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The Grey (2011)
A literal story about man versus beast turns into an inner struggle of a group of Alaskan plane crash survivors as they evaluate the importance of life with mere days left to live. Ottway (Liam Neeson, The A-Team) leads the group through the impossible struggles of the wilderness in attempt to avoid being slaughtered by the majestic relentless beauty of an immense wolfpack hunting them day and night. This is familiar territory for Ottway whose occupation consists of protecting people from the magical creature, however, there can be only one Alpha.
The Good: The film's spiritual journey connects with the audience matched with contemporary dialogue and paired with Liam Neeson's badass head-to-head fights with wolves in the Alaskan Panarama results in a pulse pounding transcendent ride.
The Bad: The first act begins in an ambiguous fashion and only really develops the backstories of three characters. This still tends to work for the film, however, one or two fully functional character arcs may have boosted the film to perfection.
Our Idiot Brother (2011)
"First Act Slump: Rudd's Idealistic Charm"
Director Jesse Peretz's ("The Ex") short filmography has failed to impress audiences until his latest film "Our Idiot Brother". Why did this film turn everything around for him? Is this because of the tier one female casting including Elizabeth Banks ("The Next Three Days"), Zooey Deschanel ("500 Days of Summer"), Rashida Jones (NBC's "Parks and Recreation"), Emily Mortinmer ("Shutter Island") and Kathryn Hahn ("How Do You Know")? Partially, but more importantly Paul Rudd's charming and subtly brilliant performance brings the film out of the first act's chaotic slump into a hilarious stride. Ned (Rudd) is a stereotypical hippie who works on an earthy farm with his soon to be ex-girlfriend, Janet (Hahn) until a police officer comes up to him and tricks him into selling him weed. This lands Ned straight in prison and when he is released he is houseless, jobless and friendless, but not family-less. Ned turns to his three sisters Miranda (Banks), Natalie (Deschanel) and Liz (Mortimer) for a place to stay while he works to get back to the only creature in the world he needs; his dog, Willie Nelson. Ned becomes an easily-targeted scapegoat in his family with his nonchalant loving ways causing his sisters to blame him for all of their problems. Between Miranda's news story and best friend (Adam Scott, NBC's "Parks and Recreation") troubles, Natalie's relationship mishaps with her girlfriend Cindy (Jones) and Liz's marriage to Dylan (Steve Coogan, "The Other Guys") loosing flare; Ned has a lot of denunciation coming his way.
This offbeat comedy relies on three things to rally itself from its rocky start to its emotion-provoking climax. First, as things begin coming together Banks, Deschanel, Jones, Mortinmer and Hahn are able to turn their lightly comedic performance into a dramatified very well acted self-indulgence. Second, the kookiness of the film pays off in its second act as a literary pattern is established. However, the most important thing the film relies on is Paul Rudd's best and most unique performance to date. Rudd's charm has been highly praised, but I would like to give kudos to his realistic angry outburst that should warrant him a best actor in a comedy nomination somewhere.
Besides the opening scene establishing Paul Rudd's character, the first thirty minutes of the film are an oddly assembled mess. However, the biggest issue is not that the plot-structure is off-center, it is that nothing transpires that aids in the overall storytelling. Then after the triumph of the second half of the film, the ending fails to be thought provoking and instead becomes monotonously cliché. Yes it is a cute ending, but it is completely disconnected from the quirky comedy that comes before it taking away from the film's message. Lastly, the whininess of the sisters can become very annoying even if it is important to the story.
Idiosyncratic comedy mixed with Paul Rudd's idealistic charm and a big name cast; lift "Our Idiot Brother" out of its early plunge making it a very oddly funny movie. However, in order to fully enjoy it you have to work to get something out of it and focus on Rudd's performance.
