Monday, November 28, 2011

The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets (2011)
Rated PG
Starring: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Jack Black, Walter, Fozzie Bear, Rawlf, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones
Directed by: James Bobin
Tagline: They’re closer than you think.
Running time: 98 Minutes
In Theatre

Quick Summary: After disbanding and losing touch, The Muppets reunite in an effort to raise $10 million to save their beloved theater after an evil oil tycoon attempts to take it for the oil underneath.

Saturday night. Date night. The wife and I choose The Muppets over any of the other options showing at the theater near us. To be fair, we would have chosen The Muppets over just about anything, though I do plan on watching the newest Twilight movie at some point, I’d rather I laughed on purpose, so The Muppets was the only choice.

In theory, The Muppets are not unlike The Smurfs or Alvin & The Chipmunks in that it’s a beloved, classic franchise with established characters and a built-in audience. But unlike the other two, I was actually interested in The Muppets. Mostly because I liked The Muppets more than The Smurfs or Alvin when I was a kid, but The Muppets just seemed like it was coming from a better place. The Smurfs and the Alvin movies looked like a cheap ploy to make some money (it worked for Alvin & Co, but no so much for The Smurfs), whereas The Muppets (seems) to come from a much more heartfelt place. Jason Segel strikes me as an immense fan of The Muppets, seeing as how he pitched the idea, co-wrote the script and stars in it. That gave it a much more genuine feel, unlike the Alvin & the Chipmunks movies (one of the trailers before The Muppets was for Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the third recent movie in the series. I cringed. I wanted to vomit. It looks awful).

So you get people who love the history behind it, and you get all of the original Muppets back, you can’t really go wrong.

Everyone has a favorite Muppet. For me, it’s Fozzie Bear. I love bad jokes and puns. For my wife, it’s Animal, whose probably a close second for me, tied with Statler and Waldorf. Most people probably like Kermit or Miss Piggy, but they are probably my two least favorite Muppets. Miss Piggy is one of the most annoying characters of all time, and Kermit is way too whiny and emo for me. Luckily Kermit didn’t steal the show, and many of the other beloved Muppets got their chance, and several new Muppets were introduced. If I was a kid and saw this movie, my favorite would have been Deadly, the blue dragon-looking henchman of Oil Tycoon Tex Richman, mainly because he looked cool, but also because he has an awesome name.

One of the main things people love about The Muppets is the celebrity cameos. For some reason, people love watching celebrities interact with their favorite puppets, and this movie doesn’t disappoint. In cameos as themselves, we have Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, James Carville, Judd Hirsch, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jack Black. And in other, smaller roles, you had Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Ken Jeong, Zach Galifianakis, Jim Parsons, Mickey Rooney, and Dave Grohl. That’s a pretty awesome list of cameos.

People also love the music, and the movie featured some of the classics, such as the theme song, Rainbow Connection, and Mahna Mahna. Surprisingly missing was Being Green, which I would have expected to be in the movie for sure. They also had some original new songs that were pretty funny, and had some contemporary songs thrown in too (the chickens rendition of Cee-Lo Green’s “F*&^ You” made my wife laugh louder than anybody else in the theater, maybe even louder than anyone in the entire building).

All in all, it was exactly what I was expecting from The Muppets. It was updated and original while staying true to the original. It was everything you want, and had something for everyone. Most importantly, it makes you care about felt puppets, which is the mark of a really good movie, to care about the characters.

Verdict: Streets Ahead of Avatar

Trailer:  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

ThanksKilling (2009)

ThanksKilling (2009)
It seems that every major holiday has its share of movies. Halloween has hundreds of movies, Christmas has thousands. There are movies about Valentine’s Day and The Fourth of July. There’s even a movie about New Year’s Eve that’s coming up (and has every actor in the world in it…and looks awful). But one holiday that seems to get the shaft is Thanksgiving. Sure, nearly every sitcom ever has had at least one Thanksgiving themed episode, but I cannot think of any Thanksgiving movies without resorting to Google. Except for one.
Introduced to my wife and I a little over a year ago by showing only the first 5 minutes, we were quickly intrigued. Within a week, we found it on Netflix and watched it. And it was probably the best 66 minutes of film we’ve ever watched. Made by what I have to assume were college kids for around $3000, ThanksKilling tells the story of a demonic turkey that terrorizes and hunts down a group of teens for seemingly no reason.

