From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

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

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Furry Vengeance - D

Rated PG for some rude humor, mild language and brief smoking, 90 minutes

"Furry Vengeance" is like a skunk, it stinks

While I believe in the humane treatment of animals, I've never been mistaken for a PETA activist either. The dreadful new animals vs. humans comedy "Furry Vengeance" will give you a reason to hunt down not only the annoying animals in this movie, but you may want to hunt down the producers of the movie too. This woeful, mean-spirited family film is like an environmentally-conscious remake of "Home Alone," minus John Hughes, Macaulay Culkin and any laughs.

Brendan Fraser is Dan Sanders. Dan works for a big supposedly "green" corporation who wants to turn the forest into a sprawling development of new homes. Dan has relocated his smart teacher-wife Tammy (Brooke Shields) and his cynical teenage son Tyler (Matt Prokop) with him as he oversees the project. His scheming boss (Ken Jeong) and his nosy assistant (Angela Kinsey) have other bigger plans to mow down the forest and all the cute animals living there. The animals are smarter than you think, and have their own plans for Dan and his family and turn into a battle of epic proportions.

"Furry Vengeance" is a broad hokey comedic mess and an environmentally-conscious disaster of a movie, wasting a talented cast with its one-joke premise. Fraser is, as always, a dork but a game leading man, but his schtick and camera mugging can't even save this. The set-up is simple and obvious and you'll see it coming from a mile away. Skunks spray him more than once, a nasty racoon steals his clothes and a bird does its business on him.

As lovable as the animals seem, it's all rather nasty and mean-spirited in the vein of "Home Alone" with the animals in the Culkin role and Fraser in the Joe Pesci role. And then it tries to tie it all together with some clap trap about the animals protecting their own, which sends mixed signals to young ones; it's OK to seek revenge and do terrible things to people if you have a reason to.

Most of the cast is wasted in "Furry Vengeance," in particular two talented actresses in Shields, who's given very little to do and "The Office's" Kinsey, in a dumb sidekick role. The one brightspot in the cast is Jeong, who gets the most laughs, much as he did in "The Hangover" and "Role Models," even if his role is one big stereotype and he's terribly underused.

Script and direction? Minimal at best and given that the director is Roger Kimble, who helmed the equally awful "College Road Trip" a couple of years ago, that isn't a big surprise. The kiddoes may enjoy this for a bit, but even they may be hard-pressed to remember anything about it, except for the skunks. On that note, "Furry Vengeance" also stinks pretty bad, but it has nothing to do with the skunks. The worst comedy released in the last few months.

A Nightmare on Elm Street - C

Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language, 95 minutes

"Nightmare" overly familiar, a mess of cliches

The new horror remake "A Nightmare of Elm Street" will no doubt instill memories with those who enjoyed the iconic original 1984 film, not to mention its six sequels. The unnecessary, mildly entertaining new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is not near as memorable or fun as the original film, lacking considerable flavor (not to mention superstar Johnny Depp before he came who he was). Though there are a few good jumpy moments, this time out Freddy Krueger doesn't pull any big surprises.

Set in present day, this "Nightmare" follows Freddy Krueger (a raspy Jackie Earle Haley) as he stalks the dreams of Nancy (Rooney Mara) and her pals and they soon discover that all of them share a common link to Freddy from their childhood. They were all sexually abused by Freddy and then hunted down and murdered by their vengeful parents. However, Freddy comes back as a supernatural force in their dreams, hunting down and killing the ones who told their parents, leaving Nancy for last.

Michael Bay remakes "A Nightmare on Elm Street" to expose younger audiences to Freddy Krueger, much like he successfully did with "Friday the 13th" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." He's a little more successful here mainly due to the novel storyline and fun character in Freddy. The only thing is, this "Nightmare" isn't as amusing, interesting or memorable as the first film. The re-imagined "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is entertainingly predictable, empty and lacking a fresh vibe.

That's not to say you won't jump, you will many times and those long metal fingers look pretty nasty but maybe it has to do with Freddy himself. Robert Englund, who played the original Freddy, camped it up more and had a nice sarcastic tone, and while the new Freddy, played by Haley, is OK, he takes things too seriously, speaking in a deep, gravely voice and making pithy, stilted comments to the victims. The dream sequences are bloody, remarkably brief and predictably awkward (you always have a sense of what - and who - is coming).

The new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is modestly enjoyable enough to be a hit and likely restart this franchise all over again. As Freddy himself would say, what goes around comes around. But you've been down this street before, is it really necessary to go down it again?

