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

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Last Song - C-

Rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language, 107 minutes

Maudlin, sappy "The Last Song" hits the wrong notes

I'm not a proponent for unsupervised children, but attention parents: the new Miley Cyrus film "The Last Song" is the perfect opportunity to drop your kids off at the theater and do something constructive. "The Last Song" is a mushy, strictly paint-by-numbers, connect-the-dots adaptation of another Nicholas Sparks book that strikes too many icky, false notes. While Miley is likable as ever and there are a couple of affecting scenes, this one oozes sappiness from the first frame.

Veronica "Ronnie" Miller (Cyrus) is a rebellious young teen freshly out of high school. She and her brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are sent by their mother (Kelly Preston) to live with their father (Greg Kinnear) in a small Georgia beach town. After her parents ugly divorce years ago, Ronnie, a piano prodigy since the age of 5, abruptly quit playing the piano, in spite of continued interest by Juilliard. Initially Ronnie hates everything about her new surroundings, but things change when a rich, dreamboat boy named Will (Liam Hemsworth, Miley's real-life current boyfriend) shows an interest in her. However, Ronnie's life is about to dramatically change that will force her to grow up.

"The Last Song" is a slipshod, cornball drama geared directly to the younger set. You might expect this coming from Nicholas Sparks, of "The Notebook" and the recent "Dear John" who writes the screenplay, adapting his own novel. Sparks' novels all have similar themes of love and death, and "The Last Song" is no different from his other novels. But the predictable, silly story and cardboard characters won't make a difference to the legions of Miley's fans, especially since the hunky Australian actor Hemsworth is her real-life beau (they started dating after filming the movie).

Never mind that Miley, in her first "serious," dramatic and non-singing role, has rather limited (i.e. no) acting abilities and she's really just playing another version of Hannah Montana without the wig. Ditto for eye candy Hemsworth, a laughingly bad actor incapable of displaying any emotion (his one very forced attempt reminds of Channing Tatum). All of which makes the cutesy, cliched romance so difficult to watch (including a mud fight and a bit about some sea turtles).

"The Last Song" does feature Kinnear, a charming, capable actor who comes off like Orson Welles compared to Miley and Hemsworth, in a supporting role that's designed to give the film a smidgen of credibility. Also good is the young Bobby Coleman ("Martian Child") as Ronnie's little brother, who has the movie's most touching scene, one that will have you reaching for some tissues.

The movie has the same outline as any of Sparks' stories: people laugh, cry, fall in love and die. Add Miley in the mix and you have a hit, critic-proof movie on your hands. Just know that for a movie about making beautiful music, "The Last Song's" same off-key notes only produce a big cheeseball. You've been warned.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chloe - C+

Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language, 96 minutes

"Chloe": Glossy but empty thriller

The new indie thriller "Chloe" about an upscale woman testing the fidelity of her husband, is a smooth, well-acted drama that leaves you feeling cold and vacuous. The premise has been seen before: it's actually a remake of the 2004 French film "Nathalie," a flawed but better film than this. There are a few powerful, erotically charged moments but the contrivances make it too implausible.

Julianne Moore is upscale Canadian doctor Catherine Stewart. Her husband David (Liam Neeson) is a successful professor, and her son Michael (Max Thieriot) is a student. David has been keeping some late hours and misses some important dates, leaving Catherine to suspect he's having an affair, especially after discovering some pictures on his phone with another woman. She hires a pretty, down-to-earth call girl named Chloe ("Big Love's" Amanda Seyfried) to seduce her husband to test his fidelity, but ends up putting the whole family in danger of being torn apart by a girl who isn't who she says she is.

"Chloe" is an interesting, somewhat titilating drama that's overshadowed by a central miscasting and the contrivances and implausible twists that hamper the film in the later chapters. Director Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter") remakes Anne Fontaine's 2004 French film "Nathalie" while channeling Hitchcock, with mixed results. It's sleek, erotic and detached; "Chloe" isn't a terrible film by any means - I can watch Moore in just about anything and she ably carries the film - I just had a hard time buying into it.

The film's biggest flaw is the crucial miscasting of Seyfried in the role of "Chloe." She's not a bad actress she's just too young to pull off the role, which requires a slightly older actress with more depth. She's seemingly out of her league next to the wonderful Moore, who gives another layered, affecting performance as the wife who takes things in her own hands, to disasterous results. Neeson is serviceably melodramatic in a role that's smaller than the ads portray (this was the film he was shooting when his wife Natasha Richardson died last year).

Not to give too much away, but by the time Chloe seduces the whole family you'll be ready for it to end, with twists that become more implausible at each turn. Sure, the scenes with Seyfried and Moore are memorably steamy, but other than that, there's not much to go on. It wants to be Hitchock but ends up being a ripoff of the slutty 1992 Drew Barrymore movie "Poison Ivy."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Greenberg -B

Rated R for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language, 107 minutes

Emotionally fragile comedy "Greenberg" stirs laughs and tears

There are some moments in the quirky new independent comedy "Greenberg" from Noah Baumbach that are a little awkward. Not because they're badly done, but you may be unsure whether to laugh or cry. Affecting, heartbreaking and emotionally layered, "Greenberg" is smartly written, directed and acted. It lacks the accessibility of some of other Baumbach's efforts and its downbeat tone might not appeal to the masses, but it comes recommended for those seeking something intelligent and unconventional.

