From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Adventureland - C+

Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references, 106 minutes

Predictable fun in the romantic dramedy "Adventureland"

"Adventureland" is your ticket to predictable, laid-back fun. Much like a theme-park ride, the low-budget rom com has many ups and downs - it meanders too much and lacks a compelling narrative, but it's superbly acted by the young leads, Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale") and "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart, who have enough memorable moments to almost lift the movie a notch above mediocrity.

It's summer 1987, and lanky, virginal James Brennan (Eisenberg) has just graduated college and returned home to Pittsburgh before entering graduate school. The bad thing is, he learns from his parents (Jack Gilpin and the ever droll Wendie Malick) that his Dad has been demoted and it looks as if James will have to get a summer job. The only thing the intelligent lit major can find is work at a local, semi-run down amusement park run by a peculiar but nice couple, Bobby and Paulette ("SNL's" Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), who gives James a job running some games. James meets a co-worker named Em (Stewart), a NYU student with a dysfunctional family also doing the summer job thing. The two opposite personalities fall in love but clearly have issues - Bobby in self-confidence and Em in making good decisions.

"Adventureland" is a small independent film directed by "Superbad's" Greg Mottola, and much of the story is semi-autobiographical (Mottola himself worked at the real Adventureland theme park), and it's obvious that Mottola has a fondness for his characters though the story itself is too meandering and loses focus about midway through the story. "Adventureland's" skimming over of some serious issues (subtance abuse, adultery, family dysfunction) lacks compexity or poignancy.

The centerpiece of "Adventureland" comes from its great cast, particularly Stewart and Eisenberg, who make an intriguing pair with some interesting issues. James struggles with his identity and Em with making the right choices, both of which stand in the way of the two consumating their relationship. And oh yeah, Em is secretly having sex with Adventureland's maintenance man, a married musician named Mike (Ryan Reynolds, wasted here).

Without Stewart and Eisenberg, "Adventureland" wouldn't be as near as fun to watch, but there are a few decent supporting players too. The most memorable is Martin Starr ("Superbad") as Joel, a young druggie underachiever type, and newcomer Margarita Levieva as a pretty virginal tease named Lisa P who takes a liking to James. Wiig and Hader are mildly entertaining, but their roles are nonessential, and "Just Shoot Me's" Malick's role is too brief to make a huge impact.

Director and writer Mottola stretches things out too long, and there aren't many big moments to help the audience emotionally connect with these characters - there's not much mystery as to whether our leads will actually sleep together or not in the predictable climax. Having graduated in 1987 myself, the best thing about "Adventureland" was the music - some kitschy '80s tunes I hadn't heard in a long time (the super-annoying "Rock Me Amadeus" among them). Truthfully, I was glad the film was over, but give me some catchy '80s tunes anyday, I just wish the movie were as memorable.

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Alien Trespass - B

Rated PG for sci-fi action and brief historical smoking, 90 minutes

Cheesy, tongue-in-cheek "Alien Trespass" pays tribute to 1950's sci-fi films

If you enjoy 1950's science fiction films "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "It Came from Outer Space" and the original "War of the Worlds," then you'll get a kick out of the new wacky sci-fi themed comedy "Alien Trespass," which pays direct homage to those earlier films and is presented in the style of those films. All of it's very cheesy and tongue-in-cheek, but director R.W. Goodwin, who's had experience with some episodes of "The X-Files," has fun with it all and does well considering the film's low-budget.

It's 1957 and in California, and the film "Alien Trespass" has been unearthed - pun intended - and this is the official showing of that film. One night in a small town in California's Mojave Desert, noted astronomer Ted Lewis ("Will & Grace's" Eric McCormack) is preparing for a special wedding anniversary dinner with his wife Lana (Jody Thompson). In another part of town, artist and local diner waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird) is working on a painting.

Teenagers Dick (Andrew Dunbar) and Penny (Sarah Smythe) are at the "point" getting in some smooch time. Local police officers Vernon (Robert Patrick) and Chief Dawson are trying to keep things running quietly and smooth in the quaint town. Then out of the sky a strange, fiery flash comes hurdling across the desert that Ted, Tammy and the others notice and before long, some weird things begin happening around town. They attribute it to an odd creature that's been unleashed from the crash that could spell danger for the entire planet. A friendly space alien from the crash named Urp has taken Ted's body in hopes of capturing the deadly creature and saving Earth in the process.