The Joneses - C+

Rated R for language, some sexual content, teen drinking and drug use, 96 minutes

"The Joneses": original premise, unsatisfying execution

"The Joneses" is one of the most original films I've seen this year and could easily be the basis of a TV series on Showtime or HBO. It has a lovely cast, some cool products (and one amazing Audi sportscar) and a flat, predictable story that will leave you unsatisfied in the end. Mildly enjoyable but largely vacuous, you may not want to keep up with these Joneses.

Kate (Demi Moore) and Steve (David Duchovny) head a picture-perfect family that also includes Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth). They move into a luxurious new home in the suburbs, across the street from Summer (Glenne Headly) and Larry (Gary Cole), a nice but insecure couple. Kate and Steve have all the latest toys, gadgets and products that have them the envy of the neighborhood and their schools. Except that is the job that Kate and Steve have with their fake "family" unit. They really work for a marketing company designed to introduce luxury products to neighborhoods across the U.S., using undercover marketing techniques. Things go awry when the truth behind their presence is slowly unraveled.

"The Joneses" is a novel, even engaging premise that works best in its initial chapters. The job these Joneses have is a cross between multi-level marketing at its worst with some witness protection program thrown in for good measure. It works well initially because these unsympathetically drawn characters know who know their job: salesperson. I liked especially that it is Moore who is the "boss" and Duchovny who reports to her, not to mention that they don't even know each other's last names.

But "The Joneses" loses steam midway through when the characters start caring more about each other than their real purpose, and things turn much too predictable (Duchovny's character in particular is too much of a softy). A couple of badly integrated subplots involving the two children don't work, either, in particular the one with Heard. Moore and Duchovny both give serviceable performances, and watch for Lauren Hutton in a small role as their overly ambitious boss. Hutton has never been a strong actress, but she's fun to watch, and also proves she's one of cinema's prettiest ugly women (a title she shares with Jamie Lee Curtis).

In the end, keeping up with these Joneses proves too unsatisfying, and it left me with little in spite of a different premise that's likely better suited for the small screen. Filled with loads of nifty gadgets, products and lovely people, "The Joneses" is all style and little depth.

La Mission - B

Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content, 117 minutes

Affecting Latino drama in "La Mission"

"La Mission" is a bueno drama with a Latin flavor set against the backdrop of the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Leisurely, talky but well-acted, it's addresses some tough but modern issues in the Latino community, but ones that we can all relate to. The independently-produced drama is a solid effort that stars "Law & Order's" Benjamin Bratt and some sweet low rider cars.

Bratt is Che Rivera (not to be confused with the Argentine activist leader Che Guevara), a San Francisco bus driver with a past and trying to move forward. A recovering alcoholic and reformed inmate, he's also a widower and single parent to Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), a bright teenager who's close to his dad. Known in his barrio for his strength and masculinity, he's also well-liked and enjoys playing hoops and his favorite hobby, rebuilding low rider cars. But his character stands a huge test when he finds out that Jes is gay and he must embrace another side of his masculinity that will complete him as a man.

"La Mission" is an involving dramatic look at the complexities of modern Latino life. The low-budget film has been playing to decent reviews on the festival circuit and is a Bratt family affair. Bratt stars and co-produces, his older brother Peter directs and writes the film and Benjamin's wife Talisa Soto also has a small role in the film.

Bratt, as the hardened and hard-working man faced with new issues, ably carries the film in a different role for him, in a character who's required to change to move forward with his life. Valdez also has a couple of touching moments as the young man coming to terms with his sexuality. The lovely TV actress Erika Alexander also exudes warmth as an independent-minded woman who moves into the same building as Che and attracts his attention.

"La Mission" is a watchable, admirable film whose main focus is that of acceptance and growth of those in a different lifestyle. It sags a little in the mid-section and Peter Bratt's direction is a little heavy-handed at times, but in the end it fulfills it's purpose on a satisfying note. And there's some beautiful low-rider cars prominently featured in the film, and those familiar with the San Francisco area will note the Bay Area locals.

"La Mission" is an enjoyable film with some honorable messages mixed in with a little Latino flavor for good measure, and it's worth a look.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Secret of Kells - B-

Unrated, 75 minutes
Animated and suitable for all ages

Intriguing, unique animated feature "Secret of Kells"

"The Secret of Kells" is an Irish-French-Belgian animated feature that was recently nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar (and surprisingly so, over many other well-known films) and the intriguing story, set in the 9th century, is intriguing in that its hand drawn, a rarity in animation these days. Colorful, leisurely and talky, its unique story will appeal more to animation enthusiasts than to children, who may be a bit bored a few minutes in.

