April 26, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo

It's funny - wasn't I just talking about how all movies set in the future always have us living in some sort of post-apocalyptic setting? This is no exception. And while I'm on the subject, is it just me or do these movies also always include some kind of flying transportation and a motorcycle for our hero? You'd think that movie writers would understand that having the main guy ride a motorcycle is no longer subtle foreshadowing that he's a bit of a rebel. I think audiences caught on after X-Men, I, Robot, etc.

I don't have huge complaints about the casting in this movie, other than to say that Olga Kurylenko doesn't do anything for me, or the movie. Look, I get that she's a former model and I know how frequently I complain about ugly people in movies, but there's a balance to be had between looks and acting skills. Luckily, she doesn't have many lines, so the camera mostly just zooms in on her pouty face for close-ups, but in direct comparison to the other main girl in the movie, it's painfully obvious Olga can't hold her own. Frankly, after Quantum of Solace, I can't believe anyone thought to cast her in another movie. Who knows, maybe Tom Cruise's handlers are screening her to be his next wife.

Anyway, while watching the movie, you can't help but start referencing a number of other existing movies because it seems like everything is copied from something else. Tom Cruise's wardrobe? Ripped off the holsters from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The pods of incubating humans? The Matrix. The "off limits" zone and the way all the regions of the US are numbered into districts? The Hunger Games. The deep sleep transportation pods? Avatar. (Which is ironic, really, since everything in Avatar seems to be copied from somewhere else too.) I could delve into all the aspects that copy sci-fi books, but then I would just seem like a dork. And I would [debatably] ruin the movie (assuming you can't already guess the ending while watching it). The point is, this movie feels very familiar, even though it's supposed to be brand new.

Final word: It's enjoyable enough, if for no other reason than it's basically a compilation of every futuristic movie you've already seen and enjoyed.

April 21, 2013

Looper (2012)

Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt

I get such a kick out of movies that are supposed to take place in the future. It's as if every movie writer has the exact same vision of what our country/world will look like and it always seems to involve this grungy, post-apocalyptic look. Why do people not wear color in the future? Why is everyone living  on the streets with trash can fires for heat? Is it some sort of political statement to always have some privileged elite exempt from these living standards that invariably, our hero sets out to topple? And doesn't anyone ever shower in the future? Maybe there's no water...

Speaking of heroes...Joseph Gordon-Levitt is supposed to be ours in this movie. I say "supposed to" because honestly, this just wasn't the role for him. He's a cute kid. Not amazing looking, but cute enough to overlook the fact that he was a part of both 3rd Rock from the Sun and Roseanne. He carried that cute-sy puppy dog face through 10 Things I Hate About You and into 500 Days of Summer, where he and Zooey Deschanel competed to see who could be more pathetically cute looking.

It all changed when he was cast in Inception. Suddenly, he was sleek and adult looking in his three piece suit, part of this semi-criminal enterprise. But it was believable because A. he was wearing nice clothes, which is always distracting (just ask unattractive men who have money) and B. he didn't really have many lines in the movie. But in Looper, he's carrying the movie. Like, he has the majority of the dialogue, which is a problem. Because he can't really act. At least, he can't act like anything other than a cute, sad puppy dog.

Look, I get that Hollywood is always looking for the next big action star. And sometimes they can create one out of someone you would never expect (see: Matt Damon as Jason Bourne). But pretty much the only thing Joseph Gordon-Levitt has going for him is his boyish looks, and he didn't have those in this movie. I don't know if it was the director's attempt at making him look older and "gritty", or if it's just him aging, but he looked so unattractive throughout this movie that several times I had to check the DVD cover just to make sure it was really him acting in this movie.

It's not all Joseph Gordon-Levitt's fault, though. The real problem is the fact that the movie is based on time travel. I understand the point of making a movie about time travel is to allow this narrative about changing the future, but writers seem to defy logic when the future is somehow going to affect the past, which is going to affect the future, which is happening the simultaneously with the past. You lost yet? Yeah. That's what happens when a movie tries too hard to be cool and interesting. I can't get too far into specifics without ruining the plot, but rest assured if you have an IQ above 80 and think about the particulars in the storyline, you'll realize it makes little sense. But hey, at least the end is exciting.

