Sunday, August 28, 2011

Colombiana


It's never a good sign when there aren't any advance screenings of a film for the press.  It certainly says to me that the studio doesn't think it's very good and doesn't want the press to see the film ahead of time and write poor reviews and kill the opening weekend gross.  And now that I've seen this revenge action thriller, I can totally understand and agree with their strategy.

Zoe Saldana (from 'Avatar' and 'Star Trek') plays a woman who witnessed her parents killed by South American baddies when she was a child.  And so she devotes her life to training to be an assassin to get her revenge.  Haven't we seen that before?  It certainly brings to mind 'Hanna' which came out earlier this year, as well as 'Point of No Return', 'La Femme Nikita', and 'The Professional'.  Total coincidence?  Nope.  It was written by Luc Besson, who wrote the latter three, as well as 'Taken'.  Talk about a rut!  I loved 'The Professional' and 'Point of No Return' but it's time to move on, Luc.

Frankly, I'm pretty shocked this film had a theatrical release.  It has 'straight to DVD' written all over it, with the only two recognizable names and faces being Saldana and 'Alias' Michael Vartan.  To some, this will be an enjoyable guilty pleasure.  (The audience I saw it with certainly cheered more than anyone should have.)  But to me, it really wasn't pleasurable at all.  I knew exactly where it was going and just wanted it to get there quicker.

Grade: D

Friday, August 26, 2011

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
(Movies released this week are in green)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II           Grade: A+

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

The Help                              Grade: A-

Friends with Benefits          Grade: A-

The Guard                           Grade: A-

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon       Grade: B+

Sarah's Key                         Grade: B+

One Day                              Grade: B+

Point Blank                        Grade: B+

The Whistleblower            Grade: B+

Rise of the Planet of the Apes     Grade: B

Our Idiot Brother             Grade: B

Winnie the Pooh                Grade: B for kids under 8, but D for adults

The Change-Up                   Grade: B-

Cowboys and Aliens          Grade: B-

Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World    Grade: B-

30 Minutes or Less            Grade: C+

Horrible Bosses                 Grade: C+

Brighton Rock                  Grade: C+

Cars 2                                 Grade: C-

Captain America: The First Avenger    Grade: C-

Don't be Afraid of the Dark      Grade: C-

Fright Night                      Grade: C-

Colombiana                      Grade: D

The Zookeeper                  Grade: D

Final Destination 5            Grade: D-

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark


It's not even October, but yet this is the third horror film released in the last three weeks.  First we had 'Final Destination 5', which we all knew was going to be terrible, and just as we suspected it was.  Last week we had 'Fright Night', which still doesn't make any sense to me as to why Hollywood decided to remake such a lousy film with a such a so-so premise.  And now, today, we finally get the one I've been waiting for.  The one written and produced by Mexican creepmaster Guillermo Del Toro.  The one starring Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes.  The one that's been delayed for way too long because of Disney's sale of Miramax.  And sadly, the one that's the biggest disappointment of them all, at least relative to expectations.

Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes play a couple living and working in an old creepy house.  And Pearce's creepy daughter has just been sent to live with them by his ex-wife.  And anyone who's ever seen a horror film knows that creepy daughters and creepy houses make a dangerous combination, especially when they have creepy monsters in the creepy basement.

Right from the start, this film showed a lot of potential in terms of atmosphere and style.  And then it quickly goes downhill as it became clear this is your standard haunted house/creature/creepy kid horror film.  Nothing new.  I expected more from the guy who brought us 'Pan's Labyrinth' and 'Hellboy'.

Grade: C-

Our Idiot Brother


On paper this film looks like the perfect dysfunctional family dramedy.  It has an indie dream cast including Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, and Adam Scott.  With that cast, Sundance screeners undoubtedly would have programmed it sight unseen.  I sure would have.  Oh, and don't let the poster fool you, this is an ensemble not a Paul Rudd film.  And aside from the cast, the idea has a lot of potential, with Rudd as the happy-go-lucky 'idiot' protagonist who consistently makes extremely questionable decisions, like selling pot to a uniformed police officer because he's really friendly.  And it's also about the impact Rudd's character has on his three siblings, played by Deschanel, Mortimer, and Banks.  On paper it sounds fantastic.  But sadly, the final meal is not quite as good as its ingredients.