"Caesar's Serkis: A Symbol Against Oppression"
Director Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") proves there is always time for firsts by successfully producing a movie of epic proportions and creating the best "Planet of the Apes" film since the original. By taking a different and innovative route Wyatt has saved the once dying franchise making it better than ever. Wyatt generates a completely new origins story in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", however, Wyatt still needed one last thing; an actor that could flawlessly personify an ape's transformation. Consequently, Andy Serkis ("The Lord of the Rings") is Wyatt's ace and casting James Franco ("127 Hours") didn't hurt one bit. Will Rodman (Franco) is a scientist looking for a cure for his father, Charles (John Lithgow, Showtime's "Dexter"), whose Alzheimer's is progressing. To do so, Will gives a dose of his drug to a chimpanzee who shows heightened intelligence. However, when Will presents his findings, an event leads to the shutdown of his project. When told to kill a baby chimp found in the lab, he sneaks it home naming it Caesar (Serkis). Will secretly continues to perfect a cure for his father, while taking care of Caesar with the help of his father and animal doctor Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto, "Slumdog Millionaire"), who almost immediately becomes Will's girl friend. Serkis inevitably steals the show as the film goes through a cycle of drama, action, and Armageddon. He allows Caesar to become more than just a symbol against animal oppression, he becomes a symbol of freedom.
The film has everything an apocalyptic movie needs. To start its plot may have a few minor holes, but the intense drama oriented storyline centered on humanity and personal development is enthralling. This build up culminates in the best action sequence of the year mixing amazing visual effects technology and the raw power of animals. With this being said, James Franco and John Lithgow are superb in their respective roles, but the acting does not stop there. Andy Serkis is the only person that could do the character of Caesar justice proving Serkis's genius and foreshadowing an Oscar nomination in the coming months.
The biggest issues in this film can be attributed to script writing and specifically dialogue. The screenplay has a couple of minor plot holes, but they do not detract much from the story. However, the dialogue is horridly juvenile in sequences and is even worse when actors like Tom Felton ("Harry Potter") are in the spotlight. Then there is the character of Caroline (Freida), whose existence in the film is pointless beyond helping Caesar at the beginning and dating Will. Why do films disregard casting beyond its stars? Ultimately, this is the best apocalypse film I have seen since "I Am Legend" and is a showcase to the future of acting. While Andy Serkis embodies Smeagol/Gollum, he is undistinguishable from Caesar making them one in the same.
30 Minutes or Less (2011)
"One-Liner Craze: Anti-Title Development"
"30 Minutes or Less" writers were ill-informed, relying heavily on randomness and two comedians, Danny McBride ("Your Highness") and Nick Swardson ("Just Got With It") who prove that comedy fails when solely based on wiener jokes. Therefore, it is a good thing Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network") is solidly funny and Aziz Ansari (NBC's "Parks and Recreation") proves himself as more than just a television comedian. However, the role of the antagonists is given too much emphasis. Slacker Dwayne (McBride) has growing hatred for his ex-military father, The Major (Fred Ward, "Armored"), who became rich by winning the lottery. After very little thought and preparation Dwayne and his best friend, Travis (Swardson), decide they want to start their own prostitution ring masked as a tanning salon. First they need to kill The Major in order to inherit his money. Enter a stripper named Juicy (Bianca Kajlich, CBS's "Rules of Engagement") who connects them with Chango (Michael Peña, "The Lincoln Lawyer") a pimp willing to kill The Major for $100,000. Meanwhile, Nick (Eisenberg), an underachiever "30 Minutes or Less" pizza delivery boy, and his best friend Chet (Ansari), a successful teacher, have a falling out centering on Nick's one-night escapade with Chet's sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria, ABC Family's "Greek"). After the fallout Nick is called on a pizza run ending with him getting a bomb strapped to his body by Dwayne and Travis. With the help of Chet, Nick must rob a bank of $100,000 for Dwayne and Travis before the bomb explodes.
The Good: When a film bombards an audience with one-liners, the odds are that at least one will be successful. McBride's brightest moment can be attributed to this phenomenon as a non-wiener joke hits the scene. Otherwise, Eisenberg and Ansari are oddly hilarious with one proving he is plain and simply a great actor and the other revealing silver screen comedic strength. Eisenberg takes on his least nerdy role to date and nails it creating a badass side that was only slightly revealed in "Zombieland". Even so, Ansari is the funniest part of the film with cheeky comedic dialogue.
