Archive for March, 2013

31
Mar
13

Admission

 

The box office has seen better weekends.  Such new releases as another Tyler Perry film, a sequel to the awful 2009 G.I. Joe flick, and the Twilightesque alien picture, The Host, really didn’t have me running to the multiplex.  So, given those less than stellar options, Paul Weitz’s romantic comedy Admission starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd is what I decided upon.

Admission is the story of Princeton college admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey), a straight- laced, by the book type who has everything in her life just the way she likes it.  As Portia and her colleagues began gearing up for her department’s busy admission season, John Pressman (Rudd), the head of an experimental school, contacts Portia with startling news. Pressman believes Portia is the biological mother of one of his students, an odd, but clearly gifted young man.  Having given up a baby for adoption in college and seeing his birth certificate with date, time, and place that coordinates with her child’s birth, Portia soon becomes convinced.  Portia becomes more and more involved in her believed to be son’s life as she tries to find the right time to tell him that she is his mother.

As a rule, expect for Judd Apatow’s films, comedies are generally no longer than 90 minutes.  At nearly two hours, Admission is just too long.  The last third of the film really loses steam, but up until that point it is really enjoyable.  The film would have been much better if it had been 15-20 minutes shorter. The ending will probably leave most wanting more as you almost feel cheated with its conclusion.

The performances in the film are pretty standard.  Lilly Tomlin, who plays Portia’s mother in film, serving as the comic relief, tends to get on your nerves as she yells a lot of her lines.  Other than Tomlin’s occasional screeching, the complaints with performances are limited.  Tina Fey delivers another typical Tina Fey performance with customary wit, intelligence, hilarity, and charm.  Paul Rudd also gives another good performance.

Other than the story being somewhat slow and being a tad too long, Admission is a charming and pleasant story about adoption, motherhood, and reconciling with the past.  It really is sad when pleasant, intelligent films like Admission struggle at the box office, when bad, dumb films like Olympus Has Fallen rake in the cash.

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25
Mar
13

Ted

 

Growing up every child has imaginary friends, a particular article or item they tend to latch onto for comfort, security or for a number of reasons.  Whether you were like Linus and dragged around a blanket or went the more conventional route and lugged around a teddy bear, more than likely you also had an attachment to some object.  However, Seth McFarlane’s first feature film, Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, takes the whole childhood attachment to an object thing to a whole other level.

For John Bennett (Wahlberg), clinging to his teddy as a child wasn’t just for comfort, but for friendship.  John was the one child who always had problems making friends.  He spent most of his childhood indoors and alone until one Christmas morning when he would open a gift that would change his life forever, a teddy bear.  Soon, Teddy magically comes alive and John and Ted become inseparable.  Flash forward 30 years, John and Ted now spend their time together watching 80s television shows, sharing joints, and taking hits off a massive bong.   John’s girlfriend of four years, Lori (Kunis), becomes annoyed and  feels neglected with how much time John and Ted spend together and gives John an ultimatum; either Ted moves out or her and John are over.

Ted, which is directed and co-written by McFarlane, is filled with the trademark Family Guy crassness, wit, and clever pop culture infused humor.  The first two thirds of Ted are extremely enjoyable with John and Ted delivering offensive joke after offensive joke.  It’ll have you offended and laughing yourself silly at the same time.  The last third of the film only disappoints because McFarlane has to include some resemblance of a story.  Much like Family Guy, the momentum comes to a screeching halt whenever the random jokes stop because the story has to move forward.  Also, the film suffers anytime the focus is taken off of John and Ted’s relationship and put on Lori.  The story is average, but the relationship between John and Ted is enough to keep Ted enjoyable.

The acting is very average.  The big surprise, however, is Mila Kunis.  It’s not that she’s even really good either.  In most things, she usually ranges from bothersome to absolutely dreadful, but in Ted, she’s not given too much and really doesn’t have the chance to become appalling.  McFarlane understands what his audience wants and it’s not extensive screen time for Mila Kunis.

Ted isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination.  Is it funny?  Absolutely.  Does it know what its audience wants?  Yes and it delivers in droves.  Is the story Family Guy paper thin?  Yes, but Ted is still a whole lot of fun and was last year’s best comedy.

25
Mar
13

Bernie

 

Is it possible for someone to confess to police about committing murder and then an entire town plead the district attorney to “go easy on him” and just “give him probation”?  Don’t think so?  Then check out Richard Linklater’s Bernie, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey about the incredibly true story of Bernie Tiede.

Bernie features Jack Black in the title role as Bernie Tiede, the odd and quirky assistant funeral director with a heart of gold who’s constantly going out of his way to help his fellow man.  If you live in Carthage, Texas and want for anything, Bernie will do his best to see your needs met.  One day, while on one of his many philanthropic tasks, Bernie comes across Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), the rich and recently widowed town grouch.  Bernie, believing anyone will eventually become his friend, approaches Marjorie.  Bernie and Marjorie soon become extremely close. Bernie begins spending all of his time with Marjorie, running errands and helping her around the house.  The two begin taking long, expensive trips together and soon Marjorie changes her will leaving all of her money to Bernie.

