Friday, June 29, 2012

Review of TED (2012)

- Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.
- Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, and featuring the voices of Seth MacFarlane, Patrick Stewart
- Story by Seth MacFarlane;  Screenplay by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
- Directed by Seth MacFarlane
- Running time: 1hr 45min.

I have been a fan of Family Guy since the first episode premiered in 1999.  I absolutely love it!  The humor is full of 70's & 80's pop culture that I swear that the show is aiming every joke at me specifically.  Seth MacFarlane is the creator of the show, and now, he has finally made his long awaited directorial debut.

TED begins in the 80's, when a kid named John gets a Teddy Ruxpin-type plush bear for Christmas.  He makes a wish that he could talk for real.  Well, his dream comes true, and after he gets over the initial shock, John and Ted (which he names the bear) become best buddies.  And the talking bear isn't kept a secret either as Ted became a bit of a celebrity.  Now it's 2012, and John (Wahlberg) is now 35, still living with the Ted.  But instead of doing kid things, they swear a lot, drink, smoke weed and watch cheesy old movies (like 1980's FLASH GORDON).  John also has a girlfriend named Lori (Kunis), who has put up with Ted for 4 years, but is now ready for her relationship with John to take the next step.  John must make a choice between Lori or Ted.  There's also some subplots involving Ted getting a job at a supermarket, Lori being pursued by her boss (Joel McHale), and a creepy stalker/fan who wants to buy Ted from John (Ribisi). 

To tell you the truth, I guess I was expecting the plot to be a bit more fresh from someone as humorously brilliant as MacFarlane, but I understand why he did what he did.  He wanted to make the story simple so he could just focus on coming up with some of the most hilarious, offensive and bizarre gags of the year.  Also, the plot is so cliched that it practically becomes a parody within itself, complete with obvious musical cues and convenient plot twists.  I'm sure this was all intentional, and it works as both an homage and satire of buddy, romantic/comedies. 

Of course, being a film by MacFarlane, it's loaded with pop culture references.  Some of them are so obscure that only a handful of viewers will get them.  I was surprised by how many FLASH GORDON references there were.  Even Sam Jones (Flash himself) has an extended cameo and it's hilarious!  But there is also inspired sight gags, raunchy sex jokes, juvenile bathroom humor and plenty of racial slurs.  Most of the humor works.  When I wasn't laughing, I was smiling.  But I laughed out loud quite often.  A highlight for me was a far out parody of AIRPLANE.  I mean, seriously!  It takes balls to parody a parody.  Very unexpected.  And if you're a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek and Indiana Jones, get ready to laugh your ass off at some of the references here. 

After being a serious poopy pants for the past few years, it was a genuine treat to see Mark Wahlberg let loose in a fun, silly and dopey performance.  Seeing him drool over Sam Jones, or rattling off white trash names to a talking bear was a pure delight.  I sure hope he makes more comedies (I guess he was in THE OTHER GUYS, but I didn't care for that too much).  Mila Kunis doesn't have a whole lot to do other than play the straight man (or lady), but she's such a good sport about the gross jokes she's involved in.  She did a good job.  Patrick Stewart is the narrator of the film and it's a perfect way to move the story along.  He has such a great voice, and of course he says stuff that you normally wouldn't hear him say.  That was a smart move.  Giovanni Ribisi made me want to take a bath.  He's deliciously sleazy here as the sort of villain in the flick.  But the best performance comes from MacFarlane himself, who voices Ted.  Sounding pretty much like Peter Griffin, Ted definitely has all the best lines.  The special effects team have done a breathtaking job making Ted come to life.  After only a few seconds, I totally forgot that he was a special effect and just accepted him as a character.  It's usually convincing visual effects like this that get overlooked come Oscar time.  But it's worthy of one.

If the movie has a weakness, it would probably be Seth MacFarlane's over-confidence in the material.  He tries really hard to make the greatest comedy of all time, and sometimes it seems like he's trying too hard (especially in one scene where he references Family Guy, which was more of a distraction than anything).  But I can't fault the guy too much.  His effort did make me laugh my ass off quite often.  Fans of Family Guy aren't going to be disappointed.  It's pretty much the same stuff.  Lots of 80's jokes and since it's rated R, we get even more inappropriate humor than you could get away with on television. If you don't like Family Guy or MacFarlane, well then, you have no business seeing this movie.  You'll probably be scratching your head at all the obscure references.

Ted isn't perfect, but it really doesn't need to be.  I'm just happy that MacFarlane didn't pull any punches on his first feature film.  I mean, it's about a talking teddy bear who says "fuck", does cocaine and has dirty sex with chicks.  Throw in some Temple of Doom jokes, and you got a comedic winner.

*** (out of ****)

Review of MAGIC MIKE (2012)

- Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity (which is actually silhouetted), language, and some drug use.
- Starring Channing Tatum, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello
- Written Reid Carolin
- Directed by Steven Soderbergh
- Running time: 1hr 50min.

Director Steven Soderbergh is by far the most ambitious working filmmaker today.  It seems like he's willing to try just about any type of film.  Starting off as an Indie darling (SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE, KAFKA), he moved on to make daring studio films like OUT OF SIGHT.  He's made thrillers (THE LIMEY), remakes (OCEAN'S ELEVEN and SOLARIS), experimental films on shoestring budgets (THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, BUBBLE), a four hour epic biopic (CHE), a throwback to cinema of the 40's (THE GOOD GERMAN),  and has taken typical Hollywood fare, fusing it with an independent sensibility (ERIN BROCKOVICH).  After the epidemic drama CONTAGION and martial arts flick HAYWIRE, MAGIC MIKE make this his third film in under a year.  Not all of his films are successful, but I sure love to watch him try. Always making interesting movies, I was curious to see how he would tackle a film about male stripping.

The thin plot is about as simple as it comes.  Channing Tatum plays Magic Mike, a 30-year old male stripper who works for a burnt out beach bum (McConaughey) in Tampa.  He does have a dream, though.  To start a custom furniture business.  While working at his construction day job, Mike meets Adam (Pettyfer), a 19 year old slacker who, almost by accident, gets drawn into the world of stripping with Mike.  Adam also has an older sister named Brooke (Horn), who is disapproving of his lifestyle, but is strangely drawn to Mike, who is also taken by surprise by how much he likes her.  And... that's about it.

You have your standard veteran-showing-the-rookie-the-ropes plot, which involves lots of sex and drugs of course, but this film is very much above it's simplistic story.  You see, it really cares about it's characters.  The plot is just there.  There's no big twists.  No big third act reveal.  This is just about how real characters deal with real situations.  And that's what took me by surprise.  MAGIC MIKE is nothing like the goofy, campy trailers at all.  It's a very serious movie about a seedy career.

In anyone else's hands this could have been bland, or worse than that, a broad comedy.  But Soderbergh wisely directs the film in the same vein as some of the great dark dramas from the 70's, like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and (especially) THE GAMBLER.  He also won me over by using the 1970's Warner Brothers logo to open the film, which really set the proper tone for me.  Shooting in orange hues, the movie has a very gritty look which added to the film's darker elements.  Now, this doesn't get as dark as BOOGIE NIGHTS, but it's not a super happy movie either.  The cinematography is quite good, but Soderbergh doesn't overdo it.  The shots are unique, but they don't draw attention to themselves.  It's like he made an effort not to be stylish, which in turn, made it stylish.  If that makes sense.  Whatever it is, it's a really neat looking film.

