Ep. 118 – The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, High Flying Bird

February 13, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the highly-anticipated sequel “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” and Steven Soderbergh’s Netflix film “High Flying Bird.”

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The Lego Movie 2

February 7, 2019 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (“Trolls, Shrek Forever After”)
Written by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“The LEGO Movie”)

Dizzily upending the pre-release dread of a film based on a toy line that was bereft of its own characters—they’re BLOCKS, for crying out loud—2014’s “The LEGO Movie” was pure joy from start to finish. Firmly cementing the writing and directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller superstar creators, the film was an unexpected delight, a love letter to creativity from a toy line that long ago seemed to abandon that aspect in favor of building ships from “Star Wars” or castles from “Harry Potter.” And, unlike most non-Disney/Pixar animated fare, the script was peppered with whip-smart jokes and enough meta jokes (the reference to the short-lived LEGO NBA line from the early-2000s might have been directed squarely at me) for to make even the most aloof post-modernist laugh his ass off. Everything was awesome, as the song went.

It’s been five years and two spin-offs, “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” were fine and not good, respectively, but we’re finally back to the story of everyman Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and his friend/chief rescuer/master builder Lucy, a.k.a. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). After defeating Lord Business (Will Ferrell, who hilariously seems to be phoning in his voice acting this time), the town of Bricksburg was invaded by baby-talking Duplo creatures. We then flash forward half a decade, as the real-world implications of a little sister co-opting her big brother’s LEGO bricks are echoed in Bricksburg, which has transformed into the desolate Apocalypseburg.

Despite everyone else, even Jeff the cat, being hardened into “Mad Max”-style desert dwellers, Emmett remains upbeat and optimistic about moving into his dream house with Lucy. However, his dreams and home are destroyed when the leader of the Duplo army, on orders from Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), kidnaps Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and Benny (Charlie Day) and takes them to the Systar system. Now, it’s up to Emmett and mysterious adventurer Rex Dangervest to save them.

So, is “The LEGO Movie 2” a blast? Yes, it very much is. Is it as good as the first one? Not quite, it takes a while to get going. Is the magic of the reveal—that this is all happening at the whims of people in the real world—missing this time around? Yes. It’s not hard to put together what’s going on, with names like the Systar system, or the ominous warnings of Ar-mom-ageddon. And that’s the price we pay, unfortunately, because the rest of the movie is top notch, and ups the ante on laser-specific jokes. Do you know what it’s like feeling as if you’re the only person a vocal cameo from former Sonic/Laker Gary Payton is meant for? “The Second Part” doesn’t quite stack up to the original, but it’s still light years better than most animated films that most parents would rather step on a LEGO than watch with their kids.

Power Rangers

March 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Dean Israelite (“Earth to Echo”)
Written by: John Gatins (“Real Steel,” “Flight”)

In this, the golden age of movies based on geek-friendly properties, there are still a few outliers that commit the cardinal sin of being ashamed of their source material. Captain America wears his red, white and blue costume on screen and will soon meet up with a talking raccoon and tree-person, for crying out loud. We’re through the looking glass, people, dance with the one that brought you! These comic book-adjacent properties are thriving in an environment that embraces all of the things we might have thought were too silly to put to film 20 years ago.

Nothing quite personifies ‘90s cheese TV as well as “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” a show so earnest it makes “Saved By The Bell” look like “Beverly Hills 90210.” Even with it’s corny acting and repurposed Japanese special effects-filled monster battles, it became a sensation that’s still in production in some form today, nearly 25 years after premiering.

The new “Power Rangers,” seemingly borrows more from “Friday Night Lights,” “Chronicle” and even the “Star Trek” reboot. The film follows five bland teens as they meet in a “Breakfast Club” style detention, stumble across some color-coded power coins, gain superhuman strength, and plunge into an underground spaceship where they meet a very dickish Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who tells them they are now the Power Rangers. But before they get to don their helmeted battle armor (no spandex here) and ride in their giant robot dinosaurs, we have to suffer through a patience-testing hour and a half of plodding training montages, several horrible rollover car crashes, and a confusing sexting scandal that threatens to bring down one of the Rangers.

Why in Zordon’s name would anyone think a dour, deathly serious “Power Rangers” movie would be the way to go in 2017? Whatever the reason, it’s here, Morphin fans, so dance.

 

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).

