Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ted (2012) - Movie Review

A lonely boy makes a Christmas wish that comes true.  That's just the opening moments of Ted, the big screen directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.  I've been looking forward to this for a while, but was worried how the concept would come off.  How would a walking, talking, over-sized teddy bear play in a live-action movie?  On the surface, it's a pretty ridiculous idea that could be a disaster if not done right.

The narration (by Captain, I mean Patrick Stewart) sets up the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a boy that had difficulty making friends.  His parents give him a very large teddy bear that John wishes could be his real best friend forever.  Magically, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) comes alive and agrees to be his best friend.  In a sequence that's oddly similar to Adam Sandler's That's My Boy (which is ironic since the movie makes a point to make fun of Sandler), Ted coming alive doesn't go unnoticed by the world and he becomes a celebrity.  However, as the narration points out, eventually all celebrity or fads fade and Ted is forgotten about.

We fast forward to a 35-year-old John, who's still best friends with Ted, but neither of them have really grown up. John's not all that ambitious and spends every chance he gets getting high or partying with Ted.  His girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis), has been patiently waiting for John to grow up and starts to question if he can ever do this while Ted is around.  This sets up an 'it's either him or me' ultimatum.  John is torn, obviously, because how do you choose between the love of your life and your best friend?  It's a story we've seen many times before.

But is it funny?  Well, have you ever wondered what an extended Family Guy episode without all of that annoying censorship would be like?  Well, I guess if you own any of the DVDs or the Family Guy "Star Wars" episodes, you'd have an idea, but for the rest of you, this would be it.  It really does play like a Family Guy episode, from the style of humor, the musical score, and the use of the much of the Family Guy cast.  Ted is rated R and they really go for it as far as the language and raunchy humor.  This is definitely not for kids.  Most of the time it works, but it does miss here and there.  I laughed out loud throughout the movie, and there are many times where the laughter from the audience was so loud that you couldn't hear the next line of dialog.  It doesn't let up for a minute and Ted doesn't pull any punches.

One of the things that makes Ted work is how great Ted ended up looking.  I'm not sure if they used strictly CG or a combination of animatronics and CG, but they really pulled it off.  Between Seth MacFarlane's voice acting and the animation, Ted really does feel alive and has real chemistry with Mark Wahlberg and the rest of the cast.

I've been hard on Mark Wahlberg in the past, but I thought he was really great here.  He's primarily the straight man to Ted, but it played to his strengths and it was nice to seem him do something a little different than the stoic or tough guy characters he usually plays.  He's so serious all the time, that I've often wondered if Walhberg had any sense of humor at all.  Mila Kunis has always had good comedic timing and did a good job of being sympathetic, as well.  It would have been really easy to come off as bitchy and then you'd understand why John would want to spend more time with Ted.

The rest of the cast has their moments as well.  Joel McHale plays a great, creepy boss who's main goal is to steal Lori away from John.  Patrick Warburton has a small, but very funny role as one of John's co-workers. Sam J. Jones (from the 80's Flash Gordon, a running gag throughout the film), shows up during a great party sequence towards the end.  Givoanni Ribisi also shows up at various points in the film and has a part in the unusual direction the story takes towards the end.

This was an impressive directorial debut by Seth MacFarlane.  For someone that's only done animation, he really was able to translate his style of humor over to live action well.  If he continues to make movies, I hope he continues to take chances and doesn't fall into a formula, but so far he's off to a really good start.  MacFarlane is joined by fellow Family Guy writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, so you can definitely see the influence on the writing on humor.

While Ted is not a perfect film, it's a consistently hilarious movie that gets the most out of it's concept and it's great cast.  It doesn't require you to be a Family Guy fan to enjoy and it's simply a fun, raunchy comedy for the Summer.  If you just want to a good laugh, I recommend checking it out.

4 out of 5 Death Stars

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) - Movie Review

I really would love to know what goes on in Wes Anderson's head or where his mind goes to come up with this stuff.

Moonrise Kingdom is the story of young love, but as with many Wes Anderson films, is fleshed out with unusual characters, situations and dialog.  Similar to other Anderson films, the movie feels more like fairy tale than something that could actually happen.

The story takes place in the 60's on a small island.  Two young pre-teens, Sam and Suzy, meet and decide to run away together.  They plan this over a series of letters for a year.  Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan and really isn't able to bond or relate to anyone from his "Khaki Scout" troop, where Suzy (Kara Hayward) also feels like she doesn't identify her family.  Once it's discovered that they've both run away, this causes a panicked search by Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the scout troop and scoutmaster (Edward Norton), and local policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).

If it wasn't so tastefully done, I might have been creeped out more by the burgeoning love between Sam and Suzy.  We are dealing with kids here and during some of their more intimate moments it can be a little uncomfortable to watch.  It works because you actually become invested in their adventure and want to see them prevail against the odds. The whole movie hinges on whether or not you like them.  Anderson made a bold choice going with two newcomers in his lead roles, but Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were both adorable and sympathetic.  Who doesn't remember their first love or crush?  Their portrayal is very heartfelt and I'm impressed Anderson got these this kind of performances out of two kids, let alone kids in their first film.  It's a testament to his skill as a director.

The adults are really secondary characters here.  Of course Bill Murray is back; you can't have a Wes Anderson film without him, but I didn't feel like he had all that much to do.  His character goes through the movie seemingly depressed, contrasted with Frances McDormand's frantic portrayal as Suzy's mother.  Ed Norton and Bruce Willis both were fantastic.  I love seeing actors play against type and they both did a great job here.  Ed Norton plays his scoutmaster with an earnestness that defines his character.  Willis gives a more subdued performance as he bonds with Sam, and eventually butt heads with Social Services (Tilda Swinton).  There are many other fun, smaller roles, but I won't spoil those for you.

There's a great use of color, music and attention to detail that really makes this feel authentic. Anderson has always had a very distinct visual style and his films feel like they are from a different time.  This time we actually know they are in the 60's, but it doesn't feel forced into that period.

Moonrise Kingdom does start out a little on the slow side, but it continues to build and get more unusual along the way.  It's only 93 minutes, so the pacing overall was good.  It never felt like it was going to run on too long.

The script by Anderson and Roman Coppola is full of the deadpan and quirky humor you've come to expect.  Anderson's films have never really been for everyone, so I can see people complaining that this it too cute or too quirky.  This isn't the film that's going to win you over if you haven't been a fan of his previously.  If you aren't familiar with him, then this is a good starter film into his universe.

After a few lackluster movies, Moonrise Kingdom shows that Wes Anderson is as strong as ever.  If you're a fan, then I think you're going to really love this.  It's a cute story about first love that has all the charm, humor and great performances you'd want.  This is in limited release, so it might not be playing near you, but don't hesitate to go a little out of your way for this one.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) - Movie Review

What would be your reaction if you read a newspaper ad that said the following:

"WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me.  This is not a joke.  You'll get paid after we get back.  Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before.  SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED"

Apparently this was similar to a real ad placed (as a joke) several years ago, which has since been turned into a meme and now serves as the inspiration for Safety Not Guaranteed.

