Wednesday, August 31, 2011

'One Day'

'One Day' (PG-13) (2 STARS)

Writer: David Nicholls based on his novel
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Romola Garai, rafe Spall, Ken Stott, Jodie Whitaker

"One Day" has something to me that can kill my enjoyment of a movie. That is a main character that I did not care for and like and who I feel did not deserve the love of the other main character. Jim Sturgess is a very good actor but his Dexter is a character who is selfish, arrogant and a bore. The problem is the movie's writing makes him so one note and superficial when he grows and becomes affectionate it feels phony.

"One Day" tells the story of Emma and Dexter who start to have a one night stand one day in 1988 and instead become friends. The start of the movie is promising even though the gimmick of showing the one day anniversary of meeting ruins the flow of the movie. We see Emma and Dexter's friendship grow over the years and we catch up with their lives almost every year from 1988 to present day. Of course they are friends and there is that unspoken love between them that they never act on.

Like I said the movie starts out well but towards the middle I realized something. I realized that Emma and Dexter are better as friends and that I didn't really like Dexter. Emma is too good for him and Emma winds up with a wannabe stand up comedian as a boyfriend and of course she doesn't really love him. I just don't understand that a sweet and beautiful and smart woman like Emma can't be given a really great guy to be with in the story. Of course that is done on purpose so Emma and Dexter can be together and that is what I didn't want to see. It also doesn't help that as each year progresses I felt the movie skipping ahead too soon.

Jim Strurgess is very good here but his character is really a jerk and he stays that way even when the movie starts to make him sweet. When a certain series of events and tragedies happen to Dexter I still felt that he was a cold person. I didn't believe he was changing even when a huge tragedy happens and when he is given a family. Critics are blasting Anne Hathaway about her British accent. It is not a perfect accent but Hathaway is so radiant, graceful and charming here I didn't mind. I like Hathaway's performance and the way she lights up the screen but that and her character are the only good thing going here.

P.S. There is an older movie with the same gimmick that is much better than "One Day" and that is 1978's "Same Time Next Year" with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. Also better movies like "One Day" are "Rachel at the Wedding" with Hathaway and "Love, Actually". Also with the right romantic vehicle for Hathaway (which she hasn't been given yet) she could be as graceful and radiant as a young Audrey Hepburn. That is a huge compliment from me because Hepburn is my all time favorite actress.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'Our Idiot Brother'

'Our Idiot Brother' (R) (3 STARS)

Writers: Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall
Director: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, TJ Miller, Kathryn Hahn, Rashida Jones, Shirley Knight

I wish there were more people in the World like Ned, the lead character in "Our Idiot Brother" who is played by Paul Rudd. Ned is such a kind person and is so good to others. He means well but he is not too smart and sometimes he blindly tries to help others and winds up messing things up. I really think Ned is smarter than the others think he is but he is just a little naive. Ned has three sisters that don't quite understand him but I think Ned is one of my favorite characters in a movie in quite awhile.

Paul Rudd is Ned and he is the perfect choice because I really like Paul Rudd and so do a lot of movie goers. He is a very funny actor who is probably one of the best straight men in the business. He is always likable, charming, funny and one of those guys you just want to be friends with. I expected a comedy with a lot of dumb laughs but I did not expect a charming, touching and smart comedy. This is a wonderful screenplay that doesn't hammer us over the head with obvious jokes.

Ned has three sisters and I love how the story gives each one a distinct personality. The sisters are also played by three very wonderful actresses who are great here. There is magazine reporter Miranda, played by an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks. There is bisexual sister Natalie played by the wonderful Zooey Deschanel. The last sister, Liz, is the most responsible one with a family and all. Ned stays with all three sisters at one point and interferes with his sister's lives. He doesn't mean to interfere but when he tries to help them he goes too far.

"Our Idiot Brother" has a lot of big laughs and they come from the dialogue and the characters and not cheap jokes. I actually started to care about Ned and his sisters. They all have their flaws but I liked everyone. This movie is also very charming and smart and I thought it would be mean spirited. This movie has a killer cast and Banks, Mortimer and Deschanel are three of my favorite actresses and they are all great here. I didn't recognize Banks and I was impressed by her in this movie, she is a really great actress. There are also some great supporting turns by TJ Miller and Kathryn Hahn.

The movie mostly rests on the shoulders of Paul Rudd and I think he is one of our best comedy actors. He is so easy to listen to, he always makes you comfortable and you always cheer for him. The solid screenplay and the top notch acting make "Our Idiot Brother" a surprise winner. I don't usually like cliches but this is a feel good comedy that brought a big smile to my face.

