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All reviews - Movies (204) - DVDs (1)

Rachel Getting Married

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 02:28 (A review of Rachel Getting Married)

Naturalistic and expertly acted, Rachel Getting Married is a good piece of sullen, melodramatic filmmaking. It's not often that a movie features so many performers who can cry on cue, and the fact that that's the case in this film makes its emotional punch that much more effective. The rumors are true: Anne Hathaway does give an excellent performance in a role that is very different from anything she's done before. However, I'd like to remind people that Hathaway hasn't played the nice, scrappy persona in every film she's starred in. Although her screen time in Brokeback Mountain was somewhat limited, she still managed to pull off what I thought was a startling (yet seamless) character transformation, from cheery southernbelle to a bitter, unfeeling businesswoman (she is particularly great in the telephone conversation with Heath Ledger's character, towards the end of the film). She is equally great in her lead role in Rachel Getting Married; there are so many reasons that can lead the audience to blame her character, Kym, for the mistakes she's made (including an event that is way more tragic than your average drug-addict screw-up), yet at the same time, it's so easy to feel for Kym, because we see the events from her point of view, and we can sense every time she is being judged, even with something as simple as a mere skeptical glance. Of course, even with Hathaway's great work, this would not work without adept performances from the supporting members of the cast, and thankfully, that is exactly what we get from them.

The fact that the film's dramatic moments are so effective makes it a bit of a shame that some of the moments involving the logistics of the wedding drag so much. Granted, this is part of what makes Rachel Getting Married such a realistic experience at the movie theater, but there are three moments in particular that are longer than they should be. The first of these involves the toasting during the rehearsal dinner. While Kym's toast is as perfectly awkward as it should be (and of course, Hathaway is in top form in this scene), the length of the other toasts could have been trimmed. Then there's the dishwasher competition, which does conclude with a severely impacting and relevant emotional event, but takes too long to get there. Finally, they definitely went overboard with the dancing sequences after the wedding. Rachel Getting Married could have easily been 20 minutes shorter and a better film at that length.

With that being said, though, this is still a remarkably compelling dramatic piece, with a lead performance that is so far among the year's best. I'm just not as surprised by it as other people are - Hathaway has always been very good. Some extra work on the trimming done at the editing room could have made Rachel Getting Married an above-average cinematic offering, but it is still worth seeing.


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Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 02:27 (A review of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist)

Considering the fact that this is one of the films I've been looking forward to the most, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is very disappointing. Were it not for the great charm of its two leads (Michael Cera and Kat Dennings), this would be a completely disposable movie. Edge is completely absent from the script, the secondary characters and the subplots associated with them are tragically lame, and the biggest offense (which surprised me a lot) was the large amount of gross-out humor, particularly that involving the character of Caroline, played here by Ari Graynor. Especially disgusting, overused and unnecessary is the bit with the chewing gum which gets nastier every single time it comes up. The very worst scene, in terms of being horribly crass and unnecessary, is the one that takes place in the restroom at the train station - this scene is every bit as foul as the equally lame gags in the recent College.

Aaron Yoo has a role that is every bit as bland as those he's had in the several recent films in which he's played secondary characters (Disturbia, 21, The Wackness). I was glad that, at the start of the film, it looked like things were going to take a different path in terms of the approach to "gay jokes," but soon enough, the script turns to old-standbys and hardly manages to squeak out anything for comedic effect. Even Jay Baruchel, whom I enjoyed last year in his supporting role in Knocked Up and in his lead role in I'm Reed Fish (and he was also, along with Robert Downey, Jr, one of the things that kept Tropic Thunder from being totally bad) comes off poorly here, in a completely unfunny turn as Norah's sort-of ex-boyfriend. As Tris (the girl that Nick is hung up on), Alexis Dziena does well at playing the hateful bitch without going over-the-top, but sadly, towards the end, the script basically forces her into lame territory that couldn't be avoided by even the best of young actresses.

