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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kill the Irishman - B

Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity, 106 minutes

“Kill the Irishman” an entertaining, gritty look at real-life mafia

“Kill the Irishman” is the entertaining new crime-drama based on real events and real people, and on a “Pulp Fiction”-type level it succeeds grandly. Violently but thoroughly enjoyable, it’s unrevealing and relies heavily on stereotypical mafia types, but it’s superbly acted by some A-list character actors.

“Kill the Irishman” is based on the exploits of a real-life crime boss and FBI informant named Danny Greene (played by Ray Stevenson of “The Punisher” fame here), an Irish-American based out of Cleveland in the 1970’s. The tough-minded but kind-hearted Danny first becomes involved with the Cleveland underworld when he becomes a union boss, including John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), who later becomes a close ally of Danny. When Greene attempts to take a loan with assistance of a local loan shark (Christopher Walken), he angers the wrong people, including a group of Italian mobsters with ties to New York City and it sparks a bloody mob war within the city that garners national attention.

“Kill the Irishman” is a stout, enjoyable true-life crime drama, though it’s unfortunate it couldn’t have been made earlier, before the likes of Tarantino and “The Sopranos” popularized them. It’s based on the 1998 best-selling nonfiction book “To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia” by Rick Porrello, which is an account of Greene’s life in Cleveland. Writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh (also of “The Punisher”) changes some details of Greene’s life, though it certainly portrays Greene as a colorful, smart character who angered many of the wrong people.

Irish actor Stevenson’s engaging performance as Greene anchors the film, though the highlight is all those creative explosions which pepper the film. It becomes a little redundant after awhile, and some of it is very stereotypical, but you get a sense that these folks actually lived their lives this way. Watch for a host of other A-list character actors who also do a superb job, including D’Onofrio and the always-watchable Walken in a role that’s far smaller than the trailers make it seem.

“Kill the Irishman” is still an entertaining, colorful look at Cleveland mafia in the 1970’s, and the gritty vibe it gives off is worth a look.

Wes’s Grade: B

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules - B-

Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mischief, 96 minutes

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” a fun family film

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” follows more adventures of Greg Heffley that’s based on the best-selling children’s books of the same name by Jeff Kinney and is a sequel to last year’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” “Rodrick Rules” is suitable, clean fun and a modest family film, though it’s a little redundant and some younger kids may be easily bored with it.

Our wimpy hero Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), now 12 and enters seventh grade , he and his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), must deal with their parents' misguided attempts to have them bond, for which their mother, Susan (Rachael Harris), will give them “Mom Bucks.” All while Greg tries every attempt to impress his crush, the new girl in town, Holly Hills (Peyton List). Also, he must keep a party Rodrick threw a secret from his parents to avoid getting in both of them in trouble, especially Rodrick, who is looking forward to playing in the big city-wide talent show with his rock band, Loded Diper.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” is more of the same amusement and will likely appeal to the fans of Kinney’s book series and the first film, though it all has a TV-series feel to it. It’s enjoyable and sprightly but predictable, and some of it is loose filler, with some gags staged for easy laughs (one bit early on involving a candy bar is one of the better ones). Gordon and Bostick are engaging leads and help the thinly plotted film along. Red-haired chubby Capron nearly steals the show as Greg’s best friend Rowley, who is to Greg as Larry Mundello was to Beaver Cleaver in the 1950’s TV show “Leave It to Beaver.”

As a matter of fact, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” would play better on the small screen, to the “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and “iCarly” set, where this type of thing would be seen by more audiences in this demographic and it would end cleanly and more efficiently within 30 minutes. Younger kids might get easily bored with the 96 minute running-time, which is fairly short for a feature film but overlong for what it is.

But you can’t fault “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” in its good messages (be close to your siblings!) and the fact it actually provides decent family entertainment, which seems to be in short measure these days.

Wes's Grade: B-

Sucker Punch - D

Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language, 109 minutes

Listless but visually stunning "Sucker Punch" a hot mess

The awful new fantasy thriller "Sucker Punch" is not a film to be taken seriously on just about any level. The stunning visuals from the director of the action hit "300" easily become the film's highlight along with a handful of well-staged action set pieces, but that can't overcome its ridiculous, lazy plot and the laughable acting of the young pretty actresses who star in the film. Essentially, the film is a mess from start to finish, but there are enough energetic visuals to keep you awake.

"Sucker Punch" is set in the 1950s and concerns Babydoll (Emily Browning), a lovely young blonde who is sent to a mental institution in Vermont by her wicked stepfather following the death of her mother and sister. Retreating to an alternative reality as a coping strategy, she envisions a plan which will help her escape from the facility.

Determined in her fight for her freedom, she urges four other young girls-the outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung), and the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish)—to band together and try to escape from their captors, Blue (Oscar Isaac), Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) and the High Roller (Jon Hamm). Together and with the help of The Wise Man (Scott Glenn), their journey—if they succeed—will set them free.

