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|98 reviews in total|
Those that had to get Fifty Shades of Grey out of their system did so
on opening weekend. Those who were curious did so the following
weekend. Those that are going this weekend are probably just going to
be drunks and guys who wear trench coats a lot (even in summer). We
need a new adult romance now and Focus fits the bill, and also puts way
more of an emphasis on the word "adult". It's also a return to form for
Will Smith, looking for a boost after that After Earth debacle in 2013.
He's still every bit the playa we want him to be in a movie directed by
Glenn Ficcara and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) that has a stylish
sexiness in almost every scene.
Smith plays Nicky, the kind of confident, well dressed mystery man who doesn't seem to mind eating at a fancy restaurant alone. He's approached by Jess (Margot Robbie), they get to talking, and soon they're both going back to his hotel room. It's a con but Jess is an amateur, leading to a scene of sly humor that Smith plays to perfection. But Jess wants to learn how to "dance in the dark" as Nicky puts it and so after learning a few tricks from him, she follows him to New Orleans where she finds herself a member of his team of pickpockets. Through sleight of hands and various scams, Nicky has a whole network of people focusing on gambling, credit card fraud, tricking adulterous married dudes and more. They clean up, which is part of the fun.
This movie is all about being smooth and it revels in that almost as much as it does in the beauty of its two stars and the vibrancy of the place they're in. New Orleans, from Mardi Gras to a casino to the Superdome, supplies a perfect backdrop as these two get frisky and flirty with each other. They have great chemistry, it's sexy but shows just the right amount of restraint for two people who are into each other but can't risk distraction in their line of work. By far the best scene in the movie though comes when Nick bets with an Asian businessman (an excellent B.D. Wong) during a football game. It's crazy just how out of control it gets and it ends awesomely.
The movie can only go downhill from a scene as audacious as this and it does. Nicky and Jess suddenly go separate ways only to reunite three years later in Argentina where Nicky is helping out a grand prix owner (Rodrigo Santoro) that Jess just happens to be dating. Do these two share real feelings or is one or both just playing the other? Who knows, but we're pretty sure that Ficarra and Requa lose the playful spark between these two in Argentina and there's an ending plot twist that I'm not sure really works. Gerald McRaney has a few good scenes as a hard-ass, suspicious bodyguard here but it's Smith, playing a guy with a gift of gab, and Robbie, a beauty with not just a great smile but also poise, charm, and humor, who keep Focus afloat even when the movie doesn't seem quite sure of itself.
"Song One" is the musical equivalent of dead air. I've had problems with movies like "Once" and "Begin Again" in the past, so interested in creating ach-y musicals about wounded characters, all to the tune of whiney songs, that they never rise above predictable and dull. And yet I'm tempted to praise those after watching "Song One", a film that seems to have even less conflict, even more sullen-faced characters, and almost no energy to its straight-forward story telling. It's the kind of romance that would make a Kathryn Heigl film look like it was made by Stanley Kubrick. Anne Hathaway produced this first feature from Kate Barker-Froyland and also stars in it as Franny, a humanitarian called back to New York when her subway-musician brother's accident leaves him in a coma. During her time back, she meets her brother's hero- James Forrester (Johnny Flynn), a musician who hasn't recorded in the five years since his girlfriend left him. He needs inspiration, she needs to forgive her brother for dropping out of college to become a musician. There ya go in a nut shell. It's a plot so simplistic that Hathaway couldn't even promote the thing on "The Daily Show" last week without giggling. Notice she didn't do that with Les Miserable's Fantine (although "hahaha she loses her job, sings a song with a bunch of tears and snot on her face, then dies hahahaha" would have been hilarious). Anyway, we know where this is all going, James and Franny are nothing more than lost, wandering bores whenever they're not together, a scene where James serenades her unconscious brother is meant to be beautiful but just looks clumsy, and there are no insights, from the creative process to the grieving process, other than both work better with a sex buddy. Franny is a role that gives Hathaway nothing to do other than practice crying and giving looks of concern. Johnny Flynn is a talented musical performer but that doesn't change the fact that you forget the music, which comes courtesy of Jenny Lewis (from the indie band Rilo Kiley) and her boyfriend Johnathan Rice, almost immediately after it ends. Otherwise he's kinda glum too, unless they're together, in which case sometimes they smile. It's a romance built on almost nothing other than needing whoever is in close proximity. Showcasing some really talented performers around the city, it's too bad "Song" has to keep its proximity closest to these two.