A few other housekeeping thoughts:

  • Bruce Willis should never be asked to cry on screen. After a career in which he plays some of the most badass characters in recent cinematic history (aka John McClane), he shouldn't be subjected to a horribly awkward attempt to cry on command. And frankly, neither should we, the watching public.
  • Piper Perabo is suddenly making a comeback, which is, well, weird, if only because I'm not sure I will ever see her as anything other than "that chick from Coyote Ugly." Which was 13 years ago.
  • The best casting of the movie is the little kid, who is so freaking cute it makes you wonder how we ever had era of movies filled with those kids from The Sandlot and The Little Rascals.
Final word: Bruce Willis just lost a little bit of credibility in my mind.

April 15, 2013

Playing for Keeps (2012)

An inexplicable number of famous people like Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, & Judy Greer

I remember the first time I saw Gerard Butler. He was the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. He somehow made singing with a deformed face hot. Then came 300.  The accent, the abs, leather underwear...it seemed he was destined to become the next Hollywood hottie. But then something went terribly wrong.

For one thing, he got fat, which is the #1 no-no in Hollywood for pretty much everyone who isn't Jack Black or Melissa McCarthy (aka people who were grandfathered in by already being fat and making money off jokes about them being fat). Unable to take his shirt off and relying solely on the accent, it was a slow, sad slide into bad romantic comedies like P.S. I Love You and The Ugly Truth (I can't even bear to talk about The Bounty Hunter). So why I thought a romantic comedy with Jessica Biel might be his ticket to redemption is beyond me. Maybe I was fooled by the presence of people I thought made good movies, like Dennis Quaid and Uma Thurman. (Which means I clearly blocked out any memory of the Footloose remake or My Super Ex-Girlfriend.)

Anyway, there are a couple things that make this movie worse than your average romantic comedy.
  1. Jessica Biel. If I need to expand on this further, you clearly need more help than I can provide.
  2. Gerard Butler's hair. He got his abs back (which I appreciate in a couple of shirtless scenes), but a blonde-highlighted quasi-mullet isn't helping him get his sex symbol status back.
  3. The utter bizarreness of some of the characters. I believe that crazy people exist (um, hello, San Francisco?!?), but putting so many of them together in one place and making them into caricatures of real people just makes the movie ridiculous.
  4. Wasted plot-line potential.
Not only was the movie predictable (like most romantic comedies are), but the fact that it could have been a decent movie is what makes it all the worse! There were several interesting ways the story could have gone, but it was like the writers were determined to draw the most straightforward path to the inevitable conclusion. So some of the best parts of the movie were nothing more than window dressing to make this exact same plot as 500 other movies seem slightly different.

Final word: Unfortunate, all the way around. For everyone involved.

April 8, 2013

Friends With Kids (2011)

Randomly "famous" people you really need to look up like Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, and Chris O'Dowd

I didn't expect much of this movie. For one thing, I hate Kristin Wiig (I know, I know, sacrilegious to SNL fans. While we're at it, Tina Fey bugs me too). I didn't enjoy Bridesmaids and her same drunken schtick as Cinderella single-handedly ruined The Real Housewives of Disney skit for me. For another, the name of the movie reminded me of the [utterly bewilderingly] critically acclaimed Friends With Money, where the only thing I remember is Jennifer Aniston rubbing expensive foot cream into her feet. But I obviously don't discriminate by quality in my movie choices...

Other reasons for my skepticism? The decidedly ordinary-looking nature of all the main characters (except Megan Fox, who may be absurdly stupid at times, but I'm pretty sure is universally considered to be hot). Usually I am against Hollywood casting non-attractive people (hello, I'm paying $12 to look at people I could probably see on the street?!?), but in this particular case, it works. Unlike some movies, which transport you to another place or life, this movie sucks you in and makes you believe these are your friends and this could be your life. Which is, of course, a little depressing, especially for anyone unmarried and/or without kids. (Side note on the attractiveness issue: I especially appreciate Jennifer Westfeldt's comment in the movie that she's not attractive, but just has good hair because it's 100% true and I kept thinking it right up until she said it. Bravo for not pretending she's cuter than she is.)