"Sucker Punch" is an entertaining, hot piece of trash from director and writer Zack Snyder, the guy behind the hit films "300" and "Watchmen." Snyder's unique style and brand of incorporating heavy CG visuals, close-ups and slow-mo action will certainly appeal to the comic con set and likely make the film a hit, but "Sucker Punch" is overall his weakest film, with a slack, confusing story and second-rate acting that hurts the film. Browning, a young British actress and model, seems content with the Milla Jovovich style of acting - poses and pretty looks - that make for a truly bland lead.

Vanessa Hudgins, Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish, all decent, likable actresses in their own right, can't do much with the material they're given, not to mention it wastes fine actors like Carla Gugino and Scott Glenn amidst all the CG-busyness and explosions. There are a few decent action set-pieces, but it all seems a little redundant and confusing as the girls go back and forth between reality and the alternate universe and why exactly they must do all of this nonsense just to escape a mental facility.

In an effort to appeal to the masses, this type of thing usually does well the first week or two and then peters out after bad word of mouth, though Snyder's own "300" and last year's "Alice in Wonderland" certainly proved that point wrong. "Sucker Punch" may do well with some audiences, and it certainly has enough energetic visuals to keep it moving, but it's all still a piece of mindless nonsense. Not worth the time or the money unless you feel like being sucker punched for real.

Wes's Grade: D

Win Win - B+

Rated R for language, 106 minutes

The engaging, quirky “Win Win” emerges victorious

“Win Win” is the new quirky, crowd-pleasing independent comedy starring Paul Giamatti (“Barney’s Version”) and directed by “The Visitor’s” Thomas McCarthy. The film is touching, engaging and fun, even if the story seems very familiar, in an offbeat “Juno” sort of way. Like that 2007 acclaimed film, this film features a remarkable breakthrough performance from a young actor.

Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a troubled star athlete named Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer) through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy's mother (Melanie Lynskey) shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything.

Superbly acted and slightly unconventional, “Win Win” treads familiar territory – sports, family problems, and teen angst – though it’d be unfair to really call it a sports movie or a wrestling movie; this isn’t the touchy-feely “The Blind Side” but a restrained look at the relationships that make it all happen. McCarthy, who directed Richard Jenkins to an Oscar nomination for 2008’s “The Visitor” and is who is a character actor himself (on TV’s “The Wire” and in movies like “2012”), maintains a sense of subtly and lightheartedness to the leisurely tone of the film.

In the process, “Win Win” obtains some winning performances from the entire cast, including Giamatti, who seems to be getting better with each role, along with a stellar lineup of supporting players, including “The Office’s” Amy Ryan, who has some of the film’s best lines, along with McCarthy player Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young (yes that Burt Young – Paulie from the “Rocky” films) and “Two and a Half Men’s” Lynskey. Aside from Giamatti, though, it’s newcomer Shaffer, in his debut film, who nearly steals the film.

In a role that reminds of a more grounded Spicoli from “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” with bleached hair and a spate of tattoo’s, the lean Shaffer is a relaxed cool dude and even a cooler wrestler who teaches the coach more than the other way around. He and the pudgy Giamatti have decent chemistry and some of the film’s best moments (“slap me across the head” he tells Giamatti’s coach before his first match).

“Win Win” works best when it focuses on the relationship between Kyle and Coach Mike, and less successful when it veers off into Kyle’s family drama. Still, it’s an affecting, low-key and well-acted film that one of the best of this early film year so far, and comes as a must-see.

Wes's Grade: B+

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Of Gods and Men - B+

Rated PG-13 for a momentary scene of startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language, 110 minutes, in French with English subtitles

"Of Gods and Men": Powerful, affecting true story

There are some incidents that may have you question your faith and why things happen the way they do. The highly acclaimed French drama "Of Gods and Men" details such an event, the true story of a group of Monks who were murdered in 1996 in events that remain clouded in mystery. The slow-moving but absorbing film takes its time getting to its destination but leaves you with some haunting, unforgettable images.

Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist (a strict Catholic sect) monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay. Some of them are ultimately kidnapped by Islam extremeists and beheaded in events that are still unclear.

"Of Gods and Men" is a beautifully made, emotionally rich and poignant film that honors the dedicated monks who were murdered in 1996. The story details the events leading up to the monks deaths; it's handsomely filmed by French director Xavier Beauvois and stars well-known French actors Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale.

The absorbing, acclaimed film (it won the Grand Prix prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival) is filled with some haunting, quiet moments, particularly a handful of scenes with the monks reflecting on their lives, and the film's final moments as the monks are being led to certain death are both sad and chilling.

"Of Gods and Men" is in French with English subtitles. It is a must-see for foreign-film enthusiasts and those who enjoy an affecting interpretation of a true story.