Safety... follows the story of Darius (Aubrey Plaza) an intern for a Seattle magazine.  Darius is a little detached socially and even her own dad (Jeff Garlin) thinks she may be depressed.  After finding the above ad, one of the magazine's writers, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), pitches a story to look the guy up and see if he's for real or just plain nuts.  Jeff brings interns Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni) along to help him out.

They travel to the town of Ocean View and find that the ad was placed by Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a local grocery store employee.  After Jeff makes a failed attempt to contact him, Darius takes the lead.  Darius is able to gain Kenneth's trust and seems genuinely interested in Kenneth, but still can't make up her mind if he's crazy about all of this.  Jeff is just fine with this as he's able to use the situation to track down an old girlfriend of his (Jenice Bergere), and it appears this may have been the real motivation for the trip all along.

Let me just get this out of the way:  I LOVED this movie!  It tells a story that's funny, smart, cute, and despite being about time travel, manages to not confuse the hell out of you or feel like a true sci-fi movie. Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those films that surprises with how real it's characters feel.

It's a shorter film, at just 85 minutes, but wastes no time at all.  After watching it, you may be surprised that it wasn't longer, because there's so much story and character development.  Every character gets their story explored, everyone has more depth than you initially suspect.  There's a surprising amount of growth for such a short film.  Nothing is really neglected or forgotten about.

Writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow really nailed it.  So many times you watch an independent movie like this and get frustrated with unlikable characters, glaring plot holes or lack of a satifying conclusion.  You actually come to like all of these people and get invested in their stories.  There's nothing in the plot that makes you go 'really' or 'huh'?  Characters act and react to things in a believable way and you understand their motivation. They are careful about not revealing too much at once and it has a truly satisfying conclusion.

After playing mostly supporting roles, Aubrey Plaza gets a shot at a leading role and she shows here that there's more to her than the deadpan characters we see her play on things like Parks and Rec or Funny People.  She's absolutely adorable and a star on the rise.  Mark Duplass keeps hitting it out of the park, whether in front of the camera or behind it.  He (along with his brother, Jay) appear to be unstoppable.  Jake M. Johnson shows a side of him you don't get to see on New Girl and I see bright things in his future as well.  Everyone comes out of this on a high note.

Safety Not Guaranteed might end up being one of my top ten favorite films of the year.  It's smart, funny, has a great cast and interesting story.  It has surprising character depth as well.  This is really one of the true gems of 2012.  It's starting to get wider distribution, so I strongly recommend checking it out if it's in your area.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, June 25, 2012

Brave (2012) - Movie Review

Listen to your Mom!  Sure, she might nag you to keep your elbows off the table and pick up after yourself, but she usually knows best.

Brave is the story or Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a young, fiery Scottish girl that just wants to control her own fate.  She's a bit of tomboy, pursuing things like archery, hunting and exploring the wilderness.  She butts heads with her mother (Emma Thompson) who wants her to be more lady-like, where her father (Billy Connolly) encourages her behavior.

The trouble for Merida starts the day when she must choose a husband between the eldest born sons of three neighboring clans.  The problem is that these guys are nothing to get excited about.  Even though this is tradition and will prevent the clans from fighting, Merida wants none of it and flees.  While in the woods, she happens upon a Witch that promises a spell that will change her Mother's mind and allow Merida to choose her own fate.  As always, this has unexpected consequences and now it's up to her to fix things before it's too late.

As always, Pixar films are a visual treat.  The animation was great and the movie was gorgeous.  Merida's hair is practically a character on it's own.  I didn't get a chance to see this in 3D, so I can't comment on that, but I really don't think it's necessary.  The visuals didn't need the 3D gimmick and I didn't see a lot in the way of things being thrown at you where 3D would have enhanced the experience.

The voice talent was top notch!  Kelly Macdonald as Merida was perfect.  I always enjoy Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson and they are both great as well.  You have other strong actors like Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and Pixar-regular John Ratzenberger lending their voices to the supporting characters.  One thing that I've always liked about the voice acting in Pixar films is that it's never really distracting.  Even if you recognize the voice, you don't spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out who the voice belongs to.

The only real weakness of the film was the writing.  I felt the characters, particularly their motivations at the beginning of the film, were a little underwritten and needed a little more explanation.  It also lacked the same wit we've come to expect from Pixar films.  I was nervous from the trailers that much of the humor was going to be too childish, but it ended up being more sight gags and slapstick oriented.  While it was amusing, I felt it was very easy and safe. Merida's younger brothers should have been brought in more to provide a jolt of humor. I'm not surprised to see there were four writers (Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman) and with the exception of Irene Mecchi, all shared directing duties as well.  It can work, but I think it hurts a film when you don't have a unified voice in the writing in directing.  It's not that Brave was a mess, it just could have been a bit stronger.  People have such high expectations for Pixar films.

Brave does have all the heart you'd expect though.  Pixar has alwasy excelled at taking a simple concept or story, but adding depth to it.  This time you get a story about an independent young woman growing up, while learning to compromise and bond with her mother.  It's a nice message, and sure, we've seen it before. Maybe I'm a big softie for this kind of story, but Brave had my wiping my eyes a few times.  I have two weaknesses: Scottish music, and stories based around the relationship of a parent and child.  Combine both and you have a recipe for making this grown man cry.

People really seem to be down on Pixar lately for not knocking it out of the park with their recent movies.  While Brave isn't a homerun, a double or triple that drives in a few runs isn't a bad thing either.  Sure, the appeal to this one skews a bit younger than with previous films, but overall, Brave is a great family movie that most everyone can enjoy.  It has gorgeous visuals and animation, great voice acting, plenty of humor and heart and a good message that we can all identify with.  This is a good matinee.

4 out of 5 Death Stars

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) - Movie Review

Did you know Abraham Lincoln had a secret motivation for ending slavery?  Well, neither did I!  Turns out Lincoln didn't like vampires too much and most of the slave owners in the South were vampires.  This is the alternate history Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wants to you to buy into.

Based off the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay, AL:VH begins with a young Abe Lincoln defending a friend of his who was being whipped by a slave owner named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas).  Barts does not take kindly to Abe's intervention, and later that evening kills his mother, but Abe notices there's something odd about Barts.  Years later, a drunk Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), still seeking revenge, tracks down Barts.  After a failed attempt to kill Barts, it's revealed that he's a vampire.  Lincoln is saved by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who confirms that vampires are real, have been using slaves as a source of food and offers to train him as a vampire hunter.

You get a short Mr. Miyagi-like training montage, but they really don't spend a lot of time on that and just move on to the vampire hunting.  It jumps forward a few years and Lincoln gets a job in a shop ran by someone named Speed (Jimmi Simpson), meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and reunites with his old friend, Will (Anthony Mackie).  Lincoln finds there is boss vampire (Rufus Sewell) that must also be stopped.  The movie continues to jump ahead in time following his life until after the Civil War.

If you can't get around the premise, you won't be able to get through the film.  While they do try to integrate real, historical events into the movie, you can't expect accuracy when watching a film that has Vampire Hunter in the title.  One of the things that actually made this watchable is that fact that they take it so seriously.  Maybe a little too seriously though.  With such a silly premise and title, I wish they would have had a little more fun with it and it ended up feeling very flat.