For one thing, Rudd doesn't seem enough like an idiot.  He certainly doesn't play the character as mentally challenged.  But yet he repeatedly does things that normal people with half a brain wouldn't do.  So is he supposed to be an idiot or not?  And that leads into my second issue:  Since he's not a buffoon, the film really isn't all that funny.  There are a few comical moments for sure, but not enough to recommend this film as a comedy.  But it's also not overly heartwarming or emotional.  It's just somewhere in between.

Like a lot of the dramedies that came out of Sundance this year (e.g. 'Win Win', 'Cedar Rapids') I just wish this one were a little bit better and I can't help but feel disappointed.  Don't get me wrong, I sufficiently enjoyed my 90 minutes.  The cast alone makes this one likeable enough to go and see.  But I must admit, given the choice in theaters, you're better off with 'Crazy Stupid Love'.  And if you want to see Rudd at his best, re-visit 'I Love You Man'.

Grade: B

Brighton Rock


Going in, I had absolutely no idea what this film was about, but right from the start I got that tingling sensation that what I was about to see was going to be something special.  It had great atmosphere, a stylish retro look, a top notch British cast, and the distinct air of mystery, suspense, and crime.  But sadly it was downhill from there.

Based on a novel by Graham Greene, the story had already been adapted in 1947 starring Sir Richard Attenborough.  This version features Sam Riley as a young gangster who marries a woman he doesn't love to keep himself out of prison because she witnessed him commit a crime.  The supporting cast is great, including John Hurt, Helen Mirren, and Andy Serkis, but unfortunately it just doesn't go anywhere of interest.  Ultimately this just seemed like a worse than average program you might happen upon on the BBC, but with a bit more style and a slightly better cast.  It's really a disappointment relative to its potential.  You're better off with a double feature of 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' and 'The Rock' (he says, only slightly in jest.)

Grade: C+

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One Day


As usual for me, I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about it.  I much prefer it that way.  But the title threw me off.  I assumed the entire film, or at least most of it, took place all in one day.  But quite the contrary.  This is a romantic drama about the relationship of Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess spanning over two decades, beginning with their college graduation.

Lots of films start strong and fall apart by the end.  This one is actually the opposite.  I wasn't really into it for the first half, but by the end it really pulled me in.  At first I had written it off as a worse version of 'Blue Valentine' with a bothersome message that one can get away with an inordinate amount of bad behavior as long as one is good looking.  And while thats unfortunately true, it didn't sit well with me for the first half.  But as the film went on, and the characters matured, it really developed into a thoughtful film that resonated.with me afterwards.  It's still no 'Blue Valentine', mind you.  And from early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, other critics aren't being as kind as I am.  But it worked for me, right down to the dual meaning of the title.

Grade: B+

Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World


Call this one Spy Kids: The Next Generation.  It's a reboot of the franchise that began as a trilogy between 2001 and 2003, with a hot new super-spy step-parent, played by Jessica Alba, and a more precocious set of siblings as the next generation of pre-teen spies.  Add in Joel McHale as a clueless TV host dad, Jeremy Piven as the head of the OSS, and Ricky Gervais as the voice of a talking dog and you've got a pretty solid cast, which is the norm for the Spy Kids films.  And Robert Rodriguez is back as the writer/director/cinematographer/co-producer and music collaborator.  (He surrendered the job as editor this time.  Slacking a bit, I guess.)

And as for the 4D a.k.a. Aroma-Scope?  It's just a bothersome gimmick.  After purchasing my ticket (which was $11.25 even at discounted matinee prices thanks to the extra two 'dimensions') I received a small card with eight numbers on it that you are directed to scratch and sniff at various times in the movie.  They all smell about the same, nothing like they're supposed to, and are really just an annoyance, taking you out of the film.  It's like a poor man's attraction at Walt Disney World.  Can't we just go back to 2D please?!?

Just like the original trilogy, this is a fun, fast paced, feel good family film with a good cast.  It's not as good as the first two, but it's still one of the better films for kids released this year so I feel ok recommending taking the shorties.  But as for the Aroma-Scope?  It just stinks.

