2011

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

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A collaborative effort from Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg featuring performance capture animation and an awesome cast providing the voices sounded and looked more like a blissfully brilliant project than it actually ended up being for me. The skill of two prolific directors- although Spielberg took the reins on this version with Jackson helming the next- is evident in every frame as far as the look and composition of each scene of THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. However, as technically amazing as the animation and action is here, the scenes in-between the blazing guns and chase sequences are a little less impressive and the overall adventure only occasionally entertaining.

The film is based on a character, Tintin, from a classic comic. Tintin is a reporter that stumbles across a hidden treasure and attempts to track it down with his trusty dog, Snowy and a drunken Captain Haddock. While in pursuit of the treasure Tintin, Snowy and Haddock run into trouble, Sakharine, who is also tracking down the treasure.

I have never read the Tintin comics, but have always been familiar with the name Tintin and his relationship with his dog Snowy and that the property dealt with adventures not unlike what’s featured here in this film. My familiarity or lack thereof does not hinder my ability to at least objectively sit and judge the film on its own merit as a piece of entertainment. For fans or those very familiar with the character I can picture getting a kick out of seeing the characters rendered so beautifully, but everything outside of the action sequences left me in a state of boredom.
Here’s something I can say with the utmost confidence- the animation is stunning, or should I say performance capture with animation pasted over the top of it. Every frame the movie looks beautiful but none more than the action sequences. There are so many gorgeous details that are on display that those sequences become instantly memorable which makes some of the non-action scenes that more frustrating. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is worth watching based on the one long continuous action scene through a village where characters are chasing down a piece of paper through various means and it is absolutely spectacular to watch.

The voice actors are all top notch and fit in well with the adventurous nature of the film but also the cartoon aspect of it all. Andy Serkis is great as the stumbling alcoholic Captain Haddock, Daniel Craig as the sniveling villain and Jaime Bell as the wide eyes adventure seeker Tintin. The voices have a talented group of writers penning their dialogue as well in Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish who all have some well received projects in their filmography. The writing excels in the detail behind the scenes though and not as much in the actual development of the adventure itself.

Spielberg handles THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN as expected- with the skill of a veteran director but one with more of an eye on delivering beautiful looking action than interesting story outside of the action. On the spectacular action set pieces alone the film is well worth the ticket price or rental fee. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least that if most people, like me, checked out in between action scenes before planting themselves firmly in their seats when bullets are flying and characters are risking life and limb in pursuit of a sunken treasure. Peter Jackson will be stepping up for the next film and I have little doubt the film will be equally as beautiful- I just hope it improves where this version fell a bit short.

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Movie Review: Footloose (2011)

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Another day another remake of an 80’s “classic” that caused fans to get in an uproar. I can’t say I was chomping at the bit to see a sequel to the original FOOTLOOSE let alone that I even liked or remember much about the original. The entire soap opera revolving the outrage over a remake for this film fits perfectly in the part of my brain reserved for stuff I just don’t care about- but now that I’ve seen the remake I can at least interject with my opinion. The short answer might even say more than expanding on it and it’s simply that this movie is not for me- but I didn’t hate it.

The thing that really puts me in the camp of people that just don’t care about a FOOTLOOSE remake is that I find the entire premise to be completely ridiculous. The film is centered on a town where a horrible tragedy has occurred and as a result public dancing has been outlawed. Granted there are additional laws that follow and dancing is allowed if your supervised and at least six inches apart but the sentiment itself is still sounds dumb to me even if it takes place in an extremely “church ruled” town. When a Boston teen, Ren, moves to town and challenges each law the town has instituted and takes a liking to the priest’s daughter there’s plenty of sweaty teen dancing and shenanigans afoot.

I’ll be honest- I expected to hate this movie a whole lot more than I actually did. Actually, the real truth is that I didn’t hate it at all- in fact I found myself surprisingly entertained by a lot that this movie had to offer. That’s not to say I’d ever really want to watch it again, although I wouldn’t throw a temper tantrum if I had to. My dread about watching it came from the premise that I still think is ludicrous and the extremely generic marketing that likely steered people like me away from it.

