Friday, May 25, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 5/25/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Men in Black III', 'Chernobyl Diaries', and 'Newlyweds'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/category/233752/good-day

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

The Cabin in the Woods    Grade: A+

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

The Five Year Engagement     Grade: A-

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Think Like a Man              Grade: B+

Headhunters                    Grade: B+

Dark Shadows                  Grade: B

Bernie                                Grade: B

Chernobyl Diaries             Grade: B

What to Expect When You're Expecting     Grade: C

The Raven                          Grade: C

Pirates!  Band of Misfits     Grade: C

Men in Black III                 Grade: C-

Battleship                          Grade: D

The Lucky One                  Grade: D

The Three Stooges            Grade: D-

The Dictator                      Grade: F

Men in Black III



Digging up a franchise that's been dormant for over a decade is generally a bad idea.  Though occasionally it works.  If a script arises that not only warrants but seemingly requires the continuation of the storyline, then it totally makes sense.  Or perhaps it's time to pass the baton to a new generation of successors in a reboot (e.g. Star Trek, Scream 4, or X-Men: First Class).  This, however, is neither.  It's a perfect example of a sequel that needn't have been made and intends only to draw you in with a few recognizable faces in dark suits and sunglasses.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back together again after ten years as the Men in Black, a secret government organization that deals with extraterrestrials living under cover here on Earth.  And this time Smith must go back in time to meet up with a young Jones, played by Josh Brolin, to change the future.  And trust me when I say Marty McFly did it much better.  There isn't much to like here and this clearly isn't a story that needed to be told.  While the first two films were fun, in large part due to the quirkiness of director Barry Sonnenfeld, this one falls as flat as the pointless 3D.  It's boring, and the once omnipresent charisma of Smith and Jones (whose names ironically sound like fake government agents even in reality) no longer exists.  They just seem like two bored actors going through the motions.

Grade: C-

Chernobyl Diaries


I'm gonna keep this brief since I just came from the movie and I have to be up in five hours to review it on FOX.  Generally speaking it's a bad sign if the only press screening of a film is three hours before opening day.  I've found that generally means the studio isn't proud of the project and doesn't want bad word of mouth spreading prematurely to kill the first weekend at the box office.  But this movie is more fun than I expected.

From Oren Peli, the writer and producer of the 'Paranormal Activity' films, comes another horror film.  But, refreshingly, it's not a found footage or documentary-style horror.  That's getting old.  This one's about a group of youngsters who hire an unorthodox tour guide to go on a tour to the deserted Chernobyl power plant.  And, of course, nothing good comes of it.  (Go to Disney World.  It's safer.)  It's hard to make a low budget horror film feel fresh these days, but this film succeeds largely based on interesting locations.  And the scares are there too.  It's good old fashioned scary fun.

Grade: B

Newlyweds


There's a ritual I have at the Tribeca Festival:  If there's an Edward Burns film, I see it.  And of the seven times I've been to Tribeca, Burns has had a movie there for five of them.  ('The Groomsmen' in 2006, 'Purple Violets' in 2007, 'Nice Guy Johnny' in 2010, 'Newlyweds' in 2011, and a short film called 'Doggy Bags' in 2012.)  It's just not a complete Tribeca experience unless I've had my Burns fix.  Why do I like him so much?  Well, he's basically the next Woody Allen (and it's not a coincidence as he's a self proclaimed Woody Allen nut.)  Like Allen, his films are primarily dramedies consisting of interesting characters having interesting conversations in New York City.  They're low concept stories that hold my attention and entertain me much more than any $100M blockbuster.  And this particular film only cost $9,000 to make.  (And that included the cost of the camera.)  And it's great.  So let this be a lesson to filmmakers big and small.  More budget often equates to a worse movie.

