Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Friends with Benefits Review

Friends with Benefits has been teased and probably rightfully so for looking and sounding an awful lot like a recent film with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher called No Strings Attached. Both films are R-rated, raunchy, and ask the question: can men and women partake in a strictly sexual relationship? While the premise is essentially the same, these are two very different flicks at the end of the day. The only thing they have in common is that they are both pretty good romantic comedies. In today’s day and age, that’s quite a feat. The film, directed by Easy A’s Will Gluck, is full of pop culture references, songs, and situations. It also has a keen eye for romantic comedies and has seen them before and knows how they work and operate.
Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star in this flick as two young good looking people who have horrible luck in relationships. They decide to retire from dating and strictly focus on their careers. Of course, they have needs, just like any other man and woman do, and decide to have a relationship that is all about sex, nothing more. They will have no emotional connection to each other or do any of the usual relationship habits. They just have sex, hang out, and have fun. Of course, being friends with benefits is easier said than done. What happens when one person gets too attached? How do you act and what are the rules?
Besides Kunis and Timberlake, actors Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Patricia Clarkson, and Woody Harrelson lend their considerable talents to this project.  It’s a great ensemble cast, much like Gluck’s Easy A had. Gluck has a certain style, and both Easy A and Friends with Benefits have his stamp all over them. They are fast paced, witty, sweet, and also raunchy when the time calls for it. He makes films that are accessible to young teens and young adults. With all that being said, this film lies on the shoulders of Timberlake and Kunis. They have incredible chemistry together on screen, and they are the reason that the film works as well as it does. Timberlake is slowly but surely growing on me. This is probably one of his best performances I’ve seen. It’s much better than his work in the dreadful, Bad Teacher.
The sex scenes are also awkward, in a good way, comical, and oddly honest. The film also reveals a heart in the third act that adds a nice little touch to the proceedings.  Because this movie has seen other romantic comedies, it has some good lighthearted fun with its premise, especially the ending involving a flash mob. These characters are not just friends with benefits, they are best friends that are relying on each other and understand who they really are. In a romantic comedy, you want to care about the characters and root for them to end up together before the credits roll.  Friends with Benefits accomplishes that and then some. Will Gluck is making some very interesting films that are going to be remembered in the same breath as the films of John Hughes from the 1980’s.
Grade: B+
How should you see it? On the big screen

Winnie the Pooh Review

Winnie the Pooh is one of the most lovable and adorable Disney characters of all time. He’s extremely likable, loyal, and fun. His stories might be simple and rather plain, but because he has such an engaging personality, along with Tigger, Piglet, Eyeore, and Owl as his counterparts, it’s easy to watch. Winnie the Pooh puts you in a good mood with its whimsical and easygoing style. The running time, according to IMDB, is 69 minutes, which is perfect for a film of this nature. It’s not out to break any records or win any awards. It’s just good old fashioned fun at the movies.
John Cleese is our narrator for this story, who follows the group trying to find a new tail for the always pessimistic Eyeore, who keeps losing it at every turn. Whoever finds a new tail for Eyeore will win a big pot of honey, which is always quite appealing for our goofy and bumbling hero, Winnie the Pooh. Along the way, there’s also a comical misunderstanding about Christopher Robin. That’s really all there is as far as plot is concerned for Winnie the Pooh. The real joy is the voice work of the characters as they perfectly portray the characters and their personalities. It really helps you get a sense of who they are, how they feel, and what they are all about.
It’s also quite charming to see them interact with each other and produce comedy out of being na├»ve. They are happy, oblivious and in their own world. This helps to produce some great comedy as you shake your head at their antics. Most of their problems are self–induced as they can’t seem to get out of their own way. Of course, Winnie the Pooh and his growling tummy steal the show in this movie. All he wants is to eat his honey and he will be the happiest bear in the world. The songs are also catchy as Zooey Deschanel had her hand in writing and performing the song, “So Long.” This is just a nice movie and nice is not meant to be derogatory. It’s a compliment in the highest degree.
No matter your age, race, or gender, it’s hard not to like Winnie the Pooh and have a smile on your face by the end of this movie. When I saw this movie on opening night, people of all ages enjoyed it and were laughing. Not only is the film sweet, but, honestly, it’s one of the funniest movies of the year. I know it’s doing poorly at the box office right now, thanks to competition from the summer blockbusters, but trust me; this one is worth seeing on the big screen with friends and family. It’s a nice little escape on a hot summer afternoon. Winnie the Pooh is still timely, enjoyable, and entertaining even after all these years. He has aged very, very well.
Grade: A
How should you see it? On the big screen