Don't take "Alien Trespass" too seriously and you can have as much fun with it as those '50s sci-films it pays homage to. It's wacky fun done in the same style as those cheesy sci-fi films such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still." However, director Goodwin has created a rich, handsome and very colorful film with production elements that'd far exceed anything done in the '50s. "Trespass" was filmed in Canada, standing in for the Mojave desert, and the music by Louis Febre exudes 1950's creepy sci-fi. In addition, Goodwin has also assembled a decent cast including McCormack gamely playing Ted/Urp, "Terminator's" Patrick, "Wonder Years" Lauria, not to mention Austrialian Jenni Baird, whom sci-fi-geeks will note also played in the cable series "The 4400."

The most fun with "Alien Trespass" is that it never quite takes itself too seriously. The creature, named GOTA, is a rubber one-eyed squid looking creature that can appear and disappear. The showdown in a theatre is remiscent of "The Blob" (and clips of that are seen here too). The look, the feel of the 1950's is very present as well, and not just in acting style but in clothes and cars too.

On the downside, even as fun as "Trespass" can be, it grows weary, redundant, and overly predictable, and a little of this goes a long way. Give Goodwin credit, he knows the genre well and does all of this on a tight budget, and while sci-fi enthusiasts will get a kick out of it, it may not play well on a wide basis. It's cheesy, wacky fun and suitable for all, though not all may really get it.

Fast and Furious - C

Rated PG-13 for for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references, 107 minutes

"Fast & Furious": familiar ride, mindless entertainment

You've been down this road before. Three times as a matter of fact. The makers of "Fast & Furious" don't want you to call it "The Fast and the Furious" or "Fast & Furious 4" - just "Fast & Furious." I call "Fast & Furious" big, mindless, dumb entertainment that will make carloads of cash for its producers. It's filled with impressive car chases, stunts, sleek cars and handsome actors reading bad lines and trying to look good doing it. In other words, get ready for one of the biggest hits of the year.

"Fast & Furious" reunites the stars of the original movie, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. When a brutal crime brings down someone close to them, they head back to L.A., fugitive ex-con Dom Toretto (Diesel) reignites his old feud with agent Brian O'Connor (Walker). But as they are forced to confront a shared enemy, Dom and Brian must give in to an uncertain new trust and work together if they hope to outmaneuver him. And from convoy heists to precision tunnel crawls across international lines to the Mexican desert, the two men will find the best way to get revenge: push the limits of what's possible behind the wheel.

If you've seen the other movies in this series, you've seen this one too - absolutely no surprises at all. As a pure action-adventure film, "Fast & Furious" works good, but as anything else, not so much. The film's opening scene, a stunningly-filmed heist involving some cars and a petroleum tanker (and some of which has been seen in trailers for the film the last few months) is by far the best scene in the "Fast & Furious." Director Justin Lin (who directed the third "Fast & Furious" installment) has staged these enjoyably and impressively well, keeping the film's pacing up well that will keep audiences engaged away from the predictable story and especially the lame acting.

Paul Walker has to be the blandest, most boring action film hero in recent memory; his rote reading of the script makes even Vin Diesel's acting - grunting and huffing and puffing - look good (and physically too, Walker looks altogether puny next to the buff Diesel). "Fast & Furious" also reunites a couple of the ladies from previous films - Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez ("Lost"), but don't expect much from them (after all, this is really a movie by and for guys), especially Rodriguez, seen just a few minutes in a tiny, tiny role. All the scripts twists and turns can be seen well before the next mile marker, if you pay attention to where the film is going.

I enjoyed the pure adrenaline rush of "Fast & Furious" though it's utterly forgettable otherwise. It's a great escape and mindless entertainment away from some of the heavier films of the season. "Fast & Furious" arrives at its destination quick enough and just in time to leave it open for more of these. And guys in their big, fast cars will be eagerly awaiting to go down that road once more.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Haunting in Connecticut - B-

Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of terror and disturbing images, 92 minutes

Chilling but uneven "Haunting in Connecticut" has some creepy, tense moments

A family moves into a haunted house. Supposedly based on true events. A peculiar priest is involved. Weird, scary things start happening. Sound familiar? That's the plot of the new horror film "The Haunting in Connecticut," which resembles the schlocky 1970's "true events" story "The Amityville Horror," about a family inhabiting a home with haunted spirits. "Haunting" is less cheesy than "Amityville" though much like that film, is vastly fictionalized. "Haunting" is a modestly entertaining horror film that amidst a muddled, uneven script, is tense and creepy enough to generate some jumpy thrills.