The film is the most far-fetched and illogical film of the year because of its lack of attention to more than half a dozen significant continuity issues. These issues include the inattention to detail in covering up the bank robbery, the importance of Kate's job offer in Georgia and most importantly the antidevelopment of the movie title beyond the pizza place's motto. When you add the overdevelopment of the potty-mouthed antagonists played by struggling feature film comedians McBride and Swardson, things are bound for failure. And if you are expecting a conclusive ending tying everything together, you won't get it.
Two downers plus two uppers produces an average comedy that may give you a couple quotable one-liners, but the film itself will be forgotten just like the film's title "30 Minutes or Less" was when developing the plot.
Fright Night (2011)
"Vampire's Zombieland: Congenial Farrell Suave"
In the midst of the time of the vampire in American pop culture, Director Craig Gillespie's ("Lars and the Real Girl") remake of the 1985 horror film "Fright Night" has defiled the "Twilight" film series in "Kick Ass" fashion. With more blood, more fun and better acting than the original, "Fright Night" does not concern itself with exposition; instead it recognizes that Colin Farrell ("The Way Back") is a vampire and focuses on the thrill of mixing badassery and clever, creepy, comedy. For those of you who haven't seen the original and do not know the basic plot, or wonder how things may differ from the original this is for you. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin, "Star Trek") lives in a small box shaped town just outside the Las Vegas strip with his mother Jane (Toni Collette, "Little Miss Sunshine"). Life is normal for high school senior Charley as he strays away from his dorky friend Ed Lee (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, "Kick Ass") by befriending popular boys Mark (Dave Franco, ABC's "Scrubs") and Ben (Reid Ewing, ABC's "Modern Family") and dating the sexy Amy Peterson (Imogen Poots, "Jane Eyre"). Charley's mother also seems to be doing well befriending their lewd new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Farell). The question is why does it appear as if students are disappearing? Ed has begun an investigation by following the teachings of a Vegas performer obsessed with vampires named Peter Vincent (David Tennant, BBC's "Doctor Who"), but will he get through to Charley about his mysterious new neighbor before its too late? When I first heard that "Fright Night" was going to be in 3D I was very skeptical, but for a horror film its use of 3D is above par in aiding in pursuit of humorous gore. The film exceeds horror remake expectations taking the film in a modern day applicable direction. The casting of Yelchin, Tennant and Mintz-Plasse and the uniqueness each actor brings to their respective characters produces each of them a distinct likability. However, the fact the performances of the rest of the cast are above average for a horror film, along with a new vampire swagger Colin Farrell brings to his character, are the reasons why the remake is a success.
The main issue people may have with the film is that it bases its horror around knowing that Jerry is a vampire instead of making his existence a mystery. So if you are looking for a "Scooby-Doo" mystery search elsewhere. Also, the dialogue is shoddy in places, the vampires look a little off when they aren't in human form, the overall scheme is predictable, and in the end it may be too gory for non-slasher fans. However, if you do not find yourself laughing at the prosaic scenes in the film, you may have missed the point.
"Fright Night" has the most memorable characters and best acting performances that a horror film has had in years. So prepare yourself for a whole lot of congenial Farrell suave in the "Zombieland" of vampire movies.
Final Destination 5 (2011)
"The Final Void: Doom of Boredom"
Same cheating death formula, one twist lightly exploited, more blood and guts than ever before and boring predictable continuity makes "Final Destination 5" a shear sign of a franchise that has run out of gas. For those of you who remember the title of the fourth film it carried connotations that it was going to be "The Final Destination", therefore, the fact that there is a fifth film in 3D shows that it is just a money grubber. The story begins when Sam Lawton (Nicholas D'Agosto, "Fired Up") and his coworkers including his ex-girlfriend Molly Harper (Emma Bell, "Frozen) and his best friend Peter Friedkin (Miles Fisher, "Superhero Movie") leave on a bus for an office trip. Everything goes smoothly until Sam wakes up from a deadly dream predicting that the bus was destined for disaster in a suspension bridge accident. Immediately Sam drags Molly with him as he escapes the bus and heads across the bridge to safety. This initiates much commotion among the rest of his coworkers as Peter and his girlfriend Candice (Ellen Wroe) are joined by various staff to flee the scene of death right behind Sam. While these select few were able to escape their doom on the bridge, death does not like to be cheated. So what happens next? Well if you have seen any of the previous films you know that they must avoid their doom in the order they would have been killed in. However, there is a twist. They can murder someone in their place and take their life.