Wes's Grade: B+

Jane Eyre - B

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content, 115 minutes

Exquisitely sad but touching "Jane Eyre"

Charlotte Bronte's classic novel "Jane Eyre" gets another big-screen treatment, and if you count the silent films, this 2011 version is the 16th time it's hit the big screen, which of course doesn't include all the television and stage versions that have been done. This rendering of "Jane Eyre" is one of the stronger efforts, capturing the downcast spirit of Bronte's novel; it's superbly-acted, elegantly filmed and if you're familiar with the story, will leave you feeling quite sad.

After a bleak childhood, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) goes out into the world to become a governess. As she lives happily in her new position at Thornfield Hall, she meet the dark, cold, and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Jane and her employer grow close in friendship and she soon finds herself falling in love with him. Happiness seems to have found Jane at last, but could Mr. Rochester's terrible secret destroy their love?

The latest adaptation of "Jane Eyre" is a sublime, affecting effort; it's faithful to the tone of Bronte's early feminist novel. Well-acted, handsome and pensive, there are some unforgettable images throughout. Sure, this leisurely film may appeal mainly to females but this painful portrait of unrequited love is on par with anything Merchant-Ivory did back in the 1980's.

Especially memorable is the strong performance by "Alice in Wonderland's" Wasikowska, who plays the mousy, titular character with the hope of a delicate but bruised flower. It's one of the stronger portrayals of Eyre, and Wasikowska, who looks markedly different from her other onscreen portrayals, remarkably resembles Olivia De Haviland (best known as Melanie from "Gone With the Wind") from her Oscar-winning performance in the similarily-themed "The Heiress."

She and "Inglorious Basterds" Fassbender have a nice, subdued chemistry that marks the film, especially in the later chapters. Rounding out the strong cast is Oscar-winner Judi Dench, affecting as a veteran governess, and Jamie Bell ("The Eagle") in a small role as another of Jane's suitors. Director Cary Fukunaga handles the proceedings well in what is only his second big direcorial effort; the first-rate production is highlighted by some of the most detailed costumes, music and set direction seen in recent memory and only underscore the film's effectiveness.

Unlike the novel, this film version of "Jane Eyre" doesn't have as much closure, even though you still have a sense of how it turns out. On the down side, the film doesn't do anything to lift the spirits, and don't go expecting to leave a happy camper, even the romance isn't all that happy. Fukunaga could've left a few elements out, as they aren't explored as fully as Bronte does in the novel, particularly near the end of the film.

"Jane Eyre" shows us that love often comes through suffering, and Jane does suffer much to get to her happy place, if she ever gets there. But this "Jane Eyre" is still a fulfilling, richly satisfying experience, one worth seeing, even if you leave feeling sad.

Wes's Grade: B

The Lincoln Lawyer - B

Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language, 119 minutes

"The Lincoln Lawyer" is slick, guilty-pleasure entertainment

"The Lincoln Lawyer" is guilty, guilty of being a slick, entertaining and well-acted crime thriller, one of the best of recent memory. This crowd-pleaser predictably hits all the right notes but you'll find yourself enjoying it far more than you think. It becomes a bit redundant and draggy in the last act before it regains its footing for a nice, twisty ending.

Based on the 2005 best-selling novel of the same name, "The Lincoln Lawyer" concerns Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a slick, smooth-talking attorney who conducts most of his work out of his 1990's-era Lincoln Town Car; he's defended lots of questionable folks, including his current client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a rich young real-estate agent who comes from a powerful, very wealthy L.A. family. Roulet claims to have been set up, but things don't appear to be adding up for Roulet as Haller and his assistance Frank (William H. Macy) start digging around. Now Haller is stuck defending someone he doesn't like, putting his career and his family, including ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) in danger.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" is a standard, but handsome by-the-numbers crime thriller that you've seen before but is still vastly entertaining, thanks to a superb cast headlined by McConaughey, who make this thing worth watching. McConaughey, who gained fame playing a lawyer in John Grisham's "A Time to Kill," gives his most engaging, least self-aware performance in years as the lawyer who does his business in the back of a Lincoln. Even better is the stellar supporting cast, including Phillippe as a slimeball client, Tomei, Macy, along with Josh Lucas, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, Michael Pena, John Leguizamo and even country singer Trace Adkins, nearly unrecognizable in a brief but key role.

With newcomer Brad Furman's direction, you have a sense of where the stylish, smooth production is going, even down to a mildly surprising ending that has a decent emotional payoff. Some of it lacks efficiency, especially in the draggy second act, until it reawakens for a decent climax. With wavy hair, Southern accent and a swagger most would envy, McConaughey seems born to play this smooth-talking type, but one thing's for sure, you won't be looking away.

McConaughey needs a hit (commercial, critical or otherwise), and "The Lincoln Lawyer" could be his ticket out of the mediocre rom-coms he's been plagued with the last few years. "The Lincoln Lawyer" is guilty of being guilty-pleasure entertainment that could find repeat business with the lack of decent cinematic choices lately, and I would have no objections to that. A crime thriller worth a look.

