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Wednesday, 14 March 2012 14:25

A Thousand Words' and zero laughs

Clumsy comedy has little to offer

Remember when Eddie Murphy used to be funny?

The past few months have heard rumblings that maybe Eddie was on his way back he'd shown us a little of the old razzle dazzle in 'Tower Heist;' he was set to host the Oscars but then the movie went nowhere and Brett Ratner's homophobic slurring took care of the hosting gig and the talk of Eddie's return sort of disappeared.

'A Thousand Words,' Murphy's latest, is indicative of the kind of dreck to which he has exposed audiences over the past couple of decades.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 08 March 2012 11:49

Dr. Seuss saves the Earth The Lorax'

Animated film offers laughs, environmental themes

The works of Dr. Seuss have been adapted to the big screen many times over the years with mixed results. For whatever reason, some of his stories translate well to film while others simply do not. However, his canon is so universally beloved that the movies just keep on coming.

The latest attempt is 'The Lorax,' from the same team that did 2010's excellent 'Despicable Me.' Chris Renaud and Ken Daurio are certainly talented, and there are some great moments here, but the movie never seems to quite live up to its potential.

The film tells the story of Ted (Zac Efron, 'New Year's Eve'), a 12-year-old boy who lives in the town of Thneedville. Thneedville is a town where nothing natural grows, everything is made out of metal and plastic and the air they breathe is sold to them by the tiny and tyrannical Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle, 'Big Miracle'). Ted is smitten with neighbor Audrey (Taylor Swift, 'Valentine's Day'), who tells him about her desire to see a real tree.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 17:25

Little is fair in 'This Means War'

Well-intentioned action-comedy falls short
One of the unfortunate aspects of today's Hollywood is the obsessive need to produce work that appeals to the broadest possible audience. When you try to appeal to everyone, however, you wind up diluting the product. You wind up with a film that still has the stink of excessive focus grouping all over it. It's just too bad when it happens to a movie that should have been better - a movie like 'This Means War.'

It's the latest offering from director McG ('Terminator Salvation') and on paper, it looks like it could strike the ideal balance between rom-com and shoot-em-up.

On paper.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 11:18

'The Big Year' not for the birds

Comedy driven by performance, plumage

Of all the hobbies that one might choose to make a film about, bird-watching would seem to be fairly low on the list. There would appear to be nothing truly dynamic inherent to quiet guys quietly picking their way through the woods and watching birds - quietly.

However, 'The Big Year' would beg to differ.

It's the story of three men who have decided to attempt what is known in birding circles as a 'big year.' The gist is that you try to see and catalog as many different species of birds (in North America) as you can in one calendar year. The person who puts up the biggest number is acknowledged as the world's best birder.

Published in Movies
Friday, 07 October 2011 14:32

The lighter side of cancer

50/50' offers humor, heartbreak and humanity

Sometimes, the best, healthiest way to deal with tragedy or trauma is to laugh. Sure, it sounds counterintuitive at best, morbid at worst, but the simple truth is that there are times in our lives when you have to laugh or else you'll cry.

Discovering the humor in an inherently sad situation can be tough, especially in a film, when the slightest misstep can turn the audience against your characters in a heartbeat. Tiptoeing through the minefield of love, loss, sadness and pathos is a dangerous game, a game that can blow up in your face at any time.

But when that balance is achieved, when you can walk that narrow path through the minefield and come out on the other side, you've got something special.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 01 September 2011 13:22

A dish served lukewarm

Published in Movies
Thursday, 25 August 2011 11:50

Rebooting the barbarian

With the current Hollywood trend of remakes, reboots and reimaginings, it should come as no surprise that the 1982 cinematic classic 'Conan the Barbarian' would eventually be given the treatment. As a fan of the original as much for its wonderful flaws as anything else I went into the remake with a combination of low expectations and guarded optimism.

What I got was an ultraviolent and bloody fantasy epic with an overwrought and underdeveloped back story, clumsy performances and gratuitous special effects, 3D and otherwise.