Grades:
Movie: B-
Aroma-Scope 4D: F

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 8/19/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I did my first all DVD segment, giving my thoughts on 'Let Me In', 'Spy Kids', and 'The Matador'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/entertainment/movies/081911-flieder-flicks-friday

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
(Movies released this week are in green)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II           Grade: A+

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

The Help                              Grade: A-

Friends with Benefits          Grade: A-

The Guard                           Grade: A-

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon       Grade: B+

Sarah's Key                         Grade: B+

One Day                              Grade: B+

Point Blank                        Grade: B+

The Whistleblower            Grade: B+

The Future                         Grade: B

Rise of the Planet of the Apes     Grade: B

Winnie the Pooh                Grade: B for kids under 8, but D for adults

The Change-Up                   Grade: B-

Cowboys and Aliens          Grade: B-

Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World    Grade: B-

30 Minutes or Less            Grade: C+

Another Earth                   Grade: C+

Horrible Bosses                 Grade: C+

Cars 2                                 Grade: C-

Captain America: The First Avenger    Grade: C-

Fright Night                      Grade: C-

The Zookeeper                  Grade: D

Final Destination 5            Grade: D-

Fright Night


Who remembers this forgettable, cheesy vampire flick from 1985 with mostly unknown actors that didn't go on to anything notable, except Amanda Bearse who had a good run as Marcy on 'Married with Children' and the great Roddy McDowell, probably most famous for the original 'Planet of the Apes' series but always enjoyable in everything he's been in?  I sure didn't.  So I did my homework and watched it, and it was a loooong 106 minutes.  So my question is, why on Earth would they want to remake such a bad movie with such an uninspiring premise?  And why on Earth would Colin Ferrell and Toni Collette want to star in it?  And why on Earth does anyone cast Anton Yelchin in their film?  I will probably never know the answers to any of these questions.

And as for vampire movies, isn't enough enough?  The market is flooded with this genre and almost none of them are any good.  (Two notable exceptions of the recent past were 'Daybreakers' with Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill which came out in 2009, and 'Let Me In', last year's remake of the Swedish film 'Let the Right One In'.  Those two are exceptionally good.)

Here's the plot of both the original and remake:  A teenager suspects that his next door neighbor is a vampire.  So to keep his mom and girlfriend safe, he enlists the help of a horror TV show host.  I admit, the movie is not without entertainment value.  Ferrell is usually pretty entertaining, and he hams it up a bit here.  And David Tennant, probably best known as one of the Doctors on 'Doctor Who', also plays it broad as the TV host.  But other than that there's not much to like here.  It's just a predictable horror thriller in boring 3D.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Spy Kids 1 - 3



Sorry moms and dads, but there aren't any advance screenings for 'Spy Kids 4', so unfortunately I can't tell you if it's worth taking the family.  But the least I can do is give you my two cents on the first three:

It's hard to make family films that are entertaining for grownups.  And normally I'm not a big fan of the 'adults relying on kids to save the world' genre.  I'm sure all kids love to fantasize about being world class spies and heroes but let's face it, they're really just less capable, less intelligent, less mature versions of adults.  (A little harsh perhaps, but let's keep it real.  They're not saving the world.)  Nevertheless, this series is actually really fun.  And it's hard not to give most of the credit to Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a true auteur, functioning as the director, writer, editor, co-producer, and even collaborating on the music and sound.  These films are clearly his vision realized.  And he couldn't have picked a better actor to help him realize that vision than long time collaborator Antonio Banderas.  They both previously worked really well together in 'Desperado' and on a great segment in the anthology film 'Four Rooms', both from 1995.  Fortunately the stylish, fast paced silliness that we got to experience all too briefly in 'Four Rooms' gets a more elongated version here.  Like in that film, Rodriguez makes use of sped up film and exaggerated sound effects to keep things light and tight.

And we also get a cavalcade of fun stars.  The first 'Spy Kids' was released in 2001 and featured Carla Gugino, Tony Shalhoub, Alan Cumming, Cheech Marin, Robert Patrick, Teri Hatcher, and Danny Trejo as Machete, a character he would revive in a trailer in Rodriguez' grindhouse film 'Planet Terror' in 2007, and then again in the eponymous film in 2010.