I can see some people maybe even getting a little bit upset about Lincoln's motivation.  While they show you that he was against slavery from the get go, the movie sets up his primary motivation for killing vampires as wanting revenge against the one that killed his mother.  Ending slavery in the movie seemed like more of a way to just mess with vampires rather than it simply being the right thing to do.  I'm hearing the book was written a little differently as far as his motivation, so it seems weird it was changed for the movie, especially when written by the same person.

The actors really helped sell the film with how straight they played it.  I thought 'young Liam Neeson', Benjamin Walker was actually really good as Abraham Lincoln.  He really looked the part.  I always enjoy Mary Elizabeth Winstead and I think she did a good job with what she was given.  Dominic Cooper was interesting as well, and is one of my favorite actors out there right now.  I also enjoyed Marton Csokas and Rufus Sewel as effective, vampire villains.

The dialog, however, was pretty weak.  Some of the things the characters say are just eye-rollingly bad at times.  Also, there were a lot of inconsistencies with how they treated the vampires.  Sometimes people are bitten and die immediately, sometimes they get sick and die later, other times, they are bitten and then turn into vampires themselves in a matter of minutes.  Maybe this is better explained in the novel, but not really in the movie.  There's a lot of inconsistency throughout AB:VH, but should we really be expecting that much?

The visuals were at least interesting for the most part.  Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) got a lot out of his budget.  There's a lot of similarity in his style to that of Zack Snyder's in that there's lots of CG and use of slow motion.  Sometimes the slow-mo was used effectively, but it started to wear on me at the movie went on, as it was used way too much.  I also didn't like how they used darkness and fog to obscure everything.  It felt like it was done to save money by not having to have too much detail on screen.  There's a great horse chase sequence about halfway through, but even that looked bizarre to me at times.  I didn't see this in 3D, but I feel like this might have been one of those rare times when watching this in 3D might have actually helped with the visuals.

Another issue I had with the visuals were the color schemes they used.  There were scenes where everything had a white wash to it to where it was almost colorless.  Maybe this was done in an effort to make the movie look older.  There's was one sequence where just as the action was about to pick up, the color palatte goes blue/dark and then as soon as it ends, reverts back to more of a yellow hue.  It just felt like there were too many visual tricks or gimmicks used throughout.

I will say that this was some of the best aging makeup I've seen in a movie.  They effectively made Lincoln look older as the movie went on.  Maybe the makeup department for Prometheus or J. Edgar should take some notes from these guys.  The remaining characters are vampires, so you don't have to worry about aging them.  However, with some of the other characters, like Mary Todd or Will, they just grayed their hair a little bit and added some lines, which didn't look as authentic.

Make no mistake, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not a good movie.  For every cool thing they did, they seemed to do something that I found inconsistent or bad.  At the same time, it's much better than it had any right to be.  Again, if you can get around the premise, you should be able to have some fun with it.  Benjamin Walker gives a good performance as Lincoln and there are some interesting action scenes and visuals.  I recommend it as a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, June 22, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) - Movie Review

What would you do when you realize that the World is going to end in three weeks?  How would you go out?  Would you give in to basic urges, seek out an old flame or try to find love?  These are some of themes of Seeking a Friend of the End of the World.

Speaking of love, the screening I attended opened with a homemade trailer, which ended up being a marriage proposal for a couple in the audience.  She said 'yes', and that put everyone in a good mood leading into this film.

Seeking a Friend... opens with the announcement that a 70 mile wide asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. Our last attempt to stop the asteroid failed, so this is it. We have three weeks until impact. Dodge (Steve Carell) is thrown into a depressed state when his wife takes off immediately after getting the news, and is unsure what to do with his remaining time.  He meets Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbor that recently went through a breakup, and just wants to get back home to her family.  However, she's stuck due to the airlines shutting down.  Dodge decides to try and track down 'the one that got away', and Penny agrees to come along when Dodge promises he knows someone with a plane.

How do you prevent a movie about "the end" starting on too much of a down note?  You unleash Rob Corddry and sprinkle in a little Patton Oswalt to lighten the mood.  Corddry and his wife (Connie Britton) host an end-of-the-world party and he absolutely steals the opening of the movie.  If the world was going to end soon, this is the party where you'd find me.  This also serves a good counter to Carell's somber mood.

The movie is at its best when letting its characters give in to temptation.  Later, they happen upon a TGI Friday's-type place called 'Friendsy's' where comedian T.J. Miller and Britta from Community (Gillian Jacobs) are employees that are clearly rolling on E and everyone working there might just be a little too friendly.  It's a hilarious scene that I wish would have gone on a bit longer.  Also, around this time is when they are arrested in a scene that had me scratching my head when I saw it in the trailer, and I feared it might be a bad sign about the movie.  I had a hard time believing that a cop would bother pulling someone over for a routine traffic violation given the circumstances.  What would be the point?  Fortunately, the full sequence made more sense and it ended up not being something that bothered me the in context of the entire film.

The movie is a little all over the place tonally.  While the opening is very funny, there are points even early on where they are in immediate danger. Midway through, there's an almost sinister moment when they visit one of Penny's exes.  This scene doesn't last very long, but it does mark the point where it finally makes a turn for the serious and emotional. They really lay it on you at the end, but it still works because of the chemistry, and how much you like Dodge and Penny.

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are both great.  It's an unusual pairing of the deadpan Dodge and Pixie Dream Girl Penny, but it never felt forced to me.  They are two good people just looking to connect with someone before it's too late.  The rest of the cast is great and you'll recognize many other comedic actors and comedians sprinkled throughout the film.  There's no weak link in the cast.

The weakest point of the movie is the ending.  While sentimental, it wraps up a little too neatly and felt like a little too much of a typical rom-com ending.  Don't get me wrong, I was satisfied with it, but I think they tried too hard to give the movie closure, when it's going to be impossible to have a truly happy ending.  There was actually a moment a few minutes before the eventual ending where I think it would have been a better place to wrap it up.  Either way, I'm sure you'll see many people reaching for tissue.

This was a really strong directorial debut for Lorene Scafaria, who also wrote the screenplay and previously had written Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.  I think the main weakness here is that she couldn't quite decide on the type of movie she wanted to make.  Was this a comedy?  A drama?  She has a knack for quirky though and I'm interested to see what she does next.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is ultimately a mixed bag.  It's a flawed film, but the good outweighs the bad.  It has some genuine, tender moments and was much funnier that I expected.  Fans of Steve Carell or Keira Knightley will enjoy them and their relationship.  It's actually a pretty good date movie for a matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

That's My Boy (2012) - Movie Review

Let's get this out of the way, I don't hate Adam Sandler.  I own many of his earlier movies and I think he's a talented guy.  At the same time, there's been a steady decline and laziness to his work.  I thought after Funny People - a good movie that pokes fun at the types of movies he's made - he was going to move into a more mature phase of his career.  Instead, we get That's My Boy.

If you haven't seen the trailer, the basic story is this:  Donny Berger is a 12-year-old that's 'seduced' by his teacher, Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino).  They actually carry on this inappropriate relationship for a while, but are eventually caught.  Matters are complicated when it results in a pregnancy.  Ms. McGarricle is sentenced to 30 years in prison and custody is granted to Donny and his father, with the condition that he takes full custody when he turns 18.  We fast forward nearly 30 years and see that Donny (Adam Sandler) is broke and owes money to the IRS.

