Saturday, August 15, 2009

DVD Review: "17 Again" (***)

"17 Again" (PG-13)

Written by Jason Filardi. Directed by Burr Steers.
Starring Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, and Thomas Lennon.
Released by New Line Cinema.
Feature Running Time: 1 hr. 42 mins.
Rated PG-13 (for language, some sexual material and teen partying).

"17 Again" is a prime example of a film I thought I was going to hate, and ended up really liking. Even from the film's opening minutes, I thought it was going to be a miserable disaster. But some things started happening. The film became more than just an average go back to a different age movie. It has a heart and a soul, and those two things alone make this film special.

I became suprised at how funny the film was, but also how mature and intelligent it was. At first glance, it looks like a "High School Musical" rip-off, starring Zac Efron for all the girls to go nuts over. But it's not. It's more a film about good morals. What would you do if you could go back to being a high-schooler, but have all of the knowledge that you do in your 30's? That's one of the points to the film. But it's also a film about the importance of family, and being a responsible teenager.

I feel delighted that a film can finally show the positive aspects of abstinence, staying sober until you're 21, as well as the negative aspects of fighting, bullying, and underage sex. The film doesn't push messages in your face, but it does do a responsible job of enlightening the teenage crowd that the above mentioned things are good. Believe me, I have no problem with films that show underage drinking, even in a positive or happy way, "Superbad"'s main theme is about three 18 year old guys that want to get liquor and get laid on a night of their senior year of high-school, and that's one of my favorite films.

I guess I just felt so happy and relieved to see a somewhat familiar comedy do some somewhat unseen things in cinema. The film takes chances. Big ones. I can't say I completely hated or loved Zac Efron before seeing "17 Again", because I'm not really familiar with his work. Of course, like any other kid that went to school whenever the big "High School Musical" craze was going, I was forced to watch the disney hit. And like most of those poor souls, I can't remember a thing. But in "17 Again", Efron shows he has more than just a pretty face and a good singing voice. The boy, scratch that, guy can act. He shows great maturity in "17 Again", and I look forward to seeing him in more films down the road.

"17 Again" has its flaws. Its major one being believability. No, I didn't believe that no-one could tell that Mike (Efron) went to school back in the 1980's, and now he just magically shows up in the present time. No, I didn't believe the way the older Mike (Matthew Perry) was transformed into his 17 again self. These things prevent me from giving the film anything higher than three stars. But besides those flaws, I think "17 Again" is a very valuable film. It teaches valuable morals to a more mature, but still underage audience, and remains heartwarming and funny in the process.

I've been very impressed with Thomas Lennon's work lately. He's most known for his work on the TV show "Reno 911!", but lately he's done some of the funniest acting in movies. First this year in "I Love You, Man", and now in "17 Again" as Mike's nerdy best friend Ned Gold, Lennon has became one of my favorite comedic talents in Hollywood. He literally steals every scene he's in with "17 Again". I recommend "17 Again" to everybody, even though it does deal with much more mature themes. I think it's at least an appropriate film for families to watch together and discuss afterwards, because after all, the film is about the importance of family and the time they spend together.

Friday, August 14, 2009

DVD Review: "I Love You, Man" (****)

"I Love You, Man" (R)

Written by Larry Levin. Written and directed by John Hamburg.
Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samburg, J.K. Simmons, Jaime Pressly, and Jon Favreau.
Released by Dreamworks Pictures.

Feature Running Time: 1 hr. 44 mins.
Rated R (for pervasive language, including crude sexual references).

I saw "I Love You, Man" a while back in theaters, and I instantly fell in love with it. I recently got the chance to watch the film for a second time, and I completely see why I fell in love with it. It's hilarious, well-acted, and heartfelt. It's like a Judd Apatow film without Judd Apatow's name attached to it. It even includes some usual players in Apatow's troupe - Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.

The film's script is delightful. John Hamburg did a terrific job idenifying his character's various mannerisms, which included funny scenes of Peter (Paul Rudd) trying to say cool and slick comments to Syndey (Jason Segel), and the comments sounding ridiculous and weird. But in a good way, that was the point. Hamburg's script is one of the very best comedy scripts of the last decade or so. The dialogue is as close to perfect as possible.