Matt and Sara Campbell (Martin Donovan and Virginia Madsen) are having a hard time of it. Their teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is very ill with cancer, with an outlook that isn't hopeful. Rather than drive him back and forth to his treatments in Connecticut, they rent a home there and take their children along with their niece Wendy (Amanda Crew) to live.

Shortly after moving in, Matt begins experiencing some supernatural events - frightening dreams and hallucinations involving some dead kid named Jonah (Erik J. Berg). They discover the house was an old funeral home run by a guy who did strange things to dead people, and with the help of an ill priest (Elias Koteas) that Matt meets in treatment, that Jonah and the spirits are unleashing horror on the family with a deadly purpose of taking Matt back on the other side.

"The Haunting in Connecticut" is a supernatural horror thriller that's mildly engaging but hardly believable, given it's supposedly true-life connections. The film is loosely based on a couple of sources: the late 1980's experiences of the Snedeker family, which itself was part of the recent Discovery Family channel "A Haunting" series. The story keeps the basic story outline but ventures out by fictionalizing a lot of the backstory of what happened in the funeral parlor.

Directed by Peter Cornwell and scribed by horror film writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, there are enough tense, jumpy moments and creepy images (particularly when the ectoplasmic creature thing comes popping out of a guy's mouth) that create a chilling atmosphere, even though the characters and story lack a dramatic shape or connection to relate to. Character actor Donovan is wasted as the father, though it's always nice to see the lovely Madsen of "Sideways," who's wholly believable as the mother (and who has the film's scariest scene). Another familiar face, Koteas doesn't have near enough to do as the priest, a composite character, while the lanky Gallner has a couple of memorable, stirring scenes as sickly son who could also have some mental problems.

"Haunting in Connecticut" builds on a creepy, tense atmosphere until the film's last act, when it veers way off track and stumbles to a confusing climax filled with fire and dead bodies lacks the chills of the film's first half. The minimal special effects do add some nice touches, in particular those yucky eyelids and body etchings used to good effect. "Haunting" is far from a perfect film - taken as fact it's a little ludicrous - but taken strictly as entertainment - it's creepy and scary enough to literally get under your skin.

Monsters vs. Aliens - B+

Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language, 94 minutes

Colorful and imaginative, "Monsters vs. Aliens" is fun for everyone

"Monsters vs. Aliens" is a delightful new CG and 3D animated film that's colorful and enjoyable fun for the whole family. The film is made by Dreamworks Animation, the same studio that produced the "Shrek" movies, and while the animation and story lack the detail and originality of that film or on the level of Pixar, it's still an energetic, entertaining crowd pleaser with inspired voices by an all-star cast.

A meteorite from outer space hits a young woman named Susan (Reese Witherspoon) on her wedding day and turns her into a tall monster, she is taken to a secret government compound where she meets a ragtag group of monsters also rounded up over the years, including Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a blue blob named BOB (Seth Rogan), the reptilian-esque The Missing Link (Will Arnett) and a gigantic but gentle furry bug named Insectisoid, who speaks in grunts and groans. With orders from the President (Stephen Colbert) and the General (Kiefer Sutherland) they battle against the evil Gallahaxar (Rainn Wilson) in his plot to take over Earth.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" is a pleasant surprise, with a breezy pace that will keep audiences engaged for 90-minutes, in addition to silly humor that is more on target for the younger set, instead of the overly adult lines that heavily pepper the "Shrek" films. The splashy animation some unique touches, though it lacks the rich detail of the Pixar film and the story is overly familiar; early-going, it reminds of "Monsters, Inc.," with the latter half eerily reminiscent of the Tim Burton 1996 aliens-attack-Earth film "Mars Attacks!." "Monsters vs. Aliens" also doesn't carry a lot of heavy messages, just an intent on having fun and entertaining its target audience, which it does well, especially the 3D, which works well here.

