Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Brat Pack: “Grown Ups” is Stupid and Childish and Sort of Funny

Adam Sandler never really attempts to make amazing films. And sometimes you just have to admire that. You can easily get a well written comedy by the likes of Woody Allen or Judd Apatow, but sometimes you just want dumb, dumb, dumb. Just credit Sandler as the screenwriter and pair him with director Dennis Dugan and there ya go! You have crappy comedy gold. I’m not saying that Sandler isn’t a talented person or anything; he’s made a terrific career from playing goofballs (Happy Gilmore) and idiots (Billy Madison) and buffoons (The Waterboy) etc, but he does seem to make the same movie over and over again. Of course sometimes we want to see something stupid. After all, who doesn’t enjoy “Happy Gilmore” on some level?

With Grown Ups we get more of the same childish antics and scatological jokes, constantly being performed by supposed adult characters. Here we have Sandler as Lenny Feder, a rich movie producer with bratty kids and Salma Hayek as his wife. He learns that his old basketball coach has passes away and reunites with his former buddies for the funeral and weekend in lake house with their families. Think “The Big Chill” but with no artistic merit whatsoever. In fact the whole movie can best be described as lame and with sophomoric comedy with unnecessary emotional drivel. But you know what? I actually was amused and laughed. And that’s a lot more than I can say for the Get Him to the Greek, a comedy that hardly made laugh at all.

So who are all the other “grown ups” in this movie? We have Kevin James playing Eric, who’s married to Sally (Maria Bello). As an aside I’d like to say that I enjoyed watching actresses like Salma Hayek and Maria Bello slum it up in a dumb movie like this. I take it that they don’t take their dramatic acting careers too seriously and know how to let loose and have a fun time. And besides, they can actually sometimes be funny. Eric and Sally have two kids: a rotund daughter who seems she could pass for James’ real life offspring and a four year-old son who still breastfeeds. Prepare yourself for lots of breastfeeding jokes. Then we have Chris Rock who plays Kurt. He’s married to Deanne (Maya Rudolph) and they have a couple of kids too. Deanne’s mother tags along to provide mean jokes at Kurt’s expense. The always unreliable Rob Schneider doesn’t even get a fresh character name; he plays Rob who has a thing for older women and he’s married to Gloria (Joyce Van Patten). Expect lots of old ladies are gross jokes. Then there’s the fifth friend of the group, who seems like the most unnecessary character of the lot Marcus, played by David Spade. He’s not married and comes to the lake house for the weekend by himself. He’s basically just the gang’s punching bag. In fact, 85% of the dialogue has to do with the characters insulting each other.

Since there isn’t really a plot, I won’t bring it up. So basically that’s about it. We get scenes of the guys learning some life lessons, taking the kids to a water park, where they turn the water blue in the kiddie pool by urinating in the water. Although the gag would have worked better if the water turned a different color, let’s say green, cause let’s face it, pool water already looks blue. And sue me for chuckling when Salma Hayek, while attempting to skip rocks, chucks a stone at her son’s stomach.

Grown Ups is exactly the type of movie you think it is. It’s just as dumb as any of the other scripts Adam Sandler has written before: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, Big Daddy etc. While Sandler has shown range in other movies like “Punch Drunk Love,” “Spanglish” and the recent “Funny People,” “Grown Ups” proves that you can take the man out of the child but you can’t take the child out of the man. Wait, what? GRADE: B-

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Knight to Remember: “Knight and Day” is a Fun Summer Action Comedy

“Knight and Day” is a loud action movie with lots of CGI effects and movie stars and explosions and bits of comic relief. It doesn’t really offer much more than that, but what do you expect from a summer movie being sold on the promise of being just a fun, action comedy? If you’re a fan of stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz that also helps. I find them to be enjoyable when they’re in the right movie and here they seem to be a good fit for each other. I last remember seeing them together in the weird “Vanilla Sky,” a movie I didn’t quite get as didn’t millions of other people. But “Knight and Day” is a much more normal movie. You might even call it a retread or clichéd or unoriginal (think "Romancing the Stone" meets "True Lies" with a twist of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"). “Knight and Day” is a movie that, while not perfect, offers enough benefits that will certainly keep you entertained for its run time.

I don’t care if you think Tom Cruise is crazy, maybe he is, but he’s a decent actor and is charming nonetheless. You don’t turn into Tom Cruise if you don’t at least have some sort of talent. Here he plays Roy Miller a super spy who we’ll learn has gone “rogue.” And don’t ask me if he supports Sarah Palin. He seems to randomly bump into June Havens (Diaz) at the airport and wind up on the same plane together. Of course this is not a coincidence. It turns out Roy has the film’s MacGuffin and the bad guys (whom I’ll always refer to as in this review) want it. Poor June. She just wants to get home for her younger sister’s wedding and within the film’s opening sequences she’s already almost died in a plane which Roy has to land swiftly in a corn field because he sort of shot the plane’s pilot. But I think he was a bad guy. Long story short there are bad guys after Roy’s MacGuffin and June is forced to tag along cause her chances of surviving with Roy’s help are slim.

It’s not a coincidence that when June first bumped into Roy she was attracted to him. If June’s character wasn’t going to find Roy attractive Roy would have probably been played by Steve Buscemi or someone similar. You don’t cast Tom Cruise and not have the leading lady fall helplessly in love. So the rest of the film involves Roy dragging a smitten June around the globe with him as he evades the bad guys. He also has to protect Simon Feck (Paul Dano) who is the brilliant young man who invented the film’s MacGuffin. Along the way we also meet Mr. and Mrs. Knight, who we find out are Roy’s parents, living a quite life in New England. They think they’re son is dead and can’t understand why they keep winning the lotto and Publisher’s Clearing House. That was a nice touch.

James Mangold directed the film, who has made recent movies like Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma. I’m not sure you’d expect his next film to be something like “Knight and Day” to be his next logical project, but he seems like a director who is happy jumping from genre to genre. He displays some fun visual tricks which were pretty ridiculous but belong squarely in a summer action movie such as this one. I enjoyed the shot of Roy riding up along a runaway car June is trapped in, jumping off and landing right on the hood of the car. You’ve probably seen that in the trailer, it was absurd then and certainly absurd in context and yet isn’t any less enjoyable. Heck there’s even some witty banter thrown in by first time screenwriter Patrick O’Neill.

“Knight and Day” is a movie that in the wrong hands could have been a big loud mess. Here it’s not so much a mess, but rather a fun, escapist summer movie that will probably be forgotten about in a few years, but still memorable in a summer filled with sequels and reboots and remakes. Oh my. GRADE: B

Monday, June 21, 2010

Greek Tragedy: “Get Him to the Greek” is Somewhere I Wish I Hadn’t Gone

I’m sort of surprised by the decent reviews of the latest Judd Apatow produced comedy “Get Him to the Greek.” Ok sure it doesn’t have a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the fact that anyone could think this film is as good as all the other great recent comedies out there is seriously crazy. I really enjoyed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which was wonderfully written by (and starred) Jason Segal. That film featured a wonderful scene stealing turn by British comedian Russell Brand, as wild rocker Aldous Snow, who stole the aforementioned Sarah Marshall away from our hapless hero. He was so enjoyable that those silly Hollywood people actually though he should have his own movie. It was a decent idea and I think it’s better than a flat out sequel, which would just feel unnecessary. Here however, unless you think Aldous Snow is the funniest character since Borat, you might find yourself in search of serious laughs. I didn’t find very many in “Get Him to the Greek.”

The one thing about an Apatow Production is that whether you find yourself laughing hysterically or not, you bound to at least be entertained. I was mildly entertained by this film, but I didn’t really care about the characters and I never felt any suspense as to whether Jonah Hill’s character Aaron Green would actually succeed in his mission to escort the crazy Mr. Snow to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for his anniversary rock concert. This could have been a wild and fun road movie where crazy things happen (Road Trip? Or even “The Hangover”) but instead we just get scenes of Aldous partying it up. I think there’s supposed to be some skewering of the music industry somewhere in here, but since I’m not very well-versed in that area I’m sure many things went over my head… but not all.

There are some things that writer/director Nicholas Stoller (who directed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) gets right thankfully and that is the songs performed by Aldous Snow and his equally outlandish ex-girlfriend Jackie Q played hilariously by Rose Byrne. I think the movie should have followed her around for two hours. She has a few amusing song performances of which we see in music video form (one of which we see was directed by Hollywood punching bag Brett Ratner). The movie plays up the idea that songs like “Inside of You” “Supertight” and “African Child” could actually be hit songs in the real world. Although to be fair in the world of “Get Him to the Greek” African Child completely bombed and signaled the beginning of the end of Aldous Snow. The mocking of the celebrity life and culture is what this movie does best and if it focused more on that than just Jonah Hill and Russell Brand hamming it up and smoking pot and drinking alcohol and smuggling heroin I think it could have been a lot funnier. And thank God for that Kristen Bell cameo as Sarah Marshall starring in a new TV drama called “Blind Medicine.”

