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Pain & Gain

11 Apr



Synopsis: “A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.” (Rated R; 2 hours, 9 minutes)

Extremely entertaining, funny, and “based on a true story”. Why the quotation marks? I’ll get to that later… It’s somewhat shocking that the movie is by Michael Bay, the same director who loves to make bloated mega-movies like Transformers and Pearl Harbor. To be fair I generally love his movies, but that’s because I have the ability to enjoy big, loud, brainless garbage. Give me Armageddon any day and I’ll leave the movie theater super happy. And let’s not forget this is the same director who recently went viral after doing this at a major CES convention.

At the end of the day, he managed to make a movie that was small (by his standards), and caused some controversy by turning the bad guys into the likable protagonists, and making the real life victim into a character you dislike and root against. Read more about that right here. But I’m not here to pass judgment on the choice of the writers and filmmakers on portraying the story authentically, because purely as a movie THIS. WAS. FUN.

Mark Wahlberg continues to be shockingly hilarious in his recent roles (my favorite is still The Other Guys), he plays stupid SO well in this movie, and he’s INCREDIBLY built (far more than usual) for the role; his biceps were almost as big as The Rock’s… speaking of which The Rock is pretty darn funny himself as a super-sensitive thug. Don’t get me wrong, this may have cracked Adi and myself up, but it’s a comedy for the Tarantino crowd; it’s dark and violent, but nonetheless a surprisingly well-made Michael Bay movie I can easily recommend, even if it did insult the real people it was based on…

The movie was better than Bay’s The Island, an over-the-top sci-fi flop that I managed to enjoy in spite of its badness, and it still wasn’t as much fun as his classic action extravaganza The Rock – I miss Sean Connery!!!

Quality Rating: B+ (I almost gave it an A- but I suppose there should be SOME social responsibility to not only changing the true story, but doing it in a way that offends the still-living victims, right?)

Boaz Rating: A (Still, it was so much fun to watch play out!)


The Sapphires

10 Apr


Synopsis: “It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 38 minutes)

This movie was a big hit back in Australia, but really flew under the radar in America – as most “foreign” films do. In this case there’s no excuse by people who don’t like to read subtitles, because unless you have an American brain that’s unable to process accents, there should be no problem. (On a side note, am I allowed to write that it sounds ignorant when people state that they “don’t like foreign films”? Is that supposed to be another way of saying “I don’t like to read”?)

This likable little movie is based on the true story about a white drunk man who sees the potential in a group of Aboriginal girls to turn them into a singing group, and take them to Vietnam to perform for the troops. This being the 1960’s the movie obviously involves strong elements of racism, but the movie focuses less on the external elements against them, and is more about their own internal dynamics. For American audiences, seeing Aboriginal actresses will be less familiar, and it was quite refreshing to my eyes; and of course Chris O’Dowd continues to be extremely likable and funny. (Two of his more well-known roles would be the Irish cop in Bridesmaids, and as Jessa’s husband in Girls.)

The movie was a cute little “rise to stardom” story which was made solidly and competently, and packaged this true story dramedy-musical into an enjoyable flick. If you’re curious to know more about these girls, here is a “where are they now” story for your reading pleasure. It wasn’t anything you needed to see in theaters, but is certainly a decent option for an iTunes download.

The movie was better than Joyful Noise, a completely boring flick that is also about a group of people trying to move from gospel to popular music. The movie wasn’t nearly as good as That Thing You Do! Admit it, the second I mentioned That Thing You Do! you were already humming this song in your head.

Quality Rating: B (Everything about it was competent, and interesting, but it was basically a really good TV movie.)

Boaz Rating: B+ (Put Chris O’Dowd into a movie and it gains a bit of an edge.)

Scary MoVie (“My God, They Make Movies This Bad?”)

22 Apr


Synopsis: “A couple begin to experience some unusual activity after bringing their newborn son home from the hospital. With the help of home-surveillance cameras and a team of experts, they learn they’re being stalked by a nefarious demon.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 25 minutes)

If you think I always find something positive to say about a movie, you are probably correct…until now. Since starting this blog at the start of 2013, I’ve seen and reviewed 44 movies. Until now the ones I’ve criticized the most have been:

Movie 43: I still enjoyed segments and wasn’t bored, it was just a train wreck of a comedy overall.

Spring Breakers: I may have hated this art-house piece, but I was willing to admit that James Franco was fantastic, and that it had enough interesting ideas to make up a great 10 minute short. I just couldn’t stand watching it stretched into a full length ego-stroking extravaganza for the filmmaker.