Al Pacino's Simon Axler says that the hardest point for any great actor
is when you can tell the talent is starting to recede. I'd say the
hardest for any movie critic is having to watch a great actor do a
movie like "88 Minutes." Thankfully HBO has been saving Pacino's cred
over the past decade, which sadly still takes another wallop with
another lousy theatrical film, this an adaptation of Philip Roth's
novel scripted by "The Graduate" screenwriter and renowned comedy
writer Buck Henry. The fact that Henry is even still alive comes as one
of the few pieces of good news in director Barry Levinson's very
sloppy, very irritating, and altogether labored look at something
"Birdman" managed to do so easily.
Axler is first seen looking into a mirror, chastising himself for not sounding believable enough before the curtain call for his role in "As You Like It". He winds up having a nervous breakdown (Pacino never once looks like he's not in serious bender mode); exhausted and convinced his view of reality is falling apart, he keeps a shotgun in the house because he wants to be like Ernest Hemingway if that tells you anything. But before he can off himself, Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the lesbian daughter of one of Simon's old actor friends, shows up at his door, wanting desperately to play out a long-standing crush she's always had. It's creepy and makes no sense, but nobody in this movie seems based in reality.
Least of which the constantly self-absorbed Simon, who has some confusing, depersonalized disorder, falling in line with being this "creepy old man" out of obligation to giving an audience (who i'm assuming is Pegeen) what it wants. Yet he seems to not be rehearsing when talking with a psychiatrist (Dylan Baker) and when another mental patient (Nina Arianda) wants him to help her kill her cheating husband (because she saw him do it in a movie once) he is very unwilling to "go along with the script." "Humbling's" look at mental illness is flimsy at best, but mostly just seems like bullshit altogether.
It also doesn't make much sense to keep adding all these unnecessary, secondary characters. The contrived and impulsive Pegeen. Her harassing, crazy ex-girlfriend (Kyra Sedgewick). Her other crazy ex-girlfriend turned transsexual man (Billy Porter), who now finds it interesting she likes men and won't leave until getting his shot too. And the Nina Arianda character. At times it's like this thing just exists to jam in as many delusional people as possible, it's hard to even remember that when we started, this movie was about achieving emotional honesty. By the time we get to the ending, honesty from any of these people just seems like an afterthought.
Alien invasion movies are going to keep coming; no matter how god awful
the recent stock of them have been ("Battle LA", "Battleship") it seems
like there is still money that financiers still think should be thrown
at blowing E.T out of the water. But if we're going to keep going down
this road, it's clear that we could do much worse than the
kinda-different "Alien Outpost" from writer-director Jabar Raisani.
Raisani, a visual effects supervisor on quite a few mainstream projects
(most recently "Game of Thrones"), gives us his first feature here, a
combination of "Starship Troopers" and Sebastian Junger's war
documentary "Restrepo." So the Earth gets invaded in 2021, a year later
the alien Heavies have almost all been extinguished except for some
stragglers who are being taken care of by military outposts around the
world. 10 years later those outposts have been defunded and the men
fighting the war have been forgotten. As if the real-life comparison
doesn't hit you over the head enough already, a film crew has been
assigned to document the efforts of Outpost 37, situated between
Pakistan and Afghanistan. (That's all that area needs- Jihadist
"Outpost's" approach is kinda cynical. Remember all those foreign kids Michael Bay has running around, celebrating when the Americans stop the Earth from getting destroyed? Well, that only has a "few-year" shelf life. The soldiers are at risk not just from aliens but also the locals, both of which likely to pull an ambush on the rocky and rough terrain. There are moments when things get intense, and there are moments when the guys just sit around/contribute to film crew interviews- bullshitting with each other, cleaning weapons, practical jokes, telling war stories, trying to add some sense to the mayhem. Despite every character being given a "bare-bones" personality, it's surprising how much a lot of this comes off as genuine, especially like in a scene where a soldier honors a fallen friend.
It's a shame that Raisani doesn't have as much confidence in his alien creations. We're either given brief glimpses or shots from far away. I want to say they resemble the Orcs from "Lord of the Rings" but I just couldn't tell. They also don't really do much besides attack during gun battles (machine, electric, laser, lot of different types of guns here), any other reason for having them inhabit this region makes about as much sense as the Sunni-Shiite conflict does to most Americans. We get a few decent battles and ideas but Raisani, along with co-writer Blake Clifton, mostly just gives us an under-baked war-documentary where aliens are just there for target practice.