So, how come I feel so negatively about this film, yet I'm giving it a 5, one point away from a positive review? Two reasons: Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. They are both excellent young actors, and they both ooze loads of charisma. They definitely deserved a better film, and though Cera is the better of the two, Dennings more than holds her own. Many are suggesting that the final, sweet moments in the film in which the title characters are alone together have a Before Sunrise feel to them. I could never agree with that, especially since, were it not for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Before Sunrise would be my all-time favorite film. Yes, the final moments between the two leads in Nick & Norah are a delight, and certainly the best part of the film, but they can't compare to the monumental brilliance of the whole of Before Sunrise. Jessie and Celine are still, far and away, the best on-screen romance I've witnessed. The final moments between the title characters in Nick and Norah are good, as I just said, but there's not enough of them, and the film cuts too much from these moments to the unwarranted annoyance of the supporting characters.

Last year, Cera starred in two films, both of which ended up on my top 10 list for 2007. Needless to say, Nick & Norah won't be anywhere near my top 10 for this year, but there's still no question that this guy is immensely talented. Yes, many will say "but he plays the same geeky, nice guy in every movie he's in!" And that's true. But that's not a bad thing because he plays that role extremely well (whereas several young actors who also play that role in every movie they're in NEVER do it well). I think that that reasoning can be used to criticize, say, Cameron Diaz, who does play the same character in nearly every film (she's the "crazy, party-loving girl" in There's Something About Mary, The Sweetest Thing, In Her Shoes, The Holiday and What Happens in Vegas, and I'm probably even missing some), and it's always the same washed-over, lame performance. Cera, on the other hand, is perfect every time. Every half-smile, every time he gets flustered or nervous, he does a spot-on job, so I can't complain. He's just too good for this movie.

Dennings is a relatively unknown actress, but she starred in this year's earlier Charlie Bartlett, and I happened to think that she was one of the few factors that kept that movie from utter mediocrity. Incidentally, Charlie Bartlett and Nick & Norah are pretty much equals in terms of quality; neither is bad, but neither is a particularly successful movie about teenagers. So, she's probably just getting started and taking roles so that she can eventually move on to better things, and I trust that she will. I mean, it's saying a lot that she's starred in two so-so movies this year, yet has managed to impress in both, so I'm really looking forward to what she may do next. Norah is a very interesting character, and Dennings gives her a lot of life, which is very welcome in what is an otherwise lifeless film.

I find it curious that so much praise is going towards the film's soundtrack. There's actually a lot less music in the film than I thought there would be. We certainly don't get what the title promises, that's for sure. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a wildly unoriginal film, lacking pizzazz in all the places where it needs it, and resorting to shockingly crude humor (and worst of all, it does so repetitively - I honestly felt bad for Ari Graynor and the embarrassment she submitted herself to for a paycheck). You'll walk out of this one wishing the title had been limited to the two protagonists' names and that it had actually focused only on their story. Or even better, have Richard Linklater helm the whole thing... now THAT would have surely made this film infinitely good.


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Pathology

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 02:26 (A review of Pathology)

Prior to its last 20 minutes, Pathology is nothing but a laughably bad exercise in sadism. Everything prior to the film's final moments is pure trash, with very little to save it, other than the hotness of Milo Ventimiglia's body (which is on display in the film's several gratuitous scenes that mix sex with blood and guts) and some horrible dialogue that has the benefit of at least being amusing.

Some could definitely call Pathology a so-bad-it's-good film, and while I wouldn't go that far, I have to admit the final 20 minutes make me give this a slightly higher rating than I normally would. Certain things happen that I didn't see coming, including certain people getting disposed of really quickly and drastically (this is done to allow for the final confrontation to take place between our hero and one sole villain). Also, a character dies that I didn't expect to see getting killed, and this leads to a nice little scene in which the protagonist performs an autopsy on this person, and during this scene, the same score that played during the final minutes of Babel plays, and it's effective (the DVD features an extended scene of it). However, the VERY last scene of the film is decidedly ludicrous.

Many will call Pathology a sick, sadistic film. I can't disagree with that, but I can't fully condemn it for that, simply because there ARE other movies out there that critics WOULD call "sick and sadistic" and I've actually enjoyed them. Still, Pathology is mostly inane, it suffers from poor performances, and it isn't technically impressive in any sense.


