October 30, 2012

The Dictator (2012)

Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris

Let me just get this out of the way: Sacha Baron Cohen (hereafter referred to as "Sacha" because typing out three names every time is really annoying) is a freaking genius. Regardless of what you thought about Borat or Bruno or any of the rest of his eccentric alter egos, he is a freaking genius for coming up with unapologetically offensive characters that test the limits of uncomfortable humor. I mean, this dude is so convincing in his portrayals of fictional people that a sporting event recently played his fake Kazakhstan anthem instead of the real anthem!

The Dictator is a throwback to the original days of South Park, where no one and nothing was off limits to mock (fast forward to the controversy over the depiction of Mohammed and Chef quitting over the Scientology episode and it feels like South Park has been much more tepid since then). The racial jokes are offensive and Sacha delivers them with such sincerity that makes it ok to laugh at them instead of feeling uncomfortable for thinking they're funny. Go ahead, laugh. Racial jokes are funny. If they weren't, comics would have gone out of business a long time ago. You know what else is funny? The jokes about Brooklyn. These might not be fully understood by everyone, but living in San Francisco has given me a special appreciation of organic markets, girls who refuse to shave, and protests. In fact, I'm fairly certain people move to this city just so they can have a protest to participate in every single day, no matter the cause.

The movie has lulls, of course, as no movie can really be funny from start to finish. And Sacha seems to have a penchant for making his characters sympathetic and heartwarming, if that's possible. So sometimes that puts a damper on the humor too. But overall, I appreciate his willingness to not just cross boundaries, but leap over them to the point you sometimes feel too uncomfortable to watch. Good for him.

Final word: I wish Sacha didn't feel the need to show his penis in every single one of his movies, but other than that, The Dictator is a fitting addition to his repertoire of character movies.

October 23, 2012

American Reunion (2012)

Everyone from the original movie. Literally, every single person. Even the MILF dudes.

I am of the American Pie generation (hmmm... is that really how I want to identify myself?). It came out when I was in high school, and I even remember watching the sequel in the theater and thinking it was the funniest movie like, ever. So this movie is more than a reunion for the characters of the movie--it's a nostalgic trip back to high school for anyone who was the right age to think the first movie was funny.

This movie is sort of like a VH1 special of Where Are They Now, except it was created for fictional characters. You can't help but wonder what the sex-crazed, immature high school guys grew up to be (spoiler alert - um... sex-crazed, immature 30-somethings?). While watching this movie, I suddenly realized how old I was. When you are old enough to reminisce about high school movies as though they were a lifetime ago, you're old enough to have movies that make jokes about how old you are. Call it a 30's version of Grown Ups (which isn't really a fair comparison, I suppose, since Grown Ups was pretty terrible). 

Either way, this movie was everything you'd expect, and/or want, from an American Pie movie - nudity, swearing, masturbation jokes, of course, butt-sex references. Ahhh... the 90's. But somehow in this context, it feels less immature and crass than a fitting tribute to a franchise that was based on a guy screwing an apple pie. Can one be nostalgic about that? I mean, are kids who are teenagers now going to think that in 15 years watching Jonah Hill and Michael Cera curse and obsess about sex is funny? I don't even think either of them is funny now, and Superbad is only 5 years old!

I was initially impressed that the cast included every single person from the original movie, until I realized that they all probably have nothing better to do. I mean, what has Tara Reid been up to for the last 13 years, other than complaining about her botched boob job? And Chris Klein? Please. His celebrity peaked when he dated Katie Holmes in the pre-creepily-married-to-Tom-Cruise phase. (It seems Katie's feeling nostalgic these days too!) The most famous person in the whole movie is probably Stifler's mom, which is really saying something.

My main complaint? The story centers on a 13-year high school reunion. I understand the original American Pie was made, yes, 13 years ago, but who the eff cares about that attention to detail? No one has a 13 year reunion! Friggin' stupid.

Final word: It's a lot like attending your own high school reunion - not nearly as fun or exciting as you imagined or hoped, but somehow you know you'll end up going just to satisfy your curiosity.

