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Easy A (2010)
Easy A is Easy to Love....
Lately the genre of teen comedies skew to the ribald and the are more sex romps than tell stories and introduce characters that you can not only root for but like. "Easy A" is a welcomed throwback to earlier teen comedies: risqué, but heartfelt.
In Emma Stone you have a Molly Ringwald for a new generation: relate-able, sexy, funny, sarcastic and lovely shines as Olive, a girl who leads her best friend (Aly Michalka) to believe she wasn't a virgin. The rumor spreads about her fabled loose ways and spurs different reactions from the school population: Brandon (Dan Byrd) wants to use it to his advantage, Marianne (Amanda Bynes) the school's self-appointed religious leader wants to shame Olive and Olive decides to run with it for her own gains.
There are many pluses with this film: A cast of young actors who are true actors who can convey the humor and uphold the tone of the film; a truly funny, vibrant script by Bert V. Royal in which not only the teens get to be smart and fully fleshed out characters but the adults (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive's wry and whimsical parents are a joy; and Thomas Haden Church whose character is a new spin on the "hip teacher".) as well.
With Stone as the lead and the only face in the promotional poster people may think this is a "chick flick" but this film is for anyone who just likes a good film.
Body of Lies (2008)
Who Can You Trust?
Does trust go out the window in the time of war? It's the question the audience may ponder during the course of this film where it seems that even those on the same team aren't always working in each other's best interests.
Leonard DiCaprio stars as Roger Farris, a CIA agent who is seeking to capture a terrorist in Jordan. Farris is in constant contact with Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), a US government official with no respect or time for Farris' calls to work with Jordanian officials to solve their case.
After a mishap jeopardizes Farris lead, he teams up with Hani (Mark Strong), a charismatic and enigmatic, Jordanian covert operations official.
What follows is the push and pull between the three men's methodology on capturing the terrorist.
While "Body of Lies" is definitely a product of a post-911 world, it does not feel like the numerous post-911 political thrillers such as "Syriana" due to it's subtlety. It's more of spy thriller with a cautionary tale on America's foreign relations mixed in.
One minor complaint is the pacing of the film. There are a few stops and starts as Farris deals with the reality of the effectiveness of his enemies. As he adjusts his plans it feels as if the story starts back from the top.
But the performances are excellent from DiCaprio; who is the only actor his age who could tackle this role with the any type credibility and depth. Crowe and Strong, down to Golshifteh Farahani as Aisha, the nurse DiCaprio is drawn to and especially Oscar Isaac who plays Bassam, DiCaprio's go-to guy for information.
Never Back Down (2008)
This Movie Has It All
Before writing "Never Back Down" off as a retread of already covered territory: think "The Karate Kid" meets "Friday Night Lights" with ultimate fighting as a background, think of the elements that made those movies so great: fully fleshed out character who audiences can relate to and themes of pride and fighting for valor. Ulimately, this is what makes this such a winning film.
"Never Back Down" centers on Jake Tyler (Sean Faris), a teen who has been in his fair share of trouble. When his family moves to Orlando to further the career of his aspiring tennis player brother, Charlie (played winningly by Wyatt Smith). Suddenly a fish out of water, Jake quickly befriends Max (Evan Peterswho plays the best friend/comic relief role perfectly) who is trying to get in with the ultimate fighting circle of their school.
This brings Jake into the eyesight of Ryan McCarthy, the big man on campus. Soon Jake has to make a stand to protect his pride and those he cares about.
Faris plays Jake with so convincingly and with great heart. Whether it's fighting scenes with Cam Gigandet (who plays Ryan with simmering rage and menace that you can't help but be afraid for Jake) or big brother scenes with Wyatt Smith (who plays the youngest Tyler) Faris shows the well-roundedness of this character.
Another great relationship is between Jake and his trainer Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou in another outstanding performance). Roqua, who has his own demons to battle, learns from his student as he teaches.