The setups and visualizations of the horridly gory deaths the film's characters must endure are very well done from a slasher perspective. Every single bloody detail is more vivid than ever with some of the most gruesome deaths of the series produced by director Steven Quayle ("Aliens of the Deep") and effects master Ariel Velasco ("300"). And for those of you who wondered how funny guy David Koechner ("Paul") would do in this film, he dies as horribly as everyone else. Short runtime? Everything else in the film is void and utterly terrible in between the various death traps. While many may say that the better-known cast helps push the film through its low points, I beg to differ. The cast is C-list at best with one B-list comedian and how can you totally trash "The Hangover: Part 2" for reusing a plot formula and not give "The Final Destination" franchise a little trouble? I understand the basic plot must be set in stone in a horror franchise, but isn't originality what the last act is for? However, with a short runtime and a drawn out first act, the final acts have no time to escape the predictively of boredom.
Fans of the franchise and the slasher film genre may as well see "Final Destination 5", but not in theaters because you probably want to bring something to read or play while waiting for the next ridiculously crafted death.
The Change-Up (2011)
Freaky Friday: Mindless Fun Finally
The summer of 2011 has been ruled by R-rated comedies loosely based on raunch with very rewarding stories ("Bridesmaids" "Paul" "Horrible Bosses"). Therefore, "The Change-Up" had a lot to live up to with Jason Bateman taking control of the comedy genre this year and Ryan Reynolds returning to his forte after "The Green Lantern" flop. With this being said, "The Change-Up" was the mindless, uninspired, fulfilled film of the summer, relying solely on going above and beyond the usual limits of blunt humor and rallying with a fulfilling emotional finish. This grownup application of the "Freaky Friday" phenomenon follows best friends Dave Lockwood (Bateman) and Mitch Planko (Reynolds) who have drifted apart over the years. Dave has always been a workaholic allowing him to become a rich successful lawyer with a beautiful wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann, "Funny People"), and three kids. Mitch is the complete opposite with a very laid back life style as an aspiring actor who smokes weed and lives off one night stands. As the two reconnect with a night full of drinking and peeing in a fountain they wish that they had each other's lives. Nothing logical happens at this point as lightning strikes causing Dave and Mitch to experience the other's life. Starting with an hour of laugh out loud vulgar comedy and ending with an emotional wakeup call to what is important in life, the film is all over the place. However, everything seems to come together as Olivia Wilde ("Cowboys and Aliens") tops this male-comedy flick off with some good old sexiness.
Both Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman are outrageous with their portrayals of Mitch mixing cursing and sporadic randomness. The ridiculousness of Mitch is offset by calmer comedy found in Dave trying to find himself within his self-reliant role he is stuck in. This is offset even further by a very dramatic performance by Leslie Mann, who is legitimately, scarily and realistically good as a mother wanting her husband to give her attention. Lastly, Olivia Wilde deserves a nod for her satisfyingly sensual performance sexier than ever.
Please prepare yourself and know what you are getting into when going to see this film. The R-rating is rightfully earned with crudity abound and some jokes based on sore subjects. This film is not for everybody and when it comes down to it, the film is all over the place. The film lacks some fluidity as the emotional ending is set up slowly within the extreme continuous comedy in a very predictable manner. Ultimately, neither the comedy routine nor the storyline brings anything fresh to the adult comedy genre making this film only average.