October 21, 2012

Hop (2011)

James Marsden, Russell Brand

Remember when I made fun of New Year's Eve for trying to cash in on the title of the movie alone (ok, I made fun of that movie for a whole host of reasons) because for some unknown reason, people like movies tied to holidays? This is just an animated case of that, except here, the writers are preying on unsuspecting families, who have been lulled into thinking all animated movies with cute little workers (in this case, the baby chicks) will be as good as Toy Story (the little aliens) or Despicable Me (the minions). 

The main problem is that I found the bunny (aka the main character) detestable. It's not just that he's voiced by Russell Brand (though that really doesn't help), but that he's, well, a jerk. Yes, yes, this is a family movie so it's all about discovering yourself and there are life lessons injected, but it really doesn't change the fact that I spent 4/5 of the movie hating the bunny. And yes, I realize that sounds ridiculous to say I hate an animated fictional character who is drawn to be as cute as possible, as if that will distract the audience from realizing he's obnoxious and self-centered. I was not, in fact, rooting for him to turn over a new leaf. (Alas, this being a family movie...)

I really like animated movies, but I don't understand why writers seem to think it's acceptable to have predictable plots, crappy character development, and cheesy dialogue just because the movie is marketed toward children. You know who has to bring these kids to go watch the movie? Adults! And you know who pays for the movie? Adults! Kids will watch anything as long as it has bright colors and funny voices (seriously - turn on Saturday morning cartoons once in awhile - it will astound you, the crap they'll sit through). Why not make the movie enjoyable for the people who are actually paying attention and will remember how good or bad the movie is longer than 5 minutes after walking out of the theater?

The most insulting part of the movie, though, was its complete and utter lack of creativity. I mean, it shows the Easter bunny riding an egg-shaped sleigh manned by rows of baby chicks. Really?!? They couldn't even come up with an original mode of transportation? They had to rip off Santa's sleigh idea? I worry that these same writers will decide to set their sights on Valentine's Day next. Ugh.

Final word: It's like a spring version of The Santa Clause, except no one watches Easter-themed movies for the holiday and this was stupid.

October 15, 2012

Think Like A Man (2012)

Taraji P. Henson [aka that chick from Hustle and Flow] Gabrielle Union, Turtle from Entourage, and a bunch of people who look familiar but you don't know their real names

I want to start by saying I was very skeptical to watch a movie based on a book by Steve Harvey, but I take my reader recommendations seriously. I mean, this is the guy who hosts Family Feud! Am I really going to take relationship advice from him? You know who else hosted Family Feud? Al, from Home Improvement! Would you read a relationship advice book from him? Anyway, Steve Harvey's book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man has a ridiculous-sounding title. For some reason it sort of offends me - perhaps because it reminds me of a certain Ludacris lyric?

But this is a review of the movie, not the book. And begrudgingly, I admit it was pretty funny. Much like the 2009 movie He's Just Not That Into You, this movie assigns each character a chapter from the book. It also packs the same number of stars into the cast, making the viewing of the movie turn into a giant game of "where have I seen that actor before?" If I had just IMDB'ed the cast beforehand, I probably would have relaxed and enjoyed the movie a bit more. But I realize that's a personal problem.

What makes this ensemble cast different from the others I've ripped apart is its ability to give each character a legitimate story line. It doesn't pack in so many stars that the movie becomes a balance between giving everyone their five minutes of screen time to legitimize the salary they are being paid and making the movie a breezy two hours long (you know who you are, New Year's Eve). The movie is instead limited to four main couples, each with distinct relationship issues so the viewer isn't forced to keep copious mental notes to remember who's problems are whose. What also helps is its ability to relate to real life. Again, like He's Just Not That Into You, the movie highlights relationship issues familiar to a lot of people, making the jokes accessible and funny to a wide audience.

And I don't mean to keep harping on the issue of race, but I couldn't help but notice that this movie even incorporated an interracial couple as main characters! (And not like more "mainstream friendly" interracial like African-American and Asian, Caucasian and Asian, or really, anyone with an Asian girl because Hollywood seems to think that is most believable... but straight up black/white.) Though I am disappointed that none of the characters were Hispanic, Asian, or even Indian (poor Indians never get any roles - no wonder they created their own Hollywood!), I do commend the director for actually integrating color (or in this case, non-color) into the cast without making the character's race itself a plot point.

As a closing thought, I want to point out that this girl is way too cute for the guys she keeps getting paired with in movies. I thought it in my last movie review, but seeing it again here just solidified the un-justness of it all.

