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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surrogates - C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene, 88 minutes

"Surrogates": Colorful visuals, pale story

Ever wish you had an extra body to get some of your stuff done throughout the day? The new sci-fi thriller "Surrogates" starring Bruce Willis shows what happens when that wish comes true. A provocative premise and exciting visuals nearly make up for the stale, predictable story with tremendous leaps of logic to buy into. Based on a recent graphic comic book series, it starts out well in its initial chapters then turns into standard, predictable Bruce Willis hero-save-the-day stuff you've seen many times before.

"Surrogates" is set in the near future in which humans live in near-total isolation, never leaving the safety and comfort of their homes, and only communicating with their fellow man through remotely-controlled robotic bodies that serve as "surrogates," designed as better-looking versions of their human operators. Because people are safe all the time, and damage done to a surrogate is not even felt by its owner, it is a peaceful world free from fear, pain, and crime.

People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates -- sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer (Willis) discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.

"Surrogates" has an appealing premise along with Willis and some nifty, enjoyable special effects going for it, but the significant changes to the source material turn it into an overly conventional, rather banal murder mystery that, no pun intended, isn't quite fleshed out. Jonathan Mostow, the guy behind "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "U-571," has a few unique touches but the message lacks large-scale ambition to have real impact. "Surrogates" lacks a compelling, thought-provoking fervor that something like this should have and doesn't truly examine what society has done to itself with the creation of the surrogates.

Unsurprisingly, the best part about "Surrogates" are the robots. They're botoxy plastic skin perfect, a shiny semblance of their real selves. The Bruce Willis/Greer surrogate is particularly amusing, with fake blond hair and fit body, even if the role is one he's played before (like 12 years ago, in "The Fifth Element"). However, he's well-paired with much younger, prettier eye candy in Radha Mitchell ("Silent Hill") as his crime-solving partner and Rosamund Pike ("Doom") as his wife. The rest of the cast isn't as memorable, with the normally solid Cromwell playing the heavy, but a vastly underwritten role, and Ving Rhames, terribly and laughably miscast as a dreadlocked leader of the humans.

"Surrogates" loses considerable steam when it slows down to focus on the stale melodrama of Greer's homelife after he decides to choose human life over surrogate life. "What do you expect of me?" his wife croons. Considering the talent involved, a more compelling story for starters. By the way, the writing team of Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato were also responsible for the equally languid "Terminator Salvation."

The real premise of "Surrogates" - having far more attractive people do all your work (and one that eerily reminds of "The Jetsons") - isn't a bad one, just one that isn't explored to its full potential. The entertaining visuals provide for a few lively moments, but it can't cover up what it really is: a predictable, mediocre sci-fi murder mystery with few genuine revelations. Consider this a dull cousin to "Blade Runner."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jennifer's Body - B

Rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use, 102 minutes

Entertaining "Jennifer's Body" features a hot Fox and a sluggish story

There's no denying that Megan Fox is hot. We get the point. The pretty young star of the new dark comedy horror film "Jennifer's Body" makes a decent transition from the awful "Transformers 2" film to a slick new film written by Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning scribe of "Juno." Without Cody's decent dialogue and the eye candy that Fox provides, there wouldn't be much to go on in the entertaining, crowd-pleasing film that falters to tell a truly great "Lost Boys"-style story.

Nerdy, reserved bookworm Needy ("Big Love" and "Mamma Mia" star Amanda Seyfried) and arrogant, conceited cheerleader Jennifer (Fox) are best friends, though they share little in common. They share even less in common when Jennifer mysteriously gains an appetite for human blood after a disastrous fire at a local bar and she ends up a sacrifice in a satanic ritual. Things go terribly wrong as Needy's male classmates are steadily killed off in gruesome attacks, the young girl must uncover the truth behind her friend's transformation and find a way to stop Jennifer's bloodthirsty rampage before it reaches her own boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).

"Jennifer's Body" is an enjoyable, above-average and horror flick with a star-making role for Fox, who really gets a good bite out of her role. True, she's better than she was in "Transformers" but then that may not be saying much. Much of the bitchiness she conveys here seems to be natural, that or she's playing a part that's close to her offscreen persona. Seyfried is the one with the real acting ability and she does well in the bookworm role, though she's clearly secondary to queen Megan.

