May 28, 2015

Tomorrowland (2015)

Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie

There are so many reasons to like this movie. For one thing, it's named after the place in Disneyland that gives us Space Mountain. Is that not reason enough? How about the fact that it plays the music from "The Carousel of Progress" within the first couple of minutes? Or that it shows the debut of "It's a Small World" at the 1964 World's Fair? Isn't all that enough to overcome the fact that we're supposed to believe Tim McGraw is a NASA engineer?

But in all seriousness, this movie (like every movie) has its good points and bad points. The difference being, this one is particular binary, with seemingly every choice in character casting and development, plot, script, etc. is either good or bad; there are few neutral decisions. Here are some of the more salient points.

The bad:

1. Tim McGraw. As an actor. A NASA engineer. Enough said. Oh wait, except it's not because he's apparently a NASA engineer who needs help from his high school-aged daughter to solve a circuitry problem that's stumped him.

2. The typical old, angry guy who's disillusioned by the world and shuts everyone out, but is actually a nice guy underneath who just needs to be trusted by some young, plucky believer. Yawn. George Clooney was not the best choice for this part, but he gives it his all.

3. The unbelievability of the high school rebel who drives a motorcycle and comes and goes as she pleases without any apparent worry from that "genius" dad of hers. How old is she supposed to be, exactly?

4. The hideously unflattering NASA baseball cap Britt Robertson insists on wearing throughout the movie as some kind of reminder of her loyalty to her dad or something? Except her dad is Tim McGraw, so you don't want to reminded of that.

5. Predictability. The vagueness of the trailer helps stave off any conclusions for awhile, but eventually, you can figure out the general trajectory of the movie. It's Disney, after all. But the ending is bad. Even by Disney standards.

6. I watch Girl Meets World because I can stand a bit of cheesiness and don't mind overt messages of friendship, loyalty, and being true to yourself or whatever else seems important to teach kids today. Also, because I love Topanga. But this movie takes it several steps further, devoting multiple scenes to these kinds of "life lessons," leaving you confused as to whether this is a kid's movie or an adult one.

The good:

1. Raffey Cassidy is the best child actor I've seen since Dakota Fanning. (Don't get me wrong--she's no Dakota, but have you seen what passes for a child actor these days? How does Lily from Modern Family have a job?) She embodies her character well and manages to cultivate a sense of connection and empathy with George Clooney through some potentially awkward scenes.

2. With the recent glut of dystopian, post-apocalyptic movies out there, this manages to differentiate itself by injecting some color and optimism, even while lecturing us on our eventual demise. If every other movie were to believed, our future is filled with black tattered clothes and people fighting each other for food in garbage cans. It gives you a sense of wonder that's reminiscent of childhood because no matter how old you are, you never grow out of thinking a jet pack is absolutely awesome.

3. The monologue is memorable. By this, I mean every movie with a good guy/bad guy dichotomy has the inevitable monologue by the villain right before the final action sequence. But instead of some eye roll inducing speech, we are instead given a moralizing lecture on our failings as humans. And frankly, it's what stuck with me most when walking out of the theater. Preachy? Very. But also true.

This movie is slightly more complex than it appears on its face, but ultimately suffers because of its attempt to appeal to both the child and the adult realm. It tackles serious and complex environmental and societal issues, but buries it beneath layers of explosions and robot fights and cheesy clichés. Even its Ayn Rand-like utopian ideals of innovation are watered down into pithy little lessons, presumably intended for the kids. (Example: "Why are they taking down the [NASA] platform?" "Because ideas are hard and giving up is easy." Um, what?)

While I did actually enjoy the movie (I'm a sucker for environmental issues, even without a naked Alexander Skarsgård), it could have been vastly improved if it hadn't felt the need to commercialize it so much. Even the "villain" in this movie isn't really one, but is forced into that role for the sake of conforming to a pre-conceived notion of how plots should develop. But you know, Disney.

Final word: A Space Mountain analogy is apt here--not the best ride Disney has to offer, but is exciting for [older] kids and fun enough for adults to enjoy. 

May 22, 2015

22 Jump Street (2014)

Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube

There's really just not much to say.  

Everyone promised this movie was better than the first one, which isn't saying much, but still I was skeptical. And in a lot of ways, it is better. Just eliminating the constant poop jokes from not having the drugs shaped like poop helps a lot. And no Dave Franco. As a youngest child, I know I shouldn't say this, but I just don't ever see a point in time when I can not think of him as a lesser version of James Franco. And James isn't exactly casting a huge shadow with some of his movie choices. (Yes, I'm still complaining about This Is The End.)