Final word: A rom-com even guys can enjoy without having to pretend they didn't. Added bonus: Katherine Heigl was nowhere to be found!

October 12, 2012

Jumping the Broom (2011)

Angela Bassett, Paula Patton

Finally! A movie that has an African-American cast that wasn't produced, written, or has anything to do with Tyler Perry. It's not so much that I think Tyler Perry movies are bad, it's just that I can't stand the narcissism of putting his name in front of absolutely every title. I mean, James Cameron seems like he has a ridiculous ego, but you don't see him coming out with movies like "James Cameron's Avatar."

Maybe I've been watching too much Bridezillas lately, but it was almost a little shocking to watch a movie about a wedding in which the only sane people are the bride and groom. The families in this movie are so crazy, yet totally believable that it makes you uncomfortable. I would compare my level of discomfort watching this movie on par with Meet the Parents, but with less obvious attempts at humor. And though movies about hilarious dysfunctional families has been done in pretty much every culture (remember what a surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding was??), they are generally always accepted by audiences because let's face it, who can't relate to having odd family members?

But seriously, this is how a cast of more than 2 famous people is supposed to function! The lead characters are the stars, and everyone is plays a supporting role! I don't want to make it a racial thing, but it seems like I have seen way too many movies with white people where everyone's character is trying to be a star and the director, appeasing people's egos or whatever, devotes unnecessary plot extras to up their screen time (ahem... Hunger Games).

The standout performance of the movie goes to Loretta Devine (aka Adele on Grey's Anatomy, which is how I identified her), who was the most annoying characters I have seen in a very long time. On an overbearing parent scale of Helene McCready in Gone Baby Gone to Nora Walker on Brothers and Sisters, I'd rate her an 11 (does that even make sense?). But somebody has to be the villain to make the plot more interesting and she does a bang-up job of making the audience hate her.

Side note: Paula Patton reminds me of a black Kardashian, except in this movie, she's not that slutty or annoying, so I guess it's just based on her looks. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether or not you lack the brain cells to watch any number of their shows.

Uh, second side note? Kudos to Mike Epps for not trying to be the funniest person in this movie! His usual style of over exaggerating body language and facial expressions put him in my Jim Carrey category of actors who can really ruin an already questionable movie.

Final word: I normally hate conveniently tidy endings, but I suppose this movie wouldn't have otherwise been labeled a comedy. At least it was actually funny.

October 9, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Pine, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Call them the 'Redeem Team.' Except unlike LeBron, Wade and Co., people don't actually detest these Marvel characters. Rather, we'd like to see them succeed and make good movies. That just hasn't happened a whole lot lately. (With the notable exception of Robert Downey, Jr.'s Ironman, who was surely wondering why he was stuck carrying the cast of of much lesser stars that couldn't even make their own movies succeed.)

There was a lot of hype surrounding this movie. So much so, you'd think it was the second coming of Batman. But that being said, the movie was mostly entertaining. Captain America was refreshingly quaint, in all his 40's glory (and kudos to Chris Evans for bulking up since I saw him last!), and Ironman was cocky and witty as usual. I felt a minor disappointment in Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, since he never actually played Hulk before, so he was the only character lacking promotional flashbacks to a solo movie. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing. 

The special effects team was kept busy, as with any movie that includes aliens. And for the most part, it was done fairly well (although I'll probably feel differently looking back on this 10 years from now - remember the special effects on the original King Kong??). They made Hulk look like an absolute beast - so much so that I wish he had gotten more screen time (especially instead of Samuel L. Jackson). They also made Loki's powers seem realistic (in the sense that this is a movie about people with superpowers). I totally get why guys get all geeked out about these superhero movies - they are the chick flicks for the male population. And this would be one of the better ones, especially since it didn't fall into the trap of trying to emphasize some lame romance angle to satisfy reluctant girlfriends dragged to this movie.

But (and it's a big but), I have some serious pet peeves about the details. I understand the movie is not exactly shooting for the Oscars, but is it so much to ask that the characters use the correct accents? What do I mean? Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has the real name of Natasha Romanoff. As in, she's a Soviet (Russian, for those of you who can't keep track of history before 1991). But does she have a Russian accent? And what about Thor? I understand according to Marvel, Thor was raised on another planet, but considering the fact that he is based on the god from Norse mythology, one would think he would at least not have a British accent.