“Get Him to the Greek” is entertaining for the most part when it’s not trying to be overly sentimental or getting bogged down in tiresome third act plot developments. (Our two heroes and Aaron’s girlfriend, played by Elisabeth Moss, seems weird and unnecessary especially when we feel like the movie should be coming to an end). Long story short (too late) is that maybe I just didn’t love Aldous Snow enough for him to get his own movie. If you love that character then you will probably love the movie. For anyone else you’re better off waiting for Judd Apatow’s next production. GRADE: C+

PS – And what’s with “Sean Combs” in this movie anyways? People are saying he’s funny, I certainly didn’t think so.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Let’s Hear it For the Toys: The Gang is Back in the Charming and Enjoyable “Toy Story 3”

Leave it to Pixar to make a second sequel which feels like one of the most original and entertaining films of the year. See, sequels and remakes aren’t all that bad as long as they’re in the right hands. And Pixar’s hands have the Golden Touch. Sure any movie that has 3 in the title is not going to be the best movie ever or anything, but this proves that a trilogy, that was never meant to be a trilogy in the first place, can have three wonderful films that all fit together perfectly and are constantly surprising, charming and witty. To be honest, the Toy Story films were never my favorites of the Pixar cannon but they are certainly amazing films. So I never felt like I needed to see a third Toy Story film and since Pixar does such a great job coming up with original stories it seemed a little silly that they really needed to make this film. But even though it’s number 3 it’s still fresh and original, for the most part.

It’s been eleven years since the release of “Toy Story 2” and I’m not quite sure how much time has passed in the Toy Story movie world, but now the young boy Andy is almost all grown up. Well he’s seventeen and ready to go off to college much to his mother’s sadness. He’s not really sure what to do with all his favorite toys. They mean a lot to him, but he doesn’t need to pay with them anymore. And Buzz and Woody and the gang are a little stressed out. What’s to become of them? Will they be given away? Will Andy just toss them in the trash? They just want to be played with and loved.

Through a little misunderstanding, as is the case with these films, the gang ends up accidentally being donated to a local day care center called Sunnyside. They meet a bunch of new toys who show them around. This includes Lotso Huggin Bear, a fluffy, purple bear voiced by Ned Beatty. He seems to be in charge and makes the new toys feel welcome. Although things seem fishy when he puts them in the room where preschoolers play and treat the toys as if they were just dinky, disposable playthings. They are painted on, and glittered and thrown against the wall. These little toddlers don’t know how to treat toys exactly because, hey, they’re toddlers. It seems odd that Lotso and his friends are in the room with the well-behaved kids. Hmm I smell a similar Toy Story 2 plotline that involved Pete the Prospector. Leave it to the great minds at Pixar to come up with a plot about day care center being worse than prison. Oh and there’s the new toy Ken (Michael Keaton) whom is certain to be a fan favorite.

I don’t want to divulge too much of the rest of the plot, because that would just be unfair. Sure Toy Story 3 isn’t the most original or even close to one of the best Pixar films, but with such a high track record are you even surprised? It just can’t measure up to the genius that were “Finding Nemo,” “Cars” and “Up.” But you know what? These guys, who worked from a script by “Little Miss Sunshine’s” Michael Arndt, know how to get the audience emotionally invested in characters made entirely out of computer animated pixels. I dare you not to shed a tear at the end and think of all of your own favorite toys you were obsessed with as a kid.

“Toy Story 3” is a well-made sequel, with top notch voice talent and terrific animation, which deserves to sit right along side its equally intelligent and delightful predecessors. It introduces some great new characters and an emotionally rewarding story that will grab your heart and refuse to let go. With success after success does anyone really think Pixar will ever make a crappy movie? I doubt it. GRADE: A-

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Weird Science: “Splice” is an Unconventional Science Fiction Thriller

I’m giving “Splice” a positive review overall, but be forewarned this is a super weird film that is not for the average moviegoer’s tastes. It involves a premise we’ve all seen before, borderline “mad” scientists create monstrous creature with the best intentions. Everything then goes wrong. This isn’t exactly “Frankenstein.” It’s not even “The Fly.” I’ve even heard someone refer to it as “Species” meets “It’s Alive.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s certainly unconventionally done as would be expected from the guy who brought us the “Saw” precursor torture flick “Cube” way back in 1997. And of course like all great science fiction it has a social message and deals with ethical and moral situations to the utmost degree.

Like ethical situation number 32, should you mate with the humanoid creature that you created in a lab just a few months prior? Ok ok, I’m getting ahead of myself here and you can consider that a minor spoiler, but odds are your probably not going to be seeing this movie right? Let’s start at the begging, where we’re introduced to Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). They are hip biomedical scientists (and lovers) who are really good at splicing together various animal genes to create new species. They work for a pharmaceutical house who funds their research in hopes of creating cures for various human diseases (maybe we shouldn’t be trying this hard to cure cancer, etc?) They created this two alien blob looking creature whom they dub Fred and Ginger. In a little bit of foreshadowing, they want the two of them to mate.

