REVIEW: The Heat

21 07 2013

I won’t deny that I laughed a hefty amount in “The Heat.”  It’s definitely a far cry from Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s respective greatest comedic hits, “Miss Congeniality” and “Bridesmaids.”  But it’s still a rollickingly funny romp, effectively harnessing the slightly awkward uptightness of Bullock and the bizarre outrageousness of McCarthy into a laugh machine.

It’s not the most efficient machine, however.  “The Heat” never takes a moment to slow down the pace of the humor, operating at full capacity for nearly two hours.  As a result, there are quite a few jokes that fall flat.  But over the course of a fairly bloated runtime, director Paul Feig and writer Kate Dippold more than make up for these missed opportunities.

The film’s Achilles heel is Dippold’s script, which just isn’t as good as the film’s humor.  It’s more of a through line than a story, connecting the dots between the jokes.  “The Heat” is predictable and formulaic, more or less writing Gracie Hart and wacky bridesmaid Megan into a standard police investigation film.

Sadly, two years after Paul Feig’s own “Bridesmaids” lit the world on fire and promised a more prominent future for female-headlined film, “The Heat” is the only studio film of summer 2013 to feature a female leading character.  And sadly, Dippold blows the chance to make the ultimate feminist statement with some cursory scenes addressing gender struggles in the typically masculine work of law enforcement.  The fact that two women were in a buddy cop flick and no one seemed to bat an eyelid is a pretty telling statement in and of itself.  B-2stars

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REVIEW: Marmaduke

13 06 2010

You don’t have to read my whole review as long as you take this away from it: “Marmaduke” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and you are truly stupid if you choose to waste a perfectly good 90 minutes of your life watching it.

Now that I have that very strong statement out of the way, you can either spend your time listening to me malign every big name involved in this movie or simply take my word for it.  I will be brutal and unsparing; this is the movie that will really bring out the critic in me.  I’ve been waiting to unleash my wrath on something terrible enough to deserve it.  So here it goes.

I have to admire the boldness of Lee Pace, Judy Greer, and William H. Macy who had the guts to show their faces in this movie.  They didn’t hide in the recording studio or inside the potentially lovable body of an animal.  They actually dared to be the human face of the movie, risking association with the movie for the rest of their careers.  These three ought to be sending the marketing people at Fox some very large gift baskets for not advertising “Marmaduke” very much, because the fact that it was such a low-key campaign may save their reputations from being forever tarnished.

You would think that Owen Wilson has enough sense to choose a movie that has some kind of substance.  But even if you don’t have much respect for Owen Wilson, you might think Keifer Sutherland does.  Or Emma Stone (Jules from “Superbad”).  Or George Lopez.  Or Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin).  Or Steve Coogan.  Or Fergie.  Or Marlon Wayans.  Or Sam Elliott.

Like this cavalcade of stars?  Guess what, each and every one of them chose a movie that doesn’t deserve to take a poop in their yards.  Honestly, if any of these big names had shown their faces in “Marmaduke,” they would be firing their agents and calling their real estate agent to find the coziest cave in Beverly Hills.  It’s always a shame to see actors take on material that doesn’t deserve them, and “Marmaduke” is like a tragedy for each of these stars.  None of them put any effort into making this giant heap of poop any better, as if the subtext of every line is, “We feel you; we know this movie sucks.”

And don’t even get me started on the non-existent plot.  My theory is that the director scrounged a bargain bin of kids movies and came to shooting with the idea to rip off any one of them that might have worked.  So for every groan and eye roll you get in “Marmaduke,” you get to say to yourself, “Oh, I liked that better when I saw it in (INSERT ANY KIDS MOVIE TITLE HERE).”  So, by all means, if you want to feel immeasurable frustration with the endless banality Hollywood feeds to children, go right ahead and waste your life watching “Marmaduke.”  As the late Gene Siskel used to say, “It’s your life, and you can’t get that time back.”  D- /





F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 11, 2010)

11 06 2010

They don’t make movies this powerful and impacting very often.  That’s why “Requiem for a Dream,” an stylistic masterpiece by Darren Aronofsky, is the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  I thought I couldn’t be scared by movies after having made it through several horror movies barely flinching.  Yet along came “Requiem for a Dream,” and unexpectedly, I was screaming, shouting, and cowering in fear.

The movie follows four people over nine months as drug abuse affects their lives in profound ways.  It’s a somewhat typical addiction story for Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) and Tyrone Love (Marlon Wayans) who are trying to earn enough money dealing drugs to open up a fashion shop for Harry’s girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly).  But due to various unfortunate incidents, they end up having to go deeper into the drug trade to dig themselves out of a hole.  Meanwhile, Marion has also fallen into a state of desperation to keep up their lifestyle of recreational drug use.