Wes's Grade: B

Paul - B

Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use, 104 minutes

“Paul” is a bawdy, delightful alien adventure

Yes, “Paul” concerns a small CG alien, but “E.T.” he’s not and this isn’t an adventure the whole family would enjoy. From the director of “Superbad” and starring the guys from “Shaun of the Dead,” Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s a profane, uneven but often inspired sci-fi road-buddy comedy with energy and heart, though it’s not one of Pegg and Frost’s best outings.

Pegg and Frost are two British sci-fi geeks, Graeme and Clive, who come to America to San Diego’s Comic Con and then trek across the American West UFO Heartland in an old rented RV. Along the way, they encounter an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who’s been here for over 60 years but is trying to escape before he must undergo more harsh experiments. They also pick up a devout religious girl from an RV park named Ruth (Kristin Wiig) on their unusual adventure to save Paul, who is being tracked by some federal agents led by Lorenzo (Jason Bateman).

Bawdy, delightful and predictable, “Paul” is a sci-fi comedy that’s more comedy than sci-fi, and will likely be most enjoyed by devout Pegg-Frost fans. There are a handful of laugh-out loud moments and the cast is great, though down the stretch in the second act it gets a bit uneven and messy. Pegg, Frost and even the usually annoying Rogen are all engaging, though “Saturday Night Live’s” Wiig (the T-shirt she’s wearing at the first is a hoot) and a few other cameos nearly steal the movie, including a very brief, hilarious turn by “Glee’s” Jane Lynch as a big-haired truck-stop waitress.

Director Greg Mottola of “Superbad” and “Adventureland” handles the proceedings well with the profane script by Pegg and Frost, who incorporate a lot of cheeky sci-fi and other movie references you’ll have to listen closely for (my favorite is one to a 1990’s Susan Sarandon film, “Lorenzo’s Oil”). Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, David Koechner, Blythe Danner, Bill Hader and Sigourney Weaver (an inspired, brief turn) round out the talented cast.

Though not one of Pegg and Frost’s better efforts (“Shaun of the Dead” is still the best), it’s still crowd-pleasing and engaging enough to hold the audience’s interest until the “E.T.”-inspired climax. Also, you’ll want to stay over through the credits for an amusing epilogue. “Paul” isn’t as out-of-this-world original as it wants to be (or thinks it is) but it’s an above-average sci-fi comedy entry and worth a look.

Wes’s Grade: B

Limitless - B-

Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language, 105 minutes

Slick, fast-paced “Limitless” is mostly eye candy

“Limitless” explores the question, what if you had a drug that made you rich and famous? Many of us would like to have that drug, though we don’t realize the consequences of what our new life brings us. “Limitless” is slick fun for the senses, just don’t think about the plot holes or contrivances that threaten the film, particularly in the film’s fast-paced last act.

Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”) is Eddie Morra, an unemployed New York City thirty-something writer who hits snags both professionally and personally, when his stable girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) leaves him. He meets an old friend who introduces him to a top-secret new drug called NZT, which changes a person’s mental capabilities to make them sharper and brighter in every aspect of their lives. Soon Eddie finds himself at the top of his game, living a lavish lifestyle and working for some powerful Wall-Street financiers, including Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro), though Eddie’s life may be in danger with a limited stock of the drug and with some bad guys who are also in pursuit of him and the drug.

“Limitless” is an energetic, well-acted action-thriller of drug-fueled success and the dangers that come with it. Most of it works well, and Cooper’s engaging performances enlivens and grounds the film well. Based on a 2001 novel “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn, the story is a little murky and it becomes bogged down in criminal exercises near the end, but there’s enough to keep you interested throughout.

Cornish and DeNiro both have minimal footage, so don’t go into this thinking it’s an ensemble piece, but DeNiro is used wisely by director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) and the final exchange between DeNiro and Cooper is a treat to watch. Burger wisely steers the film away from any anti-drug preachiness and uses it strictly for entertainment value.

“Limitless” lacks emotional depth but makes up for it with slick, fun entertainment value and eye candy that the cast becomes early on. It’s filled with some fun scenes though you may not remember much of it after it’s over.

Wes’s Grade: B-

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Last Lions - B

Rated PG for some violent images involving animal life, 88 minutes

"The Last Lions" a fascinating look at the big kitty

"The Last Lions" is a sublimely compelling look at the African lion, produced by National Geographic and narrated by actor Jeremy Irons. The absorbing new documentary is a beautiful portrait of a one lion's survival and ability to care for her cubs. The lush photography is the highlight of the film, and the film is suitable for the entire family, though younger kids may be frightened by a few intense scenes of animal life.

The film documentary focuses on a lioness named Ma di Tau ("Mother of Lions") as she battles to protect her cubs against the daunting onslaught of enemies to ensure their survival. The underlying message of the film is on the low population of large cats in the world and whether or not Ma di Tau and her cubs are among the last lions.