Donny finds his son Todd (Andy Samberg), who has disavowed Donny to the point where he has changed his name (from Han Solo, which I have to admit is kind of awesome) and claims his parents are dead.  Todd is now a successful businessman and about to get married to Jamie (Leighton Meester). Posing as an old friend of Todd's, Donny crashes the festivities and hopes he can get Todd to agree to show up in a reality program that promised to pay Donny enough to get him out of trouble.

I'd shit all over this premise, and point out that it's essentially child rape, but let's face it, most Sandler films, even the well liked ones, have never really been all that strong on the story or premise.  I can usually get around bad premises and suspend my disbelief in any film as long as they are consistent with it.

The good news is that That's My Boy is not the worst Adam Sandler film I've seen, but that's damning it with faint praise.  There were actually a few parts that made me laugh a little, but they were too few and far between.  The movie really wears on, and there is simply no reason for this to be almost two hours.  There are lots of lulls that neither advance the story or even attempt to be funny.  A good 20 minutes of this could have been cut out entirely.

One notable thing is that this a rare, R-rated comedy from Sandler, but he's a little late to the party.  For a raunchy comedy, this may have played better 10 years ago, but by now this is all stuff you've seen done better.  Most of the jokes here are old, gross, very lame, or come out of nowhere.  I like silly and filthy as much as the next guy, but it has to be done well.  I don't mean to sound condescending, but this is a movie that will be much funnier to a younger audience.

Then on top of everything you have Sandler doing yet another man-child with a dumb voice. The sad part is that it all would have worked better if Sandler had just played it straight. I don't know why he thinks an awful accent is the same thing as playing a character. That's part of the problem; it really isn't a character that you can get behind.  Donny is a such a drunk, vulgar buffoon that you never root for him and most of the characters in the film react to him in an unrealistic way.  When they try to throw in a subplot about Donny trying to bond with his son, it just doesn't work well because the characters are so unlikable.

The cast is all pretty much wasted here.  Andy Samberg plays a neurotic, ineffectual dork that doesn't stand up for himself.  The role doesn't really allow him to be funny.  I thought Milo Ventimiglia was funny and liked seeing him doing something a little different after Heroes.  There are several amusing cameos throughout the film as well.  However, it's pretty sad when you have a cast full of comedic actors, like Nick Swardson and Will Forte, and Vanilla Ice is one of the funnier things about your film.

When is Adam Sandler going to do a movie called I Love the 80's?  Oh wait, he already did The Wedding Singer. I did find it ironic that the opening song is Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages", when this movie came out the same day as Rock of Ages.  I haven't seen Rock of Ages yet, but I'll hazard a guess that That's My Boy had a better soundtrack.  Would you rather hear bad karaoke versions of 80's songs or just hear the originals?  Seriously though, the movie does have a great soundtrack, but Sandler has a habit of hitting you over the head with how much he loves 80's rock.  Don't get me wrong, I love it too, but it was distracting this time around.

I'm actually kind of shocked that we didn't get more out of writer David Caspe and director Sean Anders.  Capse writes for Happy Endings, which is one of my favorite TV shows right now.  Anders wrote She's Out of My League and Hot Tub Time Machine.  You'd think with these kind of writers behind the movie, it would be funnier and fresher.

That's My Boy is just a tired, lame movie that simply isn't very funny.  Much like Sandler's Jack and Jill, it's surprisingly mean-spirited for something that's supposed to be a silly comedy.  I would say this is in the lower third of all of his films, which means it's just a bad movie.  There's no reason to watch this in the theater, or even rent this.  I advise you to skip it.  You won't miss anything.  Watch Hot Tub Time Machine again instead.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This Week in DVD - June 17th - Father's Day

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012) 

It seems like just the other day I watched Beautiful Boy, another movie about a troubled teen that commits a horrible crime.  This movie opens showing you that Kevin is in jail.  We don't know what for just yet, but it's really not that hard to figure out as the movie progresses.

The movie is largely told in flashbacks as Kevin's mother, played by Tidla Swinton, is coping with her son's actions and the hostility from the neighbors.  While you can see from a young age there was something 'off' about him, they try to get you to think about how was it more that he was just born wrong, or did his mother's actions and inability to bond with him led him down this path.  Could things have turned out different if he has been raised differently?

That premise is kind of betrayed once Kevin gets older and they show him doing things that make it impossible to like him and are the actions of someone that is truly disturbed.  In many ways it feels like a horror film, like Damien for a modern time.

It's one of those punch in the gut films that can be a little painful to watch.  Tilda Swinton was fantastic as was Ezra Miller, who played Kevin.  Oh, this is weird, Ezra Miller played a character named Damien on Californication.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars - I think it's worth a rental.

Man on a Ledge (2012)

Sam Worthington plays Nick, a former ex-NYC cop who was wrongly accused of a stealing a diamond from a wealthy businessman.  He breaks out of prison and poses as someone attempting to commit suicide.  But it's a distraction, as his brother and girlfriend are attempting to steal the diamond, which is still in  possession by the businessman and this would prove that Nick was setup and is innocent.

It has a nice cast, better than you'd expect, but the movie is outright silly at times.  There were too many things that I had a hard time taking seriously in a movie that's meant to be a thriller.  If you're not scratching your head at the ridiculousness of the plot, then you're just kind of bored with what's going on.

The best thing about it is Genesis Rodriguez as his brother's girlfriend.  Damn!  She's great to look at, but she's really not necessary to the story.  In fact, it's pretty obvious she's in the film to distract you from how stupid this movie is.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - This is the type of movie if you might enjoy if were bored on a rainy day and flipping channels and happened to come across this.

Gone (2012)

Speaking of silly and ridiculous, here's another one!  Amanada Seyfried stars as a girl that was kidnapped by a serial killer, but escapes.  A year later, her sister is kidnapped and Seyfried thinks it's the same killer and he kidnapped his sister to get back at her.  Huh?  Why kidnap her sister then?  Just kidnap Seyfried again, or kill her.  What's the point?

Anyway, the cops don't believe Seyfried, because they think she's nuts and has a history of mental illness, so she has to investigate herself.  This also sets up the idea that this is all in her head, with constant hints and misdirection.  You could almost call this 'Red Herring: The Movie'.

The cops in the movie are portrayed as incompetent and Seyfried's character acts irrationally throughout the film.  She manages to put all the pieces together though and -- spoiler -- the killer confirms he was just trying to get back at her.

It's a waste of Amanda Seyfried.  She's a likable, attractive actress and deserves better.  There's just nothing to care about in this film and you never feel tension or suspense.  The entire movie is boring and ending is just blah.

1 (out of 5) - You can safely skip this one.  Nothing to see here...move along...

Mother's Day (2012)

It's kind of ironic that I'm writing about a movie called Mother's Day on Father's Day.  Well, I'm sorry, but they didn't come out with a movie called Father's Day this week, so this is what we are stuck with.

Another 'great' film brought to you by the director of serveral of the Saw films (Darren Lynn Bousman).  That fact alone might be enough to make many of you steer clear of this one.