Ben Stiller is Roger Greenberg, a New Yorker just out of a mental institution. He goes to L.A. to housesit for his successful, younger vacationing brother (Chris Messina) for a few weeks. Now a carpenter, Roger has an attitude problem - he writes complaint letters to American Airlines and Starbucks - and is directionless as he enters his 40's. A former musician, Roger attempts to reconnect with some old buddies, including Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who has some of his own addiction problems. and an old girlfriend (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) who's already moved on. However, he is most attracted to his brother's assistant Florence (newcomer Greta Gerwig), a younger woman with similar ambition problems as Roger.

"Greenberg" is a clever, talky and sharp comedy with one of Stiller's best performances, the highlight of which is a wild party that allows Greenberg to be himself. Greenberg is a slacker, but at least he's an intelligent one and one that always has something to say. He's a little imbalanced, a little geeky and a little unsure of himself, all things we can relate to at some point. Stiller lets go of his normal cheekiness for a different role: a fully-realized, revealing portrait of a rather unlikable person who clearly has trouble genuinely connecting with others.

Baumbach is a fascinating writer in his ability to realize emotions and dialogue, though strangly "Greenberg" isn't as emotionally fulfilling as some of his previous efforts, particularly his best film "The Squid and the Whale." "Greenberg" is more of a one-man show, though some of the supporting cast is memorable, particularly the dishelved Ifans as Greenberg's only true friend, and newcomer Gerwig, in a solid performance in one of her first feature films; she is the film's most sympathetic character because she is the one who is hurt by Greenberg the most.

The movie works fine until another unncessary subplot takes the film in a different direction and throws it off course some (though the party scene is still fun to watch). "Greenberg's" baffling ending may turn off some (and those familiar with the likable Stiller in mainstream roles may be surprised by the sex and drugs throughout the film). You may be scratching your head, but then that may be Baumbach's point, essentially leaving it up to the audience to determine Greenberg's fate.

"Greenberg" is a superbly-drawn, sharp comedy that appeals to the unconventional aspects of our personality. It may not be for the masses, but those that see it should enjoy it.

City Island - C+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, smoking and language, 99 minutes

"City Island" is a conventional, overacted tale of family dysfunction

Movies about nice, happy families are pretty boring, which is why family dysfunction is so often mined in movies. "City Island" is another one of those films about family dysfunction and while some it is fun, the low-budget independent film is largely an unrevealing, overly familiar portrait of people who live under the same roof with a few secrets and don't get along.

"City Island" tells the story of the Rizzo's, a working class Bronx family with loads of secrets. Andy Garcia is Vince, a correctional officer and an aspiring actor. His wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) works in customer service and is secretly a chain smoker. His college-age daughter (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy's real-life daughter) is away at school but is a stripper on the side. And his younger son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) has a fetish for some unique porn. Vince learns he has a long-lost son named Tony (Steven Strait) in jail, and invites him to his house to stay awhile, without telling his family or Tony himself about their relationship.

"City Island" is one of those pleasant, slightly amusing family dysfunction films where an outsider comes in and discovers the family's secrets before they do. The stranger figures things out in a few minutes, though it's been under the rest of the family member's noses the whole time. That's some of the plot to "City Island," some of which works, some of which doesn't. It's too big a contrivance to have each family member with their own secret, even if some of the secrets themselves are fun to watch.

Garcia gives a typically hammy performance, but still has the film's most memorable scene, in which he's auditioning for a part and the way in which he naturally gets into the scene, surprising even himself. The rest of "City Island" isn't as memorable, particularly when the whole family is together and they scream and yell at each other in typical family dysfunction fashion, as if the secrets they have weren't enough. It is nice seeing Garcia and his daugther, who bears striking resemblance to him, act together in the same film.

The last act of "City Island" in particular is a little too predictable as things unravel and start to implode this New York family. Everything comes to an entertaining and affecting, if not well-worn (and loud) ending, where all the secrets are revealed so this family (and the audience) can go on living. You've seen this before many times in other movies and TV shows, and done much better than this.

