December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Quevenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Easy A,” “Friends With Benefits”)
Written by: Will Gluck (“Friends With Benefits”) and Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”)

My memories of the original big screen adaptation of “Annie” are fuzzy, mixed up with the McDonald’s commercials that interspersed the movie which my mom had recorded off of a TV broadcast in the mid-’80s for my sister and me. Sure, I know the songs “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life” like the back of my hand, but they also seem strangely related to that commercial where the girl has a piano recital and sings along to “Fur Elise” by talking about how much she loves McDonald’s cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes just the same. I guess what I’m saying is that, while that version of “Annie” was a big part of my childhood, it wasn’t important enough that my mind immediately turned to rage when I was made aware of director Will Gluck’s (“Easy A”) modern take on the venerable Broadway musical.

Swapping out the source material’s Depression-era setting for present-day New York, we find Annie (Quevenzhane Wallis) as an agreeably pleasant foster kid living with a quartet of other girls with Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz, lost from the get-go as a broadly-drawn cartoon), a mean, drunken wannabe superstar who was kicked out of ’90s band C+C Music Factory just before their appearance on Arsenio Hall’s late night talk show. Meanwhile germaphobic cell phone billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running a losing campaign for mayor of New York City. With his trusty assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) and slimy campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) by his side, he runs into disaster after disaster on the campaign trail, sending his polling numbers lower and lower. It isn’t until a chance meeting where Stacks saves Annie from getting hit by a car that his fortunes turn around, thanks to a bystander catching his heroism on camera and uploading it to YouTube. Seeing how things start going his way after Annie arrived on the scene, Guy suggest Stacks take Annie in to live with him for the duration of the campaign, a scenario that Stacks isn’t 100 percent on board with.

While the modern-day setting makes sense for a film that wants to sell (and wink at) blatant product placement for contemporary things like Target, removing the story from the original ’30s setting causes problems almost immediately. Wallis is fine as Annie, but lacks the plucky, gee-whiz spirit the material really needs. Instead of a fire plug of energy who would turn a distant plutocrat’s world upside down with her shenanigans, this Annie is a sweet, caring, low-key little girl who seems like she would be a dream to have around (the only strange thing about her being that she prefers to sleep on the floor instead of the giant bed she’s given). As Stacks, Foxx is called upon to play a strange mix of bumbling dad, fussy weirdo, and smooth R&B singer, never finding a groove to carry him through the film. And while the signature songs like “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” are given relatively straightforward arrangements, the rest of the tunes are adapted into strange, stuttering hip-hop beats that all but destroy any entertainment value, especially anything requiring Cameron Diaz to sing. Yikes.

The most enjoyable moments in the film, sadly, come from a Gluck signature: a movie within the movie, this time a bombastic “Twilight” knock off called “MoonQuake Lake” starring Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Rihanna, directed by Hollywood golden boys Chris Miller and Phil Lord. The fact that I’d much rather watch that movie says a lot about “Annie.”

Sex Tape

July 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Corddry
Directed by: Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher”)
Written by: Kate Angelo (“The Back-Up Plan”), Nicholas Stoller (“The Five-Year Engagement”) and Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)

As far as nightmare scenarios go, it’s hard to imagine a fate worse than having a homemade sex tape being surreptitiously uploaded to a place where all of your friends and family can have it at their fingertips. It is a scenario that is, of course, technologically impossible, haphazardly thrown together and explained in the laziest way possible, a recurring theme in the new comedy “Sex Tape.”

In an effort to pull themselves out of a marriage that lacks in sex, Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) decide to film themselves during their most intimate moments. As they go to sleep, the video uploads itself to the Cloud and becomes available for all of their friends and family to view. In a panic, Jay and Annie go on a hunt to find and remove every copy of the video that exists.

In order to come up with a way that this ridiculous turn of events could have happened, screenwriters Kate Angelo, Nicholas Stoller and Segel invent an absurd circumstance in which, for whatever reason, Jay gives out an abundance of iPads to his friends, family and, in a joke repeated to death, the mailman. It’s the first in a series of baffling plot points that, despite tons of expositional dialogue, clearly don’t reflect how real life works. Is it really important that comedies be 100 percent factual? Probably not, but it is bothersome enough to be a distraction.