How much of a surprise is "Cabin in the Woods"? Well even its fairly
basic title masks a much more elaborate and smart horror film, one
where writer-director Drew Goddard (writer of another awesome horror
film "Cloverfield) and his writing partner Joss Whedon (one of the
great geek kings, both for creating "Buffy" and currently directing
"The Avengers") have tweaked and twisted the genre to do as they
It starts off predictably enough with college kids heading off to a relative's cabin for a weekend of fun. Smart-girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), her bland possible love-interest Holden (Jesse Williams), sex-pot friend Jules (Anne Hutchison), Jule's jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), and the lovable pothead friend Marty (Fran Kranz) all pile into the RV and on the way up meet the creepy old gas station attendant who warns them about the cabin. Fairly straight-forward horror so far, right? But why does there seem to be a force-field around the cabin? And who are these big brother scientists (played with both seriousness and harsh humor by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who seem to be watching them, modifying the things around them, pushing them to make choices? The desensitization toward violence and bloodlust of the scientists will remind you a lot of "The Hunger Games" but "Woods" is actually laying in wait to unleash a wild and crazy mash-up of horror clichés that pull the audience one way then another and, by God, I sat there with a smile on my face the whole time, waiting to see where Whedon and Goddard were willing to take me next. Plus it's sexy, it establishes a terrifying mood, it's eccentrically funny (Kranz is right there with Jenkins and Whitford in the laughs department), and the blood is here and then some. It has all the horror movie conventions, yet does something unique by subverting where you think the plot, the characters, and basically Whedon and Goddard are choosing to go.
So now we have a movie that wants us to laugh at the disabled. Can this year get more depressing? "Dinner for Schmucks" is a painful remake of French film "The Dinner Game". Steve Carell plays Barry, a taxidermist who likes to present dioramas of dead mice. Tim (Paul Rudd) needs to bring an idiot to his boss' dinner of laughing at idiots and Barry fits the bill. Before that even starts, Barry sets off a wave of destruction that is at best smirk-worthy, at worst just plain dumb. From Barry's doing, Tim's apartment and relationship with his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostack, playing an art dealer working with a guy who seems to be ripping off Russell Brand's Aldous Snow) are ruined, a crazy ex (Lucy Punch) is back on his tail, and the IRS wants to audit him. This was all done accidentally, of course, because Barry is really just a simple-minded guy. In all honesty though, the guy is mentally ill. He shouts when he talks, has no idea what to do with a woman (he even tried to find his ex-wife's clitoris under the sofa), he takes the phrase "stay in the chair" literally, and he lets himself be swayed by the "mind-control" of his equally-mentally ill boss (Zach Galifianakis). Tim meanwhile is made to look like a jerk even though the movie claims he's a nice guy, and yet, there is nothing likable about Tim, nor is Barry-the-manchild anything but a destructive force. Director Jay Roach has the unenviable task of turning this into a sweet buddy comedy but in the end, you just want Tim and Barry to get away from one another. And then comes the dinner, where the blind and other disabled people are ridiculed. That "Schmucks" claims to be a "good-natured" comedy is really the biggest laugh here.
Another summer, another "Shrek." This time Shrek (Mike Myers) is unhappy with the monotony of marriage and fatherhood and goes to Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who promises to magically give Shrek a day in his old ogre lifestyle if Shrek willingly gives up a day in his childhood. What Shrek doesn't know is that Rumpel has been after the throne to Far Far Away ever since Fiona (Cameron Diaz) was locked in the tower and Shrek signing his life away is the perfect opportunity for the crazy little dwarf to take power. Not only that but since Shrek technically never existed, nobody remembers him, not even Donkey (Eddie Murphy) or Puss (Antonio Banderas), the kingdom has been ravaged by Rumpel, and Fiona has given up on finding a knight in shining armor and become one herself. This all amounts to some harmless stuff for the kids basically, which is kind of sad since the first two were such clever fairy-tale satires. This fourth and last installment in the series plays out predictably, relies on the same stale themes (love conquers all, life was never meant to be a fairy-tale), goes for the easy jokes (poop, pee, belch, and Puss has let himself go for the fat gags), and also relies way too much on characters with funny voices or who sing and dance to pop culture songs. This is also the first in the series to be presented in 3-D but the unremarkable action doesn't even come close to warranting a 3-D viewing. While not as bad as "Shrek the Third", "Shrek Forever After" nevertheless feels something like a direct-to-DVD knock-off that might excite kids looking for some mild entertainment, but I think even they'll notice that Shrek has lost a step.