With a film this bare on plot, you better have interesting characters.  And that's where this film succeeds.  Channing Tatum's Magic Mike is very compelling and it's 100% due to the incredibly engaging performance he gives.  Apparently, this film was based on some of his experiences as a male stripper before his acting career took off, which seems to add to making his character authentic.  Just as good is Cody Horn as Brooke.  She doesn't have normal leading lady looks (thank Christ), and she's all the more attractive for it.  She almost looks like Hilary Swank, but the difference being that Cody is actually hot.  She has an untrained aura about her, making the performance all the more raw and honest.  Horn and Tatum are terrific as they flirt together.  They're dialogue seems very improvised, giving their scenes undeniable realism.  The rest of the cast is fine too.  McConaughey is appropriately sleazy as the host of the strip show, but he at least seems like he's trying this time.  Alex Pettyfer is also decent as Adam.  There aren't any big "acting" moments in the movie, therefore giving it a natural flavor. 

The film has a very slow and leisurely pace as the characters just hang out, getting to know each other.  I loved this approach.  The heart of the story is the budding relationship developing between Mike and Cody.  I love how unconventional in which way everything plays out.  And the ending couldn't me more perfect.  But how is the stripping?  Very good actually.  To be honest, I feel very uncomfortable in a female strip club, but think male strippers are hilarious.  The acts and dance numbers are pretty laughable here, but no more so than in real life.  Even the ladies at the club in the movie are laughing, which is how it would be I imagine.  Tatum is a great dancer and gets to showcase his moves here.  Even McConaughey gets to show off a bit.  There is nudity here, but (with the exception of one jarring moment involving a penis pump) it's all bare asses.  There's arguably more female nudity here.

I'm wondering how audiences are going to take this movie.  Are people who thought this was going to be a cheesy guilty pleasure ready for a harsh slap of reality?  Will they be ready for a heartfelt, and honest character drama?  I'm not so sure.  The people who will most likely enjoy the film will probably be turned off by Channing Tatum and the misleading trailers.  This is an art house film for sure.  It's a surprisingly involving, well acted, carefully crafted slice of life.  If you would have told me that a movie about male stripping starring the guy from STEP UP would be Soderbergh's best film in 10 years, I would've laughed in your face.  But guess what?  It really is his best film in 10 years, and so far one of the highlights of the summer movie season.

***1/2 (out of ****)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review of BRAVE (2012)

- Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor (but the MPAA failed to mention that there is animated bare ass on two occasions.  Way to be consistent, jerks).
- Featuring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
- Story by Brenda Chapman;  Screenplay by Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell, Mark Andrews and Irene Mecchi
- Directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews
- Running time: 1hr 33min.

There's always great anticipation when Pixar releases a new movie.  They have definitely raised the bar not only in animation but with family storytelling as well.  I've liked all of their films except for A BUG'S LIFE.  The CARS movies are decent but not great.  I personally love THE INCREDIBLES and UP, but my favorite has to be WALL*E.  This time, Pixar has made a movie with a female protagonist which is sure to draw in hordes of little girls.  However, this movie has had a bit of a checkered past.

Originally called, THE BEAR AND THE BOW (which is a more appropriate title for the story if you ask me) with Brenda Chapman at the helm, she was replaced by Mark Andrews and the title changed to BRAVE.  Now, I'm not sure what happened and why, but the most important thing is how the finished product turned out, though I would love to interview Chapman to hear what her thoughts are about the situation.  Anyway, back to the movie. 

Taking place in the Scottish highlands (during the middle ages I presume), the film opens with a short prologue showing how young Merida can see magical blue sparks called whisps, which are supposed to lead you to your destiny.  Then a big nasty bear attacks the village, which leaves Merida's father with a peg leg.  Then the movie jumps ahead 15 years or so to when Merida is a young lady.  Since her father is king, she's a princess and the time has come for her to meet 3 suitors from different Scottish clans.  But she doesn't want to get married.  And if she does, then she wants to marry the person SHE wants to marry.  Also, her mother overloads her with all the rules to follow in order to be a proper princess.  Merida ends up resenting her mom, and runs away from home so she can live the life she wants to. But when she meets a mysterious old woman (who claims she's a wood carver) is when her fate will change forever.  Oh yeah, and Merida has 3 little triplet brothers that like to eat a lot, not that really has to do anything other than make 5 year olds laugh.

It's at this point the story changes tones and goes in a different direction than you would expect.  It's not exactly an original twist or plot development, but not one that I was predicting.  Even though some trailers have given aspects of this away, I won't say anything too specific about the second act.  Read Roger Ebert's review if you want to know the whole thing.  I also want to get this out of the way: This is NOT as good as Pixar's best.  It's toward the bottom of their dozen or so films.  That's not to say it's bad, cause it's not.  It's actually pretty good, just not great or revolutionary.  And that's okay.  Because Pixar has raised the bar in the past, it's almost unfair that we expect so much from them.  To ask a ballplayer to hit a homerun every time they're at bat is ridiculous, not to mention selfish. There's nothing wrong with a single or a solid double, is there?  And that's what I would call BRAVE, a decent single.

For me, I would say that the weakest part of the movie was the first half.  It wasn't terrible in any way, but it was all too familiar.  How many times have we seen the tomboy-ish princess not wanting to follow tradition and marry someone she doesn't want to, or her defying her mother.  It's the oldest Disney story in the book.  But the pre-title sequence does a good job setting up what's in store for us in the second act, which involves magic spells and slight fantasy adventure.  I've read some reviews that didn't like the shift in tone, but I welcomed it.  Even though it wasn't a groundbreaking twist, at least I wasn't expecting it.  This is also where some of that Pixar magic comes to play.  The heart of the story reveals itself.  From the trailers, I assumed the movie would be about Merida finding her true self, but it ends up being more about her relationship with her mother, and this portion of the story is often touching.

Some of the humor, which was mostly in the first half, felt kind of forced to me.  It was very much like a Dreamworks movie as far as the comedy was concerned.  I guess I don't find old Scottish men mooning each other funny, and the triplets weren't as adorable as the filmmakers thought they were. But then there were some moments in the second half (that involve the story shift, so I can't mention specifics) that had me laughing out loud.  But this isn't a comedy.  It's a story about mending bonds and relationships, with some adventure laced in (since they set up the bear story early on, you know it's going to come back).

As you would expect, the animation looks great, though not quite as good as Pixar's last few.  In fact, if you would've told me that this was from the creators of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (by Dreamworks), I would've believed you.  That's not too much of a knock, but it's just not groundbreaking.  And I guess it's okay that it's not.  As I said before, that's unfair to expect every time.  The landscapes are terrific, and the character designs are wildly exaggerated, Merida's beautiful flowing red locks are absolutely gorgeous, and the bear is pretty menacing (he might even scare small children).  Patrick Doyle has crafted an appropriate Scottish score and even Mumford & Sons contribute to one of the film's songs.  Merida is a great role model for kids, and I think many little girls are going to want beginner archery kits for Christmas, cause she sure looks cool flinging arrows. 