The cheese factor is pretty high in FOOTLOOSE- since you really have to accept the fact that dancing is indeed banned in this town, everyone is apparently a professional dancer and that someone would drive to a secluded warehouse to dance and blow off steam alone. When I say everyone is a professional dancer I mean EVERYONE is dancing like they live in a pop music video or was a choreographer in a previous life- you will find no classic moves like the lawn mower or sprinkler in this movie. Get passed all those things and you’re bound to get a kick out of the movie.

None of the actors or actresses here are going to redefine your view on acting in general but the performances are fun. Kenny Wormald doesn’t quite have leading man chops but he fits in well in the sea of young faces and holds his own throughout. The same can be said for the rest of the supporting cast- the guys are funny at times and the girls also have moments of comedy when they aren’t driving the guys nuts with their dance moves.

I feel like this is where I should lay into the really bad parts of the film but to be honest I don’t see the point. Sure there are things to dislike, but many of those same things are what kind of make the film a guilty pleasure. The acting is cheesy and can’t be taken too seriously, the plot is ridiculous and the dancing is even more so, but that’s what makes it fun. Honestly, if the film had tried to be dead serious, gritty and realistic it’d be a lot easier to sit here and tell you this version has gone the way of the Macarena- played out and embarrassing which this film might skid the line on, but in the end it avoids being unbearable.

Before I go too far and make anyone think this is top of the line stuff and in the running to compete with the beat films of its particular year let me just reiterate that had I had anything better to do while watching it I probably wouldn’t have finished it. The film is watchable for all the reasons it should he detestable and just because it’s got charming leads and fun dance numbers does not mean it is destined to be remembered for years and years to come. FOOTLOOSE is a remake that probably didn’t need to be made but since it’s here just sit back and have a little fun with it. Just return it to the video store early so that it appears as though you just couldn’t wait to get rid of it- appearances are everything after all.

Movie Review: Young Adult (2011)

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Man child stories aren’t always limited just to men and their inability to grow up and act like a regular human being. YOUNG ADULT proves that women can also effectively portray this specific type of adult, except here there’s a mixed bag of uncomfortable behavior, mean spirited dialogue and a sad sense of neglect. None of those descriptions apply to either Jason Reitman or Diablo Cody but instead apply to the characters within the film- although YOUNG ADULT is a mixed bag at times in terms of the overall impression it leaves at the end.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a ghost writer of a popular young adult book series that is on its last leg. When she receives an email notice that her ex-boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife have had a child she decides to return to her hometown that she hates to win back Buddy’s affection. Once back in town she strikes a strange friendship with an old classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt), where they both trade unflattering jokes and insults at each other. Mavis’ sense of denial intensifies as she makes everyone around her extremely uncomfortable until she is forced to come to terms with her problems.

I find myself in another one of those conflicted moods after watching a film where I want to praise a lot of things about the film but also want to hold back because I don’t feel blown away or even overwhelmingly positive about every specific aspect of YOUNG ADULT. Here is a film that is competently made, well acted and written yet there’s just something about it that feels impenetrable and frustrating- which might even be brilliant because it mirrors the psyche of the main character.

Charlize Theron perfectly captures the essence of the character Mavis. Her character is mean, careless and full of self satisfaction. She has a sense of confidence in herself that is awkward and unflattering and is alarmingly aware that her actions and words harm those around her but doesn’t care. Theron embodies each of these characteristics and is lost in the character where you don’t even see Charlize Theron anymore and only see this shallow ugly shell of a person with so many defective character flaws that it’s even more alarming to think of the fact that we all probably know someone exactly like her.