The characters in the film are all likable and different from one another. I loved the chemistry between Rudd and Segel. The pair, who appeared on screen together before in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", are so great here. They have bromantic chemistry that a lot of ROMANTIC films can't find these days; *cough* "The Proposal" *cough*. But it's not just the dynamic performances from Rudd and Segel that make the film, but also some of the supporting ones. J.K. Simmons plays Peter's open-minded, outpoken father. Andy Samburg plays the non-stereotypical gay brother of Peter. Rashida Jones plays Zooey, Peter's beautiful, soon to be bride. Jaime Pressly plays Zooey's best friend Denise, and Jon Favreau plays Denise's dickheaded husband Barry. Lou Ferrigno even scores laughs playing himself. And Thomas Lennon keeps the laughs coming as a gay friend of Peter.

"I Love You, Man" has one of the best ensemble casts of the year, or any year for that matter. Everyone provides at least one BIG laugh. But not only the comedy works in "I Love You, Man". The film has a big heart. It's a very sweet and sincere film. The film may be somewhat familiar, but you can quote me on this, "I Love You, Man" is the "Pulp Fiction" of bromantic comedies. How's that for a title.

I find it hard to find a major flaw in "I Love You, Man". Everything that you want out of a comedy is here, and more. It's hilarious, sweet, smart, extremely entertaining, well-acted, well-written, well-directed, well, everything. A true gem of its genre, and also a very rewatchable treat, "I Love You, Man" is one of the very best films of the year. Man, I Love this movie.

Film Review: "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" (***)

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" (PG-13)

Written by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, and Paul Levett. Directed by Stephen Sommers.
Starring Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller, Joseph Gordan-Levitt, and Jonathan Price.
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Feature Running Time: 1 hr. 58 mins.
Rated PG-13 (for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout).

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is not a great film by any means. But it proves why people go to the movies. It is almost storyless, and the plot it does contain is nothing short of absurd. The acting isn't very strong, even from one of the brightest young talents working today, Joseph Gordan-Levitt. But you have to admire the film for what it is - a no-brain, silly, campy, action-packed summer blockbuster. It's nothing more, nothing less.

The film, which moves along at warp speed I may add, is one of the most entertaining films you could ever ask for. Or it's one of the most boring films you could ever ask for, if you get bored by constant explosions and bullets being fired. Sure, there is going to be a large group of folks that hate the film. And that's okay. Not everyone wants to see explosions, sword-fights, and futuristic weaponry fetishes. But for anyone that does want to see any of those things on the big screen, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" will be a bit of a nostalgic journey.

I must say I was a little disappointed with the disposable acting in the film. Joseph Gordan-Levitt, one of my favorite actors, gave possibly the worst performance in the film. I can't quite go into his performance here, because it would give away the twist in the film, even though you will already realize the twist quickly. Marlon Wayons gives the film's best performance as Ripcord, the funny, charismatic soldier best friend of the film's main hero, Duke, played by the solid Channing Tatum. When Tatum and Wayans are on screen together, the film has its finest moments of both humor and chemistry between actors.

Dennis Quaid plays General Hawk, who basically stands around barking out orders at the soldiers of the group called G.I. Joe. It's funny. I never watched a single episode of the original "G.I. Joe" cartoon series, nor did I ever have a G.I. Joe action figure, so going into the film, I just expected Channing Tatum's character to be G.I. Joe. Don't make fun of me for saying that. I just didn't know.

Anyways, what I have given away about the characters and the story is enough. There aren't a whole lot of things going on in the film besides action scenes. Sure, there's a group of villains, led by the sexy Baroness, played by Sienna Miller. But the film is pretty much just about the good guys - G.I. Joe squad, and the bad guys - I don't know what to call them, fighting each other over an object which will sound absolutely ridiculous if I try to explain it.

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" will not place in my top ten list at the end of the year. In fact, I almost gave the film a half a star less, which would basically mean a thumbs down for me. But I couldn't. And if you like having fun at the movies, you'll know why when you see the film. I gave "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" three stars, so why shouldn't I give the same to "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra". Both films have minimal plots, but are also fun and silly in a good way. I'm not warranting a recommendation for a theatrical viewing of "G.I. Joe". I think it'll be just fine for a DVD rental. But I am recommending it.

