Friday, July 8, 2011

Jonathan Goes To the Movies: The TOTALLY Bummer Summer

If Judy Moody could see the crap that's been related so far this summer, there's no way she would think this has been anything but a bummer summer at the movies. Films I had high hopes for went more stale than the weeks-long news rotation on Anthony Weiner's cock picture scandal. And movies that I should have stayed away from but saw anyway had me feeling like an idiot for seeing. Yet there have been a few bight spots in the summer of our discontent and a few surprises I didn't see coming, so allow me to review the all the good, but mostly bad and disappointing movies for the summer so far.

Top of the class: Who would have though that a mostly-female cast would show up the likes of the Wolfpack, Po and the Furious Five, Capt. Jack Sparrow? and 95% of the movie's i've watched this summer? Bridesmaids does just that, combining character and gross-out comedy into a movie that not only stands with the big boys, but kicks their asses and offers the challenge, stating that this is the comedy to beat this year. Kristen Wiig, best known for her work on Saturday Night Live is a star on the rise as Annie, a middle-aged woman who's life is spiraling quickly into crisis as she tries to navigate though being the maid of honor for her best friend, Lillie's (Maya Rudolph, another SNL castmember) wedding, dealing with a fellow bridesmaid who's one-upping her at every turn (a deliciously bitchy Rose Byrne), and her pathetic love and professional life. In the hands of anyone else, this character would be an annoying, frantic woman we couldn't stand, but Wiig balances screwball humor and an aching sadness for the direction her life is going perfectly. Guys will think is chick-flick hell, and wonder what the hell is comedy czar Judd Apatow was thinking when he produced this movie. To quote Peter Travers when talking about Sex and the City: The Movie: "Stop resiting, guys. You just might learn something." ***1/2 stars out of ****

The runner up: J.J. Abrams' monster movie Super 8, next to Bridesmaids, was the only summer movie that actually lived up to expectations, and then some. Abrams wisely doesn't show us the creature unitl the last leg of the film, where it becomes predictable and anyone could take a stab at the final outcome will be, but everything leading up to it is engaging. Set in small town Ohio circa 1979, Joe (newcomer Joel Courtney) is still reeling from the death of her mother, and his deputy sheriff dad (Kyle Chandler) is absent, both at home and emotionally. Making B-level horror movies with his pals - Charley (a lively Riley Griffiths), the director and his loyal crew Martin, Preston, and Cary - provide an escape from the pain. Two things happen that shake up Joe's world: the lead actress for Charley's zombie flick, Alice (Elle Fanning) and how he almost falls for her hard, and witnessing a destructive train crash and how something escapes that the Army has to come in and secretly tries to reclaim and cover up. The movie goes on autopilot after this - things and people are missing, and the town is almost thrown into chaos, and our main characters begin to learn that what was on that train may not be from this world - but the interaction between father and son, along with his friends and Alice is funny and poignant, giving Super 8 its heart and soul, to match the brilliant visual effects and sound editing. *** stars out of ****