A group of incompetent criminals invades their former home (which they were unaware was no longer owned by their mother) and holds the current owners and a group of their friends hostage.  The problem is that the hostages are just as incompetent and unlikable as the criminals are.

It's such a comedy of errors that you're literally rooting for every single person in the movie, except maybe for Baby Vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), to die horribly and fortunately the movie delivers on that.

Rebecca DeMorney is creepy as the mother of this family, and probably the only person that comes out of this looking good, but that's about it.  The rest of the cast are largely unknowns and like I said, you don't like any of their characters enough to care about them.

1 (out of 5) Death Star - Pass

A Little Bit of Heaven (2012)

Who exactly did Kate Hudson piss off to get stuck with movies like this?  She started out so great in Almost Famous, and since then it's just been a parade of crap.

I almost caught a screening of this movie about a month back and I'm glad I couldn't make it.  It's a boring, melodramatic mess.  I would've had a hard time sitting through this in the theater, as despite only being 100 minutes, it felt like it was over two hours.

Anyway, the movie is about how Kate Hudson's character finds out she has ass cancer.  She does the typical shopping sprees and saying goodbye to family and friends, but still manages to find love with her doctor (isn't that a little unethical?).

It's not funny or cute, despite that Hudson's character is happy all the time.  Plus, she gets to have special chemotherapy that allows her to keep her hair and look great up until her death.  Oh sorry, I spoiled the ending, but I also just saved you from watching it.

The two things I'll credit the movie for is that Peter Dinklage has a small role, and he's always awesome, and that the movie doesn't cop out at the end and magically cure her.  If you're going to watch a recent movie about someone getting cancer, rent 50/50 instead.

.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Pass.  There's no need to watch this.

John Carter (2012)

I didn't like this or give it a good review the first time around.  I thought the plot was convoluted and they tried to do too much with it.  Based on what I've heard from people that actually read the books, they added a bunch of elements into the movie that weren't brought in until several books later.  This seems like a mistake when trying to kick off a new franchise.  Instead of giving us a compelling story about a few characters, we get a muddled story with too much going on and ultimately the first major bomb/flop of the year.

Despite that, I'm looking forward to watching it again.  I tried to rent it but was unsuccessful.  I'm curious to see if it grows on me or how I feel about it in a different state of mind and maybe able to focus on it a bit more.  I was hoping for a directors cut, but that didn't happen.  I've heard very little was cut from the film and this movie felt very influenced by the studio, despite the director's assertions that he was in full control.

2.5 Death Stars - I still think it's worth a rental.

Safe House (2012)

Nobody is safe in the Safe House!

I called this movie very mediocre in my original review.  It's well acted, has a nice cast and some good action sequences, but I also felt it didn't do much new or original.  It's not like anyone comes out of this movie looking bad or damaged their career though.

I think the biggest flaw of the movie is how predictable it all is.  If the story had been just a little bit stronger it would be so much easier to recommend this.  Denzel's character, Tobin Frost, starts off as an interesting character, but just isn't developed enough.  There's just not enough here to really get into.

2.5 Death Stars - Even my original review, I said this movie was a rental, so now you have your chance.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

This had such promise with what appeared to be a better cast, effects and the Crank guys directing.  With as weak as the first film was, it shouldn't have been too hard to improve on it.  Instead we get a boring, weird film that felt like a bad drug trip at times.

The story is bad and dialog just awful in parts.  There's some okay action and the effects for Ghost Rider looked great, but then they would have these weird elements that just distracted me.  It's a shame because there are some good things here, but it's just such a mess.  I called it a 'misfire' in my original review.  That still seems appropriate.

1.5 Death Stars - It's a rental only for the die hard comic book fans.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

This took six months to come out on DVD?  Really?

In my original review, I said this movie suffered from sequel-itis in that they just tried to give you more of what worked with the first film, but it ended up being too much.  There's too much slow-motion, too much of Sherlock Holmes using his super powers, and similar to Iron Man 2, they lost the chemistry between the characters.

The cast is likable and there are some good moments, but it's a good 20 minutes too long.  I felt like the plot was overly complicated and didn't make sense in parts. Plus, they didn't really use Moriarty effectively as a villain.

It's not a bad movie, but I didn't think it was a very good one either.  There's enough here that fans of the first will be entertained by.  It just could have been stronger.  You can read more about it here.

2.5 Death Stars - I think it's worth a rental.

Oh, and if you're looking for a late minute gift for Father's Day, or just looking to pick up some DVD's, why not click through my link below and head over to Amazon.  If you click my link and then buy something as you normally would, I get a little kick back from them and it helps support my reviews.

Hysteria (2012) - Movie Review

Who knew a movie about the invention of the vibrator would be so funny!

Hysteria is a movie set in the late 1800's.  The title does not refer to the Def Leppard song, but to the common medical diagnosis of female hysteria, which was sort of a 'catch-all' for just about any behavior or malady affecting women back then.  The common treatment for hysteria was a massage of a woman's lady-parts performed by the doctor.

Hugh Dancy stars as Mortimer Granville, a young doctor who's having difficulty finding work.  This is mainly due to his rejection of old medical practices, rather than the current modern science he believes in.  He's eventually able to get a job with Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who runs a very successful practice treating hysteria.  Dr. Dalrymple has two daughters, Emily (Felicity Jones), whom the doctor would like to see eventually marry Mortimer, and Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a tough activist that her father considers to be more of a troublemaker than anything.

Because the massages take a very long time, and they continue to get more patients, Mortimer eventually develops debilitating hand cramps that make it impossible for him to continue to do his job.  As it happens, his friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), a gadget collector, has an electronic feather duster that 'vibrates' and aids his hand cramps.  I'm sure you see where this is going.

The script by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa-Dyer is very funny but also manages to show a good amount or respect for the material.  The tone overall is very light, and a little sexy, but everyone plays it straight, so it never comes off as silly.  Director Tanya Wexler keeps the movie going at a very nice pace.  Although, there's a point in the third act where I thought the movie almost got away from itself, and it does kind of have a bit of a cliched ending, but you have a such a good time watching the film that you really don't mind.

I love period pieces, in general, and Hysteria did not disappoint on that front.  One of the stronger aspects of the film are the costumes and set design.  You see all the grime and dirt on people and the disparity in the living conditions between classes.  It felt very authentic and I enjoyed just looking at everything.

The best thing about the movie though is the cast, who from top to bottom are spot-on and extremely charming.  There honestly isn't a single weak player in the entire film.  Hugh Dancy does a good job as a young doctor that just wants to help people, but might be in over his head.  Felicity Jones gives a strong performance and I enjoyed her much more here than I did in Like Crazy.  While I thought their pairing up was too easy and convenient, I suppose that's how things were back then.

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives her strongest performance since Secretary.  She's so good and so looks the part that I had to remind myself that she's not English.  However, my favorite in the film is Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe.  In a movie that's already funny, he delivers some of the best moments of the film and steals every scene he's in.  You almost wish he could have been in the movie more, but then it might have been a case of too much of a good thing.