So, as I mentioned above, I saw this film at the Tribeca Film Festival in April of 2011, and I've been waiting to blog about its theatrical release since then.  But if it had one it escaped my watchful eye.  According to IMDB it premiered on Video on Demand on 12/26/11 and had a limited theatrical release on 1/13/12.  But this week it finally came out on DVD.  It's a dramedy about family and how disruptive they can be, and it's a throwback to Burns' earlier film 'Sidewalks of New York', which was previously my favorite Burns film.
And it's also a clear homage to some of my favorite Woody Allen films like 'Husbands and Wives'.  In a sense this is the best Woody Allen film not made by Woody Allen.

Grade: A

Friday, May 18, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 5/18/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Battleship', 'The Dictator', 'What to Expect When You're Expecting', and 'Rampart'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/story/18553336/flieders-flicks

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

The Cabin in the Woods    Grade: A+

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

The Five Year Engagement     Grade: A-

God Bless America                  Grade: A-

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Sound of My Voice                 Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Think Like a Man              Grade: B+

Headhunters                    Grade: B+

Mansome                         Grade: B

Dark Shadows                  Grade: B

Bernie                                Grade: B

21 Jump Street                  Grade: C+

What to Expect When You're Expecting     Grade: C

The Raven                          Grade: C

Pirates!  Band of Misfits     Grade: C

Battleship                          Grade: D

The Lucky One                  Grade: D

The Three Stooges            Grade: D-

The Dictator                      Grade: F

Battleship


This has easily been the worst week at the movies of the year.  And if there's one thing that gets my goat more than every movie being a sequel, prequel, remake, reboot, or update, it's that studios are now resorting to toys and games as their inspiration.  It's the antithesis of creativity.  And even more infuriating is how successful they are at doing so!  (Has anyone heard of those little seen 'Transformers' movies?)  Well, now we finally get that feature film version of the board game we all played as children.  Say it with me: Oh joy.

Taylor Kitsch is back on screen again just 11 weeks after stealing two and half hours of my life with 'John Carter'.  And, if possible, he has even less screen presence in this one.  He's easily my least favorite new go-to actor.  (Congrats Channing Tatum, you just went up a rung.)  Kitsch plays a long haired bar hound who cleans up his act when his brother convinces him to join the Navy.  And thank the Lord, because otherwise who else would save the world when aliens arrive to take over the planet?!?  (Oops, I should have said spoiler alert.)  The cast is terrible, the story is cliche, the dialogue is laughable, and the first half hour before the aliens arrive is unbearable.  Oh, and don't see the film simply because you're a Liam Neeson fan.  I can't recall a bigger waste of talent in recent history.  His role is a glorified cameo.

Please, please, please don't spend your hard earned cash and waste your time seeing this movie.  You're much better off revisiting 'Independence Day'.  I really hope people stay home this weekend because I really can't deal with the idea of 'Connect Four: The Movie'.  (Diagonally!  Pretty sneaky, sis.)

Grade: D 

The Dictator


If I were asked to list two movie stars whose movies I least look forward to seeing, I'd probably go with Adam Sandler and Sacha Baron Cohen.  But since they've become virtually indistinguishable, I suggest we just call them Sacha Badam Sandler.  And that's a two-for-one I just can't handle.

This time, TAFKAB (The Asshole Formerly Known As Borat) is a total 'dic'tator.  And, as you'd expect, there are seemingly endless jokes about murder, rape, and torture.  And what's more funny that that, right?  Wrong.  This movie is painfully unfunny and painfully predictable from start to finish.  Its best redeeming quality is its 83 minute run time.  And its biggest mystery is why it features Sir Ben Kingsley.  (WTF, Sir Ben, WTF?)  If you're not offended by the material, you should be offended by the insult to your intelligence.  I'm offended by both.

Grade: F

What to Expect When You're Expecting


When you're in summer blockbuster mode the question is, how do you compete with an 800 pound gorilla like 'The Avengers'?  Clearly competing for the same audience doesn't work, as proven by 'Dark Shadows' lackluster debut last week.  So how about counter-programming with a movie targeted to women based on a well known guidebook about pregnancy.  Yeah, that's the ticket!  But to do that you still need to make it worth going to see, and this ain't no 'Bridemaids'.