After the alterations to the will and in a moment of rage, Bernie unloads four rifle shots into Marjorie’s back instantly killing her.  Nine months later, the townspeople become increasingly suspicious of Marjorie’s disappearance.  District attorney Danny Buck (McConaughey) is then brought into try Bernie for the murder of Marjorie Nugent after discovering her body in her freezer.

The performances, most notably Jack Black, are definitely the best aspect of Bernie and make it a standout film.  Bernie allows Jack Black to stretch himself as an actor and play against the loud, obnoxious in your face characters he’s become known for.  His performance is a sight to be seen. Jack Black slips into character, Bernie Tiede, so well that you’ll soon forget you’re watching Jack Black performing.  Matthew McConaughey is also terrific as self –promoting D.A. Danny Buck.  In a word, McConaughey is hilarious providing the funniest dialogue of the film and employing hilarious schemes to catch the criminals of Carthage, Texas.

Although Bernie tells the incredibly true story of Bernie Tiede, the film has a narrative and documentary feel as it utlilizes styles commonly used in both.  Especially early in the film, actors playing the townspeople give their account of Bernie, Marjorie, and the murder in a talking head format.  This was a bit distracting as I would rather see the events unfold instead of being given someone else’s opinion.  This is used throughout the film, but was heavily used in the beginning and the film suffered because of it.

Bernie tells the incredibly true story of Bernie Tiede, a guy an entire town thought incapable of murder and sought his acquittal even after his confession to the crime.  It’s an entertaining film with terrific performances from the entire cast.  Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey are terrific and  reason enough to check out Bernie. 

23
Mar
13

Olympus Has Fallen

 

What would happen if the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. was overtaken by terrorists?  How would Americans react if our Commander in Chief was taken hostage?  Those are two scenarios explored in Antoine Fuqua’s new film, Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart.

Olympus Has Fallen is about former secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) who works a desk job at the Department of Treasury after a fatal accident.  Banning soon finds himself in the White House after a Presidential meeting with international leaders turns out to be more than expected.  The White House is taken over by terrorists and the President (Eckhart) and cabinet members are taken hostage.  Banning must race against the clock to foil the terrorist’s sinister plot to save the President and the country.

The story is basically a rehashing of every major 90s action film.  Olympus Has Fallen pits an average, ordinary guy who’s recently gone through professional issues against seemingly insurmountable odds as the fate of the world hang in the balance.  Those story lines have produced a number of entertaining films, but Olympus Has Fallen brings nothing new.  The story is incredibly outlandish and unbelievable.  The White House is taken over way too easy and as soon the residence is occupied by foreign combatants, we see swat teams pull up.  The absurdity of the story is maddening and annoying.

Olympus Has Fallen produces some of the dumbest characters and cheesiest lines in recent memory.  For example, at one point the person leading the coup of the White House talks on camera to a room full of high ranking military and governmental officials and no one recognizes him.  Twenty minutes later, we learn he’s one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, but the people responsible for knowing that information had no idea.  Also, we get lines like “America does not negotiate with terrorists” and many more like it.

Olympus Has Fallen badly wants to be the first Die Hard and Mike Banning wants to be John McClane neither comes even close. It’s hard to believe Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen is directed by the same person. One is great and the other not so much.

 

19
Mar
13

Looper

What would you do if you came face to face with a 30 year younger or old version of yourself?  Would tell your younger self to study chemistry in college instead of education?  Would you ask your older self how many kids you eventually have?  Would you wonder how you ever let yourself go?  Or would you just try to literally kill yourself, like in Rian Johnson’s Looper starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.

Looper features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe as a looper, who kills loops or people sent from the future, at point blank range, as they appear out of thin air.  We soon learn from the voice over provided by Joe that a looper failing to kill their loop is the worst possible thing that could happen for a looper.  It can severely alter the future, past, present, and puts the life of the looper at risk.  One day, as he stands at the ready with gun in hand, Joe (Gordon- Levitt) senses something is off.  His loop isn’t on time and when he finally does appear, he’s able to see his face – its Joe from thirty years in the future (Bruce Willis).

During Joe’s from the future’s capture, his wife is killed.  Determined to prevent this from happening, Joe (Willis) seeks out the “rain maker”- the individual, who in the future, makes time travel possible to snuff him out before he does.  With only a series of numbers and a map, Joe (Willis) marks out three possible locations of the “rain maker” and begins killing the children who may grow up to be the “rain maker”.  Present Joe (Gordon-Levitt), with the entire looper organization and future Joe searching for him finds shelter at a farm house with Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid.