"Monsters vs. Aliens" is aided by an inspired all-star cast of voices. Witherspoon is endearing as the tall Susan, who is unsure that she wants to be a monster, while Rogan ("Pineapple Express") and Arnett ("30 Rock") nearly steal the film as her jovial sidekicks, throwing out some witty lines with Rogan in particular a hoot. He hits on a jello mold and in the middle of a climactic, intense battle scene, says "I don't feel so good."

"The Office's" Wilson is his typical over-the-top self but he clearly is having a blast voicing the multi-eyed Gallaxhar. Listen closely, and you'll also hear Paul Rudd as Susan's self-absorbed weatherman boyfriend and former "Saturday Night Live" star Amy Poehler as the voice of Gallaxhar's computer. Sutherland and Colbert are also inspired choices as the General and the President, with Colbert uttering one of the film's best lines about "Code Brown."

"Monsters vs. Aliens" has a rousing battle scene pitting our monsters against a huge alien robot on the Golden Gate Bridge that is the highlight of the film. After a fast start, it slows down some in the mid-section but it moves energetically toward a predictable climax. If you wanna know who wins out - the aliens or the monsters - well, you'll have to see it for yourself - though the movie is obviously more sympathetic toward the latter.

Either way, "Monsters vs. Aliens" comes out a winner, an amusing diversion for the kiddoes and enjoyable, pleasant fun for even the adults. Take the whole family and have a merry time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Knowing - D

Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language, 110 minutes

You're better off without "Knowing" - a disasterous Cage disaster flick

I can only imagine how the new action-adventure "Knowing" was pitched to the studios: A Nicolas Cage disaster flick. If they only knew how redundant that'd be after they saw the finished product. "Knowing" is a ridiculous, big-budgeted and badly-acted piece of junk starring Cage dealing with the apocalypse. I didn't buy a single minute of this disasterous mess, and worst of all, it's a crashing bore.

Cage is MIT professor John Koestler, and single parent to Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), an intelligent boy who must wear a hearing aid. Caleb goes to an elementary school that digs up a time capsule filled with pictures that students 50 years ago drew. The drawing that Caleb gets is a paper filled with numbers, and before long John analyzes and realizes that these numbers have predicted just about every disaster in the last 50 years.

Worse, there are still a few numbers that haven't been used, which tellingly predict the end times, and they chillingly start coming to life. John and Caleb find Diana (Rose Byrne) and her daughter Abby (Lara Robinson), daughter and grand-daughter of the weird girl who originally wrote down all the numbers in the first place to try to get some insight into all this weirdness. In addition, some mysterious blond dudes who whisper with their brains and shine bright lights with their mouths follow all of them around but who may be able to shed some light (literally) as to the details on the end of the world.

"Knowing" is a true disaster in every sense of the word, from the ridiculously silly and contrived plot to the exceedingly bad acting from Cage and Byrne. Cage, a talented Oscar winner, has a capability of delivering stellar performances (anything he did before 1996, along with 2002's "Adaptation"), but he's since sold out to being an overpaid, big-budgeted action movie star. He now wildly overacts in every movie, and while some are entertaining ("National Treasure," "World Trade Center") others are truly dreadful ("The Wicker Man").

Rank "Knowing" in the dreadful category, but it isn't entirely Cage's fault. Most of it would fall on director Alex Proyas ("I, Robot"), who takes a interesting premise, starts it out intriguing and lets it crash into sheer boredom, confusion and contrivances. Only in a movie like this would Cage's character be able to predict the end of the world in one overnight setting, and those weird blonde "whispering" guys are just a little too creepy (they can't talk but can drive - go figure).

"Knowing" is peppered with a few (but not near enough) mildly entertaining disaster scenes, though they lack realism and power and aren't well integrated into the film. The whole last act leading up to a dumb ending is just downright laughable (adding some Biblical references to infer that Cage's character is the prophet we've been waiting for), and for something like this, the special effects are remarkably underused. Byrne is a decent Australian actress seen in the excellent cable TV series "Damages," but "Knowing" will certainly not advance her movie career.

Jim Carrey crashed and burned with similar material in the awful "The Number 23" and Cage likewise goes down in flames with "Knowing." I know Cage has his many fans that will probably turn out at least the first weekend to see it, but more bad movies like this and Cage could lose a considerable portion of his fanbase. "Knowing" is one of the worst films of 2009 and ranks as one of Cage's worst movies to date, which saying something given "The Wicker Man" and "Ghost Rider." Stay away if it all possible.

