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Despicable Me (2010)
THE GIST: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's DESPICABLE ME is best described as "cute", which is a fine thing but not the best thing that this movie could have been. In the film, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), our evil mastermind for a protagonist, inadvertently adopts three little girls in his quest to steal the moon and better his competing evil nemesis Vector (Jason Segel). The movie is a lot of fun, especially for the G-rated crowd. As for the adults, well...the serious laughs are few and far between and the movie tries too hard to be something its not that it never truly comes into its own. With such a fresh premise that is somewhere between MEGAMIND and MONSTERS INC., it is sad that the conflict is as thin as a Nick Jr. cartoon and the supporting characters overshadow everything else going on in the film. However, the film really owns its cuteness and its heartwarming ending shouldn't be overlooked.
THE BEST PART: The Minions, which are a cross between the Doozers from FRAGGLE ROCK and the aliens from TOY STORY, could carry a movie all their own.
THE VERDICT: Parts of DESPICABLE ME seem awfully familiar and there may not be enough weight in the story to carry a feature-length film, but its goofy enough to smile through and is a sure-fire hit with the under-10 crowd.
Out of This World and So Much More
THE GIST: A delightfully charming film from the animation titans at Pixar, UP is simple, concise, moving, hilarious, and a masterful showcase of storytelling at its finest. Hailed as one of the best films of 2009, UP is gorgeously animated and filled with such original and memorable characters and content, it is no wonder that it has established itself as a modern classic. The famous opening is lush and emotional and provides a strong backbone for the adventure that follows. Seen as an "unfinished love story" and coming-of-age movie, UP reminds us of the kid in all of us, and it will make you laugh and cry and laugh again (and cry again), all in thanks to the terrific director, Pete Doctor, and the wild and transcendent screenplay by Doctor and Bob Peterson. I could go on for days about how and why this is a great great film, but i digress. Watch it and you'll understand.
THE BEST PART: The opening montage, heartwarming and heartbreaking, set to the whimsical and lovely Academy Award-winning score by Michael Giacchino.
THE VERDICT: In every way, UP takes you there, and never lets your feet touch the ground for every fantastic minute. One of the best animated films ever, surely, and perhaps one of the greatest modern films from the past 20 years.
The Internship (2013)
The Film That Wishes It Was a Google Chrome Commercial
THE GIST: Shawn Levy's latest film starring the dynamic duo of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn is a far, far cry from their last collaboration, the hilarious WEDDING CRASHERS. The story is seemingly simple: two go-for-broke guys in their 40's are stranded without jobs and look for the most obvious solution to solve their unemployment, an internship at Google. Somehow, though being an unexpected choice, the two get picked for the internship (does the film LEGALLY BLONDE ring a bell?). What ensues is basically MONSTERS UNIVERSITY without the humor, heart, and inventiveness of that fine film. Instead we're left with a film that inspires less "lol" and more "nla", or "not laughing at all". I can't discredit the film for the promising premise that could have showed, and does to a certain extent, the incoming generations lack of personal skills due to technological social interaction or perhaps the struggle of aging and finding a place in the newest era. But no, all of these ideas are certainly too big for the rather dumb script (the characters end up getting in a fist fight at a stripper bar...remind me what this one is about?) that the actors make work moderately, except for Rose Byrne who seems to find footing somewhere as a Google representative that Wilson pines after. The multitude of ethnicity (besides our two main characters, who are both white) is certainly nice to see on the big screen, and there are times where the film really hints at something kind of good.
THE BEST PART: The advertisement-loaded, yet creative and clever final credits sequence. Yes, the best part is the FINAL CREDITS.
THE VERDICT: There's so much going wrong with THE INTERNSHIP. Had it been an indie film in the hands of the right creative team and script it could have been something worth watching. Instead, you're almost wishing you were spending the overlong 2 hour runtime investigating the products on screen. So at least Google got their money's worth.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A Modern Masterwork
THE GIST: Quentin Tarantino has defined himself as an auteur in the good sense of the word. His films have gone on to hallow the halls of the Cinematic Hall of Fame, but this, as a character says in the very film, may be his masterpiece. Full of rich, wonderful characters, careful plotting, a brilliant script, and unbelievably good performances (specifically from Christoph Waltz as the treacherous Nazi commander Hans Landa and Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna, the Jewish escapee). INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a wholly revelatory work of modern cinema, one of the most important films of the 21st century to date and a revisionist fantasy full of so much cinematic depth, it would take books and essays to cover all that is at play here. Some have called it the World War II film to end all World War II films, which I would agree with. The film's only hindrance comes in it's final act, or "chapter" as Mr. Tarantino would refer, which lacks some of the subtlety that the first 4 chapters had so enchantingly.
