Friday, July 22, 2011

The Trip - 3 stars

The Trip stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as themselves (or exaggerated versions of themselves). The movie consists of them going on a road trip across northern England. While doing this, they stay in quaint bed and breakfasts, visit small towns and take in the nice scenery, eat in many different restaurants, and basically try to one up each other the entire time. Whether they are reciting lines from movies, doing their Michael Caine impressions or singing an Abba song, they are constantly critiquing each other as comics and actors.

Gene Siskel had a great test for the quality of a movie. He would ask if the movie was more entertaining than a documentary of the same actors sitting around having lunch. In this case, that is basically what the movie is and it works.

I don't know their history well, so I did some reading on the web. It turns out this is similar to what they did in their film Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. These two have a long history of working together, and much of the movie was improvised. I assume they get along much better together in real life than they do in the movie, but they obviously work well together. Just watching the two of them play off each other is very entertaining.

I enjoyed the movie enough that it makes me want to go check out their previous work together. I am familiar with Steve Coogan, but I had no knowledge of Rob Brydon until this movie. But this is such a genius idea, to take two gifted comedic actors and just stick them in a car together. Imagine if Jack Lemmon and Walter Matheau had done something like this. How cool would that have been?

Captain America: The First Avenger - 2 1/2 stars

Captain America is one of those superheroes that I never really cared much about. I can't really explain why Superman's blue tights are ok and Captain America's patriotic suit is not, but the outfit always annoyed me. Plus he doesn't have much in the way of super powers. He is really strong, and has a shield that is indestructable and works as a boomerang. That's about it.

After watching the movie, I have some idea of why so many people like the character. He embodies what we think of as American values. He is brave and selfless. When a military trainer throws a dummy grenade in the middle of a bunch of recruits, he is the one who jumps on the grenade. His first thought is to help others.

Chris Evans (in his second role as a Marvel superhero after The Human Torch in Fantastic Four) stars as Steve Rogers, a 90 pound weakling who wants nothing more than to join the army. World War II is going on, and like most of the country, he wants to do his part. He keeps trying to get into the army, and every time he is turned down. I would think he could find some other way to participate. Aren't there any branches of the armed forces where he could join? He could probably sit at a desk or something.

Anyway, he is observed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who has him recruited so he can make him into a super soldier. This takes up the first half of the movie. This is the superhero origin story. The problem is that once he becomes Captain America, it is a bit of a letdown. He spends some time touring the country trying to get people to invest in war bonds. When his tour takes him to the war front, he decides to get into the action. He learns that his best friend's platoon has been captured, so he goes in to rescue them. And he is a brave soldier, but as a superhero, it just doesn't do anything for me.

The villain is Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), and he is much better than the material. The actor is great, the look is great, but he isn't given much to do. He has plans to conquer the world, but I never feared him as a believable villain. I guess he was just too cartoony for my taste. Also, he has no relationship with Steve Rogers. It helps if the superhero has an arch nemesis. In this, they don't meet until late in the movie, and their last battle has no real impact because the characters have no relationship.

The movie isn't bad, but it's just kind of bland. The setup was good, but it lost me in the second half. And just like with all the other Marvel movies, you have to stick around after the credits to see a teaser for The Avengers, which is coming out next year.

Friends With Benefits - 2 1/2 stars

This movie wants to be the Scream of romantic comedies. Remember how the characters in Scream pointed out all of the bad cliches used in horror movies, then turned around and used them anyway? In Scream, it was clever. In Friends With Benefits, it just becomes another predictable romantic comedy.

The idea of having sex without getting romantically involved isn't exactly new. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine have sex and set ground rules? Rule 1 - no calls the next day. Rule 2 - spending the night is optional.

We already had Love and Other Drugs last year, and No Strings Attached this year. The only difference here is that both characters have come out of bad relationships, and neither one wants to get romantically involved (really they just don't want to get hurt, but then who does?).

The first 15 minutes of the movie are really boring. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have no chemistry, and nothing funny happens. They have a 'meet cute' (as all romantic comedies must), but the movie is just tedious. Then Woody Harrelson shows up as a gay sports writer. And he is hilarious. I don't know if he is that funny, or the movie is just so bad that he looks so good by comparison, but the movie finally gets entertaining.

The problem is Harrelson isn't in the movie enough. But we get other entertaining side characters to help with the boredom. Patricia Clarkson is great as Mila Kunis's mother, and Richard Jenkins is also great as Timberlake's father. Jenna Elfman also shows up late in the movie and does a good job with limited screen time.