Sunshine Cleaning - B-

Rated R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use, 95 minutes

"Sunshine Cleaning" is a dark, familiar dramedy with heart

"Sunshine Cleaning" is a cheerfully dark dramedy that you've seen before. The producers of "Sunshine Cleaning" also made "Little Miss Sunshine," and the comparisons between the two seem a little eerie: family dysfunction, a precocious child, a grumpy grandpa and even a clunky old van. "Sunshine Cleaning," much like that earlier film, has a great cast in a well-acted but shallow film about two underachieving sisters who start a bio-hazard cleaning company. Not everything works well and it lacks a resonance that "Little Miss Sunshine" did, but the cast is charming and there are some heartfelt, poignant moments sprinkled throughout.

Amy Adams ("Doubt") is Rose Lorkowski, a single mom in Albuquerque, New Mexico who cleans houses to pay the bills and is having an affair with her now married high school sweetheart Mac (Steve Zahn), also a detective on the Albuquerque police force. Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada") is Rose's younger, unreliable and single sister Norah, who can't hold a job and still lives with her father - the cranky, widowed Joe (Alan Arkin).

Rose and Norah start their own cleaning business, Sunshine Cleaning, and they specialize in biohazard cleanup, cleaning up bloody crime scene messes for the police department and insurance companies. They buy a van, buy some special equipment and become certified and quickly start earning decent. Meanwhile, Rose's personal life is seemingly in shambles as Mac refuses to leave his wife and her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) experiences problems in school, while her own father harbors his own business plans. Rose's personal life and family dysfunction threaten to ruin her business and the success she craves.

"Sunshine Cleaning" is a nice, restrained dark comedy with some fun moments but shallow characters and an uneven, choppy story. The highlight of the film is the warm chemistry shared by Adams and Blunt, two young rising stars in Hollywood who are convincing as sisters. Adams keeps getting better and better with each film she's in and has a graceful charm as the sensible Rose, while Blunt has colorful moments as the unreliable Norah.

Arkin, Oscar winner for "Little Miss Sunshine," chews on the scenery as grandpa and the normally funny Zahn has little to do, while other lesser-known character actors nearly steal the movie. Mary Lynn Rajskub of TV's "24" shines in a very small role as a young lady that Norah shares a connection with, while the young, bright-eyed Spevack gives a smart, likable performance as Oscar. Also memorable is Clifton Collins, Jr. as a one-armed store owner who takes a liking to Rose and Oscar.

There's a splattering of blood (but no dead bodies) here and there to help "Sunshine" give it a darker edge than normal, though it skims the surface with some central issues involving death, career choices and self-confidence. The most moving scene has Adams sitting with an elderly woman who just lost her husband to suicide, along with an emotional moment near the end involving the girls deceased mother. Also a memorable moment: Norah giving Oscar an inappropriate birthday gift.

"Sunshine Cleaning" could've used more experienced touches than a director like Christine Jeffs ("Sylvia") or novice writer Megan Holley, who has trouble with character development and presenting a consistent narrative flow (characters come and go before we get to really know them). The ending is touching but predictable and may leave some wanting more.

There are some genuinely fun, poignant moments in "Sunshine Cleaning" and it has its heart in the right place. Overall, "Sunshine Cleaning" is an enjoyable film that should please most audiences with the warm Adams-Blunt chemistry.

Duplicity - B+

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content, 120 minutes

You'll enjoy the players as they get played in the charming, winning "Duplicity"

Duplicity” is a sly, dashing spy movie that’s comes just in time to brighten up what’s been a slow, dark winter at the box-office. Written and directed by “Michael Clayton’s” Tony Gilroy and starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, this entertaining, enjoyable and stylish comedy is muddled at times and has too many holes, but the two immensely charming leads effortlessly carry “Duplicity.” Without their crisp chemistry, it wouldn’t be near as good or near as much fun.

Roberts and Owen are Claire and Ray, two former government spies with a romantic past who decide to hookup professionally to pull off a multi-million dollar corporate scam that involves two competing, egotistical CEO’s, Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) and a high-priced hair care formula that will turn the world upside down. Whoever secures the formula first will reap a huge fortune, and Claire and Ray also hope to get in on this pay day. As the stakes get higher and higher and their attraction for each other growing by the minute, things get trickier and trickier and Claire and Ray must put everything on the line for this final, career-ending payoff.