There are many films that have encompassed a time travel element and most of the time, it’s the same old thing with the same old boring, convoluted story.  Looper is able to use time travel incorporated with a fun, fast paced, exciting, and edge of your seat story that never gets boring.  However, since we’re dealing with the two actors playing the same character, there were times the story gets a bit confusing.  Looper is a film where if you miss any of it, you’re going to be lost.  If you’re going to watch Looper, you better stay tuned or you’ll be back tracking a lot.

The acting is nothing extraordinary, but what you would expect from a film of the action/sci-fi genre.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s star continues to rise as he’s shows once again, he’s able to carry a film.  Bruce Willis, playing his normal tough guy who shoots first and asks questions later, is good as well, expect for a few rather odd facial expressions.  Jeff Daniels, who plays Looper king pin, felt odd and out of place.  For a role that would seem to call for a mean, intimidating figure, Daniels just doesn’t fit the bill.   Instead, he looks like as if he just woke up with wild hair as he lounges around in a bath robe.

Looper is fast paced with a fascinating and intelligent story with a creative spin on time travel that many films aspire to, but fail miserably. Simply put, Looper is the perfect combination of the sci-fi and action genres that hasn’t been seen since The Matrix trilogy.

15
Mar
13

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Making an audience believe something is possible when they know that there’s no way that’s possible. That’s objective of any good magician, to always stay one step ahead of the audience and keep them thinking “how’d he do that”?  Well in Don Scardino’s The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, starring Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, and Steve Buscemi, there’s plenty to keep you guessing and laughing at the same time.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone stars Steve Carell as Burt Wonderstone, the magician with an enormous ego, who for ten years has played packed shows at one of the biggest hotels in Las Vegas.  Unfortunately for Burt and his best friend and partner, Anton (Buscemi), they’ve played the exact same show for ten years.  Steve Gray (Carrey), beings drawing bigger and bigger crowds with his Criss Angel-like stunts.  Burt and Anton’s crowds get smaller and smaller with every show and soon find themselves out of jobs and struggling to find work.

To make ends meet, Burt begins entertaining at retirement center, where he runs into his childhood hero and the reason he got into magic, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).  Rance reminds Burt about the love of magic and starts teaching him the intricacies of magic and tricks.  Soon Burt and Anton are competing for a five year contract at the biggest and newest hotel in Vegas against Steve Gray.

Burt Wonderstone is a cleverly written film.  It’s able to strike a good balance between all the laughs and also has a sentimental tone.  You feel as if these characters really care about one another. The friendship between Anton and Burt is well written. However, it would have been nice to have had Anton fully developed.  He’s almost just kind of there and we really don’t know much about him.  Also, more screen time for Alan Arkin would have been nice as well, just because he good no matter what he’s in.

The ending of the film is somewhat of a problem. It’s lackluster and leaves one wanting more. There wasn’t this big climatic buildup that we’ve come to expect from films. Not wanting to give anything away, it was nice to see how the big final illusion was pulled off.

If you enjoy Steve Carell and his type of comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is for you.  He’s given an ample amount of freedom to do his thing and delivers the laughs in the process.  If you’re heading out to the theater anytime soon and looking for the funny,  The Incredible Burt Wonderstone delivers.

15
Mar
13

The Call

If you think about it, in times of emergencies 911 operators are often the first line of help.  They give the police, fire fighters, and other first responders the addresses of emergencies and attempt to calm distressed individuals.  Director Brad Anderson’s The Call, starring Halle Berry, give us a look at the often stressful job of a 911 operator.

The Call features Halle Berry as Jordan Turner, a 911 operator, who botches an emergency call from a teenage girl claiming a man is attempting to break in her house.  Jordan’s actions on the call lead to the kidnapping and eventual murder of the teenage girl.  Flash forward six months and Jordan is now instructing new recruits about 911 emergency procedures.  As fate would have it, Jordan soon finds herself back on the phone as she deals with the same scenario; a kidnapped teenage girl with the same perpetrator.  Jordan, determined to save the girl from her fatal demise, races against the clock to find the girl and her kidnapper.

The acting in the film is nothing Oscar worthy, but isn’t terrible either.  It’s average and better than expected.  Berry does a fine job with what the script gives her.  She acts just as you’d expect someone to act in a situation when you have the life of someone in your hands.  Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is also decent enough although early in the film, she does have a few cringe worthy moments with a friend at the mall.  And again, it’s the scripts fault as the dialogue is forced and unrealistic.

The story isn’t half bad either.  It’s able to keep you on the edge of your seat for most of the film.  The downfall and where the film is really terrible are during the last twenty minutes.  The film spends the previous 70 minutes developing an intriguing and edge of your seat thriller and then wastes it.  Characters begin making unexplained and illogical moves that are cliché’ and downright dumb.  The ending is absolutely maddening and one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

As much as you may hear about The Call being terrible, it’s not.  For the most part, it’s an aptly acted thriller that will keep you guessing.  If not for the last twenty minutes and the dumb ending, The Call would’ve been significantly better.




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