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Appaloosa

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:26 (A review of Appaloosa)

As Westerns go, Appaloosa isn't a masterpiece, but it's still a good film: it is rarely boring and the dynamics of the relationship between the two male leads (Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen) make for a very enjoyable work of cinema. It's a little bit more restrained than other Westerns in that the action scenes aren't TOO violent or long or loud, which I think is a welcome thing.

The insertion of a love triangle as part of the plot would seem like a contrivance, but it doesn't unfold as one at all here. There is a scene in which Allie (Rene Zellwegger), the female stuck between the two protagonists, tells Virgil (Harris) that Everett (Mortensen) tried to kissed her. Normally, this would immediately lead to Virgil getting pissed off and a fight breaking out between him and Everett, but instead, Virgil nonchalantly informs the vixen that he trusts Everett more than he trusts her, thus shutting up the instigating woman. This is actually a good scene to note in terms of assessing the overall film, which is really more about the complicity between Virgil and Everett than it is about the love triangle between the two men and Allie.

Though there are some showdown-like moments towards the end, there isn't any sort of huge, overblown, guns-a-blazin' action scene during the climax, as some may expect. Appaloosa is a notch below, say, last year's 3:10 To Yuma, because although both films are entertaining, the latter had a more powerful final half hour, and it was also blessed with the presence of the slimy and wickedly villainous Ben Foster. Don't get me wrong, Jeremy Irons is predictably good as Bragg, the film's central evildoer, but he doesn't give you the chills that Foster's character gives you in the earlier film. With that said, though, Ed Harris has given us a decent entry into a genre that has been largely ignored, thus giving us a sign that the Western film isn't quite gone yet, at least as long as it continues to be handled as adeptly as it has been handled here. Appaloosa is well-paced, adequately acted, and it has plenty of funny one-liners and moments of tension to make for solid entertainment.


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Priceless

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:25 (A review of Priceless)

A lighthearted diversion, Priceless is a pleasantly acted French film that touches on the issue of climbing the social/financial ladder, yet never veers into melodrama or unnecessarily serious territory. When referring to the moment in a romcom that the lovebirds catch each other's eye for the first time, Roger Ebert calls it the "Meet Cute" and in the case of Priceless we get a Meet Cute between Irene (Audrey Tautou) and Jean (Gad Elmaleh) that doesn't feel contrived, despite how unlikely the situation is (especially their repeat meeting a year later). This initial segment of the film is pretty good.

The second segment, which thankfully isn't too long, is perhaps the weakest part of the film, featuring Irene taunting Jean by forcing him to spend an inordinate amount of cash on her, ordering caviar, booking a suite and going on a shopping spree. It sort of turns Irene into a hateful caricature, even if redemption does come later on. I found it to be the most irksome part of the film, which is why I was glad that it quickly moved on to what is probably the movie's central aspect, which involves Jean acquiring a male version of Irene's role, seducing older rich people in order to enjoy the high life. Irene and Jean sort of become accomplices, and the movie is usually at its best in the scenes that feature Irene explaining what his next move should be or demonstrating outrage at the fact that all he got out of the older woman he's with is a watch and an expensive breakfast. These scenes are good because in addition to displaying the complicity between the two characters, you can feel the romantic awkwardness that is going on, yet it is never made so blatantly obvious that you feel like you're watching a standard romantic comedy.

Priceless isn't hilarious, but it is an often witty and observant work of cinema. Definitely the funniest scene is the one in which Jean calls the suite in which Irene and the rich older man she's with are staying, pretends to be room service and begins asking the older man tons of questions and then continues calling relentlessly. More moments like that would have made Priceless even better, but it still is worth watching, and the two leads are very good. They're not necessarily the most appealing pair we've ever seen (Elmaleh isn't particularlly handsome, and I couldn't help but cringe every time Tautou showed up in a revealing dress and you could so clearly see the bones under her collarbone area), but their performances are still solid, which is crucial, not only for their totally awkward on-screen romance to come across as genuine, but also for the film to work as a whole.