“Duplicity” is a winning comedy that gambles on the flair of its engaging stars and works in large part because of them. Gilroy deals with similar corporate malfeasance issues he dealt with in “Michael Clayton,” just far less serious. There are several colorful exchanges between Roberts and Owen that are the centerpiece of the film in trying to stay one-double cross ahead of each other. As they become romantically entangled, they must also deal with issues of love, trust and faithfulness (especially in one fun exchange involving a thong). The chemistry Roberts and Owen had previously in 2004’s “Closer” is even more palpable here than in that glum film and engages the audience from their first scene that makes this movie seem as if it was tailored just for them.

More problematic about “Duplicity” is Gilroy’s script, which is densely overplotted. The plot is muddled and difficult to follow, requiring the audience to follow nearly every single plot detail, a challenge given the charming leads. And it works smartly until the final act, when the players are played and you realize a couple of gaping holes – mainly that our lead characters are much smarter than the script intends them to be. The romantic angles also could’ve been played up more for more heat but the Roberts-Owen chemistry is still warm enough by itself.

The supporting roles work well with the film. Wilkinson, also in Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton,” is effective but underused as Tully, while Giamatti hams it up considerably as the annoying Garsik. Also watch for Tom McCarthy, director of last year’s exceptional “The Visitor,” in a small role as a corporate colleague of Roberts. Gilroy’s direction is impressive as it was in "Clayton" and stays wisely focused on the two leads.

Speaking of which, without Roberts and Owen, “Duplicity” would be just another mediocre spy whodunit and they are the real reason to see this engaging, entertaining early spring film. You may not buy (or completely understand) all of the story, but it's worth the trip.

I Love You, Man - B

Rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references, 111 minutes

Fun "I Love You, Man" slaps the bass and takes aim at platonic male friendships

"I Love You, Man" may present a new genre in film - the dude comedy. This one about a guy needing some friends for his upcoming nuptials kicks the spring movie season off in high gear. A crude comedy but not overly low-brow, it's an entertaining look at the workings of platonic male friendships. The story is utterly, thin and predictable, but the winning, game leads overcome the script's shortcomings to provide some memorably funny moments.

A newly engaged guy and real estate agent named Peter (Paul Rudd) realizes he's in need of some close friends after seeing his beautiful fiancee Zooey ("The Office's" Rashida Jones) with all her pals. After some bizarre "man dates," he runs into the laid-back, self-employed and slackerish Sydney (Jason Segel) at an open house. Their conversation leads to more hanging out and the two become close pals. But the dude friendship runs into problems when his relationship with Zooey suffers. Now he must choose between the well-meaning Sydney or his hot fiancee.

"I Love You, Man" is a dude comedy with a heart and wins you over in spite of its dervivative story. It doesn't uncover any earth-shattering revelations about male friendships (sorry, ladies) but it sure is fun to watch. Rudd, who's morphed into a solid comic actor, plays another variation of the straight-laced guys he's so adept at. Peter is truly uncomfortable in making friends with guys, and tries his best to find a nickname for his new pal Sydney after Sydney calls him "Pistol Pete."

It also helps that Rudd has a comfortable chemistry with "How I Met Your Mother's" Segel, this being their third comedy together after "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Memorable scenes: Segel trying to get Rudd to pretend to be James Bond when trying on a tux for his wedding and Segel getting into a fight with the Hulk himself - Lou Ferrigno. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention they get a chance to rock out at a Rush concert together. (Rudd's take on "slapping the bass" will also elicit some chuckles too.)

Director and co-writer John Hamburg adds some humorous touches - such as Peter's younger, gay brother (Andy Samburg) trying to help him out - not to mention trying to get help from his fiancee's cynical friends, sturdy supporting players Jaime Pressley and Jon Favreau. Though not overly crude, there are many sex jokes ("this is my masturbation chair" says Segel) along with a vomit scene that most will remember. Also nice seeing "Saturday Night Live" vet Jane Curtain as Peter's high-strung mother.