'30 Minutes Or Less'

'30 Minutes Or Less' (R) (2 STARS)

Writer: Michael Dilberti
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Straaing: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Pena, Dilshad Vadsaria, Bianca Kajilich, Fred Ward

"30 Minutes Or Less" is not a bad movie but it kind of comes and goes without leaving much of an impression. It is a lazy comedy whose set up is not inspired and it's execution is weak. I like some of the performances even though the movie doesn't require quality perfromances. There are also two actors here who are fine but we have seen them do this kind of role over and over again.

"30 Minutes Or Less" stars Jesse Eisenberg as pizza delivery man Nick who is pretty much a slacker. Nick and his pal Chet hang out together a lot drinking beer and watching movies. One day Nick delivers a pizza to a couple of criminals who want to use Nick. They are trying to steal money so they can hire someone to kill one of their fathers. They strap a bomb to Nick and tell him to rob a bank and then drop off the money. The movie starts in separately giving us background on the criminals and then the two pals.

Some of the dialogue in the beginning has some witty one liners but there is nothing here that screams hilarity. There are a few car chases, the robbery of the bank that has one laugh in it. This could have been a wacky comedy like a warped version of "Dog Day Afternoon". The movie goes through the motions and there are no really funny scenes. I didn't laugh at all really, I just smiled a few times. There is really only the robbery and a lot of forgettable stuff. This is like one of those movies you might watch on cable late at night and then forget it in the morning.

The other problem is with the use of two actors in the movie that are given their same old schtick to do. I probably wouldn't have a problem with the way they are used if the movie was funny. First Jesse Eisenberg is being typcast as a fast talking nerd and I understand it but this movie is not doing Eisenberg any favors in not being typcast. Then there is Danny McBride who plays one of the bad guys. McBride in every movie specializes in using a lot of profane language and insulting everyone. It was funny in his first few movies and his HBO show but here it got on my nerves. It makes McBride look like he he can be only one dimensional and I know he is better than that. I did love Aziz Ansari as Chet and the comedic actor who is very funny on the television show "Parks and Recreation" is the best thing here.

So what you have here is a lackluster comedy that wastes all of it's talent. There is really no good reason I can think of on why this movie had to be made, the story is weak and the screenplay isn't funny. I was also dissapointed because the director Ruben Fleischer's first movie
"Zombieland had energy and a lot of big laughs. This movie drags and doesn't have one big laugh in it. The acting is good but I had another problem. The female characters are all weakly written and the actresses are given one note thankless roles. That is a problem with a lot of movies lately so 30 Minutes is just the same old safe comedy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

'Fright Night' (11)

'Fright Night' (11) (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Marti Nixon based on 1985 film written by Tom Holland
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Sandra Vergara

The 1985 movie "Fright Night" was a wonderfully campy, fun and gruesome vampire movie. I am not a big vampire movie guy because I think there are too many and most are lame. The HBO show "True Blood" is my favorite vampire themed entertainment now, the "Twilight" movies suck and the best in my opinion is 1987's "Near Dark". I loved the original "Fright Night" and I am happy to report to it's fans that this remake is different but just as good, maybe better.

The remake is different in that it is very fresh, beautifully shot and youthful when the original was more camp. The remake made me laugh a lot and on purpose and the acting is fantastic. The acting is one of the things that is better in the remake. Colin Farrell gives a sexy, sleek and energetic performance as Jerry the vampire. He lives next door to Charley Brewster and his mother Jane. Charley believes that his next door neighbor Jerry is a vampire right away and now Jerry is hitting on his mother and his hot girlfriend Amy!

The movie takes place in Las Vegas and moving the original location to Vegas is a masterstroke. Come on, Vegas never sleeps and so don't vampires. This is one of the fresh and smart changes writer Marti Nixon gives this remake and why I love this movie! The original had a hammy but wonderful performance by Roddy McDowell as horror movie host Peter Vincent. Charley goes to Vincent to get help in fighting Jerry. The remake has British actor David Tennant and though not better than McDowell, he gives a fresh spin on the role and he is brilliant and funny.

Colin Farrell plays Jerry and he blows away the original's Chris Sarandon, who makes a very funny cameo appearance here. Farrell is one of our best actors today and he is now showing his brilliant grasp of comedy. With this and his Oscar worthy performance in "Horrible Bosses" he is on a roll! He is sexy, beautiful, funny, charming and sleazy here and I think his performance is better than it should have been. He has fun with the role and is smart in that he doesn't go over the top. I also like Toni Collette and Anton Yelchin as Charley a lot and them being cast made me grateful.