A bellyful of laughs at the start, and an offbeat emotional conclusion awkwardly works in this late summer comedy even though we have seen all of this before and are better off hitting up the three aforementioned comedies for entertainment.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
"Unification of Love: Awkwardly Realistic Circumstances"
Unification of Love: Awkwardly Realistic Circumstances
Three love stories nay, situations, are explored in Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's ("I Love You Phillip Morris") "Crazy, Stupid Love". It is a drama masked as a comedy fueled by awkwardly realistic circumstances and a handful of highflying actors and actresses that know how to own it. The first story concerns a couple of high school sweethearts, Cal (Steve Carell, "Dinner for Schmucks") and Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore, "The Kids Are All Right"),that have been married for twenty-five years. However, when Emily tells Cal that slept with a man she works with named David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon, "X-Men: First Class"), divorce is on the horizon. Inevitably sending Cal to the bar, Cal meets the player in the second love story, Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling, "Blue Valentince"), who is infamous for his lady-wooing swagger. Jacob sees and hears Cal ranting about his failing marriage and takes him under his wing to help him move on with other women. Even so, Cal may not be the only one changed by their abnormal friendship because of Jacob's hang up on a girl named Hannah (Emma Stone, "Easy A") he was rejected by the previous night. Meanwhile, Cal and Emily's thirteen-year-old son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo, "Zathura"), is in love with his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, "The Green Hornet") who in turn is in love with Cal. Everything is more connected than you may think and with a flamboyantly annoying performance by Marisa Tomei ("The Wrestler") things get crazy and stupid in this multigenerational love story.
The Good: Steve Carell's Post-"Office" years could not of had a stronger start as he conjures the second best performance of his career. However, it would be unfair to say that he is the only reason the film succeeds because of the superb performances of his costars Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. Together the cast will keep you on edge as the story unravels in an obstinately realistic manner. And while Scriptwriter Dan Fogelman's ("Bolt") plan was not visible at first by the end his twisty-turny storytelling culminates in grade A fashion with the unification of the three love stories into one full of smart comedy
After the aforementioned culmination of plot unification, the film loses its momentum. dragging on for twenty minutes. The film could have ended anytime during its climatic scene and it would have been perfect (I guess you can't always get what you want). It takes twenty extra minutes to get to the actual sloppy and impractical conclusion. Even though everything seemed to be previously settled, this second fallout to set up a preachy ending creates unnecessary forced conflict. Lastly, the inability to avoid predictivity may irk some viewers and makes characters like Josh Groban's as pointless as their casting.
The first act of "Crazy, Stupid Love" creates a series of situations that setup a remarkable amalgamation at the peak of its second act, making the stars in the film (most notably Steve Carell) into even bigger stars with the power of sharp comedy.
Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Two Man Alienation: Should of, Could of, Didn't
What should happen when James Bond, Indiana Jones/Han Solo and the hot chick from "Tron" stumble onto a movie set under Jon Favreau's ("Iron Man") direction? What about when cowboys collide with aliens in a film adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel "Cowboys and Aliens"? The answer is simple; Daniel Craig ("Casino Royale"), Harrison Ford ("Indiana Jones") and Olivia Wilde ("Tron: Legacy") should produce a movie that is nothing short of spectacular. However, Favreau's genre clashing flick "Cowboys and Aliens" is everything it shouldn't have been; monotonously bland. It begins in the year 1875 when a nameless man (Craig) wakes up from a dazed sleep with no memory. The mysteries of his past are closer than he thinks when he enters a small town called Absolution and gets in a scamper with renowned Colonel Dolarhyde's (Ford) son Percy (Paul Dano, "Knight and Day"). His goodwill is commended by a man named Doc (Sam Rockwell, "Iron Man 2") and a woman named Ella Swenson (Wilde). Colonel Dolarhyde hears of the commotion and hastily returns to the town. Enter a group of alien ships that take half the town hostage including the Colonel's son and Doc's wife. A search party forms to bring the town back together and the nameless man joins when he realizes he has a special weapon enabled to destroy the aliens. Worthwhile action is few and far between after the film's opening bid and once the film passes its halfway point not even Craig and Ford can save the film from abduction.