The premise here is very basic.  Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, and Brooklyn Decker play five pregnant women dealing with all those cliche pregnancy issues, as well as with their babies' daddies.  And that's exactly what we expect from 'What to Expect', but this film tries to be too many things yet doesn't really succeed at any of them.  It has a few funny moments but big laughs are few and far between.  It makes attempts at being dramatic and romantic but they don't work.  And there's even an effort made to include those unfortunate men who've been dragged to the film by their ladies through the repeated return to a 'bro walk', consisting of four dads including Chris Rock, and a soon-to-be-father, walking their babies and making the most of their 'bro' time.  The most surprising thing about this movie is that it was directed by a man, and I'm not sure that was the right choice here.  By attempting to make this all things to all people, I think it ended up being only mildly appreciable to few.  Granted I'm a man with no kids so this isn't my wheelhouse.

Grade: C

Mansome


Comedy documentary director Morgan Spurlock ('Supersize Me', 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold', 'Comic-Con') returns again with a doc about metrosexuals and manscaping.  But can you make a feature length movie about hair worth seeing?  Well if anyone can, Spurlock, with his trademark handlebar mustache, is the man.  And it doesn't hurt to have executive producers and 'Arrested Development' costars Will Arnett and Jason Bateman along for the ride.  A series of interviews with famously facial haired men are interwoven with a behind the scenes look at a 'bearding' competition and a day at the spa with Arnett and Bateman.  It's not Spurlock's best, but it's fun, original, and feel good.  And you can pair it with Chris Rock's 'Good Hair' for a grooming good time.

Grade: B

Bernie


Jack Black plays Bernie, a funeral director from Texas.  Bernie's a distinctive man.  He's extremely warm, friendly, and helpful, particularly to the older ladies in town.  He has a tremendous singing voice.  And he's more than a little effeminate.  Yet, even in Republican America, he's embraced by all in town and overwhelmingly popular.  But things take a turn for the worse after he persistently pursues a relationship with a mean older woman played by Shirley MacLaine.

This documentary-style dark comedy directed by Richard Linklater ('Before Sunrise', 'Before Sunset', 'Dazed and Confused') is alternately quirky and disturbing.  The performances and key casting, including Matthew McConaughey as the small town District Attorney, are perfect.  And the fact that it's based on a true story makes it even better.  But it felt long and fell short on surprises.  It's worth your time if you fancy the quirky indie dramedies.

Grade: B

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 5/11/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'Dark Shadows', 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', and 'God Bless America'.

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/good_day/051112-flieder-flicks

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

The Cabin in the Woods    Grade: A+

Titanic                                 Grade: A

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

The Five Year Engagement     Grade: A-

God Bless America                  Grade: A-

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Sound of My Voice                 Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Comic-Con Episode 4: A Fan's Hope    (Video On Demand)   Grade: A-

American Reunion            Grade: B+

Think Like a Man              Grade: B+

Headhunters                    Grade: B+

Friends with Kids             Grade: B+

Elles                                  Grade: B+

The Lorax                            Grade: B

Dark Shadows                  Grade: B

Lockout                               Grade: B

21 Jump Street                  Grade: C+

The Raven                          Grade: C

Pirates!  Band of Misfits     Grade: C

Meeting Evil   (Video on Demand)     Grade: C

Wrath of the Titans          Grade: C-

Mirror Mirror                    Grade: C-

Damsels in Distress           Grade: D

The Lucky One                  Grade: D

The Three Stooges            Grade: D-

Dark Shadows


Two months ago, when '21 Jump Street' came out, I went off on a rant about how tired I was of cheesy updates of old TV shows.  And I've also been spreading a theory that Johnny Depp (who made his name in 'Jump Street') seems to pick roles based on which ones allow him to wear the most make-up.  (Whatever does it for him!)  Well, as I often do, I'm going to eat my words, or at least nibble on them.  'Dark Shadows' is an example of a long overdue update that works, in no small part to the frequented collaboration of Depp, director Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, and composer Danny Elfman.  Well, Mr. Depp, you have my endorsement to play only pasty white faced characters henceforth if you like.  You do it quite well.