"The Last Lions" is a mesmerizing, entertaining look at big cat life on another continent; the film is a great study on animal instincts and survival, though largely unrevealing given that National Geographic has been doing this awhile, with other big cat docs such as "Eye of the Leopard." If "The Last Lions" feels familiar to that film, it's because the film's directors Dereck and Beverly Joubert, also made that film (and also with Irons narrating).

Along with the handsome photography, it also helps that the first-rate narration, told with great inflection by Oscar-winner Irons, helps move the film along and actually adds insight and a dramatic feel to ordinary animal life. Even with the familiar story, all of it's engaging, insightful and a treat to watch, whether Ma di Tau is protecting her cubs (always cute when they're babies) or searching for food, you won't be able to look away.

"The Last Lions" is a worthwhile, enjoyable documentary that's worth a look, especially for animal lovers.

Wes's Grade: B

Mars Needs Moms - B

Rated PG for sci-fi action and peril, 88 minutes

Loopy fun in familiar "Mars Needs Moms"

The new Disney animated/motion capture movie "Mars Needs Moms" mixes a perfect amount of silly fun with simple sci-fi fun and a few heartwarming messages thrown in for good measure. The story emotes a "been there done that" type of feel, combining a lot of different sci-fi elements from different films ranging from "Aliens" to "Star Wars" to "2001: A Space Odyssey" but there's enough wistful energy to keep the young ones entertained for roughly 90 minutes.

Nine-year old Milo (voice of Seth Dusky/body of Seth Green) is a normal precocious boy on Earth who doesn't appreciate his Mom (Joan Cusack) much until she is kidnapped by Martians with plans to strip her of her "mom-ness" for their own young. Milo's quest to save his mom involves stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multi-level planet and taking on the alien nation and their leader, the Supervisior (Mindy Sterling). With the help of a tech-savvy, underground earthman named Gribble (Dan Fogler) and his bionic underground pet named Two-Cat (Dee Bradley Baker) and a rebellious Martian girl called Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), Milo just might find his way back to his mom — in more ways than one.

"Mars Needs Moms" is a colorful, loopy and entertaining adventure perfect for kids of all ages, especially ones who must appreciate their Mom's more. Produced by Robert Zemeckis and directed by Simon Wells ("The Prince of Egypt"), the film utilizes the same stop motion capture used on some of Zemeckis' earlier films including "A Christmas Carol" and "The Polar Express" and the film continues to show how this technology evolves to produce smoother, more fluid human movements that look remarkably like animation. Unlike those earlier films, "Mars Needs Moms" has a lighter tone to appeal to a younger, wider audience, which could work in the film's favor.

The story is predictable but energetic, light fun and you have a sense of where the story is going, but it's still fun to get there. Zemeckis and company add some nice sci-fi touches (women in charge, the men are doofuses), and while the film seems overly familiar, it's actually based on a Berkeley Breathed (of "Bloom County" fame) children's picture book of the same name. The film is well-acted and voiced, even with the limited taste of an annoying comedian like Fogler, who gives the film's most touching performance as someone who's had similar experiences to Milo.

The film's target audience, the younger set, should enjoy this outing more than the slightly creepy "Polar Express" or the dark "Christmas Carol," both of which have found taken time to find audiences. Kids should have no problem enjoying the warm, heartfelt "Mars Needs Moms," which could be a treat for the whole family, especially Moms.

Wes's Grade: B

Red Riding Hood - D+

Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality, 105 minutes

“Red Riding Hood”: One big, bad bore

Once upon a time in the land of Hollywood, they made a film based on a children’s fairy tale, with a lavish production, big stars, a noted director and in the sucked. “Red Riding Hood” is the new thriller loosely based on the age-old folk tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” On the plus side, the production is stylish and handsome, and it has the terrific Gary Oldman, but this woefully misguided effort ends up a huge mess that only the big bad wolf could enjoy. Badly-acted, sloppily directed and not a bit scary, you may actually appreciate "Twilight," that mediocre vampire-werewolf story this movie is modeled on.

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is a beautiful young woman torn between two men. She is in love with a brooding woodcutter, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have arranged for her to marry the wealthy Henry (Max Irons). Valerie and Peter plan to run away together when Valerie's older sister is killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village. Under a blood red moon, the wolf has upped the stakes by taking a human life. Hungry for revenge, the people call on famed werewolf hunter, Father Solomon (Oldman), to help them kill the wolf. But Solomon's arrival brings unintended consequences as he warns that the wolf, who takes human form by day, could be any one of them.

“Red Riding Hood” is a lavish, intriguing interpretation of the gruesome fairy tale, but by and large it’s a lifeless failure with little spark or chills. Unfortunately, the movie rests in the hands of director Catherine Hardwicke, who helmed the first “Twilight” film and who tackles similar themes here with the same type of misguided banality.