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Snow Angels

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:24 (A review of Snow Angels)

Snow Angels is a good little movie. If a tragic moment occurs in a film, it usually either occurs at the beginning, in order to set the grim mood for the rest of the movie, or at the end, in order to exert a tough emotional blow as part of the climax. Such is not the case in this movie, as the tragic event that serves as the story's centerpiece actually happens in the middle, and it's a wise choice because of the shifts we get to observe once the tragedy has taken place... that is NOT to suggest, though, that the film isn't grim prior to the tragedy because it sure as heck is, and it definitely isn't for everyone, especially those who are looking for something uplifting.

But if you're looking for a solid character study with truly excellent performances, then this is a pretty good choice. The two main storylines are those of Annie (Kate Beckinsale) and Arthur (Michael Angarano), and both are connected in several ways. Both characters actually have a relationship that is easily one of the most interesting aspects of the film. She was his babysitter, and he had a young boy crush on her, that still doesn't seem to have faded entirely. There's a nice scene in which he confides in the geeky Lila (Olivia Thirlby) a story in which he used his mom's makeup mirror to spy on Annie as she showered, and it is such a laid-back and sublime moment (rather than having the crass feeling that a moment like this would usually have). Indeed, Arthur's storyline is more interesting and compelling than Annie's. If you had given me a film that focused on the quirky romance that develops between Arthur and Lila, I likely would've loved it. The other storyline is simply too overstuffed with characters and plot developments. Especially problematic is the plot point involving Annie's ex-husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell) "finding Jesus" and the impact this has on the film. It feels misplaced, and it leads to a bit of a disappointing scene that involves a confrontation between husband and wife in the kitchen. Still, Beckinsale gives a wonderful performance (making up for a lot of the poor work she's done elsewhere) and Angarano is delightfully subdued and pensive as Arthur. In particular, the scenes between Arthur and Lila are really great, and this all develops FAR more realistically than your average high school romance.

This is definitely very different from the last film I saw from director David Gordon Green, which was the laugh riot Pineapple Express. Although Snow Angels is not as good a drama as Pineapple Express is a comedy, it is definitely better than the LAST drama I saw that was helmed by Green, which was All The Real Girls (a completely overrated movie, boring as heck, with only ONE scene that felt truly heartfelt and compelling, and that was the scene in the motel room). Snow Angels is a huge improvement as far as dramatic cinematic offerings are concerned; it's quite bleak, but it's also powerful at the same time, and sure to have a palpable emotional effect on many who choose to see it.


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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:23 (A review of Vicky Cristina Barcelona)

The ineffective voiceover is only of the many flaws in Woody Allen's latest, a film that could've worked as a delightful, sexy and insightful examination of relationships, and manages to not work as any of these things. Vicky Cristina Barcelona has TWO positive things going for it, both of which are almost great enough to counteract the mediocrity: 1) the awesomely beautiful shots of Spain, and 2) Penelope Cruz's supporting performance. The first of these two is a constant throughout the film, but the latter doesn't emerge till about halfway through the film, when Maria Elena (Cruz) enters the scene. It's too bad because the film may have actually had a chance at being good had this character been its focus. Cruz is at times hilarious and at times heartbreaking, and doesn't miss a beat. But her great work is accompanied by so-so performances, given by actors all of whom have given far better performances in other films (most notably Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson).

It's a risky decision for a filmmaker to choose to have a voiceover to provide narration over the course of his/her film; I think it's the kind of thing that can either work wonderfully or catastrophically. Last year, I was surprised with how well it worked in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It was less effective in Into the Wild, a film that is very good, but could've been magnificent had Sean Penn not elected to jam his viewpoints down our throats with the voiceover given by none other than Jena Malone's annoying voice. A great recent example is the voiceover used in Little Children, which was a magnificent tool that truly got us to understand the characters; it was perfectly synchronized with facial reactions and situations to give us a full emotional grasp of what was happening. That is the exact opposite of what happens in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and what's worse is that you realize this from the very beginning: the voiceover informs us of the reasons why our protagonists, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) have come to the Spanish city of Barcelona, and it also makes sure to inform us of their completely opposite views on love and relationships... only to have both of them soon discuss the reasons why they're in Barcelona, and only to have their words and actions throughout the film serve as enough to let us realize each woman's philosophy on love. So, not only is the voiceover detrimental, distracting and bothersome, but worst of all, it's completely unnecessary. You can't help but feel that Allen didn't think the viewer would be smart enough to realize these things and that we needed to receive the information like that, which is a bit insulting. I've never thought of Allen as being a pretentious filmmaker/screenwriter. Yes, he likes to examine pretentiousness in his films, but that doesn't make him pretentious. But this leads me to wonder.