Irish animator Tomm Moore, who created his own animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, directs and writes his first feature film, about a young medieval boy in the 9th century named Brendan (Evan McGuire), who is being apprenticed by his uncle Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson, the only name actor and recognizable voice here) in the art of illuminating and writing a book that will help protect their town, Abbey of Kells, from some nasty Viking invaders. But a new life of adventure beckons when a celebrated master illuminator named Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives from foreign lands carrying an ancient but unfinished book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide.

'The Secret of Kells" is a unique, intelligent and enchanting animated adventure that may not carry mass appeal but is worthy to be seen, particularly for those with an interest in animation. Moore's hand drawn characters are colorful in a washed-out way, unlike the bold hues of the CG Pixar features. The film lacks energy to keep the young ones truly interested, and there are a couple of intense scenes involving battles with the Vikings that may scare some of the younger ones.

"The Secret of Kells," as inimitable as it often is, was a surprise nominee among the Best Animated films at the Oscars recently, as it was selected over many other mainstream and far more widely-seen nominees such as "Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs." Still, it's an alluring, enjoyable journey (and at 75 minutes, a short one), suitable for the whole family and worth a view.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Perfect Game - B

Rated PG for some thematic elements

Predictable but uplifting, "The Perfect Game" is family fun

You've probably seen "The Perfect Game" in countless other sports and/or family films. Underdog comes from behind to win big. That's the exact them of the calculated but inspiring new family film "The Perfect Game," which tells of a Mexican little league team that literally came from nowhere to win the Little League World Series. Starring a group of unknowns and a handful of character actors, there's some solid, decent messages that make the film a winner: that hard work and perseverance actually do pay off in the end.

Clifton Collins Jr. is Cesar Faz, a St. Louis Cardinal assistant coach who's laid off and has to return to his native Monterrey, Mexico for work in 1956. With the help of the local priest (Cheech Marin), he organizes a little league team, Monterrey's first, for some of the local boys who need an outlet for their time and energies. Before long, the boys become good and start winning games and find themselves all the way at the 1957 Little League World Series against a much larger American team. With everything going against them, they seemingly don't stand a chance, but with their families, their town and their country behind, they seem destined for bigger things.

"The Perfect Game" is a winning film that'll have you cheering the
Monterrey team that became known as "Los pequeños gigantes" for becoming not only the first foreign team to win the Little League World Series, they did it with force, winning a "perfect" game (the only perfect game in that series' history) with the help of their ace pitcher Angel Macias (played by "Wizards of Waverly Place" actor Jake T. Austin). You know exactly what will happen and the underdog story has been told numerous times before, but you'll be cheering for the winning team.

It's a little baffling that Lionsgate has had the film sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, claiming marketing and financial difficulties, after all this is a great and worthy family film to be seen. Character actor Collins, usually seen in edgier roles like in "Brothers" or "Extract" carries the film in a gruff performance, and watch for cameos from other well-known actors such as Bruce McGill and Lou Gossett Jr. (as real-life baseball legend Cool Papa Bell), but it's the young boys playing the Monterrey team, including Austin and "Hannah Montana's" Moises Arias, who have the film's more memorable moments.

Stay with it until the end, and you'll be uplifted, encouraged and inspired. "The Perfect Game" isn't a perfect film by any means (including a saggy mid-section and it's a tad too long) but it is a perfectly suitable family outing at the movies, which can't always be said these days.

The Back-up Plan - D

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language, 102 minutes

Lopez drops her baby movie bomb with "The Back-Up Plan"

If considering seeing the new Jennifer Lopez movie "The Back-Up Plan" you better have a good plan B in place, as in seeing another movie. Although I've never given birth before, I have no doubt that watching this movie is nearly as painful as childbirth itself. No pun intended, but "The Back-Up Plan" is a labored, badly executed and just plain sorry excuse for a romantic comedy. Those heralding Lopez's return to the big screen after 3 years will be greatly disappointed.

Successful entrepreneur Zoe (Lopez) approaching middle-age and still single and childless. With her biological time clock clicking faster and faster every day, she decides to go it alone and become artificially impregnated. On that very day, she meets Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), who becomes her soulmate. Though Stan is committed to stay and help Zoe with her children, she's still afraid he'll leave at any moment, though in the process she realizes she may be the one with commitment issues.