'Spy Kids 2' came out a year later in 2002 and featured most of the same cast as the first plus Bill Paxton, Ricardo Montalban, and Steve Buscemi.  This one is just as much fun as the first and even includes an homage to the great Ray Harryhausen films of the 60's and 70's like 'Jason and the Argonauts'.
The third film in the original trilogy was released in 2003 and added Sylvester Stallone and Salma Hayek to the cast.  And it's in 3-D.  But unfortunately it's the worst of the three.  It's not terrible, but it's just too much like watching a videogame, and if you read my review of 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' or 'Tron', you know how much I don't care for that.

I really like this series.  You can just sense the fun everyone involved had making them, and even feel a part of it.  They're just light, fun films that are good for the whole family.

So will the fourth be any good?  I'm not sure.  It's been almost a decade.  And it's in 4D, which apparently means they're adding smell via scratch and sniff.  (Last I checked, smell is a sense and not a dimension, but whatever.)  Ordinarily I don't like gimmicks but this and the 3-D in the third work with the lighthearted silliness of the films.  So I'm optimistic.  But I'll let you know.  Smell ya later.

Grades:
Spy Kids (2001):  A
Spy Kids 2 (2002): A-
Spy Kids 3 (2003): C+

Friday, August 12, 2011

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 8/5/11


Check out my appearance from last Friday where I gave my thoughts on 'The Rise of the Planet of the Apes', 'The Change-Up', 'The Trip', and 'Exporting Raymond'.

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day - FOX 35 Orlando 8/12/11


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on '30 Minutes or Less', 'The Help', 'Final Destination 5', and 'Super'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/entertainment/movies/081211-flieder-flicks-friday

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
(Movies released this week are in green)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II           Grade: A+

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

The Help                              Grade: A-

Friends with Benefits          Grade: A-

The Guard                           Grade: A-

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Terri                                     Grade: B+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon       Grade: B+

Sarah's Key                         Grade: B+

Point Blank                        Grade: B+

The Future                         Grade: B

Rise of the Planet of the Apes     Grade: B

Winnie the Pooh                Grade: B for kids under 8, but D for adults

The Change-Up                   Grade: B-

Cowboys and Aliens          Grade: B-

30 Minutes or Less            Grade: C+

Another Earth                   Grade: C+

Horrible Bosses                 Grade: C+

Cars 2                                 Grade: C-

Captain America: The First Avenger    Grade: C-

The Zookeeper                  Grade: D

Final Destination 5            Grade: D-

Final Destination 5


OK, so who else can't believe they actually had the nerve to make a fifth 'Final Destination'?  The last one was called 'The Final Destination' for gosh sakes!  What is it that the executives at New Line Cinema don't understand about the word final?  Is there a simpler word with a simpler meaning?  But let's take a moment to recall the history of the series before I lambast them any further for this egregious milking of a creatively dead franchise.

The first 'Final Destination' was released in 2000 and was actually quite good.  A group of kids on a school trip are boarding a plane when one of them gets a vision that the plane is going to explode.  He flips out and a handful of passengers reluctantly follow him off the plane only to watch it explode moments later.  (In fact, the entire beginning is an homage to a classic 'Twilight Zone' episode.)  But here's the twist.  Death isn't that easy to escape.  When it's your time to go, it's your time to go, and Death won't rest until it has its way.  And so, Death catches up with the survivors one by one in extreme and varying ways.  Nice!  That premise had a lot going for it.  Is there a better villain than Death itself?  I think not.
And then came the next three installments in 2003, 2006, and 2009 respectively.  Now, a good genre series would add to the mythology with each installment.  (The 'Alien' and 'Scream' franchises come to mind as good examples where each sequel adds significantly to the story arc.)  This series, on the other hand, does nothing of the sort.  Each sequel adds nothing.  They are virtual copies of the first, except for the differing catastrophes at the beginning where a handful of fresh, young, and attractive teenagers narrowly escape.  In the second film it's a highway accident, in the third it's a roller coaster accident at a carnival (which I must admit was a good choice), and the dreadful fourth is a car race accident.  And to make matters worse, the cast in each film got significantly cheesier and cheesier.  Clearly they didn't want to waste any money on cast or script.  Clearly all the filmmakers were concerned with was devising new and gratuitously grotesque ways for Death to take its victims.  Shameful.  The only positive I can offer is that these are all under 95 minutes, and I am thankful for small favors.