Directed by newcomer Karyn Kusama, it's an auspicious choice for the "Girlfight" director, though the details of Cody's story are murky and lack a great deal of logic (why these two girls are friends in the first place is really a stretch). And though Fox and Seyfried have good interplay, "Jennifer's Body" is hurt by the crucial miscasting of Adam Brody ("The O.C.") as one of the sinister members of the mysterious rock band that takes an interest to Jennifer. His blandness fails to amp up the chemistry needed to be the next "Twilight," and it drags down the film. However, watch for the greatly underused and always funny Amy Sedaris in a very brief role as Needy's mom.

That's not to say that "Jennifer's Body" isn't entertaining or enjoyable, it is, but the best scenes are the ones with Fox seducing her male classmates and then heartily chomping down on them. Yes, it's graphically violent and bloody and often suspenseful, but it's all in (dark) fun. Fox is much like a few successful stars that have gone before her (Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck come to mind) of those aspiring to be great actors but really are just great personalities.

Take "Jennifer's Body" for what's it's worth, a dark, campy and entertaining horror film. It's not as perfect as Megan Fox's body, but then that would be asking for too much.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs - B

Rated PG for brief mild language, 90 minutes

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" sunny, energetic fun

The imaginative new animated film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" takes on the wild notion of - what if it really could rain down food? What would we do? And most importantly, what would we look like after each food storm? From Sony Pictures, the clean crisp animation is a great deal of bright, colorful fun and energetically voiced by some well-known names. Based on a classic and beloved children's book of the same name, in spite of some notable changes from the book and a busy storyline, "Meatballs" is a breezy, light escape for the whole family.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a nerdy young scientist living on the island of Swallow Falls in the Atlantic Ocean. The town has become near desolate after the close of the sardine plant, which provided most, if not all, the town's income. Lockwood lives with his dad Tim (James Caan), who run the local bait and tackle location and doesn't see eye to eye with his son. Swallow Falls' ambitious mayor (Bruce Campbell) wants to desperately revitalize the town, and soon may have the opportunity when one of Flint's inventions, that of periodic storms of food, actually works. A pretty young reporter (Anna Faris) arrives on the scene in time to witness one of nature's most beautiful events and possibly one of its most disasterous, when the invention goes awry and threatens to destroy the town.

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" is a great deal of vivid entertainment and a perfect escape for the adults to sneak out and go see the equally enjoyable "Jennifer's Body." But most adults will want to stick around to see all the globs of food falling from the sky that somehow keeps getting better and better (a huge pancake that destroys a school and a super huge corn on the cob are hilarious).

"Meatballs" has storyline that's too busy for its own good, trying to cram in too much at once, but it is still enjoyable fun. In addition, those familiar with the children's book will notice a few significant changes in translation, but the changes mostly are contemporary ones, mostly associated with technology. The basic premise of the book remains the same, even if most of the characters and names have changed (the name of the town is now Swallow Falls instead of Chewandswallow.

The large cast of familiar voices has fun, especially Hader, Faris, Caan and particularly Campbell, who's a hoot as the overly ambitious mayor. Andy Samberg and Mr. T are also a delight, and listen closely for Neil Patrick Harris, Lauren Graham, Benjamin Bratt, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Will Forte and even Al Roker (you can't make a film about the weather without an actual weatherman-type on hand). Oh, and there's also a talking monkey that steals most of the scenes and the best lines.

Yes, it's a very frenetic, past paced movie, almost too quick (it's only 81 minutes), but children should enjoy themselves and parents should enjoy the fact that it's suitable and with good messages: watch what you wish for, particularly fame and fortune, along with helping the good of everyone, not just yourself. If you need to get out of the elements this weekend, check out the pleasantly enjoyable and entertaining "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

Love Happens - C+

Rated PG-13 for some language including sexual references, 105 minutes

Warm, predictable and mediocre "Love Happens" needs more love

Sometimes you have to move on from your past in order to achieve love again, which is the premise of the new romantic comedy “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart and that familiar “Friends” Jennifer Aniston. Familiar and predictable yet well-acted, “Love Happens” is a mediocre chick flick with considerable amount of empathy and heart though the romance is secondary, and Aniston’s role is really (and surprisingly so) a supporting one. Warm but unevenly bland, “Love Happens” needs more sizzle and less tears to have it succeed as a romantic comedy gem.

