The Movie Report
March 2010

#604 - 605
March 12, 2010 - March 26, 2010

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

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#605 March 31, 2010 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

The Bounty Hunter poster The Bounty Hunter (PG-13) no stars
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Teaming popular light entertainment stars Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler with hit rom-com vet Andy Tennant at the helm, The Bounty Hunter appears to be an easy win situation--but the seemingly right ingredients mean nothing if they don't ignite a spark, and that's the sad case here. It's one thing for the leads to not share believable romantic chemistry, and then there's the rather sad and lazy display Aniston and Butler put on here, not even striking believable negative vibes as a divorced couple reunited when he, a bounty hunter, is dispatched to nab her, a reporter, after a potential big story makes her jump bail. The two, of course, eventually bicker their way back into each other's affections, but that seems to be more of a script mandate than any sort of believable relationship development as Aniston and Butler's connection doesn't extend beyond occupying the same screen space. When there is no discernible rapport between the leads, all the other problems (and are there ever others--an unfunny, go-nowhere diversion with Jason Sudeikis; co-stars such as Christine Baranski and Dorian Missick given nothing to do; a bloated 111 minute run time) are beside the point.

Chloe poster Chloe (R) ** 1/2
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A wife strongly suspects a husband of cheating, so she does what any intelligent woman of her station would do: hire a hooker to tempt the husband in order to get proof--only to get a bit, shall we say, excited herself. Yes, remake of Anne Fontaine's 2003 French-language film Nathalie... is a throwback to the erotic thrillers that hit theatres, crowded video shelves, and helped Cinemax earn the nickname "Skinemax" back in the 1990s, but giving this film an especially perverse interest are the players involved: no less than Serious Actors Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson as the wife and husband; rising superstar-in-the-making Amanda Seyfried as the title prostitute; and even Canadian arthouse fave Atom Egoyan in the director's chair. But all that talent on board should have added up to more than just a novelty, for the very game leads are at the mercy of the ultimately routine thriller arc of Erin Cressida Wilson's script, not to mention Egoyan's interest seems to flag beyond the set-up, as the film goes shockingly flat when the more conventional thriller elements--what should be the film's bread and butter--kick in.

Hot Tub Time Machine poster Hot Tub Time Machine (R) ***
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The title Hot Tub Time Machine is both a blessing and a curse. While its complete absurdity is a surefire attention-grabber, the film proper must then live to such brazenly utrageous promise--and Steve Pink's film hits the ground running with a series of raucous, raunchy gags that lead to the focal quartet (John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke) being sent back through time to 1986. The film slows a bit once the journey is made and the initial throwback shock value gags are milked, and the story takes a familiar turn where the sad sack characters realize they can use this temporal anomaly to alter their destinies for the better. The laughs may not come as quickly for the rest of the run time, but when they do, they are big, and Pink is generous with his entire cast, giving them all their due chances to shine. (Chevy Chase and a reliably bizarre Crispin Glover also turn up in choice bit parts.) As that notorious title suggests, the film's brand of humor is not for every taste, but those drawn in by the name will surely get exactly what they expected and then some.

How to Train Your Dragon poster How to Train Your Dragon (PG) *** 1/2
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DreamWorks Animation films almost invariably rake in the dough, but quality is another matter entirely. For every solid entertainment like Shrek (the first two, at least) or Kung Fu Panda there comes a star-studded mediocrity such as Shark Tale or, worse still, Bee Movie. Happily, How to Train Your Dragon falls into the former category, rather surprisingly so considering the comparative under-hype--but, then, not so surprisingly so considering the guys at the helm are Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the duo responsible for one of the more unexpected and irreverent delights from Disney in recent years, Lilo & Stitch. This film also centers on a misfit human-creature pair: Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel--though the character bears an odd resemblance to John Krasinski), a geeky teen outcast who hardly lives up to the uber-macho, dragon-slaying Viking ideal as perfectly embodied by his warrior father (Gerard Butler, as usual much more effective in his natural accent); and a much-feared "Night Fury" dragon that Hiccup helps escape a trap. The secret bond that forms between Hiccup and "Toothless" (as he comes to name him) challenges his village's long-held notions about the beasts they hunt, and while the ensuing lesson may be more than a little cliché, the exuberant execution, infectious humor, and overwhelming charm are not. The voice actors are all well cast, and both they and the animators create likable, believable characters (Toothless may not utter a word, but he says a lot through some vividly simple expressions) that lend heart to the spectacular visuals. Digital 3D may still be a bit of a gimmick, but one cannot deny how the effects enhance the film's many action sequences and, most especially, the experience of the dragon flight scenes--though, as with any good film, everything would still play well in a standard 2D format. "Fun for the whole family" is such a corny and trite statement, but that's exactly what this rousing adventure is.