Tyler Perry’s Temptation: I clearly thought it was unredeemable, awful movie-making, but it definitely fell into so-bad-it’s-great territory, especially if you have a friend excited to do a Statler & Waldorf routine with you.

(I welcome you to click on the link of any of the movies above to read their respective write-ups.)

Scary MoVie on the other hand may be so bad that the most clever thing about it is its title. (See that capitalized “V” referring to it being the 5th one in the franchise? Zing!) The previous movies in the franchise were certainly lowbrow entertainment ranging from somewhat funny to moderately amusing, so the bar wasn’t exactly set high. But this one was SO bad that even the opening scene with Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan was “What the hell are we about to watch?!” awful. First of all both Jared and Adi separately whispered that Lohan looks like she’s middle-aged, which is depressingly pathetic, but worst of all it just wasn’t funny. Please understand I enjoy dumb humor. I don’t need silly movies to be brilliantly clever like Airplane!  or The Naked Gun to think they’re funny; I couldn’t stop laughing during the critically reviled MacGruber, and I thought all previous Scary Movie entries at least had some funny scenes. This. Just. Stank. In fact most of the fun I had watching this smelly turd of a movie was from the schadenfreude of Jared exclaiming, “Oh my God” to how bad it was, and Adi smacking her head against my shoulder and glaring at me for taking her to see it. (I will defend myself for a minute and mention that she decides what movies she wants to see based on watching the previews, so she made her own bed this time.)

There was one endless joke between rappers Snoop Dogg & Mac Miller playing themselves (yeah, we had no idea who Mac Miller was either) finding a cabin in the woods and then saying “It’s a Cabin In The Woods” over and over and over again, as if saying the movie title repetitively would somehow make you realize it’s a clever joke. News-flash, it’s not. It felt like a 2nd grader watched an episode of Family Guy, and then tried to write a script…badly. In fact the movie was so lousy that if 2nd graders DID write it, I would throw all of the compassion they teach us in nursing school out the window, and tell the children they have no future in comedy writing, and stomp on their dreams.

But here’s the crazy thing, it was written by two people who have each written CLASSIC comedies. Don’t believe me? Let’s play a little game called guess the comedy writer:

Contestant #1 wrote countless 80’s and 90’s classics. I may have never heard his name, but he deserves to be considered a comedy legend. He was a screenwriter for Bachelor Party, Real Genius, Police Academy, as well as some of the Naked Gun and Scary Movie sequels. His name is Pat Proft. Impressive, right?!

Contestant #2 wrote less movies, but they were genuine classics, and is absolutely a comedy household name. He wrote the hilarious Police Squad TV series that later became his own classic franchise, The Naked Gun. He also wrote Top Secret as well as the king of all slapstick comedies, Airplane! I’m referring to none other than the great David Zucker.

How in God’s name do these two comedy legends end up making a movie that challenges you to find a reason to laugh? How is it possible that these two comedic geniuses collaborated to write one of the least funny movies I’ve seen in ages? As Vizzini would say, INCONCEIVABLE! (Click on Vizzini’s name for a fun little Easter Egg.) Remember the OTHER horror movie spoof from earlier this year, A Haunted House? At the time I expected that to be awful and this to be the one worth waiting for; it turned out to be the other way around. A Haunted House in comparison was a comedic Oscar-winner. That movie managed to take some basic premises of horror movies (especially Paranormal Activity) and make a dumb, but entertaining comedy that made me laugh with plenty of its silly moments. This one spoofed not only Paranormal Activity but also Mama, The Evil Dead, and even the highly-recommended Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and yet all of those movies added up to one unfunny 85 minutes which felt like 2 hours.

There were never any hilarious moments, but were there any jokes at all that made amused me? Sure, a few one-second gags that made me chuckle, that I’m tempted to spell out and intentionally spoil, but I won’t stoop so low on the off-chance you still see it. (I hate spoilers even more than I might detest any specific movies!)

Somehow though, seeing the pedigree of these writers when I returned from the theater only served to disappoint me further. The director on the other hand has been the epitome of mediocrity. With such forgettable films (that I’ve seen) as The Best Man, Undercover Brother, and Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, he is truly someone to hire if you want to make a movie that nobody will remember the next day; and if that was the design of the producers, then job well done.

One thing I’ll note, Ben Cornish plays Leonardo DiCaprio in the terrible Inception portion of the spoof, and as you may have seen from the previews, he bears an striking resemblance to the once-teenage-heartthrob. Seriously, I’ll even link a photo of it for your own judgment here.