YOUNG ADULT is one of those films that I enjoyed many individual aspects such as the performances, premise and names attached to the film but was left with a conflicting feeling at the end that causes me to ultimately come down a little less than enthusiastic about the film. Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody both handle their roles directing/writing very well- there are just certain choices that either didn’t sit well or weren’t as effective that kept me from ever getting fully on board. The standout moment that alienated me personally was towards the end when we think a personal epiphany is about to happen and another character steps in only to reinforce another’s self destructive behavior. The feeling that left me with was that of anger because rather than leaving the journey with any sort of point or direction it left me shrugging my shoulders at how everything previously seemed to serve no purpose.

The end was certainly a point of contention for me and while I have my issues with it I can’t say it ruined the entire movie. Theron and Oswalt give fantastic performances, Reitman still directs the film very well and Cody’s writing while far more pessimistic than I really wanted was still pretty sharp. YOUNG ADULT is not one of those feel good movies of the year but is good for quite a few awkward laughs when you’re not taking a personal inquiry of your own life to ensure you’re not the Mavis in your own life.

Movie Review: The Descendants (2011)

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I enjoy Alexander Payne’s movies, but there comes a time in each of them where I come dangerously close checking out. Most of the time it’s just because somewhere in the middle there is a stretch that is mostly void of the drama and comedy that elevated the rest of the film. THE DESCENDANTS does not break that trend as it is once again a very good movie from Alexander Payne that falls short of greatness due to a lack of interesting or engaging moments during the halfway point.

Matt King (George Clooney) and the rest of his family are the trustees of a slice of heaven on the islands of Hawaii that they are prepped to sell. Matt has other things to deal with though as his wife was in a terrible boat accident and has fallen into a coma that the doctors inform she will never awake from and her will states she does not want her life artificially sustained. A series of tough decisions await Matt as he has to break the news to friends and family while struggling with if he will approve the sale of their land or hold on to it permanently and forfeit a great deal of money. To add to his struggles he is left to be a parent to his young daughters to which he’s been very distant from over the years and the realization that his dying wife has been unfaithful to him.

The hard hitting truth of THE DESCENDANTS is the emotional weight that comes across from people attempting to deal with the coming loss of a loved one and vast array of feelings people go through that’s multiplied when something like infidelity enters the picture. It’s those different sets of emotions ranging from sadness to anger that THE DESCENDANTS portrays extremely well but at some point the film lingers a little too long on a feeling of being somewhere in-between that the time felt as if it was overstaying its welcome. Luckily once the film marches towards the end it returns to an emotional resonance that pulled me back on board.

Clooney is great as always and quite funny at times, but he also nails the more frustrated and angry moments with conviction without ever going over the top. Shailene Woodley also stands out that people may recognize from Secret Life of the American Teen, but here she’s playing a character far and away from her character on that show. It’s almost as if Woodley took years of holding back on a “family friendly” show to drop as many F-bombs and any other curse word she could think of just to get it out of her system. She gives a great deal of emotion in her dialogue and uses her angsty teen persona to better use here than in any ad I’ve seen for Secrecy Life of the American Teen.

Even when the films started to make me drift off in the middle I could still at least recognize the great writing that was on display. I can’t help but send out props to co-writer Jim Rash from one of my favorite current TV shows Community- he’s in good company thought with Director Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon also sharing writing credits. The voiceover for the first part of the film I will admit was painful when it kicked in although I understand its need at the beginning to get a lot of information out there so you can enjoy the rest of the film.

There are moments where I really loved THE DESCENDANTS but others where I found myself checking in and out of certain scenes. I really dug the presentation of the Hawaiian cultures and the beautiful scenery on display that made me want to pack my bags and move out there ASAP. Clooney is as strong as ever but never upstages his co-stars especially the young Woodley or even an extremely brief role from Judy Greer later on. THE DESCENDANTS is a film that I feel deserves all the love bestowed on it yet I can’t fault anyone for anything negative feelings they hold against it. It’s a trademark type of film Payne is known for with moments of laugh out loud comedy but also moments of severe depression that sometimes produces an effective if unstable bond.