There is also another solid performance by Christopher Mintz-Plasse who plays Charley's nerdy friend Ed and Mintz-Plasse plays a nerd better than anyone. I loved the choice of Imogen Poots as Charley's girlfriend Amy and I look forward to seeing her again. She is sweet, charming and makes us glad that her and good guy Charley are together. As I mentioned before I loved David Tennant as Peter Vincent and there is a small, striking, funny performance by Sandra Vergara as Vincent's sexy girl. She is so good in such little time I want to see her again!

"Fright Night" is a lot of fun and it has what most vampire movies lately don't have, a good story. The vampire myth is so dependable because it is so sexy and intriguing and most vampire movies these days forget this. The movie is not balls out scary but it sure is more fun and effective than "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark". There are some great jolts, a great car chase and a lot of good humor. The acting is what makes this more than just a good movie. It gets the job of nailing the genre perfectly and while it is just a horror movie it is also one of the best movies of the summer!

'Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark'

'Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark' (R) (2 STARS)

Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins based on the 1973 teleplay
Director: Troy Nixey
Starring: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake

Guillermo del Toro was scared and influenced by a 1973 television horror movie called "Don't be Afraid Of The Dark". Guillermo describing the effect this movie had on him at a young age sounded fascinating. Then why does his remake make a very small impression on me and why did I feel bored by it? I want to see the original now because this remake left me cold and not scared at all.

"Don't be Afraid Of The Dark" is one of those child in jeopardy haunted house movies and I have seen a lot more of these stories done much better. It's a shame because the atmosphere and the feel and look of the old Victorian house the movie takes place in got me excited at first. Little Sally moves with her father and his new wife into a house where a famous artist once lived. Sally starts to see little demon gremlins that pop out to scare her and of course the adults don't believe her until it is too late.

The little gremlins that pop out look like exact versions of the gremlins from the 1984 movie "Gremlins". They look so much like those creatures that I was not affected by them at all and did not find them scary. In fact they made me and a lot of the moviegoers I saw the movie with laugh at them. If you want a better movie about gremlins then rent "Gremlins" again. The only thing I liked about the movie was the beautiful house where the story takes place. I don't know where they found this house but it is eerie, chilling and breathtaking! The production design saves this movie from being a laughable turkey.

I got tired of these little creatures terrorizing Sally and after a half hour of this movie I checked out. The set up is good but the follow up is dull. I expected more from this movie because del Toro loved the original and wanted to do justice to it with this remake. The movie's second half feels like it is on auto pilot. It also squanders a perfect opportunity to let the creatures loose on a busy dinner party in a later scene. This movie maybe made me jump twice and the spooky house then became less effective. The acting also does not show off Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes's finest hours.

I have seen about 15 movies like this one that are much better. I feel like it's target audience might be very dissapointed by this. When coming out of the theatre there was a survey going on and a girl about 18 years old said that the movie pretty much sucked and was terrible. This movie just didn't scare me and when a much better movie like "Paranormal Activity" rules the roost these days I expect del Toro to step up his game and he doesn't. Trust me, with this movie you don't have to worry about being afraid in the dark.

For much better movies about haunted houses and creatures check out one of my all time favorite chillers "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" from 1976 with a young Jodie Foster. Also check out the "Paranormal Activity" movies again and also 1984's "Gremlins" which at least has intentional laughs unlike Afraid.

Friday, August 19, 2011

'Another Earth'

'Another Earth' (PG-13) (3 STARS)

Writers: Brit Marling and Mike Cahill
Director: Mike Cahill
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach, Flavor Flav

"Another Earth" is a provocative and highly original science fiction movie that is also a compelling pshycological drama. It also has a new actress to look out for much in the same way that Jennifer Lawrence was after "Winter's Bone". Her name is Brit Marling and she gives a very solid, wise, quiet and effective performance in a tricky role.

Marling plays Rhoda Williams who is a young female student who gets involved in a tragic accident that sends her away to prison for a few years. Rhoda's accident killed the wife and son of a composer and when Rhoda gets out she tries to reach out to him. Also as Rhoda gets out and tries to straighten out her life something strange has developed. Scientists have found a duplicate planet Earth where our doubles might reside at. Rhoda takes part in an essay contest to be one of the lucky ones to visit this duplicate Earth.

I loved the image of this duplicate Earth that director Mike Cahill displays in this movie. It is a haunting shot that gets stronger the more we see it. It always remiinds us and the characters what a wonderful opportunity this new Earth provides. This juxtaposition of the image in the sky with the drama going on in Rhoda's life is quietly powerful. Can we erase our mistakes and past hurts and heartache by visiting this new planet and living vicariously through our doubles?