I must admit that I lied. There was one hilarious moment from the movie, but it was behind-the-scenes. As the movie began, in an almost empty Century City movie theater, a heavy middle-aged man grunted his way to our row and sat down directly next to Jared, in spite of 99% of the theater being completely vacant chairs. The astounded expression on Jared’s face was absolutely priceless. A scene like that in a lowbrow comedy would have been comedy-gold. With respect to Mr. Zucker and Mr. Proft, delving into real-life hilarious moments like these may be exactly what the doctor ordered to help find their inner comedian once again.

The movie was better than stepping on an actual pile of dog poop, but worse than A Haunted House and countless other movie satires that came before it.

Quality Rating: D- (It doesn’t get an F only because I prefer to leave wiggle room for a movie’s camera-work, editing and technical aspects which were at least competent within this stinker…but it’s a very generous D-)

Boaz Rating: D+ (Hey, schadenfreude goes a long way with this sadistic movie critic)

Admission (“My Take On A Bipolar Film”)

16 Apr


Synopsis: “A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 57 minutes)

It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama…It’s a comedy AND a drama!

Sometimes you can’t have it both ways. You just need to stand your ground, choose a direction to take, and run with it. Otherwise you find yourself stuck in the weird purgatory of a dramedy that doesn’t quite work, and you’re left with a so-so movie that nobody sees or talks about like Admission. It’s a shame, because it’s a movie that actually has so much going for it:

-The actors are popular and extremely well-liked. This includes Tina Fey, who as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, or Sarah Palin on SNL, has become America’s (goofy) Sweetheart . It’s hard not to find her both funny and endearing. You also have Paul Rudd who seems like one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood today with 3 movies last year plus a stint on Parks & Recreation (possibly the funniest show on network TV today). Is it even possible to dislike the guy? I’m definitely a big fan, whether he’s playing a sweet guy as he did in I Love You, Man, or even when he’s playing a bit of a jerk as he did in Role Models; he’s always so entertainingly charming and funny.

-Director Paul Weitz is someone I REALLY want to see make a great movie again. He started with American Pie which everyone enjoyed (assuming they had a raunchy sense of humor), and soon made two movies in a row which were rare dramedies that worked incredibly well. The first was About A Boy, arguably Hugh Grant’s best work, an absolutely hilarious and touching film that fired on all cylinders. If you have never seen it you should make that a priority. (SIDE NOTE: Nicholas Hoult, the little boy from that movie has grown up to become the lead actor in two movies I have reviewed and enjoyed this very year: Warm Bodies, and Jack The Giant Slayer.) Weitz then made another very good dramedy starring Dennis Quaid  and Topher Grace, called In Good Company. Unfortunately, that was back in 2004, and he hasn’t impressed anyone with a movie since.

-A dramedy is a difficult genre to master since you don’t want to be too funny and you lose your authenticity, and you can’t go too serious or it becomes an unfunny drama. But since this same director had made a few successful ones (as mentioned above) I was hoping he of all people could make it work. Unfortunately, something in the direction of the performances, or in the actual writing didn’t translate onto the screen, and the actors were left being their usual charming selves in a movie where that created a confusing tone that just didn’t work.

Allow me to bring in a personal example that perfectly illustrates what happened. This week my friends Chari and Sara organized an extremely creative surprise party for Chari’s husband Eli, where some friends competed in a version of Chopped, while others including myself were the judges. In this game the contestants were given a few seemingly random ingredients and were then given 10 minutes to gather supplies, followed by 20 minutes to create some sort of concoction out of those ingredients. The result ideally must work as a creative and tasty dish. Some were better than others, but at one point possibly the most delicious creation came from my friend Noah, who can cook most people under the table. The trouble was, he and his teammate took the ingredients that don’t easily work together, and actually made two different dishes. Each morsel was separately scrumptious, but we realized that they didn’t actually make it one single dish because it would be difficult to make those tastes work together as one. Admission took its two different tastes, and just threw them in a pot together and hoped for the best. (SIDE NOTE: We felt awful doing it since it was absolutely delicious, but we “chopped” Noah’s dish due to what we decided was deviating from the rules, even though it was culinarily the right choice!)