The Good: Favreau abides by the most basic rule of filmmaking by creating an inaugural sequence making the film seem like it is worth the time of the viewer (the hook). If the rest of the movie to follow suit with heroic Daniel Craig action, everything would have be how it should have been. Needless to say, Craig brings his A-game alongside Harrison Ford's grouchy performance, who makes a one man show into a two-man show. Olivia Wilde subsequently turns this two-man show into a three-person show that avoids the typical Hollywood love story formula.
How do you screw up a film about cowboys and aliens? First, create the most cliché action sequences that you can. Then, make the action repetitiously ordinary. Third, make the Native Americans in the film as stereotypically cheesy as possible. Lastly, do not put any effort into choosing a supporting cast. Instead try and cast as many useless, faceless characters as possible so the audience can be uninterested enough to nap while they are on screen. Oh and whatever you do, make sure to put more emphasis on a shoddy script instead of showcasing the badassness of Craig and Ford and the sexiness of Wilde.
"Cowboys and Aliens" was either going to be a nerd's perfect entertaining mindless blockbuster, or a work of audience alienation. With the later being true, stay home, turn on the fourth "Indiana Jones" followed by "Quantum of Solice" and feel infinitely more fulfilled.
Friends with Benefits (2011)
"Contemporarily Relevant: The Sex Buddy Disparity"
"Contemporarily Relevant: The Sex Buddy Disparity" "No Strings Attached 2"? No, it is another film about a couple of people trying to make an emotionless relationship based around sex work; Natalie Portman's "Black Swan" costar just happens to be in it. Director Will Gluck's ("Easy A") "Friends With Benefits" is a better disparity of the sex buddy concept than the aforementioned because of its array of genuine characters starting with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Dyan (Justin Timberlake, "The Social network") works as an art director of an online media company (my dream job) in California and has just been dumped by his girl friend Kayla (Emma Stone, "Easy A"). The other player, Jamie (Mila Kunis, "Book of Eli") is a headhunter in New York that has also been dumped by her boyfriend Quincy (Andy Samberg, "I Love You Man"). Dyan was "emotionally unavailable" while Jamie was "emotionally damaged" making them the perfect match when Jamie meets Dylan at the airport to facilitate his job offer with a nation renowned magazine. Dylan inevitably takes the job and with one friend in New York to turn to, Dylan and Jamie become really close. As the sexual tension builds, they make fun of a cliché Jason Segel ("Bad Teacher") and Rashida Jones ("The Social Network") rom-com and embark on an emotion free series ofsexual escapades. The relationship becomes much more as they begin to open up to each other transforming the happy-go-lucky comedy into a dramatic (but not overly dramatic) conclusion with splendid performances by Richard Jenkins ("Hall Pass"), Patricia Clarkson ("Easy A") and Woody Harrelson ("Zombieland").
The coolest part of the film is that everything from its lingo to the character's jobs and even the credits give the film a relevant contemporary feel. Also, while the characters are goofy, they have a lot of heart making the film's conclusion clichely fulfilling and allowing the cast to fluently connect with the audience. The chemistry between all of which makes the movie feel unscripted, making Timberlake and Kunis into a naturally perfect on screen matchup. Timberlake and Kunis must step aside, as Richard Jenkins runs away with his authentic portrayal of a man suffering from Alzheimer's that will make you laugh and cry (especially for one like me who works at an Alzheimer's and Dementia home).
Everything bad about the film is self-explanatory because if you are expecting a genre defining rom-com without a predictable ending, you have been misled. While, Director Glick follows suit of "Easy A", making fun of the genre, in the end there really isn't much more he could do. The genre is fixed, and can be very repetitive leaving too much room for pointless moments. "Friends With Benefits" seems to avoid space filling jokes most of the time, but still lets moments like the unnecessary Sean White cameo overstay their welcome.
Romantic Comedies have not changed much at all over the years, but if you are looking for a film that is current and has praiseworthy actors embodying genuine characters, "Friends With Benefits" is the fun and true solution.