All those doubts and obstacles aside, the movie is good. Really good. Predictable, sure, but still good. This isn't the kind of movie you watch for the surprise at the end. Instead, you watch the ups and downs of each character as they move through the stages of life and wonder if your life is or will become that way. That's the part that makes it depressing. Of course, not everyone's life and marriage goes downhill after having kids, but this is a comedy, not a documentary. 

The best part of the movie is just how smartly funny it is. I've been accused of not appreciating comedies, which is totally untrue, by the way. I just don't appreciate lame fart jokes and/or anything involving Judd Apatow's humor. What I do like is subtle humor, which is exactly what this movie is. There doesn't need to be an accompanying laugh track to tell you what's funny or where you should laugh; the characters don't make exaggerated faces or have that obvious pause, cluing you into the fact they've just made a joke. To me, it's the difference between watching a show like Two and a Half Men and Psych. The latter (besides the benefit of never having employed Charlie Sheen) doesn't wait for you to catch up - the dialogue just keeps running and if you miss a joke, well, sorry. That makes a movie like this perhaps not a good idea for slow thinkers or those new to the English language.

Final word: I don't want to get all parent-y smug here, but I really don't see people fully appreciating this movie unless they have have kids of their own, or a lot of...wait for it...wait for it...friends with kids. Ayyy-oh!

April 4, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff

Let me start by saying that I feel sorry for this movie. No matter how amazing it could have been, it would never live up to The Wizard of Oz, which is named the 6th best movie EVER by The American Film Institute. But that being said, it's not an amazing movie, which made it all the more difficult to watch and critique. 

Part of my negativity is not the movie's fault. It's Delta's fault. That's right - Delta Airlines. Why, you ask? Any reader of this blog understand how much I appreciate (and often need) a surprise element or at least an attempt at a surprising plot twist to keep things fresh and interesting. So imagine my disappointment when the Delta Sky Magazine on a recent flight totally and completely gave away the one surprise in the movie! I mean, really, Delta? Did you feel like your customer service and company as a whole weren't crappy enough that you had to go and ruin this movie for me? Maybe it was because I flew using frequent flier miles and therefore was less disappointed than usual in the cost/benefit of flying said airline that it felt the need to do this...

But despite the ruin of the one interesting plot point, there was another large problem I had with the movie - its CGI. CGI is, of course, a double-edged sword. Too little invested in it and your movie ends up looking cheap; too much and you end up with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. For me, CGI needs to commit to either being completely realistic or completely cartoonish-looking. I couldn't stop raving about the scenery in Life of Pi because although it was completely obvious and fake-ish looking, the entire movie was done in that manner and therefore it worked. People loved Avatar (unfortunately) for the same reason - the CGI was so realistic that they felt transported into a magical world. Oz tries to pull off both, which is where it goes wrong. You can't make a realistic looking landscape in the background and then have cartoonish flowers in the foreground, or whatever. I understand this is a fantasy movie, but if you're going to make it bright and kid-friendly, take a cue from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and really go for it. Don't hedge your bets and try play cute while taking yourself seriously.

And a small, but annoyingly obvious aspect of the movie? The "special effects" added solely for the 3D showing. I get that movie studios get to charge higher prices for 3D tickets, but I can't think of a single movie that needs to be shot and/or seen in 3D. (Don't even get me started on the re-releases of old movies in 3D, despite having no special effects that would be enhanced by the technology.) So watching the movie and having things suddenly pop out at you is entertaining because you know that was inserted just to make an extra $3/ticket. And that people pay for it.

Those glaring problems aside, the plot is enjoyable. It is, after all, still based on the L. Frank Baum book. I'm not overly crazy about James Franco, but he plays a really good con man. And the brief interactions between him and Zach Braff (who is a monkey half the time) are, I think, the best part of the movie. As for the women: Michelle Williams looks like she's wearing an ill-fitting wig the whole time, Mila Kunis looks oddly plump for a portion of the movie, and Rachel Weisz somehow ends up doing the best job of the three. Go figure.

Final word: Not worth $12. I can't believe people paid extra to watch it in 3D or IMAX.