It turns out that Elsa is the real mad scientist here and decides it would be a completely good idea to splice human DNA with that of either Fred or Ginger. Much to Clive’s frustration he hesitantly goes along with it as long as she doesn’t bring the being full term. But of course she does! She births it and nearly dies doing it because apparently their creation has a poisonous, barbed tail. The creature sort of looks like something out of an early Peter Jackson gore fest. And has an accelerated grow, because honestly no one would want to sit through a 4 hour version of this movie slowly waiting for the creature to come of age. Before we know it the little monster is a young girl and then a young woman (played with some CGI help by Delphine Chanéac) with kangaroo legs and a tail.

Then come lots of other ethical issues besides the ones involving whether it’s actually a good idea to splice human DNA and weird creature DNA. Those things I wont get into because it’s probably best to not know. I will praise the film for taking itself seriously because this could have easily gone the campy route but director Vincenzo Natali plays it all straight. He wanted to make the most realistic film he could I believe he succeeded in that arena. There are even scenes that reminded me of parts of everything from “Jurassic Park” to “King Kong.” There will be those who laugh at what they’re seeing on screen, which I think will be a normal human reaction.

I applaud Natali for going to places other directors and studios would have dared not go and good for Warner Bros for releasing a film like this, which could have easily gone straight to DVD for giving it chance. If you’re a fan of science fiction and even horror, although the film isn’t particularly scary, you’d be doing yourself a favor by checking out “Splice.” It’s a film that has some pretty shocking images and will certainly get folks talking long after the credits roll. GRADE: B

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Brother, Can You Spare Some Time? “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is a Decent Enough Time Waster

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” dares to answer the age old question: Where the beef? Apparently it’s in the formerly scrawny Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Most people will make a big deal about Jake beefing up for the role of a Persian prince who was made popular in a video game series that I don’t know anything about. To be honest I wasn’t really expecting much from this Jerry Bruckheimer production besides lots of dizzying camera tricks and explosions and never-ending action sequences. Yes the film has all of that but it does breeze by and luckily it lasts under two hours instead of those other bloated “Pirate of the Caribbean” movies which seem to go on forever. That being said, I can’t exactly say I loved “Prince of Persia” but at the same time I found myself engaged enough where I didn’t feel the need to claw my own eyes out, so there’s that.

I was worried the plot would be inconceivable, much like those overblown “Pirates” movies where even the most bloated scenes of exposition don’t seem to make a whirl of sense. I think I got the gist here. Basically back when the Persian Empire was taking over the Middle East, the King came across Aladdin, um, I mean Dastan a young street rat. He liked his spunk and decided to adopt him as a son. He grows up to be Prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal) who doesn’t even remotely look Persian. Do I even know what a Persian looks like? Not really, but I’m assuming not like Jake Gyllenhaal. But I digress, as the young man, who is envied by his “brothers” and even his uncle (Ben Kingsley). Someone is a little too jealous and poison’s the King’s cloak. Using some form of acid (perhaps Alien blood?) the King is murdered. Dastan is the obvious scapegoat and in a scene right out of The Lion King, Dastan is exiled from his former palace home.

Meanwhile a dagger which has magical time travel abilities makes itself known when Dastan mistakenly presses the button on the handle. It sends him in back in time about thirty seconds. Tamina (Gemma Arterton) is a princess whose city was taken over by the Persians. Dastan sets out to prove his innocence, while Tamina’s only concern is this magical Dagger which can turn back time. These two can’t seem to get along and it proves right from the beginning that they will fall in love. Meanwhile they meet up with Sheik Amar whose main concern is ostrich racing. Amar is played by Alfred Molina and as you can imagine he’s better than the movie deserves. Thank goodness for Alfred.

There is a lot more going on and I think I understood what was going on, but I’d rather not discuss it because honestly does anyone really care? I certainly don’t. The film is based on a video game so plot isn’t exactly something to be too concerned with. Director Mike Newell, who Harry Potter fans will recognize as the director of “Goble of Fire,” seems suited to the material, oh I dunno because I guess it makes sense for the direct of “Mona Lisa Smile” to graduate to directing a Jerry Bruckheimer action spectacle.

Let me be frank, this isn’t mindless action entertainment like Michael Bay gives us. There are many worse movies than “Prince of Persia: The Sand of Time.” It’s really just an average action movie with fantastical elements that will certainly please fans of the videogame. It all really felt like a weird mash-up of Indiana Jones, “The Mummy,” “Aladdin” and “Pirates of Caribbean.” I had a good enough time; do I really want to watch it again? Not really. It has good performances from its actors (although is it me or does Ben Kingsley sometimes give really silly, campy performances?) and its plot isn’t quite as incomprehensible once you kind of sort it all out. Jake and Gemma have good enough chemistry and at least everything is over pretty quickly. You could do a lot worse. GRADE: C+