Eckhart is successful self-help guru Burke Ryan whose catchphrase is “A OK” and he helps people through their grief over the loss of a loved one, since he himself lost his wife in a tragic accident a few years earlier. Along with his portly, outgoing agent named Lane (Dan Fogler), he’s on the precipice of landing a major multimedia deal that will make him the next Dr. Phil. While in Seattle for a few days in a seminar, Burke meets a florist named Eloise (Aniston), who provides the hotel’s flowers. They begin to fall for each other, until Burke realizes that he hasn’t truly dealt with or been honest about his wife’s death.

“Love Happens” is a sensitive, pleasant but bland treatment filled with pop psychology clich├ęs; the script and direction from Brandon Camp lack focus and depth and the leads aren’t onscreen enough to produce any dazzling chemistry. As a portrayal of someone struggling to face their grief there are some compelling moments, but mixed with romantic comedy it falters under an air of familiarity. Eckhart carries the film in a poignant performance, though Aniston’s role, a woefully underwritten one, is smaller than you might think. She’s missing from large chunks of the film, including several key scenes, making the romance more difficult to develop. Though she’s little more than eye candy anyway, it takes two to develop the romance.

It doesn’t help that the large supporting cast in “Love Happens” is a mixed bag. Fogler is his usual annoying self, while the always peppy Judy Greer pops in and out of a few scenes, and “Six Feet Under” actress Frances Conroy is relegated to an odd cameo as Aniston’s mother. The two more memorable supporting performances come from character actor and familiar face John Carroll Lynch (“Gran Torino”) who perfectly conveys someone struggling with bitterness and denial along with the underused Martin Sheen, seen too briefly in a sturdy performance as the confounded father-in-law begging for truth.

The romance scenes in “Love Happens” seem more like filler around the scenes in which Eckhart is trying to manage his grief, which has more heart than the romantic notions the film tries to purport. The emotional but predictable climax should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been watching, and all the strings seem so happily tied together that it rings a little false. One good thing about the film: it's handsomely filmed in and around Seattle, and makes good use of various locations, including the Space Needle and Pike's Fish Market.

"Love Happens” isn’t a terrible film by any means, just one with an identity problem that ends up mediocre and uneventful in execution.

The Informant! - B

Rated R for language, 108 minutes

Dark, talky comedy "The Informant!" worth it in the end

The new dark dramedy "The Informant!" is based on the true story of bipolar embezzler and corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre, a seemingly unfunny story if you were to read it on paper. Yet, "The Informant!," from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Ocean's 11") and star Matt Damon works in spite of that, as it channels how utterly ridiculous (but true) it all is. The film's excessively talky first act develops into an involving, absorbing portrait of white collar crimes and criminals, just stay with it until the end.

A pudgy Damon plays the real-life Whitacre, an executive with agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) who suddenly turns whistleblower and informant for the FBI when they begin investigating multi-national price-fixing conspiracies. With the assistance of a couple of a couple of FBI agents ("Quantum Leap's" Scott Bakula and "The Soup's" Joel McHale), he wears a wire and creates numerous audio and video tapes to gain more evidence. But as the situation unravels over several years, they realize that Whitacre's ever-changing story is full of inconsistencies, making it impossible to determine what is real and what isn't.

"The Informant!" is a darkly funny, intelligent dramedy and thriller that's based on Kurt Eichenwald's best-selling, very serious non-fiction account of Whitacre's story. The film is smartly directed by Soderbergh and skillfully portrayed by Damon, who gained 30 pounds for the role. The film's biggest flaw is an excessively talky act (written by "The Bourne Ultimatum's" scribe Scott Z. Burns) that requires its audience to sit through an enormous amount of dialogue to get to a more absorbing second half.

You wouldn't think that something as serious a story as this wouldn't work, but once you see how elaborate Whitacre's lies were, the dark humor in accordance with that. The film isn't an entirely balanced portrait of informant Whitacre, who actually ended up doing more good than harm, even though he himself was quite guilty of embezzlement. The film focuses more on the white collar crimes than Whitacre's mental problems, though that's evident from his random, often ridiculous thought-processes, with many voice-overs from Damon in the first act that'll make more sense near the end of the film.

What's even more remarkable about "The Informant!" is the true story itself is more affecting than the film itself, not to mention the Whitacre's coda, who served time, got psychological help, is now back in the corporate world and largely regarded as a hero by the FBI for all his work in helping investigate price-fixing scams.