Hubble 3D poster Hubble 3D (G) ***
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Unlike the majority of the 3D narrative features currently flooding multiplex space of late, IMAX documentary films have always justified their use of 3D technology to give the viewer a uniquely immersive and intimate portrait of their subjects. And, indeed, Hubble 3D earns the whole grandiose "IMAX Experience" label by offering the viewer something beyond normal moviegoing. The film may really be about a crucial space shuttle mission to repair damage to the Earth-orbiting telescope of the title, and indeed that makes for an interesting central story, what makes the film such a spectacular experience are its outer space "flights" through actual three-dimensional photographic data captured from Hubble to the outer reaches of the universe. So unlike, say, the impressive underwater IMAX 3D documentaries released over the years, this one offers a uniquely thrilling virtual trip that one is unlikely to get to experience first hand--in this lifetime, at least.

The Last Song poster The Last Song (PG) zeri stars
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There's a moment--or, more specifically, image--in The Last Song that pretty much sums up its grand ambitions and how it ends up falling short. Regular girl Miley Cyrus meets up with her wealthy boyfriend (Liam Hemsworth) at his sister's lavish wedding, and it's obvious one is supposed to be struck by how beautifully this diamond in the rough cleans up. However, her frilly lavender nightmare of a frock suggests less an elegant young lady than a little girl trying on her (grand)mother's old clothes and looking like a walking feather duster. And so goes this obvious bid for the teen queen to extend beyond her comfort zone and expand her entertainment empire as she enters adulthood only to then clearly show her limits and need for further development.

The blame doesn't land solely on Cyrus, who doesn't get much support from director Julie Anne Robinson and, in the first time he's adapted one of his own novels for film himself, screenwriter Nicholas Sparks (working with Jeff Van Wie). The role of Ronnie, once-promising piano prodigy whose recent troubles lead her mother (Kelly Preston) to ship her and her kid brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with their dad (Greg Kinnear), initially seems like something new for Cyrus: she enters the scene as a black-jeans-and-boots-clad ice queen to her father and anyone else, even--gasp--uttering the word "bitch" at one point. But any hints at edge vanish almost as rapidly as they're introduced as Ronnie's goodhearted true nature quickly emerges when she focuses her energies on saving a nest of sea turtle eggs from raccoons (seriously), which brings her closer to pretty boy aquarium worker/mechanic/beach volleyball player/rich kid Will (Hemsworth). There's no convincing progression or development of much of anything at all: one moment the chemistry-free Ronnie and Will are doing the movie romance bickering thing, and then the next they're madly in love; the idea of class conflict is introduced with a loud thud only to then be mostly ignored the rest of the way; Ronnie's raging bitterness toward her father seems to be erased once Will kisses her. Through all this, Cyrus is at once stiff and overacts; while she can't seem to shake the same expression of frozen bewilderment as shown on the film's poster, said expression comes in two extreme varieties: with tears wildly streaming down her face or not. It's even harder to ignore this is Miley Cyrus Acting as opposed to the character of Ronnie especially when, in one gratuitous moment, she sings along to a radio and earns fawning compliments from Will about her singing voice--a quality never once addressed again since Ronnie is, after all, a pianist.

That all said, her performance here is more tolerable than the other young actors in the cast. Coleman shows every worst quality of a child actor, working the "aren't I cute"-isms hard and wildly overplaying his emotional scenes; on the other side is the bland Hemsworth, who is so vacant as to make one wonder why he even bothered to show up on set. Bless Kinnear's ever-professional heart, doing his damndest to bring some affecting restraint and understatement to the table, but he ultimately bears the greatest brunt of Sparks's trademark mawkish sentimentality--which, per the author's (in)famous formula, hits with all the grace of a truck in the third act. The older end of Cyrus's core tween-to-teen following may be reaching for the tissues at the end, but I'm not so sure that the more mature female audience that drove previous Sparks adaptations to degrees of box office success will be quite so smitten.

