Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John's DVD pick of the week (11/29/11)

Hey guys sorry I've been on MIA These past few weeks. This week I chose a fun Indie It's

Our Idiot Brother
That's right the Paul Rudd leading esamble is my pick this week. The other big releases are The Jesse Eisenberg action comedy 30 Minutes Or Less, the romantic comedy Friends With Benefits, the kids flick The Smurfs, and the Anne Hathaway drama One Day. I have not seen any of these four but I'll see the first two at some point.

My vintage pick is... In honor of this week's release of Shame, I'm recommending Steve McQueen's (that's the director's name) previous film it's Hunger, so pick it up at some point.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: The Muppets (***1/2)

It's difficult not to get swept up by the hype of the first theatrically-released Muppet movie in 12 years. The preview trailers have been going viral since this past summer, and the Muppets & their human co-stars have been hitting the talk show circuit like never before. Audiences who don't catch on to this Muppet fever will be missing a refreshingly entertaining movie.

"The Muppets" lives up to most of its hype. It's a solid, stand-alone movie with a great storyline. While the film may be considered a tribute, which in many ways it is, very rarely does a tribute make a great movie. Any TV show can put the Muppets on proverbial pedestals using archive footage. "The Muppets" succeeds by breathing new life into characters we've known for years, and bringing them back down from their high pedestals so they're easier to see.

It really takes a Muppet fanatic to reintroduce these classic characters about whom the movie alleges everyone forgot. In the movie, that fanatic is Walter, who is himself a Muppet that the world treats like a human being, albeit a very short human being. When Walter accompanies his best friend and roommate Gary (Jason Segel) and his longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles, Walter's ultimate goal is to take a tour of the famed Muppet theater. He soon finds that the theater's glory days are long gone, and the Muppets themselves have since gone their separate ways.

In reality, it's Jason Segel who is the Muppet fanatic. Segel co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller (director of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008)), and also served as executive producer. He does a good job acting in the movie, knowing precisely when to take a step back and have the film's real stars take center stage. As a screenwriter, he also allows virtually every classic Muppet to have their screen time, as the Muppets are brought together the same way Jake and Elwood reunited the old band in "The Blues Brothers" (1980). Each character's appearance reminds us why they were so revered way back in "The Muppet Show" days.

While the plot about a Texas oilman wanting to demolish the Muppet theater because they're oil underneath has been done before, but Chris Cooper, as villain Tex Richman, lives up to his clever name. He's funny while also being a convincing villain. He performs a rap number (yes, Chris Cooper raps) that is desultory, but amusing if only for its randomness.

If the thought of Cooper rapping alone makes you cringe, there are plenty of other highly original songs that will wash out that memory quickly. All the songs, most of which were written by Bret McKenzie (one half of the band/comedy duo, Flight Of The Conchords), are well-written. My favorite was "Life's A Happy Song. 

"Pictures In My Head", sung by Kermit, is also surprisingly touching, with Kermit's walking through a hallway of Muppet paintings adding to the sentiment. It could rank as the best Muppet movie song since "Together Again" from "The Muppets Take Manhattan" (1984). The aforementioned songs, and perhaps even "Life's a Happy Song", have strong possibilities to be nominated for Best Original Song at the upcoming Academy Awards.

With all these original tunes, it's a wonder why they wasted precious royalty money on the terrible Starship song "We Built This City". Alas, this is the chosen song the Muppets sing while renovating the Muppet theater. 

While the songs add heart to a movie that makes the term "franchise reboot" seem too myopic, the movie would not be worth watching if it was not funny. Fortunately, most of the Muppet gags are gut-bustingly hilarious. Some gags are self-referential with characters breaking the fourth wall without even have to look at the camera. Others are the zany gags you'd expect from seeing "The Muppet Show", but are clever and hilarious too.

While the trailers had their share of recent movie parodies, the film fortunately eases up on them. There's one reference to "Kill Bill", but it's slight and capricious. I also laughed at the 80's Robot.

All the classic Muppet characters make their mark in ways they haven't done since "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992), the last great Muppet movie. The few newer Muppets that are allocated screen time happen to shine, fortunately. Walter is a great new Muppet, and has a lot of heart of which the late Jim Henson would whole-heartedly approve.

Dozens of celebrity cameos abound here, but the film's strength is knowing who the real stars of the movie are and why we love them. I just hope younger audience members get the same message.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Puss In Boots (**)

Puss in Boots is one of my favorite characters in the Shrek series. Giving him a stand alone film is an interesting idea. It's suppose to be cool and exciting. It get what it wants. The movie is fun and often hilarious. The cat jokes are clever. Bunch of impressive scenes. The 3D is great. The scale is large. But the plot is too small for its large scale. It gets lazy in the second half and a bit predictable in the end. Though the film is pretty enjoyable but it could have been a lot better.

Puss In Boots starts in a solid blockbuster way. And one part of the beginning, the dancing, is very impressive. It's more than funny. That scene excites me which gives me a feeling that this film will be very great. I don't know why but it's just my feeling. The first half is exciting and great to introduce the cat hero. But when it comes to the second half(after the flashback), it's large but the story has a very little plot. It's a big adventure but ends up a little bit unsatisfying.

The story is like what Dreamworks Animated films usually do. Flashbacks of these critters when they were babies. They grew up being themselves. The rest of the story of Puss In Boots is Jack in the Beanstalk with Puss in Boots and Humpty Dumpty. It's not faithful to the original story. It's just another fairytale collaboration but this one has Mexican culture. The problem is the laziness of the storytelling. They mixed all the fairytale stories and threw some heart. These things are collaborated and nothing else. It's close to Direct-to-Video type of storytelling since this film was originally planned to be that.

But the film is never meant to be in the small screen since the scale is large. The movie is in 3D, as usual. The 3D is great. Just like Megamind, the camera is flying again. Swashbuckling cats and a lot giant stuff. The humor is clever. The natural instincts of cats are used as a joke. Like drinking milk, chasing a light, and some meows. It's adorable. The "Ooooh" cat is the "Do the roar" kid of this film. Here's the thing, cats are adorable and their instincts are funny.

In the end, it's just like Monsters Vs. Aliens and Shark Tale. But this has its heart but it's not well executed. It's still enjoyable to watch in the big screen and 3D. The filmmaking is good enough and everything is large. It just needs to make the story better. The film has ambitions for a sequel. Well I got to admit, it really needs a sequel because this adventure is not quite satisfying. More adventures to this kitty cat could be fun. Again, this film is fun but it won't blow your mind or touch your heart too much.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: The Descendants (***1/2)

'Descendants' focuses on the life of a family during the days when the mother lies in a coma after a boating accident, poised between life and death. Nothing crashes or blows up on screen, but there are plenty of emotional detonations as her husband and two daughters struggle to meet the challenges and, oddly, the obligations of the unexpected, tragic crisis. This is neither a perfect family nor a perfect mess of a family - it's something in between. They are well off - definitely 1 percenters - live comfortably, and are each very engaged in their lives and communities. The girls, Mom included, are hell raisers to some degree, but in ways that attract more than repel - they each make friends and play well with others, at least some of the time. Yet the members of the family are subtly estranged from each other, and we learn from Clooney's narrative and monologues with his wife's inert form that the marriage was a source of some disappointment for both of them, a disappointment that was not confronted or resolved in their years together. The movie takes us through the resolution of this family crisis, revealing progressively what each character has withheld from the others, and loops in a larger plot involving their extended family and, in effect, the entire Island community. 

Clooney gives a consistent, effective performance, and is one of the reasons this movie should work alright for the average guy (Women on average tolerate him pretty well, I believe) despite it's focus on relationships as the subject matter and rather slow pace. He maintains a strong masculine 'hero' persona throughout, and definitely rises to the tragic occasion. Along the way, he responds in ways, some comic and some cliché, that make him an attractive 'male' perspective from which to view the events of the film. He is strong, well meaning, active, and ultimately prevails to a large degree in the terms of the film. 

I really enjoyed the performance of Shailene Woodley in the role of his daughter, poised on adulthood. Her character's response to Clooney and their work with one another represents the visible 'love story' - father-daughter in this case - that makes the movie work moment to moment.

The comatose patient is very much a character in several of the most important scenes. I was struck by how silent the relatively full theater was during some of these climactic moments. The audience was neither restless nor tearful, just intent, during even the long, slow, quiet moments. Never sentimental, the film focuses on the experience of confronting death in others as an argument for living life authentically, acknowledging and resolving conflict rather than lapsing into comfortable disengagement.

All in all, a fascinating couple of hours of storytelling, acting, and thought-provoking cinema. A notch or two above the average theater experience, and way higher than the average among films that tackle this category of emotional experience.

Review: J. Edgar (**1/2)

Leonard DiCaprio continues to distinguish himself as an actor with a powerful performance as America's number one crime fighter of the twentieth century in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. Focusing more on the man than the achievements it is a joyless interpretation by Eastwood who displays some sympathy but mostly dubious aspects of the FBI Director's career re-hashing with very little new insight the same old tired rumors tossed around for decades about a paranoid workaholic with quirks that had the goods on enough Presidents to give him absolute power, corruption being the perk.

J. Edgar Hoover first made his name rousting Reds during the Rise of Bolshevism in the 20s. At age 26 he was given charge of what would be the FBI which he would transform into the elite crime fighting and forever Red hunting organization of the USA. The Linbergh baby kidnapping is solved, Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson are all brought to justice. With success comes fame and more power which Hoover plans to hold onto for as long as possible. In this case it will be his last dying breath.

Eastwood's script and direction runs with all the rumors of the day (homosexuality, cross dressing, glory hound extroadinaire,) to flesh out J. Edgar and it comes across as catty as Hoover and Tolson in a scene gossip queening about Lucy and Daisy. There's a Ginger Rogers look alike Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon imitators along with the dismissive glances of real American hero Charles Lindbergh who sees through the crime busters facade to convey his venality but little evidence from the up tight but elusive Hoover to offer viewer or historian anything new beyond the suppositions half a century old. 

With Eastwood literally and figuratively putting Hoover in a bad light throughout the film it is left up to DiCaprio to humanize him which he does with a startling restrained coldness and power of a man delusional or otherwise whose aim is true. From young adulthood to grave DiCaprio remains fully focused, convincing and absorbing. DiCaprio can only carry J.Edgar so far though and Eastwood's attempt at defining the man as a humorless Darth Vader most of the way adds nothing revelatory to the anti myth of the past few decades that followed the legendary build-up of the 20s and 30's.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (***)

Once again, Harold and Kumar bring it with more completely original ideas that made me laugh like a maniac several times throughout the movie. These guys once again prove that anything can be funnier if you add weed and nudity. And the fact that Kal Penn can still make these movies and maintain a respectable reputation at the White House is hilarious enough as it is.

As good as this one was, however, it didn't really live up to the expectations that were set by "Guantanamo Bay". Maybe it's because when I saw that one, it was in a packed theatre at 10 pm with a bunch of stoners laughing their guts out at every single joke. As unappealing as that sounds (I wasn't stoned during this movie), it's those types of things that make movies THAT much better if you ask me. Laughing my butt off with 30 or more people, including a few random 14 year olds who needed to pretend they were with me in order to get in (true story) just wasn't the same.

Something that really bugged me was how NPH was barely used in this one. Although his picture actually made it poster this time, he wasn't really in it as much as I hoped. Come to think of it, many of the old jokes from "White Castle" and "Guantanamo Bay" weren't used at all.

But even though it may not have lived up to the previous ones, Harold and Kumar prove once again that as far as epic stoner comedies go, they can't be beat. This one left me sore from laughing, and with an itch to see more (even though, once again, I wasn't stoned). I strongly suggest you get a big group to go to this one; the more laughs around you, the funnier this movie will be.

And of course, there's nothing like getting into the Christmas spirit a little early. Especially if you celebrate Christmas like these guys.

Review: In Time (***1/2)

I went into this one with the lowest expectations, and boy was I wrong. For one thing, before I saw his name in the opening credits, I had no idea this was an Andrew Niccol film, and since he is the stylish, stylized genius who gave us Gattaca, suddenly things were looking up. Then, wow, this cast! Sure, I knew about Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, but check out the rest of them: Olivia Wilde, Cillian Murphy, The Big Bang Theroy's Johnny Galecki, White Collar's Matt Bomer and genre-It Kid, Alex Pettyfer. I mean, come on! How can a movie be directed by Andrew Niccol and contain so much of the pretty and also be science fiction and not be completely, exactly, entirely the kind of movie that I would love, love, love?

Want to know why my expectations were low? I'd seen a snippet of the trailer -- which just looked to me like a bunch of Transformers-style running around the place -- and had read the basic film synopsis sent to me by Fox Studios' publicity department. So what I knew was this:

"Welcome to a world where time has become the ultimate currency. You stop aging at 25, but there's a catch: you're genetically-engineered to live only one more year, unless you can buy your way out of it. The rich "earn" decades at a time (remaining at age 25), becoming essentially immortal, while the rest beg, borrow or steal enough hours to make it through the day. When a man from the wrong side of the tracks is falsely accused of murder, he is forced to go on the run with a beautiful hostage. Living minute to minute, the duo's love becomes a powerful tool in their war against the system."

Why was I hesitant about this premise? Because, come on! How many sci-fi tropes do you want to hit? Predetermined age-limit to combat overpopulation: Logan's Run, among many others. Being able to effectively purchase immortality: Elizabeth Moon's Familias Regnant series, among many others. Falsely accused and on the run in a future, dystopian society: hello Minority Report, The Island and who knows what all else! But you know what? Much like he did in Gattaca, where he took the already well-worn path of the genetically-superior being not necessarily being superior and made it his own, writer/director Niccol brings a freshness, almost a whole new sensibility to these and the other trappings of classic sci-fi he offers up to us here. We also get action, suspense, romance, humor, social commentary, gorgeous visuals and, as I mentioned, bucket loads of the pretty -- I would pay good money to see Matt Bomer and Olivia Wilde in anything; impossibly beautiful doesn't even begin to cover that blessed pair -- and wow, what a thoroughly, unexpectedly fun, truly thought-provoking and utterly engaging time this movie was. I am still flabbergasted at just how much I dug this. I actually broke into spontaneous applause as the credits rolled. And I can't wait to see it again.

But the big question: how was JT? He was, I will have you know, excellent. I have long felt that there was something effortlessly engaging about his whole persona, whether in interviews or on SNL or in roles as diverse as beleaguered rookie cop in Edison, Napster hipster Sean Parker in The Social Network or squirrelly substitute Scott in Bad Teacher. He doesn't really seem to act: he just IS. Here, he is an unlikely action hero, but somehow, he pulls it off in grand style, looking simultaneously earnest, dangerous and adorable, and easily holding his own even alongside someone the likes of Murphy, whose hypnotic eyes can convey more in one blink of an eyelash than many a lesser actor can get across in an entire soliloquy.

All of the other performances are top notch, particularly from Wilde and Galecki -- who brings most of the funny in the film -- and hey, you know who else is in here! Vincent Kartheiser, AKA Connor from Angel And he's not bad at all, either. In fact, he and Pettyfer are our main bad guys, and both pull of criminal cool pretty damn well.

But sometimes it's not about the provenance of the ideas, it's what you do with them. And here, Niccol has done wonders. (As long as you suspend your disbelief and go with the fact that Timberlake, Seyfried and the rest are, biologically, only 25. Luckily, Hollywood's been conditioning us to do just that for years.)

Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (**1/2)

Horror movies tend to polarize opinions all the time... Far more than the majority of movie genres. What one person might find scary may be humorous to another person... So when I left the theater after a packed screening of this movie , the audience seemed pretty polarized in their opinions. It really is an example of a 'you either love it or hate it movie' (Although some people may not take either extreme which is absolutely fine) .I am one of the people who came out of the theater loving it.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel that goes back to the year 1988. It follows the sisters Kristi and katie (from the last 2 movie's) 18 years before the events of Paranormal activity 1. Its an origin story that gives us a little more information but still leaves us feeling confused and uneasy. 

The new cameraman (Dennis) acts as a foster father to Kristi and Katie (The whereabouts of the real father remains open to debate) works as a wedding moviemaker. This gives a decent enough explanation as to why he seems to have top of the range filming equipment (for the era) . His character comes across as more caring and less irritating than Micah from PA1. The Mother of Kristi and Katie (Julie)came across as caring towards her children. The children who play Kristi and Katie actually come across and fairly decent actors.

The basic plot is like the last two movies. Strange occurrences are happening at the house they are staying in. Dennis out of curiosity decides to set up cameras around the house to hopefully find something unusual. 

The greatest improvement of this movie over the other movies is probably the pacing. I wont ruin anything (that hasn't been in the trailer at least) but the younger daughter kristi has a seemingly imaginary friend, called toby ,that she talks to at night. As the movie progresses things get out of head fairly quickly and this imaginary friends becomes something real and horrific.

The movie does a good job of taking us out of our comfort zones. We feel confused and that confusion adds a sense of helplessness. While we may know the formula of the last movies we know little about the monster. What we don't see ,but know is there, usually scares us the most. The camera footage itself comes across as grainy and lower in quality than before (Again the trailer is rather misleading) . It makes it feel more authentic. While you know its not real you cant help getting sucked in by the movies world. There are also some clever shots and effects (Scenes with the oscillating camera are ingenious at times) .

The main complaints that I have with the movie are that sometimes the actions of Daniel can be questionable and the ending left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

Review: Munger Road (*)

Munger Road is well meaning and starts off with a typical premise. Serial killer escapes and returns to his hometown. Kids head off to scary road for some thrills encounter something horribly wrong.

It's obvious that wealthy dad was the key to getting this made, because as a writer and director Nicholas Smith is bottom of the barrel.

There are so many holes and so much stupidity on the parts of the characters watching was a chore and a bore.

Characters walking through tunnels arriving at roughly the same time other characters who drove to the same place made the plot preposterous too.

Also, the resolution was flimsy and unjustified.

Bad, bad, bad.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

John's DVD pick of the week (November 8th 2011)

Well it's Tuesday. This week my favorite film of the year so far and the only one to get four stars from me comes out Friday it's

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
That's right the finale of this film series is my pick this week. The other film that I recommend is The comedy The Change Up.

My vintiage pick is, In honor of this weeks release of J. Edgar, I'm recommending a pair of Clint Eastwood films, they are Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, the latter was #5 on my best of 2004 list.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: Puncture (**1/2)

Puncture is proudly "Based on a True Story." As is so often the case, this means an indifference to "true" human relationships in favor of crusading self-righteousness. In this instance, the cause is life-saving no-stick syringes, which, despite saving lives, are not beloved by Big Pharm. The upstart personal injury firm of Weiss and Danziger (Chris Evans and co-director Mark Kassen) is approached by Vicky (Vinessa Shaw), a nurse who was infected with AIDS by an accidental needle stick and wants them to get the "Safety Point" syringes invented by her friend Jeffrey (Marshall Bell) into hospitals, an attempt heretofore blocked by conspiracy between hospital buyers and group-purchasing organizations, in violation of the trust act.
Overall the movie is inspiring,and the plot is good but Chris Evans does a mediocre job.