I love when a movie you know almost nothing about surprises you and that's what I got with Hysteria.  It's not a perfect film, but enjoyed the hell out of it and it's one of my favorite gems so far this year.  It's charming, witty and even a little cheeky.  It's also a great date movie.  It's a small release, so most of you will have to wait for DVD, but if you have access to a local art house theater, like The Vine (, then I highly recommend checking it out.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

NOTE:  I originally gave this 3.5 stars, but after thinking about it for a day, I realized there was no reason for this to not be a 4 Death Star rating.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus (2012) - Movie Review

When are humans going to learn that if you're going to explore outer space, then you should bring an army along just in case?

I was talking to a friend the other day when he questioned what all the hype was about Prometheus, and I said, "It's return of Ridley Scott to the Alien franchise and it has a sick cast.  What's not to like!"  After seeing Prometheus, I'm afraid my friend was right about the hype.  It's not that Prometheus is a bad movie, but I think it's an example of what happens when everyone's expectations are set too high.

While I'm going to try to stay away from spoilers, I am going to start this one off on a bit of a rant.  The problem is this: nearly the entire story, including the climax, is spoiled in the trailers.  This has to stop!  You can watch the 2-3 minute trailers online and you've pretty much seen the entire plot of Prometheus.  Granted, lots of movies do this, but so much of this movie is telegraphed by the trailer that there's little suspense to anything that happens.

The setup for Prometheus starts with two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who find an old cave painting that has a set of markings that matches the same set found in paintings from many unrelated civilizations.  They determine these markings are a star cluster, which they analyze and find that there is a planet they suspect that can support life.

Weyland Industries funds an expedition to the planet to see what they find and maybe get some answers to the origins of life on Earth.  While in transit, you're introduced to David (Michael Fassbender), an android, which is clear by the very fact that he's not in cryo-sleep like everyone else.  Plus, they introduce him to the crew as an android the first chance they get.  This felt odd to me as in Alien the reveal of the android was a surprise to the crew.  David is easily the most interesting character in the movie and Fassbender does a great job with the role.  From the very beginning, you're already curious about what's going on in that computer brain of his.

They arrive at the planet and find ancient buildings and remains that are thousands of years old.  Something bad happened there, but they don't know what yet.  Just as they start to explore, another pet peeve of mine happens.  Why is it always the role of the 'egghead'-scientist character to not want weapons on the mission?  As a smart person, don't you understand that when going into an unknown, it's probably not a bad idea to be prepared for all contingencies?  Of course, they don't take weapons and then later there's always a need for them.  It bugged me a little more this time around, because you don't know what you're going to run into on an alien world.

There's a whole lot of 'what is that?' and 'who are they?' in the movie.  One of the strengths of Prometheus is that this did feel like a true sci-fi film.  The setup and early part of the movie really had me.  When they talk about the Engineers (the famous Space Jockey from the first Alien) and life on Earth, you're genuinely interested in seeing how it all plays out.  What are they going to discover?

However, once the more action/horror elements start, I started to lose interest, as those earlier sci-fi aspects of the film fell by the wayside.  That's the main problem.  Prometheus sets up all these questions and then doesn't answer very many of them.  I left Prometheus still knowing very little about the back story of this universe.  They do setup a sequel, and I actually hope it gets made because maybe that will answer many of the questions left unanswered.

The ironic thing is that there was a line in the movie about being disappointed when meeting your creator and finding out 'why'.  That's how I think a lot are going to feel about this movie: disappointed.

Prometheus does have a great cast, but the characters aren't developed very well and it seems like a waste, as their talents are underused.  For the second straight week, Charlize Theron stars as a bad guy, but this time around it's more of a muted performance where there is doubt about what her true motivations are.  This could have been a more interesting character, but they didn't develop her.  Tom Hardy-lookalike, Logan Marshall-Green, plays his character with a unusually abrasive attitude, especially towards Fassbender's David.  It's never a good idea to be needlessly mean to the outwardly nice, but morally ambiguous android, right?  That won't turn out bad for him at all.

The story focuses on Noomi Rapace's Shaw and I thought she did a good job.  While the comparisons to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley are natural, she doesn't demonstrate the same strength or toughness as Ripley.  Shaw is a scientist, where Ripley seems like a natural leader from the very beginning.  Idris Elba seemed like the only character that had any real personality, but he's not in it that much or given much to do.  I didn't even realize Guy Pearce was in this, as they put him some really awful old man makeup.  I don't understand why they did this, rather than just cast an older actor.  I like Pearce, but he didn't bring anything to the role that made you think only he could have played it.  Fassbender comes out if this looking the best.

The script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof doesn't develop the story elements it sets up or gives you enough to care about the characters or make them all that interesting.  If you're a Lost fan, as I am, the disappointing payoff may not be a surprise to you considering Lindelof's involvement.  There were just too many thing in the story that didn't add up to me.

I'm glad Ridley Scott is back to the Alien universe he introduced us to back in the 70's.  He really did get the sci-fi aspects down and the movie's visual style is fantastic.  It is a gorgeous movie to look at.  The visuals alone are almost worth the price of admission.  I did see it in IMAX, which helped, but I didn't think the 3D did much for it.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not this is an Alien prequel or just set in the same universe.  It's definitely not a direct prequel to Alien.  I'd call it Alien's uncle.  I think it's better to go into this as a standalone film.  I tried to do that, but still felt it lacking.  However, there's a tacked on ending that kind of undercuts their assertion that this isn't another Alien film.

In the end, Prometheus has a lot of interesting ideas that aren't fully realized.  It's a visually stunning movie and has a few interesting performances, especially from Michael Fassbender, but it ultimately left me disappointed and a little cold.  Maybe on a second viewing once it hits Blu-Ray I might get more out of it.  If you're dying to see this, do a matinee and skip the 3D.  Otherwise, it's a rental.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, June 4, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - Movie Review

Early on in Snow White and the Huntsman, the Evil Queen stares into the magic mirror and says her famous line, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is fairest of them all?"  The CG-mirror comes alive and says, "You, Charlize, you're the fairest.  Duh!"  Then the movie fades to black and the credits roll.  Total running time: 7 minutes.  Okay, that isn't what really happens, but it would have been funny if it did.

This year we get not one, but two, updated editions of the Snow White story.  Just two months ago, we had Mirror Mirror (you can read my review here), and now we have Snow White and the Huntsman.  Where Mirror Mirror was a light and silly version of the story, Snow White and the Huntsman tries to tell a darker and more violent version.  Neither really deviates from the established story we're all familiar with at this point, so there's no need to go into the plot.

The good news is that Snow White and the Huntsman is a better movie than Mirror Mirror.  Like Mirror Mirror, it's a great looking film.  The set and costume design, along with the makeup and special effects are all top notch.  There are some great looking creatures and many interesting things to look at throughout.  However, while I appreciate the fact they tried to do something a little different, in a lot of ways it felt like this was just a Lord of the Rings or Narnia knockoff.  Don't get me wrong, I like they made a Snow White film that focuses on those fantasy elements and brings a little more action.  If their goal was to make a version that appealed to guys more, then I think they succeeded.