How Train Your Dragon - B+

Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language, 98 minutes

Heartfelt, vastly entertaining "How to Train Your Dragon"

It's a rare feat for a truly great animated film to come along that doesn't bear the Disney and/or Pixar label, but "How to Train Your Dragon" is one of the most touching, enjoyable films released this year, animated or live action, and it's from Dreamworks Animation. The story, loosely based on a series of children's books, has a familiar, predictable feel to it, but it's lively, colorful and tremendous fun.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is set in a mythical world of Vikings and dragons. A Viking teenager named Hiccup ("She's Out of My League's" Jay Baruchel) lives on the island of Berk, where fighting dragons is a way of life. The teen’s smarts and offbeat sense of humor is disliked by his tribe and its chief, Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). However, when Hiccup is included in Dragon Training with the other viking teens, he sees his chance to prove he has what it takes to be a fighter. After he entangles a small dragon himself, Hiccup releases and ends up befriending the dragon, who he calls Toothless. The two forge an unlikely friendship while Hiccup ends up in the battle for his life and his community.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is a magical, entertaining and often hilarious adventure ride of a film about a brave teenager who becomes a "Dragon-whisperer" and in the process changes everyone and everything around him. Made for Dreamworks Animation by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the team behind Disney's "Lilo and Stitch," the film is actually loosely based on a series of children's novels by Cressida Cowell though it bears resemblance to other films. The biggest being "Lilo and Stitch," with Toothless reminding of Stitch in mannerisms and behavior, having changed considerably from Cowell's novels.

Baruchel, along with Butler (finally, tolerable in animated form) and some familiar voices including Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson and Kristin Wiig cheerfully voice the film, with Baruchel's distinct monotone the highlight of the film. "Dragon's" CG animation isn't earth-shattering (and very simplistic when you take a closer look) but is filled with a vivid zeal, right down to a breathtaking, predictable but touching climax that'll have you both cheering and wiping your eyes with emotion (and the dragons are more memorable than the humans).

That's really the best reason to see "How to Train Your Dragon" (and it's best seen in 3-D), the fact the film is not only packed with action and humor (the dragon training sequences in particular are very amusing) but loads of heart and good messages, which is something many live-action films have been lacking lately. "How to Train Your Dragon" is solid entertainment recommended for the entire family.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine - B

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language, 95 minutes

Bawdy, familiar "Hot Tub Time Machine" provides a wave of laughs

The title alone of the raucous new comedy is inspiring enough to see what "Hot Tub Time Machine" is all about. You'll get plenty of splashy laughs in the bawdy, conventional and low-brow comedy starring the always likable John Cusack, who's clearly slumming it here but seems to have a fun time. The film isn't as original or inventive as its title, with a busy story that at times goes awry but is held together by "Hot Tub's" amusing cast, who works well together.

A group of best friends have had a string of bad luck with their adult lives: Adam (Cusack) has been dumped by his girlfriend; Lou (Rob Corddry) is a party guy who cannot find the party; Nick’s ("The Office's" Craig Robinson) wife controls his every move; and Adam’s video game obsessed nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) will not leave his basement.

After a crazy night of drinking in a ski resort hot tub, the men wake up with heads pounding, in the year 1986. The protagonists can see each other as their proper age, but when they look at their reflections and to everyone else they appear as they did in 1986 (except for Jacob, who wasn't born yet). The quartet of men are at first concerned they must not mess anything up but then decide this may be a chance to change their future lives and get what they always wanted.

"Hot Tub Time Machine" is a coarsely amusing, mostly hilarious comedy with a handful of well-placed, laugh-out loud (though at times gross) laughs. The nonsensical, sloppy script goes in too many directions, especially in the busy, final act but the cast works well together and makes it worth watching. Cusack is the center but comedian and usual supporting player Corddry steals the show as the foul-mouthed Lou, who is the one who clearly changes the future (think Loogle and Motley Lue) in the film's final scenes, which are among its funniest.

Robinson has "Hot Tub's" best line, a Michael Jackson joke that's still remarkably funny, Cusack gets stabbed in the eye and even Chevy Chase gets in the act in a small role as a mysterious repairman who helps the men get back home. Watch for the sly Crispin Glover, experiencing a career comeback with this and the recent "Alice in Wonderland," in an inspired role (considering his other time travel film "Back to the Future") as a one-armed bellboy.

"Hot Tub's" cast is clearly the best thing about the film, and they work well together and for director Steve Pink, director of 2006's "Accepted" and producer of Cusack's own "High Fidelity." The raucous, profane film should be a hit, though, due in part to its cast, who makes getting in "Hot Tub Time Machine" a memorable experience.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Runaways - C

Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content - all involving teens, 109 minutes

"The Runaways": great music, dull movie

The rock group The Runaways were pioneers in the world of music. They were among the first all-girl rock groups in a world dominated by men. And we all know that the awesome Joan Jett went on to sing the anthem "I Love Rock and Roll." If only the uneven movie version of "The Runaways" were as interesting and fun as their music. While it certainly evokes feelings of the 1970's, unsurprisingly the best thing about this uninvolving, boring rock biopic is the music and "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart.

L.A. teenagers Joan Jett (Stewart) and Sandy West (Stella Maeve) are introduced to renowned rock music producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) in 1975, and they come together to form The Runaways, an all-girl rock group, a pioneering idea at the time. They audition a number of girls for the lead singer, and finally decide on the young, inexperienced Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), who has a David Bowie look and charm to her and a terrible family life. Before long, The Runaways land a recording contract and continue to rise in popularity, though the relationships in the band, especially between Currie and Jett, threaten to ruin all they worked for.