Not that this is what happened, but in my imagination the studio had a serious script, hired a few box office draws who are AMAZING with comedy, and someone freaked out when they weren’t utilizing those comedic actors; thus they went back and peppered the script with some silly and zany scenes that took full advantage of Rudd and Fey. The trouble was that those scenes just didn’t work in the context of a woman dealing with her mother (played as an eccentric feminist by Lily Tomlin) having  a mastectomy, or a  dull British professor (played by the usually wonderful Michael Sheen) leaving Tina Fey for another woman. Every time you saw Michael Sheen on the screen, it involved some sort of bumbling, unfunny slapstick; and Lily Tomlin was meant to be a comically eccentric woman, but you couldn’t get past the fact that she was a sad, sad character. (In one awful throwaway gag of “what were they thinking?!”, Tomlin’s fake replacement post-mastectomy breasts slid over, so she looked “hilariously” funny. Except the movie wasn’t enough of a comedy to make a rare cancer joke work, and instead you were left wondering what the hell the writer was thinking.

Karen Croner had last written a movie 15 years ago in 1998, the solid Meryl Streep cancer drama One True Thing, and somehow landed the job as the only screenwriter for this dramedy. It felt like she didn’t know whether Admission should be serious or funny, so instead she made it a bit of both, where you were meant to care about the characters in the way a drama wants you to care, but then Tina Fey still said inane things as if she was back in 30 Rock. As the viewer you just KNEW it wasn’t authentic – it completely clashed with the tone.

What’s ironic is that I actually enjoyed the two different types of movies that were there, but not both of them together. I liked watching two of my favorite actors on screen acting with one another, and being naturally funny. And I enjoyed the drama of a woman who has remained emotionally disconnected from students applying to Princeton for years, until she finally woke up and started to care TOO much when one could be her son. But melding those two movies into one was like watching a cautionary tale of what NOT to do in film school. That’s the thing with dramedies, it’s hard to put your finger on what makes one work authentically (Silver Linings PlaybookAbout A Boy), versus when the combinations of drama and comedy just create a bit of a mess.

The actor who played her son was Nat Wolff, lead singer and keyboardist of the Nickelodeon show The Naked Brothers Band. He played the role with a cross between cute awkwardness, and someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The problem is that I started off by accepting that he had Asperger’s, but soon realized he was just meant to be a sweet genius with nothing odd or “off” about him. Literally the first scene in the movie represented his personality one way, and the rest of the movie switched gears and he was totally “normal” (unless you consider “smart” to be abnormal), and it was Tina Fey who acted like a buffoon, creating yet another tonal disparity.

I didn’t actually dislike the movie. Being the rather easygoing movie-lover that I am, I had a good time watching it in spite of my many criticisms; but it had such potential to become a good movie with these same talented actors that I was really disappointed it didn’t come together properly. Every time I would finally start to get involved in the story, Tina Fey would suddenly have a comically (and pathetically) goofy run-in with Michael Sheen, and it would just lose me all over again.

The movie was better than Rob Reiner’s Alex & Emma, a forgettably bad movie that took the comedic Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson, and didn’t know what to do with them in the dramatic scenes. It was however hugely disappointing compared to Paul Weitz’s brilliant About A Boy, which was part of the reason I felt so let-down by this one.

Quality Rating: C (The actors did a fine job across the board with the material they had, I just strongly question the material itself)

Boaz Rating: B-

The Croods (“My Thoughts On Animated Films”)

15 Apr


Synopsis: “After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy.” (Rated PG; 1 hour, 38 minutes)

Pixar may be the best animation studio in town, but Dreamworks has certainly done a decent job holding its own. Kung Fu Panda starred Jack Black being funny, How To Train Your Dragon was actually exciting entertainment, and now The Croods is a an enjoyably fun and cute family film.  But will everyone like it? That depends, do you enjoy animated movies? I sure do…

I’ve previously written about how horror movies are only of interest to certain clusters of people (Adi being a prime example); and certainly many people will tell you they wouldn’t watch one with a ten foot pole. Another genre that too many of my friends are biased against seem to be animated films. I’m not even referring to Nickelodeon childish films like The Rugrats Movie, but rather big budget cartoons that try to toe the line between kids enjoying themselves while parents get to have their own laughs. Sometimes they even have rather adult themes, like The Incredibles which dealt with a midlife crisis and a suspected marital affair, or WALL-E which dealt with a destroyed world and a was a movie with a major ecological message. They were still highly entertaining movies for children but not necessarily FOR kids. Another example would be this past year’s Wreck-It-Ralph, which could certainly entertain any child, but just about every scene was made with a nod and a wink towards 80’s and 90’s video game nostalgia, exclusively geared toward people who are old enough to appreciate Q*bert references. (See image below)