And now we have the fifth installment.  And the catastrophe is .... (drum roll please) ... a suspension bridge collapse.  Ho freakin' hum!  That's the genius idea that made them decide a fifth installment had to be made?!?  Well, there must be some other good reason, yes?  Ummm, nope, not really.  This one is in gimmicky 3D, it's more violent than ever, and there is a slight new twist to the storyline and a marginally interesting twist to the ending, but nothing that makes this gratuitously violent, overindulgent B-movie gore-fest worth making or worth watching.  So, I implore you, skip this film!  Do it for yourself and do it for me, so that I don't have to sit through 'Final Destination 6' next year.  Otherwise Death won't have to come for me ... I'll take matters into my own hands.

Grade: D-

The Future


My favorite films are those that tackle the intangible themes of life and death and love and sadness, and this film by writer/director Miranda July falls in that category.  Or at least it tries.

This is a hard film to describe.  On the surface it deals with a couple in their mid 30's struggling with their place in the world.  They're lost, like many of us.  It begins quirky and then just gets plain strange, playing with time, and sprinkled throughout with narration by a cat.  (Yes, you read that line correctly, the voiceover is from a cat.)  It is alternately humorous, bizarre, and pensive.

Film buffs know July from her debut feature in 2005, 'Me And You and Everyone Else'.  That film worked for me (and maybe even you if you're reading this, but possibly not everyone else).  It was different and pretty out there;  Deep and quirky at the same time.  The characters were all equally fascinating.  Unfortunately in my opinion 'The Future's not quite as good.  But fans of her will surely not want to miss it.

July was actually at my screening and introduced the film and participated in a lengthy Q&A afterward.  And having experienced that, it is now very clear that this is her movie and it is very close to her.  I can say that how I feel about her as a person is pretty close to how I feel about her movie as well.  They're both endearing, honest, thoughtful, deep, bizarre, and somewhat unintelligible.  I believe the movie has deep meaning but you have to work for it to get it.  And I'm always happy to do that, but I'm also even happier when I feel fully satisfied after doing so, at least on an emotional level.  I can't say that I do here.  I'm sure it's very personal to her, but just not fully satisfying to me, although I look forward to seeing what she does in her 'future'.

Whether or not you will appreciate this movie really depends on if you like art films sprinkled with absurdities and deeper meaning, and whether you're willing to work for an understanding of it.

Grade: B

30 Minutes or Less


Every action comedy wants to be the next 'Beverly Hills Cop'.  (This one even includes Glenn Frey's 'The Heat is On', clearly as an homage to the 1984 Eddie Murphy classic.)  But more often than not they turn out closer to 'Cop Out', the Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan mess from 2010.  Let's face it, merging action and comedy is a tricky combination.  Trying to get the tone just right is a very gentle balancing act.  And unfortunately '30 Minutes or Less' doesn't quite do it.  But, it's not nearly as big a mess as 'Cop Out'.  In fact, it's still somewhat entertaining.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a pizza delivery boy who unknowingly becomes the target of a 'master plan' by screw-up Danny McBride to force someone to rob a bank by strapping a bomb to his chest.  Eisenberg enlists his friend, played by Aziz Ansari, to help out, and of course he does because what the hell, it's only robbing a bank, right?  No biggie.  Riiiiight. 

Alrighty, so where do I begin?  Let's start with the good.  Jesse Eisenberg is top notch, as usual.  He's a quality actor, turning in a quality dramatic performance, in what could have been a quality drama.  Unfortunately, everyone around him is a complete buffoon, almost as if they were making a different movie than Eisenberg thought they were making.  Aziz Ansari is the same old Aziz Ansari we've seen in 'Scrubs' and 'Parks and Recreation'.  Frankly, I'm bored of his schtick.  And who decided Danny McBride ever belonged in films or television?  It's the same old schtick for him too, like we've seen in the lowness that was 'Your Highness'.  I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.