The music is the real reason to watch "The Runaways," even if the unrevealing story goes down the same rags to riches story that most in this genre go down (not to mention, they play The Runaways hit "Cherry Bomb" way too many times in the movie). Stewart is a true inspiration as Jett, and from her hair to doing her own singing, she effectively channels a young Jett, who went on to much greater fame after this. However, the casting of Fanning is a mixed blessing for the young actress, who also co-starred with Stewart in "New Moon." It's certainly marks a grown-up change for the actress and she tackles the role with aplomb (like Stewart, she does her own singing and handles the tunes well), though the role could've been more effectively played by a more mature actress.

After an interesting start, "The Runaways" pacing is too slow in the middle section and the lack of sharp directing and writing from Italian filmmaker Floria Sigismondi doesn't invest enough time in the Currie-Jett relationship; you don't much care when the band goes their own way. Shannon rips through every scene he's in as the eccentric producer Fowley (who's efforts here are probably a bit overstated), and while he's very good, he at times seems to be acting in a completely different movie. And yes, that's Tatum O' Neal playing Currie's mother in a very brief role.

The disjointed "The Runaways" could've been more powerful and relevant with a more experienced director and writer, though this is an admirable story that should've been told years ago. The costumes and sets are '70s mod, while the film's soundtrack is full of great Runaways tunes, though it may be worth checking out the original tunes.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid - B

Rated PG for some rude humor and language, 93 minutes

"Diary of A Wimpy Kid" has heart, good lessons for everyone

Everyone was a kid once, and some of us were wimpy kids, especially in middle school. At the time, middle school was a necessary evil, something the new kids comedy "The Diary of A Wimpy Kid" illustrates very well. An energetic live-action version of the first novel in the popular illustrated novel series by Jeff Kinney of the same name, the themes are familiar and certainly geared for the young set, but even adults can find something to relate to.

"Wimpy Kid" chronicles the adventures of middle school student Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) and his portly best friend Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) over the course of an academic year, as told through Greg's journal and hand-drawn cartoons. The two buddies must also survive some obstacles to get through middle school, such as tolerating their weird neighborhood kid Fregley (Grayson Russell), wrestling a tough girl named Patty Farrell (Laine MacNeil), having to play outdoor Phys Ed games without shirts on, avoiding being killed by Greg's older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), getting embarrassed by Greg's parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn), and, worst of all, trying to avoid getting the infamous cheese touch.

"The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is genuine and goofy, if not well-worn tale of middle-school life. Though it's based on a series of novels, it seems overly familiar and borrowed from other sources and could really be a contemporary cross between "Leave It to Beaver" and "Malcolm in the Middle," and while this thing has been seen many times before, it's engagingly played out by young actors Gordon and Capron, doing their best version of Beaver Cleaver and Larry Mondello. The episodic travails of the two are amusingly peppered with with the familiar illustrations from Kinney's novels.

Whether failing miserably at wrestling (or any other sport for that matter) or being popular, at one time we've all been in the same position as Greg and Rowley, and those often humiliating experiences are quickly forgotten as many of us grow up to be well-adjusted adults with families of our own. If nothing else, it'll help adults to be a little more sensitive to the trauma known as middle school.

"The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is as predictable and simplistic as many others in this genre, but unlike others, it has more heart, more entertaining and valuable lessons we can all learn from. Just stay away from that moldy cheese.

The Bounty Hunter - D+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence, 110 minutes

"The Bounty Hunter" can't find any laughs

What do you get when you pair two attractive movie stars, a formula script, slack direction and an unfunny, mean-spirited premise? That would essentially sum up the new comedy "The Bounty Hunter," starring Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston and directed by the guy who made "Hitch" and "Sweet Home Alabama." Predictable, stale and rarely, if ever, amusing, "The Bounty Hunter" doesn't generate any laughs and just might be arrested for being the most disappointing star vehicle of 2010 so far.

A cash-strapped bounty hunter named Milo (Butler) learns that his next target is his ex-wife Nicole (Aniston) an investigative reporter who skipped bail on charges of assaulting a police officer. She's working on a murder cover-up and soon after Milo picks her up to take her to jail, the always-at-odds duo find themselves on a run-for-their-lives adventure throughout New Jersey.

There's not much to go on with "The Bounty Hunter," a dreadful, annoyingly dumb sexist romantic comedy that has a few charming moments, mainly due to the eye-candy leads and a sweet Delta 88 convertible that much like the movie, ends up an unfortunate wreck. If you watch the trailers for the film, you've really seen the best moments, all 2 minutes of them, and you can probably figure out what'll happen from the trailers too. Bickering ex-spouses unwittingly team up to solve a crime whose culprit is right under their noses the whole time.

Butler, still riding that "300" wave as long as he can, is proving that he's vastly overrated and unfunny, no matter how hard he tries. The lovely Aniston, still riding the "Friends" wave as long as she can, is a little better, though she's not allowed to do much that's really amusing. The two make a handsome pair, but share little chemistry and badly misdirected by Andy Tennant, the man behind hits such as "Sweet Home Alabama," "Hitch" and "Fool's Gold," one of the worst romantic comedies in the last 5 years and with remarkably similar themes as "The Bounty Hunter."

