Monday, April 20, 2009

“Monsters vs. Aliens” Title Fight Overshadowed by “3D vs. Plot” Match

Monsters vs. Aliens

They say that you never forget your first time. It is a little awkward at begin, at times uncomfortable, but eventually you get the rhythm of it. Despite all the anticipation and excitement in the build up, you are surprised to find that it is over before you know it. While you can take solace in the fact that everyone seems to be doing it nowadays, you cannot help but feel a little unsatisfied. Of course I am talking about the world of 3D movies, which seems to have taking Hollywood by storm of late. I finally took in my first ever 3D movie, Monsters vs. Aliens, this past weekend.

Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is about to walk down the aisle with the man of her dreams, Derek (Paul Rudd). Before Susan can even get to the “I do’s” she is struck by a radioactive asteroid. Within minutes Susan starts to grow at an extraordinary rate. Seeing the possibilities of a 50 foot woman as an asset the military swoops in and locks Susan away in a top secret facility. Led by General W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland), Susan is recruited into the “Monster” division where she if forced to work alongside an interesting cast of characters. There is Dr. Cockroach Ph.D (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist who accidentally turned himself into a half-man/half –cockroach; The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a lizardman from the Black Lagoon; B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a brainless gelatinous mass, and a 40 foot Insectosaurus. When the evil alien, Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), starts to cause havoc on earth, The President’s (Stephen Colbert) last hope is for this ragtag group of monsters to save the day.

Despite watching the movie in IMAX 3D, the crisp animation and the stunning 3D effects could not mask a huge flaw with the film…the story. The lack of any real plot started to bother me halfway through. Also, for a film that boasted such great 3D visuals, the characters were surprisingly one-dimensional (in terms of the script). It is pretty telling when Derek is given more back-story than the main villain in the film. A few characters, such as the giant-fuzzy insect, seemed like they were in the film for no other purpose then to have extra toys to sell. Which is a shame as the directors could have given the immensely talented ensemble cast a lot more to work with. The only characters that really stood out for me were Dr. Cockroach, B.O.B., and President Hathaway. While the 3D effects are the main reasons to see Monsters vs. Aliens, the lack of substance will ultimately leave you feeling unsatisfied.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Adventureland Worth The Price of Admission


While scanning Box Office Mojo’s 2009 film totals to date I noticed some rather disappointing figures. The usual suspects (i.e. the mall cops, scary movies, tween bait, superheroes, tricked out cars, etc.) were at the top of the list, yet one of the better films of this year, Adventureland, was is barely treading water. Currently, Adventureland is listed as the 33rd highest grossing film of the year. Just edging out the John Cena vehicle, 12 Rounds, and trailing such “Hollywood gems” like Push, The Unborn, Pink Panther 2, etc. I fear that I will be adding Crank 2 to this illustrious list of movies by the end of the weekend. Part of this is probably a result of the way the film was marketed. It is being sold as a silly teen comedy, which could not be further from the truth.

Set in 1987, Adventureland is a coming-of-age tale that centers around James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg). In his early 20’s, and fresh off his undergrad, James has his sights set on starting graduate school in New York in the fall. When James’ parents fall on tough financial times, and cannot afford to cover his schooling, James is forced to put aside his European vacation and get a summer job. James quickly realizes that his Liberal Arts degree is worth nothing as the only job he can land is at the local amusement park, Adventureland. While working at the park James meets and unique group of co-workers, including Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), who ultimately make this a summer that James will never forget.

While tales of 20-somethings finding themselves is nothing new; it is the way that writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad, The Daytrippers) crafts his characters which makes this film work so well. I liked that instead of just making caricatures of carnie life, Matolla provided a fairly realistic portrayal of how young people at that age think and act. The film never opts for the easy laugh when characters encounter issues regarding love, family, aspirations, illness, loneliness, marriage, etc. Since every character in the film is layered, Mottola allows them to tackle the issues instead of running from them. As a result, it is easy to identify with almost every character in the film. You cannot help but feel for Em, as she misguidedly confuses sex with love. You cringe once you realize that James’ awkwardness is inside us all. Despite being a cad, you never truly hate Mike (Ryan Reynolds). You are pleasantly surprised to see that Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) is more than a mere flirt. Sure she knows how to use sex appeal to her advantage, yet she does not let it compromise her values (e.g. virginity), etc.

Unfortunately Advertureland does not seem to be the type of film that has people running in droves to their local theatres. Which is a shame, yet there is no reason for you not to go and see it. The film has a great story, strong acting, and a writer/director who truly knows how to connect with his audience. Not to mentioning that Adventureland is one of my favourite films to be released so far this year.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Report Advises Against Observing

Keeping with my top 10 to see summer movies, be sure to visit the Did I Miss Something blog for more must see gems hitting theaters this summer.

Also, for film reviews from the ’09 Philadelphia Film Festival check out EZ1 Productions Lounge and The Sho’Nuff blog over the next few weeks.

