September 28, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting (2012)

ugh...Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Dennis Quaid, Chace Crawford, et al



I recently attended the world premiere of the opera, Nixon in China. If your first thought was, 'who the hell would make an opera out of that,' then you would be smarter than me, my friend. To say it was horrible would be an understatement. Some subjects were just not meant to be adapted for the fine arts.

The classic book, What to Expect When You're Expecting, falls into that same category. For anyone who hasn't read the book, it's a 616 page tome of information with extensive Q&A's, answering pretty much any pregnancy question a reader could have. Why someone thought this would transition easily to a movie script is beyond me. It's a bit like making a movie out of a health brochure you'd pick up at your doctor's office. The scenes jump from story to story, trying to cover all the main themes of the book from conception to delivery. (Which, by the way, I will never understand why movies portray every woman as a sweaty, screaming banshee who curses out her husband while giving birth. I mean, for a movie on the most popular and informative pregnancy book out there, they sure play into some stereotypes.)

I remember reading a critique of the movie that pointed out the fact that the movie stars no women of color. First of all, last time I checked, Jennifer Lopez is not white. But I understand the point and do agree there is a conspicuous lack of other ethnic characters in the movie. Throwing Chris Rock into random scenes doesn't suddenly make the movie more realistic of America's demographics.

Speaking of Chris Rock... I'm convinced someone saw the trailer for this movie, heard the two funny jokes he makes, and decided that new show Guys With Kids would be a good idea. (If you thought I was being hard on playing into stereotypes earlier...)

Ugh, and this chick!! Why is she suddenly in everything? Sure, she was mildly funny in Bridesmaids, but does that mean every single movie now needs a fat sidekick who makes inappropriate sexual jokes? It's not that I care that she's fat - I care that every movie makes her being fat as part of the joke. Didn't Hollywood learn anything from the travesty that was Shallow Hal? Something isn't funny just because people are fat! (Side note: does any movie coming out right now look lamer than that singing movie, Pitch Perfect, she's in?? [In which she plays the zany fat girl. Again.] But really? Rebel singers? That's almost as ill-conceived as that "action" movie with bike messengers!!)

The bright spots in the movie? A few, actually. First, and most importantly, was the inclusion of this guy, who the world has been waiting to see more of since he stripped down to his underwear in Love Actually. (He may have actually gotten partially naked in Post Grad, but I really tried to block out any memory of watching that movie.) And surprisingly, I enjoyed Brooklyn Decker's appearance as the young, pregnant trophy wife. She may just pull a Justin Timberlake here and defy the odds to star in real movies (whether or not said movies are of decent quality is another matter).

Final word: Not every single moment of the movie sucks, but that would probably make it more entertaining and noteworthy than it is in its current state.

September 24, 2012

Another Earth (2011)

randoms, but to be expected for an indie



I commend Brit Marling, the star of this movie. Apparently she's been trying to break into acting, but couldn't get cast in anything of substance, so she wrote this movie and cast herself in it. Talk about a go-getter. So that's sort of the best part about the movie.

My main complaint is that it's billed as a sci-fi movie. I remember seeing a trailer and being really excited to watch this, since it made the movie out to be this story of a parallel universe exactly like Earth somewhere else. Sadly, it was just an allegory to reveal inner reflections of life and whatnot. Once you get past the fact that you don't actually get to watch this parallel existence, the movie isn't terrible, just a bit predictable. 

It is movies like this that make me question why people are so crazy about indie movies. What is it about them that makes them more enjoyable than mainstream Hollywood movies? Is it just a hippie knee-jerk reaction to the man? Are these the same people who complain that underground bands "sell out" when they get a real record deal? As if making money and achieving fame isn't the goal of every sane person who pursues music full time? The movie is fine - it's just nothing new or special. The themes aren't new, the plot isn't particularly noteworthy (especially since it eliminated the potentially coolest part of the movie) and the acting is average. And the whole movie follows that "we don't need words" indie theme of making a movie almost entirely silent.