There's quite an amount of moments in which it becomes evident that this movie is less an exploration of philosophies on love/relationships and more a statement of "everything European is great and edgy and awesome, while everything American is lame and undesirable". This is stated bluntly during (you guessed it) a voiceover during which Cristina is on a bicycle and we're informed that she has undergone a transition from the American "purist" approach to the European "free-thinking" approach, and it is even more obvious during a scene in which Vicky and her fiance have dinner with another American couple and the conversation centers around their obsession with how up-to-date they are on the technology of their satellite dish, etc. Okay, we get it, you're biased and you think all Americans are lacking intellect and are obsessed with material things, and you think the opposite of all Europeans. I don't care about whether someone has stereotypical views on something, because that's their problem, but what does bother me is when we are led on to believe that a film is going to be an insightful exploration of romantic interactions, and we instead get a blatant sermon (which would've been blatant enough without the voiceover, but the voiceover just makes it that much worse).

There are some ways in which I'm at a loss as to what to say about this film, because for example, the moment involving the kiss between Cristina and Maria Elena (told by Cristina, as a memory) comes off as being a very inauthentic moment (and those looking to get any sort of erotic pleasure from it will be disappointed, as it is a very short, uneventful moment). BUT the moment in which Cristina confronts Maria Elena and Juan Antonio about her dissatisfaction with their three-way relationship works very well. Perhaps it's because Cruz does such a good job in this scene, and perhaps I also feel like this because I speak Spanish and was able to understand what she was saying without needing the subtitles. If there's one thing that saves this film from being disastrous, it is Cruz. After watching both this and Volver, I have no doubt that she should stick to movies in which she's in her native element because she handles the material wonderfully.

The other performances are somewhat disappointing. Bardem and Johansson have given dozens upon dozens of better performances than what they offer us here. Rebecca Hall's work ranges from mostly so-so to laughably bad in a few select scenes. Patricia Clarkson is mostly underused, which is okay during the first two thirds of the film when her character is not particularly significant, but it is NOT okay towards the end of the film when her character suddenly becomes crucial to certain plot elements (a transition that definitely happens in a jarring way, too).

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a surprisingly simplistic film, which is far from what can be said of so many of Allen's previous efforts. Three years ago, he came up with the absolutely brilliant Match Point, and yes, "brilliant" is right - that film's script paid such great attention to so many nuances and was crafted so intelligently that it's hard to believe we're talking about the same screenwriter. One thing I did appreciate in Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a moment in which Johansson's character utters the phrase "unless you blow it," which fans of Match Point will immediately recognize. The only difference is that in the 2005 film, the line is uttered seriously, and it is a pivotal line, as it marks one of the many things that will lead to the adulterous affair that lies at the center of that film's plot, whereas in this film, it is uttered in a lighthearted moment, which makes sense. A year after Match Point, Allen came up with the very lame Scoop. (Also, Allen did a movie titled Cassandra's Dream recently, but I didn't see that) At least Vicky Cristina Barcelona doesn't sink to the level of lameness of Scoop, but unfortunately, it is still a mediocre film. When Match Point was released, many believed that the director/screenwriter should move to Europe permanently, as it seemed perhaps his films would become much better. But watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it's hard not to think that perhaps his stay on that continent has led him to adopt this clearly biased philosophy that, as I mentioned, he is clearly hiding under this film's ostensible label as a film that explores the dynamics of love. Though the visuals are wonderful and Cruz is excellent, this is a mostly uninsightful and disappointing motion picture. There's no question in my mind that it could've been a lot better.