I think most kids will enjoy BRAVE and parents with the right mindset should like it as well.  Just don't expect anything terribly deep and epic.  In fact, I was surprised by how self contained the story and scope were.  It's a relatively small story, which was good cause that meant it was tightly focused.  This is probably the best bet for family films this summer, as MADAGASCAR 3 was a bust (at least for me).  My daughter ate up the magical elements of the film and says it's her 3rd favorite film of the year (next to THE AVENGERS and MOONRISE KINGDOM).  After the predictably generic first 40 minutes, the movie turns into an unexpected magical journey that was moving the way we expect Pixar movies to be.  It's worth a look! 

(Note: The 3D looked pretty good, so if thinking about the upgrade, go for it.  But most little kids won't keep the glasses on, so if you have real little ones, I would see the 2D)

*** (out of ****)


- Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.
- Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, TJ Miller, Martin Sheen, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, William Petersen, Derek Luke
- Written & Directed by Lorene Scafaria
- Running time: 1hr 40min.

When I saw the trailer, I wasn't too impressed.  Another quirky romantic/comedy with a post-apocalyptic twist, I thought.  Well, it's not really post-apocalyptic.  Pre-apocalyptic is probably the more accurate term (which isn't even a term, I think).  But the end result was actually more than I expected.

An asteroid is on it's way to Earth and will crash in 30 days, thus destroying the planet.  Dodge (Carell) is a 40 something schlub whose wife leaves him in a panic.  At first, he still attends his dead-end office job, but when he gets a letter from an old flame wanting to reconnect, he decides to take a road trip to find her.  But before he leaves, he meets his 28 year old neighbor Penny (Knightley), who has just broken up with her boyfriend.  The 2 form an unlikely friendship and go on the road trip together, as Dodge has agreed to take her to her family.  Their journey has them meeting various different eccentric characters as their friendship grows stronger. 

The movie opens with a series of offbeat sequences and skits that show how people are reacting to the world ending.  Dodge attends parties with people doing heroin and sleeping with strangers (since it doesn't really matter), but he still doesn't want to go nuts.  He lives his life the same old boring way.  The characters that pop up in this first part are all eccentrics who have gone mad with this horrifying news.  William Petersen plays a guy who has put a contract on himself, Patton Oswalt plays a guy who has sex with a new person every day, and TJ Miller is the world's most friendliest waiter at a TGI Friday's-type place (which ends up being an orgy).  These are all mildly amusing scenes, but they're played very broadly.  It kind of works, but it's nothing mindblowing.

Then something unexpected happened in the second half.  The tone dramatically shifts.  The focus becomes mainly on Dodge and Penny's friendship, which is for the most part platonic. But their interaction is what makes this movie shine.  This is to be credited to the two leads.  Steve Carell is pretty much doing what he usually does,  playing the hopeless sad sack.  But there is a new weight and urgency here that he usually doesn't display.  The film's major saving grace is Keira Knightley.  Her Penny character is the kind of free spirit you would expect her to play, but there are some pretty emotionally intense scenes in the last portion of the film that she pulls off extremely well.  She does the comedy wonderfully while emotionally pulling you into the film. 

Screenwriter Lorene Scafaria has made a solid debut as a director.  She seems to handle all the technical stuff without a hitch.  Her script is pretty good too, though the comedy stuff in the first half is only amusing for awhile.  Which is why I'm glad she decided to switch tones halfway through.  I think Scafaria's greatest strength is writing 2 characters talking.  The interaction between Dodge and Penny is easily the best thing about the movie.  These 2 characters are drawn out perfectly and make the audience care for them as they go on about their journey.  I hope in the future that she ditches the comedy all together and just make a serious movie about interesting people.  The premise is a great place for these characters to live.  It also made me think how I would react to this type of situation.  It definitely brings up some interesting conversations amongst friends.  I don't want to give the movie away, so I'm trying to stay away from spoilers.

What starts off as almost a sketch comedy with broad humor turns into an intimate character piece about 2 unlikely individuals forming a strong bond.  I wasn't sure during the first half if I was digging it or not, but by the film's conclusion, I was deeply moved.  It even made me cry.  If you like unconventional, offbeat comedies that aren't safe, then give this a try.  I'm curious to see how I would react to it a second time.  The shift in tone might be jarring for some, but it's the main reason why I liked it. 

*** (out of ****)


- Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality.
- Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson. Marton Csokas
- Written by Seith Grahame-Smith (Based on his novel)
- Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
- Running time: 1hr 44min.

Based on the recent cult novel, obviously this is not an accurate historic account of Abraham Lincoln, though that'd be awesome if it was.  No, this is a crazy take on history.  When Abe was a boy, his mother was killed by a vampire and has been craving vengeance ever since.  9 years later, the future president (Walker) is all grown up and plans on seeking the creature out, but he has no clue what he is about to face.  Luckily he meets a mysterious stranger named Henry (Cooper) who has experience fighting vamps and offers to train him.  The first half of the movie shows how he becomes a full fledged, axe wielding vampire hunter, and also shows how he met Mrs. Lincoln (Winstead).  The second half jumps ahead to the civil war when Abe (now with the full beard) discovers that the South has employed vampires as soldiers, and must deliver a bunch of silver (which kills vampire I guess) on train to the Northern armies.  Oh yeah, and there's a villain vampire (Sewell) who wants to take over the states too.

Obviously, this is not to be taken seriously.  Or is it?  I expected this to be a tongue-in-cheek B-flick with tons of over the top gore and silliness.  Instead, the movie is played extremely straight and surprisingly serious.  I actually admired this approach.  It's a ballsy move and the filmmakers almost pull it off.  The premise is kind of fun and some of the action scenes are thrilling.  But there are too many inconsistencies for this to be a complete success.

The good begins with Benjamin Walker as honest Abe.  His commitment to an ultra serious performance makes the film grounded in a kind of a certain warped reality.  He also resembles Liam Neeson a bit, which is kind of a strange coincidence since at one point he was slated to play Lincoln years ago in a biopic.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Mrs Lincoln is underwritten but she still manages to make in an impression during a few dramatic moments.  Dominic "I still haven't found a razor I liked" Cooper is appropriately grizzled as the veteran vampire hunter.  Anthony Mackie is probably the most underused as Lincoln's black childhood friend.  Rupert Sewell is fine as the villain but am I the only one who is getting sick of him being the villain in period pieces?  Seriously!  Every time there is a period piece that needs a generic bad guy (A KNIGHT'S TALE, LEGEND OF ZORRO, TRISTAN + ISOLDE), he's the guy to call I guess?

So the acting is mostly fine, but the characters aren't developed very well.  It's not surprising cause this was written by the same guy who wrote Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS, which had the same type of character problems.  No one is fleshed out, with the exception of Lincoln.  Everyone else is kind of in the background and pops up to the front when the script calls for it.  Now, you may be thinking that with a movie called ABRAHAM LINCOLN VAMPIRE HUNTER, the story shouldn't really matter since it's all about killing the undead.  But the movie does try to be taken seriously and it wants you to care about the characters, but it's hard to when we don't know much about them. 