Channing Tatum looks horrible in this movie. Granted, I'm not in his fan camp to begin with, but with no intent of body shaming him, he looks borderline fat. I only point this out because he's supposedly passing as a scholarship athlete in college, yet his body looks like it would 10 years after retiring from Magic Mike. If his character is supposed to be the hot one, they could at least have the decency to have him actually look hot. Like, shirt-off hot. Like, hot enough that when he wears the "sun's out, guns out" shirt you don't even notice the writing on the shirt, let alone roll your eyes at the irony because his arms look nothing like guns. Maybe bro tanks just aren't his thing.

Jonah Hill isn't off the hook here either. I know it's his character to be the schlubby one, but it was almost weird to see him like that again after he's lost all the weight in real life. Mostly it just reminded me that these are comedies made for guys, where a guy who looks and acts like Jonah Hill can somehow land this girl.

And Ice Cube continues to follow the money with little to no regard for his former reputation. Let's hope Straight Outta Compton the movie can remind people he used to do stuff other than act in lame comedies. 

But my complaints about the movie are not limited to the appearances of the actors. No, no, any credibility as a decent movie the movie built up throughout was almost entirely wiped out in the final sequence, which read like a bunch of stoned frat guys watching old Stalone movies and brainstorming the most "epic way" to end this. The movie doesn't take itself seriously, which is part of it's charm, but the ending is so spoof-like and ridiculous it makes me almost regret laughing at any of the jokes.

Oh, the most terrifying part of all happens in the credits, where they "joke" about all the sequels to this movie, listing no fewer than 48 possible plots. I couldn't laugh, fearing they might be serious.

Final word: Is it amazing? No. Is it even mediocre? Not really. But it is better than the first one. I'm sticking with that.

May 13, 2015

Ask Me Anything (2014)

Britt Robertson, Justin Long, Christian Slater, Martin Sheen

The further removed I get from adolescence, the more I have to remind myself that once upon a time, I too was a teenager, full of angst and misunderstood by seemingly everyone. Now an adult, it's easy to sometimes cast a critical eye upon those in the high school age range for being melodramatic or self-absorbed. But if we're really honest with ourselves, we can admit that whilst a teenager, our problems always seemed to be all-consuming and of the utmost importance.

It is with this lens that this movie must be watched. It is a teen movie that focuses on the decision-making process of teens on relationships, physical intimacy, and even privacy. And if you watch the movie as an adult, all you will feel is heartburn (and possibly contempt) for the main character. But that would be doing the movie a disservice. It is a movie that transcends adolescent frivolousness and has the ability to really speak to an adult viewer with both an entertaining eye and an eye on teaching us how to better understand and reach teens (should the need arise).

It can be a bit crass and times, and definitely hard to watch, if for no other reason than the fact that Justin Long and Christian Slater play two of the main love interests. Also, I was convinced for the first twenty minutes or so that Britt Robertson was actually Maya from Girl Meets World, so that was awkward, because everyone knows Disney stars don't start making inappropriate sex movies until after they've left. So you can imagine the discomfort in sitting through the first few scenes of Robertson and Long's intimate scenes, which feature Long in his underwear. *wince* But I made it through Justin Long's PDA filled relationship with Drew Barrymore in 2007 and I made it through this movie too. But seriously--I don't need to see him in his underwear. Like, ever.

There might be a tendency to see this movie as a typical, cliched teen movie. It is not. Sure, it's a journey of self discovery, but in a much darker way that evokes memories of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. At its heart, this movie is a portrait of a hurt and very confused girl, working through her issues in a very 21st century way. I mean, what could possibly be more 21st century than blogging about your life, anonymously? (Other than using Snapchat, which I'm convinced is only used for sexting.)

Final word: An adult teen movie. 

May 2, 2015

The 10 Best Romantic Comedies

It really is staggering to think about how much time I've spent in my life watching bad rom-coms. When I think of adding all the tens of thousands of minutes I've used watching From Justin to Kelly, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, or whatever this was, and then think about the fact that I could probably be a professional artist or something by now if I had used that time more wisely, it makes me shed a little tear. A few tears, actually. The movie poster of From Justin to Kelly also makes me cry a little, but for a different reason.

That got me thinking: are there actually good romantic comedies out there? Does such a thing exist? How do I separate my own guilty pleasures from what is actually a good movie? I mean, I will watch Leap Year and Sweet Home Alabama every time they are shown on TV (which is a lot, actually), but are they actually good romantic comedies? Or, more likely, are they predictable and cheesy, but happen to star extremely attractive men? (Say, two men who are in my Top 5? Ahem.)

So after a lot of soul searching, and grimacing through lists of movies I've watched, I have come down to the top 10 romantic comedies. (Oh, and a disclaimer. I've never watched Annie Hall, which many people think is the romantic comedy of all time, but I seriously doubt a movie about a relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton would crack my list.)

10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

This movie was such a surprise hit because it played on a common theme: crazy families. Anyone who doesn't find their family overbearing and embarrassing (at least at times) is probably one of those insufferable people who can't stop talking about how great their family is.  