When the supporting characters are around, the movie isn't bad. As the movie goes along, I did start to care about the lead characters enough to enjoy the movie. It just took too much screen time to get there.

Another complaint I have is one that will make me sound like a pig - not enough nudity. This is an R-rated comedy about sex. There is a lot of sex in the movie. There should be nudity to go along with it. Every time the characters are in bed, Mila Kunis has the sheets pulled up to her neck. There is even a montage of sex scenes, and in every one, they are under the covers. Different positions, sheets very strategically arranged. There is one scene where she is actually laying on top of him without the sheets, but we only see a brief glimpse of side boob. Heaven forbid we get a glance at nipple.

I know, I know. You think I just want to see Mila Kunis naked. Well, you aren't wrong, but this script requires nudity. The sex scenes should have been more like the ones from Love and Other Drugs. If you're going to star in a movie like this, you can't be such a prude. We see more skin from Justin Timberlake than we do from Mila Kunis. So don't be fooled by the trailers and the rating. These are PG-13 sex scenes.

Anyway, the movie starts out really boring and gets better as it goes along. It is trying to point out ridiculous romatic comedy cliches, but it uses every one of them. It is so predictable that you will be able to predict the 3rd act long before it starts (hurt feelings, break up, overblown public proclamation of love, happy ending). If you really like that sort of movie, you will get what you want out of this. But I can't recommend it.

TrollHunter - 2 1/2 stars

This is another one of those "found footage" movies (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield) where it's shot with one camera, and the camera man is a character in the movie. In this case, a group of Norwegian film students are following a man they believe is illegally hunting bears. They follow him into the forest and discover that he works for the government, and he is hunting trolls.

The students find out that the Norwegian government is aware of trolls. They roam the countryside and as long as they stay in their designated areas, they are tolerated. But just like the bears in Yellowstone, if they stray into populated areas, an agent is dispatched to take care of the troll.

There is a lot of discussion about the nature of trolls. For some reason, they can smell Christians, and UV light kills them (either it turns them into stone, or they explode). There are too many times in the movie where the exposition stops the movie. There just isn't enough troll action to make it exciting.

The finale is pretty cool, though. After most of the movie has taken place at night in the forest, we get a nice long scene set out in the open in a snow covered landscape, taking place during the day. And the giant troll they have to battle at the end is pretty cool.

This is a close call, but I can't recommend the movie.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 - 3 1/2 stars

I had to think about the rating for this one for a bit. Because this movie almost can't be reviewed by itself. On its own, it's almost like half a movie. Ideally you should watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 right before you see this new movie. This way, it's like one big movie with an intermission.

The new movie begins right where the previous installment left off with a quick recap of Voldemort breaking in to Dumbledore's tomb. We get a quick view of what life in Hogwarts is like with the new headmaster, and then the action picks up at Shell Cottage. Harry has an idea of where to find another horcrux, and it involves the assistance of the goblin Griphook.

Hopefully you remember what a horcrux is - an object where one has hidden a piece of his soul. Voldemort has made 6 horcruxes and Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to find and destroy them before they can defeat Voldemort.

For Harry Potter fans, this is a very satisfying conclusion to a movie series which began a decade ago. I think non fans would also enjoy the movie, but you definitely have to have seen the previous installments to know what is going on. We have had 7 movies of setup and character development. This movie is the payoff. While the previous movie had an awful lot of the 3 characters stuck in that tent not knowing what to do, this movie is wall to wall action. The majority of the movie takes place in and around the battle of Hogwarts.

Compared to previous Harry Potter movies, this one is probably the most faithful to the book. All the important things are there, and there are some minor changes to make things more cinematic. I liked the way they changed the timing of Neville's big moment, because it helps make the climax that much bigger. I was a little disappointed with the "Not my daughter, you bitch!" scene. That is one I was really looking forward to, and I thought it wasn't set up well. It came out of nowhere, and if you blinked you might miss it.

One of the best sequences in the movie is Snape's back story. Snape has always been my favorite character, and he is played so well by Alan Rickman. In this movie, we get to learn more than we ever have about Snape, and it's really exciting to see Rickman get to play a different range of emotions.

There has never been a movie series like Harry Potter. Eight movies, all with the same major case (except Dumbledore due to the passing of Richard Harris). It's incredible how well the roles were cast. We have been able to watch these characters age before our eyes, and the actors have grown into the roles wonderfully. I mentioned Neville's big moment before. He hasn't had as much to do in the last couple of movies, and it's great to see him finally featured as much as he is here.

Oh, and the epilogue works wonderfully. I was a little nervous about how they would pull it off and whether it would look fake, but I thought it worked just fine. And all was well.