False adverting at its best: While Wiig and Abrams had me going to repeat viewings, watching these sequels left a bitter taste in my mouth the first time. The Hangover Part II was a rehash of all the madness and fun which made the first movie a comedy classic, only now they boys wake up in Bangkok after another night where shit gets out of hand and Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms, now playing the groom-to-be), and Alan (Zack Galifianakis) lose another person - Stu's soon to be brother-in-law, Teddy (Mason Lee) within the madness of their wild night. Drug monkeys, a tranny hooker/stripper, silent monks, and a crime boss all make up the crazy shit the Wolfpack gets into, but the jokes turn stale and repetitive. Director Todd Phillips is in talks to make a final Hangover film, and it'll get the greenlight: Part II is now the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Please, Warner Bros: don't let there be a Part III. Kung Fu Panda 2 the sequel to 08's surprisingly funny and delightful animated homage to kung fu films and Chinese mythology in 2008 - didn't fair any better than the Wolfpack did. The continuing adventures of Po (Jack Black get another gig - fast!) and his pals, the Furious Five, consisting of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen), much like The Hangover Part II, is a tired and un-inspiring sequel which gets very old very fast. Po and his friends must now square off with Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, back in reliable mode after his career-worst performance in Red Riding Hood) as he plans to use fireworks as a weapon of mass destruction to enslave China. Everything in Kung Fu Panda 2, up until the third act in which Po confronts his mysterious past and pulls off some truly amazing martial arts sequences that are worth the extra price of seeing this in 3D, is boring and less exciting. Rounding out the trio of sequels that have run out of gas is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth entry in the franchise, and hopefully the last. Don't get me wrong: its still devilish fun watching Johnny Depp reprise his role as the eccentric swashbuckler, but even his character is starting to show he may need a breather. This time, Jack hunts for the Fountain of Youth while trying to stay one step ahead of rival Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the infamously-feared pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane from TV's Deadwood) and her stunning daughter (Penelope Cruz, who did all her stunts while she was pregnant) who's trying to redeem her father's soul. Throw in zombies, man-eating mermaids, and other zany tricks Terry Rossio and Terry Elliot threw into the screenplay, and what we have is another non-stop action picture that goes down easy, but you forget everything the next day.

The Hangover Part II - ** stars out of ****
Kung Fu Panda 2 - ** stars out of ****
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - **1/2 stars out of ****

...And then there was The Tree of Life... Don't be fooled by what the critics say, or the fact that writer/director Terrence Malick's ambitious story of a 1950's family inner war between ideals held by hard-ass father (Brad Pitt), and tender, radiant mother (Jessica Chastain) on how the kids should live their lives, won the Palm D'or at the Cannes Film festival. From the minute Malick starts making grand connections between the formation of the universe to the existential conflict the older Jack (Sean Penn) now has as a successful architect in Houston, to the whispering voices of our main characters to a higher entity, The Tree of Life devolves into a pretentious and tedious exercise of the director showing off without giving these gorgeous shots of nature and the cosmos a reason to fit into his story, other than the purpose of just being there. ** stars out of ****

These were surprisingly good: Confession: I thought Marvel Studio's Thor, would be a disaster. The trailer looked lame, the lead actor, Chris Hermsworth, came off as a pretty boy who probably couldn't act, and director Kenneth Branagh was way in over his head. How wrong I was, and it made me learn to trust Marvel in the fact they know what they're doing. Thor is by no means, one of the best Marvel entries since Iron-Man or Spider Man 2, but the movie does toe the Marvel line of solid performances, dazzling visuals (the sequences of Thor's home of Asgard are marvelous), and engaging storytelling. Thor (Hermsworth) is banished to Earth after nearly starting a war with the Frost Giants, and begins to learn lessons in humility. What he doesn't know is that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleson) set him up to attack the frost people, and has plans of unleashing a war between the two factions and destroying his home-world. Another confession: I was about the skip X-Men: First Class entirely. The last two installments, The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left a bad taste in my mouth. So it surprised me that director Matthew Vaughn (the excellent Kick-Ass), along with his young cast: James McAvoy as Xavior, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off her Oscar-nominated performnace in Winter's Bone, as Raven (aka: the blue, shape-shifting Mystique), Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy (aka Beast), and the near endless list of characters who don't get enough screen tine to develop, all gave the prequel an exciting, kick-in-the-pants the series, and the parade of summer movies, desparately needed. The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis is the main focus of the plot: Sebastian Shaw (a diabolical Kevin Bacon) uses the rising tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets to install a new world order in which humanity falls on bended knee to the mutants. Charles and Erik, on opposite sides of the debate of their species, recruit mutants all over to stop Sebastian. The ride is long at 2 hrs and 15 minutes, but there's never a dull moment with the First Class, in my opinion, the best class since Bryan Singer directed the first X-Men movie.

Thor - *** stars out of ***
X-Men: First Class - ***1/2 stars out of ****

1 comment:

theroachman said...

Your reviews are getting really good. You should see if you could get a newspaper or similar media to print them. They are that good and you should be paid for what your wright.

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