The Movie Report
July 2009

#585 - 587
July 3, 2009 - July 31, 2009

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#587 July 31, 2009 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

The Collector one-sheet The Collector (R) *
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Oh, how I clamor for a contemporary horror film that understands that extreme gore does not equal genuine scariness--but with its ads boasting that it's from the writers of Saw IV and Saw V, it's more or less a given going in that The Collector will not be that rare gem of suspense and atmosphere amid all the lazy bloodshed. The premise is workable enough--a thief (Josh Stewart) finds those in the house he's burglarizing being terrorized by a masked psycho killer) for some cat-and-mouse tension, but instead director Marcus Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton not only fall back on easy splatter, but the whole Saw gimmick of elaborate death traps, which the Collector has most improbably set up all over the rather large house in an impossibly short amount of time. So not only does the blood spew, it does so by way of bear traps on the floor, nails on the wall, fish hooks dangling from the ceiling, trip wire-set machete rigs, et al., all of which probably would've seemed kind of clever if we moviegoers hadn't seen that type of thing five times over already (and the sixth time on the way this October) in the Saw series. But since we have? Ho-hum.

Funny People one-sheet Funny People (R) ***
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The trailers for Judd Apatow's latest makes the film look less like something from the guy responsible for The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and more like a knockoff of the middlebrow oeuvre of James L. Brooks--not exactly the best sign when star Adam Sandler's collaboration with Brooks, Spanglish, was decidedly underwhelming. But this film does indeed mark a successful nudge in a more mature direction for Apatow, who here marries his edgier, raunchier humor with some more serious, thoughtful ideas and a gentler touch. Sandler is rather ideally cast in a role that acts as a meta-commentary on his own persona, his limited range compensated for by his close real-life parallels to the part of a successful comedian with cushy existence built on making knowingly awful movies. When he's diagnosed with a terminal illness, he hires a struggling stand-up (Seth Rogen, also very good) as his assistant/joke writer, and while disease plus newfound friendship--not to mention Sandler's newfound desire to reconnect with the lost love of his life (Leslie Mann)--conjures up frightening thoughts of treacly hokum, Apatow goes in a less Hollywood and far more honest direction, for abrasive, self-involved types like the Sandler character just aren't so easy to change overnight. The darker shades and that regular ailment known as Apatow Bloat (while it is time ultimately well spent, the 146 minute run time is acutely felt) may soften the commercial prospects and reactions from those expecting typical Sandler silliness, but there are a lot of choice laughs (and memorable celebrity cameos) here to go with the drama, and the entire cast (mention must also go to a hilarious Eric Bana, obviously liberated by being able to speak in his natural Aussie accent for once) deliver on the material's multi-faceted requirements.

G-Force one-sheet G-Force (PG) ** 1/2
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Armed with the marketing muscle of Disney, the ever-commercial instincts of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the surefire gimmick of digital 3-D, director Hoyt Yeatman's animalsploitation adventure is certain to play like gangbusters to target tyke audience. These 85 minutes about a group of guinea pig secret agents out to thwart a potentially world-destroying scheme will probably count among their most favorite filmgoing experiences of their young lives, as it delivers all the silly humor, cute critters, and boom-boom-pow they could ever want. Adults without kids, however, may find their minds wandering even with the brief run time and those 3-D visuals--which, while effective, cheat somewhat: the film is projected in letterboxed 2.35:1 on a 1.85:1 screen, so every now and again certain objects bleed out of the frame and into the top and bottom masking, thus making the objects look like they "stick out" from the screen all the more. But that's beside the point when the film does what it's supposed to do in making kids quiet and entertained for an hour and a half; it's just that this is another of those "family films" that really don't have too much of interest going on for the older members of the family, even with a notable actors lending both their voice talents (including Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, and Nicolas Cage) and physical presences (Bill Nighy, Zach Galifianakis).

Orphan one-sheet Orphan (R) ** 1/2
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The latest horror thriller romp from Warner Bros. and Dark Castle may look like a remake like many of their earlier efforts, but surely rips off many previous films with shameless aplomb. Needless to say, the spirits of The Bad Seed and The Good Son are conjured with this tale of a married couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard, both surely not having expected their indie cred early work would lead to this) who get more than they bargained for when they adopt Esther, a seemingly innocent 9-year-old from Russia. The accent alone should be enough to tip them off that some bad news is afoot, but so go the usual paces of thrillers like these, with mysterious "accidents" and ultimately very grisly deaths start occurring, somehow with little Esther in the vicinity, and many adult characters apparently losing brain cells by the second as they try to pin the blame on something or someone else. Director Jaume Collet-Serra never met an older thriller to which he did not want to pay surface "homage": having Esther do a destructive bathroom stall freakout à la Rebecca DeMornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and then later turning a light on and off repeatedly much like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. The end product is certainly never boring, from Farmiga doing her damndest to inject some emotional reality to her fragile, unraveling, recovering alcoholic character to Isabelle Fuhrmann's undeniably effective turn as the ultimate problem child (hopefully she is able to move on to some lighter, more age-appropriate material). However, as is too often the case, for a film that is supposed to be a suspenseful thriller, something isn't quite working in the intended way when the audience full of press and radio promotion seatfillers' primary reaction for two-plus (!) hours is raucous laughter, which only grows and grows until the awfully amusing camp crescendo of a climax.

