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Date Night (2010)
How exactly can you mess up a movie with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey as your main stars? Both are stars of two of the best shows on TV (I love Carrell's The Office, but I'm not a fan of Fey's 30 Rock) and have played their share of memorable characters on the big screen (Carrell as a weatherman who can't think in Anchorman and Fey as a teacher in Mean Girls) but when they share the screen for Date Night, they are ruined by trying to make a weak script funny.
Carrell and Fey play the Fosters, a boring New Jersey couple. The opening scenes where they introduce the Fosters are lagging and boring. Things should pick up when they go to New York for a fancy dinner and Carrell takes another couple's table, leading to series of misadventures for the poor couple. Due to a case of mistaken identity, they are caught up in a scheme involving crooked cops and gangsters. Needless to say, this barely makes any sense.
Usually, I'm all for celebrity cameos, but Date Night took it too far. Mila Kunis, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, William Fitchner, and Ray Liotta all make cameos. Wahlberg's cameo is very amusing, but the rest are either dumb (Fitchner), pointless (Meester), or too brief (Kunis, Franco and Liotta). Your focus should be on Carrell and Fey, but instead you're going star watching for half the movie. The cameo loses its so called "sacredness" when nearly every bit part is played by an A-lister.
Overall, Date Night could've been hilarious but is brought by its weak script and dumb plot. For your next date night, do yourself a favor and don't subject yourself to Carrell and Fey's.
Repo Men (2010)
Health Care Bill Gone Wild
When the economic crisis first hit, Clive Owen came out with The International, a film about an evil bank. With the health care crisis now in full swing, Jude Law has come out with Repo Men, a film about evil health care people. Repo Men is good, but seems to have come out a bit early because this seems like a perfect summer film.
I cannot remember a time when Jude Law was this much fun. Fresh off a turn as Watson in Guy Ritchie's superb Sherlock Holmes, Law plays Remy, who work for the The Union, a company that supplies artificial body parts. If you can't pay for them, The Union sends Remy and his best mate Jake (Forrest Whitaker) after you. They cut you open and take the parts back. Its a bloody good time for all.
Law is such a badass in this film. You would think a role like this would go to Jason Statham, but a renowned actor like Law, who really isn't used to being the badass, plays the part very well. With the amount of blood and violence and quick takes, you would think this flick was made by the Neveldine/Taylor duo. First time director Miguel Sapochnik does the film well, but you'd like to see what an experienced director could do with it.
While Repo Men falls short with some of its blood for the sake of blood scenes and some acting shortcomings (Forrest is good but has too little to do), it makes up for it with Law and its twist ending. Go catch Repo Men. You'll rip your heart out if you don't.
The Book of Eli (2010)
DELIvers us from a dreary winter
Few things are hotter this winter than Mila Kunis walking around a post-apocalyptic town in a pair of Aviators. That and a quiet Denzel Washington wielding a sword sets up The Book of Eli, yet another post-apocalyptic thriller set in the future (or lack thereof). The post-apocalypse film may be getting old after films like Children of Men, The Road, I Am Legend, etc., but The Book of Eli manages to keep itself away from the cliché apocalypse film.
Denzel portrays the title character of Eli, a mysterious man who walks around around a destroyed world carrying a book he believes can save humanity. He wanders into a makeshift town where a sadistic villain (Gary Oldman) desperately wants the book. Enter some hacked limbs, explosions, and cannibals, and you got yourself an interesting film.
This is a different role for Denzel. Usually, he's just the calm talker who tries to make sure the bad guys don't do anything crazy (think Inside Man and last summer's remake of The Taking of Pelham 123). However, not only does Denzel do a lot of talking, but he's cutting off people's arms and shooting up the place like he's Jason Statham. One memorable scene involves Eli killing Oldman's men-who are armed with sniper rifles AB machine guns-with a simple handgun.
It's also very refreshing to see Gary Oldman return to the role of a villain. Younger audiences now see Oldman as a good guy after portraying famous literary protagonists such as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films and Jim Gordon in the recent Batman series. While there's nothing at all wrong with that, I was starting to miss Oldman's villain days, including classic turns as a drug addicted cop in Leon The Professional and a Russian terrorist in Air Force One. Oldman shows his versatility in Eli, where he makes his character a complete psycho.
When I first saw that Kunis was cast in this film, I was a little worried. Sure, everybody loves Mila, but could the star of comedies like That 70's Show and Forgetting Sarah Marshall make the transition in a serious film? Kunis plays her role well, but she should stick with the comedies until she's given a character with more to do.