But I'm being a tad bit harsh.  This film is not without entertainment value.  Despite my issues with it, it's still adequately entertaining.  However, considering the poster clearly wants you to know it's from the director of 'Zombieland', I feel compelled to say that this ain't no 'Zombieland'.  In fact, something tells me one person who might be more disappointed than me after watching this may have been Jesse Eisenberg.  (But I'm sure you'll get 'em next time, Jesse.  'Rodger Dodger' rules!)

Grade: C+

The Guard


I reviewed this film already after seeing it at the TriBeCa film festival in April.  I haven't had a chance to revisit it or form any new thoughts, so I'll just repeat what I already said:

Fans of 'In Bruges' rejoice!  The writer and director of that film executive produced this one, which was written and directed by his brother.  And they clearly have the same eye for dark humor and casting.  Brendan Gleeson is back playing a quirky policeman in Galway, who teams up with an American played by Don Cheadle to track down some drug dealing killers.  The dark comedy tone is done just right, like in 'Bruges'.  If you like British crime drama and dark comedy, be sure to check it out.

The film sat well with me over the last few months and I look forward to seeing it again so I'm going to upgrade to ...

Grade: A-

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help


Oscar season may have begun early with this adaptation of the popular book of the same name.  For those of you unfamiliar with the book (also known as males) the story focuses on the class difference between whites and blacks in Mississippi in the 1960's.  At that time blacks weren't slaves, but as housemaids and nanny's to rich young white girls they weren't treated much different.

This is a completely female driven film.  In fact, there isn't a single significant male role.  And that's actually a breath of fresh air amidst all the male dominated super hero franchises and summer blockbusters.  The performances are strong across the board including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain.  It's hard to imagine none them getting an Oscar nomination, but it's such a good ensemble, it's equally hard to say who deserves it the most.  All in all it's a well made film likely to be compared to 'The Color Purple', and that movie scored 11 Oscar nominations in 1986.  And I'd say these two are probably separate but equal.

Women often complain that there aren't enough films made for women.  And rightly so.  Well this is one, and it's a really good one.  So this is your chance, ladies, to tell Hollywood these types of films can be profitable.  Don't delay, go see it this weekend, otherwise this time next year your only choice will be 'Sex and the City 3:  Back to the Minors'.

Grade: A

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Music Never Stopped


Now available on DVD, J.K. Simmons and Cara Seymour star in this family drama as parents in the 1980's who haven't seen their son, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, in 20 years when he left home after an argument.  But now their son has reappeared with a brain tumor and no short term memory, and they struggle to make a connection with him.  With help from a therapist, played by Julia Ormond, they learn that the music he loved when he was younger temporarily brings him out of his nearly catatonic state. 

It's not surprising this film is very reminiscent of 'Awakenings' from 1990 starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, since they were both written by the same man, Oliver Sacks.  And while it's not as powerful as that film, it does ultimately hit home emotionally.  Lou Taylor Pucci delivers a fine understated performance as a person trapped inside himself, but it's really J.K. Simmons who steals the show, as he always does.  (Seriously, is there a better and more consistent actor?  How has he not even been nominated for either an Oscar or an Emmy?)  So, while this film takes a while to hit its stride, it does ultimately get there, and if you're a fan of emotional dramas, J.K. Simmons, or bands of the 60's and 70's like The Grateful Dead, you shouldn't miss it.

Grade: B+

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Point Blank


'Point Blank' is a fast paced subtitled French action thriller that takes off like a rocket and barely ever lets up.  A male nurse's aide accidentally gets mixed up with the target of a hit, and when the wrong people find out they kidnap his pregnant wife in order to get him to do as they say.  We've seen similar themed films to this before (e.g.  Gene Hackman and Matt Dillon in 'Target' (1985), Harrison Ford in Roman Polanski's 'Frantic' (1988), Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken in 'Nick of Time' (1995), and Pierce Brosnan and Maria Bello in 'Shattered' (2007)), but this one is pretty polished with non-stop action that's actually exciting, and a lot of shifty characters and twists, keeping you in the dark for most of the movie.  Too many of the 'who's good and who's bad' twists can be a bad thing, but this film is just shy of crossing that line.  It's really a well made movie making me wonder why Americans can't hardly ever make a good action thriller?  I can only postulate it's that American studios spend way too much money on their films and therefore can't afford to take any creative chances.  This one only cost $16M according to IMDB.  Take note, Hollywood studio executives.  Less is more.