The movie strides along through these various episodes as our game leads generate some genuine laughs, but Hamburg's story is too predictable and really adds nothing new about male friendships, except that they should probably occur naturally, if not they're too weird - or gay. There's plenty of fun individual scenes that make "I Love You, Man" one of the more winning, entertaining comedies of late, even though it's the leads and not the story that lift it a notch above mediocre, and that isn't too bad.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Miss March - D-

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use, 90 minutes

Nothing worth looking at in the offensive, crude "Miss March"

If you've ever looked at a Playboy magazine and seen the voluptuous women there, it may be worth looking at. Unfortunately, there's nothing worth gazing at in the amateurish, low-grade and exceedingly offensive and immature buddy comedy "Miss March." As well, those expecting lots of T&A will be remarkably disappointed when they find out that the story focuses on...two (very stupid) guys going across country to find a lost love who's now famous.

Sensible Eugene (Zach Cregger) is a virginal teen who's been dating the hot Cindi (Raquel Alessi) for 2 1/2 years and practicing abstinence and giving lectures with Cindi on the virtues of it to young kids. His immature childhood buddy Tucker (Trevor Cleigh) is Eugene's opposite, a loudmouth who's been far from abstinent. Eugene and Cindi decide to finally take the plunge after their senior high school prom, but Eugene gets drunk at a party, falls down some stairs and goes into a coma for 4 years.

When he awakens, he learns that many things have changed, including the fact that the virtuous Cindy has become a Playboy Playmate. Tucker kidnaps Eugene from the hospital and they take a cross-country trip to the Playboy Mansion to hunt down Cindi so Eugene can declare his love and finally take the plunge from virginhood.

Cable comedy TV team Cregger and Cleigh star in and make their feature film directorial and writing debuts with "Miss March," which is painfully obvious in nearly every badly executed and unfunny scene. Their low-brow comedy works well on cable but fails miserably to be even remotely humorous and quite offensive. This movie had to have been greenlit under the notion there'd be lots of sex and nudity, but there's little of it until the last act. Instead, it's a derivative, laugh-free and cross-country buddy-buddy comedy.

The younger set may enjoy "Miss March," and if you like the idea of someone uncontrollably defecating in several scenes or a stereotypical rapper named "Horsed--k.MPEG" then go for it, but I, in no way, can recommend this. The acting from the third-rate cast is non-existent, the direction flat, the writing filled with situations that's been seen in every film since "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

The only redeeming quality of "Miss March" is seeing Hugh Hefner in a brief cameo near the film's end. How Hef agreed to this mess is beyond me, but at least he adds some quality to it, and the only real reason I didn't give this film an "F." Stay away from this at all costs.

Race to Witch Mountain - C

Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements, 98 minutes

Race to Witch Mountain is a blandly entertaining, forgettable Disney remake that should appeal to the masses

Race to Witch Mountain is the latest remake landing at the box-office, and should find itself in fierce competition with some superheroes watching over theaters. Witch Mountain is an adequately entertaining but silly, bland mix of sci-fi, family film and action-adventure and a star vehicle for Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson that should find appeal with the masses. Disney remakes its own 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain with a mish-mash of special effects and a baffling story, but give them credit - it’s not as cheesy as it looks and actually improves upon the original film. While still not a great movie, there’s enough to engage in a nice 95-minute family outing.

Johnson is Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver and ex-felon with a cynical attitude and a long list of bills to pay. He’s driving costumed nerds around for the latest UFO expo of geeks and freaks. He literally happens upon two mysterious, blonde sibling teens, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Set (Alexander Ludwig), who have some special powers and definitely not from this planet. They’re here on special mission to save their own planet, but are being tracked down by a killer cyborg whose mission is to hunt to kill the sibling aliens. Jack obtains the help of a pretty UFO expert (Carla Gugino) to get the powerful young ones back home. Meanwhile, top secret U.S. Government official Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) has his own nefarious plans to keep them here permanently for deadly experiments.

Race to Witch Mountain is an enjoyable but unmemorable film with about as much depth as a cheese puff, though not necessarily cheesy. Disney did a smart thing by capitalizing on the winning formula from The Rock and his Game Plan director Andy Fickman by hiring them both for this film. Johnson is an engaging guy whose acting talents remind of Sandler and Affleck. Mug a little, smile a little, throw out a funny line or two and you win the audience over with your warm persona. It won’t win Johnson any acting awards but should continue to help his winning formula at the box-office. Fickman’s direction is serviceable, he lets his actors mug for the camera and handles the special effects well.