Observe and Report

Just a few months after Paul Blart: Mall Cop clubbed us over the head with its stupidity Hollywood treats us to yet another film, Observe and Report, about keeping the malls of America safe. Which begs the question at what point in history did mall security become a profession that warranted cinematic treatment? What is even more disturbing is that studios were actually competing to be the first to tell the tale. Judging by this latest trend, I wonder how long before a film about school hall-monitors gets made? I feel that their stories have been ignored long enough!

Written and directed by Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way, Eastbound and Down), Observe and Report follows Ronnie Barnhart (Seth Rogen), a man who takes his job as head of mall security a little too seriously. When a pervert starts flashing unsuspecting women, including Ronnie’s dream girl Brandi (Anna Faris), Ronnie vows to bring the perpetrator to justice by any means necessary. To make matters worse, a series of robberies have happened in the same mall. Although Ronnie believes he can solve the flasher case, his boss would rather let the official cops handle the investigation. Needless to say, Ronnie and the hotshot detective assigned to case, Harrison (Ray Liotta), butt heads immediately over both the flasher and Brandi. Ronnie soon decides that the only way to get results is to take matters into his own hands.

There is a line in the film where a fellow cop tells Ray Liotta’s character “I’m sorry, I thought this would be funny but it is just depressing.” This perfectly sums up how I felt about this film. I was rather optimistic going in, as I figured it could not be any worse than Paul Blart. Yet I found that, despite a few good laughs, this film was equally as bad as Paul Blart but for different reasons. Observe and Report is a dark comedy that does not execute either the dark aspects or the humor well. Part of the problem is that the film never really commits fully to either aspect. One minute the film is dark to the point of depressing, the next the film is resorting to juvenile “F*** Y**” jokes. The lack of focus causes the film to feel very uneven. This is especially apparent when you factor in some of the nonsensical action sequences.

It also does not help that Seth Rogen’s character is so one-dimensional that he becomes rather boring pretty fast. It is one thing for a character to be lost in their own delusions of grandeur; it is another thing for the audiences to still be able to connect with the then. Unlike other characters in dark comedies, say Billy Bob Thornton's alcoholic Willie in Bad Santa for example, there is nothing really unique or memorable about Ronnie Barnhart. The same thing can be said for Anna Faris’ Brandi, whose only real purpose was to be a ditz in a push-up bra. Anne Faris has such good comedic timing that it is perplexing that she was not given more to do in the film. The only character that was actually well suited for the tone of the film was Dennis (Michael Pena). I though Pena stole every scene he was in, as he was the perfect blend of both funny and creepy. It is as shame the rest of the components of Observe and Report could not find the same blend. While the film is slightly better than the previous mall cop movie, there still is not a whole lot to recommend here.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Friday, April 03, 2009

Old Cloud Shaped Like A Heart

This was originally posted in my 2008 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film was finally released in theatres today.

Cloud 9 (WolKe 9)

Sex and the City proved that single women could still have a sex life at age 40. Well Cloud 9 goes one step further by saying that women over sixty can still get “their groove on.” The film features the most graphic, yet realistic, depiction of sexual intimacy between couples in their sixties and seventies, yet this is not a pornographic film. Cloud 9 dares to show that human desires do not magically stop with age.

After thirty years of marriage Inge (Ursula Werner), sixty years old, decides to act on her lust for Karl (Horst Westphal), a man thirteen years her senior. Eventually Inge falls in love with Karl and decides to come clean about the affair to her family. To Inge’s surprise, her eldest daughter is very supportive and encourages Inge to continue with the affair. Yet she advises Inge not to tell her husband, Werner (Horst Rehberg). Riddled with guilt, Inge can no longer keep Werner in the dark. Obvious to everyone except Inge, Werner is both outrage and hurt by the news. This forces Inge to make some difficult choices about her life. Should Inge follow her heart? If so, can she live with the consequences?

While Cloud 9 is to be commended for its frank approach at showing that love knows no age, the film will surely cause different levels of discussion based on your perspective. The major issue I had with the film is similar to the one I had with the film The Other Man (a Liam Neeson film that has yet to be released in theatres). If the film were about Werner cheating, both Inge and her daughter would have drastically different responses than their current ones in the film. Despite her age, Inge basically turns into a schoolgirl again when she is with Karl. Which is understandable to a point, yet I find it hard to believe that Inge would be so naïve as to think that Werner would be cool with the affair. When Werner tells her that she is sixty and should know better, Inge replies “What does my age have to do with it?” Inge basically justifies the affair by stating “I cannot help who I fall in love with, why can’t you just be happy for me?” Again, picture a man saying these exact words. All of a sudden that line of logic does not hold up in your mind once the roles are reversed does it? Yep, I thought so.

Inge’s sudden and awkward child-like innocence aside, I must give Ursula Werner credit for giving a wonderfully brave performance. Regardless if you agree with her character’s action, Ursula successfully makes you feel for Inge the entire way through. Regardless of which side you are on, Cloud 9 is an interesting film that proves that matters of the heart are truly timeless.

(warning trailer contains nudity)

For more reviews from 2009 click here