But as much as I hate on indie movies (and the people who swear by them), I have seen much worse. I wasn't completely bored throughout and the actors were able to effectively convey emotions without dialogue, so I suppose that's a triumph in it of itself. If only the guy the movie didn't look like an ugly version of Roger Federer. Except this guy isn't being recruited for awkward Gillette commercials with Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter.

Final word: At a film festival filled with pretentious arty films, this would be a pleasant surprise. At home on a Saturday date night, this would be significantly less pleasant.

September 21, 2012

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender



Ahhh... another Michael Fassbender movie involving inappropriate sexual themes. Then again, in a movie with Freud, how could there not be? Maybe I'm uncomfortable with it because of my deeply repressed feelings of childhood experiences? (If you don't get this joke, please just reading now. This is not the movie for you.)

So in case you don't know the premise of the movie, it shows the beginnings of psychiatry with the relationship between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (yeah, I've never heard of that last person either, but apparently she's well known in the psychiatry world). The movie is informative and full of intellectual discussion, which makes it a better candidate for a textbook or at least a slightly dry biography instead of a major motion picture. 

On the plus side, Keira Knightly's Russian accent is passable and she does a pretty convincing job of acting like a mental patient. Considering the vast majority of her work is playing characters in classic novels (her upcoming Anna Karenina is no exception), it's nice to see her finally attempt something else. I mean, I appreciate when an actor can really excel at a certain part, but it's kind of like, will we ever see Steve Buscemi in a role where he isn't the weird, crazy guy? Sure, he's ugly, but he has such potential! At least he can act!

Final word: It was like sitting through a two hour psychology lecture, except with more nudity.

September 17, 2012

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)

a bunch of random Australian and British people


Movies, like life, are all about expectations. The less you expect from a movie, the more likely you are to be pleasantly surprised by it. And as much as it pains me to say, such was the case. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by the owl movie. I admit it. It's sort of like coming out of the closet to admit you own an Ashlee Simpson c.d. - you're ashamed to tell people, but you do listen to it. And enjoy it. Self-loathing-ly.

It had all the trappings of a terrible movie. First, there's the matter of the title. No movie deserves a title with EIGHT (count 'em, eight!!) words in it. And it's not even a sequel!! It's truly a terrible title. Second, owls are not cool animals. They're just not. They cough up hairballs with rodent bones in them, which is positively revolting, yet strangely familiar since it reminds me of 10th grade biology. (side note: I love that they manage to incorporate this nasty habit into the movie!)

It's not a regular hokey kid's movie like Happy Feet or other animal-themed animated movies, which is sort of weird, since I'm not sure who they would market this movie to (and the fact that this movie is actually from the same creator as Happy Feet). I'm not usually one to decry the uptick in violence and adult content in children's animation, but this movie did have some more mature themes that I'm not sure kids would appreciate, let alone understand. Which makes it an adult movie - except again, it's animated. It's strange.

Final word: Just a regular, enjoyable movie, except it stars owls instead of people. Wow, that sounds weird.

September 14, 2012

Win Win (2011)

Paul Giamatti



I must say, I continue to be surprised at the amount of work Paul Giamatti gets in Hollywood. I think he's a great actor, and I generally enjoy everything he's in (with the exception of Sideways - what is it with people and that movie??), but I'm still surprised. Even more surprising, is Hollywood's ability to keep coming up with movies that cast him as the lead, but not necessarily as a romantic lead in movies. It's impressive, really. The way Hollywood casts their romantic movies and sit-coms, you'd think the entire world is full of beautiful women falling all over themselves for short, fat, unattractive men who are semi-funny (ahem, anything starring Seth Rogen).

So about the movie...also surprising. Surprisingly good, that is. In that rare genre of drama-comedy, it really is both dramatic and funny. A lot of the humor comes from this dude, who, for some reason, reminds me of this guy in Everybody Loves Raymond who talks like there's something wrong with him. (another side rant - why on Earth would the creators of Ice Age cast Ray Ramano as the voice of the main character in the movie? His voice sounds like a monotone college professor with a stuffed nose.)