The look of the film is pretty cool.  The filmmakers do a decent job creating an almost gothic look to America in the 1800's.  There's also a darkly creepy atmosphere throughout the movie that works well.  Director Timur Bekmambetov employs his usual filming techniques, which is both good and bad.  If you've seen any of his previous films (NIGHTWATCH, DAYWATCH, WANTED) then you know that he tends to rely on CGI-heavy effects and tricks.  He loves using that "slow-down/speed-up" technique that tends to distract from the action more than enhancing it.  But I've never liked this effect, even in 300.  Besides that, with the exception of a ridiculous and almost incoherent chase that takes place on top of a stampede of horses, most of the action scenes are well choreographed and storyboarded.  The finale on top of the train was probably the best set piece, but there's some other cool ones too.  There's something film geeky awesome about Abraham Lincoln killing vampires with an axe that has a shotgun hidden inside.

I also felt that the movie should have been more condensed.  The first and last hour of the movie felt like 2 different movies.  It was like part 1 and part 2 condensed into one feature.  By doing this the movie feels like it's cheating the audience out of a fully rounded story.  Parts seem to be missing, especially when you jump over 30 years in time.  This really should have been 2 movies, but I know it couldn't because I'm sure there wouldn't have been an audience demand for it.  But on the bright side and completely unrelated, Henry Jackman has composed a western-badass flavored score.  He's really growing into one of the more interesting composers working in Hollywood.

I do think there is a following for this movie.  Viewers that don't mind weak characterizations and plot holes may be more forgiving.  If you're looking for some violent vampire battles with some clever jabs at American History, you'll probably be satisfied.  This almost works, but the script isn't realized enough to be fully satisfying.  It all looks cool and dandy, but it's cold blooded.

**1/2 (out of ****)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review of ROCK OF AGES (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking and language.
- Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman, Alex Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Mary J. Blige, Will Forte, TJ Miller
- Screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, Allan Loeb (Based on the play by Chris D'Arienzo)
- Directed by Adam Shankman
- Running time: 2hrs 3min.

What was I doing in 1987 (the year this movie takes place)?  Hmmm.  I was 11 years old, watching all the bad action films starring Chuck Norris and Stallone that I could find.  I listened to the popular radio station at the time, which is way different than popular radio now.  You see, they actually played good music back then.  Sure, it's cheesy, but I loved Def Leppard, Guns N' Roses and Bon Jovi.

Based on the hit Broadway musical (which I have not seen and knew next to nothing about), ROCK OF AGES is about a country girl named Sherrie who has the dream to become a famous singer in L.A.  Wet behind the ears, before the first song is over, she loses all of her belongings as she arrives in Hollywood.  Drew, a handsome bar back at the famous Bourbon rock club (who also wants to become a rock star), comes to her rescue.  He gets her a job as a waitress there and before you can say "80's love ballad", they fall for each other.  Also in the mix is the owner of the club played by Alec Baldwin and his partner in crime, Lonny (Brand).  The club is being protested by the Mayor's wife (Zeta-Jones), who leads a group of church goers against rock and roll to try and close the club down.  Superstar rocker Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) is going to perform at the Bourbon to try and boost it's revenue to save the club, but his shady manager (Giamatti) has other plans.  There's also a subplot involving a reporter (Ackerman) and Jaxx as she interviews him for Rolling Stone magazine.

Let me get this off my chest right now.  I LOVE MUSICALS!!!  I love em!  I loved Shankman's musical version of HAIRSPRAY, and this is just as fun!  I love cheesy 80's songs and putting them in a cheesy, energetic musical earns mega points from me.  Now, I figure this movie is going to annoy the shit out of many, many moviegoers.  It's about as subtle as freight train.  It starts with a joyous rendition of Sister Christian with everyone on Sherrie's bus singing along.  It's stupid, ridiculous and idiotic, but super duper infectious.  At least for me.  Me and my 8 year old were singing along to every song, which doesn't use original songs, but incorporates 80's classics into the storyline.

The story?  Well, it's just an excuse so famous actors can sing karaoke.  And it's enormous fun.  This isn't good storytelling, but it's a marvelous musical.  The plot is a standard "boy meets girl" scenario, and it's fine.  It's as predictable as mac and cheese, but I didn't mind.  I didn't want a unique indie dramedy, I wanted a cheesy 80's musical, and that's exactly what I got.  Every song that came up thrilled me.  I was always wondering which song would be next.  Several numbers mix certain songs together like Extreme's "More than Words" and Warrant's "Heaven" with much success.

The actors are clearly having a wonderful time here.  I'm not really a big fan of Julianne Hough, but to deny her charisma here would be unfair.  Sure, she's got an unnatural fake baked look to her, but it fits the late 80's glam style.  She may over-sing a few songs, but her voice has undeniable power.  Her love interest Diego Boneta may be a little too clean looking for me, but it fits the cheesiness of the film.  Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand provide many of the film's laughs, including a show-stopping rendition of "Can't Fight this Feeling".  Catherine Zeta-Jones is just a riot as the prudish crusader trying to end rock n roll, and her "Hit Me with your Best Shot" is fantastic!  She goes beyond over-the-top here and it's a blast to watch.  Paul Giamatti is deliciously evil and also briefly shows off his impressive tenor voice.  But it's Tom Cruise who owns this movie.  His Stacee Jaxx is absolutely terrific.  He completely becomes this burnt out rocker who forgot the meaning of rock n roll.  His eccentric touches (like walking around with a monkey named "Hey Man"), and fondling boobies just make him all the more sleazy.  Speaking of sleazy, his introduction with him rising from a pile of naked chicks on his bed was epic.  It's such an outrageous, "out there" performance it could only be done by a fearless actor.  And guess what?  That man can sing!  He has a great presence.  Cruise is such a committed actor, that I'm convinced he can do just about anything.  He's one actor that hasn't let the bad press get to him, he is still giving 100%.  Also, his duet with Malin Ackerman (who's quite good) is one of my favorite sequences as they fondle each other while belting out "I want to know what love is".  It's laugh out loud funny!

Not only is this a great musical, it's a pretty darn good comedy.  I laughed a heck of a lot more than I thought I would.  The movie has it's tongue through it's cheek (as opposed to just tongue-in-cheek).  It knows how stupid it is, and embraces it.  Musicals are dumb.  No one sings out of the blue like this.  They exist in completely different universes than real ones.  That's why I think I love them so much.  It's movie magic where everyone can sing the way they feel.  People who hate musicals are going to loathe this film.  And if you don't like this type of music, you're going to hate it even more. 

This movie is loud, obnoxious, and just doesn't stop.  The energy is on an ultra high level and could cause migraines for those not ready for it.  So, be ready for many negative reviews for this.  This isn't for everyone.  Many people will hate this movie.  But I was looking for a cheesy movie that I could sing along with and I got it.  I even got several laughs in too.  I already have the soundtrack.  In fact, I am listening to it right now as I write this review.  ROCK OF AGES isn't full of great nuances or anything meaningful.  It's just one hell of a good time.  I had a sloppy cheesy smile the entirety of it's rockin' running time.  If you've seen the trailer, then you'll know if it's for you or not.  If you think it looks stupid, you have no business seeing it.  If you think it looks like a cheesy good time, you'll love it!  It's definitely the most fun I've had all summer at the movies.

***1/2 (out of ****)

Review of THAT'S MY BOY (2012)

- Rated R for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use.
- Starring Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice, James Caan, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Orlando, Will Forte, Nick Swardson, Peggy Stewart, Eva Amurri, Martino, Susan Sarandon
- Written by David Caspe
- Directed by Sean Anders
- Running time: 1hr 55min.