"The Back-Up Plan" is a dreadful, icky and woefully unfunny and boring romantic comedy that is sparse in both laughs and chemistry between the handsome leads. Lopez only proves that she's not an actress, but a likable performer who shows up in movies from time to time. Her vacuous expressions and lack of depth as an actress prove she needs a superior script and careful direction to excel, neither of which happens here. And poor handsome O'Loughlin, a decent actor who's had unfortunate luck lately, especially after his failed attempts on TV ("Moonlight" and "Three Rivers"). His character is also the most miswritten; he states he's cynical toward love but aggressively (and in a somewhat creepy way) pursues Lopez's character.

Without a few nice (but too brief) comic bits from Anthony Anderson ("Law & Order") and "Saturday Night Live" alum Michaela Watkins, this would be completely unwatchable. Also, watch for TV veterans Linda Lavin ("Alice") and "Happy Days" Tom Bosley (who either looks awful in real life or received a bad makeup job) in small roles. Zoe's venture to a single mom's support group is not only unnecessary it's terribly unfunny, and a related birthing scene involving the group (and thankfully, it's not Lopez's birthing scene) is just plain creepy.

Lopez is a genuinely likable performer, and she's been everywhere lately, from George Lopez's talk show to "Saturday Night Live" to "How I Met Your Mother," in hopes of giving the film some good publicity. But there's nothing that can help the train wreck that is "The Back-Up Plan" and unless you're really a devoted, loyal Lopez fan, stay far away from this. Lopez should get her acceptance speech ready for the "Worst Actress" Razzie Award.

The Losers - B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and language, 98 minutes

The action-adventure film "The Losers" comes up a winner

I can certainly relate to a film called "The Losers," but remarkably, the fast-paced action-adventure film is mostly a winner. Flawed, messy but highly entertaining, it's a shoot-em-up romp about a ragtag, globe-trotting special forces team that's based on a comic book of the same name. "The Losers" could well end up the sleeper hit of the spring.

"The Losers" is a tale of double cross and revenge, centered upon the members of an elite U.S. Special Forces unit sent into the Bolivian jungle on a search and destroy mission. The team-Clay ("Watchmen's" Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Jensen (Chris Evans), Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) -find themselves the target of a lethal betrayal instigated from inside by a powerful enemy known only as Max. Presumed dead, the group makes plans to even the score when they're joined by the mysterious Aisha ("Avatar's" Zoe Saldana), a beautiful operative with her own agenda. Working together, they must remain deep undercover while tracking the heavily-guarded Max (Jason Patric), a ruthless man bent on embroiling the world in a new high-tech global war.

Lively, cheeky but enjoyable, "The Losers" is far from perfect but provides some jolty entertainment for the masses. The best part about the "The Losers," which is co-written by "Friday Night Lights" creator Peter Berg, is that it rarely takes itself too seriously. Otherwise, it'd get seriously lost underneath all the preposterous plot twists and turns as it criss-crosses the globe. In addition, it's well-cast with the engaging Morgan and the lovely Saldana, though it's "Fantastic Four's" athletic Evans who ends up with some of the best one-liners while Patric is also vastly amusing as the villain.

"The Losers" is far from perfect: the climax is predictably full of blood, bullets and explosions and the characters and story are hardly developed. But this likable, energetic film does entertain and it entertains often and well, and on that note, "The Losers" is a winner.

Letters to God - C

Rated PG for thematic material, 110 minutes

Likable faith-based weepie "Letters to God" lacks power

It's hard not to like a movie like "Letters to God." It's family-friendly, based on a true story, and involves children and illness, a recipe for a few tears and heart-tugs. "Letters to God" has an engaging cast, some inspiring messages and some touching moments, but the second-rate production and uneven script hurt the film, particularly when you find out the most interesting part of the story was left out of the movie altogether.

Eight-year old Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is fighting for his life with a rare form of brain cancer. Having already tragically lost his dad, Tyler's family is struggling to help him in his fight with cancer with bravery and grace. His mother (Robyn Lively) is trying to hold down a job and keep the family together; his older brother Ben (Michael Bolten) feels left out, his grandma (Maree Cheathem) is there to lend support while his best friend Sam (Bailee Madison) and her grandpa (Ralph Waite) attempt to lift his spirits. He writes letters to God each day asking for help giving them to his new postman named Brady (Jeffrey Johnson), who has his own problems, but becomes attached to Tyler and quickly sees how the boy's faith in his letters is changing those around him.