But easily the most powerful and heartbreaking storyline of “Requiem for a Dream” is that of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), Harry’s mother.  A New Jersey widow who has confined herself to her tiny apartment, Sara becomes convinced that she has been selected to appear on her favorite infomercial after a fake phone call.  Trying to make herself look attractive for a television audience, she visits an underground doctor to obtain pills that will help her take off some weight quickly.  She gets what she wants out of the pills but winds up addicted.  It’s tragic to watch the doctor turn a blind eye to her issues when she comes in, clearly unable to address her own problems.  Because she didn’t intend for this to happen, it’s her unconventional addiction story that really captures our sympathy.  We leave all four of them in a state of misery that no human being should ever have to endure.  It is chillingly devastating to watch their lives spiral out of control, and even more so once we reach the unsparing conclusion.

There’s no way to talk about the movie without talking about the incredible acting, particularly Ellen Burstyn.  A role like Sara is risky for someone of her age and stature, and she went all-in.  The result is one of the most powerful performances of the decade, one that should have won her an Oscar.  Jared Leto is scary good as her son, Jennifer Connelly takes her character to the edge just one year removed from winning her own Oscar, and Marlon Wayans isn’t bad!

The tension in the movie is amplified by Clint Mansell’s absolutely terrifying score.  Usually, a film’s score is gravy in a best-case scenario or a distraction in a worst-case scenario.  But “Requiem for a Dream” incorporates Mansell’s music into the very fabric of the movie, making it that much more effective.  The main theme from the movie has become a cult hit, but it’s “Meltdown,” the song that plays during the climactic moments of the movie, that deserves to be worshipped.

But “Requiem for a Dream” really works because of the incredible vision Darren Aronofsky has for it.  He makes addiction real for us and gets us into the minds of the addicts themselves.  It’s the split-screen, the close-ups, and the time lapse sequences.  It’s the quick cuts, the repetitive sequences when drugs are used, and the increased speed whenever the addiction accelerates.  Most of all, though, it’s his willingness to give us the truth about addiction and his unflinching drive to take us where few movies can.  The whole movie exudes his confidence in his vision, and his style leads us exactly where he wants to take us.

Really, if you ever want to scare someone out of doing drugs, you should show them this movie.  There’s no one on this planet who could watch this movie and then want to go do hard drugs.  Heck, it could scare the average person out of taking a pill.  So by all means, if you think you can handle it, I strongly recommend “Requiem for a Dream.”





REVIEW: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

13 08 2009

I will admit that I deliberately postponed this review a few days.  After writing “Mindless Moviegoing” in which I claim that there is hope for teens to look beyond the blockbuster, I would have felt like a hypocrite if the first movie I reviewed had been one.  That being said, I took my little brother to see “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” the morning after I finished the column.  He was begging, and so I just bit the bullet and took him.  Weary after the last disaster based on a Hasbro toy line, I decided I would judge the movie on two grounds: if it had some sort of understandable plot and if there was more to the movie than just explosions and fighting.  Did it pass?  Yes, but barely.  The movie isn’t highly ambitious, but it does attempt to provide a decent story and give its characters some depth (although it might help if the cast wasn’t all models to play this depth).  It provides bearable escapist entertainment, and it scores with the demographic that it targets because my brother now claims this to be his second-favorite movie ever (at least his favorite is “The Dark Knight”).

The movie revolves around a set of four warheads containing nanomites, a new technology with the strength to destroy cities.  They are developed by James McCullen, who sells them to NATO but intends to recapture them for his own use to achieve world domination.  He creates a team of warriors called Cobras that are fearless in the face of danger and virtually invincible.  Fighting these villains is G.I. Joe, an special forces unit comprised of elite soldiers from dozens of countries.  Duke (Channing Tatum, “Step Up”) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, “Scary Movie”) are the U.S. soldiers assigned to protect the warheads and, as good soldiers do, refuse to release command until their mission has been completed.  They train and ultimately become a part of G.I. Joe as they attempt to stop the dastardly McCullen from destroying the world.

The acting is sub-par, which can be expected when the cast is comprised mainly of ex-models like Channing Tatum and the gorgeous Sienna Miller.  The comedian of the bunch, Marlon Wayans, doesn’t really provide any laughs.  Instead, the movie lets some corny lines and ridiculous acting take care of that.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt strangely follows up the amazing “(500) Days of Summer” with this.  Although I don’t fault him for maybe wanting to take a trip out of indie world, this seems like a curious movie to choose.  He has a kind of boy-next-door feel, and I didn’t really dig this villainous role for him.  However, I am thrilled that he wants to expand his repertoire.  What really boggles me is how Dennis Quaid chooses movies like this when he could be in any movie he wants.

My main comparison to “G.I. Joe” was the latest “Transformers,” and this is light years better.  It is much easier to digest and entertaining.  The movie makes a fair attempt to bring up some serious themes, such as emotion vs. logic, facing fear, and having a conscience about killing.  However, they are undeveloped and ultimately miss the mark.  If you are looking for escapist and mindless entertainment, this a decent choice.  It provides some cool, fast-paced action that will be fun for kids or the kid in you.  C+ / 2stars