I was never that big of a fan of SNL.  The only reason I ever watched it back in High School (early 90's) was to see the latest grunge band musical guests (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Teenage Fanclub).  I always found the actors incredibly annoying, especially Adam Sandler.  But then something funny happened.  He made BILLY MADISON and I still think it's one of the funniest films of the 90's.  Loved HAPPY GILMORE!  I even liked BULLETPROOF.  WEDDING SINGER was a cute and funny romantic comedy.  But then THE WATERBOY happened, which had Sandler doing an unfunny accent and go deeper into strange humor that was sporadically funny.  From then on it was hit or miss.  I liked BIG DADDY, ANGER MANAGEMENT, and especially BEDTIME STORIES.  But the rest range from not very good, to absolutely terrible.  LITTLE NICKY, MR. DEEDS, 50 FIRST DATES, LONGEST YARD, CLICK, CHUCK & LARRY, ZOHAN, GROWN UPS and JACK AND JILL are nearly unwatchable.  I missed JUST GO WITH IT.  His non-Adam Sandler movies are much better, like PUNCHDRUNK LOVE, SPANGLISH and FUNNY PEOPLE.  After making several watered down PG13 ranchfests, Sandler finally had the balls to make a hardcore R rated comedy.  With Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell making films loaded with F-words for years already, I'm really surprised that it took Sandler this long.

The movie opens with a prologue about a 13 year old boy in the 80's who gets his teacher pregnant.  Then we go to present day with the now grown up teen Donnie (Sandler), a 40 year old drunk and loser who needs 50 grand or else he'll go to jail.  His grown son, whom he named Han Solo, left him when he turned 18 and changed his name to Todd (Samberg), and is a successful businessman.  Donnie tracks him down to try to get the money out of him, but when he finds him, it's a few days before Todd's wedding to a hot but nagging bitch named Jamie.  Todd doesn't want anyone to know that Donnie is his irresponsible dad, so he lies to everyone.  Donnie causes lots of problems for Todd, but of course they're going to connect and bond before the movie is over.

The story outline is a typical sentimental situation comedy, but as usual, Sandler turns the genre on it's ear by churning out endless tasteless jokes.  To be honest, I walked into this movie already hating it as I thought the trailers looked atrocious.  And to be sure, the first 30 minutes are dreadful.  I didn't really laugh at the pre-title sequence and when Sandler first appears on screen doing an awful childish lispy accent, I groaned most audibly.   I don't know why he thinks doing accents are funny (WATERBOY, LITTLE NICKY), cause they're not... at least when he's doing them.  Nevermind that it doesn't make any sense why he sounds like that since the younger version of him didn't have a goofy voice, it's just not funny.

But something strange happened near the halfway point.  I started laughing.  Quite often.  Even when the jokes were bad, I was laughing.  I don't know what was happening to me.  I was very aware what I was watching was not good, but I still laughed.  Take that however you want, I guess.  There's jokes about statutory rape, incest, sex with 90 year old grandmas, licking semen, drinking, shit, drugs, and everything else that is inappropriate.  It was nice to see Sandler go all the way for once in a comedy, but the result is too scattershot to fully recommend.  Some jokes fall flat on their face, like a scene with Vanilla Ice playing himself, but then some had me laughing pretty hard.  But you know it's not that good when you can't even remember what exactly it was that you laughed at.  Cause honestly, I can't remember.  I remember laughing, but not what I was laughing AT.

The movie has a few of Sandler's regulars like Nick Swardson (who is absolutely terrible in this as a redneck patron at a strip club), but for the most part there are mainly newcomers.  Andy Samberg is mostly the straight man who doesn't really get a chance to loosen up.  He does an adequate job though.  The lovely Leighton Meester is very game here tarnishing her virginal image.  Susan Sarandon's daughter has some funny obscene moments in the beginning as the seductive teacher that probably turned me on more than I laughed at it.  Tony Orlando and James Caan have some highlighted moments, but it's Milo Ventimiglia who steals many scenes as Meester's testosterone filled brother.  Sandler himself is very inconsistent as his accent is stronger in some scenes, then not as noticeable in others.  He has some pretty funny lines and moments, but the performance itself is not funny. 

The second half has more laughs than the first.  Even Vanilla Ice becomes funny by the end.  And seeing Todd Bridges smoking a bong... well, there's something about that that just makes me giggle.  In fact, the bachelor party that Donnie throws for his son was probably the best section of the film.  But the movie is far too long, clocking in at nearly 2 hours.  That's ridiculous.  Mindless, juvenile comedies like this don't need to be any longer than 90 minutes.  I have a feeling some people will walk away from this really enjoying it, especially if they were fans of Sandler's comedy albums.  I laughed sporadically throughout, but not enough to call it a successful comedy.  There are too many dead spots, and again, that first half hour is unwatchable.  I think Sandler is on the right track to become funny again, but this doesn't quite make it all the way.  It's a throwaway comedy.  You'll laugh during it, but still leave feeling unsatisfied.

**1/2 (out of ****)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sound Unseen 2012: Review of PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE (2012)

- Not Rated but contains the occasional F-word.
- Starring Paul Williams, Stephen Kessler
- Written & Directed by Stephen Kessler
- Running time: 1hr 27min.

The opening of this documentary has filmmaker Stephen Kessler explaining why he loves Paul Williams, and there I was watching this, on the exact same page as Kessler.  Who is Paul Williams you ask?  Okay, I don't want to know you!!!  I LOVE Paul Williams.  He has been a part of my film geek life since I can remember.  He was a singer/songwriter, actor and television personality who gained most of his notoriety in he 70's.  I know him firstly from his work with Jim Henson.  He wrote all the songs for THE MUPPET MOVIE and MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL.  I mean, for God's sake, he wrote The Rainbow Connection (and more recently performed the song on YO GABBA GABBA)!!!   He also wrote all the songs for Brian DePalma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and Alan Parker's BUGSY MALONE.  I have all those soundtracks and have loved those songs for many years, as they definitely have been a major influence on my life. So this documentary had me in it's opening moments as Kessler gushed the way I kind of did just now.

But this isn't really a fluff piece on Williams.  It's deeper and more interesting than that.  Instead of making a PBS-type Documentary (Kessler's words, not mine), the filmmaker instead tries something a bit different.  After finding out that Paul was still alive (he thought he was dead), he tracks him down at one of his concerts.  Kessler approaches Paul and convinces him to make a Doc about him.  So now armed with a film crew, Kessler gets to follow his idol around on his tours.  At first, Williams is stand off-ish.  He constantly tells the filmmaker to shut the cameras off, and even walks away making Kessler feel like he's paparazzi.  But after bonding over a squid entree, Williams begins to warm up.

Though there is some great insight on his songwriting and his addiction to fame, the main focus of the movie ends up being on the love/hate relationship Williams has with Kessler.  That was something I wasn't expecting.  Williams obviously doesn't like being filmed in every day life, so it's his suggestion that Kessler join him in front of the camera.  This approach makes him feel more at ease, though they still have problems during the shoot.  You see, the songwriter is the type of person who doesn't dwell on the past, as he's always moving forward.  Kessler wants to know more about his struggle with alcoholism and addiction to drugs, but that's when Williams gets defensive about his life and puts up a fight. 