The impressive sets and costumes (unsurprising, given Hardwicke’s set design background) are the highlight, with little else that’s memorable, especially the same type of cheap special effects Hardwicke used in “Twilight.” It doesn’t help that the most disappointing effect in the film is the werewolf itself, a cheap piece of fakery that provides more unintentional laughter than any genuine scares. Hardwicke, director of edgier fare like “Thirteen,” should stay away from films involving werewolves, or maybe just stay away from directing films.

“Red Riding Hood” wobbly leans a couple of factors for its success. The first is the “mystery” of the werewolf, which turns out to be a creepy disappointment, but good luck in staying awake to get that point. The other is the charisma of the handsome but wooden leads: “Big Love’s” Seyfried and newcomers Fernandez and Irons, all of whom lack chemistry or believability, while talented actors such as Julie Christie, Billy Burke (another “Twilight” fixture), Lukas Haas and Virginia Madsen are also wasted. Even the usually-watchable Oldman (“The Dark Knight”) is relegated to chewing on scenery as a big-name priest.

“Red Riding Hood” will likely attract some viewers seeking a “Twilight”-type of thrill the first week of release, until they realize that snoring doesn't exactly instill good buzz for a film.

Wes’s Grade: D+

Battle: Los Angeles - C+

Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language, 110 minutes

"Battle: Los Angeles" is a loud but entertaining fight

Aliens are invading. Again. That's the simple new premise of the unoriginal new action sci-fi thriller "Battle: Los Angeles," a movie that will make you very, very thankful for earplugs. "Battle: L.A." is a turbulent, tiresome video-game package of a movie, slickly done to appeal to the senses in the gaudiest way. With that in mind, "Battle: L.A." packs a wallop visually, with stunning special effects and a pace that would leave Will Smith breathless, but its cornball storyline and redundant intensity are likely to leave you exhausted.

Aaron Eckhart is Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, a veteran who's on his way out but is drawn back in when alien forces begin invading Earth. The mysterious alien forces are out to destroy mankind and take over Earth to use it for its natural resources, primarily the need for water. Los Angeles is one of the last major centers of the West still standing, and its up to Nantz and his troops, including Air Force Sgt. Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) and a pretty civilian (Bridget Moynihan) he meets along the way.

"Battle: Los Angeles" is a conventional, entertainingly headache-inducing action film that's peppered with some impressive visuals and a breathless pace. If you slow down long enough, you'll realize the predictability of the sappy plot and the cookie-cutter characters you'll find in just about every sci-film this side of "Avatar." Director Jonathan Liebesman, who's helmed mostly horror films such as "Darkness Falls" and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" reboot, serviceably handles the visuals, but you'll quickly realize where most of the money in this expensive production went to.

Eckhart, along with Rodriguez, Moynihan and Micheal Pena and Ne-Yo, headline a bland cast that is clearly secondary to the excessively loud visuals (note: there are gazillions of explosions in this movie). The plot is borrowed and predictable, and you'll know instantly that these guys will find a way to win, a familiar formula seen in so many other sci-fi films such as "War of the Worlds," "Independence Day" and "Cloverfield." Still, there are a handful of intensely enjoyable moments including a showdown on a deserted piece of L.A. freeway and of course the climactic showdown with the mothership. As a side note, none of this was actually filmed in Los Angeles, but the much cheaper Louisiana.

"Battle: Los Angeles" isn't nearly as terrible as you might expect it to be, and as mindless, guilty-pleasure entertainment it actually works well. It's also miles ahead of last fall's "Skyline," a dreadful, depressing film that seemed to have ripped off the plot of this movie (not to mention its visuals). Those that enjoy this type of thing will go and likely go again; those who enjoy their entertainment without earplugs or a headache should stay home and watch "The Big Bang Theory" on DVR.

Wes's Grade: C+

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

happythankyoumoreplease - C+

Rated R for language, 100 minutes

Quirky dramedy "happy..." too familiar

Quirky independent dramedies about the travails of New York City professionals have been quite common since the TV show "Friends" popularized it back in the 1990's. Scores of TV shows and movie utilize the same theme, and the offbeat, indepedently-made "happythankyoumoreplease" is no different. It's not terrible, just terribly unoriginal; there are some engaging, fun moments, but the annoying, faux-cool predictability of it all (hence the run-on title of the film) makes it an empty shell of a movie.

The film centers on Sam ("How I Met Your Mother's" Josh Radnor) and Rasheen (Micheal Algieri), a writer and foster care child who meet when Rasheen is abandoned on the subway. Through his story we learn of Sam's best friend Annie (Malin Akerman), an Alopecia patient trying to find a reason to be loved, his cousin Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and her boyfriend Charlie (Pablo Schreiber), a couple facing the prospect of leaving New York, and Mississippi (Kate Mara), a struggling waitress/singer Sam meets and romances.

