Anne Naylon.

Lauren Powell (Miller) is in a long-term relationship with Charlie (James Wolk) but he has decided they need a break because they’re boring together. He is taking off to Italy for the summer to work and wants to use this as a way to evaluate things. This means that Lauren needs to find a place to live. Katie Steele (Ari Graynor) lives in her deceased Bubby’s apartment overlooking Gramercy Park and has just been reminded that the apartment is no longer rent controlled and she has four days to find a roommate to split the rent. Lauren and Katie are both friends with Jesse (Justin Long) who introduced them 10 years ago when he talked Lauren into designated driving Katie home which lead to Lauren doused with Katie’s urine and hating each other ever since.

Jesse knows about both situations and tricks Lauren into moving in with Katie. Lauren meanwhile gets fired from her job as her boss retires and doesn’t get her dream job when she finds out the position was filled hours before her interview. Lauren also notices strange sexual noises coming from Katie’s bedroom at night but she won’t kiss and tell. Eventually, Lauren finds out that Katie works at a nail salon but those strange noises were part of her night job working for a phone-sex hotline. Lauren comes up with a way to better both their situations by installing their own phone line, setting up a PayPal account, and taking the bull by the horns. There’s real money involved, even if a lot of it comes from Katie’s nightly 10:00 from Sean (Mark Webber). The two of whom get a surprisingly heartfelt subplot of their own.

Rom-com clichés are turned on their heads as the two girls figure out their personal and professional lives as hilarity ensues. For a first-time director, Travis sure knows when to keep a scene short and when to drag it out for as funny a punchline as possible. Miller makes for one of the best female comedic leads since Kristen Wiig accidentally food poisoned her fellow “Bridesmaids” and Lena Dunham unleashed “Girls.” And I am happy to say that I am finally a fan of Ari Graynor. She gives a comedic tour de force reminiscent of anything Better Midler was capable of back in her heyday. This is a case of a true second cumming, err… coming. It wouldn’t surprise me if they ever wound up being cast as mother/daughter in something and so long as it was dashed with an R-rating to keep things saucy, it would be a comedic match made in heaven. Speaking of which, so are Miller and Graynor here. One thing is for certain, “For a Good Time, Call…” this movie.

Photos courtesy Focus Features

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DVD Review: “Absolutely Fabulous: 20th Anniversary Specials”

The girls are back with a vengeance!

Article first published as DVD Review: Absolutely Fabulous: 20th Anniversary Specials on Blogcritics.

It’s been quite a while since I last treated myself to the comedic misadventures of Edina “Eddy” Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley). Not having seen the last couple of seasons of Jennifer Saunders’ cult favorite, I knew it was going to be nothing short of hilarious to jump right back in to the thick of it. With her satiric pen as sharp as it’s always been, it is with great enthusiasm to say that the girls are back and as funny as ever in the BBC’s release of “Absolutely Fabulous: 20th Anniversary Specials” on DVD.

It’s interesting to note that these three specials are listed on the show’s IMDB page as “Season 6.” Each 30-minute special represents the best of what “Ab Fab” has always been. And while the girls may be ever older, thankfully they’re far from wiser. “Identity” is first and also the funniest. Saffron “Saffy” (Julia Sawalha) has just been released from prison and it turns out that her Longview BFF, Baron (Lucy Montgomery), also happens to be Patsy’s drug dealer to whom she owes a debt of £50,000. The only way Patsy can pay her back is to accept her own position as pensioner and face her real age — much to her chagrin.

In “Job,” Saffy berates Eddy about her choice of lifestyle and disregard of holding down what could be considered a real job. While out on lunch, Eddy and Patsy run into French film star Jeanne Durand (Lindsay Duncan) who convinces them to represent her and the Royal Albert Hall is booked at once. The stage is set for “Durand Sings,” and it turns out that even with the assistance of Emma Bunton and Lulu, things may be more disastrous than ever for Eddy’s career. Finally, we have “Olympics,” in which Eddy has rented out her house to Michael Douglas while he’s in London for the 2012 Olympics. Instead, Eddy serves as host to Bo (Mo Gaffney) and Marshall (Christopher Ryan), whom Bo thinks has acquired a sex addiction disease while caddying for Douglas. Meanwhile, Eddy continues to stalk Stella McCartney right onto the Olympic field on her never ending quest for designer gold.