After just 87 minutes, I felt like I got to know Paul Williams.  He's a very private person, but is loyal once you get on his good side.  The friendship between Kessler and Williams is pretty engaging.  I also got to find out some interesting facts about the celebrity too.  I had no idea that he appeared on the Johnny Carson show 52 times!  Holy Cow!  And he also appeared on several television shows like POLICE WOMAN, THE ODD COUPLE, BARETTA, LOVE BOAT and of course, THE MUPPET SHOW.  He won many Grammy's and even got an Academy Award for co-writing a song with Barbara Streisand.  He was all over the place and then he just disappeared.  It's interesting hearing about his life and what DID happen to him when he finally opens up.  In one of the most memorable moments of the film, Kessler shows Williams an episode of the Merv Griffin show that Williams hosted in the 80's, wacked out on drugs.  The look on the songwriter's face is heartbreaking.  This film doesn't hold anything back.  It's candid and honest. 

Being a fan, I found myself riveted by this movie.  But I don't think you have to be a fan or even know who Paul is to enjoy it.  It's an interesting look at celebrities and the filmmakers that try to document them.  It's a great look at a relationship between a fan who wants to know everything about his favorite celebrity, and the celebrity who doesn't want to be exposed.  I was fully engaged and I thinks many other viewers would be too.

***1/2 (out of ****)

(This will be playing at the Trylon Microcinema in Minneapolis on Wednesday, June 13th at 7pm.  Tickets are 8 dollars)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review of MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.
- Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel
- Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
- Directed by Wes Anderson
- Running time: 1hr 33min.

I really like Wes Anderson.  I still haven't seen LIFE AQUATIC, but I saw BOTTLE ROCKET when it first came out on video and loved it.  I missed RUSHMORE, but loved ROYAL TENENBAUMS, THE DARJEELING LIMITED and FANTASTIC MR. FOX.  I got a chance to see RUSHMORE a few years ago, and it's the only one of his I don't love.  Which is funny I guess, since it's most of my friends' favorite.  I'll have to give it a second chance, but I was very much looking forward to his first live action film in 5 years, which looked like more of his quirky goodness.

Like most films from Anderson, there are several characters featured in the story, though this time there are just 2 main characters.  The focus is on two 12 year olds (or around that age) in 1965 Rhode Island.  Sam and Suzy meet and immediately fall in love with each other, so they plan to run away to a small island together.  Sam leaves his Boy Scout-like camp, and Suzy leaves her home full of unhappiness so they can be together, though they still don't really know each other.  This causes the community to panic.  Bill Murray and Francis McDormand play Suzy's parents who are very upset by her disappearance.  Ed Norton plays Sam's scout master who sends his troops to find the 2 runaways. Bruce Willis plays the local cop who is in charge of the case, and also having an affair with McDormand.  Child services is also sent out to the town (in the form of Tilda Swinton) to retrieve Sam, whose foster parents won't take him back. 

Just like most Anderson films, every character is eccentric and low key.  It's his thing.  With his 7th film now, his style is as confident as ever.  Every shot is perfectly framed and the editing precisely paced.  All of his films are comedies, but not the laugh-out-loud kind.  They're bittersweet.  You smile at the awkwardness.  You chuckle at the silliness.  And you marvel at the colorful visual palette.  His films seem to take place in a completely different world than the one we know, and for me, that's the reason why I love his films so much.  The universe he creates within his movies are fascinating. 

At the center of the all the subtle wackiness is the charming, tender story of friendship and discovery between Sam and Suzy.  Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward both make their screen debuts here as the young lovers and are nothing short of amazing.  They deliver Anderson's dialogue with deadpan delivery.  Which means they fit right in with his cast of regulars.  Bill Murray does a solid job, but you wouldn't expect him to be anything less here.  Francis McDormand and Bruce Willis are newcomers but they seem to get the rhythm of the filmmaker.  Ed Norton is probably my favorite performance here.  His forcefully upbeat work as the chipper, optimistic scout leader is something we haven't seen from him since DEATH TO SMOOCHY.  Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel are fun, but I thought Bob Balaban as the straight-faced narrator was a nice touch. 

This is a wonderful coming of age story.  Even though there's craziness always going on with the goofy characters, the film's best scenes are between Sam and Suzy when they're by themselves.  There relationship is pure and honest.  They tell each other everything and accept on another for who they are.  One of my favorite moments is when they share their first french kiss.  Sure, it's funny, but there's something beautifully truthful about it too.  I almost wish they had more scenes together instead of focusing on the adults, but it wasn't that big of deal to me.

The direction is top notch per usual.  Anderson is a master of bringing bright colors into his  imaginative production design.  The sets are also awesome.  I love how the camera just moves through Suzy's house in unbroken takes as her brothers listen to classical records on the floor.  The movie is also full of unforgettable images: Sam being struck by lightning, the tallest tree house in the world, the finale at the top of the church and a motorcycle stuck on the top of a tree.  He uses images to tell a story, displaying a unique voice in the world of filmmaking.  He has developed a style for himself that works and I can't wait to see his next movies. 

Also, I brought my 8 year old daughter to this.  She saw MR FOX, but none of his live action films (I guess they ARE rated R).  Since she has never really seen anything quite like this before, she was completely enchanted, taking in this strange world.  She identified with Suzy, since she was into fantasy stories.  There were a few questionable suggestive moments, but they were so honest that I didn't mind her seeing them.  Immediately when we got home, she asked if she could watch the trailers for all of Anderson's other films online.  She really wants to see his movies now. 

This isn't my favorite Anderson film (that's probably TENENBAUMS) but it fits absolutely perfect within his filmography.  I admit that these films are an acquired taste.  If you haven't liked his other films, then this one won't change your mind.  But if you love his work, than you'll find this a nice addition to his work.  It's sweet, charming, quirky, imaginative, poignant, and whimsical.  Just what a Wes Anderson film should be. 

***1/2 (out of ****)

Review of PROMETHEUS (2012)

- Rated R for sci-fi violence including intense images, and brief language.
- Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Patrick Wilson
- Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
- Directed by Ridley Scott
- Running time: 2hrs 3min

I'm not the biggest fan of Ridley Scott.  I really like ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, but the rest of his films are either just merely good, or pretty bad.  I liked GLADIATOR, LEGEND (though it's been awhile), G.I. JANE, GLADIATOR, MATCHSTICK MEN, THELMA & LOUISE, and BODY OF LIES.  I didn't like BLACK RAIN, WHITE SQUALL, HANNIBAL (totally forgot he did that one), BLACK HAWK DOWN (horrible editing), KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, AMERICAN GANGSTER and ROBIN HOOD.  I feel like he traded in his trademark visual style of his earlier films for rapid editing and lots of shaky cam (as his brother Tony uses).  With PROMETHEUS (which is the name of the spaceship), he's returning to the ALIEN universe with this adult Sci-Fi film.

The movie is actually more simpler than all of the hype would lead you to believe.  In a nutshell, a couple of scientists find evidence that there is a lifeform on a far away planet that may have created mankind.  A group of engineers from the Weyland Corporation bring them to the planet.  While exploring the planet, they find an enormous cave which has dead carcasses of these creatures, which pretty much look like humans, only twice the size.  But the ship's android David (Fassbender) finds some weird slime and decides to infect a crew member.  This, of course, is no good.  And then one of aliens ends up being alive, but is extremely hostile.  This is when the crew finally discovers just what these beings were trying to do before they were wiped out.  And what wiped them out?

