Friday, July 26, 2013

The To Do List - 2 1/2 stars

Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy Clark.  It's 1993 and Brandy has just graduated from high school.  She is the class valedictorian, an uptight know-it-all, and a virgin.  So she decides that before starting college, she will have sex.  Not only will she have sex, but she will experience every possible sex act she can come up with.

I didn't catch where she gets all these terms from, but she makes a list that would make Caligula blush.  Of course, she doesn't know what any of them mean.  But she is determined to try them all, no matter how bad they may be.  This should be the setup for a really raunchy and funny sex comedy.  Unfortunately the movie doesn't live up to that promise.

The movie just isn't funny enough.  There were some laughs, but too often the gags fall short.  Some of the funniest parts involve her parents, Connie Britton and Clark Gregg.  Her dad doesn't want to talk about sex with his daughter, and he is convinced that his wife was a virgin until their wedding night. 

Brandy has two friends, played by Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele.  Her friends are more worldly than she is about sex, but they still don't offer much help.  You would think they would explain what a few of the acts are she is about to attempt, so maybe she could reconsider. 

This is a teen sex comedy told from the female point of view.  It's refreshing to see girls talking about their sexual plans as frankly as the guys in American Pie.  Aubrey has a crush on a good looking rocker type named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), while her former lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons) harbors a secret crush on her.  He is all too happy to be her first experimental partner, but it's no surprise that he will be hurt when he finds out what she's up to, and that Rusty is her eventual goal.

I also have to point out that for an R-rated sex comedy, it's pretty surprising that there is no nudity.  There are several sex scenes, and the girls keep their bras on and the covers pulled up.  There are a couple of night swimming scenes where everyone swims in their underwear.  Sometimes nudity is gratuitous, but in a movie like this it would have made sense. 

This is one of those movies that isn't bad, it just isn't quite good enough to recommend.  But I did laugh a few times, and the characters were likeable.  If this looks good to you, you should go see it.  I don't think you will be disappointed.  This is probably closer to a 2 and 3/4 star movie.

The Wolverine - 3 stars

The Wolverine (aka Logan) is set after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand.  Jean Grey is dead, although she still appears to him in his dreams.  He's still broken up about having to kill her. 

He's living in hiding up in the mountains of Alaska or Canada.  A Japanese woman named Yukio finds him and tells him he needs to come with her to Japan.  It seems he saved a Japanese soldier's life back in World War II, and now the dying old man wants to thank him.  He also wants to try and use Wolverine's powers to prolong his life.

Wolverine ends up being a protector to the man's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto).  She is set to inherit her grandfather's company and a bunch of Yakuza thugs want to kidnap or kill her.  There is also some complications involving her father and a few other characters.  It got a little confusing, and it seemed like too many characters changed from good to bad or vice versa too many times.

This is a slightly better movie than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  This time, they don't try to turn it into just another X-Men movie.  The focus stays on Logan and what's going on in his head.  He's trying to get over Jean Grey, and he also may be falling in love with Mariko.  I was disappointed with the third act.  Just like every other superhero or comic book movie, there has to be a big battle with a giant robot or something like that.  This time, since we're in Japan, he fights a giant robot samuri.  Or samuri robot.

I didn't love the movie, but it was enjoyable.  However, I'm really excited for next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Make sure you stay for the credits so you don't miss the little teaser for the next movie.

The Way, Way Back - 4 stars

I saw this at Sundance in January.  Here is what I said at the time:

This is the best movie I saw at Sundance this year. Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, quiet teenager with no self esteem. As the movie begins, he and his mom (Toni Collette) are driving with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his daughter. They are on their way to Trent's summer house by a lake in a small lakeside town (think Martha's Vineyard).
Trent is encouraging Duncan to be more outgoing, but in the most insulting ways possible. And Trent's daughter acts like Duncan is a 5 year old kid she is forced to babysit. His mom has no idea that Duncan is being treated so bad, or she is turning a blind eye so she can make her relationship with Trent work.