Final word: If this movie were judged on body count and fight scenes, it's be ranked as the greatest action movie of all time. Then again, Con Air would also be on that list.

October 5, 2012

A Thousand Words (2012)

Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington

Just the other day, I saw Liar Liar with Jim Carey on tv. It was fitting then, that I watched this movie later the same week. Why? Because they're sort of the same. You might think, what does a guy who has to always tell the truth have to do with a guy who isn't allowed to talk anymore? Let me explain.

When you strip the movies down to their rough plot outlines, it reads something like this:

Step 1. Guy who is dishonest in life, but can't see he needs reforming
Step 2. Curse placed upon him, forcing him to live in the way that will ultimately help him 
Step 3. Overacting by lead character that's supposed to be funny ensues, followed by epiphany of what life really means 
Step 4. You can guess how it ends

Stretch this idea a bit further, and you could include Yes Man, and even Bruce Almighty. So basically, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carey have become interchangeable in their bad movies. Ok, maybe "bad" is a bit harsh, but let's not pretend A Thousand Words is on par with Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, or really, anything he made before 1998 (which was when he made Dr. Dolittle and officially lost his status as a cutting edge actor in my book). Let's call them so-so movies that are rerun on TNT a little too often.

Every time I'm surprised Eddie Murphy is allowed to make a new movie (especially after The Adventures of Pluto Nash or Meet Dave), I remind myself the people still go see his movies! In fact, he's the second highest grossing actor of all time!! Like so many other movies, it's not terrible, it's just nothing original. And any movie that makes me immediately think that the main character could be swapped for Jim Carey isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. Then again, casting someone who can't fulfill Step #3 (overacting) would probably make the movie worse.

Final word: I couldn't even come up with a thousand original words to say about this movie.

October 2, 2012

Colombiana (2011)

Zoe Saldana

Poor Colombia. It gets such a bad rap. Clear and Present Danger. Blow. Miami Vice. Even Proof of Life! (Although I don't blame you if you skipped that last one. It wasn't good.) All these movies depict Colombia as a haven for crime, drugs, and ugly old men wearing aviator sunglasses who are so rich they can have young hot women lounging at their compounds 24/7. I'm assuming some drug lord in Colombia must have had this set-up at some point, because it really seems to have become the standard for every movie involving rich drug dealers. If I ever go to a drug lord's house, I'll let you know if it's accurate. I'll also let you know if Jordi Molla is there, since he seems to be a fixture in all these types of movies as well.

I first discovered Zoe Saldana back in an amazing little film called Center Stage. If you are not averse to cheesy dialogue and sub par acting in the name of a dance movie (namely, all of you out there keeping the Step Up franchise alive), you need to go rent this immediately. And for those of you who thought you'd seen her big screen debut by sitting through Crossroads with Britney Spears, well, shame on you (for both watching that movie and being uninformed about Zoe's acting career timeline).

So now that she's made it to the big leagues by headlining movies and even dating other A-List actors (the true mark of "making it" in Hollywood, really - just ask J-Lo), I was disappointed to see her exploited in this movie. What do I mean by this? She's supposed to be a stone-cold assassin, which is badass, except for the continued attempts to make her character "sexy" by having her awkwardly dance seductively alone in her apartment for absolutely no reason and frequently undress slowly. Again, alone, so it's not like they are claiming it's artistically relevant to the plot or anything. And no matter how good looking she is, these scenes just shouldn't happen. The movie doesn't need it. Call me a feminist, but I think it sort of undermines the whole female empowerment thing.

Anyway, I do have to give some kudos for casting a decent actor as "young Cataleya," since so often in movies directors seem to think if a kid is cute people won't notice they have the acting skills of a paper bag. It's actually Rue from The Hunger Games, so it looks like this movie may have actually propelled her career. In the movie, the little girl has moves like Jackie Chan, which is kinda cool and entertaining, as long you don't think about the fact that it's totally implausible that a nine-year old can lift a manhole cover by herself. But hey, people don't watch action movies for the plot, right?

Final word: I know I say this about a lot of movies, but I've seen worse.