The only genuinely amusing scenes come very briefly, with truly funny, underused actors like Jeff Garlin, Christine Baranski and Carol Kane (yes, that Carol Kane from "Taxi") making cameos; Kane in particular is always a treat to watch, as the daffy owner of a bed and breakfast. As for the rest of the film? There's not much to go on here, the foolproof script could've been written by anyone. Butler and Aniston argue. Chase after some or get chased. Argue some more. More chase scenes. A little smooching. More chasing, more arguing and you're done.

"The Bounty Hunter" will likely be a hit the first week to see the attractive leads, until they realize they just paid for a remake of "Fool's Gold" set in New Jersey. Want to enjoy your first weekend of spring? Stay as far away from this movie as possible.

Repo Men - C

Rated R for for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity, 111 minutes

Entertaining, muddled "Repo Men" lacks heart

There’s an old religious saying along the lines of “the Lord gives and takes away.” You may feel that way about the new science fiction adventure thriller “Repo Men.” On one hand, it’s an entertaining, tense futuristic drama but on the other it’s a bit of a muddled, contrived affair, particularly a wildly confusing ending that comes out of nowhere. Interestingly enough, for a film about artificial organs, it lacks heart.

In a near, alternative future, humans can prolong their lives with artificial organs that can be purchased on credit from the mega-giant corporation known as The Union. The downside to these small, pricey miracles is that if you can't make your payments, the vital organs are taken back by highly skilled repo men with no care for human comfort or survival. Remy (Jude Law), a top-notch repo man, who suffered a heart attack while on the job and has been given the company's state-of-the-art heart-substitute along with expensive installments.

As Remy is unable to keep up with the financial responsibilities, The Union sends out their heaviest authoritarian and Remy's former partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) to find him. Remy meets Beth (Alice Braga) who instructs him on how to disappear from the system. Beginning is a chase that ensues across a land inhabited by strange friends and enemies with one, who will be a hero for the countless who seek a way out.

“Repo Men” is a bloody, uneven exercise in futuristic drama, with parts “Blade Runner” and parts “Children of Men” on the surface level. Based on the novel "The Repossession Mambo" by Eric Garcia that inspired the film, the stunning production design and action sequences highlight the film, peppered with some enjoyable, bloody fight scenes. However, the script, and really the movie itself, shows what happens when you take an intriguing premise and wrap it up as an overly conventional action thriller. Some of it works well, especially in the film’s early parts, but is unevenly handled by director Miguel Sapochnik, and its contrivances throw the film off as it heads into a twisty, violent final act.

The handsome, lithe Law (“Sherlock Holmes”) is a fine action hero and he’s well-teamed with the low-key Whitaker, who hasn’t lived up to his potential following his Oscar win a few years ago for “The Last King of Scotland.” More memorable is distinctively-voiced Liev Schreiber (last seen in “Wolverine”) in a small but key role as the slimy head of the sales department of The Union who’s charging exorbitant prices for artificial organs ($650,000 at 18% interest, wow). Alice Braga (“I Am Legend”) emotes well in a warm role as Remy’s other lover who has numerous artificial parts, though their romance is one of the movie’s biggest contrivances given the urgency of Remy’s situation.

“Repo Men’s” most memorable scenes are two its fight scenes involving Law and Braga, one in a tight, closed-door room and the other as they literally bring down a hallway full of people near the film’s climax. The blood and body count is enormous, and you won’t soon forget them, even if the rest of the film doesn’t flow as smoothly. “Repo Men’s” surprise ending would pack more wallop and have more relevance if the film could somehow coherently tie its pieces together, which it doesn’t do well (and without giving too much away, you might feel a little cheated).

“Repo Men” is modest entertainment that may please sci-fi fans clamoring for a post-“Avatar” hit, and to its credit there are a handful of well-placed action scenes, but the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to the great film it aspires to be.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Our Family Wedding - D

Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief strong language, 90 minutes

Please, skip this awful "Family Wedding"

Maybe it's the broad stereotypes. Maybe the incoherent terribly unfunny script. Or maybe comedian Carlos Mencia. Or maybe it's all the above and then some. The latter is probably the reason why the new comedy "Our Family Wedding" simply stinks. It's one of the worst films of the year and is unfortunate because the lead actors, "Ugly Betty's" America Ferrera and "House of "Payne's" Lance Gross are such a darn cute couple.

Ferrera is Lucia, Gross is Marcus. They're a young couple living across the country together who go home to tell their families they've been living together and plan to get married before they leave the country to do mission work. Marcus' father is the "unorthodox" Brad Boyd (Forest Whitaker), a popular L.A. D.J. also popular with the ladies. Lucia's family is Miguel (Mencia) and Sonia (Diana-Maria Riva), a tight-knit, working class family and owner of a towing company. Their two families clash as they plan the wedding, opening up a whole series of problems for the young couple that could threaten their future.