To truly enjoy the smart, darkly funny "The Informant!," stick with it until the end and you'll see why the story is so important.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself - C+

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving a sexual assault on a minor, violence, drug references and smoking, 113 minutes

Music best part of Perry's stale "I Can Do Bad All By Myself"

Filmmaker and actor Tyler Perry churns out 1-2 movies a year, many of them based on his plays and all with a similar style and theme. A flawed protagonist faces a major challenge, with intermittent and broadly played comedic bits involving his popular Madea character. His latest is this same cookie-cutter movie: sterotypical drama filled many uplifting, often spiritual messages geared toward mostly urban audiences. Nothing wrong with that, except you've seen it with all his other films . However, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" (which, given the quality of his movies, could actually refer to Tyler Perry himself), has one thing going for it: some magical musical moments provided by some musical veterans that are the clear highlight of the film.

Based on one of Perry's earlier plays, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" again concerns Madea (Perry), the pistol-packing grandma, who catches sixteen-year-old Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson) and her two younger brothers (Kwesi Boakye and Frederick Siglar) looting her home, she decides to take matters into her own hands and delivers the young delinquents to the only relative they have: their aunt April (Taraji P. Henson). Initially wanting nothing to do with the kids, April learns along the way that she can change her old ways and become a better person. But it takes a lot of work and the help of a handsome Mexican immigrant ("CSI Miami's" Adam Rodriguez) who moves in with April to push her to change.

Pale, predictable, standard Tyler Perry fluff, though it helps that Oscar nominee Henson ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") is easily charming and likable, as is Rodriguez, even if their characters are woeful stereotypes that Perry so typically writes. But one thing that Perry did right this time was his casting of veteran R&B singers Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige and gospel singer Marvin Winans (of the renowned Winans family) in minor parts and then having them each sing songs in the movie. They provide the most memorable parts of "I Can Do Bad" and create a magic that you normally don't find in Perry's movies.

Up first is Gladys Knight (sans the Pips), who'll bring tears to your eyes in a wistful, emotional version of Otis Redding's "The Need to Be." If that isn't enough, prepare to have your socks knocked off when Mary J. Blige takes the stage to sing the showstopping title tune "I Can Do Bad." Then Winans, backed by a choir (and with help from Knight), sings the heavenly, stirring "Just Don't Wanna Know/Over It Now." Never mind that Perry badly integrates these songs into the movie (particularly Blige's, who somehow manages to change clothes mid-song), just let the music take you away.

There's no taking away that Perry is a gifted performer, with Madea (who's a terrible role model, by the way) broadly stealing scenes left and right, but as a filmmaker he's sloppy and his scenes and characters lack polish and development, not to mention an overdone, overly predictable ending that'll come as no surprise. Henson is a lovely actress and I can watch her do anything, but I'd imagine she could rip through the screen with far better material.

"I Can Do Bad All By Myself," like Perry's other efforts, will be a modest hit and moneymaker for the proflic (and now very wealthy) performer, whose films are rarely screened for critics because his audiences will turn out regardless of the reviews. This time, the only thing worth seeing is the music. Or better yet, skip the film and buy the soundtrack, a much more satisfying purchase.

Sorority Row - C-

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and partying, 101 minutes

"Sorority Row" doesn't make the grade

Another week, another bad horror film. Unlike some recent releases, "Sorority Row" isn't exceedingly terrible. After all, it's a remake (though that didn't help the recent "Halloween"), it features a few recognizable names (Rumer Willis, anyone?) not to mention Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, who's around to lend a sarcastic tone to the film and throw out a few fun lines. "Sorority Row" still isn't that great, and falls prey to gratuitous violence and blood, bad acting and a ridiculous ending.

When five sorority girls (Willis, Briana Evigan, Margo Harshman, Jamie Chung and Leah Pipes), inadvertently cause the murder of one of their sisters ("The Hills" Audrina Partridge) in a prank gone wrong, they agree to keep the matter to themselves and never speak of it again, so they can get on with their lives. This proves easier said than done, when after graduation a mysterious killer goes after the five of them, their boyfriends and anyone who knows their secret.

"Sorority Row" is a remake of the 1983 horror film "The House on Sorority Row," which focused on the initial murder of a sorority house mother. This time, it's one of the sister's, and the house mother is played tongue-in-cheek by Fisher, obviously strapped for cash in a take-the-money-and-run cameo if there ever was one. Loads of blood, graphic violence and more inventive ways to die, as if we really need to see that again.