Monday, July 18, 2011

Horrible Bosses Review

Ever since I viewed the trailer for the film, Horrible Bosses, I’ve wanted to see it. Work-related films are always relatable and interesting because we have all either dreaded going to work or had a horrible boss of our own. When you add to the incredible cast and the intriguing premise, you have a pretty good foundation for a movie. Even though Horrible Bosses is quite funny and does not disappoint, I did feel as though it could have been a little funnier and something was missing from it. I can’t quite put my finger on what was missing, though.
The premise of Horrible Bosses is quite simple: Three friends all have awful bosses that make their lives miserable. You have Jason Bateman and his boss Kevin Spacey, a power-hungry psycho that gets off on humiliating and degrading him. Charlie Day’s boss is Jennifer Aniston, a sex-crazed bimbo that gives new meaning to the words sexual harassment. Finally, you have Jason Sudeikis and his horrible boss Colin Farrell, a crazy cokehead that is drugged out of his mind 24-7.  All of their lives would be a lot easier if their bosses were no longer around. These are average guys, though, and they are definitely not killers, right?
Well, after being pushed too far one day, the gang gets together and decides it’s time to actually kill their bosses. They hire a murder consultant, played by Jamie Foxx, who gives helpful and obvious advice about planning these murders. In order to keep it on the down low, they don’t want to kill their own boss, of course. Instead, they will follow Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and kill the other person’s boss. Considering the fact that this is the first time doing this, you can imagine the sort of mishaps that they run into along the way. Let’s just say they should have bought the book: Murder for Dummies.
The first twenty minutes of Horrible Bosses is basically what you’ve seen in the trailer, in terms of jokes and situations. Once they finally plan to kill their bosses, the movie picks up steam and becomes quite entertaining and hilarious. The comedy is more in the jokes than the actual situations. The situations didn’t really quite work for me, but what did work for me were the delivery of the actors and the chemistry of the cast. The one-liners come fast and furious, and their timing was impeccable. I laughed out loud more because of the writing of the jokes instead of the attempted murders.
The plot also offers some fun twists and turns in the third act that will surprise you and catch you off guard. I liked how it ended and where they went with it. It was satisfying and left me feeling good about the experience. Like I said, this is a good movie that just misses the mark of being a great one. It’s very funny, but something was missing from it. You won’t be disappointed, at the end of the day, and you will be laughing your tail off.
Grade: A-
How should you see it: On the big screen

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Larry Crowne Review

Tom Hanks is the star and director of his new film, Larry Crowne. Even though Tom Hanks is the director and the star of this project, it's very much an ensemble comedy, with a great supporting cast including Julia Roberts, Rob Riggle, Rita Wilson, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, George Takei, and Bryan Cranston. As much as I have enjoyed summer movies like Green Lantern and Cars 2, it was a nice break to rest and relax with Larry Crowne: an easy-going, fun, and light movie.  It does exactly what it's supposed to do with its cast, premise, and plot.

Tom Hanks plays Larry Crowne, a middle-aged man working in retail that is one day fired because of his lack of college education. This prompts him to go to community college for the first time. At first, it's quite daunting for him as he's completely unprepared for the experience. He does befriend a biker gang, led by Wilmer Valderrama. They take him under their wing and teach him to dress cool and act cool. His teacher in speech class is Julia Roberts, a hardened drunk that is suffering through a horrible marriage with the porn-addicted Bryan Cranston. His economics teacher is played by George Takei in a very funny turn.

Larry Crowne becomes especially close to the Julia Roberts character, as they are both going through a mid-life crisis. They realize that sometimes change is a good thing, even if it's painful in the meantime. The supporting cast also keeps it entertaining, especially Cedric the Entertainer, as Larry's hard bargaining neighbor. He will argue over a penny at his yard sales. Everyone really works together nicely in this cast, and they all play off of each other beautifully. Nothing here is groundbreaking or all that unique, but it goes down easily on a hot summer night. It's nice to just watch a movie with good actors and to watch them act.

Larry Crowne, as I mentioned above, is a simple movie, and I don't mean that as an insult. It's an adult comedy about adult situations, such as losing your job, divorce, and money. When you have good actors in a movie, most of the time, it's going to be an enjoyable experience on the big screen. This is a nice movie and nice is not a bad thing. When it was all said and done, I felt good after Larry Crowne.  Sometimes it's nice to feel good after a movie is over with. Larry Crowne is one of the feel good movies this summer. If you are looking for something as an alternative to big screen popcorn movies, Larry Crowne is a great start.

