30 March 2012

Wrath of the Titans




The less said, the better. But, you can read what I said anyway at InsideStL

29 March 2012

Snow White 2012 Showdown Part 1

Mirror, Mirror





As I wrote about back in November, there are two new movies based on the beloved Snow White tale. The first one to hit theaters opens today, March 30. It is Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror. Singh is an interesting choice as he is a visual director, best known for last year’s hit Immortals and 2000’s J.Lo flick, The Cell. Neither of these films are children oriented. Then, there is the issue of the trailer. There have been some bad trailers and marketing this year. So, I went in to this with low expectations.

Mirror Mirror tells the familiar story of Snow White with a few twists. It opens with The Queen (Julia Roberts) giving a voice over of the history of Snow White. Snow White’s mother died during her birth. The King then married The Queen. The King left, and went missing, leaving The Queen to rule the kingdom. It has been ten years, and Snow White is about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday.

Now in the present day, the kingdom is in financial ruin, and The Queen must marry a rich royal from somewhere to keep it afloat. Snow White (Lily Collins) is locked in her room, and never leaves the castle. So, of course she leaves the castle.

Meanwhile, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) and Renbock (Robert Emms) his squire are jumped in the woods by bandits. These bandits are the seven dwarves: Napoleon, Half Pint, Grub, Grimm, Wolf, Butcher and Chuckles. He is strung up with Renbock, and rescued by Snow White who has finally left the castle.

Alcott makes his way to the castle, and meets The Queen. She decides to throw a ball to win him over. Snow White crashes the ball, is banished, joins forces with the dwarves, and plots to usurp The Queen.

Mirror Mirror stuns visually as I expected, but lacks in its script. It tries too hard to be childish. If Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller could have settled on what demographic they were attempting to please, then the movie might have flowed better. Some of the jokes were funny, and then they were beaten down to where a two year old would find it funny. Just start down that low, and it might have worked out better. Some of the better jokes are the subtle ones. One that stuck with me comes when Snow White asks the dwarves why they are thieves. One replies, “Beats working in the mines.”

The acting is amazingly decent all around. Julia Roberts is surprisingly funny as is Lily Collins. Armie Hammer put in the best performance in the film while Nathan Lane is a bit over the top as the Queens right hand man, Brighton. And then, Sean Bean puts in a nice cameo at the end. Who doesn’t love 006?

At the time I went into the screening of Mirror Mirror, it had a 93% on Rottentomatoes. As I write this review, it is struggling to stay above 50%. That is quite a fall, and I am shocked that it fell so far so fast. I was entertained, but it is far from a great movie. I hope that this June’s Snow While and the Huntsman is better than this. If you have a child that is too young to take to The Hunger Games, you could do worse.

RATING: 6/10

23 March 2012

The Hunger Games




The hotly anticipated film finally released. Read my thoughts on it at InsideStL

Salmon Fishing in Yemen







Salmon Fishing in Yemen is the latest film from Lasse Hallstrom, the director of Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and 2010's surprise hit Dear John. I am a huge fan of Chocolat. For some reason, that movie just makes me smile. And, really, who doesn't love What's Eating Gilbert Grape? DiCaprio was robbed that year for Best Supporting Actor. With a decent preview, and a three time nominated director calling the shots, I went expecting a fun feel-good movie.

Salmon Fishing in Yemen is a quirky film that follows Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) as he is asked to bring the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen. Why is he asked to do this? The British government's head of public relations Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) is trying to look good to the Arab world after some tension rises from bombings. Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) has taken a liking to the sport while in his vacation castle in Scotland. Harriet (Emily Blunt) is in charge of the Sheikh's money in England, and she inquires about the plausibility of bringing it to Yemen.

Alfred thinks this idea is absolutely ridiculous, implausible, a waste of time and money, and downright impossible. Yet, his boss Bernard (Conleth Hill) forces Alfred's hand, and Alfred agrees to participate in this looney escapade. Since money is no object, Alfred and Harriet meet with the Sheikh and form a plan to attempt to pull off the impossible. Many obstacles stand in the way of the loveable trio, not only environmentally. Some radical extremists in Yemen believe that the Sheikh is being a traitor to his country by bringing a foreign element into their country. Not to mention, Harriet's military boyfriend is killed in action and Alfred's wife splits.