Movie Review: Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011)

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I don’t care what kind of point or statement Tom Six is or was trying to make with either HUMAN CENTIPEDE FIRST SEQUENCE or this follow up. HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) is vile and disgusting in every way shape or form- it’s a film that just looks like it smells bad with the amount of bodily fluids and solids spraying all over the screen. Defend all you want if you dare, but there is little to know entertainment value here and about the only possible good thing you can say is that it was filmed well.

Tom Six has made a film that pokes fun at both the critics and the supporters of the first film. HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) is the answer to the question “what if the first film was just a how to video?” Instead the mad genius of this film is not a genius at all. Martin is a parking lot security guard that uses his job to capture twelve poor souls to create a human centipede of his own. Rather than conducting the highly complex surgical procedure in a homemade hospital room with all the appropriate tools he throws them in a warehouse and uses household utensils to do the dirty deed including a hammer and a staple gun. To make matters worse Martin is not all that interested in the medical rewards so much as he finds the procedure and the centipede itself to be a sexual fascination- it’s all downhill from here folks…not that we were ever on the winning side of this formula.

The thing is that if not for the morally corrupt things Martin does or has intentions of doing he’s the type of character I feel terrible for. For one second I thought I felt sympathy but then I was violently slammed back down to Earth by the horrible nature of Martin’s intentions. It seems as though the villain here is severely deranged but more than that he is likely carrying an even more severe mental handicap. Martin does not speak a single word of dialogue outside of cackling like a madman, grunting angrily or making baby like noises when he’s happy. The character is obviously the product of sexual abuse by his father and mental abuse by his mother that blames Martin for his father being sent to prison. Every other character screams and acts like a douchebag as well so none of them are all that likable either- though I don’t for a second believe anyone deserves the fate they are in for.

The violence and other gags in the film are nearly unbearable even with the black and white barrier. Characters have their teeth hammered out, knee ligaments cut and their mouths stapled to the ass end of their fellow captors. A woman that is nine months pregnant is also subjected to the horror and adds to one of the most deplorable and worthlessly violent scenes in the film.

The first film was surprisingly restrained in comparison to the sequel. Those of you that didn’t get enough fecal matter in the first should delight in one particular vomit inducing scene. Tom Six seemed far too determined to shock the audience with many of the visuals and overall intentions of his villain. Barbed wire and sand paper turn from miscellaneous household tools to items used for sexual gratification and the fact that its use is shown in detail makes it even less of a subtle point and more of a sociopathic need by the filmmaker. Nothing in HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) even has a glimpse of artistic integrity but it does ooze sadistic self gratification.

Looking at the film I can confidently say that Six has an eye for direction and how to set a scene, but what’s the point when everything on frame is so depraved and unpleasant. Furthermore, I don’t know how he gets people to agree to be in something like this- I refuse to believe anyone is so desperate for an acting gig that they’d settle for being on their hands and knees with their face planted firmly in the backside of their costars. Why not just go into porn? At least that way it’s in the spirit of fun and pleasure as opposed to sick wish fulfillment that is destined to be denounced by thousands even millions of people around the world.

HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) joins the ranks of the original film as well as another shockfest, A SERBIAN FILM, as a film that forces unpleasant imagery on its audience in order to make a point. I don’t believe for a second that there’s a point to any of the violence or sexual debauchery on display here and I can’t endorse anyone’s opinion that would try to steer me any other way. Tom Six has the ability to direct a film- I just wish that he would put those skills to better use rather than poking fun at his critics by cinematically murdering infants. As art goes HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) is not a masterfully constructed painting- it’s a feces covered canvas destined for a landfill.

Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

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I have a tendency to be paranoid about various different things in life and as far as I know my paranoia wasn’t created by any cult influence. From the first second of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE to the very last frame the cult influence on Elizabeth Olsen’s character takes a vice like chokehold on the audience and lets up only for brief moments to let you catch your breath before re-establishing the grip. The constant unease and threat looming in the background of the film is a presence that made MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE a suffocating and gripping experience.