"Letters to God" is a bland drama that lacks momentum to be a truly great movie, in spite of some decent messages and a handful of touching moments. The film is produced by the same folks who released the similarily faith-based film "Facing the Giants" and the hit "Fireproof," and this film is more polished and better acted, in large part due to the cast of professional actors; young actors Maguire and Madison (seen in the recent film "Brothers") are an engaging pair who entertainingly pepper the film with their warm chemistry. It's also nice seeing the easily recognizable Waite as the dad from TV's "The Waltons."

But the biggest problem with "Letters to God" is the uneven script that lacks resonance and impact. Loosely based on the true story of the late Tyler Doughtie and co-written by his father Pat, who also wrote the novel, it fictionalizes a good portion of Tyler's story and leaves out the most interesting part of the story, in which a woman named Julie Buchanan stole money from his cancer fund. Instead, it creates a banal subplot involving a boozy mailman that has little to do with the story or Tyler's illness.

By the time "Letters to God" gets to its unremarkable but teary ending, you should have plenty of tissues on hand, though the best part of the film is over the credits, as it tells some uplifting real-life cancer survivor stories inspired by Tyler's story (the real-life Tyler is also pictured). "Letters to God" tries too hard at times and some of the faith-based messages seem awkwardly handled, but it's certainly an improvement over other movies in the genre. "Letters to God" is a story that's worthy to be told, too bad the movie version isn't as worthy.

Oceans - B

Rated G, 86 minutes

Ambitious but magical "Oceans" an underwater, visual feast

If you enjoyed last year's entertaining "Earth," you also enjoy "Oceans," the latest Earth Day docu-offering from Disneynature. This time, the deep-pockets at Disney tackle the deep ocean depths with some high-quality, amazing underwater footage, capturing an array of deep sea creatures on full display in magical force. Overly ambitious and overly optimistic, the bright, crystal-clear visuals are the obvious highlight of "Oceans" and make it enjoyable for the whole family even if the leisurely-paced film barely skims the surface of the ocean floor.

Disney wants you to enjoy their view of the ocean floor, and it's evident they have the resources to do so. They hired French filmmakers Jacques Perrin (who helmed the bird documentary "Winged Migration") and Jacques Cluzaud, who spent four years traveling the globe filming at over 50 different locations. Cynicism aside, their footage is impressive, even astonishing at times and fascinating to watch.

With minimal but unnecessary narration from the ubiquitious Pierce Brosnan, the film works best when it loosely and naturally observes life underwater: big fish eating small fish; fish helping each other out; sea lions in their natural habitat; small, freshly-hatched sea turtles attempting to make their way to the water before being grabbed by birds overhead.

"Oceans" is enjoyable enough, even if its overly optimistic, somewhat myopic views of nature seem a little dated. It vastly overlooks the dangers of pollution, the role of man and other societal dangers that humans have imposed on the ocean and their impact on these creatures. It's admirable that Disney takes the high road in avoiding a bombastic tone (thankfully, no Al Gore appearances here) but a few more gentle reminders to take care of what we've been given would've been nice.

Even more intriguing are the creatures overlooked in the film. "Oceans" provides a good variety of unique acquatic creatures to enjoy, from penguins to dolphins to sharks to turtles to crabs and more fish than you can fry up in an evening, all of which make for an entertaining time (best scene: a flurry of birds diving into the water for small fish). But what about the munchy, slimy creatures: barracudas, squid and piranha? With all the money Disney spent on it ($100 million on a documentary is enormous) and the expansive subject, you'd think "Oceans" would shed a little light on the sea's more dangerous creatures.

Still, even with Disney's overly sanguine views on nature (and the producers inability to coherently tie it all together), I must say the visuals alone make for a worthy film to behold. "Oceans" has a buoyancy and a hopeful tone that'll float better than Wilson or Tom Hanks: Disney wants to you to enjoy nature a little more, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why Did I Get Married Too - D

Rated PG-13 for thematic material including sexuality, language, drug references and some domestic violence, 121 minutes

Sloppy, stale "Why Did I Get Married Too"

You'll wanna stay single after seeing "Why Did I Get Married Too," Tyler Perry's latest insipid, talky offering, a sequel to his 2007 hit "Why Did I Get Married." Four couples get together once again, this time in a tropical setting, to vacation and try to work on their relationships. A few entertaining moments highlight an otherwise messy, flat and sloppy film.

Gathered together in the Bahamas for their annual one-week reunion, four close couples eagerly reconnect, sharing news about their lives and relationships. But their intimate week in paradise is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Sheila's (Jill Scott) ex-husband, Mike (Richard T. Jones), who hopes to break up her new marriage with Troy (Lamman Rucker) and win her back. The others soon realize they too are not immune to the challenges of commitment and fidelity.