Directed by Handler, who gets the opportunity to direct a few of the worst actresses working today, though Willis, looking more and more like her mother Demi Moore, is probably the only one who makes a stab at trying to formulate the semblance of a character. Overall, the movie lacks suspense, originality and any genuine chills and instead goes for the jugular, literally, with loads of blood flowing and plenty of deaths (for those interested in things like this) - shower, things shoved in mouths (a flare gun is a fun moment) not to mention death via wine bottle.

Then the film unevenly tries to take a stab at "Heathers"-like dialogue at the end to try to make up for the splatter and gore we've just seen, not to mention to (and very unsurprisingly) reveal the killer, who takes a long time explaining why they're the killer. There's a few fun moments and some laughs, courtesy of Fisher, but otherwise a pale imitation of a film that wasn't good to begin with. Find some better things to do than "Sorority Row," even if it does involve those often unlikable sorority girls getting their due.

Whiteout - C

Rated R for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity, 96 minutes

Beckinsale is hot, but the thriller "Whiteout" lacks chills

The new action thriller "Whiteout" is set in the frosty climate of the South Pole, but it's lacking in any genuine chills, thrills or surprises. Other than the beautiful Kate Beckinsale and lots of pretty (but windy) snow, this stale, predictable offers anything revealing in the way of murder mysteries except for maybe the sub zero temperatures.

U.S. marshal Carrie Stetko ("Underworld's" Kate Beckinsale), the only one assigned to Antarctica, must investigate a murder there within three days before the Antarctic winter begins and she leaves her post. She crosses paths with a U.N. operative (Gabriel Macht), also investigating the murder. She must chase down suspects in sub zero temperatures and polar ice to solve the murders, facing challenges along the way, including the loss of two fingers. Little does she know that the murderer is closer to her than she thinks.

"Whiteout" is a well-cast, handsomely shot murder mystery that lacks suspense and a genuine sense of entanglement. Directed very flatly and unoriginally by Dominic Sena of the Travolta thriller "Swordfish," this is actually based on a series of late 1990's graphic novels of the same name and character. The frigid setting - a polar continent - is indeed a refreshing one away from the city lights of L.A. or the Big Apple, but the director doesn't use the unique setting well or very realistically, given that the handsome cast spend much of their time outside with little to cover their face (which wouldn't help, it's still hard to tell who's who in the blizzard-esque climax).

"Whiteout's" shallow, contrived script doesn't really do much of anything in the way of developing a backstory for the lead character, except that she chose - yes, chose - the South Pole as a means of escaping one terrible event in her life. Beckinsale is pretty eye candy for sure, though why anyone as pretty as she would actually choose to be in such a desolate place as this. She and Macht (of last year's unspirited version of "The Spirit") make for a decent team, but by the time they figure out everything it won't come as any surprise, given that there’s not many people left in such an empty place.

Especially wasted are some talented actors, especially the miscast veteran character actor Tom Skerritt (seen recently on the TV show "Brothers and Sisters"), who's way too old for this thing, along with two other TV actors, the charming Columbus Short, and the ruggedly handsome Alex O'Laughlin, both in considerably underwritten roles. At least you can find comfort in the fact that Beckinsale still looks quite attractive getting a couple of fingers chopped off.

The finale of "Whiteout" is especially disappointing and unsatisfying given that so much could've been done with the climate and the bad guys just seem fade away in the snow drifts. At least other icy thrillers “The Thing” and “The Shining” had something else going for them - a nasty creature and Jack Nicholson (is there really a difference?) to keep things interesting, something that “Whiteout” really needs.

Beckinsale is hot, but you'll be much more satisfied by a big bowl of ice cream than this stale late summer thriller.

9 - B-

Rated PG-13 for violence and scary images, 79 minutes

Dazzling visuals the highlight of the dark, uneven "9"

The new science-fiction animated movie "9" has a perfectly dated released on 09/09/09 but with imperfect timing, as some could confuse it with the recently released live action sci-fi "District 9" or the upcoming musical also called "Nine." Dark, uneven and very intense for an animated film, "9" is helmed by one of the visual effects masters behind " The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and produced by Tim Burton. Unsurprisingly, the striking, crisp and energetic visuals are the highlight of an otherwise downbeat and detached film.

The time is the too-near future. Powered and enabled by the invention known as the Great Machine, the world's machines have turned on mankind and sparked social unrest, decimating the human population before being largely shut down. But as our world fell to pieces, a mission began to salvage the legacy of civilization; a group of small creations known as "stitchpunks" continue to exist.

