Well, now that this Oscar business is over and the 2010 movie crop is officially in the books, we can get back to actually, y'know, reviewing & talking about new movies that are in theatres now or coming soon. Not quite sure how this happened, but after the first two months of 2011, I am actually AHEAD of last year's record-breaking movie-watching pace. That's just crazy... especially since there haven't been many films worth writing home about... or blogging about, as the case may be. That said, here's a recap of my past month's worth of big screen shenanigans....
SANCTUM -- Don't be fooled by the "James Cameron Presents" tagline. He didn't really have anything to do with this film other than providing his 3D technology. Indeed, that 3D is impressive, adding depth to visuals that are comprised of caverns, rock formations, nooks and crannies and underwater shots (field test for AVATAR 2, perhaps?). Unfortunately, the rest of the film is, well, pretty awful. It's not the simple story that bothers me -- explorers get stuck in world's deepest unexplored cavern and must escape or die; meanwhile, estranged father and son must reconcile -- but the acting and dialogue is just HORRENDOUS, cringe-inducing stuff. Not just the unknown Australian actors, either -- worst of all is Mr. Fantastic himself, Ioan Gruffudd, who is so bad that it wouldn't surprise me if he was never hired for anything besides crappy direct-to-DVD crap ever again.
THE ROOMMATE -- At first glance, a remake of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE starring Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester sounds like a gift from God... and then you realize that it's rated PG-13 and thus does not contain any of the visual stimuli that you'd hope to see in a remake of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE starring Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester. That being said, it still manages to be mildly enjoyable in spite of itself. Meester actually plays a pretty good creepy stalker, on top of being ridiculously hot. (On a related note, we can only hope that after Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN and now Meester, we've entered a new age of cinematic female masturbation.) Amusing cameo by Billy Zane as a lecherous fashion professor, and there's even a crazy CB11 crossover when GOSSIP GIRL's Meester has sex with 90210's Matt Lanter... um, not that I know anything about either of those shows, I swear.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU --Can't go wrong with a movie based on a Philip K. Dick story, and this is a particularly good one: Classic Dickian (Dickish?) sci-fi with a great romantic twist that sort of plays upon the ever-popular (to me) subject of the "thunderbolt." Matt Damon plays a young senate hopeful who has a chance encounter with Emily Blunt and sparks fly. But seemingly-extenuating circumstances keep them apart until they bump into each other again years later, at which point he is convinced that it's meant to be. Or is it? So happens that an unseen secret agency has a pre-written plan for us all, and Damon's plan does NOT involve this woman -- so they attempts to keep the lovebirds apart at all costs. Confronted with a truth that no one is ever supposed to know exists, Damon must decide whether to let the thunderbolt go and accept his pre-written plan, or attempt to defy the powers-that-be and forge his own destiny. Great performances & chemistry from Damon & Blunt help drive this entertaining, poignant and thought-provoking film -- probably the best sci-fi action satire noir love story / religious allegory in recent memory.
JUST GO WITH IT -- I've been an Adam Sandler fanboy since his SNL days, and I still worship at the altar of BILLY MADISON. HAPPY GILMORE, THE WEDDING SINGER and THE WATERBOY expanded upon his man-boy comic genius, and the P.T. Anderson's PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE proved that he actually had some legit acting talent. But since then, it's been a steady decline for Mr. Sandler, culminating with this gigantic steaming turd of a film. Sandler stars as a single guy who wears a wedding ring to score chicks, which backfires when he legit falls in love with bodacious Brooklyn Decker (often scantily-clad and/or glistening). He enlists Jennifer Aniston to pose as his fake soon-to-be-ex-wife, to "prove" that the ring was just a big misunderstanding. Naturally, hijinks ensue as kids and old college rivalries get involved and the lie spirals out of control. Unfortunately, the hijinks are wildly unfunny -- Sandler & Co. are clearly trying to ad-lib and have fun with this thing, OCEAN'S 11-style, but they fail miserably and it is just painful to watch. Interestingly, I saw groups of teenagers coming to see the movie, which reminded me of my friends & I coming out in huge groups to see Sandler’s films in the ‘90s -- but today’s kids will probably never know how much fun it is to see a truly hilarious Sandler film on the big screen, and that makes me sad.
TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT -- Whereas HOT TUB TIME MACHINE was a spoof/tribute to classic '80s films (and a brilliant one at that), this film actually tries to BE a classic '80s film. Indeed, the filmmakers and actors do a fine job of capturing the look, feel, spirit and actions of a typical '80s sex/party/coming-of-age comedy. Unfortunately, there isn't much there under the surface. It's not particularly funny and most of the acting and dialogue is mediocre at best. I've always liked Topher Grace, but I'm not sure what he needs to do to get out of the rut he's been stuck in for pretty much his entire post-Eric Foreman career. Weird to see Anna Farris playing a "straight" role, in direct contrast to her usual wackiness. Great '80s soundtrack, though, with a mix of pop, rock, new wave and old-school hip-hop. All in all, the film just doesn't work as well as I would've hoped.
