Trolls

November 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel
Directed by: Walt Dohrn (debut) and Mike Mitchell (“Shrek Forever After”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda”)

Nothing says migraine-inducing entertainment like a neon-tinted animated musical voiced by the likes of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and Zooey Deschanel and co-directed by the guy that made “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.” Someone stab my eardrums with a broche, am I right?

Surprisingly, you’d be wrong. While there are a few moments that will probably be slightly irritating for anyone above the age of six, “Trolls” is a barrel-full of rainbows and sunshine and candy-corn flavored happiness. In other words, it’s pretty darn amusing (and, moreover, it doesn’t feature the voice of Jim Parsons, which is always a positive).

In “Trolls,” which is based off of the collectible plastic toy with Don King-like hair, the always-cheerful creatures are living a fulfilling life of singing, dancing and hugging. When an evil Bergen, which oddly looks like a Boxtroll from the 2014 animate film, finds their hidden village, she scoops up a handful of the trolls and takes the home for the Bergens’ annual festival where they feast on the half-pints (the only time a Bergen feels happiness). It’s up to peppy troll Poppy (Anna Kendrick), sullen troll Branch (Justin Timberlake), and some other less important trolls (the sparkly silver one speaks with an auto-tuned voice!) to rescue their friends before they end up as appetizers.

What “Trolls” has going for it is its cleverly placed musical interludes and dance choreography. Young audiences haven’t really been given a true animated musical since “Frozen” in 2013, so it’s exciting to get a movie that captures some of the delightful aspects of the genre. From songs like Timberlake’s “Cant’ Stop the Feeling!” to Lionel Richie’s “Hello” to even Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” the soundtrack is curated to perfection.

With a colorful and vibrant look and some interesting characters that are almost Dr. Seussian, “Trolls” isn’t going to top the likes of the best animations this year, but it’s easily one of the most fun.

The Accountant

October 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”)
Written by: Bill Dubuque (“The Judge”)

Ben Affleck has had an unusual career. Lauded for his Oscar-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting,” Affleck had a few solid, if not unspectacular roles in films before turning in a series of duds that bottomed out with the back-to-back combo of “Daredevil” and “Gigli.” After taking his licks, and essentially becoming a Hollywood punchline, Affleck made a bold career move: He started directing films. He began with the fantastic “Gone Baby Gone” and eventually won another Oscar as producer for “Argo.” Re-invigorated by his work behind the camera, Affleck started improving in front of it as well. While it may not be the best film he’s been in, “The Accountant” may just be one of the best performances Affleck has given in his career.

As an accountant for some of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the world, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) does not shy away from danger. As Wolff is brought in to take a look at the books for a robotics company, he and accounting associate Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) notice some peculiarities. As Wolff uncovers more, he finds himself in the midst of danger and must use his unique skillset to keep him and Dana safe.

A good chunk of “The Accountant” is devoted to an exploration of Christian’s autism, and the film deserves a lot of credit for getting that right. Affleck nails the idiosyncrasies of autism, with elements of both brilliance and social struggles. It’s Affleck’s most well-rounded performance in a while, and perhaps best, he is surprisingly funny in the films lighter moments.

While Affleck’s performance is magnetic, the B and C plotlines of the film (essentially any goings on not involving Affleck) feel so oddly pieced together. Even with their eventual resolution, so much of “The Accountant” lacks structure and feel out of place. What results is a complete waste of acting talent and screen time. Back-to-back Emmy winner in Jeffrey Tambor is essentially given five minutes of backstory context, Simmons is there for pure exposition and Kendrick is there for a lazy romantic plot that not only goes nowhere, but is abandoned for a solid half hour.

But beyond being just a waste of talent, “The Accountant” has a ton of parts that are outright confusing and don’t really add up. The focus is to keep the story moving along, but at some point it is difficult for the audience to continue to care. Somewhere along the later part of the film, Simmons’ character delivers what seems like an excruciatingly long exposition dump that starts to make the picture a little bit more clear. What follows is a series of shrug-worthy twists, ho-hum reveals, and even more clunky exposition. It nearly derails the entire film and is only saved by some well-executed violence.

If you are willing to forgive “The Accountant” for its faults, there is plenty of great acting, intense shootouts, and surprising laughs to sustain its runtime. It’s a really solid Affleck performance and is actually quite gripping in moments. Held up to scrutiny, however, “The Accountant” is unnecessarily complicated, convoluted and lacks a satisfying payoff.

Pitch Perfect 2

May 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson
Directed by: Elizabeth Banks (debut)
Written by: Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect”)

When “Pitch Perfect” came out in 2012, it was a bonafide sleeper hit. Taking advantage of a recent revival in interest in acapella music and piggybacking off of the female-led smash hit that was “Bridesmaids,” “Pitch Perfect” was able to take a sharp script from “30 Rock” writer Kay Cannon and turn it into a surprise box office smash that went so far as to lead its most notable performance of the song “Cups” by its lead actress Anna Kendrick to a top 10 Billboard hit. Looking to recapture the success of the original, and with a new layer of expectation, actress Elizabeth Banks steps into the director’s chair with “Pitch Perfect 2.”

After an embarrassing performance in front of the President of the United States at the Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas find themselves banned from performing. In order to regain their status, The Bellas led by captain Becca (Anna Kendrick) must enter, and win, an international contest which no American team has ever won.

Taking cues from many contemporary comedies, Cannon and Banks take the rapid-fire, volume joke approach for the films humor, which works to a surprising degree. The humor is non-stop and if one joke doesn’t land, there’s another one closely following that does. It’s an impressive feat, though not entire unsurprising given Cannon’s past in quick-witted “30 Rock” and the host of capable comedic actors at her disposal. In fact, the secondary cast may be the unsung hero of “Pitch Perfect 2.” When a laugh is needed, director Banks has incredibly gifted comedic actors like Keegan-Michael Key and John Michael Higgins to deliver a perfectly placed punchline. On the same note, “Pitch Perfect 2” is also more of an ensemble piece than the first installment, which was largely focused on Kendrick’s character Becca. There’s no question that Rebel Wilson’s character “Fat Amy” was the breakout character of the first film, and that has not changed. In fact, if anything, Wilson’s impact has only grown as she absolutely owns every scene she is in, garnering laughs at an impressive clip.

One of the more impressive elements of “Pitch Perfect 2” is its ability to mine humor and entertainment out of retreaded ground. It is expected that many plot elements or even jokes that were successful in an original installment will resurface in a sequel, but the way they are written and executed allow Cannon and Banks to continue to find gold. A great example of this is an underground acapella battle that happens midway through the film. Fans of the original will remember a variation of this scene where teams must instantly match the beat of the previous teams song with another song from the same designated category. Upping the stakes with a comically absurd grand prize and adding several completely hilarious and perfectly casted cameos and it is instantly a fresh take on a scene that has proven to work.

There are some story issues, and the films narrative can be a little overstuffed and quickly paced at times, but none of that gets in the way of the pure, unadulterated blast that “Pitch Perfect 2” provides. Though the musical parts of the film are again impressively done, it ultimately takes a backseat to the comedy, which works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s occasionally crass, offensive and a bit mean spirited, but almost always extremely funny and entertaining. In an age where sequels are regularly a disappointment, “Pitch Perfect 2” is, at the very least, equal to and quite possibly better than the original, and is the first legitimately great film of the summer movie season (Sorry, Avengers).

Cake

January 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Daniel Barnz (“Won’t Back Down”)
Written by: Patrick Tobin (“No Easy Way”)

Over the past couple of months as Oscar season has been ramping up, studios and distributors have been feverishly pouring money into awards campaigns to try to get their films and their cast and crew nominated. Perhaps nobody was given a larger push than “Cake” lead actress Jennifer Aniston. Highlighting her lack of vanity in wearing no make up and adding facial scars, Aniston was everywhere promoting the film and campaigns were seen all over the internet. Of course, when the nominations were announced last week, Aniston’s name was absent, perhaps proving that Oscar noms can’t always be bought or influenced…or maybe voters were simply acknowledging that “Cake” is not a good film.

After suffering a tragic accident that left her in chronic pain, among other things, Claire (Aniston) has become a miserable and angry person. When a fellow member of her chronic pain support group, Nina (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, Claire becomes fascinated with her life and her widowed husband Roy (Sam Worthington). As the two become closer, they connect as people trying to put the pieces back together.

In her defense, this is the best work of Aniston’s career as she is able to sink her teeth into a dramatically heavy role and capture the essence of a truly unpleasant person. It may not be Oscar worthy, but it proves that Aniston has the chops to take on roles with a little more substance. It should also be pointed out that perhaps the only character in the film that has any sort of depth is Adriana Barraza who plays Claire’s housekeeper Silvana. Barraza, who is fiercely loyal in the face of being treated horribly, is the only source of true humanity in the film as a whole.

The film itself starts off decent enough, with a pretty good opening scene that shows how caustic Claire is in the wake of her accident. From there, however, screenwriter Patrick Tobin begins to paint Claire as a woman with no redeeming qualities. As the scenes progress, the character of Claire becomes increasingly boorish and quite frankly, annoying to watch. It is to a fault, as Tobin tries to foster empathy with a character that is rude and mean for no reason. Yes, she is in the wake of a horrible tragedy and in chronic pain, but she is regularly lying, threatening blackmail, and insulting people who are simply trying to help her. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Adding to the faults of the screenplay are far too many dream sequences as well as hallucinations of the dead Nina, which essentially play out as the devil on Claire’s shoulder and add virtually nothing to the mix.

As the film goes on, it also becomes more and more contrived, hitting a peak with the storyline that explains the films title of “Cake.” By the time we see the façade of Claire begin to crack, the filmmakers have pushed her detestability so far that any chance for sympathy is too far-gone. A redemption story is only worthwhile when you can actually invest in a character, which is nearly impossible in “Cake.”

Into the Woods

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine
Directed by: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”)
Written by: James Lapine (debut)

With this musical fantasy, director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) probably has the goose that lays the golden egg when it comes to the box office this holiday season, but it’s hard to come up with a substantial reason to visit this mishmash of classic fairytale characters (Cinderella, Rapunzel, etc.). Adapted from James Lapine and Stephen Sondeim’s Tony Award-winning Broadway play of the same name, “Into the Woods” is a misfire on almost every level (this coming from someone who knows his fair share of kitschy show tunes).

In the film, Marshall along with Lapine, who penned the screenplay based on his own book, focus the story on a nameless baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt). Unable to have children, the couple turns to a nameless witch (Meryl Streep) who promises them a child if they go on a mission for her (think the Wizard of Oz asking Dorothy to procure the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick, except not nearly as interesting). Their assignment: to bring to her a “cow as white as milk,” which belongs to Jack from the Jack and the Beanstalk tale; a “cape as red as blood,” which belongs to Little Red Riding Hood; “hair as yellow as corn,” which belongs to Rapunzel; and a “slipper as pure as gold,” which belongs to Cinderella.

What comes out the other end is an awkward mess of a narrative with a tone that goes from playful family-friendly fare to a story about death and deception all wrapped up in collection of Broadway tunes that – with the exception of the title song – are far from memorable. Sure, some of the Grimm Brother’s stories get closer to their original text, but Disney seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it, too, by attempting to cater to the kiddos in some scenes and then flipping a switch. For example, cutting off the heels and toes of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters when they try to fit into her shoe probably isn’t what most five year old children remember happening in the classic 1950 animated movie. Happy-go-lucky mice, yes. Self mutilation, not so much.

When Johnny Depp comes out in full Johnny Depp mode (he’s wearing wolf whiskers and singing about “plump pink flesh” while salivating over Little Red Riding Hood), audiences will wonder who this film is actually for. Fans of the stage play might have an invested interest, but with the exception of a few technical achievements (art direction, costume design and make-up), this isn’t a musical with anything to say (much less sing).

O. Wilde, J. Johnson, R. Livingston, A. Kendrick – Drinking Buddies (DVD)

December 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the improvised dialogue-heavy and ultimately scriptless indie romantic comedy “Drinking Buddies,” which was just release on DVD and Blu-ray last week, actors Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde star as Luke and Kate, two co-workers at a brewery who spend a lot of time flirting with each other despite both having significant others.

During interviews earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival where “Drinking Buddies” made its original debut before hitting VOD platforms and theaters later in the year, the cast (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) and director (Joe Swanberg) of the film sat down to talk about the pros of shooting a movie without a script and what it was like wetting their whistles in Chicago.

Your characters drink quite a lot in the film. How close do you think they are to actually being alcoholics?

Olivia Wilde: Oh, we’re above the level [of alcoholism].

Jake Johnson: Yeah, we’re definitely alcoholics.

(Everyone laughs)

Joe Swanberg: You know, I didn’t realize how much [the cast] was drinking until I started editing the film. It didn’t feel, on a day-to-day basis, that it was that much.

Olivia Wilde: Yeah, that’s the first sign of alcoholism – when it seems alright to have [alcohol] for breakfast. (Laughs) A few people who saw the movie felt like we had purposely made a movie about young alcoholics, which I thought was really interesting. It certainly wasn’t intended, but I guess some people see more layers.

Ron Livingston: But you guys [Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson] work in that brewery so you do drink a lot of beer.

Jake Johnson: Yeah, we drink a lot of beer.

And shots.

Olivia Wilde: Yeah, the shots were not real. They were like ice tea or something like that. It’s harder to fake beer – to make apple juice look like beer. We wanted to pay homage to craft beer brewing. We all have such a respect for it. We wanted to learn as much about it as we could, which meant participating in [drinking].

Joe Swanberg: Yeah, I mean the second you guys got into town, the first thing we did was brew beer together. I was excited to expose you guys to it. I hate movies that are set in a world where it seems like they get everything wrong. Because you guys weren’t really brewers, it was hard to find a way you guys could talk about brewing beer that was realistic, but wasn’t so detailed that it seemed fake. It was important to me that if a brewer watched this movie, nothing would pull them out of it. We shot the film at Revolution Brewery in Chicago. Craft brewing is one of the really cool things happening in Chicago right now. I looked at every brewery space there. Not only were the guys at Revolution really great and welcoming us into that world, the space is gorgeous. It was brand new. It’s huge with all these whiskey barrels around. The guys were super nice. I think they might’ve kept Jake and just hired him on as a brewer.

Can you talk a little more about the sexual tension that is portrayed in the film between the characters? Of course, there is the hiking scene with Anna and Ron where they kiss, but there’s also a lot of tickling going on between Jake and Olivia for most of the movie. Did those scenes come natural to you all?

Olivia Wilde: You know what’s funny is that during those scenes you are operating with the right side of your brain. So, you can improvise for a while and then not remember anything you’ve done. So, yeah, it was so instinctual that it’s almost like you black out. For me, that happens on stage and certainly on this film. Watching it for the first time I remembering thinking, “I don’t remember saying that. I don’t remember doing that.” During a lot of those flirtatious scenes, Joe set it up and said, “OK, make the sandwich.” We thought, “OK, what if doing anything with this person was just so much fun?” Certainly for Kate, making this sandwich [with Luke] is like her dream come true. So, for her, making this sandwich with him and having this food fight with him was like the ultimate activity! Those scenes were about the pure bliss of interacting with someone that makes you feel that way.

Joe Swanberg: Those scenes were a lot of fun to shoot because I think those are the scenes in life where you’re improvising anyway. It’s those situations where the boundaries are getting blurry and there’s no precedent for it. There’s a million situations you’ve been in during your life where there is a precedent. You know how to go to a business meeting. You know how to have interaction as a student with a teacher. But then there are those situations where you’re misbehaving and are outside of the boundary lines and you’re on your toes and you’re like, “Oh, shit. I’ve never done this before. Is this wrong?” And you start making it up.

Jake Johnson: Also, it was fun working with Olivia. So, we got to know each other through our characters. So, the times we hung out, we both had people to see in Chicago after work. So, it was like, “This was a really fun day. I’ll see you tomorrow.” So, I got to know Kate as I got to know Olivia. So, when you had a fun scene it was fun and it would carry on. And those fight scenes we got in, we would have these really intense fights. It felt bad. Then I felt bad in terms of Jake and Olivia. So, when you have scenes like that with people you really respect like Olivia and Anna and Ron, it is impossible not to react and get intimate. So, in those scenes where we’re flirting with each other, Joe would set the scene and we would just try to live in it. If you were working with someone who wasn’t that strong, it would’ve been a lot harder.

Anna Kendrick: For me when we shot our scene, it was hard.

Ron Livingston: It was harder for you than it was for me.

(Everyone laughs)

Anna Kendrick: But it was a really tricky scene. I mean, how do you make sense that this happened? (Spoiler: Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston’s characters go on a picnic and end up fooling around).I mean, what would be the circumstances where these two people who aren’t tickling each other would fall into this kiss? I remember being really happy that we got it in one take and that everybody was happy and we were moving on and wouldn’t have to spend the whole afternoon pouring over how we could make it better.

Ron Livingston: Absolutely.

Anna Kendrick: So, I was so happy that it worked. Everyone was gathering up equipment and we were moving out of the woods to a new location and suddenly it occurred to me that I would have to tell [Luke] what happened and I immediately started crying. I turned away from everybody because I knew it was my responsibility to come up with those words. It was the scene where I would have to figure out how to tell [Luke].

Jake Johnson: Right.

Anna Kendrick: (To Jake) That’s where all the lines start getting blurry. It felt bad when I realized I would have to confess to you.

Ron Livingston: That’s where I feel this process (filming a movie without a script) is helpful. If that scene was scripted and you say, “OK, you’re going to have a picnic and you’re going to say these lines and then you’re going to kiss her,” it would’ve made it a different scene. Once you have that freedom and all you know is that you’re going to have a picnic and at some point you’re going to kiss her, it’s more honest. We didn’t want to fake it. All of a sudden it gets funny and awkward and made sense. You wait for it and then when it all of a sudden happens, it makes sense that you waited for it.

Jake Johnson: Part of the reason I hope this movie is well received is because you can see, even in this conversation, that the process [to make “Drinking Buddies”] was so weird in such a good way. (Laughs) I’m not like a 40-year-old veteran or anything, but, man, nothing feels like a Joe Swanberg movie. I say that as a complement. I mean, there was a scene where Olivia and I get into a fight and I text her later and asked, “Are we good?”

(Everyone laughs)

Olivia Wilde: Jake text, “I just need to know that we’re all right.”

Jake Johnson: This movie is weird! It’s fucking with my head!

Olivia Wilde: It’s like the scene with the bonfire. I think that was the first time in a movie where I was like, “You know, I really think I want to take my clothes off here.” It just felt like that’s what Kate would do at that moment. She would go skinny dipping. And Joe was like, “If you feel comfortable with that, go ahead. I think that makes sense in this world.” And you never know if Luke followed her in or not the next morning.

Jake Johnson: I told Joe, “You know, I think Luke follows her into the lake.” He was like, “Nah, bro.”

(Everyone laughs)

Ron Livingston: It’s like an NFL team saying, “We don’t need a fucking playbook.” It’s just different from any other kind of movie that you’ll see.

Jake Johnson: And I really hope somebody has the courage to give Swanberg $20 million. Whatever that movie is, I want to be in it. I want to see it.

(Everyone laughs)

Pitch Perfect

September 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow
Directed by: Jason Moore (debut)
Written by: Kay Cannon (debut)

A mix between the cheerleading comedy “Bring it On” and the TV series “Glee,” Tony Award-nominated director Jason Moore’s debut film “Pitch Perfect” will cater mostly to indiscriminate teenagers looking for a few laughs. It does, however, have a surprising mean streak, which makes sense if considering Moore’s past work on Broadway. As head of the popular adult-themed puppet musical “Avenue Q,” Moore is conscious of his sardonic side. It’s emphasized by screenwriter Kay Cannon (TV’s “30 Rock”), who pays more attention to the cattier aspects of the story in lieu of what should be most important: the music. It doesn’t help that Cannon repeatedly reminds audiences that a cappella singers are the geekiest people on the planet. Each of these exaggerations is a squandered opportunity to add a genuinely written character into the choir.

Like the comedy “Joyful Noise” earlier this year, “Pitch Perfect” is a conventional film built around an entertaining soundtrack. It will be especially enjoyable for audiences who can appreciate the harmony created by the contemporary a cappella groups featured here. With hip renditions of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” and Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” among others, the best advice to follow would be to skip the theater and log on to iTunes.

50-50

September 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Jonathon Levine (“The Wackness”)
Written by: Will Reiser (debut)

As soon as 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hears his doctor utter the word “cancer,” his ears begin to ring and his vision becomes blurry. For a few seconds, he becomes paralyzed, trapped under the weight of the revelation. From here, Adam begins his journey through the five stages of grief as he looks for acceptance, deals with treatment, seeks support, and tries to stay positive as his future becomes uncertain.

After Adam is diagnosed with cancer, he begins to deal with a lot of confusing emotions. His main source of support is his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), a fun-loving stoner who tries to get Adam to use his cancer to pick up girls. To help him deal with the life-altering news, Adam turns to Katherine McKay, an unseasoned psychiatry doctoral student, to help him cope with the emotional aspects of the disease. To make matters worse for Adam, his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston) is invasive and determined to take care him, even as he rejects her motherly instinct.

After an unsuccessful foray in “Hesher,” Gordon-Levitt returns to his comfort zone in a well-acted role that calls for unassuming charm and some heavy dramatic moments. As wisecracking friend Kyle, Rogen’s performance is a little uneven. There’s a sense of trying too hard by being needlessly vulgar that surrounds Rogen’s performance, but he is able to come through with some genuine laughs as well as displaying good chemistry with Gordon-Levitt. The highlight of the cast is Kendrick. Her charm is on full display and her scenes with Gordon-Levitt are among the best of the film. Their chemistry is so strong, sweet, and convincing that she actually elevates his performance during their scenes together.

It goes without saying that making a comedy surrounding such a devastating disease is challenging. But the beauty of humor is that with the right attitude and manipulation, it can be found in even the darkest and most unexpected of places. Taking a subject like cancer and finding tasteful ways to laugh at the situation is the mark of something truly special, and perhaps even inspirational to those dealing with stress and anxiety. And while “50/50” does utilize some laughter at the expense of Adam’s illness, too much of the humor comes from Rogen’s crass and sexual dialogue. It’s almost as if Rogen wandered onto the set straight from an Apatow movie and everyone just went along with it.

The dramatic moments hit hard and resonate, none greater than when Adam finally breaks down and Gordon-Levitt lets out a primal scream that shakes you to your core. But the first half of the movie shoehorns comedy that doesn’t necessarily fit, almost as if the filmmakers felt the need to make the audience laugh to keep them from feeling too many negative emotions. Perhaps the biggest problem is not only that the jokes hit at an inconsistent rate, but it also often disrupts the tone of the film.

While “50/50” occasionally struggles to strike a balance between drama and comedy, the final act is simply stunning.  The events and emotions are so powerful that they will undoubtedly leave many audience members misty-eyed, which is a result of expert handling with heavy scenes. The humor might not connect consistently, but “50/50” is a minor triumph.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

August 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) and Michael Bacall (“Bookies”)
 
While it might be easy enough to dismiss a movie adapted from a comic book or video game in some cases as too cartoony or CGI-heavy, the liveliness radiating from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – even when beyond ridiculous – is exactly the type of fanboy flair director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) was born to create. It’s unfortunate, however, that “Scott Pilgrim” substitutes a sensible script with scattershot scenes of hyper-unrealistic imagery set in an alternate universe void of any real emotion.

In the film, adapted from the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, our hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera in a very familiar, geeky role) spends his time making due with his cute, high school-aged girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and rocking out in his band Sex Bom-omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference for those keeping score).
 
When Scott meets hipster Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he doesn’t want anything else out of life except to make her his girlfriend. The problem is that Ramona has more than her fair share of baggage. Waiting in the wings as her and Scott’s relationship begins to blossom is Ramona’s seven evil, superhuman exes (six boys, one girl) that Scott must battle and defeat if he wants to date her.

But who really wants to see six separate fights (one is a 2-on-1 against twin brothers) when neither the hero nor the villains are very likeable? Why should “Scott Pilgrim” get a pass when so many other movies (even ones based on video games) are criticized for taking the video-game style too literal?

“Scott Pilgrim” feels suffocated. It’s a movie that is well aware of the gimmick it’s selling, but one with aspirations for something with more substance and character development. Part of that problem is, of course, that the entire “Scott Pilgrim” comic book series has been shrunk to fit into a single feature. It’s a valiant attempt by Wright and Universal Pictures, but one that ultimately can’t carry the load as everyone wears out their welcome.

As Scott fights the exes one by one (Spoiler: He kills the vegan ex-boyfriend with half-and-half…sigh), you sort of forget what he’s fighting for in the first place. Sure, it’s a clever idea if you’re into the whole save-the-princess storyline, but ultimately you’ll wish “Scott Pilgrim” would find one of those portals that’ll transport him to the final level so he can just get it over with already.

Up in the Air

December 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Jason Reitman (“Juno”)
Written by: Jason Reitman (“Thank You for Smoking”) and Sheldon Turner (“The Longest Yard”)

People do crazy things when they are fired from their job. While most may sit in total disbelief, there is the occasional childish tantrum thrown, tearful plea, and even the somber threat to end it all by jumping off the nearest bridge. Some reactions are hilarious (at least from a cinematic sense), some are shocking, and some are simply too heartbreaking to even begin to describe.

In “Up in the Air,” director/writer Jason Reitman and co-writer Sheldon Turner run the gamut on the emotions an employee might experience if he or she was told they were no longer needed. It’s a frightening situation no one would ever want to encounter although today’s increasing unemployment rate continuing to rise makes people wonder just how safe their job really is.

At its most basic, “Up in the Air” is a timely story about the unpredictable marketplace. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a film that speaks volumes about isolation and loneliness and the fear of failure and uninitiated change.

The life-altering affair begins and ends with Academy Award winner George Clooney (“Syriana”). He plays Ryan Bingham, a contract businessman hired by companies around the U.S. to pull the trigger and fire their employees when they can’t find the gall to do it themselves. Firing people face-to-face with the utmost professionalism and respect is all Ryan has ever known. He doesn’t necessarily like the outcome of what his position entails, but his unconstrained lifestyle (living out of his suitcase, jumping from airport to airport, and never having to commit to anyone for anything) is what he is used to. His love for his independence is evident when he starts having scheduled flings with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), another frequent flyer who seems to share the same no-strings-attached outlook on life.

So, when Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), an ambitious efficiency expert straight out of college wants to revolutionize the way the company drops the ax (it’s only logical that firing someone over a webcam will get it done faster and cheaper), Ryan sees and end to his easy-going routine. While this bothers him a great deal, Ryan is also concerned the advanced firing technique via internet is even more heartless than doing it in person. Since the changeover at his company will take some time, he gets the chance to show Natalie there is an actual method to letting someone go that just can’t be duplicated on a computer screen.

Full of charming and touching anecdotes, Reitman makes “Up in the Air” soar. As a “road warrior” who is suddenly grounded, Clooney is Oscar bound in this multi-layered role that speaks from the heart. Kendrick, too, is very memorable as a matter-of-fact young businesswoman who thinks she has it all figured out despite her lack of experience.

It all works in “Up in the Air” from the dark comedy elements to the catchy sountrack. Not only is it one of the best films of the year, it’s also one of those distinctive romantic comedies (with a satirical and tragic twist) that is a true rarity in a usually cliched genre.