Saunders and company are all in fine form and it’s hilarious to see the rapport still stands even with Mother (June Witfield) and Bubble (Jane Horrocks) as crazy as ever. Saunders has stated that in lieu of developing an additional full season she is currently at work on a full-length motion picture, which is pretty exciting. As if they don’t get away with far more on the BBC than we can here in the States, I can only imagine what Saunders has up her sleeve for the big screen.

On top of the three specials, clocking in at a rapid fire approximate 90 minutes, the two special features are as hilarious as the actual specials. It doesn’t hurt that one of them is a seven-minute Sport Relief sketch. Emma Bunton returns helping Eddy prove how out of shape she is while Patsy stands guard on the look out for Stella McCartney who’s brought along some surprise friends of her own. The only additional special feature is “Behind the Scenes at Sports Relief” which is exactly what the title says and runs 17 minutes. A code to download an UltraViolet copy is also included. The “Absolutely Fabulous: 20th Anniversary Specials” are available on DVD September 11, 2012.

Photos courtesy BBC Home Entertainment

Movie Review: “Sleepwalk with Me”

Who dis? Definitely not the Kenny G of independent comedies.

**** 1/2 out of 5
80 minutes
Not rated
IFC Films

Article first published as Movie Review: Sleepwalk with Me on Blogcritics.

One week and two new 2012 Sundance films under my belt. It’s almost like it’s January all over again. Except that the ground isn’t frozen and I’m not venturing up a mountain to try to squeeze in them in. While one of this week’s Sundance pick-ups is almost a complete failure, leave it to Mike Birbiglia to live up to my own expectations with his auto-biographical “Sleepwalk with Me.” Winning the Best of Next! Audience Award at Sundance, based on his stand-up and memoir of the same name, Birbiglia takes the reigns behind and in front of the camera, to deliver one of the best fourth wall-breaking films since “High Fidelity.” The scary part of this is that Birbiglia’s accounts’ are all true and it makes me feel better that the most I do in my sleep is some talking once in awhile.

Birbiglia plays himself in “Sleepwalk with Me” and before you write off the film as an 80-minute version of his stage act, there’s far more going on beneath the surface. Matt Pandamiglio (Birbiglia) back tracks through his life telling us his story of moving in with his girlfriend of eight years Abby (Lauren Ambrose), working at a bar that has comedy instead of doing comedy at a bar, and dealing with his overbearing mother Linda (Carol Kane) and domineering father Frank (James Rebhorn). The pressure starts cooking as Abby starts to make it clear that she wants to start a family and finally get married while Matt’s family is breathing down his neck thanks to his sister Janet (Cristin Milioti) tying her own knot. Soon enough, Matt starts sleepwalking off his frustrations while exhausting himself on the road after he makes a contact with his friend Ian’s (Alex Karpovsky) agent Colleen (Sondra James).

DustBuster Olympics, jackals, and pizza pillows make appearances as Birbiglia brings the funniest moments to life in a surprising directing debut. Working with co-director/co-writer Seth Barrish (also making his debut), along with “This American Life’s” Ira Glass, they have wrung every laugh possible out of Birbiglia’s original material. It’s fun to note that even Birbiglia’s brother Joe “Joey Bag O’ Donuts” himself is a co-writer, which helps Mike remain true to what really happened. The supporting cast is a who’s who of the stand-up world. But no one ever tries to call attention to themselves and there’s a sense of authenticity in how Birbiglia presents himself during certain situations. The biggest laugh out loud moment for me involves his car’s warning light. His response is exactly the kind of thing that I would say. Now, I’m in the future too, and I’d say that there could be possible Oscar buzz at least for the screenplay. It never plays for overdramatics and never feels desperate for a laugh only making “Sleepwalk with Me” a film I’d sleepwalk with any day.