Repo Men poster Repo Men (R) ***
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Jude Law, action hero. Hardly the most promising of scenarios on paper, but director Miguel Sapochnik somehow makes it work, and not necessarily in just gleefully over-the-top, plausibility-straining action-adventure terms. Make no mistake, this futuristic story of a repo man of unpaid artificial organs who suddenly finds the tables turned offers all the shoot-'em- and-slice-'em-up mayhem and graphic gore one would expect from such a premise, but Sapochnik, Law, Forest Whitaker (as a fellow repo man), and Liev Schreiber (a bit underused as the slimy head of the organ corporation) have so much fun with all the extremes, wallowing in their shameless excess (Law's de rigueur über-badass moment; a grisly surgery scene with a twisted erotic edge) with the right dollop of macabre, self-aware humor. That would be enough for an enjoyable entertainment, but Sapochnik even goes a step further in making the ever-increasingly gonzo antics make sense in a way beyond merely following formula Hollywood action movie terms. The women get a little short shrift (Alice Braga does what she can and gets to kick a little ass as a woman on the run; but Carice van Houten, talented star of Paul Verhoeven's Dutch-language Black Book, is saddled with another thankless Hollywood role as Law's wife), but that doesn't detract from the amusement--that is, if one can stomach buckets and buckets of bloodshed.

The Runaways poster The Runaways (R) ***
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While Floria Sigismondi's film takes its title from and ostensibly follows the quick rise and reign of the pioneering all-girl (literally, for all members were underage) rock group in the mid-to-late 1970s, it's really mostly concerned with the pair the top-billed Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning play, rocker grrl guitarist Joan Jett and the Lolita-ish vixen of a lead singer, Cherie Currie. If through them we get the usual instant stardom cautionary tale about the indulgent, destructive excesses of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, Sigismondi and her gifted cast go through those formula motions with conviction and style. Sigismondi evokes '70s SoCal with convincing, sun-kissed grit, and those atmospheric efforts truly come to life with the work by her cast. Despite having the more marquee role to play, an effective Stewart is outshone by Fanning, who makes Currie's fame- and pharmaceutical-fueled transformation/liberation at once exhilarating and terrifying. Perhaps upstaging them both is Michael Shannon, bringing his unique, ever-entertaining brand of crazy as the Runaways' manager and producer.

#604 March 12, 2010 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Alice in Wonderland poster Alice in Wonderland (PG) ***
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That Johnny Depp's take on the Mad Hatter is comparatively one of the more subdued performances tells you just how out there Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland is. Devotees of either Lewis Carroll's novels or Disney's 1951 animated film will probably be irked that this is not an adaptation of either but rather a completely original story that allows Burton to use the familiar characters to run wild with all his eccentricities: a 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska, appealingly spunky), who believes her childhood adventures in Underland/"Wonderland" to be just a dream, back in the magical realm and expected to fulfill a prophecy that would restore order to the land. Despite any fears encouraged by the (understandably) Depp-centric advertising campaign, the Mad Hatter is appropriately a secondary character, but even the actor's usual energy in the role is both outshone and out-weirded by others: a hilarious Helena Bonham Carter as the literally big-headed evil Red Queen; the ever-bizarro-by-nature Crispin Glover as her main henchman; and, in a surprisingly, delightfully deranged performance, Anne Hathaway, who plays the good White Queen as the escaped mental patient equivalent of the prototypically perky Disney princess. But as amusing as they are, the real star is, as is often the case with Burton and made all the more prominent by the 3D, the floridly elaborate costumes, production design, and visual effects, which makes Underland at once inviting and menacing. The end product may not exactly jibe with one's usual notions of Wonderland, much less a Disney Wonderland, but this is completely Burton through and through, and the film is definitely fun when taken in that regard.