Depp plays Barnabus Collins, a wealthy man in the 1700's cursed to become a vampire and buried alive by the fury of a woman scorned.  When he's dug up in the 1970's, he returns to his estate and takes up with his ancestors in a very 'Addams Family'-esque manner (and manor).  The stellar cast of recognizable faces includes the ageless Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Chloe Grace Moretz, Johnny Lee Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, and Christopher Lee.  And as per usual for Burton, the visual style is truly exceptional.  It's a joy to look at.  And setting the film in the 70's, and interspersing Danny Elfman's score with 70's pop, really added to the originality.  Plus the film blends comedy with dark atmosphere quite well.  But alas, the script is far from perfect and suffers, like many films do, from getting dull and feeling quite long in the second half.  I still recommend it, but just not as much as I wanted to in the first half.

Grade: B

God Bless America


Are you as fed up with people as I am?  Are you tired of all the seemingly unending unacceptable behavior and complete and utter thoughtlessness that surrounds us all every day?  Are you ready to take America back?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this film from Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait) about a down and out man who gets fed up and decides to go vigilante along with a newfound teenage girl sidekick is for you.  And it is most definitely for me.

You may remember Goldthwait from his screeching comedy and goofball acting in 80's films like the Police Academy series.  But over the past few years I've come to know him as a quality filmmaker of dark films that really hit home, like 'The World's Greatest Dad'.  And listening to him speak about his work in person made me all the more impressed with him.  I'm a fan.

To be clear, this dark comedy is a violent film, reminiscent of 'Taxi Driver', 'Badlands', and 'Bonnie and Clyde'.  But in my opinion, it's not gratuitous.  The violence is necessary to get his point across.  In Goldthwait's own words this is a violent film about kindness.  And while the method is clearly over-the-top, the message is important.  America and its citizens need a wake-up call.  Bring kindness back.  Or else.

Grade: A-

Elles


Juliette Binoche plays a journalist doing an expose on teenage prostitution.  Through a series of interviews with a few young girls she gets a peek into the highs and lows of the world's oldest profession.  And it's equally titillating and disturbing.

This film succeeds most during the actual interviews, as the girls explain how they got started and how they really feel about what they do.  Unfortunately it suffers from not having a satisfying ending and possibly being too short (which I don't often say).  But the journey is definitely worth your time if you're into a sexy, yet dark and disturbing subtitled French film.  Pair it with 'Shame' for a debaucherous evening of sexual deviance.

Grade: B+

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Meeting Evil


Though the tagline of this movie is, 'Evil Comes Knocking', I'm thinking it should have been, 'Beware of movies starring major celebrities that premiere on Video on Demand with virtually no marketing.'  Sure, sometimes you find a lesser known gem by combing the VOD/DVD library.  But that isn't the case here.

Luke Wilson plays a man having trouble making ends meet.  And his financial troubles are taking its toll on his family.  But things go from bad to worse when a mysterious man, played by the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson, shows up at his doorstep as the 'evil' who comes knocking.  This is a pretty standard straight-to-cable-esque thriller with a kind of Twilight Zone episode feel to it.  But you start to get the feeling half way through that it's not going to have been worth your time.  And when it's over you realize you were right.  There's no payoff.  Skip it.

