August 27, 2014

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifinakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman, Melissa McCarthy

Ohhhh...where do I begin with this movie? Or should I say, where should I start? I thought I might attempt try to use simple short, easy words so that my review equalled matched the intellectual cognitive (oh f*ck it!) level of the people who enjoyed this movie. On second thought, anyone who thought this movie was funny probably doesn't read anything beyond Maxim or the label on a bottle of beer, so perhaps I'm in the clear.

On first glance, I thought this movie might have a fighting chance of being slightly better than The Hangover Part II in that it didn't follow the exact same plot at The Hangover. Sadly, without an easy plot already laid out, the movie instead turned into "how many stupid things can we make Zach Galifinakis say and do?"

It's this kind of idiotic movie that made people question whether or not Bradley Cooper was a real actor. He used his good looks and amazing hair to date famous women, which in turn, made him famous, but really no more credible as an actor than JLo than when she did it. But then came the Oscar nominations and the "serious" films, so I thought he'd leave this garbage behind. Apparently easy money is too tempting to maintain professional integrity. And by easy, I mean I'm pretty sure he shot all of his scenes in a total of 3 hours, and that it only took about 2 days beyond that to finish the movie.

The best part of this movie is the soundtrack, which features an array of classic rock to make you feel like this some kind of fun, party movie and not the idiotic some-guys-got-drunk-and-wrote-this epic failure of entertainment this turned out to be. Some people will try and claim the best part of the movie is the appearance by Melissa McCarthy, but they are wrong. She's mildly amusing, I suppose, but I desperately need someone to explain to me the nuanced differences between the crazy character she plays in this movie vs. The Heat vs. Identity Thief vs. Tammy.

Oh, and you know how the movie poster promises this is the end? There's a scene at the end of the credits that dangles the possibility there might be another one. Because that's what the world needs - more full frontal nudity from Ken Jeong.

Final word: A reviewer on IMDB states, "I wish I had spent the 90 minutes reorganizing my garage or deleting old emails." I couldn't have said it better myself.

August 19, 2014

The LEGO Movie (2014)

Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman

The great thing about becoming a parent is that you suddenly feel justified in judging other people's parenting decisions. (Although let's be honest - you judged before you had kids as well.) Let your toddlers watch The LEGO Movie, with it's adult conversational tone and violent (albeit, animated) explosions? Seems questionable, like those parents who let their kids watch SpongeBob Square Pants.

But that's the other thing about becoming a parent - the lack of free time forces you to make decisions you might not otherwise make. Skip bath time one, two, three nights in a row? No biggie. Feed your kids McDonald's chicken nuggets on a non-special occasion just because you're too lazy to make dinner? Vegetables are overrated. Let your kids watch The LEGO Movie with you? Why not? Other people do it...

As it turns out, this movie wasn't totally inappropriate for kids like I thought it would be. I can't imagine why they would enjoy it, since the movie relies heavily on sarcasm and 90's nostalgia, but I guess kids are willing to spend two hours staring at anything that's animated. But seriously, do kids today even know what real legos look like? It feels like all I ever see nowadays are those stupidly large legos for kids who try to swallow everything.

The movie reminded me a bit of Wreck-It Ralph with it's attention to detail of the classic toy, like how the hair of the little people can twist and pop off, or the retro characters from building kits. But as much as I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph, this movie is even more clever because of its mingling of "real life" items with the cartoon world, such as chewing gum and krazy glue, which are revered as special foreign objects. And while people assume all animated movies are for kids, I appreciated the more adult tone of this film. Though the level of hilarity in this movie, frankly, would be wasted on anyone younger than a pre-teen (or whenever kids can finally understand and use sarcasm.)

If only they hadn't already announced two sequels to it. Sigh.

Final word: It's so enjoyable you almost don't mind that the "Everything is Awesome" song will be stuck in your head for the next four days.

August 14, 2014

The East (2013)

Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson

Let's start with how hot Alexander Skarsgård is. I had intended to lead with Brit Marling and how I've decided I like her, but literally could not restrain myself from writing the words "Alexander Skarsgård is hot" first. It's kind of unbelievable. Having never watched True Blood, I had no idea why people gushed over him - I just assumed it was because he frequently got naked in the show. I now know why the show had so many fans. He should be naked in every movie/tv show he shoots. It's like Alexander Skarsgård is the guy Michael Fassbender is trying to be. And to top it off, he's 6'4"! Now excuse me while I go rearrange my Top 5 list...

Ok, back to Brit Marling. The more I think about the way she made her break into the Hollywood scene, the more I admire her. She's not the most amazing actress I've ever seen, but using the same argument as legions of Taylor Swift fans -- she writes her own stuff! Except that this movie addresses highly complex political issues in an interesting format and Taylor Swift writes the exact same song over and over again to slightly different tunes. (Some guy doesn't like me - wah!)

Brit Marling seems especially impressive in comparison to Ellen Page, who yet again, seems miscast. I'm not entirely sure whether it's because she did such a good job in Juno that it's difficult to imagine her in any other role, or if it's because Ellen Page is just not a very good actress. What I do know is that she bugs me in this movie and the only time she felt believable as her character was when she was yelling. So I guess she should just be in movies with Samuel L. Jackson.

The movie itself is not just a thriller, but what I'm certain Netflix would categorize as a "social issues thriller," which is a weirdly specific genre. I'd mock it, but I actually think the topic of an anarchist group targeting corporations that have caused damage is both timely and supremely interesting, especially in this era of "corporations are people" madness. But I can't pretend the lifestyle of the anarchist group in this movie isn't my definition of a nightmare. Don't get me wrong - I care about the environment. I both recycle and compost, dust with old socks, and wash and reuse plastic sandwich bags. And if you haven't seen this video that's been circulating the internet on reducing food waste, you should. But I draw the line at eating food out of a dumpster. And I don't camp. I think it's gross. And squatting in some abandoned house with no modern amenities definitely qualifies as camping.