I cannot recommend you watch this movie highly enough, unless you are offended by awful movies, terrible puppets, stupid Thanksgiving and turkey-based puns, necro-bestiality jokes, JonBenet Ramsey jokes (3 of them, well, really only the same joke, but they tell it three times), pitiful acting and even worse dialog, then steer clear. The actual tagline is “Gobble, gobble, motherf*&%er.” I am not kidding. But it’s incredibly short and one of the funniest (whether intentionally or otherwise) movies I have ever seen. It's now a Thanksgiving tradition in our house. 

Seriously, this is what the turkey looks like (wearing the sherriff's face as a mask, thereby fooling the sheriff's daughter and her friends): 


I really can't find any more words for the movie, so check out the trailer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Tagline: What are you really worth?
Running time: 133 Minutes

Quick summary: Based on the true story of Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics General Manager who used computer generated statistical analysis to field a competitive team on a budget.

When I was a kid, baseball wasn’t just my sport of choice, it was my life. I loved playing, watching, talking about any and all things baseball. From the age of 5 until 13, baseball was it. Then I turned 13 and quit. Just didn’t want to do it anymore (I got super lazy). From that point on, I pretty much stopped caring about baseball. I’d still go to the occasional Pirates game when I had the opportunity, but couldn’t be bothered to watch it any other time. But then, during the 2004 Red Sox Championship season, I got caught up in it, and briefly loved baseball again. By the next season, it fell back off my radar and I stopped caring again. I almost got into it again this year, but just never committed the time to watch the World Series (which apparently was the best in decades).

Even though my own love for baseball has dwindled, my love of baseball movies hasn’t. I still love Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, Major League I & II, Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, The Naked Gun, and Mr. Baseball, not to mention East Bound & Down, an excellent and hilarious show on HBO starring Danny McBride as a washed up pitcher trying to make a comeback. Really, I love sports movies of all kinds. There haven’t been nearly as many baseball themed movies in recent years, which is a shame, but I’ll take what I can get.

Moneyball, based on the true events of the Oakland A’s 2002 season, focuses more on the behind the scenes aspect than the baseball itself, which is kind of fitting, since the whole point of the system the management used was that the players don’t matter, only the statistics.

I’m not very familiar with the A’s team of that year (or any other year that they didn’t have Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco – the Bash Brothers), because that was right at the beginning of my football obsession, and also because (spoiler alert) they didn’t win the World Series. They didn’t even make it to the Series; they lost in the first round to the Minnesota Twins.

It was a really interesting idea that Billy Beane came up with, but one that’s not as useful now as it was then. There are parts of their scheme that are still in practice around the MLB, but for the most part, that one year was pretty much a fluke. I feel like a lot of credit is given to Billy Beane, but in the movie, it’s Peter Brand that lays most of the groundwork for the concept of Moneyball (most of which was based on Sabermetrics, the statistical analysis pioneered by Bill James in the ‘70’s). Billy Beane is just the one who executes it. Which I guess makes him as responsible for it, but whatever.

But really, it’s Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill that carry this movie. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is mostly an afterthought, though no fault of his own, his character is just not as important as Pitt’s or Hill’s. Which is a shame, as Hoffman is one of the best actors working today. I’ve seen Pitt’s name thrown around for Best Actor Oscar nominations, and I’ve no doubt he’ll at least get nominated, but I don’t think he’ll win for it. It’s no secret that Pitt’s a good actor, and he shows it with his performance, but for me, it was Jonah Hill’s performance that was the highlight.

Jonah Hill’s made quite a name for himself as the lovable, funny, fat guy. (Though he’s no longer fat, and, according to my wife, is kind of hot…especially in the awesome Call of Duty commercial airing now). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hill in what would be a huge departure from his usual Apatow-heavy resume. And he impressed me. Not to say he out-acted Pitt, but he was more impressive than Pitt. I doubt Hill will even get a whiff of a Supporting Actor nomination, and he may not be that deserving of one, but I don’t think I’d be mad if he were nominated.

The rest of the cast was made up of old baseball types, baseball players and Chris Pratt. Pratt, like Hill is most known for comedy, his character on NBC’s Parks & Recreation is one of the funniest on TV right now, and he, like Hill, impressed me with his ability to be serious. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but the fact that he was doing something other than being dumb, goofy Andy on Parks & Rec was refreshing.

Even if Pitt doesn’t get a nomination for Best Actor, the film itself is almost certain to garner some Academy interest. It’s got Aaron Sorkin’s name on the screenplay, and dude’s been pretty solid when it comes to screenplays in the past. As for other Nominations, it’ll probably be in consideration for Best Director, maybe Best Picture. But at this point, I’m not even sure what the other nominees would be, so it’s a bit early for me to tell.