But not every animated feature is as clearly defined for adults as the aforementioned examples, or exclusively for children as with Rugrats. What about the ones in-between like Despicable Me and Over The Hedge, as well as today’s movie in question, The Croods? To say that I enjoyed those movies does not give a true answer, but I will address friends who love movies and have a spectrum of attitudes when it comes to animated films. I will therefore attempt to break down what categories adult moviegoers fit into when it comes to this genre:

1. People who refuse to see them, with almost no exceptions. They are actually biased against a movie BECAUSE it’s a cartoon, regardless of how adult the content claims to be. The funny thing about these people is that the rare times they’re dragged to see an excellent Pixar film they usually rave about how it was great, but their overall negative attitude toward animated features as being “for kids” is unchanged. Whatever they just saw and loved is the exception to the rule in their minds that these movies aren’t for them. They may be forced to see WALL-E and love it, but will not see nor enjoy Shrek (My father is a prime example of this, but thankfully my mother can sometimes drag him to one.)

2. People who overall think these movies are “for kids” but will consider well reviewed movies to be the exceptions IF they are catered strongly for adults. Thus they will be happy to see The Incredibles and Wreck-It-Ralph, but not Despicable Me. (My friends Ephraim, Mike and Jared are all examples of this.)

3. People who treat animated movies no differently than any other genre. They are just as likely to want to see these movies as a drama or a comedy. If that one in particular looks good, they want to see it, if it doesn’t, they don’t. Thus if Megamind and Madagascar look like fun movies, they’ll be happy to see them. If they look bad, they simply won’t; but the decision is not impacted by the fact that it’s animated. (Adi and Seth each fit this category.)

4. People who love cartoons, and actually have a positive bias in their favor. They get excited about a new animated feature the same way I will get excited about a new Jason Statham movie: it’s fun to watch even if it’s bad, but all the better if it turns out to be good. They are as likely to see Finding Nemo as the awful Ice Age: Continental Drift. (My brother Zachary used to fit this mold, although having a wife and baby seems to have made him inexplicably pickier with his time.)

BONUS: Animated movies that fit other genres, such as straight forward action/adventure films, or Anime/Manga. These will get their own fans and their own detractors as they seem to not quite fit the mold of light, fluffy, funny cartoons. They may be exclusively catered for adults and older teens (Beowulf, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Spirited Away), or they may be a totally different genre that’s still intended for kids and adults (Rise Of The Guardians, The Owls of Ga’Hoole). When it comes to these types of cartoons, all bets are off as to whether someone who loved Pixar movies can also love a great piece of Anime, it’s much more person-specific.

I believe this can work as a general template for most audiences, and it’s important anytime you read a review about an animated movie to recognize that it depends on where the critic falls within that template, as well as where you know you fit as the audience. Personally, I’m as much of a movie-lover with cartoons as anything else. I suppose that puts me at #3, although since I love seeing every (mainstream) genre quite indiscriminately, I will be enjoying just as wide of a variety with these cartoons.

So how was The Croods? Very light, comical, enjoyable, and had high energy. It was a fun movie certainly catered toward kids but with a ton for adults to enjoy. The humor was cute, the characters were amusing, the voice-over actors were perfect, the animation was superb, the colors were exquisite, the music was pleasant, and the story was sweet, even if predictable. Too condensed of an explanation? I’ll expand a bit…

Nicolas Cage has one of those voices that people love to do impersonate, because he’s so distinctive and ridiculously over-the-top. (Other easy targets include Christopher Walken and Al Pacino.) Having him play the father and leader of the caveman clan was perfect, because he took the role as seriously as ever, and the silliness you feel when you see him on screen nowadays translates well into a children’s animated comedy. Almost as easily identifiable was Emma Stone as his daughter who wanted to rebel and see what more was out there in life (just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, but with the muscles and amusing brutal strength of a cave-woman. As someone who prides himself on recognizing actors extremely well, I always challenge myself during animated movies to figure out who each voice belongs to. In The Croods I recognized the previously mentioned two, as well as Ryan Reynolds and Catherine Keener in their roles, but will admit I thought Cloris Leachman was actually Betty White!

It really was a visually stunning movie, although there was one scene that was taken straight out of Avatar. Just as their family arrived in some sort of forest, they were walking  along tree barks while floating dandelions surrounded their heads. It seemed to me like a pretty deliberate nod towards the James Cameron blockbuster. The entire movie was creative enough to come up with an endless amalgamation of creatures: a land whale with legs, a dog reptile, a turtle bird, it was very entertaining meeting each piece of their wacky prehistoric universe.

