REVIEW: Despicable Me 2

18 07 2013

No one is mistaking Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment for Pixar.  Heck, on its best day, I don’t even think it stacks up with DreamWorks Animation.  But that’s not to say that “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t have a place in the market.

It’s a film content to be just simple and sophomoric, corny and childish – but who can blame them for making a kids movie that’s tailored towards children?  It’s got goofy laughs aplenty for the munchkins, and it’s not shudder-inducing for everyone else.  While “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t hit straight at the heart like a “Toy Story” movie, it’s lovable enough to bring out the soft side in everyone.

Though it hardly qualifies as TV-14 humor, “Despicable Me 2” boasts a completely successful bottling of Essence d’Kristen Wiig into an animated character.  Her Anti-Villain League agent Lucy has all the lovable awkwardness of Wiig complete with all her zany body contortions.  She makes up the deficit left by Steve Carell’s Gru and the adorable Agnes, who simply doesn’t have the same unbridled innocent charm as the original “Despicable Me.”

Yet while Agnes decreases, the Minions increase.  Those little yellow corn-nuggets of energy are back in full force, no longer relegated to side-show status like they were in the first film.  They are even better realized in “Despicable Me 2,” achieving a kind of humor not unlike that of silent comedians (albeit in a very watered down fashion).

Illumination certainly did a good job of looking at what worked in the 2010 film and made it even bigger and better for their sequel.  In other words, they’ve come to the market in 2013 with a product even better suited for the moviegoers that made “Despicable Me” such a hit 3 years ago.  That may be good for investors, but it’s not all that great for the fans.  “Despicable Me 2,” not unlike its predecessor, is a rather disposable movie that charms during the experience but dissipates the second you leave the theater.  Though it is funny, it is also rather forgettable.  B-2stars

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REVIEW: Hope Springs

14 01 2013

Hope SpringsBe careful, for “Hope Springs” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

David Frankel’s comedy disguises itself as a comedy in the vein of “It’s Complicated” where Meryl Streep has issues with her sex life.  But it’s anything but that.  Laughs are sparse, unless you find uncomfortable erotic fantasies being spouted by Tommy Lee Jones to be uproarious.

Instead, “Hope Springs” plays like “Blue Valentine” with an AARP card.  We see Streep and Jones’ married couple, but there’s no love or passion anymore.  Sure, they are held together by their children, their house, and 31 years of commitment.  But they don’t touch each other, kiss each other, or even sleep in the same bed anymore.

I suppose it’s effective as a drama, largely because the dynamic is devastating and depressing between the couple in question.  Channeling some of his Oscar-nominated performance as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln,” Tommy Lee Jones constantly bullies his wife into submission and silence.  And when that wife is America’s sweetheart Meryl Streep, it just makes you angry.

When they go to couples therapy with an eerily stoic Steve Carell as their shrink, it’s hard to believe that this marriage can be fixed in anything less than a Hollywood movie.  And things get better, but I was hardly convinced or left smiling.  Between “Hope Springs” and “Amour,” 2012 has been a year where the movies have frightened me about where love and marriage eventually end up.  C2stars





REVIEW: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

18 06 2012

Melancholia” or Melan-comedy?  Much like that awful pun to start this review, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” often teeters on the delicate see-saw of funny and just plain depressing.  In brief bursts, it often has moments of humor that can garner a chuckle.  Most of these jokes only play well to those with a love of irony and a willingness to accept a little bit of absurdity – because think too much and you might actually remember that these people are facing extinction.

That’s right, just as the title suggests, Lorene Scafaria’s debut feature opens at the close (a “Harry Potter” reference that should explain the earlier von Trier allusion).  This apocalypse, however, feels nothing like the impending pit of doom that forms in our stomachs when watching “Contagion” or “Take Shelter,” two films heralding a modern end of days.  Given three weeks notice of a massive asteroid impact that will end all life on Earth, we’ve been primed to expect massive riots, looting, and murder.

What Scafaria provides could perhaps best be described as “The Bucket List: Apocalypse Edition,” in which forty-year-olds simply act like college students by losing their inhibition for a brief period of time.  Cocaine, adultery, you name it!  But when the novelty of their “end of the world” party wears off, it’s time to get down to business – living out the romantic-comedy narrative that all of us must fulfill some time before we meet our maker.  Oh, and there’s also a tiny riot just for kicks to advance the plot.  In the quiet suburbs of New York City, you can barely tell that mankind’s demise is imminent because it feels so sanitized of conflict or anxiety.  “Apocalypse Now” or Apocalypse Lite?  (Sorry, couldn’t resist another one.)

Yet simply because Steve Carell’s vanilla, insurance-selling sad sack Dodge reluctantly falls in love with Keira Knightley’s pot-smoking, free-spirited hypersomniac Penny in an archetypical narrative does not mean that the movie realizes that and tailors our experience to fit such a pattern.  Instead, “Seeking a Friend” settles to provide a slightly satisfying film while it suffers from genre confusion.  It toggles with high concept comedy a la “Horrible Bosses,” a road trip comedy a la “Due Date,” a meditation on loneliness a la “Up in the Air,” and, of course, the conventional opposites attract rom-com.  While Knightley is all over the place, Carell excels by going dark and deep like he did in “Little Miss Sunshine,” although a fine performance can’t mask this film’s flaws.  As much on screen as it must have been on the page, “Seeking a Friend” is really just seeking a genre.  B-





REVIEW: Crazy Stupid Love

29 07 2011

I sit through way too many romantic comedies each year hoping that one of them will wind up being something like “Crazy Stupid Love.”  Coming at the tail end of summer 2011, this genre-pic manna tastes way too sweet.  But it’s not worthy of exaltation just due to the sea of flops surrounding it or praise just because it wasn’t bad, it’s actually just a good movie, one with heart, humor, and insight.