Aside from the intense and exhilarating fight sequences, amazing camera work and the most perfectly suited soundtrack, what this film has going for it is its sensibility. Unlike other "teen" movies, you immediately understand that the writer is not trying to create an idea that the teen life depicted is the norm, but reflective of these specific teens. It creates for a relatability that is usually absent from most teen films.
If for some reason this film does not find an audience in the movie theaters, I believe when it's released on DVD, it will become a cult hit.
Brings Joy to Summer....
So far I've seen this movie twice and both times the audience was involved 100%. "Hairspray: The Musical" is the definition of a feel good movie.
The storyline has been tweeked a bit from the original film. Whereas the original film had Sonny Bono's Franklin Von Tussle as the main antagonist, this one has Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Phieffer) as the head adversary; now seen as the station manager for the TV station airing The Corny Collins Show. Velma's goal is to ensure that her daughter, Amber stays Miss Hairspray in the face of the rising success of Tracy Turnblad (played wonderfully by Nikki Blonsky).
The musical numbers are fantastic, and while there's less of an emphasis on the dancing which was a big part of the original film, it doesn't detract from the wonder of the musical sequences.
Other differences is the take on the individual characters. Whereas Ricki Lake's Tracy was brash and confident, Blonsky's Tracy is more subdued. John Travolta, as Edna gives the character the sensitivity that wasn't evident in Divine's portrayal.
Although still done in connection with John Waters, it does lack Waters edginess, making an already mainstream Waters film even more mainstream for family audiences. However, the cast and the direction more than makes up for this.
East Broadway (2006)
You'll Find Love in East Broadway....
"East Broadway" "Falling for Grace" The film itself is delightful and well-crafted thanks to a script which has more charm and depth than the standard "rom-com" or drama, for that matter.
Fay Ann Lee (who also wrote the script) plays Grace Tang, an upwardly mobile executive for a law firm who, due to a misunderstanding, is believed to be a the daughter of a fashion maven/socialite, which thrusts her into the world of socialites, which includes Andrew Barrington played by Gale Harold a John F. Kennedy Jr. type who wants to stand for more than his family name.
Their tentative road to romance is threatened when Grace's real life collides with Andrew's ambitions.
What I loved about this film is that it's not the standard girl meets boy scenario, but something much more. The storyline is woven with real social issues (such as workers rights, high powered corruption and classism), but is done in such a way that it doesn't come off preachy or cloying.
Another facet of the script that I loved is that it's not a "fish out of water" tale. Grace and Andrew aren't that dissimilar, so the story doesn't revolve their social differences or ethnicities, instead it's about how their lives become intertwined by circumstance.
The performances are all excellent: BD Wong plays Grace's coworker, a seemingly uncouth dude who is enamored with her, Ken Leung who is excellent as the aimless younger brother, Ming. Margaret Cho is her usual vibrant self. The actor who plays Gale's brother-in-law/best (Nick Gregory?) friend is terrific.
Fay Ann Lee is amazing as Grace. She infuses the character with charm, strength and humor, making her a leading lady that anyone can relate to. And the chemistry between herself and Gale Harold is incredible.
I wholeheartedly recommend this film.
Strangers with Candy (2005)
Candy is Bad for You...
While not an atrocious film, "Strangers with Candy" lacks the flair of the series. Perhaps the concept is better in the half-hour format where there's less room for errors. Stretching across 98 minutes, the "funny" was definitely lacking.
The film, categorized as a prequel, picks up with Jerri Blank discovering, upon her release from prison, that her father has remarried and is now in a coma. Urged on by the family doctor, she decides to go back to school in hopes of bringing her father around.
Much like the show, there were moments where the jokes lied flat, but it's more glaring in a film setting. There were moments when the audience could only muster up polite laughter (the screening was followed by a Q&A by Sedaris and Dinello).
"Strangers" curse is that there has been so much anticipation for the film, that the expectations run high. There are great moments with Sedaris, Colbert, Dinello and Holliman, but those moments are few and far between. Although it is worth it just to see Colbert as Noblet once again.
Another weak link were the stunt casting of Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Each one never quite fulfilled the comic promise of their characters.
All in all, it's a nice film for fans, but if you're looking for a wildly uproarious film, this is not it.