In other words: perfect.

The plot such as it is revolves around an ancient mask that bestows great power on the wielder. In times gone by, the mask was destroyed and the pieces scattered among the barbarian tribes. The sinister Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, 'Avatar') searches out a Cimmerian village in his quest for the final piece of the mask and winds up massacring them all, leaving a young Conan (Leo Howard, 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra') to watch his father (Ron Perlman, TV's 'Sons of Anarchy') die, but the youngster escapes.

Flash-forward to a now-grown Conan (Jason Momoa, TV's 'Game of Thrones') still on a constant hunt for the man who killed his father and destroyed his village. When a familiar face makes an appearance, Conan finally knows who his opponent is the most powerful man in the land. And then?

It's on.

I'm going to be right up front about this 'Conan the Barbarian' is not a good movie. However, that doesn't change the fact that I enjoyed the crap out of it. While there's no accounting for taste, I acknowledge the many, many problems here. The story is thin and the performances alternate between wooden and maniacal the film often screeches to a halt when people, you know, talk.

But here's the thing Robert Howard's 'Conan' stories were pulp fiction. They were supposed to be populated with broad archetypes and gory violence. They were filled with good guys and bad guys and you knew which was which. This isn't complex psychodrama here it's a movie about a guy whose primary response to any situation is to cleave it in two with a broadsword.

And that's why I enjoyed this movie, as bad as it might be. Whether intentional or not, the filmmakers have created a true spiritual successor to the original movie. Like the original, the new 'Conan' is huge and sprawling, filled with swords and blood and skulls and fire. Bad guys get killed by the score and there's an occasional boob. It's big, dumb, ridiculous fun. It's nothing more and needs to be nothing more.

'Conan the Barbarian' simply is what it is. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

3 out of 5

Published in Movies

It got me.

'Cowboys and Aliens' begins with a mysterious man (Daniel Craig, 'Quantum of Solace') waking up in the middle of nowhere. He has no memory of who he is or where he came from; just a photograph and a strange metal band on his wrist. He makes his way to the nearby town of Absolution, a tiny town ruled by local cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, 'Morning Glory'). The man is arrested and about to be delivered into federal custody when surprise! aliens show up and start blowing stuff up and abducting the heck out of everyone.

Honestly? That's about everything you need to know.

The best part about the whole thing is the fact that, to my surprise, the movie was actually pretty good. You know, no award winner, but just a solid popcorn-muncher of a summer blockbuster.

Most of the credit for that has to go to Craig and Ford. The two of them have more than enough charisma to carry the film through its brisk two hours. Thankfully, the bulk of the action is handled by Craig watching Harrison Ford geriatrically struggle through a stunt sequence would be too heartbreaking for words. Still, the two of them are unmistakably movie stars, to the film's great benefit.

That's not to say that they do it all alone. Sam Rockwell ('Iron Man 2') has a nice turn as Doc, the town's doctor/saloonkeeper, for instance. The entire supporting cast is strong, featuring a veritable who's who of 'that guy's, those actors that you always recognize and usually like, but whose names you never remember. The one weak link felt like Olivia Wilde, whose performance wasn't terrible per se, but rather two-dimensional. There was a flatness to her that stood out.

Director Jon Favreau has officially established his big-budget blockbuster bona fides by now, after helming the two 'Iron Man' films before this one. 'Cowboys and Aliens' works because it plays everything honestly. This isn't some sort of kitschy wink at the audience; the film takes itself seriously. That genuineness of intent is what makes the whole thing work.

And it does work. The effects are prevalent without being distracting. The action sequences are exciting and well-made, although there's a tendency toward quick cuts that can make things feel a little too chaotic and tough to follow. Again, the performances are good. And it's a surprisingly engaging story a bit thin perhaps, but still interesting enough to keep me wanting to know what would happen next.

'Cowboys and Aliens' delivers what it promises cowboys and aliens. And really, what more can you ask for from your summertime movies?

[3 out of 5]

Published in Movies
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