WIN WIN -- Throughout his illustrious career, Paul Giamatti has cornered the market on the "schlub who is likeable in spite of his flaws" role, and this crowd-pleasing indie gem is another notch in his belt. He plays a nice guy, family man & high school wrestling coach who makes the unethical decision to become the legal guardian for an elderly client solely so he can cash the paychecks and save his struggling law practice. But a monkeywrench is thrown into this plan when the client's runaway teenage grandson shows up and causes everyone involved to reevaluate their feelings about responsibility and family. Sort of typical indie fare, plot-wise, but driven by great writing, outstanding performances from Giamatti and Amy Ryan, scene-stealing work from Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor, and some of the best use of amateur wrestling outside of a John Irving novel. Worth seeking out.
I AM NUMBER FOUR -- For a franchise that was manufactured specifically to fill the TWILIGHT void for the teenybopper crowd, this isn't as terrible as you’d expect. John Smith is a strapping teenage alien from another world, on the run from creepy, black-cloaked enemies who want him dead. He hides out on Earth with his guardian (Timothy Olyphant, who is cool), constantly moving from small town to small town to elude capture -- but in one such town, unexpected things start to happen. First, he begins to develop crazy new super powers. Second, he falls in love with Quinn from GLEE. Third, he makes friends with the local science geek, who has an idea that strange things are afoot. Fourth, he makes enemies with the captain of the football team (and Quinn's ex-boyfriend). Naturally, the teen angst level is sky high throughout most of the movie; fortunately, the action kicks in just in time and the final act is an almost non-stop cacophony of alien shoot-outs, explosions, giant CGI monsters and more, with a hot alien chick protector (Teresa Palmer, who also plays the hottie in the aforementioned TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT) thrown in for good measure. Pretty standard, mindless teen fare with a sci-fi twist -- but it's a heck of a lot better than TWILIGHT.
UNKNOWN -- Liam Neeson has been awesome for a very long time, but I am particularly enjoying this new stage of his career in which he seems to have officially become Hollywood's go-to "family man action hero," taking the reigns that Harrison Ford held throughout the '80s and '90s. TAKEN was pretty damn good, and UNKNOWN is even better: Neeson stars as a renowned scientist who awakens from a coma to find that his identity has been stolen and his existence has essentially been replaced with someone else. His colleagues and even his own wife don't seem to recognize him and all sorts of craziness is afoot. An exciting and surprisingly intense race against time to uncover the truth ensues -- it's pretty solid entertainment with a very FRANTIC/FUGITIVE-esque feel. It doesn't necessarily surpass those Harrison Ford classics (though it does aspire to be a bit more cerebral, which is an interesting twist on the typically-straightforward genre), but it's worthy of being associated with them.
HALL PASS -- Admittedly, I didn't expect much from this movie about two middle-aged schlubs who get a one-week break from their marriages (though honestly, why anyone married to Jenna Fischer or Christina Applegate would require such a reprieve is beyond me). But dear God, its utter craptitude went far beyond even my lowest expectations. I've actually seen it receive some praise as a clever glimpse into the mind of a married men, and the Farrelly Bros. themselves refer to it as a chick flick in disguise. But come on. This is a dismally unfunny film and an embarrassment to all involved and a waste of some good talent (WTF, Richard Jenkins?) and Nicky Whelan's boobs. It even brings dick and poop jokes to new lows, and seriously makes me wonder if the Farrellys have ever been good. Still, from a certain point of view, seeing this movie was a relief, because there's a good chance I will not see a worse movie for the rest of the year -- it's all uphill from here.
DRIVE ANGRY 3D -- Just when I thought I was completely sick of the 3D trend, along comes Nic Cage to help breathe some life into the technology. This movie, which aspires to be nothing more than a fun grindhouse flick, stars Cage in "crazy mode" as a former criminal who escapes from Hell, joins forces with Amber Heard and goes on an ass-kicking rampage to avenge his daughter's death and rescue his baby granddaughter from the clutches of a satanic cult. I mean, come on -- that's good stuff. It's a veritable orgy of gratuitous violence, gore, boobs (Cage's mid-coitus shoot'em-up could go down as one of the more memorable action sequences of the year), more violence and lots of creative use of 3D (it was filmed in 3D -- no post-conversion crap -- so it actually looks good). Scene-stealing work from William Fichtner (one of those "Ohh, it's that guy!" guys) as the Agent Smith-esque "The Accountant," too. Simply put, DRIVE ANGRY is an f'ing blast.