Please pass on the dreck that is known as "Our Family Wedding," an unfunny, stereotypical and sloppy comedy that wastes a talented cast in the process. Rick Famuyiwa ("Brown Sugar," "The Wood") is responsible for directing this incoherent, wildly disjointed comedy that throws every wedding cliche and every comedic cliche possible (cake fights, animals and family members wreaking havoc and so on). Ferrera and Gross are an attractive couple whose characters get lost in the utter uninteresting mess and really all of this could've been avoided had they just been honest and communicated all this with their families in the first place.

Mencia is one of the unfunniest comedians around, and the fact that he can't act either doesn't help "Our Family Wedding." The film manages to bring down Oscar-winner Whitaker in the process, who's utterly wasted and misplaced, as is Regina King as a close family friend. Taye Diggs and Warren Sapp cameo and Eddie Murphy's older brother Charles Q. Murphy seems to be doing a wildly annoying and unfunny version of his brother. The best thing about the film is the energetic and catchy soundtrack, which leaves a far more lasting impression that this film.

By the time this TV movie of the week gets down to the exceedingly predictable climax, you know exactly what'll happen. Now you know why you skip family outings such as weddings, or in the case of the movie "Our Family Wedding," just forget about it all together. A bland, very uneven mess to avoid.

Remember Me - C

Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and smoking, 108 minutes

Dull romantic drama "Remember Me" lacks spark

There’s a reason that I don’t enjoy putting together puzzles. All the pieces are right in front of you, but you’re required to assemble it into its final product. The modestly enjoyable but otherwise forgettable soapy new romantic drama "Remember Me" is just as frustrating. All the right pieces are in front of you: a handsome cast, an alluring backdrop in New York City and a
tragic story, and it still doesn’t add up. Even more tragic is a sloppy, passionless script that doesn’t really come together until the film’s final 15 minutes.

Set in the summer of 2001 in
New York City, Robert Pattinson (Edward from the "Twilight films") is Tyler Hawkins, an NYU college student who seems to attract trouble when he can’t keep his temper under control. Tyler’s older brother Michael committed suicide a few years earlier and his family hasn’t been the same. His wealthy Manhattan lawyer father (Pierce Brosnan) is a work alcoholic, and his mother (Lena Olin), a social worker, has remarried.

Through unusual circumstances, he meets and falls in love with fellow student Ally (
Emilie de Ravin, Claire from TV’s "Lost"), who herself has experienced tragedy when she witnessed the murder of her mother 10 years earlier at a subway station, leaving her alone with her protective father (Chris Cooper), a cop. The pair has a good thing going until larger circumstances threaten to ruin the relationship.

"Remember Me" is an ambitious romantic drama that in spite of its pretty leads and a few compelling moments lacks powerful impact. For one, the script by Will Fetters and
Jenny Lumet (writer of "Rachel Getting Married" and daughter of noted director Sidney Lumet) doesn’t invest enough time in the relationship itself, and secondly, it doesn’t coherently tie the pair’s tragedies together. The film’s trailers wisely leave out the sad ending (and once word gets out about it, people could stay away from the film), and while Allen Coulter’s ("Hollywoodland") lacks force, he does handle a mildly provocative climax with taste.

But the biggest problem with "Remember Me" is the fact that Pattinson, in his first lead outside of "Twilight," is a bore. He and de Ravin make for an intriguing pair, mainly for the fact that Edward and Claire are hooking up, only if their characters here were as interesting. Pattinson lacks the complexity to pull off the role, and he obviously needs careful direction to exude emotional depth; he’s a little better here than in "Twilight" though that isn’t saying much. de Ravin is better in a warm performance as the girl who eats her desserts first and who doesn’t like being wet.

At least "Remember Me" surrounds Pattinson with a few supporting players that are much more memorable than he - like his goofy roommate (Tate Ellington), his younger, unsteady younger sister (plucky TV actress Ruby Jernis), his cold father (the ubiquitous Brosnan, already his third film this year) and his warm mother (the underused, lovely Olin) - essentially everyone else in the film. "Remember Me" is lovingly filmed on location in Manhattan and is scored with emotion by
Marcelo Zarvos ("Sin Nombre" among others), particularly in the film’s final, haunting moments.

As it moves to its ominous ending, you know more tragedy is in store when the date is written out on a chalkboard. As moving as those final scenes are, it seems a little out of place (and a tad jolting) given that it hasn’t been smoothly integrated into the story. Too bad "Remember Me" doesn’t add up to an emotionally fulfilling movie, given the pieces are all right there in front of you. Had they come together properly, it would’ve made a lovely picture.

She's Out of My League - B-

Rated R for language and sexual content, 104 minutes

"She's Out of My League" throws a few funny curve balls

The new comedy "She's Out of My League" isn't a perfect 10, but then few (films and people) are. It's predictable, thin but takes delight in it's perfections. The affable movie is more amusing than it looks and not as raunchy or as stupid as the ads make it seem, which may not be saying much. "She's Out of My League" is essentially a movie version of "Beauty and the Geek" that would be largely unmemorable if not for its inspired cast who seem to have fun together.