Love & Mercy

March 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Bill Pohlad (“Old Explorers”)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and Michael A. Lerner (“August Eighth”)

It may not be the most in-depth biopic on the life and legend of Beach Boys singer/songwriter Brian Wilson, but there’s something to be said for the success the film has in condensing two decades of musical passion and personal trials into two hours of poignant drama all anchored by a pair of performances that interchange with remarkable fluidity and appreciation for the story being told.

For those moviegoers who are not familiar with the American rock ‘n’ roll band The Beach Boys, who started off in the 1960s making surfing-themed music before Wilson changed their course by expanding on their sound and writing songs with more meaning, “Love & Mercy” starts in their early years and switches back and forth between Wilson leading the band to its pinnacle to his continuous battle with mental illness in the 1980s.

As a young Wilson, Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”) gives an inspiring performance as we watch him express himself though his experimental methods in the studio despite others questioning his choices. Those studios scenes, especially the ones where Wilson is working on the hit song “God Only Knows,” are telling of the kind of musician Wilson was known to be – impressive, ambitious, and progressive. Dano commands the screen when he has to and purposefully shrinks when the script asks him to allow his personal demons to control him.

This ties in well to the latter part of Wilson’s life when John Cusack (“Grace is Gone”) comes in as the well-worn musician who has found some kind of comfort in letting others dictate what he does and how he does it. Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”) plays Dr. Eugene Landy, Wilson’s hotheaded psychotherapist who manipulates Wilson into believing he has his mental health in his best interest. There to save Wilson is Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who would later become his second wife, a car saleswoman who helps him stand up for himself and make his own decisions. Cusack is touching as an older, broken Wilson and Giamatti and Banks bring out the best and worst in the character on an emotional level.

“Love & Mercy” isn’t a movie about the music Wilson makes, but instead about the man behind the musical talent. It might have been interesting to allow the script to develop in a way that illustrated where in the industry the Beach Boys stood (the Beatles are mentioned as a band they wanted to top), but nothing in the way of music history is explained much. While some might argue the jumping between decades is a debatable storytelling device, it felt necessary to understand how much Wilson changed (and in some cases stayed the same) over the years. Credit screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner for letting the story breathe between all the time changes. “Love & Mercy” captures a compassionate narrative you don’t have to dig too deep to find.

Love and Mercy was seen at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “I Am Legend”)
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Danny Strong (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”)

The economically-sound trend of splitting the final chapters of book-to-film franchises into two movies presents a unique—if not always positive—film-going experience. Like the penultimate films in “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series before it, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” doesn’t really feel like a normal movie. It creates a sense of unease as you try in your head to look for typical story beats and plot markers that just aren’t there because, alas, this movie is meant to end with a sense of having been all about building to a climax that we won’t get to see for another year. It can all be a bit disorienting and insulting, but what are you going to do? Wait until both films have been released on DVD and Blu-ray so you can watch them back-to-back so that they make a cohesive whole? Good luck with that.

After her lightning-charged arrow destroyed the arena during the Quarter Quell in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a symbol of rebellion in the oppressed post-apocalyptic state of Panem. After being rescued from the arena by Capitol turncoat Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated), Katniss is whisked away to the militarized District 13, a grim underground bunker of jumpsuits and cafeterias. Clearly suffering from PTSD and the separation from her would-be lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—himself a prisoner of the Capitol and a propaganda tool—Katniss is called upon by President Coin (Julianne Moore) to become the Mockingjay, a symbol to unite the Districts in rebellion against the Capitol and the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With the help of Heavensbee, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss will need to overcome her own suffering if the people of Panem have any hope of living free of Snow and the Capitol.

When you can look past the table-setting and sometimes lumpy, drawn-out storytelling, “Mockingjay – Part 1” ventures into some incredibly dark yet intriguing places for a film franchise that, at least on the surface, is aimed at teenagers. The body count is high and the politics of propaganda is a refreshing change from the typical “chosen one” storylines that usually inhabit these YA worlds. Katniss is not valued by Coin for her skills in the arena, but for the televised image she cultivated in the Game—not that anyone should ever doubt her when notching an exploding arrow, though. Scenes of Katniss working with filmmakers to put together rebellion-sowing video clips are the bright spots of the film, creating a much richer world than the movie’s goofy future-animals like mockingjays or tracker jackers ever could. The rebellion is coming. Too bad we have to wait another year for it.