Thirst one-sheet Thirst (R) *** 1/2
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With vampires back in vogue in both film and television, leave it to visionary Korean director Park Chan-Wook to put a stake in any pretty, romanticized notions of the undead in down and dirty, daring and dynamic style. When a priest (Song Kang-ho) volunteers himself as a test subject for an experimental vaccine for a deadly virus, he ends up afflicted with the titular thirst--not only for blood, but perhaps even more so for the carnal desires of the flesh, primarily that of the wife (Kim Ok-vin) of a childhood friend. Working from the inspiration of Émile Zola's Thérèse Raquin, Park and writing collaborator Jeong Seo-gyeong continually shock and surprise, not so much with the violent and sexual content (though it must be noted Park hardly shies away from either; it's a bit of a wonder how this ended up with an R rating) but with the wholly believable turns taken by the characters and, in turn, the story. Park's fearlessness is matched by the performances of Song and Kim, who perfectly convey the agony and ecstasy of their thirst--both in indulging in it and fighting to control it.

The Ugly Truth one-sheet The Ugly Truth (R) ***
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Like the recent Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds smash The Proposal, director Robert Luketic's return to the romantic comedy isn't exclusively a "chick flick"; in fact, this one may have more guy appeal due to the many funny and raunchy gags (this is, after all, rated R--but in a playfully bawdy When Harry Met Sally... way) as a control freak TV producer (Katherine Heigl) and a boorish, chauvinist relationship "expert" (Gerard Butler) banter and bicker their way to finding they are made for each other. As that premise would suggest, there's nothing exactly new nor unpredictable here, but Luketic has made his career infusing generally routine entertainments with generous amounts of charm, which he most definitely does here--in no small part to the ideally cast, cumbustible pair of leads, who both offer the best of both worlds. As she showed in her previous starring vehicle, 27 Dresses, Heigl is sexy and glamorous but with an "adorkable" streak that women can relate to and root for; Butler looks the rugged part as he says aloud all the "macho" things guys always think while being a typical "hunk" for the ladies. Formula can be fun, as it is here.

#586 July 17, 2009 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Brüno one-sheet Brüno (R)
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Even those who didn't blanch at the boldly politically incorrect humor in Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat or are familiar with the title character from sketches on Da Ali G Show may find themselves shocked at the graphic antics in his and director Larry Charles's feature adaptation. All common notions of taste are completely obliterated as he takes the titular flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista and places him in a number of real-world vignettes strung together with a fairly vague umbrella storyline: Brüno's singleminded quest to become famous, which takes him from Europe to Hollywood to the Middle East to Middle America. While the in-your-face nudity and sexual content (both homo- and hetero-) makes this a more outrageous and potentially offensive sit for viewers, it isn't quite as funny as Borat, for the reliance on shock gags and clear emphasis on sexuality makes this adventure a little more one-note. But those who are not overly sensitive will have some good laughs, not only due to Baron Cohen's continuing, uninhibited immersion into character but also (as in the previous film) how the over-the-top character both unnerves and exposes the real-life people he encounters. That's the secret weapon of Baron Cohen and Charles--for as outlandish as their central character is, he uncovers some biting truths that no comedy writer could invent any better.

I Love You, Beth Cooper one-sheet I Love You, Beth Cooper (PG-13) * 1/2
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I Love You, Beth Cooper would appear to be an ideal vehicle for director Chris Columbus to return to the light entertainment roots for which he made his name. But not long after a truly amusing opening scene--in which the dorky high school valedictorian (Paul Rust) uses the commencement address to make the title declaration to the head cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) whom he has admired from afar--it quickly becomes clear that the film has already peaked. At the root of the problem is that our ostensible hero and his movie geek sidekick (Jack Carpenter) are far more irritating and pathetic than endearing and root-worthy, helped in no way by the charisma voids that play the roles). As the title character, Hayden Panettiere doesn't fare much better in a pretty impossible role, for Beth just reveals herself as an even crazier and obnoxious piece of work as the movie goes on. Thus the film ultimately begs the question: why the hell should we care at all--especially when laughs are in equally short supply as interesting, much less likable, characters?

#585 July 3, 2009 by Michael Dequina

In Brief


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