The small group of stitchpunks, led by their self-appointed leader, 1 (Christopher Plummer) and named in order of their creation, includes kindly old inventor 2 (Martin Landau), skilled one-eyed mechanic 5 (John C. Reilly), brave warrior 7 (Jennifer Connelly) and the youngest but most courageous of the group, 9 (Elijah Wood), who has to help organize and motivate the group.
They must work together using their individual strengths to outwit and fight against the still-functioning machines, one of which is a marauding mechanized beast known as The Fabricator.

"9" is a bleak glimpse into the post-apocalyptic world, with some dazzling and imaginative visuals for first-time feature director Shane Acker, one of the visionary visual effects coordinators behind "Return of the King" who also developed the original story. The vivid CGI animation is also clean and crisp and resembles stop-motion animation in the mechanical movements of the characters and it's stoically voiced by some name actors you may or may not recognize.

And though the visuals in "9" rival those done by Pixar, you should be aware that unlike the recent, colorful "Up," this is definitely not a children's film. The outlook is bleak and there are some quite intense moments involving some of the beasts, who provide some of the more energetic highlights of the film.
Though the stitchpunks are the heroes of the futuristic film, without those awesome, scary beasts "9" would be a dull affair. The Cat Beast, The Winged Beast, The Seamstress and the main beast of the film, The Fabricator, are all wicked creations from the mind of Acker and company.

The story isn't completely fleshed out, lacking empathy and heart and seems as unevenly patched together as those stitchpunks, with a new-agey ending that rings of false optimism and out of step with the rest of the film. "9's" voice work is pleasant but unassuming by a gallery of recognizable actors: Wood, Connelly, Landau, Reilly, and the distinctively voiced Plummer, though they tend to get lost in the fray from the exciting visuals (and "Back to the Future's" Crispin Glover is virtually unrecognizable in a tiny role).

With such a dreary, pessimistic and sci-fi heavy storyline "9" may have trouble finding a wide audience outside of the comic-con set, but it's worth a look for some fantastic, superbly-crafted CGI visuals.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All About Steve - D

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos, 98 minutes

Terribly unfunny and just plain terrible, skip "All About Steve"

In a nutshell, love Sandra Bullock, hate her new movie, "All About Steve." The movie is a disaster: badly edited, written, directed and acted, with one unfunny misstep after another. Even the likable, camera-loving Bullock is cast in one of her worst parts ever, as a non-stop gabbing stalker who thinks she's in love with a handsome TV cameraman played by "The Hangover's" Bradley Cooper. This mess of a movie is a low point in Bullock's career (and so unfortunate, coming after her biggest hit to date, "The Proposal") and the reason that studios thrust post-summer dreck like this on movie audiences every Labor Day.

Unemployed, chatty crossword puzzle constructor Mary Horowitz (Bullock) is smart, pretty - and a natural disaster that unnerves news cameraman Steve (Cooper). Set up on a blind date with Steve, Mary believes the chemistry is undeniable and knows she's discovered her soulmate. She decides to do anything and go anywhere to be with him. Mary's escalating infatuation is encouraged by self-absorbed news reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden-
Church) who enjoys torturing his insolent cameraman at every opportunity.

As the news team crisscrosses the country covering breaking news stories, Steve becomes increasingly unhinged and annoyed as Mary trails them, yet when the overzealous Mary becomes embroiled in a big news story, Steve begins to see her differently. Despite the media storm surrounding her, Mary's upbeat manner not only brings everyone together but finds her own unique friends and discovers her true place in the world.

Even big movie stars like Sandra Bullock have an off day, and "All About Steve" proves that in this comedy that's been sitting on the shelf awhile and should've stayed there. The beautiful, charming Bullock is naturally attracted to the camera, and while Bullock's charm is undeniable, it's hard to find it in Mary, one of the most annoying characters to grace the screen in recent memory. The non-stop chatting and encyclopedia references are grating, not to mention the stalkerish qualities are downright creepy. "Steve" plays to the other actors worst qualities too: Cooper's blandness (you would hardly know he's around at times) and Haden-Church's screechingly monotone delivery of his lines. Even the normally hilarious Ken Jeong (from "The Hangover" and "Role Models") is relegated to screaming "Shut up!," something you'll do too if you see the movie.

"All About Steve" (a play on words from the classic film "All About Eve") is supposed to be sort of a road trip film, but with the scenery you'd think they never got out of the state of California. A tornado - in the middle of the desert - really? And cactus in the state of Oklahoma? Don't think so. Then Mary picks up two equally unfunny, offensive dingballs played by D.J Qualls and Katy Mixon and it gets worse, and you'll be looking for the theater door once it reaches it's ridiculous finale, after which Mary's stupid actions get her in trouble but somehow still ends up falling in love with Steve.

As one character says in the film "If you missed a bus, you weren't destined to get on it." Destiny or not, please miss this film, it's definitely not worth it. See "The Proposal" with Bullock or "The Hangover" with Cooper, far better and far funnier films than the waste of celluloid called "All About Steve."

Gamer - D

Rated R for frenetic sequences of strong brutal violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and language, 95

Excessively loud and violent "Gamer" has been seen before

The violent, blaring new futuristic action thriller "Gamer" is headache-inducing to the point of making you cringe at every turn. Mindlessly entertaining and overly stylistic for the sake of being stylistic, it's a rip-off of many futuristic movies, including "The Matrix" and especially last year's "Death Race," a flawed but far better film. Wildly uneven and non-acted except in grunts and growls, it has a decent cast headlined by "300's" Gerard Butler, who along with his recent, terrible romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth" he did this summer, is quickly becoming the overrated actor of the year, taking over for Jessica Alba and Dane Cook.

"Gamer" is a near-future action/thriller whose main character is Kable (Butler) as the champion of a wildly successful on-line game called "Slayers". Mind-control technology has taken society by storm and "Slayers" allows humans control other humans in mass-scale, multiplayer online game. Kable's ultimate challenge becomes regaining his identity and launching an attack on the system that has imprisoned him.

Any inmate who lives through 30 matches wins his freedom. Simon (Logan Lerman) controls Kable by having won 27 matches and lived through them all, with his every move tracked by millions. Kable's ultimate challenge becomes regaining his identity, family and independence by defeating the game's mastermind (Michael C. Hall).

"Gamer" is written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the team behind the annoying "Crank" films. The premise is a provocative, intriguing one but badly mishandled under their guidance. "Gamer" is so excessively loud, violent, uneven and predictable that it makes "Transformers 2" actually look, well almost, good. Butler grunts, growls and screams his way through his lines with such a scowl that it's a wonder that "300" was such a hit.

Some films (like "300," for instance) can win audiences with style, form and little depth, but "Gamer" is overloaded with style, blood and gratuitous violence. Some of it's entertaining, but most of it will make your cringe after about just a minute or two, including a mind-numbing opening not to mention the busy, noisy and overextended finale that will have you reaching for your Aleve (much like those terrible "Crank" films that are somehow regarded as entertainment).

Outside of Butler, an expansive, talented cast is wasted in "Gamer." Ludacris, John Leguizamo, Kyra Sedgwick, Terry Crews and Alison Lohman have so little footage (Ludacris doesn't even appear until about an hour in the film), they make little impression. The charming Lerman should've had more footage, while the normally excellent Michael C. Hall from "Dexter" and "Six Feet Under" wildly overacts in a ludicrous Southern accent.

With lots of special effects, energy and explosions, "Gamer" will likely be the weekend's big hit and officially begin the fall movie season. This, coupled with the equally awful "All About Steve," has us hoping that there's far better movies headed our way.

Extract - B-

Rated R for language, sexual references and some drug use, 91 minutes

"Extract" is Mike Judge's amusingly tasty new comedy

“Extract” is the amusing, clever new comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis and Butthead,” “King of the Hill” and the cult classic, “Office Space.” Well-written, well-cast with some witty, hilarious moments, “Extract” is his most accessible, mainstream live-action work in years.

Joel (Jason Bateman), the owner of an Extract plant, must contend with a myriad of personal and professional problems, including his potentially unfaithful wife (Kristen Wiig) and employees like Step (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who has an accident and is threatening to bankrupt the company with a lawsuit, not to mention a young, pretty criminal (Mila Kunis) trying to take advantage of Step and the plant, in addition to Joel’s druggie friend Dean (Ben Affleck), his super annoying, talky neighbor (David Koechner) and a slimy lawyer (Gene Simmons), who’s in charge of Step’s lawsuit.

“Extract” is an enjoyable, spot-on but uneven comedy that finds its humor through other’s misfortunes and misunderstandings. Though director and writer Mike Judge’s humor often translates better to his animated work, his unconventional live-action pieces have been a different story: largely discovered through video and DVD, where “Office Space” gained a huge cult following and his 2006 flop “Idiocracy” has been gaining momentum. Unlike these previous live-action efforts, with more appealing actors and storyline, “Extract” should attract more audiences when it hits theatres.