There was one scene toward the end that was surprisingly and effectively poignant. I will just say that it involved cave painting, and leave it at that. But Adi and I were both quite moved by the scene, which wasn’t something I expected from the otherwise manic, fun energy that the movie exuded.

Two men were responsible for writing and directing the film, and their pedigrees somewhat surprised me. Chris Sanders had directed only two previous movies, and both were good in their own ways. The first was Lilo & Stitch back in 2002. That movie had such a crazy energy to it that I believe carried over here quite well. I was also amused to note that he was the famous voice of Stitch, the little nutty alien from the movie. And sure enough he was the voice of a funny little creature in The Croods which every now and then had this hilarious “Dum dum dummmm” line that was meant to imply something ominous but instead came across as both funny and adorable. What was his one other movie in-between these two? How To Train Your Dragon, a movie I had already mentioned earlier as being really exciting and well made. The other writer/director has a less impressive past in my opinion. Kirk De Micco directed one previous film, and it was Space Chimps, a rare animated movie that was a big flop at the box office, and much worse than most. Thankfully, his collaboration with Chris Sanders seemed to pay off here. Oh, not to be outdone, I did notice that John Cleese of Monty Python fame contributed for the story, so I would like to believe that everything funny that happened in the movie was helped by one of the funniest people in the world having a hand in the movie!

Alan Silvestri composed a fun soundtrack, and it would be wise to note that most of his recent films have been exciting movies (Captain America, The A Team, G.I. Joe), and you could feel his talent in that genre during the many action sequences in this film. What should you recognize that he has written? Oh, just a couple of little movies called The Avengers and Forrest Gump, two of the biggest box office hits of all time.

Clearly I enjoyed the movie, but it was by no means brilliant or thought-provoking; it was just a good time watching an enjoyable animated feature. So now you have to go back to that template I drew up and decide if it would be a good fit for YOU.

The movie was better than Space Chimps, the weak first (animated) film by Kirk De Micco. It is however not as impressive as How To Train Your Dragon, the previous (animated) feature by Chris Sanders.

Quality Rating: B+

Boaz Rating: B+ (Although I did clearly enjoy it, there was still a divide between this and many of the previously mentioned animated features which are actually great, or certainly even more fun)


13 Apr


Synopsis: “As his lover announces her pregnancy, a fortysomething slacker receives other life-changing news: 142 people, all of them the result of artificial insemination, have filed a class action lawsuit against him, their biological father.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 49 minutes)

When a movie has subtitles and is seen in a little art house cinema, should that make it better than mainstream fluff? Of course not, it just means it’s on a lower budget and has passed through more hoops to get onto American screens, so we’re often USED to only the best of the best making their way here.

No, this is by no means a great movie, it’s not even a very good movie in fact, but it’s an enjoyable film that I’m not surprised is coming out later this year with its own American remake starring Vince Vaughn. In fact, the little bit of  research I’ve done is telling…Starbuck was a French Canadian movie that actually came out in 2011. It was a huge hit for Quebec but was never released in American for some reason (maybe because it’s cute, but not great?). Then, just months before the Vince Vaughn starring remake is scheduled to be released in theaters, they brought the original to theaters here. I suppose that makes sense, since I left this silly but likable movie wanting to know if they’ll take the best elements of it, remove the silly unbelievable parts, and make a better remake. Probably not, but a movie-lover can dream, can’t he?

The movie itself stars Patrick Huard as a pretty convincing loser. A guy who has made nothing of his life, and you really have no reason to trust that he’s going to ever stop being a loser. Then he finds out his sperm donations from decades earlier fathered 533 children. While trying to avoid them finding out who he is, he finds himself looking into his kids one by one, not telling them who he is. That’s the basic premise and of course I won’t give spoilers. What I will say is the good, the bad and the ugly:

The good

The story was sweet, with plenty of touching and funny moments. It’s basically a movie that was built to be a fluffy crowd-pleaser, and it did its job. He’s a funny loser, his best friend/lawyer is a big fat funny loser, and there are plenty of decent laughs. Some of the moments between him and his unknowing kids were poignant, especially one who lives with special needs. And one way or another you end up rooting for him and this movie to have a happy ending. Like I said, it’s made to be a crowd-pleaser.

