Thursday, February 26, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic (**)

Confessions of a Shopaholic.  112 mins.  PG.  Directed by P.J. Hogan.  Written by Tracy Jackson and Tim Firth.  Starring Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, John Goodman, Joan Cusack, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Slickly produced (courtesy of Jerry Bruckheimer) and engaging but never funny, Confessions of a Shopaholic is a flat adaptation of the annoying series of bestselling books by Sophie Kinsella.  It stars Isla Fisher as Rebecca Bloomwood, a Carrie Bradshaw-type pining for a columnist job at a high-end fashion magazine.  Through a series of quirks and coincidences, she ends up writing for a financial magazine where she charms the staff with her unorthodox savings advice, including her boss - stiffly played by Brit Hugh Dancy.  Shopaholic plays out like a romantic comedy, only it's not very romantic.  The relationship between Fisher and Dancy is almost an afterthought.  This is really a movie about a woman coming to grips with her shopping addictions and career ambitions.  I'd like to say it makes a strong feminist statement and empowers women, but, alas, that's hard to do when the big dramatic moment hinges on whether Rebecca will sell her cherished green scarf.  Isla Fisher is a gifted comedienne and she does her best with the endless supply of shopping jokes and broad physical comedy, but this sort of material is beneath her.  Bruckheimer apparently used his clout to pull in a roster of impressive supporting talent: John Goodman and Joan Cusack play Rebecca's parents; Kristin Scott Thomas pops in for a scene or two as the head of the fashion mag, but their presence doesn't change anything.  Shopaholic is sure to please its less discerning target audience, but the chick flick genre deserves better than this.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fired Up! (**1/2)

Fired Up!  92 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Will Gluck.  Written by Freedom Jones.  Starring Eric Christian Olson, Nicholas D'Agosto, Sarah Roemer, Molly Sims, and John Michael Higgins.

Fired Up! is a brainless teen comedy about two horny, borderline obnoxious football players who ditch summer football training to go to cheerleading camp and score with a bunch of ladies.  As played by Dumb and Dumberer's Eric Christian Olson and Heroes' Nicholas D'Agosto, the two guys are clearly modeled after the snappy dynamic of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers.  The only problem is they're nowhere near as charming or effortless in getting laughs out of the audience.  Fired Up! could be a pretty decent movie in the hands of much smarter filmmakers - I'd love to have seen what Diablo Cody or Tina Fey could do with this material, if only to beef up the female roles and make a movie that's both funny and somewhat substantial.  The inevitable romantic fall-out that occurs between D'Agosto's character and Amy Smart 2.0 (Sarah Roemer) is lame even by dumb comedy standards: the guys have tickets to leave cheerleading camp on the eve of the big competition, but they decide to stay and not ditch their fellow cheerleaders, and yet, Roemer still gets all upset that they even had the tickets to leave in the first place.  Give me a break.  The one trick up this movie's sleeve is the veteran character actor, and frequent Christopher Guest collaborator, John Michael Higgins.  He plays the head of the cheerleading camp, and his character's enthusiasm and questionable sexuality earn most of the movie's big laughs.  Fired Up! is destined for a never-ending run on TBS saturday afternoons, and if that's how you catch it, you might be pleasantly entertained.

- John

Oscar Aftermath

I told you: 18 of 24. It's what I usually get right, and it happened again this year. There were no upsets this year in the acting categories (Sean Penn edged out Mickey Rourke, Penelope Cruz kept her frontrunner status), and, aside from Departures' surpise best foreign film win, everything pretty much stuck to the script. Hugh Jackman did a fine job as host - but the standout for me was the comedy segment featuring the Pineapple Express reunion of James Franco and Seth Rogen. Laughing at The Reader as if it's a worthless comedy? Awesome. Revenge is a dish best served cold.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

'08 Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this Sunday, February 22, and despite the lack of a Dark Knight best picture nomination (yes, I continue to beat that dead horse), I will be watching.  Hugh Jackman hosts, and the red carpet pre-show is being cut down significantly to add an element of surprise to the show.  Who will present?  What will they be wearing?  More importantly, who will win?  If you have an Oscar pool at work or with friends, feel free to crib from my predictions.  I usually get about 18 of 24 right.  Let's see how we do this year:

Picture: Slumdog Millionaire.  Final Answer: D.  It is Written.

Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler.  Rourke's biggest competitor is Sean Penn for Milk, but Rourke's personal story is too compelling and Penn just won five years ago for Mystic River.

Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader.  The Academy is clearly fond of Winslet's performance since they bumped her nomination up from supporting to lead, and gave The Reader an (undeserved) best picture slot.

Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight.  No contest.

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Doubt.  The frontrunner is Penelope Cruz, and though Woody Allen flicks often produce Oscar winners, upsets usually happen in this category, and I'm thinking more Academy members saw Doubt than Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire.  This category generally matches up with Best Picture, but Boyle is a talented guy and certainly deserves it.  Where's Chris Nolan in this category?

Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk.  Milk's gotta win something - this is it.

Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire.  Tricky adaptation, but nails it.

Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir.  I guess The Class could win, but the timely subject matter of Waltz with Bashir may prove too irresistible.  

Animated Feature: Wall-E.  It almost got a Best Picture nomination - this is its consolation prize.

Animated Short: Presto.  Pixar again - and it was shown before Wall-E in theaters.

Documentary Feature: Man on Wire.  The best reviewed one and the only one people have probably heard of.

Documentary Short: The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306.  It's about Martin Luther King, Jr. and in an Obama election year, that's good enough for a win.

Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire.  Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight were awesome and more deserving, but the Slumdog love train is just going to roll over them.

Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Button was technically brilliant and beautiful - you don't get 13 nominations without actually winning a couple (unless you're The Color Purple, that is).

Live Action Short: Spielzeugland (Toyland).  It's about the Holocaust.  'Nuff said.

Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  That little old man Brad Pitt was pretty nifty.

Costume Design: The Duchess.  I think Australia had the more buzzed-about outfits, but that didn't work for Keira Knightley's green Atonement dress last year, which lost to Elizabeth: The Golden Age's extravagant period garb.  Expect the same to happen this year.

Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire.  Totally deserved.  The movie was all over the place - jumping back and forth and all around, yet still coherent.

Sound Mixing: Wall-E.  Sound mixing is the putting together or creation of sounds for a movie.  The robot voices and sound effects are astonishing in Wall-E.

Sound Editing: The Dark Knight.  Sound editing, on the other hand, is the weaving together of all the sound elements and levels.  Usually goes to an action movie.  

Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire.  A.R. Rahman's score was electric, and well worth purchasing on iTunes.

Original Song: "Jai Ho," Slumdog Millionaire.  The dance over the end credits seals the deal for this one.

Make-Up: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Even though The Joker make-up was pretty great, Benjamin Button relies entirely on its make-up for all of its dramatic heft.

Projected Oscar Tallies:

Slumdog Millionaire - 7
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - 3
The Dark Knight - 2
Wall-E - 2
Milk - 1
Doubt - 1
The Reader - 1
The Wrestler - 1
The Duchess - 1
Frost/Nixon - 0


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Friday the 13th (***)

Friday the 13th.  95 mins.  R.  Directed by Marcus Nispel.  Written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift.  Starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Aaron Yoo, Ryan Hansen, and Willa Ford.

I saw Friday the 13th on Friday the 13th, and it was packed.  And while I knew why I was there (I see almost everything), I couldn't help but be a little worried by the high attendance.  After the weekend box office numbers came in today ($42 million opening weekend!), I now know why.  With that kind of success, you can bet that we're going to continue to see remakes of classic horror films for years to come.  So much for originality in Hollywood.  But there are certainly worse ways for you to spend a Friday night in the movie theater than with this particular remake.  Although the new Friday the 13th contributes absolutely nothing new to the horror genre, and plays by all the same rules, it does give the audience exactly what they want: scares, boobs, and blood, and lots of it.  The scares are the boo!/startling kind, the nudity is frequent and gratuitous, and the blood comes courtesy of Jason's machete.  The cast is a bunch of familiar faces fresh off a CW show, but like most of today's horror films, there is such disdain shown for every character that the audience never really gets to connect or invest in any of them.  Not that there would be any point to investing in any of these characters: they exist only to die a gruesome death.  Nobody really survives this Friday the 13th, and the filmmakers decide to punish the audience at the end - choosing to go out with one last scare rather than any sense of satisfaction or finality.  The kills are pretty standard, with nothing you haven't seen before, save for one funny and audience-friendly kill that happens under a dock.  Moments like those are why movies like Friday the 13th exist.  If the rest of the future horror remakes can keep the same sense of fun that Friday the 13th has, then I say bring 'em on.  


