Posts about Movie Reviews

Film Review: “Hercules”

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Photo Credit: Paramount
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The best thing I can say about the new Hercules is that it is infinitely better than the one starring Kellan Lutz that came, blew up and went a few months ago. That being said, it’s still a pretty forgettable film – and frankly pales in comparison to the only decent film on Herakles that Hollywood has ever made: Disney’s animated Hercules back in 1997.

This one tells us that the Hercules you know – the overly brawny, ass-kicking, ever-flexing son of god/Zeus – is really just a myth. He is kinda divine, but mostly that’s just good PR. He’s actually pretty mediocre in a battle and waits until the last possible moment before getting it all together and saving ancient Greece from endless varieties of foreign kings, Hydras and Hades.

There is very little plot in the film – it’s mostly just a collection of action sequences which are really just comprised of Dwayne Johnson flexing angrily over and over again. Johnson plays his part as best he can with his trademark self-effacing charm . . . though why they didn’t cast an actual Greek in the role escapes me. Still, he’s mostly believable when one suspends disbelief.

The show belongs, however, to the scenery-chewing performance by Joseph Fiennes, who plays an effete European king who wants to vanquish Hercules. The performance is taken just to the edge of absurdity and then pulled back, played with such gusto and fervent joy that it makes this routine action blockbuster intermittently watchable.

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Film Review: “Sex Tape”

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Photo Credit: Sony Pictures
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It was all but inevitable that Hollywood would one day try to one-up its catalog of comedic raunchfests with a spoof of the ever-popular sex tape (thank you, Kim Kardashian). Unfortunately, what makes for the launching of a real life career as a celebutard does not necessarily translate into a first-rate comedy. In fact, once foreplay is over, you’re kind of hoping the whole thing ends as quickly as possible.

The movie stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel as a longtime married couple who feel that the sexual spark of their relationship has long since extinguished. To juice things up, they make a sex tape, which of course they end up sending to every single person they know by accident because no one understands iCloud. The rest of the movie they spend trying to hide the video, deny its existence, and maneuver all sorts of blackmail.

It sounds like it could have been funny: unfortunately, the laughs are few and far between because the film doesn’t know what it’s trying to make fun of. Instead of focusing on the couple’s mortifying embarrassment at the tape getting out to literally everyone they know, it meanders off into a series of episodes that really don’t have anything to do with the premise of the film (see: Rob Lowe as collector of bad art).

Diaz (Queen of the Raunchy Comedy) and Segel do what they can with the material, but as neither one is a particularly expert comic foil, it feels forced and obviously staged.

Final verdict? Wait for the Comedy Central edited broadcast.

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Film Review: “Boyhood”

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Photo: IFC Films
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Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a movie that sounds like an exercise in excessive artistic experimentation and indulgence: take a group of actors in 2002 and film them over the next 12 years, a few weeks at a time, in an attempt to capture what the formative years of growing up are like. If it works, great. If not, then . . . whoops?

Fortunately, the movie works. And magnificently so. It isn’t so much a movie about something as it is a movie about everything: everything that happens to everyone as they make that treacherous walk from childhood to young adulthood. The boy of Boyhood is an 8-year-old Texas boy who witnesses not just growing pains and spurts, but all the upheavals of emotional and psychological warfare that come of growing up in the home of a single mother with abusive boyfriends and perpetually juvenile father who doesn’t seem to get, well, anything.

Some might complain that not much happens in the film – it’s basically a sequence of shorts featuring the same actor from ages 6 to 18 – but that’s kind of the point: nothing lasts forever, least of all childhood, which is made up of a lot of nothing which – when we look back – was sum total of everything.

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Film Review: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
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Well, well, well: we have discovered the celluloid unicorn! A creature so rare, so unique and so utterly mythological that we have only heard of it in lore: I speak, of course, of the big budget summer blockbuster sequel that is refreshingly (indeed, almost unnervingly) intelligent and entertaining.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to do what its 2011 predecessor and reboot venture did not: explain in human terms the plight of non-human creatures. The creatures in question are, of course, the Apes who have taken over the planet after humanity has been wiped out. Or nearly wiped out, as the Apes discover. The stray band of survivors does what human beings do best: ravage, pillage and co-opt resources for their own benefit, often at the expense of the existence of other creatures. This is a moral fable with an environmental bent – and it rings all the more true because it is so expertly done.

The show belongs almost entirely to the astonishingly brilliant and touching portrayal by Andy Serkis of the Ape leader Cesar. While Serkis’s portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films is undoubtedly expert (and demonstrates an all-consuming madness unlike anything else in film), his portrayal of Cesar is easily the best performance of a non-human character by a human actor ever put to film. Cesar is fully realized in ways that the human cast is not: he is a vulnerable leader who wants to save his “people”, unsure of his ability to do so, and unsure if survival is even possible in the stead of such relentless destruction. He must also stave off a challenge from his own human-like Apes, who wish to meet the force of the human destruction with equal viciousness. In many ways, Cesar is the Jesus of the Apes.

It’s a stunningly realized narrative, at both the emotional an visual level – and it never lets the action overwhelm the story at the heart of the film. It is, dare I say, one of the best summer movies to come along in eons.

