Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens Review

Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys and Aliens” is two kinds of films in one. A western film and an alien film. It fails as both.

It fails as a western because every aspect of it isn’t believable beyond a typical western reenactment. The leading actors give their usual performances, except in cowboy outfits and southern accents. Daniel Craig is a hybrid of his “James Bond” performance and Jason Bourne. Harrison Ford is his usual cheesy, old-age Harrison Ford. The screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzmen, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby gives the actors nothing but clich├ęd western movie dialogue to spout.
It fails as an alien picture because the aliens don’t provide much wonder or mystery for the audience (as they do in the best alien movies). Instead, they are there primarily to kill and be killed (as in the worst kind of alien movies, like  “Battle LA” or “War of the Worlds”).

Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a good-looking cowboy who wakes up in the middle of the desert one day. He can’t remember his name or where he came from but he sure can remember how to beat up people.

One night when he’s been caught by the local law enforcement, trouble comes to town in the shape of extra terrestrial spacecraft filled with large, bug eyed aliens who have come to earth for gold. After completely messing up the place and taking people captive, a rescue posse is formed, led by a tough as nails Colonel named Woodrow (grumpy, growly Harrison who, of course is trying to find his son).

  The others include: Ella Swenson (a wide eyed Olivia Wilde) a good alien in human form. A bartender played by Sam Rockwell and some other guys you don’t care about. Jake also decides to come along…why? Because he’s the only one that can actually kill an alien, thanks to a super awesome alien bracelet gun that he can control with his mind! And also he’s had previous encounters with the E.T’s before, or whatever.

  Favreau deserves some credit. From this and his last two features “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” he’s shown that he can direct a slick action film. Some of the battle scenes look great, (in particular the one at the beginning when the aliens are first introduced) and the special effects are consistently good. The only thing this movie partially succeeds at is being an energetic summer, adventure fantasy.

Even so, the action, no matter how good it is, is pointless if the story isn’t good, and that’s the case with “Cowboys.” Favreau moves the plot along so quickly that there’s no time for much character development; therefore you don’t have any emotional resonance towards any of the characters if something happens to them. Who cares if Jake had a girlfriend in the past that was killed by the aliens? Who cares whether Woodrow finds his damn son? In fact when the film gets to the rescue mission (and it’s pretty quick), it follows the same old formula: Aliens attack; they run into a group of people. More aliens attack; they meet more people and what’s the payoff? They defeat the aliens and rescue captives that we have maybe only seen once or twice before? Whoops, I gave away the ending. Surprise.

Not surprising is that the film is based on a graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. The title alone is a giveaway. Maybe this premise looks good as a comic but on the screen, with nothing but comic-book good guys and bad guys, it proves to be another tiresome action flick that disappoints in both its genres.

Crazy, Stupid, Love Review

Glenn Ficara and John Requa’s  (“I Love You Phillip Morris”) latest film “Crazy, Stupid, Love” has a lot going for it. It’s a well intentioned, touching romantic comedy about a whole lot of things, including young love, forbidden love, growing up, dealing with divorce, being something you’re not, fighting for the person you care about, family, and soul mates. It’s competently directed, the script by Dan Fogelmen (“Cars 2”) is filled with clever dialogue, and it features delightful performances by its leads. Unfortunately, the picture is too busy for its own good. Fogelmen stuffs in more than is needed.

  Steve Carrell is the definite stand out of the film. Fresh off of leaving his sitcom “The Office” he really embodies the geekiness of his character Cal Weaver. A forty- something who has just been served divorce papers by his wife Emily (Julian Moore), Weaver wants to get back out on the dating scene but with a bad haircut, a suit that’s too big and 407 Balance shoes, he doesn’t have much luck.

Also he doesn’t quite know how to react to the situation. Like when Emily first tells him the news as they’re driving home from dinner, instead of trying to talk to her he jumps out of the car. This kind of wimpy and pathetic attitude is Carrell’s bread and butter and you feel for him.

 After a couple miserable nights at the club he meets Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a ladies’ man, who always leaves with a beautiful woman or two. Palmer takes Weaver under his wing and teaches him his way to get laid. In no time Weaver is back at the club, sporting a new doo and new clothes, picking up woman like he’d been doing it for years.

Gosling and Carrell work surprisingly well together. Carrell’s timid nerdiness plays well off of Gosling’s young, smooth coolness. They share a lot of great scenes together, like when Jacob takes Cal shopping.