Duncan eventually meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a fun guy who manages a water park. Owen befriends Duncan and starts watching out for him. He's like the perfect big brother. He gives Duncan a job at the water park, and Duncan starts to come out of his shell.

This is a really nice movie. I felt a lot of empathy for Duncan, and it was a real joy to watch his transformation over the course of the movie. Sam Rockwell is entertaining as always, and this is some of his best work. Owen is the type of character who is always 'on', always quick with a joke and entertaining everyone in the room.

Allison Janney is a lot of fun as the divorced, sassy neighbor who always seems to have a drink in her hand. And Steve Carrell gives a performance that is a lot different from his comedy roles. He really isn't a nice guy here, and he is very convincing in the role.

AnnaSophia Robb plays Susanna, the cute girl next door who develops a crush on Duncan, and this story line is the one that the movie short changes. There is a little bit of a nice, innocent young romance between the two, and I would have liked the movie to show a bit more of that. Early in the movie, Duncan has so little confidence that when Susanna practically asks to hang out with him, he can't even say yes. By the time Duncan has come out of his shell and is showing some interest, the movie is almost over.

I really enjoyed this movie and the performances. This is one of those movies that could have gone on for another hour and I wouldn't have minded. Highly recommended.

The Look of Love - 2 1/2 stars

I saw this at Sundance in January.  Here is what I said about it at the time:

From "Welcome to the scandalous world of Paul Raymond, entrepreneur, impresario, and the “king of Soho.” Seeing mediocrity in the smutty sex parlors of London, Raymond unveils his first “gentlemen’s club” in 1958 and gradually builds an empire of clubs and erotic magazines that brings him vast wealth while affronting British sexual mores. It also brings a litany of obscenity charges, a failed marriage, troubled children, and personal tragedy."
Steve Coogan plays Paul Raymond. He is Britain's answer to Hugh Hefner. This is a different kind of performance from Coogan. While he does have some funny moments, it's definitely a dramatic role. This movie should have been a lot better. The movie traces his life from stage performer to director of nude stage shows to men's magazine publisher. By the end of the movie he will be the richest man in Britain.

Watching the movie I felt like there were scenes missing. I felt like we were getting the cliffs notes version of the story. It moved by so fast that I had a hard time getting emotionally involved. It got better as it went along, but I would have liked some longer scenes and more dialogue to give us an idea of what he was thinking and feeling as he started his businesses.
One thing that confused me was his wife. At first, it seems like she knows he's sleeping with his models and she is ok with it. Then abruptly she starts freaking out over his relationship with a new girl.

The story line that works best in the movie is when Raymond develops a business relationship with his adult daughter. He is grooming her to take over the company, and he is also condoning her drug use. His advice to her is don't buy drugs on the street, because you don't know if it's any good. Make sure you buy the good stuff.

I was surprised that the movie bored me as much as it did. It just wasn't structured very well. Lots of nudity though.

R.I.P.D. - 1 1/2 stars

This movie really wants to be Men In Black.  Boston Police Officer Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in the line of duty, and instead of going to heaven or hell, he ends up in an office.  He is given the chance to avoid judgement by joining the Rest In Peace Department.  Apparently there are dead spirits (called Deados) who escape the afterlife and go back to Earth, causing havoc.  The R.I.P.D. officers have to catch the ghosts and bring them back, or kill them.  Yes, kill them.  They have some kind of special bullets that actually kills these spirits.

His partner is Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges).  He's been serving in the R.I.P.D. since he was killed in the 1800s.  And just like in Men in Black, he's a grumpy old guy and the two don't get along. 

The plot gets really convoluted.  Walker's partner turns out to be involved with the Deados and he's trying to accumulate some artifact which can end all life on Earth, or something like that.  It's really just a waste of time.

This movie is no fun.  It's only 90 minutes but it feels like 3 hours.  And it really sucks that Bridges is playing Rooster Cogburn again.  I don't just mean playing a similar character.  He is doing Rooster Cogburn.  The voice is exactly the same.  The difference is his dialogue is written by a couple of hacks instead of the Coen brothers.  There really was no reason to make this movie.