The Hunger Games

March 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”)
Written by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”), Suzanne Collins (debut), Billy Ray (“State of Play”)

There are a few things inherently lacking in director/co-writer Gary Ross’ highly-anticipated film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” that should be puzzling to anyone who is familiar with the history of the sci-fi genre and even the more complex ideas behind dystopian literature and how it carries into the social context of today.

Thematically, the film, which is based on the popular young adult series by Suzanne Collins, doesn’t have a single original thought in its flimsy framework. It’s bothersome because young fans of the series won’t care how similar it is to films of the past. Audiences just want something to replace the hole that will soon be left by “The Twilight Saga.” It is fortunate “The Hunger Games” doesn’t stoop to a level like Stephenie Meyer, but it still makes it hard to appreciate Collins’ concepts when she does nothing to separate herself from the pack.

Set in the future, “The Hunger Games” takes about an hour of the first act to explain the mythology behind the title competition. Two kids or teenagers from 12 different districts are chosen through a lottery system to compete in an all-out fight to the death on national TV where only one of them will survive. Representing District 12 is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss enters the competition after her younger sister Primrose’s name is chosen and she volunteers to take her place.

Whisked off to the Capitol (a sort of Emerald City on acid), Katniss and Peeta are pampered like royalty and assigned a mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former Hunger Games champion who is now a drunk, to teach them the ins and outs of a competition that will leave at least one of them dead.

Borrowing generously from the text of writers like Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”), and Richard Connell (“The Most Dangerous Game”), “The Hunger Games” will definitely attract its fan base who have been itching to see the film come to life on the big screen. While its easily-accessible plot and characters also might generate some new interest from others not familiar with the books, the movie has no real ambition. More importantly, it fails to build any type of emotional structure around its characters besides Katniss herself. As kids get picked off one by one in the battle royale (look it up, kids: Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film “Battle Royale”), it’s about as affecting as watching pawns get removed from a chess board.

Take away the fact that “The Hunger Games” is a 142-minute rehash, and we’re left with a perfectly-cast Lawrence in the lead role who makes up for a lot of the film’s problem areas. As Katniss, Lawrence, nominated for an Oscar for the fantastic 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” is a strong female protagonist that puts someone like the always-suffering Bella Swan of “The Twilight Saga” to shame. Lawrence is the reason to hope the inevitable sequels to this franchise can break away just a little more from Collins’ original text and at least give it a style that doesn’t feel so synthetic at times.

Man on a Ledge

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell
Directed by: Asger Leth (debut)
Written by: Pablo Fenjeves (debut)

There is something fascinating about seeing dramatic and life-altering events play themselves out in front of the public eye. It is why traffic gets backed up when there’s an accident on the highway or why crowds of people flock when police or fire trucks show up somewhere. As Nick Cassady (Sam Worthington) stands perched on the ledge of a hotel room, it is clear that he is trying to rile the crowd up for motives unknown to those trying to help (or in the crowd’s case, encourage) him. While this perilous setup doesn’t leave the movie completely devoid of entertainment value, poor acting, lame dialogue, and a lack of creativity plague the appropriately titled “Man on a Ledge.”

As prison escapee Nick Cassady arrives at his hotel, he writes a note and steps out onto a ledge high above New York City. Claiming he is innocent of the diamond theft he was putting prison for, he threatens to jump unless he gets police officer Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) there to talk to him. As he is up on the ledge manipulating Mercer and entertaining the crowd below, he is in contact with his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) via earpiece as they attempt to commit a crime to prove his innocence.

Worthington, sporting a Kenny Powers style near-mullet, turns in yet another robotic performance. Not only is he completely dull, but his Australian accent randomly rears its head throughout the film. While Banks is great at many things, she fails to pull off the role of a cop convincingly. There is something about her cadence that is distracting and can’t be taken seriously in this type of setup.  In fact, Bellis the only actor who plays his role well. There are too many supporting performances in the film that are hokey and trite. Ed Harris (“History of Violence”) is the typical bad guy, the other cops in the film have the familiar cop attitude and use ridiculous lingo, and Rodriguez plays the annoyingly played-out stereotypical “fiery Latina,” hurling out insults in Spanish when she gets worked up.