"happythankyoumoreplease" is a charming, low-budget but unmemorable dramedy with shades of so many other TV shows and films. Josh Radnor, the star of TV's "How I Met Your Mother," stars, directs and writes his first feature film, though the film really seems to be an extension of his TV show character, a nebbish, eccentric mensch and writer and his relationship with an orphan kid. It's unfortunate that Radnor, the star of the film, has a certain blandness that makes the contrivances of the film seem even more unbelievable (a girl named Mississippi, really?).

There are overlapping subplots, most of which we don't care about, the most memorable belonging to the pretty but unrecognizable Akerman, playing against type as Sam's best friend, a troubled, hairless girl with relationship issues (and who inspires the film's unusual title). Otherwise, most of it's a bit disappointing in a TV-movieish way; Radnor's labor of love isn't completely lost though. He has a good ear for dialogue, he's a serviceable director (but as many first-time directors do, he relies too much on standard close-ups) and the soundtrack is filled with some pleasant, folksy tunes.

If you seen "Friends," you've seen this one too. As a matter of fact, this could be called "The One You Won't Remember."

Wes's Grade: C+

Rango - B-

Rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking, 107 minutes

“Rango” is a unique, oddly charming animated adventure

“Rango” is not your typical animated film. It’s strange, dark and filled with some bizarre creatures that aren’t your typical lovable animated creatures, but still oddly engaging enough to hold your attention. With that said, it’s seems a perfect project and reunion for mega-star Johnny Depp, who voices title character, and his “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski. Unconventional but colorful, much of the humor is above the level of younger kids, who may not find this as entertaining as their parents will.

Rango (Depp) is a chameleon who lives in a terrarium and constantly seeks to fit in with his surroundings. He finds himself removed from his contemporary American southwest surroundings and ends up in an Old West town in the middle of the Mojave Desert called Dirt, which is populated by various desert critters such as Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), an iguana named Beans (Isla Fisher), and a mouse named Priscilla (Abigail Breslin). Thinking himself a hero, Rango establishes himself as the town's Sheriff, not knowing that people who have held that title do not fare very well in Dirt. In "an existential crisis", Rango comes to question everything about himself.

Original, atypical yet lively, “Rango” is certainly a smart animated adventure, maybe too start and unconventional for its own good. Many of the critters here may actually scare some of the younger kids, who also won’t understand a good bit of the plot or action that occurs in the movie. There are some fun moments (mainly involving a snake, turtle and hawk, which gets his due midway through the film) and most of the animation, which is clearly the highlight of this expensive film, is clean, colorful and detailed.

Depp is inspired casting as the titular tiny green character, a lizard who questions the meaning of life. While that sounds arresting, most of it will be over the heads of the young ones this is geared for and is probably hoping that the audiences who enjoyed “Shrek” will also enjoy this same brand of humor, except much of it is the cerebral type of humor expected from Depp and company.

“Rango” finds time to sneak in that homage’s to old cinematic Westerns (another aspect that kids won’t pick up on); watch closely and you’ll notice some sly references to Gary Cooper, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, among others, which adds to some of its unconventional, eccentric charm. Some may enjoy this odd ride, many others may just think it’s weird (and some it is).

“Rango” is an enjoyable, if not unusual ride, for older children and above.

Wes's Grade: B-

The Adjustment Bureau - B

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image, 106 minutes

Entertaining, affecting “Adjustment Bureau”

Watch out for those men in hats. The twisty new sci-fi thriller “The Adjustment Bureau” may have you thinking twice about the power of those fedoras. Loosely based on a Phillip Dick short story, “The Adjustment Bureau’s” entertaining, fast-paced plot is akin to “The Matrix” and Dick’s own “Minority Report” with some Biblical overtones thrown in for good measure, and while this is a flawed effort, it’s still a thoroughly engaging portrait of free will and human destiny.

Matt Damon is David Norris, a New York City Congressman with a bright future. He gets a glimpse into his own future when he realizes that most, if not all, of his life is being controlled by a powerful, highly-secret and other-worldly organization called The Adjustment Bureau, men who wear dark suits and fedoras and have stealth-like powers to control someone’s fate. He falls in love with a dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt), but this is not according to their plan, and the Bureau (including John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp) will do all they can to keep David on track.

“The Adjustment Bureau” is a malleable, imperfect thriller, made better by the absorbing performance of Damon, who ably carries the film in nearly every scene. It’s part sci-fi thriller, part love story, as a thriller it works much better than the romantic angles that seem incorporated into the story to draw a female audience. First-time director serviceably handles the material, though a stronger, more experienced director could’ve brought out a few more nuances of Dick’s story, which seems very, very familiar to his own “Minority Report."

Damon’s engaging performance is the best thing about the film, and he’s well-supported by Blunt, “Mad Men’s” Slattery, a warm performance by “The Hurt Locker’s” Mackie and an deliciously evil performance by the always enjoyable British legend Stamp. You have a sense of where the plot will go, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying and even anti-climactic considering how much time is spent getting there.

But Damon and company entertain quite well, and they easily draw you into the story before you can say “time machine.” “The Adjustment Bureau” is worth the effort for sci-fi fans and non-fans alike, just stay with it and watch out for anyone wearing a hat.

Wes’s Grade: B

Take Me Home Tonight - C

Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use, 100 minutes

Uneven but fun “Take Me Home Tonight” vapidly channels the ‘80s

As a child who endured the ‘80s, there are certain things I can appreciate about the new teen film “Take Me Home Tonight.” For one, the ‘80s soundtrack bubbles with energy, some of the outfits and hairstyles are hilariously bad and the cast seems to have a good time. Too bad the long-delayed film is a bit of a mess; its uneven, raunchy tone and predictable story are too well-worn; there are a few enjoyable moments but it clearly lacks the spunk of anything John Hughes might’ve done.

It's the late 1980s and Matt Franklin (Topher Grace), a brilliant but disillusioned young MIT graduate who walks out on a well-paid position at a local lab and takes a low-level job as a video clerk, much to his parents consternation. His best buddy Barry (Dan Fogler) was just fired from his job, his brainy twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) is getting hitched to her vapid boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt), and the gorgeous Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), long-time object of Matt's unattainable adoration, is suddenly back in the picture. Now, on one wild and irresponsible evening, everything comes to a head, with explosively unpredictable results.

“Take Me Home Tonight” is a mixed bag: a mildly enjoyable raunchy teen comedy with Hughes-like aspirations that doesn’t smoothly come together. Inexplicably, the film, which was made in 2007, was delayed primarily to its raunchy tone, which would’ve worked better if it weren’t so similar to other movies. The whole teen-wild-party-over one-night-thing has been exasperated over the years (Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” is the best film with this similar theme), and you have a sense of where it's going way, way before it gets there.

The talented cast, who work well together, are by now a bit too old for this type of thing, especially “That ‘70s Show” Grace, an utterly likable actor who should move to other things; the energetic Fogler, and the always engaging Faris, all of whom are now in their ‘30s. They seem to have fun however, and there are a handful of amusing moments, particularly the extended, overdone climax.

The best thing about “Take Me Home Tonight” is the ‘80s music heard at every turn (“Bette Davis Eyes,” “Safety Dance,” Oh Sherry” and more), which certainly brings back memories for those of us who endured the decade. Even the title is derived from the popular Eddie Money song, though that itself is an inexplicable title given the song isn’t in the film and the plot doesn’t involve anyone going home on this particular night.

Do yourself a favor, skip the film and pick up the soundtrack instead.

Wes’s Grade: C

Beastly - C

Rated PG-13 for language including crude comments, brief violence and some thematic material, 90 minutes

“Beastly” a shallow take on “Beauty and the Beast” tale

“Beastly” is a weak, bland contemporary take on the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story and while there are some inspired moments, the crowd-pleasing tale lacks heart and emotional depth. The unsatisfying, predictable film lacks a strong emotional core and a strong script, though the eye-candy cast makes some of it worthwhile.

New York teen Kyle (newcomer Alex Pettyfer from the recent “I Am Number Four”) is rich, handsome and conceited. The son of a popular TV news anchor (Peter Krause), the shallow Kyle has a bright future ahead of him in college. That is, until he ticks off the school’s resident witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olson) who puts a spell on Kyle, turning him into a hideously ugly human covered in scars and tattoos; if he can get someone to love him for who he is within a year, he will be changed back, otherwise he gets to stay this way forever. He ends up falling for the pretty Linda (Vanessa Hudgens), a schoolmate who’s always been attracted to him, but their hidden secrets could keep them apart.

“Beastly” is “Beauty and the Beast” for the teen set, and while it is an interesting take on the classic tale, the delayed film (it was actually shot in 2009) falls flat in terms of executing a memorable, satisfying story. Daniel Barnz, directing only his second feature film, makes good use of make-up and visuals in adapting Alex Finn’s best-selling novel, and while the two handsome leads try their best, it’s overall a rather shallow, calculated version of the classic age-old story, made popular in TV and animated film.

Newcomer Pettyfer, a strikingly handsome British model and actor who’s already accumulated quite a following with the “Tiger Beat” set, is inspired casting in the lead role, though a number of other actors could’ve played the role, and Hudgens, from the “High School Musical” films, is equally as pretty and bland. The two are surrounded by stronger or more memorable supporting players, including Olson twin Mary-Kate, a fun villain, and warm roles from familiar faces Lisa Gay Hamilton (of TV’s “The Practice”), and particularly “How I Met Your Mother’s” Neil Patrick Harris, who nearly steals the movie as a cheeky blind guy with some amusing one-liners.

“Beastly” seems to be missing a few things down the stretch, and it’s ultimately too predictable, too cutesy and too bland to be memorable. It’s not awful, but if it were as original and striking as Pettyfer’s extensive make-up job, it would’ve turned out far better. “Beastly” ends on a bit of a whimper, a mediocre effort that will be most appreciated by its target demographic, teenage girls.

Wes’s Grade: C