Grade: C

Turn Me On, Dammit


I've been trying to see this Norwegian film about an overly horny teenage girl for a year now, though I was unsuccessful at squeezing it in to my schedule at either last year's Tribeca film festival or Philadelphia Film Festival.  Well I finally made it to its one week limited release at the Ritz and I can easily say it wasn't worth the wait.  I'm not sure why it's made the rounds at so many festivals.  I can sum it up as follows:  A teenage girl is overly horny, pays for phone sex, and has sexual delusions of grandeur.  Her mom doesn't understand her.  And her school crush doesn't pay attention to her.  And then something of minor importance happens and no one believes her.  Did it happen?  Is it a delusion?  Does anyone watching care?  No, we don't.  And there's no payoff at the end.  Steer clear.  (Which won't be hard, since this film isn't really playing anywhere you could see it if you wanted to.)

Grade: D

Sound of My Voice


I love art house science fiction.  Generally it's better than blockbuster sci-fi because what they lack in budget they have to make up for in creativity.  And over the past year, Brit Marling seems to have cornered the market on the genre.  Both last year's 'Another Earth' and this film rely on dialogue, rather than CGI or special effects or even makeup or costumes, to cultivate the aura of sci-fi.  It's really exhilarating when it works.  And I'm happy to report that I found this one to be much more satisfying than her last.

Not since 'Meeks Cutoff' have I enjoyed being thrown right into a storyline and feeling pleasantly lost.  Films like these two seem groundbreaking in that they smartly decide to completely skip the first act.  It turns out we're smart enough to figure out what's going on without being hand held and shown and told everything in painful detail for 30 minutes.  Jumping right into the heart of the story helps pacing and allows for a short running time so we don't get bored.  I love it.

So what's this movie actually about?  I won't say because I think it should be experienced exactly as I experienced it: knowing nothing at all.  But since I should say something, I'll call it 'Another Earth' meets 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' meets 'Primer'.  It's not as good as the latter two, but if you like those films than you'll like this one.  And I not only look forward to the future work of Marling, but I hope she sticks with this genre in the same way Hitchcock and Shyamalan are known for theirs.

Grade: A

Jiro Dreams of Sushi


'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' is a literal title of a documentary about an 85 year old man in Tokyo who has dedicated his life to making sushi.  Jiro has worked day and night for the last 75 years, living to serve what is considered to be the world's best sushi in a very modest underground restaurant that only seats 10.  By his own words, he was never a present father.  He doesn't coddle his grown children who now also make world class sushi.  He has a sour expression even when serving this lauded cuisine to his patrons.  And he has no outside interests.  He lives to work, and he literally dreams of sushi.

As someone who doesn't often eat sushi, I left the theater distraught that I live way too far away to go to his restaurant.  If I ever make it to Tokyo, it will surely be on my short list of things not to miss.  And yet, I must say that despite Jiro clearly being a fascinating specimen, there really isn't much more to say about him than I already wrote.  And after about 30 minutes I found myself bored.  This would have worked well as a short film or as a special on the food channel, but as a feature film I just can't recommend it.

Grade: C+ 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flieder's Flicks - Good Day FOX 35 Orlando 5/4/12


Check out my appearance from this morning where I gave my thoughts on 'The Avengers', 'The Five Year Engagement', and 'The Raven'.  (If you notice me space out for a few minutes it's because one of the producers accidentally started talking to me in my ear piece mid-monologue.  Awkward.) 

http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/good_day/050412-flieder-flicks

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:

(Newest releases are in green)

The Cabin in the Woods    Grade: A+

Titanic                                 Grade: A

The Hunger Games             Grade: A-

The Five Year Engagement     Grade: A-

Marvel's The Avengers           Grade: A-

Sound of My Voice                 Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel     Grade: A-