Rhoda might get that chance if she wins the contest but she has grown close to the man whose life she has destroyed and she wants to stay and heal him. This dilemma is smartly played by Marling and we never see her acting. It is a raw and careful performance and Marling plays it like a veteran actress. The movie is quietly powerful, sad, haunting and it is a movie that will make you think as you leave the theatre. This is one of those movies that can create a great after viewing conversation over coffee with friends. I can't wait to study it again on DVD. This is an unique and wonderfully acted movie that is an original experience with a very promising writing and acting talent in Brit Marling.

'The Guard'

'The Guard' (R) (3 STARS)

Written and Directed By John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, Fionnula Flanagan

"The Guard" is a very funny and charming comedy where the dialogue is witty and so wonderful to listen to. It also has one of my favorite actors in Brendan Gleeson who is that actor that makes a movie special just because he is in it. Gleeson is paired up with one of our best character actors in Don Cheadle. Their chemistry together is magical and they sound wonderful together bouncing their lines off of each other.

Brendan Gleeson is Seargant Gerry Doyle who is very politically incorrect and probably doesn't think much before he speaks. He always speaks his mind without ever thinking of the consequences and some of his comments can be a wee bit racist and outrageous. Gerry is after a group of drug dealers who are disrupting his small town. He takes pride in his home and wants to catch these criminals. He is not too happy with being forced to work with black FBI agent Wendell Everett. He just doesn't like an outsider interfering with his work but the way Gerry speaks Wendell thinks Gerry might be a racist.

The movie is wildly entertaining mostly in the very funny and outrageous things that Gerry and the group of criminals say. I also love Cheadle's reactions to the ramblings of Gerry that sometimes make sense and sometimes don't. Cheadle has a classic line where he tells Gerry that he doesn't know if Gerry is really dumb or really smart. What I did love was that we do fall in love with Gerry and find him to be a good person. Brendan Gleeson is a great actor and when he does quirky comedy like this no one can touch him.

There was a similiar style of movie that came out in 2008 and was in my top ten list of that year that also starred Gleeson. It was "In Bruges" and it was written by playwright Martin McDonagh. The writer of "The Guard" is John Michael McDonagh and he is the brother of Martin. Both are extremely gifted writers who have a wonderful ear for funny dialogue. I hope Brendan Gleeson makes a movie once a year and I can't wait till the McDonagh Brothers make their next movie.

'The Devil's Double'

'The Devil's Double' (R) (2 STARS)

Writer: Michael Thomas based on novel by Latif Yahia
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Phillip Quast, Raad Rawi

"The Devil's Double" starts out promising but then devolves into a self indulgent mess. The subject matter is somewhat fascinating but the movie just became too dull for me and seemed to go nowhere. It is a shame that the movie crumbles in the end because Dominic Cooper gives a brave performance that could have turned out to be campy and embarrassing if performed wrong.

Cooper plays both Uday Hussein, the sadistic son of Saddam Hussein and Uday's college friend Latif. Uday convinces Latif, mostly through torture and threats to become Uday's double. This way Uday can escape danger if his many enemies try to kill him. Latif then is forced to take part in Uday's evil acts and excess. They include rapes, kidnapping children, taking a lot of cocaine and butchering men. I was very entertained by Dominic Cooper's performance and I found the beginning amusing but after awhile the story goes nowhere.

The movie is kind of a "Scarface" lite especially in the many shots of Uday inhaling cocaine and the over the top violence. The women in this movie are non existant especially the lead female role played awkwardly by Ludivine Sagnier. It is a thinly written role and every scene she is in doesn't gel with the reat of the movie. Dominic Cooper has been good in small roles until now like "An Education" and "Mamma Mia!" I was impressed with his work here and it could have been a camp performance but I felt he was very believable here.

Cooper's performance is very good but the movie fails him. After about 45 minutes I started not to care even when Latif's father is brought into the story. The movie just becomes monotonous with blood, gore and dull violence. In the end I didn't care what happened to Latif or anyone else because the movie never lets us in. The director is Lee Tamahori who showed so much promise with his first movie. That was one of the most powerful and gut wrenching movies I have ever encountered called "Once Were Warriors". This and his other follow up, the excruciating "Mullholland Falls". are a dissapointment coming from a very talented director. "The Devil's Double" wastes a lot of good talent on a pointless exercise in nihilism.