There is a sense throughout “Man on a Ledge” that these are all things that have been done before. There is a recycled heist gag straight out of “Mission: Impossible 3,” the cop cars and crowds surrounding a suspicious hostage situation in New York City evokes “Phone Booth,” and the cop/criminal conversations and general themes of “Inside Man” can be found as well. When mixed in with a script chock full of cheesy conversations, the end result is a film that feels very redundant.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, “Man on a Ledge” unfolds rather briskly and is never boring. While most of the film’s far-fetched logic can be overlooked for the sake of entertainment, the ending of the film is so absurd that even the most open-minded filmgoer will react incredulously. There are certainly worse movies than “Man on a Ledge,” but the film is overall stifled by its lack of originality and corniness.

The Uninvited

January 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Emily Browning, David Strathairn
Directed by: Charles and Thomas Guard (debuts)
Written by: Craig Rosenberg (“After the Sunset”), Doug Miro (“The Great Raid”) and Carlo Bernard (“The Great Raid”)

The comedy genre has the Farrelly brothers, action flicks have the Wachowskis, and the Coens are at the top of their game in the drama department. Could the Guard brothers be the answer horror movie lovers have been looking for in familial filmmaking? Don’t hold your breath.

In “The Uninvited,” Charles and Thomas Guard give their own take on the 2003 Korean horror film “A Tale of Two Sisters.” A hybrid ghost story and domestic thriller, the film feels like a cheap combination of “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” and “The Sixth Sense” and cheats the audience out of what should have been a supernatural indulgence.

Australian actress Emily Browning (“Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events”) stars as Anna Rydell, a young girl recently released from a mental hospital where she was staying after the death of her mother. Despite still having indistinguishable nightmares and creepy hallucinations when doctors discharge her, Emily returns home to live with her sister Alex (Arielle Kebble), her father Steven (David Strathairn), and his girlfriend Rachael (Elizabeth Banks), who was once a live-in nurse for their sickly mother. “Welcome to your new ward,” Alex tells her sister. “Better food, crazier people.”

Something, however, is not sitting well with Emily when she becomes part of the new family dynamic. She is convinced the ghosts in her nightmares are trying to warn her about her future stepmother. When a young man who works at the local grocery store tells Emily he saw something unusual the night of the fire that took her mother’s life, she starts to believe the images she sees hold the secrets of the tragedy.

Short on shocking moments, the biggest flub “The Uninvited” dishes out is its horribly uneven tone. At times, it feels like it wants to go the way of “The Grudge” or “The Ring” in terms of scare tactics and then it flips on a dime and tries to become a serious Hitchcockian thriller. The Guard brothers can’t muster up nearly enough imagination to have the best of both worlds. It’s evident that they’ve lost their way from the muddled first half to the typical twisting conclusion that doesn’t come soon enough.

Role Models

November 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed by: David Wain (“The Ten”)
Written by: David Wain (“The Ten”), Paul Rudd (debut), Ken Marino (“The Ten”)and Timothy Dowling (debut)

When you look back at some of the roles actor Seann William Scott has played over the years, the term “role model” isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind. Most of them tend to center around chauvinistic, moronic, and promiscuous characters. (His Steve Stifler alone probably caused fathers of high-school-aged daughters to scale way back on curfew hours.) In “Role Models,” his alpha-male tendencies are balanced out well with the softer Paul Rudd.

Working as energy-drink peddlers and anti-drug spokesmen, Wheeler (Scott) and Danny (Rudd) visit high schools to give students a caffeinated alternative to getting high. Wheeler loves his job as the company’s official mascot, the mythological Minotaur, because it allows him to half-ass his way through life and focus on more important things, like getting laid. Danny, however, is bored and frustrated, and it’s affecting his relationship with his successful-lawyer girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who is fed up with his resentfulness. When Danny reaches his boiling point (they have a little mishap with their company monster truck), he and Wheeler are sentenced to 150 hours of community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-type organization run by rehabilitated bad girl Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch).

There, Wheeler and Danny are matched up with two kids: Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin from “Superbad,” who avoids the Jon Heder “Napoleon Dynamite” typecast trap by actually staying funny after his nerdy breakout role), a lonely teenager caught up in his own little world of medieval role-playing, and Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed grade-schooler raised by a single mother and obsessed with “boobies.” Ronnie has managed to scare off every one of his “bigs,” but Wheeler knows if he doesn’t get through this mandated mentoring program he’s going to be thrown behind bars, where he’s more than sure his pretty-boy image will attract unwanted physical attention. While Wheeler has trouble with his “little,” Danny is just trying to pass the time watching Augie pretend sword fight without really connecting with him on a personal level.

Many viewers might be unfamiliar with director David Wain’s comedy (he helmed and starred in the short-lived MTV series “The State” in the ’90s), but “Role Models” is a version of what he and some of the show’s original cast members can do with a more mainstream script. It’s not nearly as deadpan as “The State” (the vulgarities are many), but Rudd, as a first-time screenwriter who has probably been taking notes while on the set with director-writer-producer Judd Apatow on so many occasions, adds a hipper sense of humor and heart that has made comedies like The “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill R-rated shtick.

W.

October 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Oliver Stone (“World Trade Center”)
Written by: Stanley Weisner (“Wall Street”)

When you hear the name Oliver Stone uttered in the same sentence as the term “political film,” you know you’re bound to get something at least interesting if not critically acclaimed.

As he did with the death of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and life of former U.S. President Richard Nixon in the 90’s, Stone highlights the high and low points of current President George W. Bush during his eighth years in the White House in “W.”

Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men”) turns in an outstanding performance as the Commander in Chief and never allows his depiction of Bush to become something that could be confused with a sketch from “Saturday Nigh Live.” Instead, Brolin carries the film and does what most Bush-bashers were probably afraid Stone could do: make the audience sympathize with arguably the most unpopular president in the history of the U.S. At times it might feel like Stone is only skimming the surface, but there is enough substance to puzzle together the makeup of W. from his wild college days to his turbulent relationship with his father Bush Sr. (James Cromwell).

“W.” is a surprisingly even-handed take on the Bush administration and family with some unabashed and creative license by Stone. While Republicans might scream propaganda, “W.” is nothing more than a candid and scrappy political drama laced with some comedic moments. How could you ignore those with W. standing at the podium?

Meet Dave

July 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union
Directed by: Brian Robbins (“Norbit”)
Written by: Rob Greenberg (debut) and Bill Corbett (debut)

It’s only been two years since we saw Eddie Murphy sitting at the Kodak Theater hoping to garner an Oscar for his role in the overrated “Dreamgirls,” but with the two films since that disappointing evening (Alan Arkin won the award), there isn’t a father place we can imagine him today.

After torturing us with his multi-character performances in “Norbit,” Murphy plays double duty in the science fiction comedy “Meet Dave.” In the film Murphy plays the tiny captain of an alien spacecraft built in his likeness. Therefore, Murphy also plays “Dave,” a human-sized android, who is controlled by the tiny men and women working inside his robotic body.

If that’s not odd enough, the crew’s sole mission is to locate a pebbly orb that has the power to drain any body of water it comes into contact with. This, of course, could spell disaster for the Earth’s surface.

The film takes a shortcut (who wants to watch Murphy smiling like “Bowfinger” again anyway?) as the crew quickly finds the orb using a tracking device. The search is made even easier when Dave is coincidentally hit by a truck driven by Gina Morrison (Elizabeth Banks), the mother of the kid (Austyn Meyers) who finds the mini-meteor.

As Gina and her son befriend Dave and entertain themselves with his bizarre behavior (he eats ketchup from the bottle and can throw a frightfully fast pitch), there is plenty more going on inside the spaceship. Gabrielle Union (“Deliver Us From Eva”) plays No. 3, the ship’s Cultural Officer in charge of surfing the internet so Dave can communicate with the human race. For example, when Gina invites Dave to a meatloaf dinner, Dave doesn’t know what meatloaf actually is until No. 3 Googles the word (a video of rock singer Meat Loaf pops up, unfortunately, leaving the “Star Trek”-like crew confused).

It’s here where debut screenwriters Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett start begging for laughs. These culture clashes are so obvious and poorly written, it’s no wonder Dave sticks out like a sore thumb. Along with Dave struggling to fit in amongst the humans, there are changes happening on the ship as the crew begins to discover what interesting thing earth has to offer like alcohol, sex, and show tunes.

Hardwired like 1987’s “Walk Like a Man,” which starred Howie Mandel as a human raised by wolves, “Meet Dave” has all the awkward societal blunders one would make trying to return to public life. Here, Murphy spreads it on thick. It becomes a problem when the script turns out to be so lanky.