My Box Office Predictions for the Weekend of 8/14/09 - 8/16/09

We have quite a few films coming out this week. "District 9" is my pick to be at the top of the box office, but could have done a lot better had it been rated PG-13. I'm not saying they should have made the film a PG-13, but box office totals could have been bigger for "District 9". "The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard" probably isn't going to do much damage at the box office this weekend. The film will be hurt by the lack of talk and commercials. Who knows, maybe it will be a surprise like "The Hangover" was, but I strongly doubt it, especially according to weak early online ticket sales. "The Time Travler's Wife" could bring in decent money. It isn't an unsafe bet to say that its target audience are females ages 16 up. But don't expect it to do too much damage; its online ticket sales aren't near as high as "District 9", or even last week's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra". "Bandslam" may bring in a fair amount of money. I can't quite predict sales for the film too well since I have only heard about it just in the last week. With a weekend full of R-rated films, and adult romances, "Bandslam" may or may not bring in a large amount of box office. If it does, it will be because of the kids, and the early surprisingly positive critical buzz. "Ponyo", the new animated film from Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, has generated a strong critical buzz, at this moment the film holds a 97% approval rating on However, the film is in limited release, and despite the big names in its voice cast, I would be suprised to find that more than three out of every ten average movie goers has even heard of the film. If it does anything above average at the box office this weekend, it will be because of true lovers of film looking for another film to add to their top 10 list for 2009.

This is the first time I'm making a box office predictions list, so if it turns out to be very far from what does happen, that's my excuse. My box office predictions for the weekend of 8/14/09 - 8/16/09 are:

1. District 9 ($38 mil.)
2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($21 mil.)
3. The Time Traveler's Wife ($18 mil.)
4. Julie & Julia ($14 mil.)
5. Bandslam ($11 mil.)
6. The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard. ($9 mil.)
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($7 mil.)
8. G-Force ($4 mil.)
9. Funny People ($3 mil.)
10. A Perfect Getaway ($2 mil.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Director's Spotlight - The Films of: Quentin Tarantino (1992-2007)

."Reservoir Dogs" .(1992)
In my mind, the ultimate Tarantino film is "Reservoir Dogs". This was the one that made him famous, and it's his most simplistic, yet most realistic and effective film to date. I don't think you could have asked for a better script. Not only is "Reservoir Dogs" my favorite Quentin Tarantino film, but out of all of the films that I've seen from the 90's (I still have a lot of catching up to do) it's my favorite. There are so many quotable lines of dialogue, and while most of them at least feature the F word three or four times, that doesn't take away from the great value. Not only was the directing and the script pitch perfect, but the acting, specifically by Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, and the menacing presence of Michael Madsen, are all put to focus perfectly. Each of those actors put on outstanding performances. "Reservoir Dogs" is one of my all-time favorites.

."Pulp Fiction" .(1994)
A step forward for Tarantino in storytelling and character progression, "Pulp Fiction" proves that not every director goes through a sophomore slump. Although I don't like it quite as much as "Reservoir Dogs" due to a lack of explosive energy as to the above mentioned film, "Pulp Fiction" nevertheless highly entertains even through it's lengthy 154 running time. The way Tarantino presents each of the intersecting stories in "Pulp Fiction" is terrific, as he doesn't even use linear storytelling, the same technique that made Chritopher Nolan's masterpiece "Memento" such a sensation. Tarantino doesn't tell his story backwards like Nolan did in his film, but rather makes the audience have to be on their tows throughout the experience with the unlinear storyline. The acting in "Pulp Fiction", just like in "Reservoir Dogs", is marvelous. John Travolta, Bruce Willis, and Uma Thurman are terrific, and Samuel L. Jackson really stands out, especially in the last scene of the film, which is one of the greatest ever on film.
."Jackie Brown" .(1997)
A lot of people love "Jackie Brown". For me, it's director Quentin Tarantino's weakest film by far. It's not that I think it's a bad film. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that it was so disappointing, I might have at least given it three stars. It's not entirely Tarantino's fault. He based the film on the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch". Maybe it was the uneven pacing that set me off. The film runs at 155 minutes, which is one minute longer than Tarantino's previous effort "Pulp Fiction". And the bigger problem is that "Pulp Fiction" had a much more compelling story, as well as more interesting characters. I felt "Jackie Brown" lagged on way too much in spots. I enjoyed the acting. Samuel L. Jackson was just as good in "Jackie Brown" as he was in "Pulp Fiction". Pam Grier was terrific as the title character, and Robert DeNiro was a breath of fresh air as a sort of comedic presence in the film. If it were out of any other director's resume, "Jackie Brown" would stand out as a very good entry. But beings it's in Quentin Tarantino's resume, along with such great films as "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction", "Jackie Brown" just stands out as being solid.
."Kill Bill Vol. 1" .(2003)
I remeber the first time I saw "Kill Bill Vol. 1". It was just over three years ago, and I was completely blown away. It was my first encounter with a Tarantino film, and I thought the film was just mezmerizing. Watching the film for the second time recently, I can see why I was so blown away. The action. Tarantino hasn't always been known for his action scenes. He's mainly known for his brilliant dialogue and interesting characters, but "Kill Bill Vol. 1" represents a step in the action mastery for Tarantino. I can't say I loved the film upon the second viewing as much as I did with the first; the film's strangeness factor was sort of unappealing to me, and was mainly the reason I couldn't quite give it four stars. But the story, for the most part, is perfect and easy to follow, and the dialogue, while certainly cheesy, is still pure-Tarantino. The performances are also strong, particularly Uma Thurman as the lead character, The Bride. "Kill Bill Vol. 1" is the most action packed film Quentin Tarantino has ever done, but it may also be one of his most entertaining. It may not old all of the great, prolonged scenes of fantastic, witty dialogue, but "Kill Bill Vol. 1" will leave you longing for "Kill Bill Vol. 2", and I think that's the best compliment I could possibly pay the film.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Film Review: "Funny People" (** 1/2)