It also helps that Race to Witch Mountain has an attractive supporting cast, nifty special effects (including the space ship) and is peppered with a few exciting action scenes, especially an action-packed extended desert car chase in the first half. Not as good is the thin, confusing story dealing with some nonsense about saving the universe, especially dragging down the middle act when the leads meander around some silly UFO expo.

This remake, as goofy as it is, actually improves upon the original, Escape to Witch Mountain, since that film was made back in the 1970’s, a low point for quality Disney films. It retains the original film’s very basic plot outline, but changes most everything else, with very little resemblance to the old Alexander Key sci-fi book it’s originally based on. Watch for Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards, the now grown-up stars of the original film, in fun cameos as a sheriff and waitress.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Carla Gugino (also co-starring in Watchmen), is a stellar character actress who deserves better than this, while Robb and Ludwig are handsome alien teens who annoyingly utter Jack Bruno’s name a thousand times. Hinds, a character actor whose face you recognize from countless other films, scowls convincingly as the bad guy, a role he’s become typecast in. Tom Everett Scott, once hailed as the next Tom Hanks, is wasted in a small role, while Cheech Marin and director Garry Marshall appear in brief, unfunny cameos.

Witch Mountain is a Disney family film for the masses: blandly colorful enough to keep audiences entertained long enough through a large popcorn. After a fast start and a slow midsection, it speeds back up for a climactic, predictable ET-style hop-in-the-saucer finish. Unfortunately, this film isn‘t anything extra special other than a sweet 1968 Ford Mustang shown during the credits and a lovable dog named Junkyard.

Enjoyable but forgettable, families and fans of The Rock will get the most out of Race to Witch Mountain, just don’t expect them to remember much after it’s over.

The Last House on the Left - C-

See Wes's full review of The Last House on the Left on Pop Syndicate at:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland - B

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language, 96 minutes

"Phoebe in Wonderland" is a wonderfully peculiar experience

"Phoebe in Wonderland" is an imperfect but wonderously peculiar movie, too leisurely paced but superbly acted by a terrific cast. It's an offbeat but sometimes brilliant film about an odd little girl whose life changes when she lands the part of Alice in "Alice in Wonderland" in a school play. Anyone who is perceived as "different" or has trouble obeying the rules in life will relate to "Phoebe" well could be a nice alternative to the all the "Watchmen" fervor going on this weekend.

Phoebe Lichten (Elle Fanning) is an peculiar but intelligent little girl who won't - or can't - follow the rules. She has some habits that some might find a little strange - she spits on her classmates, often repeats phrases and must wash her hands a certain number of times in OCD fashion. Her parents (Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman) are distracted writers who don't often understand their odd daughter and send her to a psychiatrist for help.

In the meantime, confounded by her clashes with the rule-obsessed world around her, Phoebe seeks enlightenment from her unconventional drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) who sees potential in her and casts her in the school production of "Alice in Wonderland" as Phoebe's mother is writing her dissertation on the same subject. Phoebe becomes quickly obsessed with the play and finds escape to a fantasy world, hoping to gain more understanding of herself and the real world around her.

"Phoebe in Wonderland" is a touching, affecting drama that explores life from the view of an odd child. It's too leisurely and has a choppy, uneven feel to it but filled with moments of brilliance from novice director and writer David Barnz, directing and writing only his second film. It's also superbly performed by a gifted cast including Elle Fanning (Dakota's younger sister, and the two sound alike) in her first lead cinematic role, who brings a energy, sensitivity and warmth to the role of a peculiar but angsty young girl.

"Phoebe" has some entertaining and poignant moments, particularly in the staging of the play and Phoebe's fantasy escapes, but becomes dragged down by family drama. Clarkson is excellent as Phoebe's equally odd drama teacher, as is Huffman as her distracted but smart mother, though she inexplicably wears a dark (and ill-fitting) wig when her daughter is so obviously blond. Pullman has little to do, as does Campbell Scott as Phoebe's nerdy principal.

"Phoebe" is best when it focuses on Phoebe being Phoebe - spitting, repeating things and becoming upset when things don't go her way. Sometimes we have to escape to a fantasy world to deal with the real world (that's why I enjoy movies so much), and hopefully become an inspiration to others. "Phoebe in Wonderland" isn't a message movie but does convey the need for acceptance, love and that while we should obey the rules, it's OK to be a little different.

Watchmen - B

You can find Wes's full review of "Watchmen" at Pop Syndicate at: