About Time

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
Directed by: Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”)
Written by: Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”)

What never fails to makes a great love story is genuineness. It’s what all the greats – “Annie Hall,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Love Actually,” – have it in common. Simple, authentic storylines with relatable characters and relationships are what really make a romance, well, romantic. Encompassing all that and more is writer/director Richard Curtis’ “About Time.” It’s a film that just might find itself somewhere on the list of greatest rom-coms of all time, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking. A heartwarming story about one man and his ability to time travel, “About Time” reminds you just how much life and love inevitably go hand in hand.

On his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) he has the inherited ability to time travel. Initially set on using his newly-found talent to find a girlfriend, Tim soon discovers his skills at time travel may give him the power to do so much more. After meeting the beautiful yet insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams), Tim travels back in time to make her fall in love with him again and again after their first encounter doesn’t go as planned. Depicting the events of their life together over the span of a decade, Tim is eventually forced to realize his gift cannot fix everything wrong in his relationship after all.

Luckily, “About Time” does not revolve around the topic of time travel, and therefore is nothing like “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which is great news for anyone that has seen how horrible that movie is. And sorry ladies, but it’s really not even a movie about finding your soul mate. Setting itself apart from the great love stories out there, Curtis writes a delightful and wonderfully surprising screenplay about the relationship between a father and son and, even more so, about the journey of life, how majestically messy it can be and how love can make it all worthwhile.

Portraying the ordinary and naive character of Tim, Gleeson hits the mark and graces the screen with an honest performance. One can only hope, after watching this movie, he is given the continued opportunity to earn more roles throughout his career. While McAdams complements Gleeson with their undeniable chemistry, Nighy transforms this story into what it is. Creating a unique and memorable takeaway for the audience, Gleeson and Nighy work together effortlessly and create a strikingly close picture of what it’s like for a son to idolize his father and what it’s like to be a parent who loves their child more than anything in the world.

There are scenes in “About Time” where Tim decides to time travel one too many times, making it feel a little repetitive. It’s easy to overlook that, however, with a perfectly paced screenplay filled with an abundance of quick and much appreciated comedy, not to mention its sporadic artistic cinematography. With many moments guaranteed to leave you breathless, “About Time” will have you walking on air.

Rush

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“The Queen”)

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”), redeems himself after his last few downfalls (“The Dilemma,” “Angels & Demons”) with “Rush,” a perfectly-paced and exciting action-drama starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl. The film follows two racecar drivers who create a rivalry with each other in the 1976 Formula One racing circuit.

In “Rush,” Howard introduces his audience to racers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Bruhl) and the competitive and money-driven racing world they both want to control. With stellar cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) and the strong script by screenwriter Peter Morgan (“Frost/ Nixon,” “The Queen”), the intricately developed relationship between James and Niki pushes “Rush” across the finish line and crowns it a champion of good cinema.

The conflict begins when James finds himself trailing behind Niki, Formula One’s world champion, during the 1976 racing season. When they arrive to a race in Germany, aptly nicknamed “The Graveyard” for its treacherous track, it is pouring rain. Niki calls for a drivers’ meeting with the intention to cancel the race. However, when he is outvoted by his fellow racers, he is forced to race on the dangerous track. In a horrific accident later that day, Niki almost loses his life when he hits a wall and his car bursts into flames, thus putting James in the perfect position to catch up and clench his title. Although Niki is confined to the hospital undergoing treatments and surgeries, he allows his competitive spirit to get the best of him as he watches James chip away at the leaderboard.

Delving deep into each character, Hemsworth and Bruhl bring to life this amazing historic rivalry. On the surface, they are polar opposites – Niki, a stark and meticulous German racer, and James, a sex-crazed British party boy. As their backstories and common underlying desire to be the best racer emerge on screen though, so does their respect for one another. Bruhl draws you close with his first-rate performance while Hemsworth’s physical stature reinforces his “ladies man” persona.

As a high-risk sport, moviegoers experience the thrill of Formula One racing during the most climactic parts of the film, all of which feel like you’re right there on the track. Close up shots of speeding tires and turning engines leave you at the edge of your seat, and intensifies the movie’s pace and audience’s adrenaline.

Movies like “Rush” remind us that topical cinema, relevant or irrelevant to our interests, can be inspiring and sometimes great if given the chance. Race fan or not, “Rush” is a must-see, even if only for its character-driven plot line and almost flawless lead performances.

Tio Papi

September 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Joey Diedo, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Kelly McGillis
Directed by: Fro Rojas (debut)
Written by: Joey Diedo (“Downtown: A Street Tale”) and Brian Herskowitz (TV’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”)

Director Fro Rojas’s family dramedy “Tio Papi” – about a middle-aged Puerto Rican who is suddenly forced to care for his six nieces and nephews when their parents are killed in a car accident – is a disaster from start to finish. There’s no nice way of laying it down.

Enjoying his time as bachelor, Uncle Ray Ray (Joey Diedo, also credited as a co-writer) is living the good life. Liked by everyone but his neighbor/ex-girlfriend Cheeky (Elizabeth Rodriguez), he always manages to smooth his way out of bad situations (like always being late on his rent). When his sister’s kids get left at his front door one morning by rigid social worker Elizabeth Warden (Kelly McGillis), Ray Ray is forced to have to make some difficult decisions.

After much struggle, Uncle Ray Ray seeks assistance from Cheeky in figuring out how to care for the six kids. He soon realizes he would rather keep them together as a family instead of having the state find separate homes for each of them, but not before the youngest ones are taken away and placed in foster care.

It’s evident screenwriters Joey Dedio and Brian Herskowitz tried to take a stab at writing a heartfelt dramedy centering around the transformation of Uncle Ray Ray from a bachelor into a responsible parent, but to their demise, every storyline was rushed and underdeveloped, leaving zero chance for laughter and tears and for the audience to get any sense of growth from his character. Performances from the cast were certainly nothing to rave about as well. With choppy dialogue and phony acting, you’ll be left wondering how much longer till the end.

The third act is a culmination of cliche and unrealistic events that push everything over the edge. Trying to get his kids back, Uncle Ray Ray finds himself unable to pay his lawyer, but with the flick of a wand, it seems, he comes across a random briefcase filled with money which eventually lands him a front page story in the newspaper when he decides to be the good Samaritan and turn it in. By the time the final scene rolls around, you are drained with disbelief in how bad this is. The only thought you can fathom is, “Why in the heck is Uncle Ray Ray’s landlord in every scene?!”

Planes

August 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Dane Cook, Stacey Keach, Brad Garrett
Directed by: Klay Hall (“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”)
Written by: Jeffrey M. Howard (“Tinker Bell”)

You can guess where Disney’s “Planes” is going and how it’ll get there, but because it flies just beyond the clouds – and avoids the rough turbulence – the ride has its moments. Parents are correct if they think they’ve seen this movie before. There’s a generic underdog storyline and an inspiring lead character. Fortunately for “Planes,” the film also comes with an important message every child can benefit from. For parents who are worried about what their kids are watching these days, “Planes” is about as safe as you can get for a PG-rated movie.

Initially created as a spin-off to Pixar’s “Cars” and set to be released as a straight-to-DVD film by Disneytoons (Tinkerbell movies), it wasn’t a big shocker when Disney decided to spare it from ending up in the $5 bin a year from now and capitalize on its market value (toys, video games, etc.) and guaranteed cash flow.

Cropdusting Dusty (Dane Cook) might have some big dreams to enter a round-the-world race, but his chances are pretty slim considering his speed and the fact he is constantly being told he can’t succeed (“Turbo” anyone?). With the support of his friends Dottie, the forklift “mechanic” (Teri Hatcher), Chug, “the fuel truck” (Brad Garret), and the guidance of his heroic war veteran/Navy Corsair coach Skipper (Stacy Keach), he tries out for a spot in the Global Plane Competition. Falling just short of the qualifying spot, Dusty is informed a couple of days later that because of illegal practices by the last qualifier he is now eligible to compete. Dismissed as a joke by all of his competition, Dusty focuses his energy on becoming a better competitor, gradually gaining him more fame and support than hot shot, all-time champ, Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith). Along the way, he makes a few friends, including suave wannabe ladies’ airplane, El Chupacabra or “El Chu” (Carlos Alazraqui).

Filling the spot for the funny secondary characters every animated film is notorious for having nowadays, (Mub and Grub from “Epic,” the Minions from the “Despicable Me” franchise, and Belt the Sloth from “The Croods”), El Chupacabra steps up to the challenge with his thick Mexican accent, infamous cape and his love for the chicas. More specifically, El Chu is trying to win the heart of French-Canadian goody two-shoes plane, Rochelle (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). One of the best scenes of the film comes when Dusty helps El Chu out by setting him up to sing a Mexican-style serenade of “I’m Just a Love Machine.” As possibly the best serenade ever in an animated film, “Planes” gets props for the memorable musical interlude.

The 7-country competition course in “Planes” sanctions for some stunningly bright colored visuals and with its sporadic and swift POV shots, the 3D animation is enjoyable but not essential. Thanks to the identical looking “Cars” world portrayed on screen and the many characters from the 2006 and 2011 Pixar movies that came before, it’s possible you walk out of “Planes” thinking you just saw the last film of the “Cars” trilogy. Let’s hope Disney find a way to allow the inevitable sequel to stand on its own and not use sister studio Pixar as a crutch.

The Heat

June 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir
Directed by:
Paul Fieg (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by:
Katie Dippold (TV’s “Parks and Recreation”)

Predictable and cliché with its been-there-done-that buddy-cop storyline, “The Heat” starts off making you want to yell out for a more inventive narrative. However, once the undeniably funny and addicting onscreen chemistry of actresses Sandra Bullock (“The Proposal”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) gets rolling, its flaws are almost forgivable.

Much like her character in 2000’s “Miss Congeniality,” Bullock prevails in bringing to life the uptight special agent Sarah Ashburn, who is sent to Boston and paired up with the loud and obnoxious Detective Mullins (McCarthy) to nab a drug lord.

Bullock’s ingenious comedic timing and quirky flavor allows her to serve up another character you can’t help but enjoy. It’s a testament to Bullock’s talent as a comedian. She can create a likeable persona that would be beyond irritating if the character existed in real life. While McCarthy was unable to deliver anything noteworthy in her last two films, “Identity Thief” and “Hangover 3,” she proves she still has something to offer alongside Bullock. With her own hilarious take on a foul-mouthed detective, credit McCarthy as the prime source of laughs this go-around.

Considering this summer’s comedic mishaps, including “The Internship” and the aforementioned “Hangover” sequel, “The Heat’s” fast-paced quips and usually triumphant punchlines (in practically every scene) make this movie one of the few you can look to for a comedy fix this season. It’s especially helpful that director Paul Fieg (“Bridesmaids”) knows when to step out of the way and let his cast reign. Here, Bullock and McCarthy’s improv skills are fantastic.

Entertaining as it is with its blend of slapstick and on-the-spot comedy, there are still several things that will make you wonder what Fieg was thinking during pre-production. The biggest puzzle of them all is the miscasting of supporting actors Marlon Wayans (“A Haunted House”), Dan Bakkedahl (TV’s “Veep”), and Taran Killam (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”). Incapable of contributing anything to first-time screenwriter Katie Dippold’s narrative, which is quite formulaic at times, their presence on screen simply becomes annoying. These characters only disrupt the slightly awkward but growing friendship between Bullock and McCarthy throughout the film.

While it’s impossible to deny that Bullock and McCarthy’s characters are nothing new in the buddy-cop subgenre (see “Men and Black”, “Lethal Weapon” and “Starsky and Hutch” just to name a few), the girls are able to put their own spin on the set-up. More importantly, the laughs are consistently on target.

Monsters University

June 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren
Directed by: Dan Scanlon (debut)
Written by: Daniel Gerson (“Monster’s Inc.”), Robert L. Baird (debut), Dan Scanlon (debut)

Twelve years ago, Pixar introduced us to the charismatic one-eyed monster, Mike Wazowski, and his ginormous polka-dotted buddy, Sulley, in “Monsters Inc.” Set 10 years before their epic adventure with Boo, its prequel, “Monsters University,” prevails in both charm and humor. Simply put: It’s just so darn cute, it’ll make you want to grab your best friend and give them a monster-sized cuddle.

In “Monsters University,” the origin story of how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) came to be pals takes center stage with a trip back in time to their college days. We quickly discover that it wasn’t always happy times for the BFF’s. In fact, they detested each other their first semester in college.

Their constant bickering finally blows up in their face when they are kicked out of the elite Scaring Program on campus after impulsively breaking out into a fight, right smack in the middle of their final exam. Catching the undesirable attention of stern and intimidating Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), Mike and Sulley are forced to change their majors and say goodbye to their long desired dream to become professional scarers.

Mike’s lifelong aspirations, however, keep him from giving up. He optimistically enters the Scare Games, an Olympics-style team competition on campus, in hopes of being crowned “Best Scarer on Campus.” With one more shot to prove his worthiness, Dean Hardscrabble agrees to let him back into the program if he can clinch the title but not before he is forced to team up with the nerdy misfits of Oozma Kappa, the only fraternity on campus that will have him, and his enemy, Sulley, who fills in as the sixth required fraternity member.

With an impeccable cast, every actor effortlessly lends their voice to the animated characters, making the ensemble irresistibly entertaining. Its heartwarming storyline is likely to put a smile on everyone’s face no matter what age, especially with its inspiring message of friendship and finding the inspiration to overcome life’s obstacles.

“Monsters University” is flawlessly animated with striking and vivid colors, making every scene pleasurable to watch. With its bright and intricate details, take heed in knowing there is no reason to purchase a 3-D ticket. Despite the many off-the-wall activities the Scare Games demand the fraternities and sororities complete before going onto the next round, nothing is added to the movie watching experience in a 3-D format.