I find this movie incredibly hard to review because it's hard not talking about the marketing.  Fox has done a great job hyping this film up beyond belief.  Everyone is excited for it.  But have they over-hyped it?  I'm going to say... yeah.  Back when this movie started shooting, there was speculation (due to a leak) that this may be a prequel to ALIEN.  At first, Scott denied this.  But after countless leaks kept pouring in, he finally caved and said that it's in the same universe.  It's too bad that this movie was the victim of the leaks.  It is of my opinion that Scott had no intention of letting this information out.  Why do I think that?  Because, none of the reveals are until the final 15-20 minutes of the film.  If I would've seen this not knowing about the ALIEN connection, I would have been blown away.  But now, knowing about the connection, everyone's expectations and anticipations are going to be out of control.  It can't possibly live up to this much hype.  I'm absolutely convinced that if this was released in the early 90's, there is no way we would have found out about what was supposed to be a surprise.  And that's too bad.  Or is it?  Cause if didn't know about the connection, I would have been super excited and possibly overrate it and taut it as being more than what it really is, which is a solid Science Fiction movie. I also have to add that the trailers give practically every big action moment and reveal in the trailer and TV spots.  I was surprised by nothing in this.  Which is not the film's fault, and I ultimately won't hold it against it.  But it's still disappointing when you see all the cool stuff beforehand. 

Okay.  So you know how I feel about the marketing and the story leaks, but how is the actual movie?  I liked it, but it really doesn't live up to the hype.  I must say this right off the bat though.  This is easily Ridley Scott's best directed film since BLADE RUNNER.  Both that and ALIEN have a certain confidence in their execution that hasn't been evident in any other of Scott's films.  Until now.  Finally, he holds shots longer than 2 seconds and invested in tripods, stedi-cams and cranes again.  This is a great looking movie shot with grace and elegance.  The pacing is very slow, just like ALIEN.  And as a fan, I welcomed the pacing.  By keeping it slow like this, it allows the viewer to take in the cold and eerie atmosphere that Scott has created.  And the small amount of action that does take place is shot and edited clearly and coherently.  But it's the tension leading up to the thrilling moments that really make the movie.  Nothing exciting really happens until the beginning of the second hour, and even then, the movie never amps it up very high.  This isn't a problem.  I liked this approach quite a bit.

The characters are mostly fine, though they are mostly of the cookie cutter variety.  The crew of the ship are full of your standard types of people: You have the hard-nosed chief of the ship (Charlize Theron), the wide eyed and hopeful scientist (Rapace), a douchebag scientist that thinks he's better than everyone (Marshall-Green), a nerdy type (Spall), a really mean hard ass with a Scottish accent (Harris), and the stern but understanding captain (Elba).  The best character is easily Fassbender's David, who is an android fascinated by human behavior.  I love the early scenes of him walking around the ship alone while everyone else is in hyper sleep.  We see him throw basketballs through a hoop while riding a bicycle, researching the crew and watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.  These establishing scenes have the preciseness one would see in a Kubrick film.  Besides him, the characters aren't anything special.  Not that I didn't like them, but I would say the ones I did like were more because of what the actor brought to it, not how the role was written.

I really liked Theron in this.  Her character definitely has the awesome bad ass quality that most fanboys salivate to see as she walks around with her perfect completion and skintight suits.  She has some of the best moments, including one when she won't let a crew member on the ship because of contamination (much like the original ALIEN), and I like where the scene goes.  Noomi Rapace is fine.  At first she was kind of a blank slate and I found her to be sort of stiff, but as the movie goes on she gets a few chances to shine, especially during one of the movies best moments that gives a new meaning to do-it-yourself abortions (I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I had to say it... heh).  I also really liked Idris Elba as the captain of the ship and his best moment comes at the finale.  I didn't care too much for anyone else.  I guess Rafe Spall was fine, but his character was too generic.  I found Harris to be annoying.  In order to be an intimidating tough guy, he opens his eyes really wide and talks in a gruff voice.  It got old fast for me.  Guy Pearce is in this briefly, and he's fine I guess.  Speaking of brief, why the hell would you hire Patrick Wilson to be in your movie for 13 seconds?  Weird.  My least favorite character was Rapace's scientist partner and lover played by Marshall-Green (who is most likely to win the Tom Hardy look-a-like contest).  His character was too one dimensional, and did some really stupid things.  In fact, a lot of the people in this do some really stupid things to the point where I wanted to say, "What the hell am I watching?  FRIDAY THE 13TH?".   Speaking of which, there's a cute scene that has Elba and Theron talking about getting laid that would feel right at home in one of those horror films.  It was unnecessary and completely out of place here though. 

If it sounds like I'm being too hard on it.  Well, perhaps I am.  This was my most anticipated movie of the summer, and I guess I wanted this to be a four star movie.  And you know what?  That's unfair.  I shouldn't have gone in with these expectations.  There are many things that do work here.  The visual effects are absolutely mind blowing.  The ship, the outerspace scenes, the scenes in the cave, the space jockey's ship, and many things that happen in the finale (and the trailer for that matter).  Scott does a marvelous job ramping up the tension, and there are many memorable moments in the movie.  I just don't want to give all the cool stuff away (if there's anything left to giveaway).  Man, I am being too hard.

Okay, you know what?  This is not a gamechanger.  It's a standard Sci-Fi thriller that's done well.  Even though the characters are generic, they're still fun in a way.  I mean, ALIEN isn't know for it's deep characterizations right?  It's known for it's nailbiting suspense and atmosphere, and in that sense PROMETHEUS delivers.  I walked out of the movie satisfied and even days after seeing it, I can't get some of the imagery out of my head.  The details of the science technology is quite astounding.  The amount of effort and talent to bring all of that to life is very impressive.  Oh yeah, I also don't think I've talked about Fassbender enough.  He's fantastic in this.  His David is chilling.  You never know if you can trust him or not (especially if you remember what happened with Ian Holm in ALIEN).  His performance is definitely the highlight here.

With all of my complaints and nitpicks, I still can recommend it.  Though I'm not sure to who.  Fans expecting a full blown ALIEN prequel are going to be severely disappointed.  Ridley Scott was right when he said it's just another story in the same universe.  There is nothing that directly links this to the other films.  Also, for people that haven't seen the ALIEN films (particularly the first one) might be bored.  It moves at a snail's pace and takes over an hour for any of the violence to kick in.  And those looking for a smart sci-fi movie may be let down too, as it's not really that intellectual.  It's just a solid sci-fi film that is well directed.  I was entertained, but probably would have liked it even more if the hype wasn't so out of control.  Fessbender is amazing, Ridley Scott can finally direct again, and it's nice to see an R rated science fiction film in the midst of summer.  I am eager to see it again now knowing what the movie really is.  Give it a chance, just know what you're getting into and judge it for what it is.  Not for what it's not.

*** (out of ****)

Note: (The 3D looks fine but definitely not worth the upgrade)


- Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.
- Featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Jessica Chastain
- Screenplay by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach
- Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon
- Running time: 1hr 33min.