Take away the Christmas setting and it’s actually reminiscent of a small-scale “Love Actually.”  The movie provides perspectives on love from Generations X, Y, and Z, stories that are told with an uncanny sincerity that overpowers their slightly hackneyed development.  Written by Dan Fogelman, who had previously only dabbled in light kiddie fare like “Tangled” and “Cars 2,” delivers a work full of maturity and scope, one that winds up being surprisingly clever.  The movie has a few tricks up its sleeves, and it makes the movie a great deal more engaging than any other movie dealing with this subject matter.

Fogelman’s best maneuver, however, may be reminding us to expect the unexpected when it comes to something as complicated (or crazy and stupid) as love.  While Hollywood may require a certain ending point, the journey to get there doesn’t have to be formulaic or predictable.  The characters of “Crazy Stupid Love” make that voyage fun because they are hardly conventional romantic comedy archetypes, save perhaps Emma Stone’s insecure burgeoning career woman.

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Random Factoid #406

7 09 2010

I have no intention of seeing “Piranha 3D” … really, ever.  But for the sequel (which seems strange to already plan given the movie’s lackluster box office receipts), I might be kind of interested.  The folks running the marketing may have come up with the greatest way for moviegoers to participate in creating a movie.  Sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to say art.

Listen to this proposition (via Cinematical):

We already know a sequel to Alexandre Aja’s rebooting of the “Piranha” series is in the works, and now comes news that The Weinstein Company is planning to let the fans get involved with the story development.

The as yet untitled sequel will take a page out of the Paranormal Activity playbook — not by asking viewers to demand the film, but instead letting them vote on which celebrity they’d love to see turn up in the sequel and die a horrible death. Sounds fun to me — and the possibilities are endless!

The author of the post suggested some great dramatic actors like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, or Robert DeNiro.  If I had to cast my vote, and I think I will because the opportunity is just too good to pass up, I would choose someone very unlikely to ever take such a role.

So here are my picks.  For female, I’d love to see Tilda Swinton do it because she is so serious about everything.  She stated her days as a “Hollywood spy” are over, which would make taking this role all the more hilarious.  Female runner-up is Marion Cotillard, mainly because I want to see how great a swimsuit they could put her in (hey, I am a guy).  And for the same reason, I’d love to see Leonardo DiCaprio do it as well because like Swinton, he’s made editorial headlines for his stubborn insistence to only take on intensely dramatic roles.  Runner-up for males would be Steve Carell, but only if he played Michael Scott.  The real exit of Michael from “The Office” – he goes on a beach vacation and winds up getting mauled by piranha.





REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

30 07 2010

Movies have always had a knack for turning pain into comedy; it’s one of the reasons why we go.  We can’t laugh at suffering in the real world, but we can go and sit in front of a screen and be thoroughly entertained by the trials of people we don’t even know.

However, in “Dinner for Schmucks,” pain is just pain.  As if the pain of the events themselves weren’t enough, we are forced to endure a seemingly interminable series of jokes falling flat on their face.  It’s OK to watch pain when it’s a fictional character enduring it – not the movie itself.

The plot is simple, adhering only to the old adage of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  As a rising executive, Paul Rudd’s Tim is invited to a cruel tradition where members of the corporate crew each bring a bozo to dinner in order to lampoon them for their own entertainment.  He hits the jackpot with Barry (a red-headed Steve Carell), an IRS agent who dabbles in taxidermy in his spare time, creating some very intricate mice dioramas.  While he has a heart of gold, he has a knack for destroying everything in his sights.

There’s also a cast of supporting characters, including Tim’s girlfriend with an inconsistent French accent (gotcha!), as well as his psychotic New Year’s hook-up turned stalker, a foul-mouthed secretary, and a sex-crazed artist.  None of them manage to excite us, and it’s not just because we don’t recognize them.  There have been many a no-name comedy sensation, look no further than last summer’s “The Hangover” as proof.  Yet there’s just no comedic spark or energy from anyone, and characters that could make a mediocre comedy bearable just become part of the pratfall.

And then there are the schmucks, who only come out in the twilight moments of the movie.  It’s an interesting cast of characters, headlined by Zach Galifianakis, who thinks that he has the power to control minds.  The schtick is funny for a little while, but even last summer’s golden child of comedy can’t keep the ridiculous character from becoming a one-note role.  Your mouth may be wide open during the dinner, not necessarily laughing but just awe-struck by how absurd the buffoons at the table are.

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.  D+ /





Random Factoid #351

14 07 2010

I have a new addiction courtesy of iPhone 4 (which works FINE with a case, all you Apple haters).

Thanks to multitasking, I have begun to love listening to the arts & life segments from NPR.  Thanks to Apple’s innovations, I can listen to NPR while checking Facebook, writing an email, sending a text message, or blogging.  A lot of times I will leave it on while cleaning my room or just casually walking around the house.

I’ve heard some really fascinating segments recently.  I’ve listened to plenty of movie reviews, and some very interesting editorials, including one on the declining impact of box office draws.  But what I’ve enjoyed most are the interviews.  I heard a great one with Steve Carell, and I have a 25-minute interview with “The Kids Are All Right” director Lisa Cholodenko saved in my queue.  I plan on listening to it now that I’ve seen the movie.

By far the most fascinating was an interview with Mark Ruffalo around the release of the aforementioned movie.  I don’t know how to embed the audio, but click here to be taken to the article and listen.  You will find out a whole lot you didn’t know.