'The Change-Up'

'The Change-Up (R) (1 1/2 STARS)

Writers: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Leslie Mann, Gregory Itzin, Craig Bierko

Not only is "The Change-Up" very dated and familiar but it is also unfunny, desperate and obnoxious. This is one of those smug movies where the film makers try to push vulgarity to the extreme and wind up being pathetic. This is a body switch movie which I think was a genre that died in the late 80's. There have been good body switch movies and very bad ones. "Big" is the absolute best and one of my all time favorite movies period. "Like Father Like Son" is the worst, that is until "The Change-Up" was made.

Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds play best friends Mitch and Dave. Mitch is a womanizer who has cheap sex with women and has no responsibilities and Dave is a family man with three kids and a wife. After peeing in a fountain and declaring they wish they had each other's life both wake up to find that they have just switched bodies. This is a plot that has been done to death but can be funny if it is given a fresh twist or a new energy. This movie has energy all right but only in I think setting a record for the most F bombs ever in a comedy.

This is a movie where the writers think that the characters saying the "F" word constantly is funny. This is a movie where women are called degrading names that I think no man has ever said to a woman in real life. This movie reminded me of those amateurish comedies made in the 80's. Most of the comedy is geared towards insulting women, Jewish people and children. All that I guess would be fine if that comedy was funny and this movie is never funny. The only thing saving this movie from being a worthless Zero star mess is the comic timing of Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. They do a good job trading places and copying each other's comic style.

They try to make something out of this pathetic comedy but there is only so much they can do. This movie is extremely obnoxious, creepy and made me cringe most of the time. After I finished seeing the movie I wanted to run out of the theatre screaming. I was not having a good time and I felt very uncomfortable. There is a scene where part time actor Mitch stars in a soft core porno movie. This scene is one of the trashiest, awkward and most misoginist scenes I have ever witnessed in a mainstream comedy.

I do love vulgar movies that insult all kinds of people and try to shock people with so called gross out humor. I have loved "The Hangover", "Kingpin", "There's Something About Mary" so believe me when I tell you "The Change-Up" is not like those movies, it is ugly, embarrassing and painfully unfunny. I am also not a prude when it comes to nudity in a movie but there is so much unnecessary nudity in this movie. I felt that this is a movie made by adult men who just wanted to get each other off and wanted to see if they could out gross "The Hangover".

I felt like this movie hated women and that is sad because the beautiful Olivia Wilde and the funny and talented Leslie Mann are good here and I felt sad for both of them. Women are seen here as either sex objects or as bitches that need to be ridiculed and shoved aside. What is really pathetic is how the movie shoves vulgar jokes down our throat and then tries in the end to become touching and sappy like a badly written ending to a "Full House" episode. This is one of the worst comedies of the last decade.

Friday, August 12, 2011

'The Help'

'The Help' (PG-13) (3 1/2 STARS)

Writer: Tate Taylor based on novel by Kathryn Stockett
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Ahna O'Reilly, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Cicely Tyson, Brian Kerwin

"The Help" surprised the hell out of me because it keeps getting stronger and I didn't expect to have such a great time. I groaned a little during the beginning because there were too many Southern stereotypes but by the last hour I was moved. I also had such a great time seeing so many strong female roles and some of the best ensemble acting of the year by amazing actresses.

The movie is based on a very popular novel written by Kathryn Stockett and I have not read it. I don't know if the book is stronger but I felt some of the writing in the movie was shallow in the beginning. The writing gets much better as the movie moves along and the acting makes the characters deeper and make the movie greater. The movie tells the story of Skeeter played by the very in demand Emma Stone. She strikes up a friendship with two black maids and starts to write an expose on how the help are treated by their rich monster clients.

The movie starts out too cute and I was fearing that this would be a light as air, quirky trifle. The movie gets serious as the two maids take center stage and that is when the movie starts to soar. The first maid, Abileen Clark is the first voice in Skeeter's expose. Minny Jackson is the comic relief and she is fired by a rich and mean woman named Hily Holbrook. Both maids want to be part of Skeeter's story which will expose the abuse these women take.

Now Skeeter is the primary character but to me the least interesting one. I have been gushing about Emma Stone lately and she is good here but I am glad she was not the main voice of the movie. I haven't read the book but the movie is driven by and given it's power not from Skeeter but from Abigail and Minny. I feel that Skeeter is just the mouthpiece for the story and I didn't care much about her relationship with her mother. Strangely sometimes I felt that Skeeter could have been dropped from the story all together.