The story is really interesting in that you can completely relate to a lot of the situations and emotions in the movie without ever actually living through it. It deals with a balance of relationships and ethics, which is different from the usual formulaic hero/villan dichotomy. So score one for the indies.

Final word: It won some kind of award for being a Top 10 Indie film of 2011, which doesn't usually mean much in my book, but I figure it might convince some people to go watch it. 

September 11, 2012

The Big Year (2011)

Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson



I assume this movie was billed as a comedy because of the cast. Three supposed funny men and a movie about bird watching. Excuse me, birding. Except that the only funny thing in the movie is that the entire plot is centered around grown men obsessed with bird watching. Excuse me, birding. (I should probably stop making that joke - you really need to see the movie to get it.)

That said, the movie is actually enjoyable. It's more about people finding themselves and relationships and other themes that sound really lame when said aloud, but are essential to a quality movie.

Though I hate both Jack Black and Owen Wilson (I mean honestly - who keeps casting Jack Black in romantic leads?? And why do camera people keep insisting on filming closeups on Owen Wilson's nose??), I think both of them play their roles in the movie well. In case you're wondering what those are, Owen Wilson plays a cocky narcissist while Jack Black plays a loser who lives at home with no friends. So...pretty much exactly what I believe them to be like in real life. And I must say, it's nice to see Steve Martin in an enjoyable movie again, since I've been a little gun-shy about choosing his movies since the sad little movie that was Shopgirl.

I'm a little disappointed to see the movie only grossed $7M in total, but not surprised. I mean, even I'm having a hard time explaining what this movie is really about or what makes it worth watching, and I am rarely at a loss for words. Just don't go into the movie expecting it to be funny and you should be fine.

Final word: Seriously worth the time spent watching it (get it? get it?).

September 6, 2012

The Brothers Grimm (2005)

Heath Ledger, Matt Damon



Can a movie be both interesting and boring at the same time? Funny, yet un-funny? Creative and stupid? If so, this movie encompasses all of it.

In a way, I admire the attempt to integrate as many Grimm fairy tales as they did into the plot. It's just that not all of them were readily identifiable and the marriage of fantasy with a real plot is neither seamless or believable. The humor works when it's subtle, but the over-the-top characterizations of French people is cliche and actually sort of offensive. It's also weird to make this movie a comedy, considering how dark the Grimm fairy tales really are. So the movie ends up having really dark events like death and kidnapping, offset with jokes. It's uncomfortable.

And another thing...Heath Ledger's accent is really terrible. I know, I know, people seem to think just because he's dead means no one can ever say anything bad about him. He was such a great actor, you say. Just look at his work as the Joker in the Batman movie! But, dear friend, you are handily claiming amnesia on moments like this in Ten Things I Hate About You or the entirety of Casanova. He and Matt Damon are supposed to be German, but their accents fall somewhere in the English/Dutch region.

Final word: Taking into account the super crappy CGI, this whole movie feels like a high school film class project. And not one of those upscale artsy schools. 

Stealth (2005)

Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx



I branched out here and pulled a movie from 2005. Why? Because I heart Josh Lucas. I'm sure a lot of people don't even know who he is, but if you've ever turned to CMT, you've probably caught clips of my favorite of his movies, Sweet Home Alabama (they play it on almost constant rotation on the weekends). But beyond that, he hasn't really starred in a whole lot, so I sucked it up and watched this, despite my burning hatred for Jessica Biel.

Yes, I am going to go on a rant about how I hate her. I know this is nothing new. Every movie I watch contains either someone I love, or someone I hate (or both). But she is my least favorite actress. I feel like that's saying something. I hated her all the way back from her 7th Heaven days. (I can't link to it - my inner ethics just won't perpetrate that kind of cruelty on you) I remember calling a friend every Wednesday to watch Dawson's Creek 'together' over the phone (OMG, remember those days??) and we'd tune in early just to make fun of 7th Heaven and Jessica Biel's acting skills.