Grade: B

How should you see it: Either on the big screen or as a rental

Cars 2 Review

Cars has always been one of the least popular films in the Pixar family. When people think of Pixar, they think of movies with great animation and big heart. The Cars franchise does have great animation, but their movies aren't big tear jerkers. Because of this, they steer away from what people are familiar with when it comes to Pixar. Different is a good thing, in my eyes, but to other people they have certain expectations. Cars 2, although critically assaulted by most critics, is a fun summer movie. It's not just a remake of the first film, it’s a standalone film all on its own.
It should be noted that this is Mater's movie at the end of the day. If you are not a fan of Mater, or even Larry the Cable Guy, you're probably not going to enjoy Cars 2. Yes, Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, is a big part of the movie, but he does disappear for a good portion of the film while Mater takes center stage. I'm wondering if this was done on purpose due to how popular Mater became after the first film and all of the spin-offs regarding his character. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it as Mater is lovable, funny, and easy to root for in this movie.
The plot for Cars 2 involves Mater and Lightning McQueen heading overseas to battle Francesco Bernoulli, voiced brilliantly by John Turturro, in the World Grand Prix race. While in Japan, Mater gets mistaken for a spy by two other spy cars voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer. They see him as a brilliant spy because of how inept and stupid he behaves. Little do they know, it's not an act with Mater, but how he really acts. They team up with Mater and protect him as he ends up biting off more than he can chew. It makes for great comedy fodder to see Mater as a spy, completely unaware of the fact.
After watching Cars 2, I had a big smile on my face from not only Mater and his naive innocence but also from the high-flying action of the movie. I did think to myself, however, that I can't see kids really getting into this movie. A lot of the humor is pretty intelligent and might go over their heads. The plot, which is very James Bond like, might confuse and distance a younger audience. However, it's hard to deny how entertaining it is, how fast the plot moves along, and how engaging and likable the characters are. The script is witty and unafraid of being different and taking the movie in another direction.
When I walk into a movie over the summer, I expect a movie to fun, relaxing, and enjoyable. Cars 2 is exactly that. Cars 2 is not a typical Pixar movie, but why is that such a bad thing? You have to admire the creators for stepping outside the box and putting them in a new environment and giving Mater the chance to shine. He knocks it out of the park.  Even if the kids are confused by the humor or plot, I truly believe that they love Mater. He's your every man, or every car in this situation. I saw the film in 2D, and it looked just fine, so I don't think 3D is needed, unless you feel like losing an extra three dollars. Cars 2 delivers on great summer entertainment, big laughs, and exciting action.
Grade: B
How should you see it? On the big screen

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Green Lantern Review

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of superhero movies.  Most of the time, you have to know their extensive and detailed backstory which has been created over numerous decades via comic books and cartoons.  When I watch most superhero movies, I’m confused, befuddled and frustrated because I have no idea what’s going on or who is the bad guy.  Much to my surprise, Green Lantern is a fairly straightforward comic book movie with a likable hero, a strong female lead, and a goofy as hell villain. It also features top notch special effects that aren’t overdone or over the top.  Because of these reasons, Green Lantern is an enjoyable experience at the movies this summer.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a test pilot that is still living in the very large shadow of his deceased father. He’s selfish, late, and a little impulsive, but it’s hard to deny his talents as a test pilot. His wing man, or woman, in this case is Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively.  They have a stormy relationship that is always tested because of Hal’s laziness. After an experiment gone wrong, Hal is considered an outcast in the pilot world. One night after feeling down on himself, he gets called into the Green Lantern Corps.  The aliens don’t understand why he would be called into their group.  They see him as an average human with below average intelligence. When he puts on the ring given to him by a deceased alien, he gains superpowers to create things with his mind.  In order for all of this to work successfully, he has to defeat the fear that is present in his brain. As his dad used to tell him, “It’s my job not to be scared.”
Reynolds has always been a likeable actor.  He has never been one of the best actors working in Hollywood, but everything seems to come rather easily to him.  His effortless comedy and ease is much needed in this role. Blake Lively is also solid as the leading lady that takes no crap from the superhero.  She is not afraid to get in his face and call him out on his nonsense.  Lively and Reynolds share impressive chemistry together on screen, which is a big reason that the film works as well as it does. Peter Sarsgaard as the villain is also brilliant casting, as he really has a lot of fun with this role.  I want my villains to be insane, because when they are crazy, they are unpredictable and incredibly dangerous. Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett round out a surprisingly effective supporting cast for a superhero flick.
I understand that Green Lantern has been universally panned by most critics. However, the film, in my eyes, does what it’s supposed to do.  I saw the film in 2D, and it looked amazing on the big screen.  It was green, obviously, colorful, and easy on the eyes.  The film had very, very good special effects that helped showcase the world of the movie.  However, they were done at just the right time in the film.  They didn’t beat you over the head with them until you were numb and completely worn out.  The film also has heart and some human issues, such as realizing what your potential is and not holding yourself back.  This is not a great movie, but it is most definitely a good movie.
Grade: B
How should you see it? See it on the big screen at a discounted price.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rent it or Skip it: My thoughts on the latest movies out on DVD

The Mechanic:
The Mechanic is just like every other Jason Statham movie.  It features a ton of blood, a ton of action, and little acting.  He mostly grimaces and uses his eyes to portray his characters.  While his films are rarely boring, they are all pretty much the same.  Statham plays a cool, calm, and collected killer with rapid-fast reflexes.   In this film, he’s teaching Ben Foster all the tricks of the trade in order to be a successful assassin and leave no traces behind.  Donald Sutherland is also advertised as being in this movie, but he makes a quick exit.  That’s not a spoiler because this fact is advertised with the release of this film.  Yes, some of the action sequences are impressive, but the film is instantly forgettable after it’s over.  Statham is not a bad actor, but he’s always hitting the same notes in every movie.  After a while, you just stop caring about what’s happening because your senses have been dumbed down by explosion after explosion with no rhyme or reason.

Verdict: Skip It
Just Go With It:
I’ve heard nothing but positive things about Adam Sandler as a person.  Sadly, his films, as of late, have been nothing short of dreadful.  Adam Sandler, much like Jason Statham, is playing the same character: a selfish man-child that treats others poorly but has a change of heart before the credits roll.  This plot involves him using a wedding ring in order to sleep with women.  One night, he meets a woman that he actually likes, played by Brooklyn Decker of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue fame.  She assumes he’s married and thus thinks of him as a scumbag for cheating on his wife.  Sandler then enlists the help of his long-time assistant Jennifer Aniston to play the part of his wife and even gets her kids involved.  It would take many paragraphs to list all of the problems with this movie.  To sum it up, it’s totally implausible, phony, and features cartoon characters portraying humans. Needless to say, this movie should be avoided at all costs, as it produces zero laughs.

Verdict: Skip It
Cedar Rapids:
Does anybody play the clueless nerd gone wild better than Ed Helms? This is yet another terrific performance from him, as Tim Lippie, a straight-laced insurance man who has a weekend to remember at an insurance convention.  The film, directed by Miguel Arteta, is sharp, quick, and very, very funny.  The supporting cast also includes John C. Riley, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Kurtwood Smith.  It’s raunchy without being too raunchy, and it’s sweet without being too sweet.  Its deadpan style of humor mixed with the elements of insurance and breaking free from your safe existence make this a very rewarding viewing experience.  It’s definitely worth checking out and very unusual.  Ed Helms is quickly becoming one of my favorite comedic actors working in Hollywood today.  He always puts all of himself into each and every role.

Verdict: Rent It
Rabbit Hole:
Rabbit Hole is a painful yet touching experience.  Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a grieving couple that has never recovered from the loss of their son.  They don't talk, have sex, or have any sort of connection whatsoever.  They are simply going through the motions.  Much like Ordinary People and The Son's Room, this is a great film that examines what it's like to lose someone and how you pick up the pieces and put your life back together.  Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart give Oscar-worthy performances that are always authentic and true to life.  This is a terrific film with great acting, great cinematography, and a great storyline.  It might not sound like a great time with its grim premise, but it's worth your time.

Verdict: Rent it

Drive Angry:
Nicholas Cage and his crazy hair give another one-note performance in a painfully dull movie.  Yes, there is a lot of action and Amber Heard looking mighty fine, but that is not nearly enough to make this an experience that warrants your time and attention.  There is a plot about hell and there is a supernatural element to the film, but this is just a cheap movie that wants to look and sound like a Grindhouse picture.  It fails miserably and falls flat on its face.  I'm all for a cheesy b-picture, but it needs to be fun and it needs to not take itself too seriously.  Drive Angry is brutally bad.

Verdict: Skip It

The Adjustment Bureau:

This is one of my favorite films of 2011.  It's one of the better romantic stories in recent memory and it also features a ton of suspense, action, and even humor.  Matt Damon is pitch-perfect as a politician that sees what his future is and tries to fight it.  The more you discover about this movie, the more interesting it becomes.  This is an amazing movie on all levels and worth checking out.  It really has something for everyone.  If your girlfriend wants some romance, there is plenty of that. If you want some action, a good story, and suspense, there's plenty of that as well. This movie is entertaining for the eyes while also giving you plenty to think about.

Verdict: Rent it