Even though the film might not be able to make you tear up like “Toy Story 3,” director Dan Scanion saves it from becoming another Pixar misstep like “Cars 2.” With its crazy antics, memorable characters and rambunctious comedy, “Monsters University” delivers a satisfying G-rated film the entire family will enjoy.

After Earth

May 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Written by: Gary Whitta (“The Book of Eli”) and M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”)

How two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan went from directing and writing one of the best horror-suspense films of all time with 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” to holding down the fort at the Golden Raspberry Awards should continue to boggle the mind of every moviegoer. One day, if we’re all lucky enough, he’ll get his head out of the clouds and return to form. “After Earth” isn’t the film to knock him back on track, however. Reprising his gut-wrenching trend of calamitously-made movies, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Shyamalan hits Raspberry gold once again with “After Earth.” At least he won’t be alone. Will and Jaden Smith are almost guaranteed to have a seat right next to him.

After a crash landing leaves stern General Cypher (Will Smith) of the peacekeeping organization, Ranger Corps, and his rebellious and audacious son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), stranded on Earth, the father-son duo must work together to retrieve an emergency beacon located in the tail of a ship to stay alive. Badly injured, General Cypher is forced to sit idly by, guiding his son through the treacherous terrain, which is filled with evolved species and an alien creature that killed his only daughter.

“After Earth” kicks off with a disorienting introduction and the 100 minutes that follow don’t get much clearer. Had the audience not been forced to endure the film’s ill-executed sci-fi elements and Will and Jaden Smith’s laughable performances, it could’ve scraped by with a tolerable father-son storyline. Instead, Shyamalan damages the film beyond repair with trite dialogue and melodramatic one liners, which make for good albeit unintentional laughs.

With so much chaotic back story and information throughout the entire movie, it doesn’t take long for the audience to realize how paper-thin the narrative actually is. Scenes where Jaden Smith attempts to carry the film alone don’t work. As if that isn’t bad enough, the film tries to contribute some sort of substance through flashbacks, but never reveals anything but the same scene from different angles.

At times, “After Earth” feels like a sci-fi themed episode of “Lost” starring Will and Jaden with horrible accents. If you’re used to Shyamalan disasters like “The Last Airbender” and “The Happening,” this won’t come as a big disappointment. What is disappointing, however, is the fact that the film studio is already discussing a sequel. If the Smith men can’t wait to get back on the screen together, why not try “The Pursuit of Happyness 2” instead? It couldn’t be any worse than Shyamalan’s latest debacle.

Epic

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Chris Wedge (“Robots”)
Written by: James V. Hart (“August Rush”), Tom J. Astle (“Get Smart”), Matt Ember (“Failure to Launch”), William Joyce (debut) and Daniel Shere (debut)

While the title is a drastic overstatement, “Epic” is sure to send the kiddos off with a smile and some good laughs. With that said, it’s important to warn those who are expecting a magical world filled with dynamic characters and a heartwarming storyline to wipe your expectations clean. “Epic” doesn’t reach those heights.

In “Epic,” teenager Mary Katherine, aka M.K., (Amanda Seyfried), who has recently lost her mother, must deal with the transition of moving in with her kooky and absent-minded father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Hard at work, the professor is trying to prove the existence of a secret world which inhabits tiny warriors who protect the forest, a theory M.K. isn’t buying. The only bright side to living in her new creaky home is spending time with her rambunctious, beat-up Pug, Ozzie. After accidentally letting Ozzie loose, M.K. ends up chasing him into the forest where she is magically shrunken into the secret world her father told her about – a world of fairylike creatures and talking animals.

Caught in the middle of a raging war between good (the Leafmen) and evil (the Boggans), M.K. finds her tiny self destined to protect the “chosen pod,” which now holds the good spirit of the forest, passed on by the slain Forest Queen, Tara (Beyonce). In order to defeat Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), leader of the Boggans, who is plotting to take over the forest, M.K. enlists the help of Ronin (Colin Farrell), the noble and trusty Commander of the Leafmen; Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a rebellious hero; and a couple of comic-relief sidekicks, Mub the Slug (Anziz Ansari) and Grub the Snail (Chris O’Dowd).

With so many opportunities to live up to its name, “Epic” never fulfills its destiny. Focusing a little more on the divided relationship between M.K. and her father would’ve been the easiest fix, but the film never takes full advantage when it has the chance. It barely grazes the surface of the father-daughter narrative and leaves the audience with unanswered questions.

Although unsuccessful at capturing the emotions of the entire story thanks to mediocre voice acting and a static storyline, “Epic” makes up in aesthetics with its whimsical animation and intricate battle choreography. But what truly slides in and saves the day, literally, are Mub the Slug and Grub the Snail. With their slapstick humor and memorable jokes, “Epic” is more enjoyable than it really should be.