The Words

September 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldaña, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Brian Klugman (debut) and Lee Sternthal (debut)
Written by: Brian Klugman (debut) and Lee Sternthal (debut)

What’s with a good-looking actor like Bradley Cooper playing a character as non-sexy as a writer? Why cast a charming, handsome sex symbol just to have him sit at a computer and type or silently read manuscripts for large chunks of the film? Is it a secret passion of Cooper’s? Or does he just want to keep his shirt on? As in 2011’s “Limitless,” Cooper once again plays a struggling author in the excruciatingly stupid drama “The Words” who can’t get his book off the ground until receiving a morally suspect leg up. In “Limitless” it was a brainpower-enhancing super drug. In “The Words,” it’s a found manuscript Cooper’s Rory Jensen passes off as his own on the way to fame and fortune.

First-time writers-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal steer “The Words” off the road and into a narrative ditch immediately by opening the film with a clumsy, nonsensical framing device featuring Dennis Quaid telling the fictional story of Rory’s plagiarism. Quaid’s bestselling author Clay Hammond is performing a reading of his smash-hit novel (also titled “The Words”) to a lecture hall full of adoring fans, including a beautiful admirer played by Olivia Wilde. As Hammond reads to the audience, the film confusingly shifts to the story of Rory and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldaña) and their days both before and after Rory became a successful author.

When Rory’s first book gets passed over by agent after agent, an eye-rolling-worthy convenient find in a satchel purchased in Paris turns up a forgotten novel set in postwar France. Though we aren’t treated to any insight as to what makes the book so transcendent, Rory feels moved enough by the discovery to, for some reason, re-type the entire thing on his laptop. One contrivance leads to another, and soon enough Rory is a best-selling author with a movie deal in the works. Life is great…until the day an old man (Jeremy Irons, convincing no one with his shoddy American accent and patchwork beard) shows up to let Rory know he’s onto him and that the story is actually his own. The movie grinds to a halt as the old man tells his story to a shame-frozen Rory. Let me clarify here: at this point the story of the movie is a story being told to a crowd in a lecture hall about an old man telling a story to another man on a park bench.

What does Irons’ old man actually want? What makes the story that Jensen stole so incredibly commercially successful? What is the point of Jensen’s story being the plot of Hammond’s novel? And why the hell is Olivia Wilde’s character in the movie at all? “The Words” offers no answers, alas, and will only end up leaving you with the most frustrating question of all: Why did I waste my time watching “The Words?”

The Hangover Part II

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”), Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”), Todd Phillips (“Due Date”)
 
Trying to top the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time probably would’ve been a difficult task for director Todd Phillips to accomplish no matter what angle he took with the anticipate sequel “The Hangover Part II,” but at least he could have done something with the least bit of imagination.
 
Instead, Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”) and Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”) have taken the blueprint of the original “Hangover” from 2009, moved the story from Las Vegas to Thailand, and hoped no one in the audience would know it was the same exact movie just with fewer reason to laugh.

Back for a second round of full-frontal male nudity and man-child humor are Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha), four best friends who take a little trip out of the country for Stu’s wedding. Stu’s fiancée Lauren (Jamie Chung) asks the boys to hang out with her little brother Teddy (Mason Lee) so he won’t feel left out.

Flash forward to the following morning and Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up in a seedy Bangkok motel. While Doug is safe and sound back at their hotel ready for the wedding, it’s Teddy who has gone missing. Searching for clues, which include a drug-dealing monkey, a severed finger, and Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) naked on the floor, the wolf pack must find Teddy before the city claims him as its own.

Lazily written and with more of a mean streak than the original, “The Hangover Part II” will indulge fans who are fine with the same jokes and set-ups of the first movie. It’s a shame Phillips and screenwriters didn’t take advantage of the free reign to outdo themselves and their first outing. But when a script is filled with punchlines you already know, there’s not much to look forward to except a few special moments with Galifianakis and his shaven head.

Limitless

March 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
Directed by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”)
Written by: Leslie Dixon (“The Heartbreak Kid”)

Busting at the seams with its spunky, offbeat vibe, the thriller “Limitless” is like the super-drug it peddles. With its miraculous promises, the film is too intriguing not to bite. When it hits your bloodstream, the high is exhilarating. But once that buzz starts to wear thin, things become exhausting. It’s the type of movie filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the duo behind the “Crank” series) could’ve possibly written if they hadn’t hit the 8-ball so hard.