The first MADAGASCAR has a special place in my heart.  It was the first movie that my daughter (then, 23 months) sat all the way through.  She was laughing and engaged throughout.  It was just a joy watching her watch it.  And since then, she hasn't looked back.  She has now seen over 175 movies in the theater (she's almost 9 now).  Even besides that, I thought the movie was fun and stylish.  The second one was more of the same, though I thought it was a bit sillier with some of the secondary characters (namely the old lady).  It wasn't quite as good.  And now with this third one, I was a little skeptical going into it, though on the plus side I was bringing my daughter again.

When we last left the crazy animals of the MADAGASCAR saga (Alex, Gloria, Melman, and Marty). they were in Africa trying to find a way home to the New York Zoo.  The movie starts off with the penguins fixing a plane and taking it to Monte Carlo so they can gamble with some monkeys, but they promise to come back and take the rest of the gang home.  Alex can't wait, so he gathers the crew plus King Julien and his posse, and they make their way to Europe.  The animals practically destroy the town which draws attention to a vicious animal control expert, Captain Chanel DuBois, who desperately wants a lion head to add to her trophy room.  Alex and the crew escape Dubois when they board a circus train.  They ask the animals if they can join them in the circus.  Though some of the circus animals are reluctant (mainly a has been tiger named Vitaly), they let them hide out, promising to take them to America when their tour goes there (if the American promoter likes them in England).  But there's just one thing... the circus sucks!  So it's up to Alex to create a great show for all of the performers so they can get back home, all the while Dubois is hot on their trail.

While I didn't like the 2nd one all that much, at least that story had a good moral center with the subplot involving Alex's father.  But this one doesn't have anything heartfelt like that.  The plot isn't all that original as it seemed like they were really fishing for a reason to make another one.  The result is rather "meh".  I couldn't really care less about anything going on here.  I guess it wouldn't be so bad if it was stylish and offered some fresh humor.  But everything felt rushed.  The pacing is set at a breakneck speed (especially the first 30 minutes) that if you haven't seen the other 2, you'll probably be lost as to who everyone is.  No time for character development Dr. Jones!

There were a few amusing bits.  Julien's sidekick Maurice has a funny moment and Marty doing his Afro Circus song was funny the first time he does it (it's repeated at least 4 more times).  My favorite moments in the movie though, involved the love affair between Julien and an overweight circus bear.  There romantic montage as they tour Italy had be chuckling a lot (loved seeing that bear driving around on a crotch rocket).  But more often than not, the movie just resorts to loud and obnoxious humor.  There are so many chases with animals and humans screaming, making noises, and wrecking stuff.  It got so exhausting that I checked out long before the halfway point.

The voice work is about the same as the other movies, though the penguins aren't that funny anymore.  Maybe because their type of shenanigans are no longer fresh, but one thing's for certain.  They're getting old.  Francis McDormand is a welcome addition to the cast and is somewhat amusing as DuBois.  I loved her operatic number that comes out of nowhere.  But Martin Short's seal character was annoying and not funny.

Instead of being imaginative like the first one, the filmmakers just throw in a lot of random humor that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Speaking of not making any sense.  In the first movie, I believe that Alex and his friends were shipped off to Madagascar because of bad behavior, so they weren't welcomed back to the zoo.  But in this one, there are newspaper articles stating that the Zoo is still looking for their "missing" animals.  Maybe I'm wrong.  It has been awhile since I've seen it, but if I'm not wrong then that's sloppy writing.

If you want to see a family film that tries to make kids laugh by throwing lots of loud scenes with obnoxious characters doing annoying things at you and features the latest crappy pop songs, then MADAGASCAR 3 is for you.  But if you want to take the family to a genuinely imaginative, unique, visually interesting, and hilarious movie, then you should've taken them to see PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS, which is much better.  The sad thing is, that movie flopped and this one is going to make at least 150 million.  Sometimes moviegoers boggle my mind.

Oh yeah.  And for the record, my daughter didn't really like it either.  But she loved PIRATES! (which you may still be able to find at the cheap theaters, which is definitely a better deal than spending 60 bucks taking everyone to this mediocre flick).

** (out of ****)

Review of GOODBYE FIRST LOVE (2012)

- Not rated but contains full frontal nudity.
- Starring Lola Creton, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Magne-Havard Brekke
- Written & Directed by Mia Hansen Love
- Running time: 1hr 50min.

This small independent French film has been making it's rounds on the festival circuit over the past year.  It follows the lives of 2 lovers.  Camille is just 15 and Sullivan is a little older.  They have a pretty intense relationship which is typical of young love.  They love each other so much that they make each other miserable.  One day, Sullivan decides to go on a 10 month expedition to find out what he wants to be in life, which devastates Camille.  Sullivan tries to convince her that nothing will change, but of course it does.  He writes to her often at first, but then the letters come less frequently, eventually admitting that he cheats on her and doesn't plan on coming back.  Years later Camille becomes an Architect and begins a relationship with her (much older) professor.  So it's been like 10 years and everything seems fine... then Sullivan comes back into Camille's life.  Will it still be the same?

The premise has all the making for a tragic and moving love story, but unfortunately the execution is tedious and boring.  For most of the movie, nothing happens.  In fact, the first half felt like it was composed entirely of second unit footage.  Lots of shots of the city, skies, and looking out windows.  It was like a travelogue of Paris.  But not much character interaction, unless Camille and Sullivan are fighting.  They are so not right for each other.  Maybe that was the point, but either way it's not very fun to watch. There just isn't much chemistry between the two actors, but we really aren't given a chance to see why they were together in the first place.  There's hardly any scenes of them having conversations or anything like that.  Just them looking at each other naked.  That's not chemistry, that's the screenwriter not knowing what to have the characters say to each other.

Then the movie jumps around a few years every 20 minutes or so.   What for?  Big deal!  We really don't get any more insight by doing this.  Most of the focus is on Camille during the middle hour of the film, and she's not very interesting.  She just walks around looking sad and confused while an old geezer professor seduces her.  I didn't see Camille being attracted to him.  I didn't buy it.  Then when Sullivan and Camille reconnect, it's still clear they don't belong to each other.  But at the end of this I finally just asked myself, "Why should I even care?".   Good point, me.  Why do I even care if any of this makes sense cause it was just so poorly paced and boring.  And I didn't like the characters, so yeah, why care?

The acting isn't bad.  Sebastian Urzendowsky is decent as Sullivan, but the real find is Lola Creton.  She has a great natural ability and is so beautiful.  I found out after the screening that she was only 17 when they filmed this (and she's fully nude).  That was kind of disturbing, but it made sense why she looked unconvincing as a college grad student whose supposed to be in her late 20's.  But she is a talented actress giving an honest and fragile performance.  The direction isn't awful.  I liked the low budget natural look.  There are some individual beautiful shots in this, but most of that is from the second unit stuff.  This movie was in the need of a good editor.  There were many scenes that just has characters staring off into nothing for minutes at a time.  I didn't see a point for most of it.  It just made the film seem super long.

I think there were good intentions involved here, and I think the actors thought they were making something special, but the filmmaking is indulgent and the running time bloated.  I can respect the director for the effort, but it felt too much like a self important student film.

** (out of ****)