Photo courtesy IFC Films

Movie Review: “The Words”

In one word: inept.

** out of 5
96 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking
CBS Films

Article first published as Movie Review: The Words on Blogcritics.

Sometimes we have to learn the hard way that when it comes to the annual Sundance Film Festival, nothing gold can stay. And just because a film gets picked up for distribution does not necessarily mean it’s the best of the best. The word "pretentious" gets thrown around a lot during most film festivals, but sometimes a film is even too dumb for that. When it comes to this weekend's “The Words” however, "bone-headed" and "ham-fisted" would be my own words to describe it.

I’d heard both good and bad about writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s film after it played at this year’s 2012 Sundance. And seeing how that was eight months and six trimmed minutes later, I was more than willing to let the film play to its own merits. It’s just too bad it doesn’t have any. While aspiring to be something along the lines of Neil LaBute’s “Possession,” the film buries itself in literary clichés while the screenplay only helps shine an even brighter light at how bad it really is.

“The Words” refers to the novel written by author Clay Hammond. One night at a reading, a mysterious guest arrives in the form of Danielle (Olivia Wilde). She knows way too much about him we learn and I started praying the film would turn into “Misery 2.” Danielle has come to hear him read two excerpts from the titular novel and seems to have ulterior motives. The reality of the film is then buried under the fictional accounts of Hammond’s novel. Within “The Words,” Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is living the good life with his girlfriend Dora (Zoe Saldana).

Rory has taken time off from the working class to focus on his true passion of becoming a bestselling novelist. This is all to the chagrin of his father (J.K. Simmons) who seems to be keeping the couple afloat while Rory refuses to accept his own shortcomings on the road to being a man. Rory finally takes a job in the mailroom at a prestigious publishing house and has finally finished his first novel. He hands it over to Timothy Epstein (Ron Rifkin, Arvin Sloane to Cooper’s Will Tippin — yes, we have an “Alias” reunion). Epstein gives Rory the bad news that his novel is too subtle and nuanced to be embraced by the public in the wake of a debut writer.

While vacationing in Paris, Rory and Dora find an old satchel and Dora buys it for Rory to use for work. Eventually, Rory discovers an old manuscript that turns out to be the best novel he’ll never write. Until he passes it along to Joseph Cutler (Zeljko Ivanek) who proclaims it as one of the best novels ever written, and wants to personally thank Dora for talking him into letting him represent him in the literary world. Rory is hailed as a genius and has just won an esteemed award for his novel when The Old Man (Jeremy Irons) follows Rory into the park and offers up a story only Rory wouldn’t find too good to be true.

And alas, the film buries its asinine plot even further into a second heaping of fictional storyline. Meanwhile, the surface story of Hammond and Danielle gets laid by the wayside even though it’s painfully obvious to what Klugman and Sternthal think is the greatest story ever told. Chockfull of unintentional laughs and mind-numbing plot twists you can see coming from a mile away, not even Jeremy Irons can save this sinking ship. I’ve heard from at least one colleague that Irons should be recognized come Oscar season, but all he does is show up to gnash around the scenery in a case of déjà vu of Scar taking down Mufasa all over again.

I couldn’t help but find it hilarious that Rory writes a novel deemed so good that an agent refuses to publish it only to find himself hailed to such unquestioned acclaimed when he finally manages to get a different manuscript published that’s supposedly even better. Another chuckle comes in the form of a foreshadowing thumbprint and how Hammond literally wrote the book on the surface story but can’t see what’s coming to save his life.

If only the filmmakers had squeezed in at least one attempt at intentional humor and had Danielle tell Hammond, “I’m your number one fan.” During the film, The Old Man tells Rory that he wrote the book he stole from him in two weeks which is about how long the film feels. The saddest part of the whole thing is that the structure of the film is what makes you not care one iota about anything outside of it. It all just goes to show that no matter how many words the filmmakers string along, “The Words” never comes close to living up to any of them.

Photos courtesy CBS Films