One of the cooler aspects of SWatH is what they did with the dwarves.  They cast regular-sized actors in the roles, but through the magic of special effects shrunk them down to size.  Many of them, despite being played by well known actors, were almost unrecognizable.  I had to watch the credits just to make sure I was right about a few of them.  Partially due to the quality of the actors playing the dwarves (Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, etc.), they seemed more serious and less jokey than what we've seen in other versions of Snow White.  It's unfortunate they wait so long to introduce them, as I think we're well past that halfway point before they're brought in, but they end up being one of the stronger aspects of the movie.

Charlize Theron gives it her all as Queen Revenna, but I expected nothing less.  I've said it before, but it always seems like actors have more fun playing the evil character.  There's more to sink your teeth into and play with emotionally.  I do think Theron was just on the edge of overdoing it a bit, but she's still the most memorable performance.

I actually didn't mind Kristen Stewart for a change, despite my initial concerns that she had been miscast as Snow White.  I don't know if it was from the direction or her fixing some of her tics, but she certainly seemed to cut back on the excessive blinking and shivering that's plagued her other performances.  I coined the term 'chihuahua acting' a few years ago when describing what she always reminded me of.  I still wish her default expression wasn't an open mouth stare, as if she's a mouth-breather.  I thought she did a good job with the accent and emoting a little more, but I didn't find her character all that interesting.  She's just kind of there, but I don't really blame that on her performance.

Chris Hemsworth did a good job as the Huntsman, but I felt his character was a little one-dimensional.  In fact, I don't recall if they ever actually say his name during the movie other than call him 'Huntsman'.  Outside of the Queen, pretty much all of the characters seemed a little flat, and you don't really learn much about them.  Here's another movie where we have a trio of writers (Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini), but somehow it all felt underwritten.

I think the lack of character development is magnified by the fact that the movie, at 127 minutes, is at least 20 minutes too long.  As the movie slugs along, these flaws are magnified.  We all know how the story is going to play out, so why stretch it?  This is where I think director Rupert Sanders let the movie get away from him a bit.  It's a good effort for a first time director though, and I'm sure he's going to get more chances after this to show what he can do.  Had he tightened the run time a bit, this would have been so much better.

Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman is a great looking and fairly entertaining movie.  It's flawed, but not so much that I left feeling disappointed or like I wasted my time with it.  It has a broader appeal than Mirror Mirror due to it's tone and action focus.  However, at PG-13, the dark and violent nature of this version might be a little too much for young kids.  I put this movie in the matinee range.

3 (out or 5) - Death Stars

Friday, June 1, 2012

This Week in DVD - May 31st Edition

I figured I should throw up one last post before we start a new month.

Shame (2011)

A dark character study about a sex addict, but lets face it, the elephant in the room is Fassbender's schlong.  There's been a lot of hype about this movie and his member, but you only see it when he's just walking around his pad naked, like just getting a glass of water or going to the bathroom, as all bachelors do.  It's not sexual at all and ends up having nothing to do with the story other than to show you what he's packing.  In fact, I think they get it all out of the way by the 15-minute mark and then they are done with it.  There's just as much female nudity, probably a little more actually.

Anyway, Fassbender plays a bachelor in NYC.  He appears to be successful, but I don't think it's ever actually said what he does for a living.  Without explicitly stating it, it's clear he has a sex addiction.  It's to the point where it even affects his work.  His house and work computers are full of porn, he masturbates constantly (also at work), pays for whores, hooks up with pretty much anyone (including co-workers), etc.  He has a younger sister, played by Carey Mulligan, he completely avoids to until she shows up unannounced and begs to crash at his place for a bit.  She's got her own issues as well, so this is not a very healthy family.

Eventually, things really spiral out of control for him and it gets to be kind of sad.

Besides the schlong, this is an NC-17 movie, and there are some very graphic sex scenes, so be warned if that's not your thing when watching a movie.

I was really looking forward to seeing Shame after all the buzz, but it's a little too melodramatic and drawn out.  Even for a movie like this, the pacing is too slow.  It starts off strong, but then it just kind of fizzles out.  You initially want to like Fassbender's character, but he's really an unlikeable person and he doesn't seem to have much in the way of any kind of growth.  It's just a short snapshot of his life.  Fassbender does a great job with the role though.  It's a well-acted film about broken, unlikable people.  I still enjoyed the film, because I like characters studies, even if there's no resolution, but this isn't for everyone.  Again, it's a dark movie and I think many will be turned off by it.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

The Iron Lady (2011)

A historical biopic about Margaret Thatcher.  Meryl Streep does her almost predictably awesome job with the role, but the movie itself just isn't all that interesting.  Thatcher was a bit before my time and I'm not really a political animal, so I didn't really have an opinion of her going in...and I still don't.

I think the main problem is that the movie is told in a really disjointed way, skipping around between her younger years as she decides to get into politics, her rise to power and difficulties as Prime Rib...I mean Minister (sorry, I'm hungry), and then just before her death as she suffers from dementia.

While I think the scenes of her with dementia were meant to make her sympathetic, I think the movie would have benefited for focusing on the middle part of her life and career.  It's funny because there are a lot of parallels between this and another biopic released last year, J. Edgar.  The main flaws of that film were also its disjointed story telling, jumping around in time, and not focusing on the more interesting aspects of his career.

Outside of Streep and Jim Broadbent's performances, there wasn't much to keep me interested and I found it a struggle to get through. I can see why Streep won the Oscar, but I think there were other deserving performances from much better films last year.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

One for the Money (2012)

It's almost unfair for me to even review this.  I'm not a Katherine Heigl fan.  Outside of Knocked Up, she hasn't been in a single good movie.  She's such a ditz that she actually talked shit about that movie for being sexist, but has then starred in a series of movies that are even more sexist, including this one.  Way to bite the hand that feeds you, Heigl.  Movies like this are your punishment.

Anyway, Heigl plays Stephanie Plum.  Out of work and desperate for cash, she turns to becoming a bounty hunter/bail bondsman.  Her big score happens to be an old high school flame.

I guess I don't know much about being a bounty hunter, because Plum just walks in and becomes a bounty hunter in just a few minutes.  No training or experience required.   Then, she oscillates between being inept and then capable.  Which is it?  Was that the point?

One irritating thing about Heigl's movies is that she has this thing in all them were her only real character flaw is that she's either clumsy or she eats like a pig.  In this movie, she eats like a pig.  What makes it insulting is that they go out of their way to show you she's got a nice body and many characters even comment on it.  They say things like, "How do you look like you do eating the way you do?"  Um yeah, nice back door brag.  Exactly how does that make audiences identify with you?  Was the movie supposed to be an empowering story about a strong, smart woman?  Well, it's not.

I don't know anything about the series of books this character was based on, but I hope they were written better than this movie, cause otherwise, this is a terrible character to base a book or movie series off of.  I've heard by many fans of the book series, they didn't like the casting of Heigl, so there's that, too.

It's not funny, sexy or entertaining.  There's no chemistry at all between anyone.

.5 out of 5 - Pass

New Years Eve (2011)

In keeping with the 'bad movies with Katherine Heigl' theme, I watched this junk over the weekend.