Kirk (Jay Baruchel) is your normal, average Joe. Thin, out of shape and uncoordinated, the Pittsburgh native works in airport security and even his friends would rate him about a 5. Then he meets Molly (Alice Eve), or as he and his friends call, a "hard 10." Beautiful, blonde and smart, she's a lawyer who's started her own business and is looking to settle down with the right guy, and wants to give Kirk a chance. The two have a good thing going, though the two must work past their own insecurities, particularly Kirk, who believes he's way out of his league and way over his head.

Simplistic but energetic, "She's Out of My League" is a pleasant comedy that's not near as annoyingly dumb as others in this genre, mainly due to a memorable cast that plays it well. The wiry, gangly Baruchel, seen to good effect in "Knocked Up" and "Tropic Thunder," is perfectly cast as the average dweeb who finds himself in love with the ravishing Molly, played by the very beautiful British actress Alice Eve. If it weren't so his likable Joe Schmo qualities, the film wouldn't be as nearly as enjoyable. The movie often plays out like a revisionist version of "American Pie," with a skinnier protagonist, particularly in one shaving-of-the-privates sequence that's one of the film's better moments.

Of the remainder of the cast, relative unknown T.J. Miller nearly steals the show as one of Kirk's friends named Stainer, who plays in a Hall and Oates cover band and who has his own imperfections. And it's always good seeing "That '70's Show" Mom Debra Jo Rupp as Kirk's Mom, even if she's seen only very briefly. "She's Out of My League" cruises down the stretch through some mildly amusing, memorable moments and a predictable climax that won't surprise anyone.

"She's Out of My League" pulls no surprises but you'll still find yourself laughing more than you might think. It's not a perfect 10, but it's a pleasant enough diversion to rank at least a 6 or 7, give or take depending on your mood.

Green Zone - B

Rated R for violence and language, 115 minutes

Intensity, relevancy highlight the action thriller "Green Zone"

The "Green Zone" refers to the International Zone of Baghdad, Iraq, or the 4-mile base of operations for the rebuilding of Baghdad that still exists today. It's also the basis of a powerful, germane political-action thriller inspired by real events starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed him in two of the Jason Bourne movies. Some of it's a little preachy down the stretch, though the climax is thrilling enough to make you forget any of its political statements.

"Green Zone" is loosely based on the non-fiction 2006 book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, which documented life in the Green Zone, Baghdad. Damon is Army chief warrant officer Roy Miller, who begins assisting a senior CIA official (Brendan Gleeson) in the search for Weapons of Massive Destruction (WMD). He begins to realize the whole situation isn't what it seems, though it's grand ideals are being promoted by a Pentagon Special Intelligence officer (Greg Kinnear). With the help of a high-powered journalist (Amy Ryan), he begins uncovering the truth behind the U.S. Government's claims to WMD's.

Greengrass has crafted a fine, fast-paced and complex thriller in "Green Zone" that's fascinating enough to lift it above the "Bourne in Iraq" label it exudes from its trailers. Greengrass' expert direction and Damon's solid, believable turn lift what could've been a standard, mediocre action thriller. Written by Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential"), it moves a little too fast at times and most of the characters, based on real people, are too one-dimensional, but there's enough to keep the action flowing, particularly a breathtaking finale that plays better than a video game.

All the technical elements are in place for the thriller that's been delayed a few times since it wrapped filming nearly two years ago. If "Green Zone" reminds you of "The Hurt Locker," that wouldn't be surprising, since Barry Ackroyd, that film's cinematographer, handles the photography here with a similar, intense realism. The fast-paced editing, the authentic sets and music also help pace the film, which is also uniformly well-acted by it's A-list cast, particularly by Damon, Kinnear, Gleeson and especially a warm performance from Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan.

"Green Zone" falters down the stretch when it attempts to cast stones at the Bush Administration, which by now seems redundant and moot, regardless of your political standing (and particularly coming from a British director). But as an intense, exciting action thriller for the masses, "Green Zone" works just fine.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Alice in Wonderland - B

Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar, 108 minutes

Fantastic visual ride in Burton's weird take on "Alice in Wonderland"

Imagine you had an acid-trip dream that was filled with all sorts of CG talking animals and 3-D visuals. In a way, that describes Tim Burton's fantasy-world in the magically bizarre, CG-heavy but entertaining "Alice in Wonderland," the atypical director's revisionist take on Lewis Carroll's already unconventional fairy-tale. It's great but not wonderful but exactly what you'd expect from Burton. Emotionally distant, it may be too dark for kids, too strange for adults but enjoyable enough to please those looking for an escape from the real world.

Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is loosely based on two of Carroll’s novels, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking the Glass." It picks up with Alice as a 19-year old (boldly played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska of HBO's "In Treatment" series) with strong feminist ideals yet still plagued by strange dreams. Just as she’s proposed to from a suitor she doesn’t care for, Alice is transported to "Underland" or Wonderland, as referred to by its inhabitants. She's actually been to Wonderland before 10 years earlier, but has almost entirely forgotten that experience.

