REVIEW: Ted

4 08 2012

For better or for worse, “Ted” is a product of Seth MacFarlane through and through.  In other words, the film plays out like one of those five-part “Family Guy” story arcs.  It also doesn’t help that the comedic pairing of semi-serious Mark Wahlberg and a wildly inappropriate talking teddy bear, aptly named Ted, are essentially performing the same functions as straight-shooting dog Brian and the indecent infant Stevie.

And since “Ted” bears such an uncanny resemblance to the comedic stylings of “Family Guy,” the optimal way to consume it is the same: as a set of stand-alone YouTube clips that make you roar with laughter and cut out the story that connects the jokes.  MacFarlane, absurd metaphor-spawner that he is, has never quite figured out how to tell a story that compels anywhere near as much as his cut-away humor does.

Granted, his borrowed, trite plot is merely there to string together the laughs.  Yet it also winds up depreciating the value of the entire film because eventually you forget all the jokes.  But the story is something that sticks in your head.  For instance, I could recite one or two funny lines from “Ted” off the top of my head, but that creepy and unnecessary subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi as a sexually disturbed adult willing to kidnap a talking teddy bear will always haunt my memory.

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REVIEW: Safe House

3 03 2012

We all know Denzel Washington is an outstanding actor.  Most of us know that the same could not be said for Ryan Reynolds.  (For those that refute this, ask yourselves whether you are in love with his physique or his performances.)  “Safe House” amounts to little more than a “Bourne”-lite adventure reaffirming these virtually self-evident conclusions.

The adventure takes us to South Africa, where the dullness of Matt Weston’s (Reynolds) humdrum job supervising a CIA safe house has begun to take a psychological toll as he feels stuck and unable to move up the institutional ladder.  This would be an Occupy-friendly film if only Reynolds were complaining about not having a job; later, the film delves into a new favorite action movie trope that would also have the vagrants of Zuccotti Park licking their chops: THE GOVERNMENT IS CORRUPT!  All of them!  Just working the government destroys your soul and taints your brain!  I get it, Hollywood, you love 1968 and want to keep the spirit of skepticism and distrust of institutions alive … but that was four decades ago and the schtick is getting a little old.  Maybe it’s time for a new target.

But the monotony of his vocation gets suddenly broken when a captured criminal is brought it – young Cornel West!  Just kidding, Denzel Washington’s rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost only looks like him.  The difference between the scholar and the character is that Frost is much better at getting people to see things his way.  As the latest Hannibal Lecter knock-off, Frost is hardly as frightening as might be expected, but Washington’s calm portrayal certainly makes him an eerie wild-card and a ticking time bomb.

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REVIEW: The Change-Up

6 08 2011

It’s a stretch to call “The Change-Up” a comedy.  The movie feels like a two-hour gag reel of failed jokes axed from an offensive stand-up comedian’s routine.  It puts you on edge, too, because you are always scared that it’s going to go one step too far and really offend someone like Michael Richards or Tracy Morgan.

Sophomoric and immature humor can be funny at times, but when anything relies solely on it, the act gets old really quickly.  The movie tastelessly hurls pot-shots at mentally challenged people, Down syndrome patients, Japanese people, and Catholics, just to name a few, trying to get a laugh at their expense.  This kind of shock jock technique treads a thin line between making a statement or commentary and exploiting stereotypes for personal gain; “The Change-Up” is so far on the wrong side of that line it really isn’t funny.

Not only that, the movie as a whole just doesn’t produce the laughs that it should.  The writers of “The Hangover,” who penned the stale reimagining of “Freaky Friday” that can barely be called a script, took the wrong lesson from their smash success.  We didn’t respond so overwhelmingly positively to “The Hangover” because of its raunchiness and vulgarity; that’s standard order in Hollywood R-rated comedies nowadays.  We responded because it was outrageously original and a fun ride because we never knew what to expect.

“The Change-Up” represents that lazy and misplaced mentality that  doubling the crudeness and gutting the inventiveness down to next to nothing will still produce a good comedy.  As evinced by all the jokes that fall terribly flat and the ability to see the wheels of the movie turning the whole time, it doesn’t produce anything except a rollickingly predictable and forgettable time at a movie that should have you rolling on the floor.  And alas, there are probably more body changing movies out there than decent laughs in this movie.