Angela (Tasha Smith) doesn't believe her husband, Marcus (Michael Jai White), can be faithful now that he's a celebrity television newscaster. Dianne (Sharon Leal) and Terry's (Tyler Perry) relationship is feeling the strain of raising children. And Patricia (Janet Jackson), a successful self-help psychologist, must finally reveal the deep flaws in her seemingly perfect marriage to Gavin (Malik Yoba). With their relationships hanging in the balance when they return home, each couple must choose between blame and forgiveness, doubt and faith, with life-altering consequences.

"Why Did I Get Married Too" is lazy filmmaking at best, hardly revelatory and annoyingly contrived. This will still be successful, another hit for wildly successful entertainer Perry, who certainly knows his audience and can make movies on a budget. That doesn't mean his movies are great, but he delivers product he knows his audience will get. "Why Did I Get Married Too" is full of useless blathering, stilted dialogue and uninteresting drama (Example: "You are part of my past and there's no future in it."). It works best in its initial chapters when in the Bahamas then goes predictably worse as the couples return home.

Perry's direction and script are phoned in, and his pretty actors do the same. Singers Jackson and Scott are pretty (but Scott still cannot act) and White and Rucker are handsome as well, but it's loud-mouth, blowsy Tasha Smith who walks off with the movie (especially fun: when she gets someone's ashes blown in her face) and most of the alcohol. Watch for veterans Cicely Tyson (in a terrible wig) and Louis Gossett Jr. who show up briefly attempting to add a little credibility to the film.

Without Smith, the film wouldn't be any fun, but overall "Why Did I Get Married Too?" is still a lousy, overly sentimental and sloppy movie. As you leave the theater, you may be asking "Why did I see this movie?

Death at a Funeral - C

Rated R for language, drug content and some sexual humor, 90 minutes

"Death at a Funeral" could be filled with more originality, life

"Death at a Funeral" is nothing new. A remake of the 2007 Frank Oz British film, it has an energetic cast, a handful of fun moments and a decent director in Neil LaBute, but it feels too well-worn. Basically a retread of the earlier film with a black cast, if you've seen the earlier film you know exactly what'll happen down the stretch. Ironically, it's a dark comedy about an African-American family, no pun intended. The large cast includes Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Zoe Saldana, James Marsden, Luke Wilson, Loretta Devine, Regina Hall, Columbus Short, Ron Glass, Kevin Hart, Keith David and the only holdover from the original film, Peter Dinklage, reprising his role as a "close friend" of the deceased, in the film's most memorable moments. Rock, Morgan and Lawrence are all cruising, Marsden is miscast but Hall is always fun to watch. Worth it if you enjoy seeing a who's who of talented African-American actors having fun in an overly familiar, too predictable comedy.

Kick-Ass - B

Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use - some involving children, 117 minutes

"Kick-Ass" packs a wallop of fun

"Kick-Ass" is the new superhero-movie-based-on-a-comic-book that rocks the house. Based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., it stars an engaging group of young folks with a Nicolas Cage thrown in. While a little overlong, it's tremendous fun and could likely end up a big hit. Directed by Matthew Vaughn of "Stardust" and "Layer Cake" fame, it boasts some nice but choppy visuals and an entertaining but predictable ending. Aaron Johnson is a nifty green-suited and masked Kick-Ass, who develops his powers over time and lots of elbow grease, Christopher Mintz-Plaase ("Superbad") is his cheeky, nerdy nemeis Red Mist, though it's little Chloe Moretz ("500 Days of Summer") who steals the show as tougher-than-nails Hit Girl, trained with power by her father Big Daddy (Cage). Other than the length, the biggest drawback may be the fact its Rated R for excessive violence and blood, something young kids may not get a kick out of. "Kick-Ass," interestingly enough, is a superhero movie about teens geared for adults. Go figure.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tucker and Dale vs Evil - A

NOTE: "Tucker and Dale vs Evil" recently screened at the Dallas International Film Festival

Who would've thought a low-budget comedic horror spoof directed and written by Sally Field's son and starring a group of unknown's could be so freakin' funny. That could very well describe "Tucker and Dale vs Evil," a film that rises above other film in the horror-spoof-genre, a tough one to begin with, with a refreshing, often cheeky style and wit. With the dreck in theaters these days, it's hard to believe that this energetic, vastly engaging film has yet to find a wide, mainstream release.