The Skeeter character didn't take away from my enjoyment of the movie and I actually am very happy that Skeeter wasn't much of a factor. This could have been one of those white people save the black people and give them a voice movie. It isn't and I think the writing is strong here because Abigail is the true voice of the movie and she is an amazing character I will never forget. She narrates some of the movie and she is the guiding force of this movie.

There is also a wonderful antagonist for Abigail and Minny in Hily Holbrook. This is a delightfully nasty woman and villain for "The Help" to have. Next to Abigail and Minny this is the strongest written character. She gives this movie a wonderful obstacle for the help to overcome. The second half of the movie keeps getting stronger and I was swept up in the conflicts and drama. This becomes a classic women's picture and a very strong Southern potboiler. I was moved by Abigail's struggle and her finding her voice. There is also another strong subplot with another memorable character that I will never forget. She is Celia Foote and she is a life force and the third strongest character next to Abigail and Hily.

Another reason the movie gets stronger is due to the amazing acting by veteran actresses and some new actresses that will now become stars based on this movie. Viola Davis is one of our best actresses and her performance as Abigail is powerful and quietly so. Bryce Dallas Howard will no longer be known as Ron Howard's daughter. Her performance as Hily is makes what could have been a stereotypical villain into a deep and complicated woman. She gives a powerful performance and creates an evil and vain woman that Hannibal Lector would love. There is a powerful showdown at the end between Hily and Abigail that will cement Howard and Davis Oscar nominations. Jessica Chastain gives a breakout performance as Celia. She is funny and charming and makes you fall in love with her goofy and strange character.

There are also great performances especially by Octavia Spencer who is very funny and bold as Minny. You also have the great Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek having fun and the legendary Cicely Tyson making a small impact. The male characters could be a weakness here but I didn't care, I was too wrapped up in the women. You notice I didn't mention my favorite Emma Stone
because her role is the least interesting but she is fine as always.

I loved this movie more and more as it reached it's conclusion and it got stronger for me. I had so much fun watching great performances by great actresses and watching full blooded female characters. This is what I would call a women's picture and not a chick flick. Let's retire that debasing description and call this kind of picture a women's picture. I am not used to strong female charactars being on screen. I am usually used to the shallow and thankless roles women are given these days.

This is a movie I think men would like even though women will drive this picture to success. The men I saw it with were laughing in the right spots and seemed to enjoy it. It is a crowd pleasing movie and there is a very shocking and funny scene near the end that brought the house down. I never understood why men who are into women wouldn't want to watch a movie about women. Oh well, "The Help" is one of the best movies of 2011 and of the summer. What a breath of fresh air!

'Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes'

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes  (PG-13)  (3 stars)

Writers: Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa and Pierre Boulle
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, Bryan Cox, Tom Felton, John Lithgow, Tyler Labine

There is something unique and deep going on in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" for a simple action movie. This is a huge upgrade on the very dissapointing and horrible Tim Burton remake. The deep part of this movie is due to a very special performance by Andy Serkis and some seamless effects. This is a great movie to look at and it has what I crave from most action movies and don't get lately, simple, effective action I can follow.

This is sort of a prequel to the 1968 "Planet of the Apes" which is a decent movie but not one of my favorites. I like this movie much better and I hope they follow it with another after film. Simply put James Franco plays Will Rodman who is experimenting with a drug that he thinks can cure Alzheimers which is afflicting his father. He experiments the drug on a chimpanzee he names Ceasar. Will grows attached to Caesar as the chimp acts more and more human after using the drug. As the trial goes all wrong Ceasar is locked up with other chimps in a zoo like facility.

Ceasar is a combination of CGI effects and a wonderful and expressive performance by Andy Serkis who played Gollum in the over rated "Lord of the Rings" movies. Serkis as Gollum was the best part of that trilogy and Serkis does a commendable job of giving Ceasar human emotions and some great facial reactions. It is a brilliant performance even more so for what Serkis had to go through.

"Rise" has a great build up setting up the story and making us feel for Caesar. Then the movie lets loose with the chimps escaping out in the open and being shot at. There is some great action and we can follow everything. The other performances are fine but this is not a movie that is going to show off James Franco's acting chops. Also Freida Pinto is gorgeous to look at but what a thankless role she is given. I didn't even know she spoke or existed after awhile. That aside "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is an effective, pure action movie that entertains us. It is mindless, light and over before you know it and I had fun with it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


'Terri'  (R)  (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Patrick Dewitt
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Olivia Crocicchio, Bridger Zadina, Creed Bratton

"Terri" is that rare movie about teenagers and high school that comes along once in awhile. It is not sunny or phony but instead captures the darkness  and uncertainty of growing up as a teenager. It has very funny moments but it does not hold back in showing the serious side of being an outsider in high school. It is a thoughtfully written movie that has wonderful and natural performances and characters we care about.