There are still some weird indie movie things that perhaps weren't needed (eating with straight jackets, communal bathing) and a really awkward game of spin the bottle with people who are way too old to be playing that, but the overall plot was captivating enough it didn't matter. In fact, the longer I watched the movie, the more I began to drink the indie Kool-Aid and stopped feeling annoyed at the random nude interludes and saw it as a fitting reflection of the environment these characters would live in. Besides, the communal bathing scene offers another glimpse of Alexander Skargård shirtless, so...

Final word: I almost became an eco-terrorist after watching this movie, if for no other reason than because I want to live in a house with Alexander Skarsgård.

August 5, 2014

Chef (2014)

Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Sofía Vergara

The Food Network has turned me into a pseudo-foodie. Through a steady a diet of Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, Iron Chef America, The Great Food Truck Race, and anything Alton Brown is on, I have suddenly started saying things like "hmm... this fish could use a bit more acidity." And though I still believe people who claim to enjoy kale and kombucha are pretentious fakers, I no longer boycott Whole Foods on the principle that their shoppers are the epitome of yuppie wastefulness. Living in the über foodie culture of San Francisco only reinforces this new found foodie obnoxiousness of mine, to the point where it has somehow rubbed off on my 3 year old. She recently told me her favorite foods are cashews, tofu, and couscous.

The foodie's cousin, of course, is the artsy person (though often also the same person, making them doubly obnoxious), so I figured I would attempt to write this review of a foodie movie from an artsy perspective.

Obviously the crux of the movie, artsy folks love a complex plot, full of deeper meanings that can serve as conversation pieces afterwards. To the artsy crowd, a movie isn't just a form of entertainment - it's an experience that becomes part of your life.

This is a plot that would definitely appeal to them. It has more than one storyline for the main character, giving the relatively straightforward sequence of events additional interest. It is also a very authentic story that a lot of people can relate to, giving the audience plenty to discuss later if they are so inclined.

Production design:
Ahhhh... aesthetics. Now, I'm not one to argue with the need for good aesthetics on a movie set; it's just that I prioritize the aesthetics of the actors themselves, while artsy people tend to focus on the overall "look" of the movie. I suppose this is the reason Her and Gravity were able to gain so many fans - when you're so focused on the design of the movie, it's easy to overlook a lame plot.

In this regard, Chef really delivers. I hate the term "food porn," but there doesn't seem to be a better way to describe the frequent sequences of close-ups on food preparation. It's the most cooking I've seen in a movie since Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Let's just say that despite eating a full meal before going to see this movie, I managed to gain enough of an appetite by watching it that I stopped for food afterwards. (White Castle, in case you were wondering.)

This is where the artsy crowd can start to get obnoxious (errr... more obnoxious). They discuss actor's performances as though they exist in a vacuum. Case in point: The Master. Somehow, every person in this movie was nominated for an Oscar, despite the movie being so dull and pointless I considered ending my friendship with every single person who recommended the movie to me.

Luckily, Chef is both a solid movie with solid acting. Jon Favreau manages to step away from his Swingers persona he frequently falls back on in other movies (ahem, ahem, The Break-Up) just enough to be believable as a divorced dad going through some sort of a mid-life crisis. And though Sofía Vergara loses attractiveness as a blonde - probably a seen as a plus to the artsy crowd, who think the uglier an actress makes herself, the more serious the role - it's nice to see her tone down the whininess in her accent she uses in Modern Family. Even the kid in the movie isn't a terrible actor, which is practically unheard of in today's practice of casting whoever is related to someone famous (I'm talking to you, Willow Smith).

As a complete package, I'd rate it as both something worth seeing and recommending to others, especially if those people are "into indie films." (You know who I'm talking about - the same people who also only listen to underground bands and shop at farmer's markets.)

Final word: A coming-of-age story for the middle-aged.

**Update: I checked with the one artsy person I know. He didn't even watch this because he "doesn't trust movies with actor/directors." There's just no winning with these people.

August 1, 2014

Authors Anonymous (2014)

Chris Klein, Kaley Cuoco, Teri Polo, Dennis Farina, Dylan Walsh, Jonathan Bennett

Talk about a B-List movie for B-Listers! The movie's main character is Chris Klein, who hasn't been seen in a movie since American Reunion (and before that, what, American Wedding?). Teri Polo "stars" in a cheesy ABC Family show called The Fosters (which continues to hype the fact that it is produced by JLo, which should tell you something) and Dennis Farina will probably be best remembered as a one and a half season character on Law & Order. At this point, you might try to argue that Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory is somehow an A-Lister, but let's not kid ourselves - she's working the Hall Pass effect by appearing to be a star only because she's surrounded by the likes of Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons on that show. Even the style of this movie, shot as a "mocumentary," seems like it was a B-version of Christopher Guest's work.

That being said, the movie is mildly entertaining, but definitely not for the masses. The whole premise of "friends" pretending to be nice to one another while simultaneously trying to one-up each other evokes an image of Mean Girls, which is funny in and of itself. Except that Lindsey Lohan would have made this movie wayyyy more fetch. And Teri Polo is no Regina George.

But I have to wonder what it is about Hollywood writers and glasses. Half the time they're slapping them on decent looking girls to pretend they're ugly (a la She's All That); the other half the time they think putting on a pair of specs suddenly makes the wearer look smart. Having spent half my life wearing glasses, I can assure you that wearing them never altered my appearance so much that someone couldn't tell if I was attractive or not until I took them off, nor did they make anyone suspect my IQ had just jumped 50 points.

Final word: Waiting for Guffman for writers.