Two West Virginia hillbillies, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are on their way to Tucker's newly-purchased "vacation home," a run-down house full of mystery that's definitely a fixer-upper. Meanwhile, they encounter a group of college kids, including Allison (Katrina Bowden) and Chad (Jesse Moss), and a gross misunderstanding leads the kids to believe that they've captured and will murder Allison. When the kids rally to find her, it becomes an unwitting yet very macabre showdown between preps and overalls that uncovers some startling secrets and issues that we all have.

"Tucker and Dale vs Evil" is a wickedly funny spoof on horror films that's really more of a comedic, albeit very bloody, look at class warfare and judgmental attitudes. Director and writer Eli Craig (yes, Sally Field's son), in an auspicious feature film debut, goes far more than laughs than scares (there really isn't a scary moment in the film). His cheeky layout of horror film cliches rides everything from "The Hills Have Eyes" to "Friday the 13th" to "Deliverance," though the chemistry between the leads and the blood-letting provide the most fun.

Texas-born character actor Alan Tudyk and Canadian comedian Tyler Labine have some great moments together as Tucker and Dale, and their natural chemistry together highlights the film, making the bloody moments even more hilarious, including grotesque moments involving impaling and a wood-chipper (has to be seen to be believed). Also turning in a solid performance is Tom Cruise-lookalike young actor Jesse Moss, in the film's trickiest role as an imbalanced college kid; his intensity shows he can tackle a tough role with aplomb, even covered in ugly makeup the last 20 minutes of the film.

Without giving too much of "Tucker and Dale" away, the ones with the clear issues are the rich college kids, while the lovable hillbillies are the clear protagonists, overcoming class issues and attitudes we all have. Craig's movie, taken on that note, is a bit of a stretch and falters a little in achieving those ambitions. But as a comedic horror spoof it works perfectly and deserves a wider audience and a wider release, something that was only underscored by the warm reception it received when screened at the recent Dallas International Film Festival.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Date Night - C+

Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference, 88 minutes

Carrell & Fey a strong team in the thin, silly comedy "Date Night"

At least it has Steve Carrell & Tina Fey. They're the most redeeming qualities about the weak effort that comes up a mediocre "Date Night." While their antics and interplay are certainly amusing, it (and they) could've been far, far funnier that what ends up on screen. With better direction, timing and a better story, it might even been great, but "Date Night" is really just a second-rate movie built around two first-rate comedians.

Phil and Claire Foster (Carrell and Fey) are a sensible, loving couple with two kids and a house in suburban New Jersey. They attempt something close to a date night each week, going to the same place and ordering the same food. They decide to do something different and go to the city for a romantic evening to spice up their marriage.

However, a mistaken identity gets them involved in an adventure and high-level crime involving two corrupt cops (Jimmi Simpson and Common), a DA (William Fichtner) at the center of it all, a mob boss (Ray Liotta), a security guy who never wears a shirt (Mark Walhberg) and the hapless detective (Taraji P. Henson) trying to track them all down.

"Date Night" is an entertaining but flimsy comedy that could've been far better considering the first-rate talent involved. Without Fey and Carrell's enjoyable talents, this would've been far worse. The scattershot, unfocused direction from "Night at the Museum's" Shawn Levy could've added a little depth to the thin premise to begin with. Fey and Carrell provide the film more memorable scenes, especially in throwing out one-liners that both comedians are more skilled at, though one overlong scene with a sports-car and a taxi is fun.

The movie also packs way, way too many familiar faces in cameos or bit roles: Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, Will I. Am, James Franco and Mila Kunis, though the last two are funny as the real couple their mistaken for. Wahlberg has a couple of good scenes without his shirt, even he's not really given much to do in a very brief role. The script chases too many rabbits and ends up way too predictable.

Fey and Carrell are essentially playing uptight versions of themselves from their hit TV shows "The Office" and "30 Rock," and it really doesn't provide anything new, revealing or really even much of a stretch. But they seem to work together with ease, play off each other well and seem to have fun in "Date Night," and a fun date is sometimes better than a bad date. You may not remember much, but at least you had a good time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Clash of the Titans - B

Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality, 118 minutes

Entertaining remake "Clash of the Titans" a giant load of CG

"Clash of the Titans" is a huge big-screen remake of the cheesy 1980's film of the same name starring Harry Hamlin in a battle of the gods and other scary creatures. This enjoyable, fast-paced but needless treatment serves up considerable amounts of action and CG special-effects but takes itself far, far too seriously. With swords and creatures flying at you, it's probably best seen in 3-D, which will at least take your mind off the vacuous story.