Pacific Rim - 3 stars

Pacific Rim is a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.  It's Godzilla meets Robotech or Voltron, with some Halo thrown in.  What more do you need to know?

In the prologue (which could have been an entire movie by itself), we see the first giant monster come out of the sea and attach San Francisco.  It takes several days for mankind to destroy it, and thousands of people are killed.  Then more monsters start to appear.  The monsters are called Kaijus, and the humans build giant robots to fight them.  The robots are called Jaegers. 

When the movie proper begins, it's many years into the Kaiju war.  The Jaeger program is about to be scrapped and mankind is losing.  The monsters are getting bigger, stronger and smarter.  The commander of the Jaeger forces, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) tracks down a former pilot who's now working construction.  He convinces the pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) to return for the final battle.  Becket is haunted because his brother was killed while the two were battling a Kaiju.

There is a good half hour or so where not much happens.  The characters are learning about each other and I almost dozed off.  The dialogue is not great, and there is a lot of time spent arguing about whether Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) should be allowed to pilot a Jaeger. 

Once the action gets going though, the movie is a lot of fun.  Unlike the Transformers movies, director Guillermo del Toro does a great job of not using too much shaky cam.  The huge battles between the giant monsters and giant robots never got too confusing or overwhelming. 

There is a bit of comic relief provided by Charlie Day as a scientist, and I also enjoyed the scenes with Ron Perlman as a black marketer who sells Kaiju parts.  The movie isn't that original but it was done well.  I just wish it had better acting and dialogue in the early part of the movie.

Grown Ups 2 - Zero stars

I have a long and complicated relationship with Adam Sandler.  I enjoyed him on SNL and I bought his comedy albums.  The first one came out when I was still in high school.  It was crazy and funny and dirty and I listened to it over and over.

Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore were enjoyable.  But then around the time of Big Daddy he started trying to have a message in his movies.  They would be funny, but then they became like an after school special at the end.  I just like my Adam Sandler movies to make me laugh.  Don't try and give me a life lesson.

Every year there is a new Sandler movie, and some make me laugh more than others.  The last couple, That's My Boy and Jack and Jill, were technically pretty bad movies but I laughed.  I don't care how dumb a movie is if I'm laughing.

I did not laugh while watching Grown Ups 2.  It's the most lazy thing he has ever released.  It's like he and his friends had a pitch meeting, wrote down every idea they came up with, then started shooting the next day.  They skipped the part where you work on the ideas, keeping some and dropping others, and form them into a story and then a script.  It's like they just had a rough outline of things to film and the movie was improvised.

The movie opens with Sandler and his wife waking up to find a deer in their room.  Why is a deer inside their house?  Because they moved from LA back to the town he grew up in.  Even though the town isn't a mountain town, everything between New York and LA is just wilderness, right?  So yeah, for no reason a deer is inside the house.  And it pees on Sandler.

David Spade has a son he never knew about.  The kid comes to stay with him, unsupervised, even though they've never met and Spade has no desire to get to know the kid.  Kevin James sneaks over to his mom's house to hang out with her and watch soap operas, even though his wife has no problem with his mom.  Why?  This is never really explored.  Chris Rock works for the cable company, and he takes pleasure in making an old woman wait for him to arrive, waits for her to go to the bathroom, then knocks and quickly leaves.  He leaves a "sorry we missed you" sign on her door.  Why?  This is never explained.

Sandler's kids have their own sub plots that are never explored much.  One son turns out to be a great football kicker, but he breaks his leg an that's over before it began.  His older son has a crush on a girl and is afraid to ask her out.  He finally does, she says yes, and that's that.  We don't get to see the date or what happens.  Well, they do meet up at the party at the end of the movie, but we get maybe 10 seconds of them together.

Sandler also has an elementary school crush who is stalking him or something.  This goes nowhere.