Terri is an overweight teenager who has to wear pajamas to school because they make him feel more comfortable. He is mercilessly picked on by bullies who comment on his weight and are cruel to him. He is given a lot of attention to by the school principal who invites Terri to join him every Monday before school to chat and spend some time with him. Terri notices another weird kid who tears out his hair from his head named Chad who has his own appointment with the principal and there are others and something dawns on Terri. Terri gets mad because he finds out the priincipal doesn't really care about being friends with Terri, Terri is just part of an outcast group of losers who also have weekly appointments.

Terri becomes friends with Chad and it makes sense because in real high school kids that are outcasts can find real friendships with each other and it makes them feel better about themselves. Terri also sees a very pretty girl who becomes part of a degrading sexual act and Terri is drawn to her hurt. They start to pass notes to each other and the pretty girl likes Terri because he is nice to her. Terri and Heather connect because they are both nice people and nice to each other. Also realistic is the relationship between Terri and his uncle who is in the early stages of dementia. Uncle James is a lot for a teenage boy, who also has to deal with bullies and growing pains, to also handle.

In a dark but perceptive scene Terri invites Heather over to his house to hang out. Chad shows up drunk and starts to ruin Terri's time alone with Heather. All three spend the night together and experiment with some alcohol and the conversation starts to get very adult. I loved this scene because in so many high school movies these days you would not get a real scene like this. Most high school movies are shallow and more interested in jokes and phony situations. All these characters speak like real kids who are trying to grow into adults.

"Terri" unfolds and gets deeper and the characters become real and captivating and I love the performances. I loved the high school principal who is also a nice guy and at first we feel like he is too nice and his motives feel phony but we realize he is genuine and is another outsider who can sympathize with Terri. The principal is played by John C. Reilly and Reilly is amazing again. This is one of our best actors and he is just fascinating to watch and listen to. There are great scenes between him and Jacob Wysocki and Wysocki as Terri is also amazing. He gives a natural performance and nails the character down flawlessly. There are also great performances by Creed Bratton (TV's The Office) as Uncle James, Bridger Zadina as Chad and Olivia Crocicchio (TV's Rescue Me) as Heather.

"Terri" is a funny, sometimes warm, dark and perceptive movie about teenagers and school and it is a movie that sucks you in. You care about Terri, love his kindness, his relationship with the principal and there is no phony ending that feels wrapped up but a realistic ending with no easy answers. The movie moved me and I loved it's laid back tone and realistic dialogue. It reminded me of my all time favorite movie about high school from 1986 called "Lucas". That movie nailed perfectly what it is like to grow up as an outsider in a place where popularity reigns and "Terri" does the same. "Terri" is easily one of the best written movies of 2011.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

'Crazy, Stupid, Love'

'Crazy, Stupid, Love'  (PG-13)  (rental)

Writer: Dan Fogelman
Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo,
Kevin Bacon, John Carroll Lynch, Marissa Tomei

I really wanted to like "Crazy, Stupid, Love but I was annoyed how the movie keeps taking great chances and ruining it with many fake scenes and an ending that is bad television.  I actually cringed at the climax of this movie destroying some good performances and a chance at being a perceptive and realistic look at relationships. You have some likable actors but in Steve Carell and Julianne Moore they are given the type of roles each have done better before. You also have a sweet breakout performance by actress Analeigh Tipton and all is lost thanks to writer Dan Fogelman.

So why don't I want to pick on this movie and destroy it? Why am I rating a 2 star movie that fails worthy of a look on DVD or cable?  I couldn't stand how the story wraps up and how many bad cliches pop up but I am a regular movie going critic and there was a lot I liked. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" starts off very well telling the story of married couple Cal and Emily who are separating. They have a young daughter and a son who has a crush on his babysitter and that forms another sub plot. Early in the movie Jacob sees a beautiful woman that catches his eye and he tries to pick her up and fails. Her name is Hannah and later on Hannah will figure in another subplot as she finally hooks up with Jacob. So now you have interlocking stories of love and writer Dan Fogelman connects them and I think he has seen too many bad sitcoms.