"How to Train Your Dragon", or as I like to call it "That Viking is out of my League", is the second film in as many weeks where Jay Baruchel plays a scrawny nerd looking to find himself. It also happens to be infinitely more entertaining. He voices Hiccup, a hapless young Viking living in a village overrun by flying dragons. He longs to be like his great dragon-killing father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), and charm the likes of the beautiful Astrid (America Ferrara), with whom he is enrolled in dragon-battle training. While dragon-killing isn't for him, he soon finds a particular knack for dragon-whispering, subduing the beasts with his wits and even making a friend in one that he names Toothless. He soon realizes the reason for why the dragons are attacking and tries to convince dad that the winged creatures really aren't so bad afterall. Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois have created a tremendous 3-D experience, setting the bar for animated 3-D much like "Avatar" set it for live-action. The dragon battles are thrilling and the flying scenes between Hiccup and Toothless soar with joy and pulse-pounding danger, and are magnified perfectly by John Powell's fantastic musical score. And at its heart this is a movie of friendship and learning to follow your own path, both movingly portrayed by Sanders and DeBlois' screenplay. The animation looks great, from the large, bushy-haired Vikings to the comically goofy looking dragons. The voice cast is also well-matched. Baruchel has a wheezy comic charm, Craig Ferguson gets the best lines as the village blacksmith, and who better to voice a Viking than Gerard Butler. "Dragon" is as heartfelt as it is impressive to look at, a family film perfect for all ages.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Paris Hilton got there first but Jude Law proves this material is just as bad with an A-list actor. Based on Eric Garcia's novel "Repossession Mambo" (and Hilton's off-key musical "Repo: A Genetic Opera"), "Repo Men" (scripted by Garcia and Garrett Lerner) takes place in a not-to-distant future where bodily organs are scientifically created and sold for a hefty price. Law plays Remy, the man assigned to surgically take those organs from you if you miss payments. It's grisly work, but he and his partner Jake (Forest Whittaker) see it as any other job benefiting society. Only Remy has a change of heart (in mores ways than one) after a freak accident and he decides to help a cocktail singer named Beth (Alice Braga), whose parts are almost all synthetic. So is the movie. Any ethical issues are put on the back burner for a straight-forward and predictable chase where Remy butts heads with Jake and his boss (Liev Schreiber) and participates in a lot of generic gun and knife battles. The blood and gore is infinite and this is another crappy-looking future complete with grime and the heartlessness of science. Neither is surprising or fun to look at. And the direction from first-timer Miguel Sapochnik shows its cracks, from the poor shifts from vicious action to playful comedy, to dragging it out way too long; but I doubt even Kubrick could have handled one bizarre interlude between Law and Braga where both must stuff a scanner underneath each other's skin to process their organs (don't ask!). Law makes for a bland action hero and the only one who seems to be having any fun here is Whittaker. This all leads to a twist ending that only thinks it's being clever.
"She's out of My League" is a solid 7, a romantic comedy that scores a few good laughs and does a nice job of being convincing. Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder) stars as Kirk, a pathetic dork with the build of Woody Allen who works a menial job in airport security. Through a cell-phone mishap, he winds up at a party being thrown by Molly (Alice Eve), a 10 on the very attractive scale. He knows she's way more attractive than him and she knows he's normally not the guy she would usually date but Molly looks deep down and sees Kirk for the nice, unthreatening guy he is and they hit it off. There are some funny moments here. Kirk's family is especially demeaning to him (they even embrace his bitchy ex-girlfriend as one of their own) and his friends are clueless match-makers, which leads to a very funny man-scaping scene between Kirk and one of them. What works best in "League" is just listening to people talk though. Kirk's friends (played by Mike Vogel, Nate Torrance, and T.J Miller) are identifiable idiots, too wrapped up in over-thinking things like the rating scale (both their number and womens) and Disney fairy-tales to really understand women. Their scenes with Kirk are enjoyably like a crude, vulgar, sexual "Breakfast Club". The way the scrawny, nervous, and unconfident Baruchel interacts with the beautiful and engaging Eve is also very likable and they do a nice job of handling the ups and downs of forming an honest, meaningful relationship (an almost foreign concept in today's star-packaged romantic comedies). The way they finally handle the elephant in the room is also very effective. This is feel-good stuff, but it works.
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