Salmon Fishing in Yemen is an enjoyable film. The dialog is solid, but that is to be expected from the Oscar winning screenwriter of 2008's Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy. He adapted Paul Torday's novel of the same name. While it is a cute and enjoyable film, the love story plot lines are painful, forced and unnecessary. The relationship between Alfred and Harriet is to be expected in a film of this nature. It is the relationship between Alfred and his wife, and Harriet and her boyfriend that make the film's romantic aspect painful.

As I mentioned above, Hallstrom is a nominated director. That brings a certain level of expectation. In his films that I have seen, he has never used stupid on-screen gimmicks like he did this time. They brought nothing to the movie but distractions. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt have good chemistry together, and with Amr Waked. Waked really steals every scene he is in. Salmon Fishing in Yemen is a delightful escape for 111 minutes. Sadly, it is quite forgettable. I doubt that in twelve years I will be touting this film like I still do Chocolat. Don't let that discourage you from seeing Salmon Fishing in Yemen though. It is worth the time and money to watch.

RATING: 7/10

17 March 2012

21 Jump Street




Read the shockingly positive review at InsideSTL.com

16 March 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home








To finish out my film viewing at SLIFF last November, I went to see the Duplass Brothers’ latest film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home. It opens this weekend here in St. Louis. This is their fourth feature length film, and only their second one made with the backing of a Hollywood studio. In 2010, they released Cyrus to critical acclaim, and it saw a modest box office take.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home stars Jason Segal as Jeff. He lives in his mother’s basement, where, according to his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) and brother Pat (Ed Helms), he is just wasting his life smoking pot. The movie opens with Jeff discussing the finer points of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. That is the way Jeff lives his life, through signs. A wrong number call asking for Kevin sends Jeff on a mission to discover why the call, and what Kevin has to do with anything. Then, Sharon calls him to ask that he buy wood glue to fix a blind in the door. As Jeff leaves his cozy basement and gets on the bus, a chance meeting with a random Kevin starts him on his adventure.

In the meantime, Pat is married to Linda (Judy Greer). He makes breakfast for the two of them, only to end up in the proverbial doghouse after buying a Porsche without her permission. Who would do that without consulting his wife? Pat must live by the same motto I do: It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Only, I have never purchased a sports car.

The rest of the film flows from one chance encounter to another. Jeff runs into Pat. Together, they accidentally find Linda at lunch with another man. In the meantime, a fellow co-worker has started hitting on Sharon. Her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) thinks it is great news. A few twists carry the rest of the story to its climactic conclusion on a bridge.

Jay and Mark co-wrote and co-directed, as they have on all their previous projects. The script is what you would expect from them. The direction is solid and real. Jay uses a lot of handheld shots to capture the moment. They also give the actors a lot of room to interpret, according to Jay’s post film Q & A. I was amazed at Jason Segal’s acting. He really went outside his How I Met Your Mother character, and really brought some depth to Jeff. Ed Helms also turned in an out of the ordinary performance. Susan Surandon and Judy Greer both were good as well. Mark’s real-life wife Katie Aselton has her usual cameo. Steve Zissis, a personal friend to the Duplass duo, has a rather significant role as Steve, the other man.

Each of the Duplass Brothers’ films shows their growth in filmmaking and scope. Puffy Chair, while a great movie, feels like a first film. Baghead, my personal favorite, has a little more ambition in it. By the time they made Cyrus, the Brothers had garnered a cult following. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is another giant leap forward in their filmmaking. From two guys that started out by making short films, they have grown into solid writers and directors. I recommend seeing Jeff, Who Lives at Home, especially if you are looking for something a little off the Hollywood radar. It is an enjoyable, feel-good film.

RATING: 8/10

09 March 2012

John Carter (of Mars)




Read the surprisingly good review over at InsideSTL.com

07 March 2012

Abduction

The Latest Fail from the Twilight "Stars"


So, I hate the Twilight books and movies. I have little to no respect for Robert Pattinson and only a shred of it for Kristen Stewart. She wasn’t bad in the independent Welcome to the Rileys. The only reason I give Taylor Lautner a pass is because of his choice to make an action movie with John Singleton. Singleton is the Academy Award nominated writer/director of Boyz n the Hood. He is also behind Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Four Brothers, all of which I enjoy.