She's meets a variety of interesting characters, led by the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who reveals she is the only one to slay the Jabberwock, a vicious dragon who is owned by the dreadful Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter),locked in a battle with her sister, the good White Queen (Anne Hathaway), over the crown to rule Wonderland.

"Alice in Wonderland" is an engaging, odd film filled with Burton's distinctively strange, florid touches. The heavy CG visuals, interestingly enough, work for and against the movie; the eccentric yet highly imaginative Burton expertly navigates the exciting visuals but his "expanded" story lacks emotional connection, particularly in a disjointed second act. It retains the spirit and some of the characters of Carroll’s stories, including the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar (a fun representation well-voiced by Alan Rickman), but literary purists expecting a faithful adaptation of Carroll's novels will not find it here, with considerable changes to the plot (that bizarre tea party is in place but without the White Rabbit’s exclamations of running late).

Intertwined with all the visuals is an eclectic cast, most of who perform well considering the effects are the real star here. Wasikowska is an enchanting Alice, providing a good anchor to the film, though Bonham Carter all but steals the movie, chewing on scenery every moment she’s on screen as the Red Queen with a grossly oversized head. As for Depp? He’s a typically odd fixture in a lesser performance that’s a little lost under all the heavy makeup, orange wig and green contacts. Hathaway is also a bit of a disappointment in a smaller part than you’d expect, with a very modest performance that is upstaged by everything around her.

"Alice in Wonderland" loses its footing midway through underneath some squabbling and babble about good and evil, and Burton unleashes lots of CGI merriment in the energetic but overdone climax designed to be the film's centerpiece (and really where the unnecessary 3-D is felt the most). Burton's idea was to expand Alice's adventures to make them more emotionally fulfilling, but that's the clear problem with the film, you get loads of stimulating visuals but won't get much out of the journey itself. Enjoyable enough, but Burton and Depp have done better.

Brooklyn's Finest - C+

Rated R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language, 140 minutes

Absorbing but familiar cop drama "Brooklyn's Finest"

If you see a policeman, no matter how young or old, there's a story behind the badge, which rings true in the new drama "Brooklyn’s Finest," yet another tale of New York City cops. Antoine Fuqua, director of "Training Day," has assembled a well-acted, intense, graphically violent tale that certainly entertains but falters when it attempts to infuse an otherwise gripping story with one too many jolts.

Burned-out veteran Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere) is just one week away from retirement and a fishing cabin in Connecticut. Narcotics officer Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke) has discovered there is no line he will not cross to provide a better life for his long-suffering wife and seven children. Clarence Tango Butler (Don Cheadle) has been undercover so long his loyalties have started to shift from his fellow police officers to his prison buddy Caz (Wesley Snipes), one of Brooklyn's most infamous drug dealers. With personal and work pressures bearing down on them, each man's story is unconnected but finds themselves at the same crime scene and a crossroad that will forever change them.

"Brooklyn's Finest" is standard, dark cop fare about seemingly unrelated characters related in their desire to better their lives; it starts out well but falters later on in an excessively bloody climactic shoot-out. Of the three stories, Gere's story is more involving though Cheadle gives the strongest performance in an affecting turn as the undercover cop who desperately wants out but is still torn by the relationships he's made in his undercover way of life. It’s nice seeing Snipes back on the big screen again, his first major big-screen effort in 6 years, since his last "Blade" film. He and Cheadle share some nice, unforced moments, though both, especially Snipes, seem far too intelligent to possess real street cred.

As well-acted as "Brooklyn’s Finest" is, the unrevealing, messy script from newcomer Michael C. Martin could use some help – the overlong finale in particular is too bloody and too contrived - making it hard to believe these men who share no connection would end up in the same place. And Hawke's story, though well-acted, doesn't really fit here, not to mention the familiar script treads the same ground as many, many other New York-based cop dramas over the years, from TV's "NYPD Blue" with shades of Sidney Lumet's "Prince of the City" and Fuqua's own "Training Day" (which also featured Hawke) and the film which it most resembles, "The Departed" (Cheadle is essentially playing a version of the Leonardo Di Caprio character here).

Still, Fuqua has the ability to entertain, which he does so with force in "Brooklyn’s Finest," and in between all the blood, bullets, drugs and profane language, watch for stellar supporting performances: Ellen Barkin in a sizzling, very brief turn as a hard-nosed policewoman commander you love to hate. Also, if you blink at the beginning, you'll miss noted character actor Vincent D'Onofrio, who has a quick, unfortunate demise. TV character actor and familiar face Brian O’Byrne (from such shows as "Brotherhood" and "Flash Forward") gives a genuinely sympathetic turn as one of Hawke’s friends.

"Brooklyn's Finest" has no surprises but still pulls a lot of punches and in spite of calculated moves down the stretch, will likely bring out those who enjoy an absorbing, albeit very familiar, cop drama.