REVIEW: This Is Where I Leave You

20 09 2014

This Is Where I Leave YouIt took me until a college intro-level theater class to realize it, but the term melodrama actually means “music drama.”  In Shawn Levy’s adaptation of the novel “This Is Where I Leave You,” he really deploys that definitional dimension to convey all the film’s emotion.

As if we couldn’t already tell that two family members alone together was going to result in clichéd conversation, Levy cues each scene up with Michael Giacchino’s gentle piano score to softly amplify the forced profundity.  Or maybe if we’re lucky, Levy will treat us to a mellow Alexei Murdoch ditty.  (The singer is employed far less effectively than he was by Sam Mendes in “Away We Go,” for the few out there who care.)

The film seems to move forward solely on the logic that everyone needs to almost cry alone with each other.  It doesn’t matter to what extent the actors can manage authenticity – usually they don’t manage at all – because it’s impossible to escape the hoary hokeyness of the directorial heavy-handedness.

“This Is Where I Leave You,” which follows a family of four estranged siblings coming back to sit shiva for their deceased father, brings a lot more under its roof than it can handle.  Levy recruited a heck of a cast but seems unsure of how to deploy them in roles that require more than easy comedy.  The film’s dialogue makes more than a few attempts at humor, yet its talented players seem to timid to explore that element.

The reserve of the cast only serves to exacerbate the awkward blending of three distinct comic stylings: the reactionary stoicism of Jason Bateman, the strung-out loquaciousness of Tina Fey, and the live wire erraticism of Adam Driver.  (As for Corey Stoll, their eldest sibling … well, every family needs one serious member).  They don’t feel like family members so much as they come across as uncommonly adept scene partners who can feign a passable relationship until someone yells cut.

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REVIEW: I Am Number Four

25 05 2011

If you are willing to get over the initial corniness of the plot of “I Am Number Four,” you might find that it’s not so bad.  In fact, it’s actually quite enjoyable.  The movie is high-octane action with plenty of noise, but there’s something there that I can’t quite enumerate or describe.  It’s a movie I kept telling myself I shouldn’t like (I mean, it IS a Michael Bay-produced venture) – yet I wound up having some of the most fun I’ve had at a sci-fi movie in a long time.

The story isn’t anything spectacular: Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) is an alien on earth hiding from the Mogadorians, a hostile tribe that invaded their home planet and intends to kill the nine toddlers who escaped.  But here’s the catch – they can only be killed in sequence, and three are dead.  Masquerading as John Smith in Paradise, Ohio, Number Four tries to blend in to the high school crowd to lay low, befriending the conspiracy theorist Sam (Callan MacAuliffe) and wooing the big jock’s girl, Sarah (Dianna Agron from TV’s Glee).

On paper, it actually sounds kind of stupid.  The acting isn’t exactly spectacular, nor does it provide any profound insights into alienation or bullying in modern high schools.  (Trust me, I just finished four years of high school.)  But even though on paper, “I Am Number Four” doesn’t seem to work, on screen it actually does.  Why is that?

I think it has to be because of the energy that D.J. Caruso endows the movie.  Just like his previous helming efforts, “Disturbia” and “Eagle Eye,” there’s an electricity and excitement that bursts through the screen and infects the viewer.  He keeps the movie running at a perfectly paced clip, adeptly balancing human elements and big bangs.  Caruso takes the audience on a roller-coaster ride, that although familiar, still provides a walloping dose of fun. B+

REVIEW: The Crazies

17 08 2010

The Crazies” is a hodgepodge of all our favorite horror premises.  There’s the apocalyptic disease aspect that reminds us of “28 Days Later.”  There’s the last people on earth vibe that emanated from “I Am Legend.”  There’s also the sick zombie action that has led to four “Resident Evil” movies.

You would think that a movie that makes us recall such titles would be worthwhile.  But instead of having something for everyone, there’s is nothing for anyone, granted that they’ve seen any movies in those sub-genres.

Uninspired even by remake standards, “The Crazies” just feels like a waste of time as you watch it.  For an hour and 40 minutes, we trudge through the typical escalation of a viral epidemic that ravages a small town in Iowa.  After 48 hours, the virus turns its victims insane to the point that they would kill friends and family.  The sheriff and his pregnant wife (Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell), among the few uninfected left in the town, have to battle off the zombies to escape to safety.  Not only do they have to fight the crazies, but they are also up against the company that accidentally dispersed the biological weapon, trying to hide their mistake.

Sound familiar?  It’s not just a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original; it’s a rehash of every horror movie since.  Eventually, enough is enough, and cheap jumps and thrills only spell out boredom.  The movie gets harder and harder to enjoy as it drags on … and on … and on.  We know exactly what’s going to happen just from hearing the premise.  Maybe the perceived lack of originality speaks to how influential the first movie was.  But I missed the memo that the original was some kind of cultural watershed, so I’m just going to interpret this rendition of “The Crazies” as the latest dull entry into the woefully overflowing “been there, done that” category.  C- /