Two years after disappearing off the map, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), resurfaces in her sister Lucy’s life. Martha is constantly on edge and behaving far outside the norms of a functioning adult because of her experiences in a cult that Martha refuses to speak about with her sister or her sister’s husband. The behavior Martha displays begins to have severe negative effects on Lucy and her husband’s relationship with one another and with Martha as she struggles to regain her footing in normal society.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a film that warrants more than just a single viewing but is also an experience that I didn’t feel a burning need to watch it all over again. Sure with the ending you will likely be left with a “wait a minute, what” feeling much as I did. The film’s goal is to establish the feeling of paranoia that Elizabeth Olsen’s character feels throughout and on that front the film does a pretty great job. The introduction of Martha (Marcy May as she’s known to the cult members) at the beginning is her leaving the cult and there’s no explanation as to why. We see that Martha appears to be very frightened and over the course of the film her experiences are shown in flashback moments that have some sort of relevance to stuff she is experiencing at her sister’s summer house. The flashbacks themselves have an unsettling feel to them as you see the cult leader, Patrick- played fantastically by John Hawkes- set the seeds for Martha’s eventual brainwashing. The process at which the cult operates creates a disturbing yet thoroughly engaging portrait of the lifestyle the women cope with within the cult.

The film is sold on the fantastic performances by Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes. Neither of them has that explosive moment that demands the audience’s attention but instead does catch attention by the quiet subtlety of Hawkes’ menacing presence for such a scrawny character and Olsen’s helpless and confused emotional state. Olsen feels very much like a sponge that is twice drained of all her knowledge of life- once when she enters the cult and is filled with all these gross misinterpretations of how to behave like a normal person and then again when she leaves and tries desperately to assimilate to her sister’s lifestyle. Hawkes has a stare that can chill you to the bone and has this rugged charm that you can believe why he can manipulate these girls to join the lifestyle he places them in. He never raises a hand to the girls but does approach them as though he plans to get violent seemingly to strike fear into them and then enters his gentle side immediately after the intimidation- it’s unsettling to watch but the performance is quite effective.

The cinematography is very crisp and the film looks beautiful for the very droll color pallet. The camera often lingers on Olsen’s character to capture every subtle movement she makes and highlights the depth of her performance. One second she can appear as an empty shell of a person with no grip on who she is and the next something snaps and she busts out several emotions from confusion to outright fear. The ending plays heavily with how difficult she is to read at times and will likely leave some people incredibly cold and angry.

The tone and subtly of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE reminded me of another 2011 film, TAKE SHELTER- two very different movies that feature characters at two different levels of mental stability. TAKE SHELTER had some of the more hard hitting emotional moments that I feel I was missing from MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE but both films have an eerie tone and feature subtle and masterful performances by their leads. The one thing I was missing from this film was that one moment that just blew me away and several moments seemed to be going there and were often cut off before the real peak of the scene. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is still a very powerful film with a hypnotizing performance by Elizabeth Olsen. It’s a haunting film with beautiful cinematography and an ending that will force you to grab the nearest person and demand to know their opinion of what the hell just happened.

Movie Review: Margin Call (2011)

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I sat down in my chair to watch MARGIN CALL ready for whatever was in store for me in this Oscar nominated screenplay and a knockout cast only to be left at the end with a very perplexed feeling. Not only because there’s a lot of financial mumbo jumbo being thrown around with wreckless abandon but because I just didn’t understand why exactly this was considered one of the best scripts of the year- maybe just because it had an all-star cast spewing every word of it. MARGIN CALL is a slightly above average minimalist drama that has some hard hitting moments, but for the first half it’s mostly just a broken record repeating the chorus over and over again.