Brought to you by the maker's of Valentine's Day (Gary Marshall).  What's next?  Labor Day?  President's Day?  It's not that these movies are outright terrible, it's just that there's nothing to like about them either.  They aren't funny, clever, or do nothing new or interesting.  There are too many characters and threads and it's difficult to keep them all straight or care about anyone since you don't get invested.  There's no focus.  If they actually tried cutting down on the number of characters and threads, they might be able to make a movie that makes you feel something.  There are plenty of examples of movies in this style that do it right.

To show you how bland this movie is, look at the DVD.  Doesn't this just scream 'bland' to you?

So many things about this movie bugged me.  They have Bon Jovi in the movie playing a musician (big surprise) that's going to perform at Times Square, and have characters tell him 'you rock', only to have him play easy listening cover songs when he finally takes the stage.  He doesn't even play Bon Jovi songs.  Huh?  Of course, his character is the one that is paired up with Heigl, so you don't care about those two.

Then you have Josh Duhamel inexplicably paired up with Sarah Jessica Parker, who's nearly ten years older than him.  Not that it's a problem with her being older, it's that their thread involves Duhamel pining over her for a year after a one night, chance encounter the previous New Years Eve.  Move on dude, you can do better!

Then after that, it's more people you care even less about.  They waste people like Hillary Swank, Sophia Vergara and Robert De Niro in roles that don't do anything significant.  I can only guess they were doing someone a favor or just needed small paycheck for small amount of work.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars - Pass.  It's just a waste of time.

Also out recently:

The Devil Inside (2012)

For a found footage film, it actually starts out okay, but then it has one of the worst endings I've seen in a long time.  I kid you not, the ending was so bad, that people booed and I saw people ask for their money back out in the lobby.  It's that bad.  I talk more about it in my original review.

Chris Gore had a great point about demon/devil possession movies like this.  So a devil possess this lady for what?  To annoy everyone?  Why doesn't the devil try possessing someone of significance for a change?  Like someone they could use to  actually affect the world?  What does possessing some random girl mean in the large scheme of things?  Maybe this is why the Devil is stuck in Hell.  You're an idiot and need to learn how to strategize.

.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Pass on this.  It's sad because a better ending actually would have made this worth watching.

Chronicle (2012)

One of my early, surprise favorites of the year.  I loved this movie!  While you may think this is yet another found-footage film used as a gimmick, it really isn't.  It was just shot in that handheld style and it's effective this time around.  It'll be clear from the story that this is definitely not about a bunch of kids that get lost in the forest and nobody ever finds out what happens to them.

It is about a group of teens that through some accident all gain telekinesis, and then it delves into how they experiment with and use their powers.  One of them turns bad though, and I like to joke that this is basically an angsty teenage version of teen becoming Darth Vader, except not as annoying as Episode III or Hayden Christensen.  You can read more about it here.

It has some surprisingly good effects and until The Avengers came out, the best superhero fight scene I've seen in a while.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars - Strong rental recommendation and something I'll likely be adding to my Blu-Ray collection soon.

The Grey (2012)

This is a really polarizing movie.  It seems that most people I've talked to about this The Grey didn't like it and I suspect it's because most people were expecting a different kind of a movie.  Even my own parents didn't like this after I recommended that they watch it, so I feel like I'm in a minority for liking this one as much as I did.

Let's get this out of the way: this is not a movie about fighting wolves or wolf punching.  It's a movie about man vs. nature, survival and ultimately a philosophical movie about what drives a man to keep going and even questioning faith.  This is not an action film!  The famous scene from the trailer where he straps bottles to his hands is the very last shot of the film, so the trailer really mislead everyone on what the movie was about.  Remember that trailers often lie and misrepresent what a movie is about, and the director of the film often has little control or input as to how the trailer is cut to market the movie.  There are only handful of directors that have that kind of clout.

Anyway, it's a darker movie that doesn't have a happy ending.  Although, you need to watch until the end of the credits (or just fast forward, since this is DVD we are talking about).

I think I gave this 4 Death Stars originally, but I think I'm going to bump it down to 3.5.  It's an example of a good movie that you never need to watch again.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - I still think it's worth a rental, but understand what you're getting into.

The Woman in Black (2012)

I called this Harry Potter vs. the Haunted House in my original review, except there's no magic.  I think magic would have helped this movie.  Maybe some Expecto Patron!  Yes, Expecto Patron makes every movie amazing!

It's an okay film, but it's a little too slow and they relied on way too many jump scares.  It also seems like they used expensive special effects when practical effects would have been more convincing.  The motivation of the ghost didn't work for me, and it bugs me when a ghost is haunting people that didn't have anything to do with her pain.  I did like the ending, and I thought it was the one part that stuck with me.  It was very much a punch in the gut.  It also does have a creepy vibe that was somewhat effective.

I still think it's worth a rental if you like ghost stories.  Movies like this are always better suited for rental, as I think it's easier to buy into the haunted house setting, sitting in the dark on your couch, instead of in a mostly full theater.  It's scarier watching it by yourself at home, or with a date.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Rental

Red Tails (2012)

A story about the Tuskegee Airmen, their role in World War II and the struggles they had to overcome to be accepted.

A lot of people were really hard on George Lucas about this one, but I actually didn't think this was that bad.  It's not great either, but there are some really good effects and dog fight sequences.  The problem was that outside of a character or two, everything was just kind of flat.  The dialog was also kind corny in parts.  A better script and director I think really would have made this so much better.

I haven't seen it, but many people have recommended the HBO movie from a few years back about the Tuskegee Airmen, which also stars Cuba Gooding Jr.  It's funny because Red Tails had a very TV-movie feel to it and I think that's mainly because the writing team and director have mostly worked in TV up until this point.  You can read more in my original review here.

2.5 out of 5 Death Stars - I'd say it's worth a rental if you haven't seen it.

This Means War (2012)

I thought this was a mess of a film.  I wrote in my original review, that it felt like they took a bunch of disparate elements from different films and mashed them all together.

There are all kinds of things in the film that are inconsistent, undeveloped and don't make any sense.  It doesn't surprise me this is how the movie turned out when it had three writers and McG directing.

I feel bad for the cast as it seemed like they were trying to make it work, but there's only so much they could do with the material.  The charm of the cast can only get you so far.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - This actually isn't a bad rental if you're in the mood for a spy-rom-com, but just try not to think about the details and story too much.  There actually are some funny moments, so it's not completely awful.

Goon (2012)

Lets end on a good note.

Here's another smaller film that surprised me.  It's a hockey comedy up there with Slap Shot as far as the top of the hockey movie food chain goes.  Seann William Scott stars as a sweet, but dumb, guy who's main talent is beating people up.  He's witnessed by the right people and this leads to him become a fan-favorite, hockey goon.  It's actually based on the memoirs of a real-life hockey goon, Doug Smith.  You can read more in my original review here.

I saw this a while back and haven't been able to bring myself to delete it from my DVR.  Usually once a week, I'll put it on as background noise.  Initially, I expressed disappointment that it wasn't funnier, but like many comedies, it's one of those that grows on you a little and I find new things to laugh about each time I watch it.  Even if you aren't a hockey fan, it's something you should be able to enjoy and get a laugh out of.  It's surprisingly sweet as well.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Another strong rental recommendation to end this post on.

That's it for now.  Thanks for reading!