Brooklyn's Finest poster Brooklyn's Finest (R) *** 1/2
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Antoine Fuqua's ambitious crime drama uses a wide canvas of characters in three tangentially linked plotlines: a lonely, despondent Richard Gere is days away from retirement from his completely unremarkable career; Ethan Hawke is an officer who resorts to increasingly desperate measures to provide for his growing family; Wesley Snipes is a freshly released crime boss and Don Cheadle a close associate wrestling with issues of professional duty and personal loyalty. One major reason why I found this film to be rather effective and affecting is, ironically enough, the very reason why it is certain to provoke wildly divided reactions from audiences: its complete messiness--there are no tidy resolutions nor conventional payoffs as the initially grim makes way for the even grimmer as no characters are left off the hook. But that all falls in line with what Fuqua and writer Michael C. Martin obviously set out to do, which is to paint with grimy authenticity a despairing, warts-and-all portrait of cops and criminals, turning the idea of the title on its head and then some. But whatever one's reaction to the darkness and grit, the strong performances by most everyone should go unquestioned. Hawke, Cheadle, and Snipes (finally back in a solid movie and showing how sorely missed he's been) are especially noteworthy, and Gere is surprisingly good; the one glaringly wrong note is struck by a hammy Ellen Barkin as a ballbusting federal agent.

Green Zone poster Green Zone (R) ***
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After the notably apolitical The Hurt Locker just collected a half-dozen Oscars, it's back to agenda-minded business as usual with Iraq War films with Green Zone. But to the film's credit, as one would expect (and, to a degree, hope for) from a reteaming of Matt Damon and his The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass, this is first and foremost a thriller, and the tale of an army chief (Damon) who uncovers the truth about his mission to locate WMD's serves up the many big action set pieces one would expect--for better and for worse; while undeniably gripping and exciting, the big sequences are shot and cut in that shaky, handheld, unmistakably Greengrass style that understandably irks many viewers. But for all the firepower--literal and in terms of the acting talent, which also includes Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, and Greg Kinnear--the film feels a bit anticlimactic, as both the slam-bang goods and political intrigue culminate with the whimper of an obvious message. Even so, a reasonably gripping entertainment, but despite the serious subject matter, a film that doesn't have as much staying power as Greengrass and Damon's more "popcorn" collaborations.

Our Family Wedding poster Our Family Wedding (PG-13) * 1/2
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Good intentions and a good cast do not necessarily a good film make, as is too painfully made evident by Our Family Wedding. Any pleasures that may come with seeing Forest Whitaker lighten up a bit and go comically toe-to-toe with Carlos Mencia are done in by the flat script, which is hardly as inspired as director Rick Famuyiwa's casting. The wedding in question is between Whitaker's son (Lance Gross) and Mencia's daughter (America Ferrera), and the resulting culture clash sets up obvious slapstick gags and quickly tiresome bickering between Whitaker and Mencia. Meanwhile, Ferrera and Gross have very little to do than to be attractive, charismatic bystanders to the silliness--though, on the odd occasion when they do get a moment of dramatic substance, the two again show what strong and promising rising talents they are--while Regina King has even less to work with as a longtime friend of Whitaker's. The few laughs are largely courtesy of Anjelah Johnson, who as Ferrera's sister drops dry, sly one-liners with precision timing and bite.

Remember Me poster Remember Me (PG-13) zeri stars
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I think I owe Nicholas Sparks an apology. However transparently, often arbitrarily manipulative his books--and, in turn, the films based on his books--are, he hasn't quite ever sunk to the rather crassly calculating dramatic devices deployed by star (and co-executive producer) Robert Pattinson's first real test of both his acting chops and general star appeal outside of the Twilight brand. And the verdict is negative on both counts, as his oat-bran-level charisma fails to compensate for his talent shortcomings, which are all too glaringly apparent when his broody, bitter college student character is called on to do more than smoke, glower, or any combination thereof. It's kind of a shame, for leading lady Emilie de Ravin shows both sharp comic timing and an unforced emotional authenticity (and a spotless American accent, unlike her co-star) as a fellow student who, like Pattinson's character, is dealing from the emotional fallout from years-ago family tragedies. These young, wounded souls find a connection between each other that they don't have with their respective fathers (for de Ravin, cop Chris Cooper; for Pattinson, businessman Pierce Brosnan), and while this relationship doesn't quite connect with the audience due in large part to the weak, more focal half that is Pattinson, director Allen Coulter and writer Will Fetters earn some points for at least going for a leisurely, lower-key and hence more grounded vibe for the love story and family drama. But the efforts at a modest, intimate tone are completely wiped away by a conclusion that is simply jaw-dropping--not only for its completely random, cheap shock value but its arrogance in forcing a large-scale weight to a story and characters much too flimsy to deserve, much less support, it.


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