The Book of Eli isn't perfect with its choppy action sequences or pacing issues, but its a fun film nonetheless. It's films like these that keep the post-apocalyptic genre alive and well.
District 9 (2009)
A New Species of Sci Fi
Aliens come to Earth. Which means they're here to attack and destroy us right? Usually, that's the case. We've seen it in countless film, like Independence Day, Alien Vs Predator, and even Mars Attacks. However, Peter Jackson and first time director Neil Blomkamp take us in a different direction with their film District 9. Blomkamp avoids all the alien movie clichés, including an all star cast and a major American city.
Instead of a hostile alien species, the aliens in District 9 are leaderless drones who make an emergency landing over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa (rather than New York or LA). The aliens are malnourished and leaderless, so the South African government places them in District 9, which quickly becomes a slum crawling with aliens and South African gangsters who demand to learn how to use the aliens' supercool weapons. The aliens begin causing trouble within the city, sparking a relocation effort led by the evil MNU (Multi National United) Corporation. All MNU really cares about is learning how the alien weapons work, much like the gangsters. However, neither side has learned anything.
Leading the eviction cause is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a enthusiastic MNU agent who passes through District 9 with glee, happily evicting the aliens (who will do anything for a can of cat food) and burning down houses with their unborn young inside. The eviction sequences are what JJ Abram's Cloverfield should've been. Copley ad-libbed all his lines during the "documentary" sequence of the film, and he makes feel as if we're watching an actual documentary. Wikus' world goes to hell, however, when he sprays himself with some alien liquid. On the plus (or minus, depending on how you look at it) side, he can operate the supercool alien weapons. He becomes the most wanted man in the world, and hides with a friendly alien (and the alien's cute son) in District 9.
It's refreshing to see a new sci fi flick after so many clichéd failures (the recent Star Wars Episodes I and II). A native South African, Blomcamp casts mainly his fellow countrymen into his film. Copley, who helped Blomkamp create Alive in Joburg, the short film D9 is based off of, is destined to be a star some day. It's also good to see a sci fi movie set in another major city in another country. And, finally, the aliens are not the bad guys in the film. As lame as it sounds, District 9 may make you embarrassed to be a human.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
An Inglourious Pick for the Best Film of the Year!
This summer, everyone I know waited for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Me? I waited in great anticipation for the new film from my favorite director Quentin Tarantino, a World War II revenge epic entitled Inglourious Basterds. And, I will admit, it did not disappoint.
While Tarantino is known for his over the top violence, it's not the blood and gore that makes his films so good. It's the long sessions of dialog. While this may turn some film goers off (like my friends who preferred the aforementioned Transformers), to me it's what makes his films roll. If you pay attention, the dialog is very funny and entertaining. Plus, the action is more exciting and unexpected when QT sticks it in the middle of the conversation.
In his previous films, Tarantino used mainstream Hollywood stars for his films. However, with the exception of Brad Pitt and a cameo by a nearly unrecognizable Mike Myers (fans of The Office will recognize BJ Novak aka Ryan), you probably won't recognize nearly three quarters of the actors in the film. All of the foreign actors in the film are terrific, and they give a sense of realism to the film. Melanie Laurent, a French actress, is Shosanna, a young Jewish girl who plans to burn down her cinema with Nazi leaders inside. Among the Basterds are Til Schweiger, a sadistic German who kills Nazis in creative ways, and Michael Fassbender as a British war leader. As for Pitt, he portrays the leader of the Basterds, a hillbilly named Aldo Raine. Raine is an awesome character, and a role only Pitt could play. He leads his all Jewish team into France where they do "one thang and one thang only-(kill) Nazis". Myers's cameo is small, but you can't believe how unrecognizable he is. Hopefully, Myers gets his career back on track after duds like The Love Guru and The Cat in the Hat (easily one of the worst films ever). Eli Roth, best known as the director of Hostel, is on hand to portray Donnie, a Bostonian Jew who beats Nazis with a baseball bat. Roth is not only a good director, but a good actor as well. He previously cameoed in Tarantino's Death Proof, and hopefully more roles are on his way. But Christoph Waltz steals the show as the crazy Nazi general Hans Landa. Waltz speaks every language in the movie, and portrays Landa perfectly. You really can't like Waltz since he portrays a Nazi, but hopefully some better roles are headed his way. Some film goers will recognize Diane Krueger, who portrays German actress Bridget von Hammerstark, a spy working for the Allies. Krueger is best known for portraying Nicolas Cage's love interest in National Treasure. There, she seemed pure American. In this film, she speaks her native German perfectly, showing her versatility.