Grade: B+ 

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
(Movies released this week are in green)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II           Grade: A+

Beginners                            Grade: A+

Midnight in Paris                Grade: A

The Trip                               Grade: A

The Hangover Part II          Grade: A-

Crazy Stupid Love               Grade: A-

Friends with Benefits          Grade: A-

X-Men: First Class                Grade: B+

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides     Grade: B+

Tree of Life                          Grade: B+

Terri                                     Grade: B+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon       Grade: B+

Sarah's Key                         Grade: B+

Bridesmaids                        Grade: B+

Mr. Popper's Penguins      Grade: B+

Point Blank                        Grade: B+

A Little Help                       Grade: B

Rise of the Planet of the Apes     Grade: B

Winnie the Pooh                Grade: B for kids under 8, but D for adults

The Change-Up                   Grade: B-

Bad Teacher                       Grade: B-

Cowboys and Aliens          Grade: B-

Another Earth                   Grade: C+

Horrible Bosses                 Grade: C+

Green Lantern                    Grade: C

Cars 2                                 Grade: C-

Captain America: The First Avenger    Grade: C-

Super 8                              Grade: C-

Larry Crowne                    Grade: D

The Zookeeper                  Grade: D

Rise of the Planet of the Apes


In the spirit of evolution, I figure it makes sense to start my review with some history on this series and how it has evolved.  In fact, it's been 43 years since this franchise began.  But if you don't want a history lesson, feel free to skip to the last two paragraphs.

The first 'Planet of the Apes' film was released in 1968.  Charlton Heston plays an astronaut who's been in space for the Earth time equivalent of hundreds of years, intending to return despite the fact that everyone he'd ever known has long past.  But on his return voyage something goes wrong and he ends up crash landing on a mysterious planet 2000 years in the future.  On this planet apes rule and primitive humans are hunted, analyzed, and experimented on.  Essentially apes treat humans how humans treat apes on Earth.  I've seen the film a few times and it's hard to get past how dated it is, but some of the major ideas hold up well.  And there are classic, often quoted lines like 'take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!'  And the ending is one of the more talked about in film history, so it's worth a watch if only for that.  (Keep your expectations reasonable though.)

Four sequels followed between 1970 and 1973.  It's pretty clear they weren't intended right from the start, but all things considered they all work fairly well, each one adding to the mythology and each one being significantly different enough.  Heston returns in the second, and Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter return for most of the five as two of the apes.  The arc of the entire series is an interesting one taking place at various points in time, future and past.  The most shocking discovery to me is that a key time travel paradox in the series strongly resembles that of 'The Terminator'.  I had previously admired 'The Terminator' for its originality but now having seen these I see it's basically a borrowed idea from this series.  Very interesting indeed.

After the initial five films, there were a few short lived television series continuing the storyline.  But the franchise pretty much died until it was revived in 2001 by Tim Burton, starring Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, and Paul Giamatti.  This remake was met with a lot of criticism and I don't really get it.  It's a fresh take, Burton-style, and adds a bunch of new twists.  Sure, the middle tends to drag on a bit, but it's really much better than it was received and it still holds up ten years later.

And after laying dormant for a decade Hollywood has now dug up the corpse one more time.  This time for a prequel of sorts, showing how the evolved apes came to be.  But it really doesn't tie in to the storyline of the original series or the Burton remake.  In fact, they've taken many liberties to embrace modern science and lean less on science fiction and more on science.  And I'm ok with that.  I think the film works satisfactorily for both the fanboys and the uninitiated.  To be sure, there's nothing revolutionary about it, but it kept me entertained throughout.  My biggest criticism is of James Franco actually.  No one was a bigger fan of his last year than I was after '127 Hours'.  I still believe he deserved the Oscar for that performance.  But here, quite the contrary.  He displays so little emotion in scenes that really called for it, it just seemed like he was phoning it in.  And frankly, after this and 'Your Highness', I'd really like to see him do better next time.  But fortunately Andy Serkis brings it as the main character, an ape named Caesar.  Serkis is the go-to guy when it comes to bringing creatures on film to life, as he proved as Gollum in 'The Lord of the Rings' and as King Kong, and he does what he does best here.