Comic-Con Episode 4: A Fan's Hope    (Video On Demand)   Grade: A-

American Reunion            Grade: B+

Think Like a Man              Grade: B+

Headhunters                    Grade: B+

Friends with Kids             Grade: B+

The Lorax                            Grade: B

Lockout                               Grade: B

Bully                                    Grade: B

21 Jump Street                  Grade: C+

Jiro Dreams of Sushi         Grade: C+

The Raven                          Grade: C

Pirates!  Band of Misfits     Grade: C

Meeting Evil                       Grade: C

Wrath of the Titans          Grade: C-

Mirror Mirror                    Grade: C-

Damsels in Distress           Grade: D

The Lucky One                  Grade: D

The Three Stooges            Grade: D-

Marvel's The Avengers


If you Google the word 'hype' it's entirely possible that this film will show up as your search result.  In the history of film, I'm not sure if there's been another more hyped movie, or longer plan, or a bigger gamble.  The enormous budget of this particular film aside (at $220M according to IMDB), there have been five massive budget films, spanning four years, leading up to it, featuring four iconic comic book characters:  Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Thor, not to mention a few lesser known heroes like Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  This is undeniably epic.  But does it live up to the hype?  Well, kinda sorta but not really.  But honestly would it even be possible for any film to live up to this much hype?  If anyone could do it, I had faith in writer/director Joss Whedon, but unfortunately I don't think he completely came through.

As a general rule, I think if you're confused and overwhelmed in the first five minutes of a film it's a result of too much exposition and poor storytelling.  Or perhaps I'm just slow.  Or maybe the prequels weren't fresh in my memory banks.  (What's this 'Tesseract' they keep rambling on about again?!?)  But that's what happened to me here.  And yet, not only did I catch up quickly, I surprisingly and disappointingly found the storyline way too simplistic.  It's no spoiler to sum it up as follows:  Bad guys steal powerful object.  Good guys are recruited to get it back.  Lots of fighting ensues.  Don't hold your breath for any big surprises, because they don't come.  And that's disappointing from a guy who brought such wonderful out-of-the-box writing to the best film of the year so far, 'Cabin in the Woods'.  I expected more from Whedon.

AND YET ...

There's no denying that this film is so large scale and so epic, with so many exciting action sequences that you can't help but be amazed.  And by successfully bringing together so many larger-than-life comic book heroes, with just the right camaraderie, and a consistent tone that seamlessly works for all of them, that you can't help but geek out at least a bit (if you're prone to that.)  And best of all, they definitely nailed the comedy, with consistent funny one-liners (and not just by Robert Downey Jr.) and plenty of sight gags to keep a smile on your face throughout.  And while I'm not generally one to cheer easily, there are more than a few moments I wanted to stand up and applaud.  So, at the end of the day, after almost two and half hours, I left the theater feeling pretty good, despite its imperfections and lack of surprises.  And ultimately that's good enough for me to easily recommend this movie to anyone who cares even the least about comic book films, and to give it a grade perhaps slightly better than it truly deserves.  After all, more than a movie, this is an event.  Assemble!
 
Grade: A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


I love movies that are made for adults because if you think about it, it's surprisingly rare.  Most movies are targeted to 12 year olds, as those are the people that spend the money and buy the products (even though they ironically don't have any money of their own.)  So it's a breath of fresh air and a treat to see a movie with an ensemble of elderly, all-class actors, even if it's not quite as great as it could have been.

Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Dame Judi Dench are amongst this stellar British ensemble cast, playing senior citizens with varying problems that individually lead them all towards moving to India to a hotel targeted for the elderly.  Rumor has it it's the best, exotic, marigold hotel.  It's not.  Nevertheless, they become friends and tackle issues of life, love, and money.

I adore the cast here.  It's easily the best ensemble of the year so far.  And I really enjoyed the movie.  It just made me feel good, backed by a great score by Thomas Newman.  Of course I'd be lying if I didn't admit it's a bit slow, a bit long, and the script could certainly have been a bit better.  But if you're like me, and you crave movies for adults, then I implore you to go see it.  Otherwise all we'll have to look forward to is Thor 2,  Captain America 2, and Twilight 5.  Ugh!  Think about it.

Grade: A-