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Tropic Thunder

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:21 (A review of Tropic Thunder)

It's interesting to note that the three trailers that precede this film are perfect signs of exactly what is to come. Each trailer features one of our three lead characters: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.). The first of these three is so-so; some will laugh at it, and some won't, which is precisely what we've come to expect from the comedic material Stiller usually provides, and indeed, that is exactly what he gives us in Tropic Thunder: standard Stiller, nothing groundbreaking in his humorous attempts. Moving onto the second trailer, which I'd like to say as little about it as possible because of how unnecessarily crass it is, but again, it's effective because it foretells exactly what Jack Black is gonna give us in the way of quality comedic material, which is zero. Absolutely nothing but lame, washed-over, disgusting humor (seriously, it's 2008; will filmmakers FINALLY learn that flatulence isn't funny?). Finally, we have our third and last trailer which, again, shows us exactly what we're gonna get from the actor in it, who happens to be what keeps Tropic Thunder from being an entirely bad film: the often great Robert Downey, Jr. is very funny here, even if he doesn't completely save the film.

I've said many times that I realize humor is subjective, but I have to say that it is beyond me why Tropic Thunder has obtained slightly better reviews than the recent Pineapple Express. What's funny is that both films feature moments of over-the-top violence and blood/guts spewing all over the place, all of which is meant to be humorous, but Pineapple Express NEVER came across as lame or crass, whereas Tropic Thunder almost always does. Speaking of Pineapple Express, I must point out that as much as I liked Downey, Jr.'s performance in this film, his work in it is definitely not the best comedic turn of the year so far. That honor still, undoubtedly, belongs to James Franco as the unforgettable riot Saul. In fact, to be fair, Downey, Jr. doesn't even get second place, which I think belongs to Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But still, he's certainly the best aspect of this film, if not one of the few good ones. When discussing The Dark Knight and Pineapple Express, I mentioned that each of the two films had an actor who was the highlight or the best thing about it (Heath Ledger and James Franco, respectively), but in both cases, that actor was still only ONE of the MANY things that made each film awesome in its own way. Unfortunately, Tropic Thunder doesn't offer much more. The great thing about this, though, is that now after seeing the great work done by Downey, Jr. both here and in Iron Man, I cannot wait to see Joe Wright's The Soloist, and to find out if he's got a legitimate shot at an Oscar nomination this year, which would be awesome (interestingly enough, his character in Tropic Thunder is a five-time Oscar-winning actor).

Those who are offended by the use of the words "retard" and "retarded" in reference to people with mental disabilities MAY want to stay away from the film, which is quite liberal in using this as a punchline on several occasions. I don't know if I'm offended by it or not, but as for the humorous effectiveness of it, it worked sometimes, and other times it didn't. Consider the moment in which it is introduced. Tugg (Stiller) has a conversation with Kirk (Downey, Jr.) about how he prepared himself to play a mentally-challenged character in a film. The conversation starts out with a string of strongly offensive and unfunny lines, yet ends with some witty comments from Kirk on how it seems that in order to win awards, an actor should refrain from playing "a fully retarded part" and should instead play characters that are "partially retarded," and to prove this, he even provides true examples of actual Oscar-winning performances.

There's a pretty long list of jokes that fall flat here, from the moment involving Tugg and the panda bear to the countless lame gags involving Black's character, from his drinking dirty water to his "apparent" obsession with jellybeans to the lame reliance on toilet humor. Not a lot of it works. The work done by the supporting cast also yields mixed results. Jay Baruchel is actually really good, getting to play an even larger comedic part here than he did in Knocked Up. I actually find him to be really cute in an odd sort of way, and I also think the guy has a lot of potential, and that's an opinion I've had ever since Million Dollar Baby, in which he played "Danger" (a character that I suppose this film would refer to as "retarded"). As the fifth member of the quintet, Brandon Jackson is every bit as ineffective as Jack Black, bringing very little humor to the proceedings, mostly staying in the background and not really doing a heck of a lot (that seems like a pretty easy way to make money, if you ask me, heh). Matthew McConaughey does well during most of his screen time, but loses a bit of steam in his last scene (which is perhaps his most important one). Finally, Bill Hader is hilarious yet again (as much as he only gets a few minutes screen time), and equally hilarious work is done by Tom Cruise (perhaps a surprise for some) as the bald-headed asshole Les Grossman, who has what is easily one of the funniest (and ridiculous) scenes in the film, but I won't even describe it, because it's one of those things you just have to see.