The more I think about this movie, the more annoyed I get.  It's like Sandler and his friends are deliberately making their movies worse because they know people will pay to go see them and they'll make a bunch of money.  Is it too much to ask for a story and a script with a few jokes?  Avoid this movie at all costs.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Lone Ranger - 2 stars

This movie really annoyed me.  I think part of my feelings are from the knowledge that Disney is trying so hard to duplicate their Pirates of the Carribean success.  They could have made a nice Lone Ranger movie.  Instead they had to make it a $250 million blockbuster tentpole movie.  It's overblown with special effects and the running time is a ridiculous 2 1/2 hours.

One problem is Johnny Depp as Tonto.  For one thing, his schtick is wearing thin.  I didn't enjoy much of what he was trying to do.  Another problem is he's a bigger star than Armie Hammer.  So instead of the movie being about the Lone Ranger with Tonto as his sidekick, it's as much Tonto's movie as the Lone Ranger's.  That doesn't really work.

There is a completely unnecessary framing device to this movie.  The movie starts in the 1930s with a kid running into an elderly Tonto at some kind of wild west exhibit.  Tonto tells the kid the story of the Lone Ranger, so the entire movie is basically a flashback. 

The tone is all over the place.  It jumps between serious action and danger, then it becomes a goofy comedy, then it's a cartoon, and all over again.  It doesn't work when one minute we're seeing the aftermath of the genocide of an entire indian tribe, and the next minute a horse is standing in a tree wearing a cowboy hat.  That's just too much.

I don't think the Lone Ranger and Tonto had much chemistry together.  I just didn't really care about the characters, and I was bored for most of the movie.  The only enjoyable part was the climax involving the characters fighting on top of 2 trains.  There was some really fun stuff in this sequence, but it didn't make up for the 2 hours that preceeded it.  Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter adds nothing to this movie.  She shows up for a couple scenes looking like she just stepped out of a Tim Burton movie.  Her scenes could easily have been cut without affecting the movie at all.

The Heat - 3 1/2 stars

You may be thinking from the trailers that this is basically Miss Congeniality 3.  You would be mistaken.

Sandra Bullock is an FBI agent, and her character did remind me of her Miss Congeniality character.  In this movie, she goes to Boston to track a drug smuggler.  She is partnered up with a local cop played by Melissa McCarthy.  Neither one wants to work with the other, and they start out on the worst possible foot. 

This movie is funny.  McCarthy has been funny before, but this is Bridesmaids-level funny.  In fact, I think she is even funnier here.  She is tough as nails, hates everyone, and I need to see this movie again so I can write down some of her best insults.  The things that come out of her mouth have to be heard to be believed.

This movie reminded me a little of the Lethal Weapon movies.  One reason those movies worked so well was the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.  Bullock and McCarthy have that chemistry.  They make a great team, and I would love to see a sequel.  This is almost as consistently funny as This Is the End.

White House Down - 3 stars

It's funny that this is the second "Die Hard in the White House" movie we have had this year.  The first was Olympus Has Fallen a few months ago.  That movie was better, but this one is still pretty fun. 

Channing Tatum is really good in the John McClain role.  He has some good one liners, and he is just a good screen presence.  Jamie Foxx on the other hand, I don't know.  He does a good job, but I just have a hard time buying him as the president.  He needed to be at least 10 years older, in my opinion.

As usual in movies like this, the characters make horrible decisions.  The bad guys aren't as threatening as they should be - for example, they threaten to kill hostages if the army moves in.  Then the army moves in, and they don't kill any hostages, or even threaten to.  They just start fighting the army.  There are secret tunnels that the Secret Service knows about.  They never think about sneaking a special forces team into the White House to help. 

This is one of those movies where you can't think too much about the dumb decisions everyone is making.  If the movie was less entertaining, I would be just picking it apart.  But it was fun, the characters were interesting, and I was never bored.  So I was more forgiving of the dumb parts and I enjoyed it.

World War Z - 3 1/2 stars

This was a lot of fun.  I'm not crazy about how fast the zombies are, or the way they can leap from building to building.  But I liked the scale of the movie.  We start in Philadelphia with the zombie epidemic just beginning.  Brad Pitt plays a former UN officer of some kind.  The military comes and rescues him and his family because he is the best person to go searching for the source of the zombies.  With every plague, there is a patient zero, and they think the same is true this time.