THE BEST PART: The thrilling and dynamic opening scene, full of suspense in the classic Hitchcockian sense of the word. One of the best opening scenes I've certainly ever seen.
THE VERDICT: Quentin Tarantino is a landmark filmmaker as proved especially with his truly awesome and provocative INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Continuing a discussion of cinema itself as well as revenge, both physically and mentally (for the audience), the film will live on as one of the modern classics of the era.
Gold women! Flying hats! Kentucky!
The third film in the Bond legacy is one of the most recognizable, with its sizzling style, crackling dialogue, Sean Connery's legendary Bond, and of course, the undeniable theme song. The journey that director Guy Hamilton takes us on is quite the adventure, just maybe not the one it could have been.
This film sits on a place of high rank in the Bond canon, being highly visual in its first act, with some delicious scenes and villains as it goes along. The gadgets, the girls, the lines, all cultivated in this film, which would go on to serve as a template for the entire series. Humorous, over-the-top, and as silly as it is, the fun factor is undeniable in this one. I can't help but wish that Goldfinger himself were a little more dastardly, and the audacious first act climaxes in
Kentucky? Huh? That being said the inane plot is handled nicely, with Connery giving one of his best Bonds, Odd Job laminating over the franchise as one of the most memorable villains, as well as Honor Blackman as a tempting Pussy Galore. It all comes together to create something quite unforgettable, a romp that will go down as one of the most fun films of its time.
A Bag of Hammers (2011)
A Bag of Indie-Wannabe
Brian Crano's film A Bag of Hammers is part of the modern subset of indie dramedies, films that try to embrace cultural or social issues but finding a proper mix of quirky humor and twisted situations that somehow bizarrely mirror real life with a touch of humor and dash of heartbreak. While this mini-genre is at its fullest popularity, Crano's film doesn't reach the brilliance that other films similar has done.
Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) are two friends who make a living by stealing cars through their valet service (how they aren't caught, the world may never know) and sublet part of their house to a struggling single mother, desperate to get a job and provide for her son. The boys end up taking care of the child themselves and must decide whether they are ready to move past their own adolescence to raise a son as their own.
The plot suggests class statements, coming-of-age, and a type of conflict that would usually inhabit a Fox sitcom or a 1980's comedy. While some of these ambitions play out, most of them fall flat or are too jumbled to reach any real potential. Ritter and Sandvig give it their all, with Chandler Canterbury given a misdirected performance of vague longing. The film relies on a soundtrack to convey emotion instead of proper, driven dialogue to propel the narrative to create something more. The film has it's heart in the right place, but the execution denies it's ultimate success.
Snappy, Bitchy, and Surprisingly Fun!
When I found out that there was a film called Bachelorette being released and indeed starring someone from the cast of a very similar film, I could only groan at the lack of originality. Bridesmaids was such a tremendous hit, it didn't surprise me that a rip-off of that film would be released the following year. As skeptical as I was going into Bachelorette, the new film written and directed by Leslye Headland is full of surprises.
The first one is that this film is so unlike Bridesmaids, that to properly compare them would seem a bit inappropriate. Yes, both films feature a bachelorette in a time of their friends wedding, both feature supporting roles played by sharp-tongued, unashamed big girl Rebel Wilson, and both display women behaving in an extremely raunchy comedic fashion. But this film is raunchy in a different form, more true to the style of the male-led Hangover films, and reunites friends, seemingly younger than the Bridesmaids gals, who haven't seen each other since high school. This fact injects a certain venom that audiences hate to love, but love nonetheless. This creates a unique blend of those classic bubble gum bitch comedies and the man-child ridiculous raunch that has become a mainstream staple.
The plot is pretty simple. Becky (Rebel Wilson) unexpectedly announces her engagement and her distant best friend Regan (Kirsten Dunst) and fake friends (but really tormentors) Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher) come to be her bridesmaids. As bachelorette, Regan tries to keep control of the events, but as wild events ensue, that task becomes increasingly difficult. Despite the girls' position of bridesmaids seems a bit random and illogical, the film is smarmy and snappy, always on the corner of risqué and purely inappropriate. The writing is somehow as fresh as it can be, riding on the heels of its famous predecessor. The casting was purely brilliant, as all these gals, and the men they all pursue, turn in hilarious performances, particularly Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan as two drugged out bridesmaids on the edge. It may not be the most original, but the film tackles complex topics that other films similar didn't attempt and all under 90 minutes. For what it's worth, it is certainly not perfect, but it is a wild, silly, sexy, and certainly fun ride.
Bel Ami (2012)
A Cordial Dud
So apparently not every period drama can shape up to be as great as Downton Abbey, a series that longingly comes to mind when watching Declan Donnellan and Nick Oremerod's Bel Ami. What the two have in common: naughty drama in a period setting, adultery, backstabbing, blackmail, and class distinction. What separates the two is the sheer lack of liveliness in the film; an idea that never gets to be fully fleshed out as it might want to be and leaves us hungry for more just maybe not more of the same.
The film takes on the story of Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson), whose ambition to climb the social ladder and establish himself as a legitimate journalist is threatened by the very people he manipulates to get ahead: three mistresses of the men who stand in his way, played by Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Christina Ricci, respectively. As adultery, death, and utter conniving ensue, one would think this would be an irresistible drama. Pattinson's performance in addition to the lackluster screenplay all play into the films demise.
Pattinson's brooding charm and good looks are not, unfortunately, enough to deliver the type of depth of this period literary character and certainly not enough to carry this costume erotic drama on the hinges of his shoulders. The three women that he ends up courting over the course of the film provide sensual and theatrically arresting performances, but can't elevate the film to serve it's political and social thematic ambitions. With so much to explore, deriving from Guy de Maupassant's classic novel, it is a pity that the screenplay and filmmakers never bother spending too much time developing any of them.
The characters feel as if they were ripped from the pages without all of the insight that they deserve. Not being fully fleshed out, not even the melodrama can be completely effective. I've never read the novel that the film is based on, but a sense of emptiness can be felt within the adaptation. The film tries to create a drama out of developments that perhaps should have been made in the first act of the film, but ultimately never make it in. With a better and richer screenplay, the film could have actually benefited from an added half hour, to truly liven up the drama. However, I am not convinced that Pattinson's performance could have driven the narrative to any spectacular heights. Although Rachel Portman's score is layered and wonderful, it is the one of the only worthwhile aspects of the film. So for all the naughty melodrama that could have been fascinating with someone like Julian Fellowes at the helm and an actor such as Tom Hardy, but instead we get quite the opposite: ineffective lifelessness.
Hotel Transylvania (2012)
This cute fish-out-of-water story centers around Jonathan, a human hiker who stumbles upon Hotel Transylvania, a hotel for monsters, vampires, werewolves, and more run by non other than Count Dracula himself. Trouble ensues when old Dracula's daughter, Mavis meets the human Jonathan, a romance that Dracula will do anything to end.
Drawing on the classic set of spooky characters, the writers have a lot of material to work with. What the film becomes is a delightful Halloween romp with a slew of clever characters. The celebrity voice cast do a modest job of bringing these ghouls to life and the writers really play with the notions of these characters that we've all become familiar with. That being said, the film never veers into the hilarity of the animated films at Dreamworks, and, though it attempts at an emotional father/daughter relationship, it doesn't end up with the emotional pull or sheer animation beauty of a Pixar film. However, it is a witty, fun, and ultimately worthwhile trip, especially during the Halloween season, where family films seem to be in the rare.
Slick and Savvy Doesn't Always Win the Race
Arbitrage, Nicholas Jerecki's drama set in the world of high-finance, has the bare bones of quite a captivating story: fraud, family conflict, a mysterious death, and the threat of the collapse of an empire. What the film makes all of these is a disappointment on the narrative level. The film centers around Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a financial guru who made decisions that make him a certifiable criminal. In addition, Miller has an additional drama when conflict arises between him and his mistress. For his security, he tries to sell his company and must turn to an unlikely person for help.
Nicholas Jerecki makes for a strong debut, directorial-wise, and has the tact to effectively shoot a drama such as this, but his screenplay makes for a different story. While not necessarily over-cooked or clunky, it the story just never amounts to all that much, leaving us with a quasi character study and some attempt at a thriller. Neither of these are achieved very well.
The two conflicts that surround Richard Gere's characters and propel the drama never seem to cross effectively or impact the story in any particular way. The suspense of the narrative rarely reaches a level of intensity that would make this film significantly worthwhile. The only instance is an argument between Richard Gere and his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, in a very wasted role, where we get a glimpse of what could have been, of the intensity that is so needed to make this film gel. The financial situations depicted in the film have been effectively shown in films, such as Margin Call, but instead ends up a bit confusing, and over-bloated. Gere gives a solid performance, but unfortunately I don't find that Jarecki provided a script monumental enough to build much from. That said, Gere does come through and pull this film from the depths that it could be in.