Born of a god but raised as a man, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is helpless to save his family from Hades (Ralph Fiennes), vengeful god of the underworld. With nothing left to lose, Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus (Liam Neeson) and unleash hell on earth. Leading a daring band of warriors, Perseus sets off on a perilous journey deep into forbidden worlds. Battling unholy demons and fearsome beasts, he will only survive if he can accept his power as a god, defy his fate and create his own destiny.

"Clash of the Titans" is an entertaining tale of a battle between the gods, played out with epic proportions played out against a bundle of CG special effects. It shows how much movies have changed in the last 30 years since the original film. The original wasn't a great movie to begin with, and if that one was a big cheeseball (but still fun to watch, in the right mood), this is the chips and salsa version. Lots to munch on, some fiery moments but still nothing to be taken seriously.

Director Louis Leterrier ("The Incredible Hulk") directs with an energy to keep you engaged, even if the gods have fashioned a well-worn, overly familiar story (and originally written by veteran filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan). Man of the hour, handsome Australian Sam Worthington is a worthy big-screen hero and anchors the film well, something he's already proved in "Avatar" and last year's update of the "Terminator" series, and he grunts and growls on cue, fighting those formidable creatures with valor. Veteran actor Ralph Fiennes huffs and puffs as Hades, making for a terrific bad guy as he's done in the "Harry Potter" series, while Liam Neeson is a statuesque but somewhat bland Zeus, making stilted statements as he watches the proceedings from on high.

Worthington's Perseus is out to stop the underworld from taking over, but all those darn creatures are so entertaining, providing the film's best moments and some nicely-paced action sequences that pepper the film. And pay attention, there is a clear nod to the original film, with a cameo from a recognizable mechanical creature. The CG special effects seem to take over the weak story in "Mummy"-like fashion, and they're the real star of this version of "Clash of the Titans," particularly a huge climax involving a pretty mean dragon-like creature.

I'm not sure that remaking "Clash of the Titans" was a great idea, given Hollywood's penchant for throwing out lots of special effects amidst a rather anemic script and wooden dialogue. But then audiences these days don't go to something like this for the story, they go for the action, and on that note "Clash" is successful, which should make it a big hit. Let's just hope the gods provide a better story next time.

Leaves of Grass - B

Rated R for violence, pervasive language, and drug content, 105 minutes

Norton's a treat in the amusing dramedy "Leaves of Grass"

"Leaves of Grass" is a pleasantly enjoyable dramedy often played out with broad, cliched strokes but highlighted by two memorable performances from Edward Norton. Norton believably plays two very different twin brothers in the film directed by character actor Tim Blake Nelson ("O Brother Were Art Thou" among many of his films). Without Norton's excellent turn, the independent film wouldn't amount to much, but it's certainly worth a look.

When Ivy League classics professor Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) receives news of the murder of his estranged identical twin brother, Brady (also Norton), in a drug deal gone bad, he briefly leaves his job to travel back to his small hometown in Oklahoma. Upon arrival, he finds his brother's death has been exaggerated, and he's quickly caught up in the dangerous, unpredictable world of Oklahoma drug commerce. In the process, he attempts to reconnect with his eccentric, hippy-chick mother (Susan Sarandon), meets an old friend named Janet (Keri Russell), now an educated young woman enjoying a simpler life, and unwittingly helps his troubled, hick brother and his partner (Tim Blake Nelson) settle a score with a malevolent drug lord (Richard Dreyfuss).

The entertaining, low-budget "Leaves of Grass" is made watchable by Norton's tour-de-force performance as the twin brothers. It's overly ambitious and stereotypical; an uneven second act throws it off some, but there enough good moments to keep you engaged. Nelson is a serviceable director though his script is too conventional, particularly in the broad way it draws the Southern characters (enough with the fake accents, please).

But Nelson does handle the trick shots with the twins with relative ease, with little evidence that he shot the scenes separately and added one later. However, location shots make it evident that it wasn't shot in Tulsa but Shreveport instead (one clue: Tulsa doesn't have any marshy wetlands). Sarandon and Dreyfuss are seen too briefly in somewhat nonessential roles, but it's nice seeing the Oscar-winners play different parts.

"Leaves of Grass" works best as a fish-out-of-water comedy with the brothers trying to reconnect, and it falters when it focuses on the crime subplot in the second act, with a few unnecessarily violent scenes that simply don't belong in the film. Uneven moments aside, this is Norton's film, and it provides the talented actor with a meaty, showy role that often wins awards.

"Leaves of Grass" (not a great title by the way) is an enjoyable movie worth seeing for Norton's solid turn and the twangy bluesy-country flavored soundtrack.