For once, a blockbuster that deserves to be seen by billions.

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Film Review: “Tammy”

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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The best thing I can say about the new Melissa McCarthy comedy Tammy is that it’s better than anything Adam Sandler has done in the last ten years. That being said, that’s about the only compliment I can honestly give it.

For whatever reason – and the reason is likely her weight – Melissa McCarthy has been typecast as the larger-than-life, gross, uncouth and loud mouth female Fred Flintsone in modern movie comedies. From The Heat to the final Hangover, she has become the go-to gal for the anti-princess fairy role: you want a gross lady whose grossness audiences will love? Call McCarthy. Cuz she’s . . . large?

The film is (expectedly) about a white trashy blue collar woman who loses it after getting fired from a dead end job and finds her loser husband cheating on her with Toni Collette. She clashes with her mom (Allison Janney?) and then hits the road with her crazier-than-batshit granny (Susan Sarandon) who teaches her that life is about the journey and not the destination.

It starts out kind of promising, and then quickly (and inexplicably) puts the brakes on anything funny. It’s a series of predictable comic pratfalls that feel as flat as the last thing Rob Schneider ever did. It also doesn’t help that neither Susan Sarandon nor Allison Janney are anywhere near believable as Tammy’s biological matriarchy.

A waste of talent. And, sadly, time.

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Film Review: “Begin Again”

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Photo Credit: The Weinstein Co.
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If you’re looking for a summer romantic comedy that rewrites the genre, then Begin Again is not that film. It’s an ode to falling in love with the soundtrack of your choice – a heartfelt, semi-romantic, self-indulgent and decidedly folksy soundtrack that eschews the sounds of a swelling chorus of violins for the introspection of Carole King. It’s for yesterday’s hippies – and today’s hipsters.

The pair in question in this small-time/bigtime movie is a duo of failures: Greta (Keira Knightley) is a singer trapped in a failing relationship with a musical douche named Dave (Adam Levine, in uber twat mode). Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a failed music company executive who got the boot and is looking for . . . well, he doesn’t even know. With two such listless, wandering and musically-inclined individuals, it is inevitable that they meet, talk about their mutual love of music, sing a bit, play a bit more, and then, well, fall in love.

Ruffalo and Knightley share an uneven chemistry – she’s somehow both too lively and too dull for him, and so the real star of the film is its music, which is thankfully quite well-done. It’s also a movie about second chances and never giving up – not just on love, but on life – which, sentimental while it may sound, is a welcome relief in the onslaught of big budget summer blcokbusters a la Transformers.

A sweet and unassuming movie which assumes we love sweet music.

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Film Review: “Transformers: Age of Extinction”

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Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
<a href="Visit the film’s official website!“>Visit the film’s official website!

And the award for most blatant attempt to capitalize on the Chinese middle class’s affinity for all things big, Western, and blow-uppy goes to . . . Michael Bay.

If ever there was any doubt that most big-budget movies these days are made primarily for the international audience (and in particular, the Chinese audience of literally billions of moviegoers), Michael Bay is here to erase that doubt. This film panders with such unapologetic and shameless sycophancy to everything Chinese that you half expect to get a fortune cookie at the end of the nearly three hour ordeal.

Quality-wise, it’s bad. Even for a Michael Bay movie. Even for a Michael Bay Transformers movie. And that’s saying something. The backstory involves Mark Wahlberg as a down on his luck Texan scientist (or lab dude) whose 17-year-old daughter is interesting because she isn’t Megan Fox. An evil human corporate honcho (played by Stanley Tucci) wants to harness all the power of the Transformers because . . . well, he’s evil and that’s what evil dudes do. Kelsey Grammer appears inexplicably as Frasier Crane 3.0.

To call this 3-hour series of explosions a “movie” would be willful misleading on my part, so let’s just call it what it is: the first in a line of desperately bad attempts by Hollywood cash in on the burgeoning Chinese market of moviegoers and movie financiers. It’s so egregious, it’s embarrassing.

And, sadly, Michael Bay is poised to cash in and make yet another brain-drain of a trilogy. Proceed at your own risk.

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Film Review: “Jersey Boys”

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Broadway musicals do not always translate well to the movie screen. Screen versions of musicals directed by Clint Eastwood stand even less of a chance of translating well to the screen. Some work, some don’t: Moulin Rouge was amazing; the Footloose reboot pretty awful; I thought (and still think) Rob Marshall’s Chicago was hopelessly overrated. The best musicals, frankly, come from animation studios or Bollywood. Not the house that Dirty Harry built.

His vision of Jersey Boys sings and dances – but only just so. Eastwood is more concerned with the human drama behind the songs . . . which (and this is no fault of his) is remarkably superficial, even for a song-n-dance extravaganza staged for the express purpose of utilizing 60s juke box hits. There just isn’t much ‘there’ there.

It’s the standard Behind the Music expose, showing whose ego or love story got in the way of the band’s success, and who really deserves the blame for extinguishing the success that could have been. Eastwood doesn’t seem very interested in telling the real tale – which is why creative types let noncreative impulses destroy them. It’s also much too long at 134 minutes – the same problem Eastwood had with his ill-fated J. Edgar.

Watchable, but instantly forgettable.

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