Yet...here she is. Still in movies. And thanks to Justin Timberlake, now on Broadway? Sigh. So I'll just summarize my top complaints against her:
1. She can't act. (see: Summer Catch. Actually, don't. It's terrible.)
2. She looks like a man. (And no, I'm not just being a hater here - I really think she looks manly.)
3. I'm so over Hollywood trying to pass her off as "sexy." Hollywood: here is a list of people who are actually sexy, so as to not be confused - Eva Mendes, Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, and yes, even Megan Fox (if she never opens her mouth), to name a few. Jessica Biel looks like she could have been cast in GI Jane 2.

Ok, so back to the movie. Um, well, it's terrible. This shouldn't be surprising, considering I'd never heard of it, yet contained "A-List" actors. Jamie Foxx feels like a token black person since he only gets about 10 lines and the chemistry between Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel is really forced. Then again, considering her acting skills, her lines always feel forced. But as much as I hate her, she alone couldn't have made this movie as bad as it was. No, this was a group effort between her, the writers, and the CGI people.

Final word: In the theme of sci-fi fighter pilots, it's not quite as bad as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but really, what is?

September 4, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson


Books > movies. Sorry, but it's true. I have yet to see a movie that is better than the book. That being said, some movies are still satisfying in their own right. I would not count this as one of them. (I can already hear the booing from the Hunger Game fanatics.)

Let's start with the plot - I understand adapting a long book down to a reasonable-length movie is difficult, but you'd think the screenwriters would try a little harder to stay true to the details of the story. Call me a purist, but I don't like directors to change key symbolic moments, like when Katniss receives her mockingjay pin, but then make the effort to keep random details like Katniss reminding her sister, Prim, to keep her shirt tucked in. Again, it may be minor, but it makes me wonder about the prioritization of what's important when adapting the book. Huge symbol for the trilogy that's on the movie poster and is even the name of the third book? Or minor detail that comes up just once more? Hmmm...tough call.

I also understand that with all the buzz surrounding the books, that lots of celebrity names are eager to hop on board with the movie. This doesn't mean, however, that the plot should then accomodate additional screen time for these stars. What do I mean? Most notably, Donald Sutherland's President Snow, who is mentioned, but rarely seen in the first book, yet has his hand in the Game throughout the movie. Seeing Woody Harrelson as Haymitch was a surprise, although I could get on board with him being a drunken lout. What I couldn't get on board with was giving his character credit for a massive plot point just to give him more screen time. And Lenny Kravitz? In a movie? As an actor? Please.

So about the casting...Josh Hutcherson. Yes, the kid from this awesome movie. This is who we are supposed to imagine as the big, strong Peeta Mellark? Um...he's 5'7". I know Hollywood has limitations in finding tall people, but...5'7"? Really? That's the same height as Tom Cruise! I may not be a big fan of the Hemsworth brothers (for no other reason other than the fact that one of them is engaged to Miley Cyrus), but at least the one in this movie is actually tall enough to be believable in his part!

I could go on and on, but I'm trying desperately not to ruin the plot for those who didn't read the book. I will say that one of my main complaints about the book is the lack of character development beyond the main heroine, Katniss. And the book is mostly done in first person narration by her, which makes it difficult to then explain things on screen without a narrator. But I felt like the depth and cleverness of Katniss was totally underrepresented on screen and the need to condense the time cut out some nice details during the Games. That said, I do feel the plot followed the book much more accurately once the Game actually started and provided some nice foreshadowing for the sequels that weren't detailed in the book. Those are my two compliments - the second half of the movie wasn't as inaccurate, and it provided two scenes of foreshadowing. At least we already know there are going to be three movies, so one can hope they get better? (as if so many sequels are better than the original??)

Final word: You'd be better off if you never read the book. But if you never read the book, you might have a hard time understanding all the details of the movie. So either way you are screwed. 

Related: turning every movie into a franchise

Do yourself a favor and read the books instead: