Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Film: Bad Teacher
Starring: Cameron Diaz (My Sister's Keeper), Justin Timberlake (The Social Network), and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Director: Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard and Orange County)
U.S. Release: June 24th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 92 minutes
After catching an afternoon showing of Jake Kasdan's vulgar comedy Bad Teacher, I was reminded of all the other lacking, run of the mill comedies the director has filmed. Similar to his earlier works Walk Hard and Orange County, Bad Teacher carelessly manages to muster up a ridiculous, non sensible story filled with B-List jokes. Since the film offers a star-filled cast including Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake, it's inevitably going to draw crowds and make some money. Yet, Kasdan's work is sure to leave moviegoers disappointed.
Bad Teacher follows a gold-digging, and recently dumped middle school English teacher named Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz). On the rebound and desperate to find a rich man, Halsey takes aim at a new substitute teacher with a wealthy family, named Scott Delacorte (Timberlake). Halsey will do whatever is necessary to win Delacorte's heart, even if he's falling for her nemesis, Amy Squirrel.
Bad Teacher is the type of movie you know you shouldn't see, but you do it anyway. And more times than not, those movies end up being a let down. This movie is no exception. Kasdan creates an absurd story around an unappealing character. Diaz does just enough to annoy you more than make you laugh. Even Justin Timberlake, whom I usually appreciate, gives a less than stellar performance. The film poorly develops its characters and its plot progresses unnaturally. You can't help but wonder, "what are they thinking?" during certain parts of the movie.
Despite it's blatantly obvious flaws, Bad Teacher still is a comedy and offers a few really funny scenes. However, when all is said and done, you should expect to hear more crickets than laughter. I suggest avoiding Bad Teacher and holding out for something better. You won't miss much here.
Stars: 1 out of 4
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Film: Midnight in Paris
Starring: Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers), Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers), and Marion Cotillard (Inception)
Director: Woody Allen (Annie Hall and Small Time Crooks)
U.S. Release: June 10th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 94 minutes
Woody Allen's famed career has spanned over 5 decades. His work has covered all types of genres and each film offering its own sense of wit and charm. The writer/director's latest work, Midnight in Paris, has been well received by critics across the globe. In the film, Allen reunites Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams who previously won over audiences with their romantic comedy Wedding Crashers. Teaming up the onscreen couple with Woody Allen was too much to pass up, so I inevitably flocked to the theatre to screen the film.
Midnight in Paris follows a young, successful writer named Gil (Wilson) and his fiance Inez (McAdams) as they travel with her family to Paris. Gil has an envious, yet unsatisfying, career as a writer in Hollywood, and although his films have done pretty well, he's truly passionate about attempting a career as a novelist. After a wine tasting party one evening, Gil decides to walk the streets of Paris. As the evening unfolds, he finds himself caught up in an unbelievable situation. Mystified by the night's events, Gil spends the rest of the vacation blowing off his fiance and her family in order to experience midnight in Paris.
The timeless director has been very mediocre of late, yet with Midnight in Paris Allen recaptures that quintessential style we've all grown to love from him. The film offers a creative story that successfully delivers on laughs and charisma. In addition, Allen takes a story that's extremely easy to enjoy on the surface, but also connects with the audience on a deeper, more emotional level.
The star of Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson, has experienced a lot in his brief career. After battling a bit of depression, Wilson's performance in the movie is the best he's been since 2006. Allen crafts a very likable character and Wilson does a fantastic job bringing him to life on the big screen. The movie is about a man's personal journey to understanding himself, and at the film's conclusion you're at peace with the character's personal transformation. All of which create an interesting parallel with Owen Wilson's own life and his onscreen persona.
Even though Midnight in Paris is an obvious success, the film has a few noticeable flaws. There are a few holes in the plot and Rachel McAdams gives a performance that definitely detracts from the film's success. If you're looking for an easy watch and an uplifting film, Midnight in Paris certainly won't let you down.