The bad

So much of what I described above just FELT manufactured and trite. It was extremely predictable from start to finish. Many of the lines of dialogue just felt…off. And if you will indulge me for a moment, I want to compare this movie to something seemingly random: last year’s violent cop drama End Of Watch. Before you start thinking I’m a crazy person, there’s logic behind my madness. The fantastic and riveting movie from last year suffered from one potential flaw: too much crazy stuff kept happening. Just about every day that Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña went through was the most dramatic, insane thing that should happen once in the lifetime of an actual cop. It was basically a movie that countless policemen said was AMAZING, but totally unbelievable how much each scene was contrived to drum up endless amounts of drama in the movie. This wasn’t necessarily even a flaw, because once you accepted that you would be watching over-the-top things happening, they were made oh-so-well, and you were on the edge of your seat excited, scared and concerned for the characters. It really was one of the best films of 2012.

So what does that have to do with Starbuck? His character would randomly look into each of his kids, but he would catch so many of them in over-the-top dramatic moments of their lives. Instead of just watching them serve coffee in a coffee shop, or walk to work as a lawyer, he would catch them in the midst of crises or other “big” moments, and at a certain point you couldn’t help but feel the behind-the-scenes machinations of the writers creating drama just to make the movie “bigger”. Sensationalism at the cost of authenticity. Plenty of Hollywood movies do it, and I’m sure the remake will do the same, but somehow when I watch a popular foreign film I just…have higher expectations that it won’t stoop to such manipulative, predictable tricks. Still, some of it was portrayed with tenderness and was still effectively sweet.

The ugly

There were certain moments that I can’t really get into because they would spoil the plot; scenes that were SO inane and illogical that Adi and Sarah each turned to me and rolled their eyes at the same time. Listen, when a woman gives birth she is NOT walking around normally (with no help nor hospital staff) an hour later as if nothing happened. I’m not someone who cares when they mess up technical jargon in movies, but this is pretty basic stuff here, sheesh. And when an entire decision that the main character has to make is based on something that MAKES NO SENSE, and that the movie doesn’t even try to address, explain or fix, it is simply infuriating. It creates a crux to the movie that holds no weight, and as a result just loses the audience a bit. This doesn’t matter much in straight up comedies, because you’re less interested in the characters and it’s mostly about the jokes along the way. But a movie like Starbuck isn’t SUPPOSED to just be a dumb comedy; it’s meant to be a sweet comedy, like Little Miss Sunshine, something that makes you laugh but also makes you care a great deal. In order for that to fully work, you can’t be silently screaming at key elements of the premise! I really hope that the American remake will fix these pieces, but moments ago I just lost most of my optimism that any significant fixes would be made. Why? Because I just researched who will be writing and directing this remake, would you care to guess? Ken Scott, the SAME writer/director who made this original. Here’s to hoping he recognized his own flaws and is looking to redeem those mistakes…

At the end of the day, I’ve spent so much time putting down the movies’ downsides, but truly you won’t be able to help but enjoy the story and how it develops. It’s never great, but you should feel yourself rooting for him and laughing enough times that it makes a nice little 2 hours in the cinema. I just hope that it will end up as the rare time that a big budget American remake is better than the original.

The movie was better than Made In America, a lame 1993 comedy where Ted Danson was a sperm donor for Whoopi Goldberg. It wasn’t as good as the underrated Jason Bateman comedy The Switch, where he “accidentally” donated his sperm to Jennifer Aniston, which was a much funnier and more touching than people gave credit for.

Quality Rating: B-

Boaz Rating: B+

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (“My Rant About Reviews”)

23 Mar


Synopsis: “When a street magician’s stunts begins to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage on their act – and their friendship – by staging their own daring stunt.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 40 minutes)

Every now and then a comedy is released into theaters, critics bash it over the head somewhat unanimously, and it just confuses the heck out of me. MacGruber? If you like slapstick with a huge dash of raunch, you will laugh so hard you’ll be crying (like my brother Zak did). Reno 911: Miami? Not only did this movie make me giggle countless times, but my skeptical friend Mike hadn’t seen a single episode of the show and still reminisces how funny it was. Just Go With It? I’m sure some people hated this one, but I saw it with a group of about 10 people, and just about every one of us said it was shockingly funny from start to end. Why shockingly? Because what all of those movies have in common are some pretty awful reviews. According to most film critics, those were all examples of awful and unfunny movies that won’t do their jobs to make you laugh. That’s why when you see those flicks with such low built-in expectations, it can create the the most refreshing reaction of all: relief that you went IN SPITE of what you’d heard!