“Sex Tape” also falters by spending far too much time in places it shouldn’t. One example is in a scene involving Diaz and Rob Lowe in which Segel battles a dog. It’s a sequence that feels like it takes up half of the movie and has very little payoff other than a few bits of physical humor. As a result, supporting characters like the one played by Rob Corddry take a backseat and barely get a chance to do anything, despite some funny lines early on.

To their credit, Segel and Diaz go all out when it comes to piling on the sexual content, though there is almost always a completely PG-13 style of blocking nudity or anything too graphic. The film is very reliant on a mix of sexual dialogue and physical humor for laughs with the former being slightly more successful, though most attempts at humor miss the mark regardless.

Technological issues aside, the plot of “Sex Tape” becomes repetitive as the duo goes out of their way to remove every shred of evidence of their sex tape, only to have a far easier explanation explained to them. “Sex Tape” isn’t a completely unfunny movie, but the over-reliance on gross-out sexual humor is its ultimate downfall. Segel and Diaz are clearly having fun here, but perhaps the events of “Sex Tape” are better served as a hypothetical “What If” conversation with friends.

The Other Woman

April 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”)
Written by: Melissa Stack (debut)

For anyone in a committed relationship, the worst possible scenario has to be finding out that your spouse has been cheating on you. But what if you found out that your spouse was cheating on you with not one, but two women? Your first instinct would naturally be to befriend your wife’s mistress, right? No?

This is the situation in which we find Kate (Leslie Mann) in in “The Other Woman.” When a lawyer named Carly (Cameron Diaz) shows up to surprise her boyfriend Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, TV’s “Game of Thrones”) at his house, the door is answered by Kate, much to both of their surprise. As Kate digs deeper, she discovers her husband is cheating on her with Carly and the two form an unlikely friendship. When they follow him to a vacation to try and see what he is into, they find yet another woman he is seeing (Kate Upton). After being informed of the situation, the three team up to try and take him down and get their revenge.

Those who have seen Judd Apatow’s films know that a little bit of Leslie Mann goes a long way. While she can be incredibly funny, she also has the tendency to play the same character over and over again and a tendency to overdo her performances. You cannot fault her effort here as she is virtually unhinged and commits completely to the role. Her loud, rambling and hysteric characteristics, however, are more obnoxious than entertaining. Of particular surprise is just how bland of a performance and character Diaz portrays. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the lame script, but Diaz displays very little in the way of personality in her role.

Once the trio of jilted lovers bands together, the film becomes a retelling of tired, typical, sabotage tropes and juvenile potty humor. I mean honestly, how many times must we watch someone’s drink get messed with only to find them gripping the side of a toilet seat, sweating and grunting complete with sound effects. (Sorry for the spoiler). The story never really moves far beyond seeing how much damage the women can inflict on the three-timing husband, despite the films unsuccessful attempts at building a number of relationships.

The obvious goal of “The Other Woman” is to serve as a women’s empowerment film to anyone who has ever been played by a man, which is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, the gags are stale and the script is vapid, among many other problems. When it comes down to it, “The Other Woman” is an entirely unfunny affair.

The Counselor

October 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Cormac McCarthy (debut)

He might be considered by many as one of the most talented living writers working today, but Cormac McCarthy’s transition from penning novels like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road” to writing his first screenplay for “The Counselor” is not a smooth one to say the least. In fact, if you factor in McCarthy’s heavyweight status in the literary world along with the film’s star-studded cast and three-time Oscar nominated director Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”) at the helm and “The Counselor” just might be the most surprising failure of the year.

Central to the story is actor Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) as the nameless title character, a lawyer who is in need of some fast cash and turns to the seedy drug cartels in Juarez, Mexico to help him out. When a drug run doesn’t go as planned, Mr. Lawyer must figure out how to fix the problem before the drug lords find him and toss his head into the Rio Grande.