."Funny People" .(R)
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow.
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann, and Eric Bana.
Released by Universal Pictures.
Feature Running Time: 2 hrs. 26 mins.
Rated R (for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and for some sexuality).

I've been a big fan of just about anything that Judd Apatow's had his name attached to in the last three years. Not only directing wise, but even when he's producing; "Superbad" is my second favorite film of all time, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was one of my favorite films of 2008. His films always seem to have the right balance of laughs and heart. And with his third directorial film, "Funny People", he has finally failed (somewhat).

A lot of people griped about the previews for "Funny People", saying that they made the film look uninteresting. I have to say the opposite. I can also say that I found the previews to be happier than the actual film. "Funny People" was one of my most anticipated films of the summer. I've always loved the idea of serious comedies. Ones that have heart and wit. Apatow has been the master of the serio-comedy genre. Most of the films he's been attached to lately have tackled the issue of grown-up characters going through a maturing stage. "Funny People" is no exception with this concept, but its execution isn't as focused as Apatow's previous films.

It pains me to say that I didn't like "Funny People". Its potential was so great that I don't see why Apatow failed in his execution. I had such high expectations for the film, but I still let a lot of things slide, and still, in the end the film isn't good enough for a fresh rating from me. The film is very long, at nearly two and a half hours. However, at least I can say that it didn't feel that long, even though it is slow moving throughout. But the worst thing about the film is that it's not all that funny. Here's a film with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, two of the funniest guys in the world. And you have all of the funny supporting players: Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman as Ira's (Seth Rogen) roommates. Leslie Mann is charming and funny as usual as Laura, George's (Adam Sandler) only long-lost true love. And Eric Bana shows some comdedic chops as Clarke, Laura's Ausie husband. The stand-up scenes are funny, but I felt there weren't enough of them.

Adam Sandler is good in his role as George Simmons, the one-time comedy movie star, in films with names like "Merman", and a film about his character turning into a baby's body; the film obviously takes some funny jabs at some of the garbage that comes out in Hollywood these days. The baby film that George stars in resembles "Little Man". And Seth Rogen ACTS in the film. He was good at playing lazy, foul-mouthed, pot smoking characters in the past, and he's always been a favorite actor of mine. But here, Rogen plays a much more serious role. I think the film makes him take a step forward, as in this film his character has to make very big and moral decisions that effect the characters around him as well as himself. And one of the film's true strengths is that Sandler and Rogen have great chemistry together.

I haven't really delved into the story of "Funny People" too much. There are more than just one or two stories in the film. In fact, that's one of its biggest weaknesses. There are too many subplots in the film. I just wish Apatow would have taken more time with George really thinking about life while he's dying with cancer, instead of going into too many different directions with other characters. I liked the romantic triangle aspect in the last act of the film. And I have to say that the way the film dealt with the romance was very unique. I talked about how Rogen's Ira character is forced to make moral decisions in the film, and he makes a big one in the end.

I liked how the film really didn't resolve too much, and left many things hanging in the end; I hope it isn't a spoiler to say that some characters don't fully learn their lessons from the situations that happen in the film, much like is the case in real life. And the final scene of "Funny People" is the one that almost made me have to give the film a fresh rating, but as I thought about it, one scene in a 150 minute film shouldn't be the deciding factor. There are a lot of positive aspects to "Funny People", and it's a film that I look forward to revisiting soon; it's definitely a film that's worth at least two looks, beings there are a lot of things going on. But as a whole film, I think you should wait for the DVD.