The action moves from an aircraft carrier to South Korea, then to Jerusalem, and finally to Europe.  There is a lot of coincidence in this movie.  Jerusalem is walled off from the zombies, and the people are living in relative comfort.  But Brad Pitt just happens to be there when something happens which causes the zombies to climb the walls and invade.  They climb the walls like ants, by climbing on top of each other.  It's pretty incredible and frightening.

There is also a plane crash sequence, and somehow Brad Pitt and his traveling companion are the only ones who survive.  They end up at a medical research facility and this sets up the finale of the movie.  I won't spoil what happens, but it was really intense.

This isn't my favorite zombie movie.  That's probably Shaun of the Dead, followed by 28 Days Later.  But World War Z was very enjoyable.

Man of Steel - 2 1/2 stars

It's hard for me to be objective about this movie.  Richard Donner's 1978 Superman is one of my favorite movies of all time.  I saw it when I was around 5 years old, and Christopher Reeve has always been Superman to me. 

This movie takes the Superman story and tries to place it in a realistic world, the same way Christopher Nolan's Batman movies did.  They tried to make it less comic book-ish and more realistic.  I have no problem with that.  But this just doesn't feel like a Superman movie to me. 

When Superman Returns came out in 2006, I was excited.  It seemed like they were being so faithful to the Donner / Reeve Superman, even going so far as to use the John Williams theme music and footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El.  Superman Returns was a pseudo-sequel to Superman I and II, and that ended up being one of that movie's problems.  It reminded me too much of the original and better Superman movies.  The movie had other problems, like Clark Kent / Superman's lack of dialogue, or Brandon Routh's lack of chemistry with Kate Bosworth, or the casting of Kate Bosworth in general ...

So I was glad that this movie wasn't trying to be a sequel to those other movies.  Krypton is unlike any Krypton we have seen before.  Instead of a crystal planet that doesn't look habitable at all, we get an actual alien world with creatures and ships.  Russell Crowe is a very good choice for Jor-El.  I really enjoyed the setup of this movie.

But one problem is the entire movie feels like the origin story.  I kept waiting for Clark Kent to change into Superman and save the day, along with some triumphant music.  Superman may have saved the day here and here, but it was either as shirtless Clark with a beard, or as Superman with no triumphant music.  At no point does he even have a secret identity. 

After his father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) dies a really pointless death, Clark leaves home and becomes a vagabond.  He's like David Banner in the Bill Bixby TV series, going from town to town and job to job.  He saves people here and there using his powers, but he isn't Superman yet.  Once he learns who he is and puts on the suit, General Zod arrives and the battles begin.  He never assumes a secret identity.

The last 45 minutes or so are exhausting.  It's one long battle between Superman and Zod.  Unlike the battle in Superman II, this time when they hit each other, buildings collapse.  There is so much destruction the death toll must be in the hundreds of thousands.  And there is no mention of this.  At no point does any character acknowledge how many people were killed in this tragedy.  The point where Superman kills Zod is Zod is about to vaporize a family of 4.  As much as I wanted Superman to save them, I couldn't help thinking about all the other families that were killed in the preceeding 30 minutes.

The destruction and the look of the film were just depressing.  The movie was shot so dark, and during the battles I got numb to it.  The Avengers did a great job of keeping the focus on the characters amidst all the destruction.  But Man of Steel is like the Transformers movies.  After 10 minutes of characters punching each other and throwing each other through buildings, it gets really boring.

I know I've spent all this time ripping on the movie, but there are things I liked about it.  Amy Adams is a better Lois Lane than Kate Bosworth was.  I liked the way Clark started to discover his powers as a kid, and how they frightened him.  He had to learn to control his X-ray vision and his super hearing.  And Kevin Costner was great as Jonathan Kent.  I wish he had more screen time.

Overall, a disappointment but not a bad movie.  Just not a good Superman movie.  I really think I would have liked it better if it hadn't been a Superman movie, but just an original sci-fi movie.  They leave it open for a sequel (of course), and they set up the next movie nicely.  I'm curious to see if they can do a better job with the next movie.