Abduction’s trailer was intriguing, but generic. I still wanted to see the movie because I am always looking for the next great "B-action" movie from September and/or January. But, not every movie can be the next Crank or Taken. Unfortunately, Abduction joins the likes of Unknown, Gamer, and Crank 2 as utter failures.

Abduction starts off with a terrible car-surfing sequence with Nathan (Lautner) riding on the hood of his friend’s pick up. I should have known at this point that the film could only get worse. And, it does. Nathan has a run in with the boyfriend of his childhood crush Karen (Lily Collins). Then, after a terrible party sequence, Nathan wakes up shirtless (duh) in the front yard of the house where the party took place. His disappointed father (Jason Isaacs) picks him up. When they get home, he proceeds to make his son put on boxing gloves, and fight. Things get a bit out of hand, and finally Mara (Maria Bello) comes to the rescue of her son.

The next week at school, a teacher assigns Karen and Nathan to be partners on a project about missing children. As they sit and do Internet research, Karen discovers that one of the missing children looks eerily similar to Nathan. He calls the number on the website. It turns out, this is a phony website ran by people trying to locate Nathan, and a hit squad is sent to abduct him. This goes awry, and Nathan and Karen are on the run. With the help of Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver), Nathan’s psychologist, they elude the bad guys.

As it turns out, Nathan’s father is a deep cover CIA operative who came across a list of dirty agents. As in all boring and trite spy espionage films, the dirty list includes spies on both sides. The whole movie culminates in an action sequence at PNC Park, in Pittsburg, where the Pirates “play” baseball. Scheduling that couldn’t have been hard. It’s not like the Pirates are using it for anything important.

Abduction is not a good movie on any level. The acting is terrible. I usually like Bello and Isaacs, but even they couldn’t help the terrible dialog written by Shawn Christensen. Lautner really is as bad of an actor as I feared he would be. The directing was lifeless and uninspired. I have come to expect more and better from the Academy Award nominated director. The action scenes were just flat. I wasted a $1.30 (w/tax) and 106 minutes on this, and I can say with certainty, you should not.

01 March 2012

Wanderlust






Wanderlust is the latest comedy by the writer/director of 2008’s Role Models, David Wain. He teams up with Role Models star Paul Rudd, who has been box office gold lately, and added Jennifer Aniston, who is coming off a hilarious turn in this summer’s box office hit Horrible Bosses. So, I headed into this with reasonable to high expectations.

The plot is simple. George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) are a married couple living in NYC. They buy a small loft apartment in an expensive neighborhood. George loses his good paying job. Linda fails to sell her latest documentary (which happens to be about penguin killing) to HBO. They find themselves homeless and on a road trip to Atlanta where George’s brother Rick (Ken Marino) owns a port-a-pot company.

George and Linda are forced to stay the night at a B & B with a group of hippies. That night, they both have the time of their lives. They leave the next morning for Rick’s, but decide to go back to the B & B. The commune of weirdoes charms them, and George and Linda decide to give it a go. In the meantime, the commune is in danger of being turned into a casino by an evil corporation. That is unless the commune can produce the deed to the property. There are also a lot of subplots. My favorite involves Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio) who is a nudist wine maker who is trying to write the next great American novel.

Wanderlust has so many funny and awkward scenes. The problem with the film as a whole is its unoriginality. There is really nothing new here. The story is very reminiscent of the 1997 Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley (before she got to be the size of a whale) film, For Richer or Poorer.

On the plus side, the supporting cast is hilarious. With Alan Alda, Malin Ackerman, Kathryn Hahn and Justin Theroux, to name a few, the laughs keep on coming. Theroux’s Seth is one of the funniest characters I have seen in a while. Seth is a non-violent, peace loving, guitar playing, Capoeira stud who falls for Linda. The Capoeira scene made me laugh and think of the cartoon Bob’s Burgers.

In the end, I was mildly entertained, but not wowed by Wanderlust. I was expecting something with a lot more punch to it. It is the first real R-rated comedy of the year. I hope its poor box office performance over the weekend is not foreshadowing the decline of the genre. That would not bode well for April’s American Reunion. But, back to topic, if you want to see Wanderlust in theaters, you better get on it, as it might not survive to see three weeks in theaters. This was another straight down the middle trite film. No reason to see it. No reason not to.

RATING 5/10