So, as the summer ends, I have to say I came in with a bad attitude about the summer of 09 (movie-wise anyway). However, with films like Basterds, The Hangover, and District 9, I think film goers will remember 09's movies for long to come.
Fired Up! (2009)
It's Not Rudy...But It's Not Rocky V either...
I've come to the conclusion that cheerleading is a sport, so yeah, Fired Up is a sports movie. Get over it. I'm not saying it's among the likes of Rudy and Hoosiers as far as other sports movies go, but it's fun and enjoyable.
What makes the film enjoyable is it's simple plot: Two football heroes (Nick D'Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen), tired of the game and their constantly swearing coach (Phil Baker Hall, in an underrated role), ditch football to attend a cheerleading camp, where they're surrounded by nothing but girls, including their pretty captain (hello, Sarah Roemer). Sounds perfect, right? When you add an enthusiastic cheer coach (John Michael Higgins, who deserves a heck of a lot more attention than he gets) and the actual cheerleading, heaven takes a turn for the worse. Basically, these guys live out a nearly perfect male fantasy, and it gets some funny results.
The film isn't perfect, though. At 90 minutes, it feels a little short. Also, some the actors seem a bit old for the roles they were playing (Olsen is 31). And finally, some of the unfunny gags in the movie are replayed over and over, much to my annoyance.
But, the point is, Fired Up is a fun, silly sports movie. Don't like it? Go watch Friday Night Lights again then.
Funny People (2009)
Funny People? More Like Depressing People
How can a movie starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, and Jason Schwartzman, and directed by Judd Apatow not be funny? Heck, the title of the movie is Funny People! However, sometimes you really have to be careful what you wish for.
Funny People's premise at first seems promising. Adam Sandler as a stand-up comic who takes an aspiring young comic (Rogen) under his wing. Then we find out...Sandler's character is dying. That's when Funny People isn't so funny. I'm not a fan of comedic actors doing serious roles. In fact, I usually downright hate it (see my review for Will Ferrell's Stranger Than Fiction for proof). Sandler basically sulks around screen for 2 and a half hours complaining that he's had a crappy life and finds solace in Rogen's character. Enter Mann, as Sandler's ex-fiancé, and also enter more sappiness and more clichés (OMG! They're falling for each other again! But wait! She's married! And has kids!).
Now don't get me wrong. There are some bits of Funny People where I laughed like a baby. The funniest scenes are easily the ones involving Rogen, Hill and Schwartzman. A close second involves Sandler's doctor, a European man whose accent Rogen and Sandler make fun off. The doc, though, manages to sneak a few one liners in too.
Even with the aforementioned scenes, they're not enough to save this film. Apatow pulls his usual magic: starting off with a hilariously funny film...then slowly drifting into romantic drama/chick flick territory. He did the same thing with The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and does the same thing to a greater extent with Funny People.
After Funny People, I'm losing faith in Apatow. If you want to see some real comedy (and some real funny people like Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) go see Todd Phillips' The Hangover. Awesome film and very funny. With Apatow becoming more and more sappier, and Phillips becoming more and more happier, (with films like The Hangover and Old School), a new director king of comedy may be in our future.
Transporter 3 (2008)
Just admit it Statham haters...Jason can act!
Some action movie stars simply depend on the stunts and special effects to make the movie succeed (that means you Steven Segal!). Jason Statham is not one of those actors. Statham is known for his high octane action flicks like Crank and Death Race, but he has also shown he can act with films like Snatch and Revolver, films in which little to no explosions were involved. While the 3rd installment of the Transporter series depends heavily on car chases and guns, Statham is able to inject a sense of feeling and humanity into Frank Martin, the titular Transporter.
Part 3 of the series follows Frank and his return to France, where he is forced by an evil American (Robert Knepper) to transport a politician's daughter (Natalya Rudakova) across Europe. The film gets a bit deeper, but for the sake of spoilers I won't get into it. Viewers with no sense of fun will immediately point out plot holes, but honestly, this is a fun and crazy film.
The plot takes a little away from the film's greatness, but there are a few more things that keep it from being perfect. Rudakova's character gets annoying once she begins to bond with Frank. But let's keep in mind, this was her film debut, so things can only go up from here. The only other thing I could find wrong with the movie was the fact that the film tried to give a environmental friendly feel (don't ask).
There's one thing (other than Statham) that makes the Transporter series so great. Not the special effects. Not the fact that Luc Besson is involved. It's the character of Insepctor Tarconi. Other than Frank, Tarconi (Francois Berleand) is the only character to appear in all 3 Transporter films. Berleand portrays the French cop with a cool swagger and is a great source of comic relief. I really wish American audiences would see more of this guy.