The film chronicles the events that lead up to the great stock market collapse a few years back. The jest of the film is that a risk analyst stumbles upon a troubling formula that has the company he works for in way over its head and the corporate fat cats on the top floor of the company make an executive decision that causes the market to collapse. My dumbing down of the plot fits in perfect harmony with the script for the first half as every other character asks for the consequences of this “oversight” to be explained to them in terms they understand. There’s a reason I am not making the big bucks in the stock market and understanding every word of what these people say is why you won’t see me there anytime soon.

The cast of MARGIN CALL is a dream for just about any filmmaker and they all play characters that for better or worse I just had an overwhelming feeling to punch them all in the face. They aren’t all immoral and heartless but the ones that are have that stench of greed that sticks to every character they come in contact with. I could have used more Stanley Tucci cause he was one of the more redeemable characters, however outside of how I felt about the characters everyone in the cast does a great job. There is no real main character as it switches from one character to another- it starts off seeming that Zachary Quinto is the lead but even he kind of takes a back seat once the first half of the film has run its course. On a standout note I would have to say that Jeremy Irons plays the part of a slimeball very admirably.

Back to the writing- the script is not completely terrible I just don’t see it being one of the best of 2011. For a majority of the first half of the film it is one character explaining the situation to another then that character explaining it to his boss then that boss explaining it another level up and culminating in getting everyone in one room to explain it all over again. Also as each character explains it to the next the person hearing the explanation always says something along the lines of “explain it to me like I’m a small child” and the explanation- at least to me- never really seems to be all that dumbed down. The script also seems to be the record holder for characters saying the phrase “it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Passed the first half things get more interesting once all the explaining is done and the scheming and fixing gets set in motion and that’s where I think the script’s strengths are.

I don’t believe that MARGIN CALL had the outright quality to really stand with some of the best movies of the year, but it does have its moments mostly due to the fantastic cast. The film doesn’t aim to make a star out of anyone specifically but the performances from everyone all around make the film fall on the right side of quality over being completely forgettable. If the first half exercise in over explanation had been widdled down a bit I would have been way more engaged and on the border of possibly loving MARGIN CALL.

Movie Review: A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)

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Note: Screened in 2D

It could be quite possible that I will be adding a new film to the normal Christmas season rotation. Harold and Kumar are characters I’ve been able to get a decent amount of enjoyment out of over the past few years and I have to admit that A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR CHRISTMAS could very well be my favorite of the three films so far.

The third film picks up years after ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY where Harold and Kumar have been out of touch for a period of time. Harold has married his crush Maria from the first two films, lives in a nice house and has given up smoking weed- Kumar has recently broken up with his girlfriend Vanessa and finds out that she is pregnant. On Christmas Eve a mysterious package arrives at Kumar’s apartment addressed to Harold and he sets off to give it to him. Harold is playing host to Maria’s entire family including her father who is obsessed with Christmas. When Kumar assists is burning down Maria’s father’s prized Christmas tree Harold and Kumar head out for more drug induced hijinx to save Christmas.

The Harold and Kumar movies have made a name for themselves by incorporating a lot of drug humor- weed mostly. Their Christmas adventure does most of the same in terms of weed humor but in one of the funnier running gags a baby or toddler gets introduced to and hooked to several different drugs and we get to witness the hilarious effects the drugs take on her- realistic? Not in the least but it is extremely funny nonetheless.

Previously the film has hung pretty heavily on Harold and Kumar’s friendship, which was better realized in the first film more than the second. This time around their friendship has more or less broken apart and slowly gets put back together and ends up being actually pretty heartfelt and genuine- as far as stoner comedies go. There are three new additions to the proceedings that add some extra comedic flair to the film- Todd, Adrian and Ava played respectively by Thomas Lennon, Amir Blumenfeld and a set of triplets Ashley, Chloe and Hannah Coss. While Harold and Kumar are out reuniting over their Christmas tree antics the other three are left at the house of a mobster while the baby, Ava, is high on cocaine and later suffering withdraws while they hide in a closet- almost has the makings of its own blossoming buddy movie.