Stars: 2 and a half out of 4
Sunday, June 19, 2011
If there's one thing I love more than movies, it's Baseball. America's greatest past time is a beautiful combination of physical and mental toughness. But when you combine movies and baseball, you've really got my interest. So when I first heard that real life Oakland Athletic's General Manager Bill Beane was having his story brought to the big screen, I was like a six year old on Christmas. Due to hit theatres on September 23rd, Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill) tells the underdog story of a financially strapped franchise competing to win a World Series. Beane's unorthodox approach to constructing a winning roster of 25 players has certainly changed the way that MLB franchises operate. Be sure to check out the trailer!
Monday, June 13, 2011
Film: Super 8
Starring: Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning (Somewhere)
Director: J.J. Abrams (Star Trek and Cloverfield)
U.S. Release: June 10th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 112 minutes
The phrase "Summer Blockbuster" has been coined for films exactly like J.J. Abrams' latest sci-fi action tale Super 8. Everything about the movie fits into that mold. Abrams and his entire cast did a fantastic job keeping the film on the hush hush, and in its opening weekend the audience poured into theatres wanting to know the secret. Obviously an ingenious business move, the next question becomes, does the film hold up? Super 8 is a hyper blend of The Goonies meets E.T. meets Cloverfield. It may sound incredibly strange, but is it effective?
Super 8 centers around a circle of middle school-aged friends eager to make a contending zombie movie for a local film festival. Despite their young age, the group is quite good at what they do. After the director Charles (played by Riley Griffiths) convinces the young and pretty Alice Dainard (Fanning) to be in their movie, they sneak out at midnight to shoot a pivotal scene together at a railroad station. For "production value" the youngsters shoot their scene as a train passes by them. Joe Lamb (Courtney) witnesses a truck intentionally derail the train, and chaos follows as the train's precious cargo escapes into the small town.
What enables Super 8 to work so well is the immense talent portrayed onscreen by the crop of young actors that the director assembled (you may recognize one of them from the show The Big C). Abrams inevitably develops a suspenseful and creative story, but it unfolds so neatly thanks most in part to first time actor Joel Courtney. The teenage lead carries the film and enables it to be the success everyone envisioned it to be. Not only are the young actors delivering on point, but Abrams script and dialogue help regenerate a very nostalgic feel. You get sucked into Super 8 rather easily, and even tend to question why at times. The film was made to mimic early Spielberg work and it actually succeeds in doing so.
Another aspect of Super 8 worth mentioning is the movie's special effects. The monster that Abrams creates lives up to the script and sequence of events surrounding it. There's definitely a level of sophistication to the story, and every loose end gets tied up rather easily. In fact, if there is a major downfall to the film, it's the director's attempt to create too many coexisting storylines simultaneously.
Super 8 is wildly entertaining and an easy watch. It's well paced and precisely crafted. There's no struggle watching this film and it will undoubtedly bring you back in time to a feeling you had while watching classic adventure tales from the past. Super 8 is by no means overly original or groundbreaking, yet the movie achieves its purpose. I'd suggest getting to the theatres and checking it out, because you'll enjoy the nostalgic ride.
Stars: 3 out of 4
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Film: The Tree of Life
Starring: Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Sean Penn (Milk)
Director: Terrence Malick (A Thin Red Line)
U.S. Release: July 8th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 138 minutes
Where do I begin? The oft-praised Terrence Malick, writer and director of The Tree of Life, has finally introduced his much anticipated film to the world. It initially premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France to what was described as 70% cheers and 30% boos. That being said, there's a huge backstory to The Tree of Life. Almost 13 months ago Malick was set to release the picture at last year's Cannes Festival, yet he pulled the movie from the competition because he felt it needed more editing. Inevitably, the year long delay left critics more eager than imaginable to view the film. Despite the fraction of displeased moviegoers, The Tree of Life still managed to win the Palme d'Or (the Festival's most prestigious award).
Let me now explain that Malick's The Tree of Life is nothing like anything most people have seen before. What has been described to me as "experimental" film making, Malick's bold tale of one man's search for "the meaning of life" contains very little dialogue. Most movies tell a story through conventional narrative, however experimental films tell a story through imagery. The best analogy I can make is a novel verses a poem. Most movies are like novels. As a reader or viewer we gain understanding of the characters and their situations through dialogue. On the contrary, The Tree of Life is a poem. We are forced to gain a deep understanding of the main characters through facial expressions and vivid imagery. Since the audience is forced to interpret the story on their own, this results in a vague, yet personal experience.
To put the film into perspective, The Tree of Life nears a runtime of two hours and 20 minutes. Despite being a somewhat lengthy movie, there's only around 30 minutes of actual dialogue between characters. What almost seems like an elaborate prayer at times, the film is very thought provoking and beautiful to say the least. Malick once again creates a movie for himself and not a general audience. He breaks the mold here and for that he should be greatly recognized.
On the flip side, this is not a typical film for a casual moviegoer. The Tree of life is anything but an easy watch. The movie's intentions aren't clear and its meaning is virtually unknown. In fact, The Tree of Life may be one of the most challenging films I've ever watched. It places sole responsibility on the audience to determine its significance. I will avoid giving any spoilers about the movie but tell you one thing. At the conclusion of the film I had my personal opinion of what transpired and I have not seen the same interpretation from any other critic to date. Perhaps that's what helps make the movie transcending. It's Malick's interpretation of a man's spiritual journey, and isn't that what spirituality really is? Faith without knowing. And for that Mr Malick, we salute you.
Stars: 3 out of 4
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Film: The Hangover Part II
Starring: Bradley Cooper (Limitless), Zach Galifianakis (Due Date), and Ed Helms (Cedar Rapids)
Director: Todd Phillips (Due Date and Old School)
U.S. Release: May 26th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 102 minutes
Ask anyone, and you will always get the response that sequels are almost always a bad idea. Yeah, there may be a few exceptions like The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather II, but it's a near flawless rule of thumb. Hence, when I heard about the sequel to the 2009 mega hit The Hangover, I was skeptical at first. However, prior to seeing it, director Todd Phillips won my confidence back by attacking this sequel the right way. Phillips and his team took two years writing, filming, and editing the film. A common flaw with most sequels is the production company's eagerness to flush the movies out too quickly in order to turn a profit (think the Saw franchise). But the director took his time to ensure that he'd put the best possible product on the screen.
The Hangover Part II takes place a few years after the original story. Stu (Ed Helms) has moved on from his Vegas stripper and found an amazing Thai woman named Lauren. The couple is engaged and about to be married in Thailand. After Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug (played by Justin Bartha) successfully convince Stu to give Alan (Zach Galifianakis) a last minute invitation to the wedding, the Wolfpack returns once again. Two days prior to the wedding, what was suppose to be a one drink affair turns into a long adventure throughout the capital city of Bangkok. Once again, with no recollection of what events have transpired, the trio must find another lost friend.
Similar to the first film, the acting is adequate and the dialogue is solid. However, the jokes are recycled and The Hangover Part II constantly refers back to its original to a fault. Even the reintroduction of a few unexpected characters gives off the vibe of overkill. There's enough forced humor in the movie to quickly turn off the audience as well. Take away the occasional outrageous scene, which usually only works for its shock value, and the second installment might as well be called a remake.
Despite the director's careful approach to the sequel, The Hangover Part II is anything but a new take on the franchise. In fact, the biggest downfall of the film is how every major event unfolds exactly the same way as the original. Sure, there are new jokes and tiny details that will inevitably have you laughing out loud, but as the movie concludes, you realize that The Hangover Part II is nothing more than a cheap imitation of its predecessor. It hurts me to say, but I suggest waiting for the film's DVD release. It'll save you a few bucks and a major letdown.
Stars: 1 and a half out of 4