Based on Alan Glynn’s 2001 “techno-thriller” novel “The Dark Fields” – which expands on the oft-repeated myth that humans use only 10 percent of their brains at a time – “Limitless” tosses logic out the window, but does so with some entertainment value during the first hour of this pharmaceutical sci-fi starring the occasionally likeable Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover,” “The A-Team”).

Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a failed writer who can’t finish his book or keep a girlfriend and looks like he’s been sleeping under a highway for the past year. All his problems are solved when he is introduced to a tiny, clear pill known as NZT that activates the brain’s complex circuitry and allows him to use 100 percent of it 100 percent of the time.

With his sudden surge of brilliance, the “enhanced Eddie” is able to access infinite amounts of knowledge, learn new languages in minutes, and cash in at the poker table. Add a little hair gel and some designer duds and the fast-talking and now extremely charming Eddie is primped to take on the world and bag every hottie he can impress with his massive mind.

While Eddie’s smarts are never in question (in one scene he seems to be channeling a lecturing Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”), it’s the script by Leslie Dixon (“Hairspray,” “The Heartbreak Kid”) that needs some sharpening. Approaching the narrative from a very conventional angle, Dixon delivers an innocuous screenplay to director Neil Burger (“The Lucky Ones,” “The Illusionist”) set in the cutthroat financial sector. When Eddie starts crunching numbers for stock-market tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), he becomes a character plucked straight out of “Wall Street.”

Stylized without being obnoxious, “Limitless” makes some unique choices in cinematography and art direction, but comes up short on substance. Skimping on the most interesting facets of the story (questions about addiction and damaged psyches), “Limitless” shies away from thought-provoking elements and spirals into its own mental breakdown.

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.

All About Steve

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Hayden Church
Directed by: Phil Traill (debut)
Written by: Kim Barker (“Liscence to Wed”)

Even in Sandra Bullock’s airhead comedies like “Miss Congeniality” and ‘The Proposal” she can be cutesy and fun. In “All About Steve,” there isn’t one ounce of likeability in the moronic and deathly unfunny character she takes on for 98 minutes of pure torture. Bullock takes a big leap with this one and lands flat on her backside. It’s easily one of the worst films of the year.

The Hangover

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“Old School”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) and Scott Moore (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”)

If you were to make an educated guess on which director could get close to recreating the type of comedy Judd Apatow has become famous for over the last four years, Todd Phillips’ name would not be near the top of that list. With popular albeit pointless comedies like “Road Trip,” “Old School,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” it’s never been Phillips’ forte to reach for anything that resembles cleverness. (Crotch pancakes, yes, witty dialogue between two main characters, not so much).

Maybe that’s why for his newest film, “The Hangover,” Phillips takes a step back and relinquishes his screenwriting duties to a couple of young scribes who also have a history of unimpressive comedies (“Rebound,” “Four Christmases,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). Why take two lumps when you only have to take one, right?

The funny thing is, for whatever reason, the Phillips-Lucas-Moore combination works oddly well when Phillips isn’t pretending he’s still working with Will Ferrell and actually buys into the idea that less is always more. It doesn’t always happen in “The Hangover,” but the mostly unknown leading men keep the raunchy comedy from going into Tom Green-mode. And while it’s considered a dark comedy, it never crosses the line into the abyss like 1998’s “Very Bad Things,” another Las Vegas-based bachelor party movie.

As unbalanced as “The Hangover” is, actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis manage to keep the story grounded most of the time even when they’re running amuck in Sin City trying to find the friend they lost the night of his bachelor party.

When soon-to-be-groom Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is no where to be found the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, his best friends Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) and his awkward, grizzly-like future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) attempt to sort though the clues left throughout their trashed suite and locate Doug before his wedding in two days.

Evidence of their wild night, however, only leads them to more questions. Why does the valet driver think they are police officers? Why is Stu married to a stripper (Heather Graham)? How the hell does former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson know who they are? It’s all very mysterious in a sort of silly way until the third act when the whole misadventure slowly wears out.

Nevertheless, there’s still a shockingly hilarious pay off just when you think “The Hangover” can’t dig itself out of its dark-comedy hole. Add to that a strong dynamic between the three main leads and Phillips has suprisingly given us his best work to date.

He’s Just Not That Into You

February 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”)
Written by: Abbie Kohn (“Never Been Kissed”) and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”)

Just when you thought women couldn’t be portrayed more desperate and neurotic than Sarah Jessica Parker at the end of “Sex and the City: The Movie” (if you think Carrie Bradshaw taking back Mr. Big was romantic, then I really don’t understand the opposite sex), meet the ladies of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

While Bradshaw showed at least some signs of independence in “SATC” (she is a single woman living in New York City after all), the unapologetically weak women of “HJNTIY,” led by the likeable Ginnifer Goodwin (“Walk the Line”), are so unbelievably hopeless, you can’t help to not feel one ounce of sympathy for any of them who might end up alone for the rest of their lives.

The relationship troubles in this cliché romantic comedy start with Gigi (Goodwin), a twenty-something young woman from Baltimore who is searching for Mr. Right and always coming up short. Along with running into relationship dead-ends, Gigi, like Charlotte York from “SATC,” is a hopeless romantic and doesn’t quite grasp the idea of a man blowing her off after an amicable date.

There to soften the fall after her last taste of rejection is Alex (Justin Long), a bar manager who plays the all-knowing love guru and attempts to explain the rules of dating to a wide-eyed and heartbroken Gigi. She, of course, isn’t the only one with relationship woes in “HJNTIY.” Spread thinly across a forgettable script penned by “Never Been Kissed” screenwriters Abbie Kohn and March Silverstein, other characters include Beth (Jennifer Aniston), whose long-time boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) doesn’t believe in marriage; Ben (Bradley Cooper), who’s in a sexless marriage with Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and gets involved with aspiring singer Anna (Scarlett Johansson); and Mary (Drew Barrymore) who complains about how technology is ruining her love life.

Between these stories, director Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”) decides to add filler with mock testimonials from men and women about their personal experiences in the dating scene. While it worked in a film like “When Harry Met Sally,” in “HJNTIY” it’s phony and unimaginative.

“HJNTIY” feels like a therapy session with friends you haven’t talked to in a long time. They mean well when they give you advice, but what do they know about what you’ve been going through in the last few years? Who needs advice anyway, when you’ve got Justin Long teaching the dos and don’ts of dating anyway? Lesson No. 1: girls are clingy, psychotic, mentally unbalanced morons whose happiness is determined by the men they are dating. It may not be a great morale for those who chose to soak it up like scripture, but, hey, at least its got a cute cast, right?

Yes Man

December 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper
Directed by: Peyton Reed (“The Break-Up”)
Written by: Nicholas Stoller (“Fun with Dick and Jane”), Jarred Paul (“Bewitched”) and Andrew Mogel (deubt)

In Jim Carrey’s new film “Yes Man,” it feels like the rubber-faced star of such movies as “Dumb and Dumber” and “Liar, Liar” is in comedy limbo.

It was a mistake when Carrey tried to jump genres last year with the appalling thriller “The Number 23.” Now, back to do the work he’s best known for (although his turns at drama – “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Truman Show” – have been his best projects), Carrey feels like an old jacket. It’s reliable and will keep you warm, but it would be nice to have something a little more hip (why do you think Adam Sandler is jumping on the Judd Apatow bandwagon next year?)

Not to say that Carrey has lost a step. He hasn’t. He’s still the best at what he does and does it with gusto. It never feels lazy but his herky-jerkiness naturally feels repetitious after a while. In “Yes Man,” Carrey takes it down a notch, which relieves some of the hyperactivity best left for a hopped-up Robin Williams on Ritalin.

He plays financial banker and social recluse Carl Allen, a guy who never wants to hang out with his friends and is “commited to saying no” to everything. Carl’s lifestyle changes, however, when he runs into Nick (John Michael Higgins), a former co-worker who coerces him to attend a self-help seminar that he promises will get him out of his rut. At the seminar, headed by the always-positive guru Terrance Bundley (Terrance Stamp), Carl is somehow provoked to take the motivational speaker up on a challenge and say yes to every question he is asked. “Yes embraces the possible,” Terrance declares.

Carl’s transformation into a “yes man” starts off well when he accepts a homeless guy’s offer to drive him into the forest where he lives, runs out of gas, and ends up meeting Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a novice photographer and alternative musician who lives by the seat of her pants. With his newfound obsession to say yes, Carl and Allison hit it off and start a day-to-day relationship filled with activities he was never able to do before.

While the whole idea seems harmless at first, the illogical script gives Carrey free range to do just about anything he wants without second thought. The strategy moves the screenplay along, but everything is just so random at times even the quirky chemistry between Carrey and Deschanel sort of gets lost in their own bizarre world of spontaneity.

Carrey’s bound to find a role that really highlights his more worthy talents, but “Yes Man” isn’t that movie. It’s simply another minor offering that might be interesting to rent on DVD for the outtakes.

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