Truly Not Another Teen Movie
This movie was surprisingly good. It's not a movie I envision people running out to see in the theaters. It's the type of film that you'd catch on cable after coming home from a night of drunken revelry and too amped up to sleep: it's good enough to catch your eye at that moment, but you probably wouldn't commit to it at any other time.
The film stars Joseph Gordon Leavitt (Third Rock from the Sun) as a teen who is trying to figure out the disappearance of his girlfriend (Emelie de Ravin), a girl who dumps him and gets involved in the drug scene.
The movie unfolds slowly, and it nearly makes you want to give up on it because the script employs verbiage in the vein of a 1940's James Cagney film. Snappy dialogue, delivered at a rapid fire pace and flowery turn of phrases that you have to pay attention to decipher. As a 1940's noir type film, it has the standard archetypes: the hero who is seeking justice, his brainy sidekick, the femme fatale, the gal with the heart of gold, the larger than life villain (played by Lukas Haas) and his dunderhead henchman.
While very inventive, it could easily turn a person off, but as the movie progresses, you learn to appreciate the tone and the simple fact that the film doesn't talk down to you.
Another thing I liked about the movie is that it's not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. At first, hearing these young-ish actors speaking this type of dialogue feels as if they're playing grown-up, it threatens to be campy, but by alluding to rides from parents and trips to the Vice-Principal's office, you realize that these are teens and they are not trying to be anything other than teens.
Brick is daring, brutal and at times actually fun. It should be seen for the simple fact that it's unlike anything coming out of Hollywood.
Inside Man (2006)
Not Your Average Heist Film...
A great movie should be like a great kiss: leaving you goosebumps and wanting more. "Inside Man" is that great kiss.
It takes a premise as old as celluloid; a bank heist, and toys around with it and even at times laughs at itself. The writing is taut, the acting and direction is supreme. Spike Lee has achieved a rare thing: a commercial action movie that ask questions and makes the audience think.
Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer and Jodie Foster are sensational as to be expected, but the other various actors in the role as hostages and robbers alike are just as wonderful.
If I had to voice one complaint it would be that the movie goes on 15 minutes longer than it needed to.
Date Movie (2006)
So Bad They Should Rename It "Howard the Duck"
The advertisement reads "Written by two of the six writers of Scary Movie". I'm venturing that these two wrote the worst scenes of that movie.
To say that "Date Movie" is unfunny mess is an insult to the other unfunny movies that preceded it.
Spoofs, naturally, are broad takes on certain genres, but there is usually an underlining story. Not so with "Date Movie". It's main purpose is to set up scenarios from certain movies just for the purpose of I'm not quite sure because humor certainly isn't the reason.
One problem with the film is that its core demographic, those who would enjoy lame scatological humor, are teens and a number of the films spoofed are before their time. During one scene in which the orgasm scene from "When Harry Met Sally" was mimicked, the audience I attended the screening with had no idea what film they were doing a take of.
There is not one redeeming thing about this film. It is unfortunate that Alyson Hannigan chose this script as her first top-lining film. Also, Eddie Griffin, showing that Heidi Fleiss isn't the only prostitute in Hollywood, once again shortchanges himself by being in an excruciatingly, achingly bad film.
Roll Bounce (2005)
Fun in the Summertime....
I highly recommend this movie.
We've seen it time and again: the coming-of-age story. The difference between Roll/Bounce and the other coming-of-age teen romps of late is that this movie is actually sweet, charming and funny.
A wholesome movie (perhaps two profane words in the entire film) about kids having fun and the obligatory storyline of looking deep into yourself and facing one's demons.
Bow Wow as X(short for Xavier) was very capable in this role, but the standout performances were delivered by Jurnee Smollett as Tori, the lone, awkward girl in clique of friends and Brandon T. Johnson as Junior, X's best friend and resident jive talker.
At times the writing seemed clunky, but due to the energetic performances and the roller-skating sequences, it really didn't matter.
It sounds clichéd, but this movie is really an all-ages crowd pleaser.