As simple of a narrative as that sounds, McCarthy somehow turns the story into a complicated mess. Not only do scenes end awkwardly and feel disconnected from one another, the heavy-handed philosophical dialogue spoken by everyone involved makes for an exhausting experience. In one particular scene, Fassbender meets with an independent diamond seller to pick out a stone for his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz). What should be a simple exchange between the men turns into a 10-minute sermon on the cut and clarity of precious gems. Yes, we know it’s a metaphor for something that happens later in the film, but McCarthy might as well have saved the scene and used it for a 2 a.m. infomercial.

Scott’s direction is fine and Fassbender and Brad Pitt, who we’re still not sure what his purpose in the film was, are serviceable, but they can only work with what McCarthy has given them. The same does not go for Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem. As the two-headed snake in Fassbender’s drug-deal-gone-bad, their characters feel like underwritten parodies. Sure, their dialogue is just as terrible as the rest of the cast, but their goofy delivery makes McCarthy’s words even more meaningless.

Heavy on sexual escapades (the film opens with a long scene where Fassbender performs cunnilingus and continues with Diaz humping a car without panties) and light on style and vision, “The Counselor” proves that stars don’t always align even when things look impressive on paper.

The Green Hornet

January 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz
Directed by: Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)
Written by: Seth Rogen (“Pineapple Express”) and Evan Goldberg (“Pineapple Express”)
There are some major problems with a superhero movie when the best thing about it (and only real evidence that the 3-D effects actually work) is the stylish end credits.
As far as superhero movies go, “The Green Hornet” finds itself suck somewhere in the middle of a genre that has been as amazing in recent years as “The Dark Knight” and as abysmal as “Elektra.”
In “Hornet,” Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”) plays rich brat-turned-vigilante Brit Reid, the son of a powerful newspaper publisher, who must take over the business after his father passes away. Teaming up with the family mechanic Kato (Jay Chou), a role made famous in the 1960’s TV series by Bruce Lee, the duo set out to clean up crime in the city much to the dismay of veteran crime boss Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz in a wasted role) who demands respect and doesn’t want to see anyone treading on his turf.
Despite some fun martial arts choreography and a few inventive weapons, “Hornet” still has to be chalked up as a disappointment. While visionary director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) has his hands on the project, he’s only able to muster the usual fanfare that makes many of these action movies so ordinary.
Comic-book fans will be hard-pressed to remember this one especially with other entries coming soon like “Thor,” “The Green Lantern,” and “X-Men: First Class.” Those movies might end up being just as mundane, but at least they weren’t relegated to the cinematic dumping ground known as the month of January.

Shrek Forever After

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (“Sky High”)
Written by: Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”)

“Shrek Forever After” is being labeled as “The Final Chapter” of a 9-year-long fairytale franchise and well it should be. It’s a sequel that’s squeezing out what little magic is left in it’s ogre-sized tank. It might be superior to the slaphappy third installment in 2007, but there’s still not enough originality to make it a truly happily-ever-after.

In “Forever After,” DreamWorks Animation and screenwriters Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”) toss a little of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” into the mix as a more mature Shrek returns to a Shrek-less version of Far Far Away.

With the everyday repetition of his family life (changing baby ogre diapers isn’t as adventurous as he thought it would be), Shrek doesn’t feel like the same nasty ogre that once instilled fear into everyone. Instead of running for the hills when Shrek is near, the villagers now look upon him as a celebrity.

In an attempt to revisit his glory days, Shrek signs a pact with the villainous Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who has held a grudge with the lovable ogre since he ruined him chance to take over the kingdom years ago. All Shrek wants is one more day where he can feel like the ogre he used to be. Rumple, however, has other ideas.

Transporting into an alternative universe where he was never born, the Shrek realizes that a lot has changed in Far Far Away. Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is now a strapping warrior leading an underground ogre resistance; Donkey (Eddie Murphy) pulls a carriage for some evil, whip-whapping witches; and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has packed on a few pounds and become a lazy house cat.

To break the spell and return to his regular life, Shrek must get Fiona to fall in love with him all over again and share in “True Love’s Kiss.” Isn’t breaking a spell with a kiss as listless as a storybook tale can go these days?

As in the last two “Shrek” movies, it’s Banderas’ Puss in Boots who steals most of the scenes. Even though there’s not much swordplay in this last film, the now pudgy feline with the Spanish accent is able to match the energy of the new characters, including an army of personable ogres (Craig Robinson and Jane Lynch give funny performances). Cameos by the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) are also enjoyable. One of the best parts of the movie is when Gingy gives his best impression of a gladiator chopping down fierce animal cookies in a coliseum.

Despite some character highlights, “Shrek Forever After” doesn’t reach the level of the first two installments. It may be the darkest of the series, but it’s light on charm and all around cleverness.

The Box

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Directed by: Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”)
Written by: Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”)

A morality tale based on a “Twilight Zone” episode, director/screenwriter Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”) tries to stretch the original work as much as possible into a feature film, but the results are far more ordinary than you could have imagined. While the source material is simple – a couple must make a decision whether or not to push a mysterious button that will kill someone they do not know but also earn them $1 million – Kelly complicates things by creating a ridiculous governmental thriller set in the 70s with no rhyme or reason. Sure, there’s another hour or so he has to fill in with narrative, but what he delivers is not nearly as fueled by paranoia as it should be.

My Sister’s Keeper

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vassilieva, Abigail Breslin
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”)
Written by: Nick Cassavetes (“Alpha Dog”) and Jeremy Leven (“Alex and Emma”)

There’s so much negative connotation when a film is referred to as a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Typically, this signifies the movie is cliché, overacted, and sappy and usually about spousal abuse or someone dying of a mysterious disease or someone fighting an addiction. But in the entire history of the Lifetime Channel, isn’t it possible that at least one of those dramas was actually watchable to more than the female demographic it caters to?

“My Sister’s Keeper” isn’t a Movie of the Week, but if it were it would be that unmentioned tear-jerker that is the exception to the TV-movie rule. Although it tries to slide into that position in the final act, director/writer Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”) and the entire cast create a poignant foundation where family thresholds are tested with life and death scenarios.

Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Jodi Picoult, “My Sister’s Keeper” tells the story of the Fitzgerald family, who are waiting helplessly as their oldest child, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), slowly dies of leukemia. Through nonlinear storytelling, we watch parents Sara and Brian (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) faced with a decision to have another child (Abigail Breslin) so that later in life when their sick daughter needs a new kidney, a carefully customized baby with the same chromosomal makeup would be available. Along with an inevitable surgery, their engineered daughter, Andromeda (did they really have to make her name sound so sci-fi?), would also be used to collect blood cells and bone marrow to keep her older sister alive.

But by the age of 11, Andromeda doesn’t want to be a lab rat anymore. When Kate finally needs a kidney transplant, the family is shocked when Andromeda hires a high-profile lawyer (Alec Baldwin) and sues her parents for “medical emancipation,” which means she can’t be forced to give her kidney to her sister.

Of course, this splits the family down the center and forces them into court. Sara, who was a lawyer before she stopped practicing to care for Kate, is beyond disbelief because her own daughter would allow her sister to die. Compassionate father Brian, sees both sides of the argument. What kind of life would Andromeda lead if the transplant wasn’t a success?

It an ethical mindbender as the family waits as Kate becomes sicker. “I don’t mind my disease killing me,” Kate says, “but it’s killing my family, too.” While it would have been easily to let the sentimentality wander all over the place, Cassavetes stays focused on the issue at hand and allows his characters to work their way through these scenes organically.

With some effective performances by all the women – Diaz, Vassilieva, Breslin, and Joan Cusack as the judge hearing the case who is going through her own tragedy – the film is touching on many levels despite unnecessarily dabbling in melodramatic tone. When only the heart of the matter is at the forefront, “My Sister’s Keeper” is a moving piece.