It's a pretty safe bet this is just the beginning.  I fully expect many more 'Apes' films to come over the next decade.  So get caught up now before their evolution passes you by.

Grade: B

The Change-Up


I try to go into every movie as neutral as I can, giving each one the chance they deserve.  But this was kind of a tough one.  How many times have we seen two people change bodies?  Let's see, to the best of my recall there was Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in 'Freaky Friday' (1976), Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore in 'Like Father, Like Son' (1987), Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold in 'Vice Versa' (1988), Charlie Schlatter and George Burns in '18 Again' (1988), Tom Hanks in 'Big' (1988) (Ok, I do realize he doesn't actually switch places with someone else, but he becomes a kid and that's close enough), Rob Schneider and Rachel McAdams in 'The Hot Chick' (2002), Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in a remake of 'Freaky Friday' (2003), Jennifer Garner in '13 Going on 30' (2004), and Zac Efron and Matthew Perry in '17 Again' (2009).  Whew!  Did I miss any?  I'm sure I missed several.

OK, so having seen most of those movies, it's an understatement to say I really didn't need to see this story again, ever, and I really wish overpaid Hollywood screenwriters would actually write something new for a change.  Nevertheless, I was actually pleasantly surprised.  The story is exactly what you expect, but the film has two things going for it.  First, the leads played by Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are excellent.  Both of these are in danger of overexposure these days, but they really have great chemistry together.  In fact, I'd like to see them team up again in future films.  Their dry senses of humor mesh well together.  And second, this movie is really, really crass and I didn't expect that.  Of course that might turn some people off, but I respect that they totally went for it, uncaring of who they may offend with extreme foul language, nudity, and sexual situations.  In fact, it's a bit extreme, but that's what separates it from the pack and since I was expecting a family film it threw me for a loop and I do like to be surprised.  I do wish it was a bit funnier though and not just out for shock value.  But I was entertained and had a smile on my face throughout even though I wasn't laughing consistently.

So I'm comfortable giving this one a mild recommendation, despite the fact that I really don't want to see another 'body swap' film again.  Can you imagine 'F'd Up Friday' starring Ice Cube and Betty White?  Or how about Elle Fanning and a CGI version of George Burns in '13 Going on 115 with Gender Reassignment'?  Or, if both this and the 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' do well this weekend, might we be seeing 'Like Human, Like Ape' next summer?  Things that make you go hmmm...

Grade: B-

Terri


Terri is a special kid who could use a friend.  He's overweight, a loner, and lives with his odd, sickly uncle (played by 'The Office's Creed Bratton).  So when the school vice principal, played by John C. Reilly, takes an interest in him, an unlikely and welcome friendship occurs.  Don't worry, it's indie not sappy.  It premiered at Sundance and it's so very Sundance. 

Based on the poster, indie movie buffs will undoubtedly think the same thing I did:  Gosh, this looks an awful lot like 'Cyrus'!  Not to worry, it's significantly different.  And while I really liked 'Cyrus', as a fan of the 'mumblecore' movement, I found this one to have more substance and Reilly really hits a home run with his performance.  In his career, he's certainly had many early highs ('Hard Eight', 'Magnolia', and 'Chicago' to name a few) followed by some embarrassing lows (pretty much every time he collaborates with Will Ferrell), so I'm glad to see he's returning to his roots with indie films like 'Cyrus', 'Cedar Rapids', and now this one.  I actually think this is arguably his best performance to date and certainly one of the more interesting I've seen this year.  And it was also great to see Bratton stretch from his one-note (albeit consistently funny performance) on 'The Office'.  Both were the perfect casting choices here.  I only wish the movie were a bit longer (and I rarely say that) so that they could have taken all the characters a little but further than they did.  Unfortunately it's not completely satisfying, but it's much better than a lot of what I've seen this year.

If you like the off-beat, dark comedies like 'Little Miss Sunshine' then this one is definitely worth your time.

Grade: B+