But even after being with all those women, Weaver realizes that he’s not that kind of guy and he still loves his wife.  Palmer goes through a change of his own when he falls for a young law student Hannah (Emma Stone giving her usual charming but funky performance).

Now, the film should have focused its energy on those love stories. Instead it juggles these additional boring sub-plots: Emily’s relationship with David (a bland and underused Kevin Bacon), a co-worker she cheated with; Weaver’s son Robbie’s (Jonah Bobo) obsession with his seventeen year old baby sitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton); and finally an all-over-the-place Marisa Tomei, as Kate, a woman who turns psychotic when Weaver hooks up with her and doesn’t call back. Seriously, a comedy doesn’t need to have this much going on. All “The Hangover” required was a fat idiot, a cool guy, a semi-wuss, and some booze.

And speaking of comedy, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” isn’t that funny. Even though you can tell it wanted to be raunchy, the movie holds back. For example, when Cal and Jacob first meet, Jacob tells him to stop drinking his beverage through a straw because it looks like he’s sucking on a tiny “schlong”. It would have been funnier if he had just said…well you know.

 Where the movie truly succeeds is emotionally. There are numerous moments between characters that are absolutely heartwarming, one in particular between Gosling and Carrell toward the end, after some shocking secrets have come out. The film actually works better as a light drama.

In the end, all the little plots do come together (sort of) and the film leaves you feeling good but also exhausted. Had “Crazy, Stupid, Love” been bolder with its comedy and narrower in its range, it would have been really good.

Harry Potter 7 pt 2 Review

Well, here it is. The moment “Harry Potter” fans have been waiting for ever since they first fell in love with JK Rowling’s book series. The thrilling film conclusion, where our hero Harry (Daniel Radcliff) and his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) face their arch nemesis Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) for the last time.

Even though they’ve read the final Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the fans want to see the conclusion play out on the big screen, and I don’t blame them: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, by far the best in the entire series and one of the best films of the summer. You know the saying “go big or go home”? Well director David Yates went enormous. From start to finish there is never a dull moment and it’s the only “Harry Potter” film that’s kept me involved and tense the whole way through.

From a pure filmmaking standpoint, all of the “Harry Potter” films are well made. The acting by Radcliff, Fiennes, Grint, and the rest of the cast is excellent. (In particular Fiennes, who puts so much life into the lifeless Voldemort.)

In “Deathly Hallows Part 2” everything outdoes the previous films, especially “Deathly Hallows Part 1,” (which is technically only half a film.) The direction by Yates, combined with the cinematography by Eduardo Derra is outstanding, giving us a very dark and deathly feeling throughout the picture. The actors put forth a lot of effort, making their characters convincing enough to make us care about them.

The screenplay by Steve Kloves, while staying faithful to the book, has the right balance of drama, heart, action and humor. It’s not very common these days to see a big budget film with all the key components working in unison.

Though, where the movie was the strongest is visually. There are numerous wizard battles throughout the film. Some are small scale, like when Harry first goes back to Hogwarts and helps take it back from the control of professor Snape, played by a very creepy Alan Rickman. And some are epic scale, as when Voldemort sends a grand army of evil wizards to destroy the school and kill Potter.

Normally I would be yawning left and right at one fight scene after another, but in “Deathly Hallows Part 2” the visual effects partnered with the choreography made them absolutely exhilarating. Overall, the film has a nice, crisp pace to it.

Also, considering the fact that the film is being shown in 2D and 3D, the 3D adds to action significantly. It’s one of the few 3D films where I’ve felt like I was right there and that converting it to 3D was justified.

In the end, what all the “Potter” films boil down to is personal preference. You either don’t like the concept or you’re obsessed with it, much like “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings.” Die-hard fans of the series will love the film regardless. Yet even those who are non-fans or haven’t read the books might very likely find themselves enthralled by the fast-paced storyline, the clever plot twists, and the somewhat corny but touching ending.

There’s no doubt that the Harry Potter series has been a giant moneymaking mega-franchise. But to the producers’ credit, they’ve managed to transcend the mere profit motive and have put out quality movies for eight years. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” is the crowning achievement.

Horrible Bosses Review

Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses” is a cross between a “Hangover”-esque buddy comedy and an Alfred Hitchcock murder caper. (I can’t believe I just used “The Hangover” and Alfred Hitchcock in the same sentence, but in fact Gordon’s film gives a nod to Hitchcock’s 1951 film “Strangers on a Train.”)