I know there are some people who don't like Nia Vardalos, but there is something awkwardly funny about her. She reminds me of Elaine from Seinfeld. And I find her charming enough that I sat through both My Life in Ruins and I Hate Valentine's Day. (They were both not as bad as anything starring either Katherine Heigl or Kirsten Bell.)

9. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

This movie combines two of my favorite things: romance, and the 1800's. Except it's a comedy and not the usual dramatic fare expected of a period piece. It's so good I can overlook Frances O'Conner as the main love interest. She'll always be the dowdy Fanny Price to me.

But as much as I love Colin Firth, the scene stealers in this movie are Reese Witherspoon and Rupert Everett. She is a completely wacky character with the complete self-assurance that only comes from being very young, and it's refreshing to see Everett in an actual romantic role, even if it is still not the lead.

8. Keeping the Faith (2000)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: is there any part Edward Norton can't play? I honestly never thought I would enjoy a Ben Stiller movie so much, but this is before he started basically only making Meet the Parents sequels.

Besides, a movie about a rabbi and a priest? The jokes write themselves. 

7. Down With Love (2003)

I love Ewan McGregor. I'm pretty sure everyone does. I love him even more when he sings. If you didn't fall in love with him when he sings Elton John's Your Song to Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rougue, then you must have a heart of stone. On first glance, the thought of Ewan McGregor playing a womanizer seems a bit strange, but he pulls it off with such charisma I practically wanted to name my kid Catcher after watching this movie. (Not that I want my son to be a womanizer. I just want him to embody the spirit and song of Ewan McGregor. Is that too much to ask?)

This movie does a wonderful job to taking a tongue-in-cheek look at sexism in the 60's and manages to turn it into something rather romantic. And did I mention Ewan McGregor sings?!?

6. Bull Durham (1988)

I'm sure there are a number of men out there who will argue that this is a sports movie, lest they be caught watching a rom-com on their own with their buddies, but make no mistake: this is a movie about romance. Romance with baseball, and with Susan Sarandon, who plays pretty much the best cougar of all time.

Add to that the fact that Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins got together after this movie? It's impossible not to love.
5. Clueless (1995)

It might not be the ultimate romantic comedy, but it is the quintessential movie of the 90's. The amazing banter between Cher and Josh make you remember what it was like to be a teenager. And you almost forget about the awkward fact that they used to be related at one point.

They manage to showcase a number of different relationships and relationship problems while keeping it hilarious and fresh, through the eyes of 16-year-olds. Besides, if you don't watch this movie, how else will you be excited every time you see Elisa Donovan (aka Amber) in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie?

4. Love, Actually (2003)

Other than the fact that movie is set around Christmastime, I'm not really sure why this is considered a Christmas movie. It's really just an ensemble romantic comedy. An ensemble romantic comedy that spawned a legion of horrible attempts to capitalize on holidays, but the best and original one anyway.

The only thing holding this movie back from a higher spot on the list is, as with all ensemble movies, not all story lines are winners. Everyone has a favorite couple (um, Colin Firth and the Portuguese girl, obviously) and no one's is that random porn couple. Or that guy who goes to Wisconsin. They really bring the movie down a little. 

3. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) 

Yes, I am biased toward anything remotely resembling a Jane Austen book, but the clever spin on making the heroine a total loser adds so much to its humor and relatability to the audience. Every single person in this movie, right down to the gay best friend, is perfectly cast. Anyone who tries to claim Hugh Grant is at his best as an ultimately soft-hearted cad (like in About a Boy, Two Weeks Notice, 9 Months, etc.) is wrong. He's best as just a cad. No soft heart, no inner layers. 

2. Coming to America (1988)

Pretty much the only argument against this movie would be that it's not a "proper" romantic comedy. Sure, it doesn't fit the traditional mold of what you might expect from today's rom-coms, but it involves a main storyline of chasing love and laughs along the way, which I think is pretty much the basic requirement for the category.

This was Eddie Murphy's prime and it's movies like this that has built up the amount of goodwill that allowed him to make movies like Norbit or The Adventures of Pluto Nash. I mean honestly, can anyone who has watched the movie not recall at least a dozen quotable lines? "What is that, velvet?"

1. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

This movie basically set the prototype of what a typical rom-com should be, in my book. The fact that a movie which stars Billy Crystal as a romantic lead with someone as attractive as Meg Ryan can be believable is a testament to its script. Honestly. 

It's as if the movie voices exactly what you're thinking about relationships: whether men and women can be friends, why people get divorced, and of course, can men tell if women are faking it. (Hint: no, they can't. Or the egos won't let them believe otherwise.)

**With 3 movies in the Top 10 list, it seems Colin Firth is the ultimate romantic comedy actor.**