(Editor’s note: The irony is not lost on me. I do realize that I have become a film critic myself within this obsessive blog, and I will inevitably become guilty of doing the same thing to others at some point. The difference is, I pledge my desire to always remain free of the peer pressures of what the “critics are saying”, and give a completely honest opinion. And as any reader of my blog can attest, I have enjoyed more than my share of critically reviled movies, and give no apologies for it.)

No, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not another on my list of hysterical must-see comedies, but it was still a heck of a lot more entertaining than the critics would let you believe. I went to the movie with my fiancée Adi, my brother Zak and my sister-in-law Rikki. All three of them had heard the reviews were lousy, and only agreed to see it as a favor to me. Unfortunately, the movie’s first half hour or so involved Steve Carell as such an unlikable character, that I really didn’t think we’d end up enjoying ourselves. You see, in a “dumb comedy”, there are two things that can make the movie enjoyable:

1. Funny jokes/gags.

2. Characters that you find amusing and pleasant to watch.

Well, the jokes just weren’t consistently funny enough to make the movie work, and for a while I sure didn’t like the main character. Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) was like Michael Scott (also Steve Carell) from The Office, if he stopped caring about what people thought of him. Sure Michael Scott would say and do selfish things constantly, but you felt bad for him because you knew that was never his desired effect; he just didn’t understand human social behaviors and norms. On the other hand, his character Burt Wonderstone was simply a selfish jerk and Lothario. That unlikable character mixed with a mediocre script simply added up to a weak start. Thankfully, as soon as his story arc made him a more humble, and likable character, the movie took on a whole new life. Suddenly you were rooting for him and enjoying the movie so much more. Strangely, the jokes seemed funnier and the writing came across sharper. I genuinely felt like a magic trick had been played on me and I went from thinking it was a lame movie to laughing quite a bit.

Jim Carrey was the exception to the movie, he was perfect as an insane clone of Criss Angel, bringing some of the wackiest shock-value moments of the movie. It also reminded me that Jim Carrey has been wasting years of his career playing such throwaway characters, and I hope this role reminds him how funny he can be when he’s acting completely over-the-top. Steve Buscemi played a very sweet character that reminded me of his adorably simple Donny (from The Big Lebowski). Olivia Wilde was the usual kind of pointless supporting female role in a movie full of male comedians, but no warm-blooded male will object to her being there regardless. Jay Mohr’s role confused me, and I wonder if he had a larger part that was cut out. When first introduced to his character he is an incredibly selfish jerk, but every other time you see him he was a sweet and likable guy, and there was no transition to explain his shift in character. I honestly believe they left out a scene. Either that or they wrote his first scene for someone else, and he accidentally played it himself. Whoops…

Alan Arkin seems to be the go-to-guy for supporting actor roles these days, and always does it so well. Argo? Absolutely, he was even nominated for it. Stand Up Guys? I liked that movie, and he gave it the sweet and funny heart that it needed, and that’s exactly what he does here as well. He helps transform Steve Carell, and the audience, into children watching a magic show, who just want to have a good time. Although his role is nothing new, and completely predictable, it was still a pleasure to watch. Especially the sweet interactions with the elderly people at the retirement facility: I cringed when an old lady cried, and I enjoyed it when they laughed. (By the way, Arkin and Carell had acted together in very memorable roles in the past, for the movie Little Miss Sunshine.)

It was directed by Don Scardino, who has worked in television for many years, but this appears to be his first mainstream movie. After directing dozens of episodes of 30 Rock, it makes sense that he has the knack to put together a decent comedy. One of the writers also wrote the funny movie Horrible Bosses (John Francis Daley, aka. Dr. Lance Sweets on Bones), so I’m not surprised it was a decent comedy overall. In fact, one joke that you can see telegraphed before it happens, is a scene with Steve Buscemi in Thailand  In spite of knowing each joke before it happened, I thought that scene was as funny as anything in Airplane!, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to crack up.

If you enjoy silly comedies, check out The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and remember it’s okay to enjoy a movie that got bad reviews, just ask Adi, Zak and Rikki. All three of them left the movie laughing, and saying how glad they were that they didn’t listen to the critics this time around.

The movie was better than Evan Almighty, a bad Steve Carell movie that was not particularly funny. It wasn’t as good as The 40 Year Old Virgin, a great Carell movie where you didn’t have to wait half an hour to start liking his character.

Quality Rating: B

Boaz Rating: A- (I was laughing more than enough to warrant bumping this nothing-special comedy to a high grade)