It also helps that “Extract” is well-cast and well-performed by some familiar comic names, including “Arrested Development’s” Jason Bateman, who is the perfect foil and straight man, with some comic reactions that are worthy to be seen. He has one of the film’s funniest scenes, when he smokes from a bong for the first time with Affleck.

Another memorable scene comes from “Saturday Night Live’s” Wiig late in the film when she finally speaks the truth to their annoyingly chirpy neighbor (the always hilarious Koechner), with completely unexpected results. The humor that Judge discovers in these unexpected comical situations, meltdowns and sometimes dumb characters will elicit more out loud laughs than his lousy high-concept comedy “Idiocracy” but on par with the hilarity of “Office Space.”

Judge also fills “Extract” with memorable, witty supporting players, mostly familiar faces. Dustin Milligan (“90210”) has some good moments as a moronic young hustler hired to romance his wife; Affleck has fun in a small role as a drugged out friend who gets Joel in trouble; J.K. Simmons (like Koechner, seen in just about every other comedy film these days, not to mention in TV’s “The Closer”) as an associate plant manager who calls employees “Dinkus” when he can’t remember their name, and the most familiar face, Kiss singer and now reality star Gene Simmons as a shady lawyer who threatens to shut down the plant.

The pacing in “Extract” is choppy and uneven at times, and some scenes fall flat, but there’s far more than works than doesn’t, providing more flavor than most comedies these days. Hank Hill would often say “That boy ain’t right…,” but this time director and writer Judge gets it right and delivers an enjoyable, worthwhile comedy that's worth seeing.

World's Greatest Dad - C

Rated R for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images, 95 minutes

Dark comedy "World's Greatest Dad" attempts shock value, ends up a bore

I admire Robin Williams as an actor and a comedian, though recently his movies have been hit or miss. His new dark comedy "World's Greatest Dad" looked promising considering his director is also another skilled comedian, Bobcat Goldthwait, the funnyman with the distinctively loud, trembling voice and of the "Police Academy" movies in the 1980's. However, "World's Greatest Dad" in spite of its unusual premise and a few sporadic laughs, is a bland disappointment, faltering in its attempts to deliver sharp and shocking laughs. In other words, it’s a bore.

Williams is Lance Clayton, a man who has settled. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as a high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is an detestable bonehead who won't give his father the time of day. The much older Lance is dating the much younger Claire (Alexie Gilmore), the school's adorable but flaky art teacher who has trouble publicly acknowledging their relationship. Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers life's worst tragedy and greatest opportunity in the same breath. He is suddenly faced with all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with how he got there.

Dark comedy is a tricky genre, either it works well or it doesn’t, and most of the time “World’s Greatest Dad” doesn’t work. The film’s failure is not all Williams fault, but mainly the uneven, banal direction and writing from Goldthwait, who also makes a cameo appearance. Its first section is painfully slow and takes too much time in developing the premise - Lance’s exploitation of his son’s death for his good - that doesn’t really take shape until its better second half. Dark for sure, but Goldthwait fails to find many wicked laughs to make it an enjoyable experience.

Williams other dark comedy “Death to Smoochy” a few years back wasn’t a perfect film, but there were enough jolting laughs to keep it moving, something this film needs. Goldthwait’s execution is too mellow, and it all comes across as a mediocre, mildly funny movie sorely lacking in entertainment value, focus and energy. Lance smokes pot, tries to have a relationship with a younger co-worker (a contrivance that is as dead as his son is in the movie) and mingles with some of the kids who hated his son while he was alive. Somehow it loses shape, flavor and shock value amidst all these useless meanderings, and it ends up a bland, shallow affair except the ending that provides the film’s only truly shocking moment: Williams full frontal taking a skinny dip in the school’s swimming pool.

Speaking of Williams, he gives a serviceably restrained, overly mellow performance for a comedy in great need of more shock value. With a little more energy, this could’ve gone in an over-the-top direction that would’ve made it much more amusing. “World’s Greatest Dad” isn’t without a few fun touches: the book, the buttons, the T-shirts, even a cameo from Bruce Hornsby (where has he been all these years?) shows how quickly society can unwittingly buy into the selling of the dead.

“World’s Greatest Dad’s” message is that the human spirit is often selfish in its pursuit to better itself, regardless of who is exploited in the process. It’s unfortunate that it’s not more shocking, disturbing or fun to watch.