Whatever the nominees will be, I’ll try and see them before the award show airs this year, unlike last year, where I waited until months after to watch and review all of the films. It’s a bit of a guessing game at this stage, but I’m working on it.

Verdict: Better than Avatar

Trailer:


Friday, November 18, 2011

Fast Five (2011)

Fast Five (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Chris Bridges
Directed by: Justin Lin
Running time: 130 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick Summary: Dom and Brian are again on the wrong side of the law, this time, in Brazil as they are caught between a ruthless drug czar and the federal agents trying to track them down.


Truth time: I have seen all four of the previous Fast and The Furious movies. I am not ashamed of this. It’s not because I am a fan of Paul Walker. Nor am I a fan of Vin Diesel’s acting prowess. I am not even that big a fan of street racing. I love cars. I watch these movies simply to watch awesome cars do awesome (and many times, improbable) things. I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the flimsy, ridiculous, stupid, or impossible plots. I want to watch 3 black Civics dart in and out of traffic, around and under a semi-truck. I want to see actors/stuntmen jump from a moving vehicle into the open top of a convertible, probably doing 100+ MPH. I want to see cars blow up, flip over and over again.

When I saw they were making a fifth installment, I could care less which actors were going to be involved. I wanted to know what cars were going to be featured. It’s the only draw for me. The same was true of Gone in 60 Seconds. It wasn’t Nic Cage or Angelina Jolie that drew me in, it was that Shelby GT500. They could have (and probably should have) killed off Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner at the end of the first one, and I wouldn’t have cared (I probably would have enjoyed it more).

I was going to see Fast Five. It was just a matter of time. If it were up to me, I’d have seen it in the theater opening weekend, but I never got around to it. But it arrived the other day, and I watched it as soon as I could. And it’s not a great movie at all, but I still enjoyed it.

The globe-trotting series started in Miami, returned there for the second film, moved to Tokyo for the loosely related third movie, then jumped to Mexico for number four, and now shifts to Brazil, for some reason. (Is it possible to have an establishing shot of Rio without showing the Christ the Redeemer statue? Is it a requirement of films set in Rio?)

The Rock…I’m sorry…Dwayne Johnson is probably the most talented actor in the cast. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are both pretty terrible actors, but they’ve managed to carve out a niche in this series, and I am sure it’s paid them handsomely. I cannot accept the fact that Vin Diesel would stand a chance in a fight against Dwayne Johnson. Johnson is easily 5” taller than Diesel, and probably has 40 lbs on him too. Plus, all that experience pretending to fight has probably taught Johnson a thing or two.

One thing I love about the series is how every movie features a rapper cameo. #1 had (the terrible) Ja Rule, #2 had (the awesome) Ludacris, #3 had Snoop Dogg’s nephew Bow Wow, and #4 had (the relatively unknown, but pretty awesome) Puerto Rican reggaeton rappers Tego Calderon and Don Omar. #5 brings Ludacris back, along with Calderon and Omar. I don’t really know why, but it’s a part I’ve always looked forward to. None of them are great or even very good actors (Ludacris was surprisingly decent in Crash), but it’s still fun for me when they pop up.

Listen, you know what you’re getting when you watch a Fast and/or Furious movie: Cars, bad acting, ridiculous action and special effect sequences. That’s it. You’re not looking for Oscar worthy performances (maybe Razzie worthy), you’re not looking to have your heartstrings tugged. You want cars to go fast, things to blow up and that’s pretty much it. And as long as they keep the action scenes at a consistently awesome level, these movies will continue to have an audience. And I’ll be among them.

According to IMDB, a sixth movie is in the works. There was a scene after the credits that may or may not have alluded to this, but I missed it and sent the disc back to Netflix.

Verdict: Better than Avatar

Trailer:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

28 Weeks Later (2007)

28 Weeks Later (2007)
Rated R
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Robert Carlyle, Idris Elba
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Tagline: When days turn to weeks…
Running time: 100 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary: Six months after the Rage virus spread across the British Isles, the U.S. Army has secured parts of the city of London for the survivors to return. Quickly, things unravel, and the virus spreads again.

So I really liked 28 Days Later, and I was mad at myself for having waited so long to see it. After watching it, I immediately added the sequel to my Netflix, banking on the movie being as good or better than the first. While I don’t think I can say that it was a better movie than the first film, it was just as good, and had an even stronger cast.

Before he was Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner was killing zombies as a sniper with the U.S. Army stationed in London. He gives a pretty solid performance, cool and heroic. I like him. Had I watched this movie closer to 2007, I would have had an idea who Rose Byrne was before seeing her in X-Men: First Class and Bridesmaids. Pretty sure this movie helped her land those larger roles, she was good. Idris Elba is awesome (and would make an awesome James Bond). The rest of the cast (those that aren’t rage infected zombies) do a pretty good job. The young kid (Macintosh Muggleton) and his sister (Imogen Poots) have two of the most awesome and awful names I could think of. The actors’ names don’t really have anything to do with their performances, which are good, but I couldn’t overlook how funny they sound to say out loud.

I like that tather than being a straight sequel featuring the same characters and a similar situation, this one features new people in the same situation. Helps to keep the movie fresh, as it’s not bogged down by characters you’ve already met. Plus almost everyone of import in the first film died (or did they?). It would have been stupid if in the second film, they brought back a character you thought was dead or even brought back Cillian Murphy’s Jim. He was great, but it would have been too similar to the first movie, and it wouldn’t have been as good.

More and more, I like this series’ take on the zombie apocalypse. I like that the zombies aren’t brain dead and craving brains. I mean, they are bloodthirsty and not in control, but they aren’t slow, lumbering zombies. Some of them, especially Robert Carlyle’s character, actively seemed to be hunting specific people, not just whoever was around. It’s a nice change of pace from the traditional variety.

According to the IMDB, 28 Months Later is in the works, and I’m kind of excited about that. I was going to write something about how it’s rare that the third installment of a series gets or warrants higher levels of excitement, but then I remembered Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, so let’s just leave it that I am excited if they do in fact make a third. But I won’t be crushed if they don’t. The two will suffice.

Verdict: Streets ahead of Avatar

Trailer:  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Rated R/NC-17
Starring: Jessica Biel, R. Lee Ermey, Jonathan Tucker, Andrew Bryniarski, Eric Balfour
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Tagline: Inspired by a true story
Running time: 98 Minutes
IFC

Quick summary: A group of friends is traveling across Texas on their way to a concert when they pick up a strange and troubled girl wandering the rural streets. Soon after, they are terrorized by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath and his equally disturbed family.



Let’s breakdown the title of this 2003 remake of a horror classic:

Texas:. Check
Chainsaw: the weapon of choice for Leatherface (though it doesn’t appear until nearly 45 minutes in). Check
Massacre: Not so much. In all, only 3-5 people actually died in the film, and one of them shot herself, so not much of a massacre if you ask me.

And that’s probably my biggest complaint about this movie: it doesn’t deliver what the title promises.  

It’s actually not a bad little horror flick, it’s got a decent premise, a truly terrifying set of villains, a pretty decent young cast, and a few scenes that make you squirm. That’s all you really need out of a horror film. But there is something about that combination in this one that just doesn’t quite add up to a good horror movie.

The remake, back in 2003, was among the first of the still currently ongoing trend of horror classic remakes, followed by The Amityville Horror, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was also a drastic change for Jessica Biel, who for years had been a part of the wholesome, Christian TV series 7th Heaven. Almost as if she was so desperate to rid herself of that image that she jumped at the darkest and most diametrically opposed film she could. It didn’t work, because to me, she was still that wholesome girl from that wholesome family.

The rest of the cast also featured other actors that I am familiar with from their other works. Jessica Biel was on Seventh Heaven (a show my mom loved). Jonathan Tucker was on the criminally under watched NBC show The Black Donnellys as well as the movie 100 Girls. Eric Balfour was on 24 for 3 seasons. And of course R. Lee Ermey is unforgettable as Gunnery Sargeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. It was a little hard for me to get into these characters, because I know them as completely different characters. I kind of prefer that my horror movies have little to unknown actors, so I don’t get distracted by them. All of them did at least an adequate job in the movie, none of them gave exceptionally strong or weak performances, and in horror movies, the only real requirement is that you can die well or scream loudly.

As for Leatherface himself, he’s still a valid and scary bad guy with maybe the creepiest masks ever and a pretty awesome Weapon of Choice. Though a chainsaw makes it virtually impossible for Leatherface to effectively, and sneakily hunt after his victims. He’s at a distinct disadvantage compared to the big three. Though he does benefit from having a deranged family to help him out with trapping the unsuspecting victims. 

While I’ve not yet seen the original movie, I was aware of the fact that cannibalism played a large role in why Leatherface killed his victims, and that was completely missing in the remake. Sure, you could probably argue that the intention was to eat the victims, based on how they were killed and what was done with them afterwards, but it was never explicitly stated. And that could have made for a much darker and scarier film.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie. Not great by any stretch, but it is watchable.

Verdict: better than avatar

Trailer:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Running time: 118 Minutes

Quick summary: In 1873, in Arizona, a spaceship arrives to take over the world, and harvest the gold of the Old West. A group of outlaw gunslingers and Native Americans are the only ones who stand in their way.  

Cowboys & Aliens could have been called Cowboys & Avatar. An alien race invades a planet, trying to harvest a valuable mineral, and in the process, attempts to wipe out the natives that stand in their way. In Cowboys & Aliens, the roles are reversed from Avatar. The technologically advanced alien race is the oppressor and the humans are the primitive race that must stand up to the aliens to protect their homeland. In both movies, a vastly out-gunned underdog takes on a much stronger force, and prevails. The disparity betwixt the two sides is so great and the chances so slim for the underdog that its almost completely unbelievable (ignoring the fact that the plot centers around cowboys fighting aliens).
This alien race is far superior in every way to the cowboys with their six-shooters and the Native Americans with their spears and tomahawks. They’ve created a laser cannon of some kind, why don’t they just eradicate everyone first, then swoop in afterwards and take all the gold that they need? It seems way easier, and leaves little to no room for a miraculous comeback.  In Avatar, the humans are under the impression that they are there for scientific reasons, not just greed, but in C&A, we are given no indication that the Aliens even care, all they want is gold.
Correlations to Avatar notwithstanding, Cowboys & Aliens is an alright movie. It’s entertaining, full of action and explosions and cool special effects. The cast is solid, Daniel Craig is awesome as always, and even does a Western accent. Harrison Ford is a Sci-Fi legend, and it’s great to see him get back to the genre, and Olivia Wilde, while I didn’t like her character, is proving herself a capable actress who’ll no doubt continue to get bigger and bigger roles going forward. Sam Rockwell, while not as prevalent as he should have been, is an underrated actor, who should be getting better roles in the future. The rest of the cast resembled Western standards: grizzly old men, Native Americans, tough women. Overall, the cast was probably the best part of the movie.
The titular aliens, while not the worst movie aliens ever (these), were not nearly cool enough. They could have been so much more. At least they weren’t just blue CGI people; that would have made this Western Avatar.
I like Jon Favreau movies. Both those he directed and those he acts in. What he did with the Iron Man movies was nothing short of phenomenal. But Cowboys & Aliens just fell short. It could have been so much more. Not all of that blame falls on Favreau’s shoulders, he still made a pretty decent movie. It looks fantastic and is entertaining, it just could have been even better. I think a lot of it has to do with how literal the title is. Such a hyper-literal title implies a sense of self-awareness and humor, something that was completely lacking in the movie. Such a literal title is something that belongs to a B-movie (think Snakes on a Plane), not a big budget summer “blockbuster”.
For having a similar plot basis to Avatar, Cowboys & Aliens was a far more enjoyable movie. It was shorter, had more action and better acting. Plus it’s far better than the only other Western crossover movie I know of/own.
Verdict: better than Avatar
Trailer:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Carrie (1976)


Carrie (1976)
Rated R
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta
Directed by Brian De Palma
Tagline: Take Carrie to the prom. I dare you.
Running time: 98 Minutes
TCM



Quick summary: A mousy girl (with telekinetic powers) is abused and mistreated by her classmates, but on the night of the Prom, she gets her revenge on all of them. 

I feel like I’ve beaten the “I never thought I liked Steven King movies” thing to death, but it’s true, and as a result I’ve missed quite a few “classics”. Based on King’s first novel, also titled Carrie, the film version garnered mostly positive reviews and Academy Award nominations for actresses Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. The film has also spawned a sequel (made 33 years after the original), a made-for-TV movie version and a Broadway musical (!???!?!?!). It’s a popular, and beloved horror classic that went completely ignored by me for several years. At the urging demanding of my wife, I DVR’d it the other night so that we could watch it during the Halloween weekend. We watched it, and I liked it. It’s a solid movie.
Was I supposed to side with Carrie the entire time? Because I did. At no point was I against her or did I feel like she was in the wrong. I felt bad for her, and felt like everyone deserved exactly what they got (even the people who were nice to her, because they let it happen in the first place). Teenage girls (and John Travolta) can be mean, and totally deserved to have their prom night wrecked by a scorned, telekinetic girl.
Sissy Spacek was the perfect choice to play Carrie. Of course, that’s easy to say after the fact, but there is no way that another actress could have delivered as good of a performance. Spacek was perfect. The rest of the “teen girls” were well cast, perfectly portraying mean-spirited and hateful girls. Piper Laurie, as Carrie’s mother, was just the right amount of over-the-top, overbearing spirituality. John Travolta has such a small role that my wife forgot he was even in the movie. After watching it, I can see why, his performance was neither good nor bad, completely unremarkable.
Seeing as how the movie is now 35 years old, the effects and the overall look of the film are a bit dated, but not so much so that it detracts from the film. It still works. I wouldn’t really consider this to be a horror movie (like Dolores Claiborne), but it does deliver a genuine scare at the end. My wife, whose seen it before and spoiled it for me, and I both still jumped. That’s the mark of a good horror movie, the ability to deliver even when the audience knows exactly what’s coming.
Overall, probably in the top 5 of Steven King based movies (behind, in any order, The Green Mile, The Shining, and The Shawshank Redemption).
Verdict: Streets Ahead of Avatar

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Tagline: Evolution becomes revolution.
Running time: 105 Minuutes
Quick summary: A scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s discovers an interesting side effect while testing the drug on chimpanzees; the drug makes the apes smarter.
So I honestly had very little desire to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve never actually watched any of the other Apes movies, mainly because I just cannot get behind the idea of advanced apes. Look, I get it, apes are the closest relatives to humans, and are some of the smarter animals out there, and it would probably be kind of scary if they all got smarter, learned to talk and assembled together to overthrow humans, I just don’t want to watch it.
But, it was my day off, and it was raining outside and I didn’t want to go anywhere. Plus, I already couldn’t do what I wanted to (finish building my deck), so I figured since I can’t do what I want, I might as well do something I don’t want to do.
I like James Franco. I do, but outside of 127 Hours, I don’t think he’s that great of an actor. He was pretty good in Freaks & Geeks, but over the top in the Spiderman movies. He was pretty funny in Pineapple Express too, but that’s not asking a whole lot as far as acting prowess. He wasn’t bad in this, wasn’t great, but did a good job interacting with a fake monkey. As for the rest of the human cast, it consisted of the always awesome John Lithgow, the also always awesome Brian Cox, and the always awful Freida Pinto. With the exception of Pinto, a pretty solid cast. Adding in the CGI/Screencapture skills of Andy Serkis, and that cancels out Pinto.
I will say this: the CGI apes in this looked 100,000,000,000 times better than the dudes in monkey suits of the original and even the Tim Burton version from 2001. CGI has made huge leaps and bounds over the years, allowing film makers to make almost anything look almost real, but you can still tell it’s fake, and sometimes that bothers me. But in movies like this and the Transformers movies, a suspension of belief is required anyways, which helps.
I really liked the first half of the movie, when Franco was a scientist raising a genetically superior chimp in his home with his Alzheimer’s suffering father. It was kind of sweet and heartwarming. If the movie had been an hour and a half of that story, ending with the ape being acclimated into regular society, attending college and becoming awesome, I would have loved it.
Instead, they went with the ape attacks a human (in defense of his family), and is thereby captured and taken to a zoo, and forced to acclimate with other apes for the first time ever angle. Due to his advanced intelligence, Caesar, of course, breaks out and sneaks to his old home, steals the drug he was given and releases it amongst the other apes, then rebelling, killing and terrorizing humans. I get it, it’s a Planet of the Apes movie, fine, but (spoiler alert) they don’t take over the planet. They don’t even take over San Francisco. They go to a state park and climb trees. The End.
Honestly, they would have been better off doing it my way. But nobody asks me, do they?
Truthfully, though, it wasn’t a terrible movie, it wasn’t even that bad. I kind of enjoyed myself.
Result: Better than Avatar
Trailer:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Rated PG-13
Starring: James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Tagline: Evolution becomes revolution.
Running time: 105 Minuutes
Quick summary: A scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s discovers an interesting side effect while testing the drug on chimpanzees; the drug makes the apes smarter.
So I honestly had very little desire to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve never actually watched any of the other Apes movies, mainly because I just cannot get behind the idea of advanced apes. Look, I get it, apes are the closest relatives to humans, and are some of the smarter animals out there, and it would probably be kind of scary if they all got smarter, learned to talk and assembled together to overthrow humans, I just don’t want to watch it.
But, it was my day off, and it was raining outside and I didn’t want to go anywhere. Plus, I already couldn’t do what I wanted to (finish building my deck), so I figured since I can’t do what I want, I might as well do something I don’t want to do.
I like James Franco. I do, but outside of 127 Hours, I don’t think he’s that great of an actor. He was pretty good in Freaks & Geeks, but over the top in the Spiderman movies. He was pretty funny in Pineapple Express too, but that’s not asking a whole lot as far as acting prowess. He wasn’t bad in this, wasn’t great, but did a good job interacting with a fake monkey. As for the rest of the human cast, it consisted of the always awesome John Lithgow, the also always awesome Brian Cox, and the always awful Freida Pinto. With the exception of Pinto, a pretty solid cast. Adding in the CGI/Screencapture skills of Andy Serkis, and that cancels out Pinto.
I will say this: the CGI apes in this looked 100,000,000,000 times better than the dudes in monkey suits of the original and even the Tim Burton version from 2001. CGI has made huge leaps and bounds over the years, allowing film makers to make almost anything look almost real, but you can still tell it’s fake, and sometimes that bothers me. But in movies like this and the Transformers movies, a suspension of belief is required anyways, which helps.
I really liked the first half of the movie, when Franco was a scientist raising a genetically superior chimp in his home with his Alzheimer’s suffering father. It was kind of sweet and heartwarming. If the movie had been an hour and a half of that story, ending with the ape being acclimated into regular society, attending college and becoming awesome, I would have loved it.
Instead, they went with the ape attacks a human (in defense of his family), and is thereby captured and taken to a zoo, and forced to acclimate with other apes for the first time ever angle. Due to his advanced intelligence, Caesar, of course, breaks out and sneaks to his old home, steals the drug he was given and releases it amongst the other apes, then rebelling, killing and terrorizing humans. I get it, it’s a Planet of the Apes movie, fine, but (spoiler alert) they don’t take over the planet. They don’t even take over San Francisco. They go to a state park and climb trees. The End.
Honestly, they would have been better off doing it my way. But nobody asks me, do they?
Truthfully, though, it wasn’t a terrible movie, it wasn’t even that bad. I kind of enjoyed myself.
Result: Better than Avatar
Trailer:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Hangover Part II (2011)

The Hangover Part II (2011)
Rated R
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Mike Tyson, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Tagline: The Wolfpack is Back
Running time: 102 Minutes

Quick summary: Two years after they left Vegas, Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug head to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Hoping for subdued and calm pre-wedding festivities, the guys quickly realize they did it again, and must spend the next 24 hours retracing their steps and getting back in time for the ceremony.

The Hangover was one of the funniest movies I’ve ever gone to see in the theater. I knew that it was going to be funny, and I wanted to see it. I had to drag my wife to it; she had no interest in seeing it at all. Within 5 minutes, she was laughing, and ended up liking it a lot. I didn’t even ask her to watch The Hangover Part II with me, figuring she liked the first one, and wouldn’t care about a second one. I think I was right.

One of the biggest knocks against the sequel is its lack of creativity; basically take The Hangover, move it to Thailand and repeat. And it was wildly successful, grossing over $250 million worldwide. The audience for The Hangover part II is not unlike the audience for the Austin Powers or Shrek movies, they don’t care if it’s the same, they are going to see it anyways. That’s not necessarily a knock against any this movie, or any of those movies either, I have seen all of them, and have enjoyed all of them in some way. The audience knows what it’s looking for, and the films deliver exactly that, there’s no shocking twist or surprise serious moment. It’s all shenanigans and cheap laughs. And that’s fine. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

And I enjoyed this movie. It was by no means as funny as the first one, but for me to honestly expect that would have been na├»ve. It wasn’t the funniest movie of the year (still Bridesmaids), but it was pretty funny. Zach Galifianakis was just as crazy and weird and funny, though at times it seemed a stretch, Ed Helms was as neurotic and nerdy, Bradley Cooper was just as smarmy and jack-assey, Justin Bartha was barely in it again, there were surprise celebrity cameos, Ed Helms making up a song about their situation, way too much uncomfortable male nudity, ridiculous situations and poor decisions just like last time.

The only big difference, and my least favorite part, was Ken Jeong. Normally, I love Ken Jeong. He’s hilarious and awesome, and was a surprise in the first movie. Way too much of him in the second, and his over the top pan-Asian affectations were a little bit annoying here, whereas they were more funny the first go around. A smaller role, fewer stereotypical things, and maybe I don’t dislike it as much.

Other than that, it’s exactly what you’re expecting from a Todd Phillips movie. It’s an R-Rated gross out comedy, and it does that. I’d rather watch the first one again, and sincerely hope they do not make a third (it has been rumored that they will).

Verdict: Better than Avatar

Trailer: 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Friends with Strings Attached (2011)



Starring: Justin Kutcher, Ashton Timberlake, Mila Portman, Natalie Kunis
Directed by: Ivan Reitman or Will Gluck
Tagline: Friendship has it’s benefits. (Guess which one this is for. You’re wrong.)
Running time: 108/109 Minutes (They’re even the same length…)

Generic summary: A guy and a girl meet, become friends, decide to just have casual sex while still remaining friends. Everything seems to be going great, until one of them develops stronger feelings and wants more. This revelation causes a rift and threatens their friendship before they both ultimately realize they were meant to be.

At this point, it shouldn’t really surprise me that two movies with identical plots were released within six months of each other. The Asylum’s been doing it for years (though, to be fair, theirs are blatant rip-offs and mockbusters). What is surprising to me is that they were both such high-profile movies with big-name stars attached. Natalie Portman, fresh off of her Best Actress Oscar, might be the top actress working and Ashton Kutcher practically invented Twitter, is always in the media and recently stepped into the vacancy on Two & A Half Men created by Charlie Sheen going nuts. Putting those two together is a surefire hit in theaters, especially in a raunchy, R-rated summer comedy.
On the other side, you’ve got Justin Timberlake, a man I wish I could hate. I want to hate him because of who he is. He was a member of one of the biggest boy bands (I don’t hate him for that, more so because boy bands existed), has dated several of the hottest women in the world, broke off into an immensely successful solo music career, been a part of three of the funniest things SNL has been a part of in nearly a decade (The Lonely Island Digital Shorts), is surprisingly funny, and is now a full-fledged movie star. I want to hate him so badly, but then he makes me laugh, and I can’t hate him. And then there’s Mila Kunis, who I used to not like (on That 70’s Show), with her third straight (in movies I’ve seen) impressive performance. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, she was surprisingly funny and down to Earth, in Black Swan, she was surprisingly good, and in this, she was (no longer) surprisingly funny. Also a formula for success.
Financially, No Strings Attached won it’s opening weekend, but barely (grossing $19 million vs. $18 million for Friends with Benefits). No Strings has also earned more overall, with $70 million vs. $55 million. In the realm of critical opinion, Friends with Benefits won, with a higher IMDB rating(6.7 vs 6.2). I watched these two movies in the span of 48 hours, so I feel like I am the most qualified to report on which of the two is better.
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now, both are more enjoyable better than Avatar.
I watched Friends with Benefits first, and I wasn’t expecting much, honestly. I was pleasantly surprised with how funny it actually was. I was fully expecting something akin to Bad Teacher (full of potential but falling flat), what I got was something closer to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The characters were believable (even if the plot was less so), the performances were good, and the supporting cast was good, especially Woody Harrellson and a pretty awesome string of cameos (Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, a hilarious Shaun White). All in all, it was a pretty good movie. Not the funniest movie I’ve seen this year (still Bridesmaids), but probably a not so distant second.
No Strings Attached was almost the opposite of FWB. I was actually expecting it to be funny (apparently forgetting that I don’t like Ashton Kutcher all that much). Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty funny, but my hopes were higher for it than FWB. All of these R-Rated comedies are really just Rom-coms disguised with jokes for men, but NSA’s sappy romance wasn’t as disguised. It was far cheesier and sappier than FWB. The performances were good, and it too had a solid supporting cast (Mindy Kaling, Ludacris, Greta Gerwig, Cary Elwes, Kevin Kline), it just wasn’t as good/entertaining/funny as Friends with Benefits.
I partially believe that had I watched them in reverse order, my opinion would be reversed as well, but I don’t know for sure.
I do know that of the super attractive, highly successful people, Kutcher (TV writer/assistant) and Portman (as a doctor) had the more believable careers. JT as a marketing guru is believable too, but Kunis as a headhunter was kind of a head scratcher. Give her a more glamorous career, and maybe I’d believe it.
Both are worth a watch, but check the trailers to see for yourself: