Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Youth in Revolt

I walked into Youth in Revolt assuming I was going to hate it. After all, it is just another in a string of quirky teen comedies starring Michael Cera as an awkward hero. Everyone is clever and no kid likes current music. Instead they prefer old punk rock or 70s soft rock. I hate those kind of movies. It would be nice if teenagers were that cool in real life, but it isn't genuine.For whatever reason, I did like this movie - a lot!

Director Miguel Arteta (who has done so many indie films he may actually bleed Chuck Taylors) tells a story that is nothing new. The hero is a nerd. He is too smart for his family. He meets the girl of his dreams and has to find a way to woo her. What makes Youth in Revolt different from the Junos of the world?

The scrip is just sharper. Also, Michael Cera seems to have discovered that he can play something other than an awkward, bumbling wimp. Cera takes on two roles in this movie - smart, nerdy Nick Twisp and Twisp's bad boy alter ego Francois Dillinger. He brings a smart ass attitude to both roles. Nick is an awkward nerd, but he is smarter and more confident than both of his parents and talks to them that way. Francois is simply a juvenile delinquent. He blows up whole city blocks. He talks dirty to girls. He is nothing like any character we've seen Cera take on before. Come to think of it, neither is Nick. It's nice to see Michael Cera is more than just a one trick pony.

The supporting cast is great too. There are some stars in this movie, but they are used sparingly enough to give their apperance some real punch. Zach Galifinakis is great as Nick's con artist would-be-step-dad. Jean Smart takes a character that we have seen a million times (an overbearing, self-absorbed single mom), and gives it new life. Fred Willard, Justin Long and Steve Buscemi all have small, but good roles. It is a short appearance by Jonathan B. Wright as Nick's rival in romance, Trent, that steals the show.

Like all teen comedies, Youth in Revolt has it's shortcomings. A Thanksgiving dinner scene that is otherwise very funny is ruined by a disturbing drugged out pair of parents. The movie (like a lot of indie flicks these days) at times will inexplicably switch to animation. That gets annoying quick.

Will Youth in Revolt raise Michael Cera's profile at all? Probably not. He doesn't really need it to. It likely will make a star out of Portia Doubleday. It is the kind of movie that may be focused on kids, but has enough for adults to enjoy too. And even though it is a romance, there was more than enough action and comedy to hold my interest. I do recommend it.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I am not much of a Quentin Tarantino fan. In fact, I've never seen one of his movies that I really loved - that is of course until I saw Inglorious Basterds. The movie isn't without it's flaws, (and they are many of the same flaws that show up again and again in Tarantino's work) but it does offer something you don't get a lot of at the cinema these days - originality.

You can't walk into the theatre expecting Inglorious Basterds to be completely historically accurate. Hell, you should probably abandon any hope of it being historically accurate at all at the door. Instead look at it as entertainment. There was nothing factual about the story of Saving Private Ryan either. The artistic liberties taken with World War II in that movie just aren't as outrageous as the ones taken here.

Inglorious Basterds is a movie made up of two stories. One is about Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his band of Nazi scalping Jews. You read that right. Tarantino's World War II features the Jews fighting back with great success. The other story is about the young Shoshana Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish girl from the French country side who is the lone survivor when her family is massacred by the evil Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). One story leaves you wanting more. The other can get a bit tedious at times.

Brad Pitt is amazing as Aldo Raine. He is another triumph for Tarantino - a great actor that works on a whole new level when handed a script full of terrific dialogue. For all of my Tarantino hating, I can admit that he churns out some of the best written scripts. Pitt deserves an Oscar nomination for his work in Inglorious Basterds. Raine's team of young Jewish soldiers out for revenge are almost frightening in how calm they are and how seriously they take their mission. When "the Bear Jew" (director Eli Roth playing a role that believe it or not was written for Adam Sandler) beats a Nazi leader to death with a baseball bat there is enough blood to dull the impact of the violence. Still though, you're watching a man get beat to death with a baseball bat.

The Basterds are a great group of characters. Smithson Utivich (The Office's B.J. Novak) only has two or three lines, but they are so damn funny that he is one of the more memorable characters in the film. I really wish Tarantino had stayed with them longer. And for all of the hype for Nazi killing generated in the movie's marketing campaign, we actually see very little of it. Either the director chose not to show a lot of it and keep the Basterds mysterious and thus a little more effective as characters or someone at the Weinstein Company asked Tarantino to dial down the violence.

Shoshana Dreyfus' story is a lot less entertaining. In fact, it can get down right boring at times. After escaping from Landa in the film's first chapter (Inglorious Basterds is broken into chapters like so many of Tarantino's previous films) Shoshana grows up to run her own cinema with her boyfriend/husband/who knows. All is fine until a young Nazi soldier takes a shine to Shoshana and she is put in the middle of a big night for the Nazi regime. She hatches a plan to burn her cinema to the ground with close to 800 Nazis (Hitler included) locked inside.

Shoshana's story is saved by another Oscar-worthy performance. Christoph Waltz, who until now had done very little work in English, steals every scene he is in. His Hans Landa is one of the best movie villains to come along in a long long time. I have always felt like Hollywood forgot how to write villains for adult films after Hanible Lechter in Silence of the Lambs. Why would a screen writer remember? Everything has been super heroes and live action versions of cartoons for so long. This guy isn't crazy like The Dark Knight's Joker. He's evil plain and simple.

Inglorious Basterds takes a brief detour into England at one point. Is the scene necessary? Yes, but it ends up being more distracting than anything else. Why, you ask? The scene is afterall intrigal to the plot. The problem is Mike Myers.

Yes that Mike Myers.

The thing about Myers is he can't speak with a British accent without your mind going straight to one place...

To say it makes the scene a bit distracting is an understatement.

Am I becoming a Quentin Tarantino fan? No, probably not. I wasn't overly impressed with Pulp Fiction and I hated both Kill Bills. Inglorious Basterds though is a movie I really loved. Sure it got slow at times, but overall the movie was completely enjoyable. I found myself lost in the story most of the time. I have been impressed with this summer's slate of movies. A lot of them have been better than I expected. Inglorious Basterds is right there with the best of them.

The Greek gives it an A-.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince

I will admit that as an adult, heterosexual male, the fact that I am a Harry Potter fan makes me a bit of an enigma. Add in the fact the I don't have a kid, I don't still live with my mother, and I have found someone with a respectable job to love me damn near makes me Bigfoot in a world dominated by nerds and fat children.

I should also point out that I have NEVER even picked up a Harry Potter book. I just like the movies. I think the franchise has managed to become reliable, while at the same time each film has it's own style and voice. It's partly because Potter gets a new director seemingly each time out. It's also because the stories are just well written and well written stories are rare during blockbuster season and well written stories that feature plenty of eye candy are rare during the holiday season. The Potter movies have managed to fill each of those voids at various times in the franchise's history on film.

The latest offering, Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince, is a tale of deception, maturity, and despair wrapped up in the usual Hogwarts magic. It's a good movie by summer blockbuster standards. I still walked away a little disappointed, because by franchise standards Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince is middle of the road film. I liked each of the previous three movies more. However, if you haven't read the novel (as I haven't), the movie really leaves you yearning for the two part finale The Deathly Hollows, which will begin in 2010 and finish in 2011.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the second movie in the franchise for director David Yates. Warner Brothers has decided to ride him to the end too. Yates is working on The Deathly Hollows right now. One thing we learned about Yates in the previous Potter film, is that he knows how to get the most from his actors. Helena Bonham Carter was awesome as the evil Bellatrix Lastrange in Order of the Phoenix. She's even better in The Half Blood Prince.

The three actors at the core of every Potter film are as good as they have ever been. Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have become so comfortable with their characters that it's hard to think of them in any other role, and we've become so comfortable with them that we can't imagine those characters any other way. These actors are growing up with these characters and that is good for fans of the franchise. Ron Weasley (Grint) is starting to fall for Hermoine Granger (Watson), just as most of the world is starting to notice that Watson has grown into a beautiful young woman. It makes us root for Ron that much harder.

Yates is also right on the money with the use of CGI and other special effects. They don't over power the movie like they do in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Terminator Salvation, but come on - the Harry Potter franchise is all about magic! Yates has to impress us. He does. The special effects are great, but they all fit the way they are supposed to. Anything that's supposed to be frightening (The bad guys jump into the scene in frightening clouds of black smoke)is. Anything that is supposed to be amazing (Dumbledor repairing a destroyed muggle house) is. We have seen zombies interpreted a million different ways on film. Yates' zombies for a climactic scene in The Half Blood Prince look like they belong in the Potter universe.

There really isn't much wrong with Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The movie is genuinely exciting and funny. Seriously, I don't have a complaint that I can come up with right off the top of my head. I was a little disappointed with the ending, but The Half Blood Prince is to Harry Potter what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. The point is to leave you wanting a resolution and I do! Too bad we'll all have to wait until 2010...and then until 2011. I guess I could pick up a copy of The Deathly Hollows, but let's be serious. I'm never gonna read.

My one problem really isn't a fair one. I want less relationship crap. I don't really care about Harry Potter's romance with Ron Weasly's little sister. But then again, the books were written for kids less than half my age. So who is wrong here? Probably me.

The Greek gives it a B.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Love You Beth Cooper

There is no getting around it. This movie just wasn't made for me. I knew that going in. I knew that the film maker's target demographic was boys age 13 - 18 looking for a laugh after seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for the third time, not 28-year-old men with film degrees. Yet, still I gave I Love You Beth Cooper a chance. Why? Mostly because it was free.

Did I get what I paid for? Yeah, kinda. This isn't so much a movie as it is a collection of one-liners and side boob. I Love You Beth Cooper tells the story of Dennis Cooverman (played by Paul Rust, who I wasn't familiar with but was instantly struck by the size of his nose) and the graduation speech that leads to the greatest night of his young life. Most people would use a valedictory address to impart some wisdom to his class mates. Not Dennis. He uses his time in the spotlight to confess his love for the very beautiful and very popular Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of Heroes fame).

My problems with the movie are the same as my problems with most teen comedies. The first problem is that director Chris Columbus (how the mighty have fallen, right?) can't seem to decide if this is a comedy or a coming-of-age piece. Most teen comedies straddle that line, but at times you get the impression that Columbus is trying to make something more akin to Stand by Me than American Pie.

The movie also has a very streaky script. Dennis' speech is great, but it happens in the first fifteen minutes of the film. After that it is for the most part down hill. Chase scenes involving Beth Cooper's 'roided up cadet boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts) , usually start out funny but aside from a locker room towel fight featuring Dennis' best friend Rich Munch (Jack Carpenter) - get it? Richard Munch...Dick Munch - they all go on too long and the fun disappears.

I Love You Beth Cooper suffers from one very common problem that most teen comedies share. The movie was made by a guy who was likely a nerd in high school, so he didn't really know what the parties that the cool kids had were actually like. That means everything the cool kids do in this movie is just ridiculous. I went to high school. I was friends with a lot of people - many of them very cool. No one I know had a threesome. No one I know broke into the school for a co-ed shower. No one I know drove a car through someone else's living room window.

The best thing that I Love You Beth Cooper has going for it is the soundtrack. Is every song used a classic? No, but they all fit perfectly. Dennis is a nerd, so it stands to reason that his graduation night mix tape would feature the hella-lame "School's Out" by Alice Cooper. Also, mega kudos to whoever decided to use Ray Lamontagne's "Let it be Me" for Dennis & Beth's heart to heart in the wilderness.

The movie has it's moments. I certainly laughed more than a few times, and I truly appreciate Hayden Panettiere giving up the side boob. Don't worry guys. She's 20. You can enjoy the show. Overall though, I just don't feel like I would have missed anything if I had never seen I Love You Beth Cooper.

The Greek gives it a C-.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Public Enemies

If you have read some of my more recent posts, you would be able to tell that I was really looking forward to the release of Michael Mann's latest, Public Enemies. I am a huge Johnny Depp fan, and frankly I was ready to see something with a little more depth after sitting through Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Public Enemies isn't a bad movie. It just isn't as good as I was hoping for, and that is my fault. I think I built up how good it was going to be in my mind.

The film as a lot going for it. The acting is great. Johnny Depp is his usual oddball genius. Marion Cotillard is gorgeous and not bad as John Dillinger's love interest. Even Channing Tatum, who is on the screen for all of 15 minutes, is just plain fantastic as Baby Face Nelson.

I was most impressed by Christian Bale, who - and let me make this perfectly clear - I usually can't stand. Did you see The Dark Knight? He nearly ruined a great movie with his "I desperately want to be Clint Eastwood" growl. Plus, he's just a real douche bag. You don't get to be a real douche bag and overrated. You have to pick one or the other. In Public Enemies though, Bale is pitch perfect as FBI Agent Melvin Purvis.

My problem is more with the story telling. The first 30 minutes are just really choppy and don't fit together as well as they need to. The final hour is also tough. I know that everyone wants to see Dillinger's epic death, but if Michael Mann had instead ended the movie with the capture of Marion Cotillard's Billie, you still would have had a good movie. Granted, she is the subject of an intense interrogation scene that would be sorely missed, but something has to give. There is a very good movie somewhere in Public Enemies' two hour and 20 minutes, but someone should have pried it away from Mann for a proper editing job.

Another problem I have is with the casting of Marion Cotillard. Yes, she's beautiful. Yes, she has an Oscar. Yes, she is tremendously talented. She is unfortunately, French. I don't mean that in a "I hate everything French" kind of way. I mean it in that her accent is so thick, that I couldn't get lost in the movie. I never believed she could be a poor girl that grew up on an Indian reservation in Wisconsin.

There really is more good than bad in Public Enemies. My problems are just the type that can really ruin a movie. Would I recommend it to you? Yeah, I think so. I would probably watch it again on DVD, and if you are looking for a movie that has a story and great characters this is a good choice. It's a nice alternative to movies filled with explosions and make believe robots.

The Greek gives it a B-.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Let me start by saying that Salt, who loves Transformers, and my 9-year-old Godson, Austin loved the movie. I, on the other hand, was not impressed by the sequel to a movie that I wasn't
impressed with to begin with.

Salt & I have been having a debate lately about the Transformers franchise and movies like it. Salt says that I am a movie snob and the only reason I hate the movie is because I hate the Transformers. My argument is that, in the age of movies like The Dark Knight and Star Trek, a blockbuster that has no heart or soul is unacceptable. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, and the Harry Potter films are great examples of what a summer blockbuster can be.

Was I expecting too much from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Maybe. Maybe as I walked into the theatre I should have thought to myself "Oh boy! I'm gonna see Megan Fox and things are gonna explode!" I'm just not that kind of guy though. I want some depth...and therein lies the problem with going to see a Michael Bay movie.

The man might as well just film fireworks displays. Think about his past movies - Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, etc. They have no script (at least not one that makes any sense). He puts no effort into getting good performances out of his actors. His movies are bridges between explosions.

I am sorry this has turned into a rant about Michael Bay and the state of the summer blockbuster, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is exhibit A in this argument!

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's greatest flaw is it's script. There are jokes. Not good ones. Salt says the first twenty minutes are hilarious. I thought the first twenty minutes were ridiculously unfocused - not nearly as unfocused as the final hour though. That's another flaw! Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen does not need to be two and a half hours long, but I digress. The final hour may have about twenty lines. I honestly had no idea what was going on other than things were blowing up and Megan Fox was running in slow motion.

There are a few other complaints I have about the movie, so I'll give you a quick run down.
  • If you're favorite character dies, don't worry, they're going to come back to life (they all do)
  • Michael Bay is making a movie about giant space robots and there is so much cussing and humping that I felt uncomfortable being in the theatre with a nine-year-old.
  • The special effects weren't even all that impressive.
My greatest complaint though is the two characters Skids and Mudflap.
These are the two most racist things I have ever seen! Look at the green one. Yes, that's a gold tooth. Yes, he has big ears and a big nose. Hello, stereotype! And just wait till you hear them talk...then read the credits and see that Tom Kenny provides their voices. He looks like this. Now it seems a lot more racist.

There is so much wrong with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that it is easy to overlook the fact that the basic framework of the story isn't bad, and in the hands of a more capable writer and director it could be on par with Star Trek. Plus, with all of those explosions, the two and a half hour run time flies by, so the pain won't last too long if you are dragged along by your kids, friends, or significant other(s). And I would be lying if I didn't say that I laughed a few times.

The Greek gives it a C-.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Land of the Lost

You can't go into the theatre with great expectations for Will Ferrell's latest film.  I mean look at the trailer.

The problem with Land of the Lost is...okay, there are a lot of them, but the biggest one is that the movie can't decide what it is supposed to be.  A movie about time travelers that befriend a monkey and fight lizard people clearly isn't aimed at adults.  Land of the Lost can't possibly be meant for kids either.  There is graphic language, sex, and one very funny scene involving hallucinogenic drugs.

Should I appreciate that in this age of CGI everything that Land of the Lost paid tribute to the very amature original series by dressing actors in rubber suits to play the evil slee staks or should I be confused?  I mean there was no CGI available to Sid & Marty Croft in the 1970s.  I know that the film is meant as a send up of the original series, but it does make it a little tough to get lost in the story.

Then we get to the acting.  Really, we get to the lack of acting.  Will Ferrell is credited with playing Dr. Rick Marshall, but really he just plays Ricky Bobby, Ron Burgandy and Frank the Tank in a fishing vest.  Danny McBride is playing Danny McBride and Anna Friel is just awful in this movie.  Land of the Lost doesn't even show off Anna's usual talents.  And then there's Chaka.  You know the prehistoric manbeast is going to be in the movie, because he figured so prominently into the TV show.  What you don't know is he could be the most annoying character in cinema history.

Is there anything redeeming about Land of the Lost?  Look, it's a Will Ferrell movie, so you know there are some quotable lines.  Danny McBride is one of the funniest actors around right now.  So there are some things to laugh at.  There is also the sight of Will Ferrell riding a dinosaur, which is rivaled in awesomeness only by Robocop riding a unicorn.

Overall Land of the Lost isn't really worth your time - especially in a summer that has already featured Star Trek, Up, and Wolverine and still has Funny People and Public Enemies on the way.  There may be a reason to pick up the DVD.  Will Ferrell and Danny McBride may help deliver a solid outtakes real.

The Greek gives it a D.