John Cho and Kal Penn are as good as they’ve ever been as Harold and Kumar but both Blumenfeld and Lennon play off their costars just as well and come off just as funny. The triplets sharing time as Ava make this third film that much more funny though because as inappropriate as it is to see a baby depicted as taking and getting high on drugs is, it’s equally as adorable and funny in a weird way. Then of course Neil Patrick Harris makes his regular cameo and steals the scenes that he’s in with Penn and Cho. Harris’s scenes have always had a meta feel to them and this time around it is even more so and even more hilarious as he riffs on his sexuality and the fact that he’ll see the duo again in the fourth film.

The writing is very clever as well and given the film also jokes around with 3D it stages several scenes with the 3D gimmick of stuff intentionally filmed to come at the screen and often are part of the joke. I watched the film in 2D but it was pretty obvious where the 3D was meant to be and even just using my imagination in those scenes I could still be in on the laugh.

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR CHRISTMAS is a very welcome return for the stoner buddies and a consistently hilarious holiday comedy. There’s a potent mix of drug related jokes, slapstick comedy and goofy charm to carry the film and make it a vast improvement over HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY and at or near the level of HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE. I strongly believe people will be laughing at this for many Christmas seasons to come and that a waffle bot will be on the top of everyone’s Christmas list this year.


Movie Review: Bellflower (2011)

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Many kudos go out to director Evan Glodell for the whole do-it-yourself filmmaking approach- building his own camera to shoot, starring and even building the car with a working flamethrower in it. The kudos end there though because if not for the interesting color palette, pyrotechnics and dark direction of the plot toward the end, I desperately wanted to walk away from BELLFLOWER several times before the end mercifully came along. Glodell’s film has some interesting moments, but so much of the film is wholly unpleasant and its not just because of the violence.

Glodell stars as Woodrow- a nice guy that is building a car with a flamthrower inside of it along with his best friend, Aiden. One night at a bar Woodrow is entrenched in a bug eating contest where he meets the girl of his dreams, Milly. The two hit it off and on their first date go on a long road trip just so they can find and eat the nastiest and most greasy food they can eat. Eventually, the sparks cool off and the relationship goes south in an extreme way leaving Woodrow exploring his deepest and darkest parts of his personality.

I will sit and watch just about anything- I often end up sitting through some of the lowest of low direct to DVD movies out there either on DVD or via Netflix Watch Instantly. I don’t want to say that BELLFLOWER sinks to the depth of direct to DVD affairs but I have to admit it is just as forgettable as some of those movies.

The cinematography is very gritty but does give the film a Very distinct and interesting look. There are times that the camera appears to have a lot of dirt and grime on the lense which is both an interesting filmmaking choice and an annoyance to this particular viewer. My biggest problems with the movie are not in the look or style at which Glodell filmed the movie but at times any small annoyance on top of other aspects I’m not enjoying in regards to the film just highlights my dislikes even more.

I would have to say that for the first hour my interest dipped in and out as I sort of enjoyed the friendship between Woodrow and Aiden, but once the Milly/Woodrow relationship began the characters became- for lack of a better word- annoying. Once I started feeling annoyed with the overall vibe of the characters it was hard to win me back going into the last half of the film. In the last half of the movie Woodrow becomes a much darker and violent presence as opposed to his light likable nice guy persona during the first half and it’s an interesting dynamic but his actions are so rash and violent that he just becomes more unlikable. I feel like you are supposed to feel and connect with his plight and I did on some level at first until the whole psychotic wish fullfillment when Woodrow is nothing more than a flailing childlike serial killer and it seems this is his origin story. The entire finale had an interesting tone but the contrast between that and the beginning just didn’t work for me.

The performances are just as annoying at times- there are some funny and enjoyable moments of people just hanging out and joking around that I enjoyed, but noone in the film acts strong enough to carry the film. Scenes were people throw punches don’t feel real instead just look painfully like untrained actors not prepared to make a punch, shove or baseball bat swing look real or like it would have hurt the person in any way. The only time the acting didnt bother me was during Woodrow’s psychological break and he becomes more violent-Glodell’s darker side as Woodrow felt more natural and way more interesting, too bad at that point it wasn’t quite enough to win me over.

From my perspective BELLFLOWER had moments of potential and a look to accomplish something gritty and interesting but too many annoying charactes, bad acting and missed opportunities had me waivering between falling asleep and just giving up on it altogether. As a film I was actually looking forward to watching it saddens me to say it was a chore to sit through from beginning to end. If there’s one postiive thing I can say is that Glodell does easily have potential as a filmmaker with the look and overall direction of BELLFLOWER but hopefully the future ends up being much brighter.

Movie Review: Shark Night (2011)

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Note: Screened in 2D

I like movies that strive for nothing more than just 90 minutes of dumb fun. Sometimes I even love movies that want nothing more out of the audience than to sit back turn off their brain and can laugh at gratuitous violence and nudity and not take a single frame seriously. What I don’t love is a movie that tries to disguise itself as a movie that does all those things I like but when they lure you in the door they proceed to tease you with really cool and funny moments but stop in the middle of the punchline. SHARK NIGHT has all the makings of what made a movie like PIRANHA 3D so great, but decided at some point to be nothing but a boring tease. It’s like going to a strip club paying for a lapdance getting in the room and someone throws a fully clothed deflated blow up doll on your lap.

A handful of college kids take a trip to a lakehouse to do some water skiing and partying. The good times come to a crashing halt when they discover that the water is infested with sharks. So with a member of their entourage in desperate need of medical attention they must find a way to get him the help he needs before they all become shark bait.

Girls in bikinis, a handful of college kids to kill and a lake full of hungry sharks- sounds like a winning combination no? Well it would have been if it wasn’t so unbelievably boring and nearly depleted of everything that would have made it as fun as it could have been. The opening scene was a JAWS ripoff that was done horribly wrong and the actors were just atrocious. When we get to know the handful of college kids that will be acting as shark bait they are obnoxious enough to get giddy about their impending doom- then the rest of the movie happens.

It’s pretty clear there was intention to try and cash in on the gratuitous nature of the much better PIRANHA 3D with all the shots of girls walking around in their skimpy bikinis, side boob shots and shots of the girls topless but the camera is always focused on their backs. The adherence to the PG-13 rating makes SHARK NIGHT one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve seen in a long time. Not only because they refuse to be trashy fun but because it refuses to be fun at all even on a gore level. The film wants to attract the audience of PIRANHA 3D and trick teenage boys into thinking they will get to see the hot girl’s naughty bits but in the end they will be going home teased just enough to pop PIRANHA into the DVD player to finish the job.

Missed opportunity after missed opportunity presents itself as with every shark attack there is little to no blood and when there is it’s a small little cloud in the water almost off screen. The special effects barely pass as decent- I almost prefer the sci fi cheesiness of a movie like SHARKTOPUS or even a guilty pleasure of mine DEEP BLUE SEA. Truth be told I cannot think of a single scene I enjoyed or can remember enough of to find something halfway decent to recommend. The one bright spot is probably Joel David Moore- because even though he chooses some pretty bad movies sometimes he’s still usually very likable.

I can somewhat see the intention to “try” and make something that was fun and maybe even exciting, but the execution clearly missed the target by a wide margin. Material that could have been glorious if committed to a hard R rating is otherwise crippled by a PG-13 rating which as far as I can tell could have hit PG minus a few cuss words and side boob shots. Director David R. Ellis seems to have taken all the wrong elements from directing movies from FINAL DESTINATION 2 all the way to HOMEWARD BOUND 2 as SHARK NIGHT ended up being a huge miscalculation that’s inexplicably boring for a movie where a shark jumps out of water to attack one of its victims- giving new meaning to “jumped the shark.”