That doesn't, however, mean that Tropic Thunder is worth seeing. If anything, it's the kind of movie that you might get more satisfaction either waiting for the DVD or just watching clips on YouTube of the moments that actually ARE worth a laugh or two. To be totally just, there certainly is a decent amount of those in this film, but not enough to make it a good one. I totally understand the way in which the filmmakers intended on satirizing things, so no, it's not that I *missed* the jokes, but rather, it's that sometimes the arrows hit and sometimes they miss. It's as simple as that. I do feel bad about giving this a rotten review (as I often do with movies that I rate 5/10, since they're right on the cusp), especially because I think that actors like Baruchel and Downey, Jr. deserve better than that, but at least they can have consolation in the fact that they definitely provide the majority of the laugh-inducing moments in an otherwise uneven comedy.


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Deception

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:20 (A review of Deception)

Prior to its lame and unfathomable climax, Deception is enjoyable on a campy level. In fact, the only thing wrong with the film before its final act is Ewan McGregor's half-assed lead performance. The film benefits quite a bit from its very good cinematography and its intriguing plot. The aspects related to the sex club are interesting in terms of how they unfold, even though many will probably be disappointed in the fact that the erotic scenes aren't as steamy as they may hope.

I definitely disagree with the overwhelmingly negative response to this film, not because Deception is a good movie, but because it isn't bad either. It manages to be mostly involving, even when there are instances in which you can see plot developments coming. There is a tense scene in which we anxiously watch a progress bar on a computer, and the scene is made that much more uncomfortably suspenseful when a character enters the room and sits across from our main character, watching him. It's one of Deception's several effective moments.

On the downside, though, McGregor's American accent is sloppy as heck, and he's totally unconvincing. Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams do well in their respective roles (with Williams, in particular, coming across as nicely subdued), but their work is still not enough to counteract the severely deficient lead performance. Also, as many have pointed out, the final act is incredibly convoluted (though I still insist I've seen worse contrivances in other films). The climax involves someone managing to show up in another continent and finding an exact location, and it also involves drastic transformations for TWO characters, neither of which is believable, and both of which are employed as an artifice to reach the unlikely resolution. The MOST laughable thing about the entire ending, though, is the decision that our "hero" makes in regards to the money.

Are you free tonight? Well, if you ARE, it may or may not be a wise choice to spend part of your evening watching this film. You could certainly call this "trashy entertainment" and if that's enough to satisfy you, then this should do the trick. And there's no shame in partaking from time to time in trashy entertainment (it can be even be necessary if you lead an otherwise stressful life), and I'll be the first to admit I had a reasonable amount of mindless fun during the first two acts of this movie, even if I can also recognize its major flaws. Yes, if it hadn't starred three well-known actors, it probably would've played on late-night cable, and that's because as much as it has its moments, it's ultimately nothing special.


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Smart People

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 6 September 2010 03:19 (A review of Smart People)

It's hard to conceal it when a movie has a sitcom-y feel to it, even when the screenplay boasts college-level vocabulary words. We're to assume that the film's title is meant to describe our on-screen characters, yet while watching Smart People, it's difficult not to get the feeling that the title actually refers to the false impression that these filmmakers clearly have of themselves. A good word to describe Smart People is "inconsequential"; for all it boasts, it provides little to no insight on anything, and it is as thinly-plotted as movies can get. For a TRULY FANTASTIC film that covers very similar ground to this, and has some of the most awesomely quirky characters and hilariously caustic lines, look no further than 2005's The Squid and the Whale.

The part of Smart People that feels MOST like a sitcom is, unfortunately, the one that takes up the most screen time, and that is the romance between the widower Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and a former student of his, Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). This storyline is plagued by almost every cliche in the book, with contrived twists of events and even with Janet discovering eventually that she got pregnant from the very first time that she slept with Lawrence.