On the scale of Transporter films, it was better than the 2nd, but doesn't surpass the original. So, along with my recommendation, I leave you with this...enjoy this is film. But when you're done, join me in praying that Statham will return for a 4th turn as The Transporter.
Robot Scenes=10/10 The Rest? Not So Much
I'm 17, so I was supposed to love Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen right? It had everything from Optimus Prime to Megan Fox. What's not to like? The answer: plenty.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a Michael Bay fan. I loved Armageddon and Bad Boys, and I was a fan of the first Transformers film. But Bay messed up big time with the sequel. Normally, I'd try to find ways to defend Bay, but this is his fault. The skill he showed in his previous summer blockbusters is gone. Even though Bay screws up big time, it's not entirely his fault.
While the robot cast is terrific (Peter Cullen should get an Oscar nom for his portrayal of Optimus), most of the human cast is dreadful. Don't get me wrong, I like Shia LaBeouf, but he's really trying too hard in this flick. He stutters half his lines and when he's not doing that, he's just yelling nonsense. As if that's not bad enough, he gets more Razzie help with his annoying parents and an equally annoying roommate. On the contrary, the Transformers girls, Fox and Isabel Lucas, are great additions to this film. For the ladies, there's Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, but he barely gets any time. And John Tuturro, genius in the first film, is superb, but by the time he hits the screen (about an hour and a half into the film) it's a lost cause.
Even the robots are not safe from error. There's these two annoying robots who are bound to stir up some type of controversy. They are annoying, rude, and unnecessary. In addition, the main villain, the titular Fallen, is introduced, but then forgotten about and not revisited until an hour later. Rest assured, this happens numerous times, which also leads to questions about the length (a crappy 2 1/2 hours) Overall, Transformers 2 was a big, loud mess. As far as robot movies go, Terminator Salvation was much better. Call me what you will, but I did not like it. Everyone I know loved it, but maybe that's another thing. The hype machine was overflowed, so maybe that's why I was disappointed. But who knows? Maybe you're asking the wrong guy. Need proof? While my friends waited for this, I'm just counting the days until Inglourious Basterds comes out. But heed my warning. Don't transform your cash into a ticket for a crappy movie
The Hangover (2009)
A Comedy We All Desperately Needed
In rough times like these, we need a good comedy to make us laugh and put a smile on our faces. The Hangover is that movie. Its a raunchy rowdy crazy good time, featuring everything from retro Mercedes to Mike Tyson. So far, it's easily the best film I've seen all year.
The story revolves around a trip to Las Vegas gone wrong, which sometimes works (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and sometimes dosen't (What Happens In Vegas). Two best friends, the cool schoolteacher Phil (Bradley Cooper) and the nerdy dentist Stu (Ed Helms), along with the bride's brother Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up in their room in Caesar's Palace, with no recollection of what happened the night before, which they spent having a wild bachelor party for their friend Doug (Justin Bartha). Turns out, there's a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, Stu's missing a tooth,and (for reasons unexplained) there's a chicken in the kitchen. And, oh yeah, Doug's nowhere to be found. The three race around Sin City searching for the groom, where more crazy stuff starts happening. When the valet brings their car, it's a police car. Stu is married to a stripper (Heather Graham, beautiful as ever). They apparently had a run in with a mean gangster (Ken Jeong). They went to Mike Tyson's house. The list goes on and on, each misadventure produces more hilarity than the last.
The cast is pretty much a poor man's Judd Apatow, without the cheap love story sandwiched in (yes, Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin were classics, but turned slowly into chick flick territory). Most of the guys you know you have seen, but just can't put a name to a face. Helms, best known as Rainn Wilson's rival on The Office, plays the role of Stu perfectly. He plays the delusional Stu with great humor, especially when he goes crazy on the others. As the closest thing to a lead, Cooper is the laid back guy who tries to keep everyone under control. Hopefully more lead roles are headed his way. Galifianakis plays the annoying Alan with perfect poise, that when he when he dosen't fret over the tiger when he first sees it, you just have to wonder why no one discovered him until now. Bartha's screen time is reduced, due to the fact he's missing for half the film, but he does his job well and manages to crack some good ones before he goes missing. There are some enjoyable cameos by Mike Epps, Tyson, and Jeffrey Tambor that will keep you laughing as well.
Overall, The Hangover is one of the funniest films I've ever seen, and, as I said earlier, the best I've seen all year. A sequel is already being written, but I'm not sure if I want it. But knowing these guys, if they could make a comedy about anything, I'd probably watch it.