The International (***)

The International.  118 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Tom Twyker.  Written by Eric Singer.  Starring Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Despite an intriguing premise (international banks gone rogue!) and direction from the guy who did the kinetically hyper Run Lola Run, you'd think The International would be a lot more exciting.  It's labeled a thriller, but it doesn't move like one.  The first hour and fifteen minutes or so are intriguing enough as you try to piece together the assassination of a foreign dignity with an evil bank's brokerage of an armed weapons deal.  The plotting is dense and convoluted, and even though it moves slow, the movie stays interesting.  Stars Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are engaging enough as actors, but the characters they're playing are less so.  The International basically just stays afloat until the big action set piece set in the Guggenheim Museum.  This action scene is the best thing in the movie by a mile, and worth the price of admission.  The gunplay comes in fast and furious doses as the characters shoot the living daylights out of every orifice of the museum.  Director Tom Twyker takes the simple idea of people shooting at each other, and makes it exciting and visually inventive.  Had the movie ended after this action sequence, I would have left very satisfied, but instead, the movie continues for another half hour slowing down to an absolute crawl as you feel the audience grow antsy around you.  The International ends up a solid flick, but falls far short of greatness.  


The Pink Panther 2 (**)

The Pink Panther 2.  92 mins.  PG.  Directed by Harald Zwart.  Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin.  Starring Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, John Cleese, Lily Tomlin, and Jeremy Irons.

Steve Martin is a funny guy, but he's really testing fans' patience with this reworked Pink Panther series.  The first Pink Panther was a surprise hit with family audiences, thus spawning the inevitable sequel.  Pink Panther 2 is more of the same, with Martin's Inspector Clouseau engaging in some very broad physical comedy (clearly performed by a stunt double) while working with a "dream team" of international detectives trying to solve a series of thefts perpetrated by someone known as The Tornado.  There are many talented actors picking up a paycheck here: Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irons, and John Cleese, and unfortunately, they don't really elevate the material, they just play along with it.  Emily Mortimer is a delight as Clouseau's colleague and secret love interest, and it's nice to see Lily Tomlin paired up with Martin again after All of Me, but I didn't laugh once.  At least the first Martin Pink Panther movie had that one hysterical scene where Clouseau tries to pronounce "hamburger."  They try to repeat that scene multiple times here, but it's not quite as funny the second time around.  Pink Panther 2 is not a chore to sit through, but it's a far cry from Peter Sellers.  Martin co-wrote the script, but instead of spending time on pointless sequels like this, he should apply his singular comedic voice to a more worthy project. 


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Coraline (**1/2)

Coraline.  100 mins.  PG.  Written and Directed by Henry Selick.  Starring the Voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Keith David, and Ian McShane.

Well, at least it looks awesome.  I can only imagine all the painstaking time, energy, and passion that went into creating this dark children's fable.  It probably took years to capture all of the stop-motion animation and 3D effects in Coraline.  And yet, all I can say about the movie is, Meh.  Though the visuals are often amazing, the story is a giant bore.  Little Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) has an unhappy home life and escapes to an alternate, parallel universe through a door in her bedroom where her parents are great, save for the soulless black buttons where their eyes should be.  Turns out it's all too good to be true, and things get progressively weirder and more surreal as she tries to get back to her real parents.  My main problem with the movie is that due to the stop motion nature of the animation, there's no variation in the pacing.  It's all very slow and measured and there's no real tension - every scene has the same slack rhythm.  I've also realized I'm not a fan of Neil Gaiman, or at least of film adaptations of his work.  Between this and Mirrormask, it feels like he comes up with weird ideas that are weird just for the sake of being so.   Here, there are giant bugs as furniture and dogs with wings, with no rhyme or reason for any of it.  Some call this sort of thing imaginative and inventive, I just think it's random and dumb.  One final note on the 3D aspect: kind of cool at first, but you quickly grow used to it and once the effect wears off, all you're left with is the actual movie, so it better be good to keep wearing those glasses.  Unfortunately, Caroline is just okay.  Plenty of effort, middling results.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You (***1/2)

He's Just Not That Into You.  129 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Ken Kwapis.  Written by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein.  Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, and Drew Barrymore.