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REVIEW: Green Lantern

20 06 2011

The old adage traditionally goes “money can’t buy you happiness,” but in respect to the latest Hollywood comic book adaptation, “Green Lantern,” money can’t buy you quality. The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall, and with a $200 million price tag, this movie lands a hard face plant.  Even with Ryan Reynolds turning in one of the better superhero performances in recent memory, the movie’s unimaginative script and laughable special effects render it one step short of unbearable.

The first movie in any hopeful series has to do a lot of introductions, and the hero has to earn his stripes.  But here, the exposition just made me want to howl with laughter because of its corniness, and they even brought in Geoffrey Rush to do some of the narration to make it sound serious!  The whole universe they set up feels like some rejected, half-baked idea for a Disney Channel series with its Sectors of the universe, the wise sages known as Guardians, and the intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is the lucky human who gets to join their ranks thanks to being “chosen” by the green light after another Green Lantern crash-lands on Earth.  Cocky, rule-breaking, and daredevil Jordan has his work cut out for him as the Green Lanterns draw their power from the green light of will, while the menacing Parallax (and his new convert Hector Hammond, Peter Sarsgaard’s mad scientist with a nasty receding hairline) draws his power from the yellow light of fear.  He must learn to use willpower to overcome fear by using the power of imagination – which makes it all the more ironic that the movie’s big theme copies that of the poorly received “Spider-Man 3.”  Clearly it’s not Jordan who needs the green light; it’s the people who wrote the script.

The whole mess, which goes on for nearly two hours, is full of plot holes and ridiculous implausibilities (flying next to the sun?) that make it even more laughable.  But the icing on the cake is the movie’s visual effects, which are honestly the WORST that I’ve seen in a blockbuster made this millenium.  When Jordan harnesses the green energy and transforms, he looks so fake that it’s hard to take him seriously.  It’s made worse by the fact that his eyes are sloppily changed blue, making him look borderline possessed (not to mention that it does jack squat to protect his identity).  And don’t even get me started on those Guardians; they look like the offspring of trolls bred with Smurfs.

Truly, Reynolds deserves better than this.  He may be the “Sexiest Man Alive,” but he’s also out to prove that he’s more than just a pretty face.  He puts a lot of soul into this character, giving Jordan some depth and emotion, yet he’s stifled by a terrible movie that is unintentionally more like “Bridesmaids” than “Thor.”  Reynolds is a star here, but he can’t shine bright enough to overpower the ugly light that is “Green Lantern.”  From a critical perspective, it’s a big, fat red light for this movie.  C- / 





REVIEW: Buried

13 06 2011

2010 saw the release of two cinematic interpretations of claustrophobia: “127 Hours” and “Buried.”  However, the trapped protagonist marks the films’ diverging point.  While Danny Boyle’s film is a buoyant celebration of life and the triumph of man’s will over the harsh conditions of nature, Rodrigo Cortés’ film takes place in a coffin underground, a setting which sets the bleak tone for the thriller that so badly begs to be seen as Hitchockian.

Equipped with nothing more than a Zippo lighter and a cellphone that somehow manages to get service underground in Iraq (he must not have AT&T, which can’t get me reception in my own house), American truck driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) must find a way to get himself saved.  He only has a finite amount of time to do this, or the oxygen will run out – and he will die.  Paul has no recollection of how he managed to get himself in this position, but he must be smart and look forward to get himself out of the position.

There are no cinematic tricks hiding in the sleeves of “Buried;” it’s just straight up 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds stuck in a box acting the hell out of his character.  Fearful, confused, alone, worried, woebegone – he runs the whole gamut of emotions in a small space and in very little time.  It’s an impressive performance that adds a humanity to the movie that feels as palpable as the sweat dripping down his forehead.

Cortés does a great job of complementing Reynolds’ intensity by craftily manipulating the tools he has.  The movie’s cinematography, editing, and score are all impeccable and keep the suspense taut.  I had my doubts that anyone could make a movie like “Buried,”truly just as straightforward as a man in a coffin, even work, but Cortés executes and makes it a great thriller.  While I’d choose to be trapped with “127 Hours” over this in a heartbeat, I definitely can’t diminish the efficacy of this equally improbable success.  B+ / 





My “My Best Friend’s Wedding” Cast WON!

29 10 2010

Who, me?  Again?  Oh, stop it.  Seriously, stop it.

Thanks again to every LAMB voter who crowned me king of casting AGAIN.  I really do appreciate it.  Maybe I should go into casting as a career … the other day I recast “The Social Network” using the actors from my school’s acting company.  It’s something I sure like to do.

I’ll offer up a brief bit of rationale behind my casting – and who knows, maybe you can steal my crown!

Rachel McAdams was my choice to take over helming the movie from Julia Roberts.  She’s a fantastic actress with great comedic talent, plus she looks GORGEOUS.  Even if she stunk in the role, I’d forgive her as long as she looked good.  She is in the mainstream consciousness, but a huge role like this could propel her to superstardom.  I have adored her in movies like “Wedding Crashers” and “The Family Stone,” and I just hope the rest of America could catch up with me – er, her.

I had the hardest time casting Michael, the man of her dreams who happens to be engaged to another girl.  I settled on Ryan Reynolds, who has been heating up the rom-com circuit recently and could easily do a pretty good job with this role.

The two biggest no-brainers were the scene-stealing supporting roles of Cammy, Michael’s ditzy fiance, and George, Jules’s gay friend who steps in to make everything more complicated.  It was obvious from the get-go that Amanda Seyfried would have to play the part since she has proven herself so great at playing the dumb blonde type (“Mean Girls”) as well as being someone beautiful that an audience can care about (“Mamma Mia”).

And do I even need to explain choosing Neil Patrick Harris as George?  He’s one of the funniest people at work in the business and this role was practically made for him.  If there’s ever a Broadway version of the movie, he will be instantly cast.

Watch for the next edition of LAMB Casting, when the blogosphere attempts to recast “Forrest Gump!”  (My choice.  We’ll see how it goes.)





REVIEW: Adventureland

27 09 2009

Adventureland” is a big slice of ’80s nostalgia pie served on a plate with no other embellishments.  I bother to make this mouthwatering comparison because for someone like me who didn’t live in the era, the movie doesn’t quite hit home.  Kudos to writer/director Greg Mottola for mastering the feel of the decade’s teen movies, but I felt like he packed it with ’80s inside jokes.  To set the record straight, I don’t mind watching movies where all the jokes don’t register with me.  I understand that only stoners can fully appreciate “Pineapple Express” and only musicians can feel likewise about “This Is Spinal Tap.”  Yet the aforementioned movies hold out a welcoming hand and draw you into a world which perhaps you are not entirely cognizant.  “Adventureland,” on the other hand, scorns those who did not live in its time, making me feel like an unwelcome outsider.

The plot revolves around James (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college graduate forced to take a summer job at the Adventureland amusement park due to some unexplained financial troubles.  The cast of characters he has to deal with are a stark contrast from those he encountered at Oberlin, from the penny-pinching park owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, “SNL”) to the high-pitched squealer with a compulsion of punching between the legs.  Life is pretty miserable for James until the beautiful Em (Kristen Stewart) saves him from being stabbed by a fed up customer.  They slowly discover a deep affection for each other.  But ultimately, they find out that they don’t really know what they want.  Em has an affair with the married Adventureland janitor Connell (Ryan Reynolds); James goes out with chatterbox Lisa P. during a brief break in his relationship with Em.  Their relationship is marked by vacillation, which would be refreshingly realistic if it didn’t get caught in a mire of clichés.

Just a rhetorical question: is it a recurring theme of 2009 comedies to have hilarious supporting characters that get no screen time?  Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman in “Funny People,” as well as David Koechner in “Extract,” provided the best (in Koechner’s case, the only) laughs of their respective movies but were seen criminally little.  The same goes for Hader and Wiig in “Adventureland,” who light up the screen with their zany characters during the limited time that we see them.  Unfortunately, Mottola nails these characters and not any of the more prominent ones.  James feels like a slightly less pathetic Michael Cera.  Em is somewhat more realized, and Stewart does her best to flash her acting chops in the role.  She gets the fact that Em is an enigmatic girl, yet Stewart’s transparent portrayal doesn’t do this side justice.  The absolute worst is Ryan Reynolds’ Connell, a subplot so poorly written it hurts to watch.  Ryan Reynolds seems to be having a dreadful time, constantly asking himself, “Why did I do this movie?”  Mottola’s “Adventureland” is a styling love story of the ’80s, but his infatuation blinds him from creating anything that transcends the confines of his favorite decade and still holds meaning for those who didn’t live it.  C- / 1halfstars