Three friends decide one day to kill each of their bosses. See? It’s a premise that is goofy enough to be a buddy comedy and dark enough to be an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. But I’m probably making the film sound more sophisticated than it is. “Horrible Bosses” anything but smart and deep. The question is whether it’s funny.

The three buddies are Nick (“Arrested Developments” Jason Bateman) Kurt (“Saturday Night Live” cast member Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) and they really hate their bosses. Nick’s boss is Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), who in Nick’s words is “a total a**hole.” Dale’s boss is Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston), a sexy dentist who spends her days sexually harassing Dale. Finally, Kurt’s boss is a young, coke addict (Colin Ferrell) who only got the job because of his father’s (an unnecessary cameo from Donald Sutherland) sudden death. (But at least it’s nice to see Donald Sutherland’s still getting some work.)

  Since they can’t quit, their only solution is to kill their bosses. Simple plan, right? Wrong. These guys are complete idiots, so of course there are complications.

Compared to past buddy comedy teams, the Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day trio is a mixed bag. Bateman phones in a funny but forgettable performance, as he usually does. Day’s high-pitched, high-energy humor is only funny in small doses.  While Sudeikis was the best of the three, delivering a wimpy, yet fiery performance that made me laugh all the way through.

 For the bosses, it was also hit and miss. Spacey gives a wonderfully cruel and merciless performance, bringing back hints of the attitude of his character from “American Beauty.”  And he’s the only boss whose character is developed and therefore the most interesting.  As for Anniston and Ferrell, they didn’t go much beyond their initial set-up jokes. Ferrell spends all of his time crazy and coked up while Anniston manages to shy away from her usual charming, good girl performance by playing a very strange, sex-obsessed woman. I wish the film had given her more to do besides being creepy and trying to seduce Dale.

The script, penned by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein, has its share of funny jokes. In particular when the guys go down to a bar in a dangerous neighborhood and find a hit man, played by Jamie Foxx, or when they do reconnaissance on each one of the bosses to figure out how to kill them. On the other hand there were plenty of ill inspired gags, like when they think they’ve hired a hit man who instead turns out to be man who urinates on people for sexual purposes. Unfortunately, by about the halfway mark when the murder caper aspect of the story sets in, the movie slows down and goes around in circles, until it comes to a rushed and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

 After being subjected to such bland and conventional comedies as the recent Tom Hanks movie “Larry Crowne”, I’m all for some raunchy and offensive humor. “Horrible Bosses” is never afraid to show its vulgarity. Could “Horrible Bosses” be better? Of course. Was it funny enough for a light summer comedy? Definitely.

Cars 2 Review

For 25 years now, the animation company Pixar has been making quality movies, from “Toy Story” to “Up” and all of them for the most part have been extraordinary. However, nobody’s perfect. From time to time even the animation powerhouse will make a movie that doesn’t meet the expectations of their previous films.

This is the case with Pixar’s’ newest film “Cars 2” (directed by John Lasseter) which doesn’t have the humor or the heart to match up with Pixar’s other masterpieces. But the movie is still an impressive feat of animation and is better then most of the animated films to come out this year.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the rest of the characters from the original “Cars” are back in this action packed sequel which takes McQueen and Mater to the World Gran Prix, spanning [not spawning] over three different countries, Japan, Italy and England. Trouble arises when Mater gets mixed up with two British spies Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) and some criminals try to sabotage the race.

The best thing about “Cars 2” and every other Pixar film is that it has some spectacular animation. The cars look very realistic and the racing scenes were some of the most exhilarating I have ever seen. Plus the animators captured the look and feel of Italy, London and Japan perfectly. And the best part is, that you don’t need to see it in 3D; it looks perfectly fine in regular D.

Now, on to the difficult part, the flaws in the film. The biggest problem with “Cars 2” is that the first “Cars” wasn’t that good to begin with and therefore didn’t need a sequel. It was enjoyable but the story wasn’t very compelling or funny.

Secondly, the main premise of the film revolves mostly around Mater and unfortunately Mater isn’t that funny or interesting. Having to listen to his same redneck jokes over and over again gets tiresome. I found myself wanting to see more of McQueen and the other characters.

So, even if it doesn’t rank among Pixar’s best, “Cars 2” is still a fun and entertaining joyride and in the end isn’t that what animation is about?