Fans of romantic comedies are in for a treat with this one.  After a long drought of worthy date films, He's Just Not That Into You is a breath of fresh air and the perfect film to see this Valentine's Day weekend.  Moderately clever and thoroughly winning, the movie boasts a who's who cast of Hollywood stars, all given interesting and well-written roles.  It's no wonder so many big stars signed on - they get to show up for a few scenes, make a favorable impression on audiences, and then get out, with no harm done if the movie tanks because it's success doesn't rest entirely on any one person's shoulders.  The movie follows the love lives of nine interconnected individuals, as well as such well-worn topics as dating, marriage, and adultery.  This is very much in the same vein as 2003's Love Actually (with a dash of When Harry Met Sally's couple confessional scenes), and if you enjoyed those films, you'll probably like this one.  I'm all for movies like Love Actually and He's Just Not That Into You because it gives you about 10 romantic comedies in one - talk about value for the dollar!  At 129 minutes, the movie surprisingly flies by because it keeps jumping from one set of characters to the next, never lingering on any one story for too long.  I especially liked the love story between Justin Long and Ginnifer Goodwin (Ed reunion!), and anytime you want the leads in a romantic comedy to get together, the movie has done its job.  Thankfully, He's Just Not That Into You avoids many of the annoying traps that most romantic comedies suffer, and though not as funny as Love Actually, there are certainly laughs to be had here.  The audience I saw this with ate it up: hook, line and sinker.  


Fanboys (*1/2)

Fanboys.  90 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Kyle Newman.  Written by Ernest Cline & Adam F. Goldberg.  Starring Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, and Kristen Bell.

Fanboys has faced a two-year struggle to get to screens despite the fervent backing of Star Wars fans, Kevin Spacey as a producer, and a cool cast that includes several Apatow regulars.  Having now seen it,  I can see why.  Fanboys takes place in 1998 and follows a group of Star Wars fanatics as they trek across the country to break into Skywalker Ranch and see a rough cut of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.  As an admitted fanboy myself, I went into this thinking I would love it.  But I was frustrated at every turn by the lack of laughs, the obnoxious performance by Jack Black-wannabe Dan Fogler, and the sub-par Kevin Smith dialogue that permeates the whole thing.  This is a sloppy movie.  The concept could work in the hands of someone else (Kevin Smith - maybe?  Judd Apatow - certainly), but director Kyle Newman is out of his element.  There are a bunch of cameos here, with Seth Rogen faring best in a silly double turn as the leader of a group of Trekkers and a Han Solo-loving pimp.  The much-ballyhooed cancer subplot in Fanboys has been mostly left on the editing room floor, and that's probably a good thing, because the filmmakers seem ill-equipped to deliver any resonance or dramatic oomph with it.  An attempted love story between Bell and Baruchel also falls completely flat.  This is the kind of movie that plays well at a midnight screening of a film festival, but seen in the light of day with a normal audience, it just plain sucks.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Red Envelope Round-Up: January 29-February 1, 2009

Swing Vote (2008) (**1/2).  Kevin Costner is perfectly cast in a role that seems tailor-made for him, but for a supposed comedy, there's not one real laugh to be had and most of the political jokes seem stale and fall flat.  The concept (one man's vote will decide the next president) is semi-plausible given the 2000 Florida recount and Al Franken's recent win in Minnesota, but the screenwriters are too interested in broad stereotypes and wishy-washy politics to do much of interest with it.

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) (**).  Ho-hum drama about two troubled people coming together to cope with their difficulties and overcome them.  Benicio Del Toro plays a recovering heroin addict.  Halle Berry is a grieving widower with two kids.  Though Del Toro is effective, Berry seems to think that serious acting means performing without makeup.  Nothing new here and the filmmakers spend 119 minutes of your time just going through the motions.  The end is neither profound nor satisfying.