We get what definitely has the potential to be a more interesting storyline with the character of Lawrence's daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), a senior in high school, and a deliciously cold and smug member of the Young Republicans who cares about nothing but academic success (her own, and her father's as well), and is therefore friendless and internally miserable. Page's assured and sharp performance gives the viewer every reasonable hope of thinking this will prove to be a worthy subplot to follow. Sadly, the "smart" filmmakers get in the way of this, most notably at the end of the film. Suddenly, the movie bombards us with loads of lines (by several characters) that are meant to explain why Vanessa acts the way she does and what she needs to do in order to reach a change. This is when I felt most insulted. ANY viewer (even a kid with a short attention span) who watches this film will not have a hard time at all understanding Vanessa's personality and how she needs to shift her priorities to be happier. But the filmmakers insist on throwing in condescendingly explanatory lines, and this is when it becomes MOST obvious that they really do think the film's title describes them, while perhaps surmising that we are below them in terms of our level of intelligence, thus leading them to think it necessary to do so much explaining, especially towards the END of the film, which, if anything, is supposed to be the point at which we already have a solid idea of who our characters are. It's a shame, too, because (bad as this will make me sound) I can actually relate on some levels to the character of Vanessa, and it would've been a pleasure to watch Page's performance unfold and reveal everything we need to know about Vanessa (as it does), but without the unnecessary and even offensive clarifications from the script.

The other unfortunate thing about this film is that it gives a thankless role to Ashton Holmes as Lawrence's other son and Vanessa's older brother, James, who is already in college and resides in a dorm. I have absolutely no clue why this character wasn't fleshed out as three-dimensionally as the other characters. He is obviously an important component of the family of three, and although he doesn't live at home with Lawrence and Vanessa anymore, he does have a fair enough amount of screen time that would've given the movie space to develop James into something interesting. This is most painful towards the end, when we learn that a poem he wrote was published and that he refuses to show it to his father. It makes us wish we had gotten more insight on him earlier in the film, so that we could understand why he feels the way he does about his father, or why he bickers so much with his sister during Christmas dinner. Instead, all we really get in terms of James is a lame can't-even-call-it-a-subplot in which Vanessa and uncle Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) discover him hooking up with someone in a bar. The reason why it's not even a subplot is because it ends up amounting to nothing.

One of the things that most bothered me is that, at the beginning, we're provided with the information that Lawrence's wife (and thus, James and Vanessa's mother) passed away (which is, of course, a great way to set up a drama to have characters we can get emotionally invested in), and it SEEMS we're meant to assume that the reason why these characters behave so bitterly has to do with their having lost their loved one, yet there's very little in the film that highlights that. In fact, there's very little that suggests that Lawrence and Vanessa were any different before she passed away. We learn through Janet that Lawrence was the same type of professor when she was a student of his over a decade ago, and there is also a line from James that indicates that Vanessa was just as self-absorbed in her mental prowess when she was nine years old. Were it not for a moment towards the end of the film in which Vanessa says she went to see her mother's grave, some may have even forgotten about the dead mother throughout the film, as the emotional impact of her absence isn't as deeply palpable as it should be.

To be entirely fair, despite all of these missteps, Smart People is never boring. I mentioned that it is sitcom-y, and indeed it is, and so, it is a diversion in the same sense that you'd enjoy an episode of a decent show, and quickly forgot about it after it was over (one thing I'll admit is that I'm VERY glad that I waited for the DVD on this one, because there's no question that it's the kind of movie that'll be more enjoyable on the smaller screen, much like this year's earlier Charlie Bartlett). There certainly are some amusing moments, and I also appreciated the ironic turn things take, much to Lawrence's dismay, when he meets with the folks who want to publish his book. Still, there's an inevitable sense of disappointment when a movie that I know I could've absolutely loved comes off as such a pretentiously patronizing work of cinema. Anyone can borrow a few conventions from Indie Movies 101 and use a dictionary to throw sophisticated vocabulary into the mix, in order to make the whole thing seem like edgy and innovative filmmaking. I hate to say it, lest it make ME sound like the pretentious one, but these people aren't all that smart.


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