I love the characters in this movie because they are all decent and nice and even the womanizer and a home wrecker played by Kevin Bacon are decent. There are moments full of great writing and in the beginning I was liking what I was seeing. Though as the story unfolds it gets worse and worse with developments that are false and would never happen in real life. I felt that the characters were trapped in a maze and were pulled by strings. In the end they are not given any respect and the ending becomes a amateurish slapstick fest. I also hated the speech that Cal's son gives at his 8th grade
graduation ceremony. What happens during the speech and what is said is so fake and silly and that speech and the awkward slapstick ending made me cringe.

Now there are many reasons I would reccomend you check this out when it is released on DVD or when you run into it on cable. The movie is almost saved by two of our best actors working today in Ryan Gosling who plays Jacob and Emma Stone who plays Hannah. Their scenes together are the best in the movie and strangely better written than Carell's and Moore's scenes together. Gosling is an amazing actor and this is his first pure commercial romantic comedy. Check out his performance in the blistering drama "Blue Valentine" and then in this movie and you will see maybe our best actor working today. Emma Stone is going to be a major force and star and she just has that "it" factor that pulls you in and she always lights up the screen. These two actors, just based on their sex appeal and star quality, almost save this weakly written movie.

There is also a natural, amazing debut performance by newcomer Analeigh Tipton as the babysitter. Along with Gosling and Stone her performance is magical and her assured and captivating performance almost saves the movie. We are looking at a new major player in Hollywood equal to Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit".  I wish I could say the same for Steve Carell and Julianne Moore who get shafted here. Their scenes together are badly written and except for Carrel's early scenes with Gosling they are given stupid things to say and do. There are two movies in the same vein that showcased them better, "Dan In Real Life" for Carell and "The Kids Are All Right" for Moore. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" falls on it's face in the end and I have never seen a worse second half of a movie that started so strongly. I would not tell you to rush out and see this but if you want to see magical and electric performances that light up the screen then check out Gosling, Stone and Tipton in this movie. They are major game changers!

P.S. For much better romantic comedies starring these actors and better movies that "Crazy, Stupid, Love" resembles check out

"Love, Actually"
"Dan In Real Life" if you want to see Carell's best performance of his career so far.
"The Kids Are All Right"
"Easy A"

Speaking of Emma Stone, to me she has now inherited the throne passed on from Audrey Hepburn to Jodie Foster to Michelle Pfeiffer to Julia Roberts to Jennifer Garner to Rachel McAdams and now to Stone of actresses I have fallen in love with and you should too. Emma Stone like those actresses is captivating and amazing and the real deal folks!

'Cowboys & Aliens'

'Cowboys & Aliens' (PG-13)  (3 stars)

Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine,
Adam Beach, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown

"Cowboys & Aliens" could have been such a messy and campy disaster but it is better than it should be. Many people laughed at the trailer for this movie and it is such a strange hybrid of movie genres. "Cowboys & Aliens" is actually a lot of fun, doesn't become too goofy and has a lot of great action scenes. Part of the credit should go to Jon Favreau's exciting and steady, serious directing and the straight faced and solid acting by Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and the rest of the great cast.

"Cowboys & Aliens" starts off as a straight Western and if there were no aliens in the movie this probably would stand alone as a solid Western. Jake Lonergan, played by Daniel Craig, is found alone in the desert with a strange metallic contraption on his wrist and no recollection of how he got there. He is found by some townsfolk and taken to town where he meets up with various types including a doctor, a saloon owner, a sheriff and a very beautiful woman. Now the aliens come to attack and the loner has to team up with a Civil War veteran named Col. Dolahyde  and his wild, crooked son.

When the aliens attack for the first time all the townsfolk team up with Lonergan, Dollarhyde and the beautiful woman to fight off the attacks. When the aliens do attack the movie reminded me of the 1986 movie "Aliens" which is the best of it's kind. The aliens swoop down in spaceships and snatch people out of thin air with what looks like cables. I was happy to see that these abductions didn't look cheesy and that the aliens are really effectively scary! Daniel Craig is becoming a very solid action star with his steely blue eyes and Harrison Ford has a lot of fun. Also new emerging star Olivia Wilde is becoming a hot commodity. She has the most beautiful and piercing eyes which are hypnotic and I couldn't stop looking into them, I almost fell in a trance.

I also loved how the Indians, who are usually bad and fighting the cowboys, join them instead to both fend off the alien attacks. With "Ironman" and now this movie Jon Favreau proves he can direct great action, maybe he can teach Michael Bay how to direct. The cast is wonderful including the legendary Keith Carradine who was born to be in a Western and the great Sam Rockwell. I had fun and my eyes were glued to the screen with all the solid action and alien attacks. I was never bored and I was impressed by how the filmmakers admirably blend the Western and an Alien movie and don't shoot themselves in the foot.