Palo Alto

June 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer
Directed by: Gia Coppola (debut)
Written by: Gia Coppola (debut)

It doesn’t hurt in Hollywood when your last name is as recognizable as Coppola. As the most recent of the Coppola clan to add her name into the family’s filmmaking legacy, Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Oscar-winning director/writer/producer Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather” series) and niece of Oscar-nominated director Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), tries her hand at this moviemaking stuff in “Palo Alto,” a coming-of-age, angst-ridden teenage drama that follows the same tired blueprint of films like the over-praised “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and the unwatchable “The Art of Getting By.” Sure, it’s far too early to tell whether the newest Coppola behind the camera has what it takes to flourish in the film industry, but it’s a rough start when you have to adapt your first screenplay from a collection of pretentious short stories by the talented albeit (in this case) overachieving author James Franco.

In “Palo Alto,” Coppola fashions together weak characters studies on teenagers having to deal with everything from drug use to promiscuous sex to predatory adults. Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts), who has starred in films similar to this like the aforementioned “Art of Getting By” and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” plays April, a shy high school girl who has a crush on the equally introverted Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), who hangs out with his self-destructive friend Fred (Nat Wolff). Franco joins the cast as Mr. B, the high school soccer coach who seduces April when she comes to his house to babysit his son.

Other issues come into play throughout the film that attempt to reveal just how unpleasant kids have it these days, but the pity party Coppola throws for each of her characters is far too blatant to dismiss. Not much transpires from the relationships these characters create with one another and even the most important ones to the story (like Teddy and Fred’s friendship) are not fleshed out well enough to understand why these two boys would even acknowledge each other in the hallway much less spend all their free time together.

Coppola, like her famous auntie, has a knack for the toned-down narrative and low-spirited mood you would find in Aunt Sofia’s past films like “The Virgin Suicides” and “Somewhere.” Hopefully, the attention to that kind of stylistic detail by Coppola can be better served in future films where her characters are free to do more than just pout.

Celeste and Jesse Forever

August 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger (“The Vicious Kind”)
Written by: Rashida Jones (debut) and Will McCormack (debut)

As someone who loathes the conventions and clichés of most modern-day romantic comedies as much as I do, actress/writer/producer Rashida Jones (TV’s “Parks and Recreation”) just might be the perfect woman — at least the perfect woman to spend a day with at the movie theater. Suggest watching something where Katherine Hiegl flips her hair, stumbles around in heels, and falls for a hitman, and she probably wouldn’t be shy about rolling her eyes at the idea.

In the independent rom-com “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with actor Will McCormack (TV’s “In Plain Sight”), seems to have made a concerted effort with him to avoid what makes many of these boy-meets-girl narratives feel exactly like the one that came before it. “C&JF” isn’t flawless in its attempt by any means, but with some clever dialogue that doesn’t overload on adorableness and an honest performance by Jones herself, there’s enough proof here to believe the genre doesn’t always have to feature a pre-packaged love story.

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger (“The Vicious Kind”), “C&JF” stars Jones and Andy Samberg (“That’s My Boy”) as the title couple going through a divorce but attempting to save the friendship. As a successful marketing trends partner, Celeste has always quietly disapproved of Jesse’s starving-artist lifestyle. “He doesn’t have a checking account or dress shoes,” she criticizes. When both start dating again, the two must come to terms with their break-up by letting go of one another and moving on with their lives.

While the set up sounds like somewhat of a network sitcom, the script takes some unique angles at familiar situations and allows the nerdy chemistry between its leads to play out naturally. Not all rom-coms have to be “When Harry Met Sally” or “Annie Hall,” but it’s nice when they don’t make it a point to be the exact opposite.

The Art of Getting By

June 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano
Directed by: Gavin Wiesen(debut)
Written by: Gavin Wiesen (debut)

While one could argue about where the line between brilliance and bull starts to blur with films like Richard Linklater’s 2001 mindbender “Waking Life,” Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 mystical sci-fi drama “The Fountain,” or anything from the conceptual mind of director Terrence Malick, the creative weight they carry should be considered when deciding whether you ultimately deem the work profound or phony. There is no need to do the same with “The Art of Getting By,” a self-important, stock indie that finds a way to hit every superficial cliche possible and still has the audacity to flaunt itself as a thoughtful look at teenage romance.

Originally titled “Homework” when it hit the festival circuit earlier this year at Sundance, the now pun-tastic dramedy directed and written by debut feature filmmaker Gavin Wiesen is as pretentious as an artist who spreads layer upon layer of white paint on a canvas and titles the piece “The Absence of Being” or “Black.”

In “Getting By” there are so many sensitive characters with depressing philosophical views that you’d think they were all slacker spawn of Friedrich Nietzsche. Director Terry Zwigoff pokes fun at such pretensions in his 2001 comic-book film “Ghost World” (a tampon in a teacup in an art class is described as “a symbol for womanhood and … repressed femininity”), but in “Getting By” there is no room for that kind of humor much less any unique ideas or relatable personalities. The film just takes itself too seriously. Sure, everyone’s experienced being young and in love before, but Wiesen’s take on hopeless romanticism is chock full of artificial scenarios and sentiment and is as unmotivated as its rebellious emo hero.

His name is George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore), a precarious 17-year-old kid and self-described fatalist who would rather doodle in his notebook than actually study or do his classwork. George isn’t suffering from senioritis. He just doesn’t see a logical reason to complete his assignments when there is so much more to worry about, like global warming, terrorism, and tsunamis. “It’s my shtick,” George declares when asked why he never does his trigonometry homework. Naturally, George is really just a misunderstood old soul who is very bright despite not applying himself academically. Think Max Fischer from “Rushmore,” except far less witty and way more wussy. Plus, George is an artist, so Wiesen writes him as the tortured stereotype usually found in movieland.

When he meets New York City transplant Sally Howe (Emma Roberts), a trendy classmate who finds his oddities charming, the two start spending time with each other, frolicking through Manhattan and skipping school to take in French cinema and talk about their miserable lives. When George corners himself into friend-only territory (he basically cries when Sally half-teasingly asks him to have sex with her) a more mature boy (Michael Angarano) with a palette-brush combo in hand steps up to seal the deal.

When compared to other quirky coming-of-age pics, “Getting By” is about as unoriginal as they come. It’s not offensive just because Wiesen cut his angsty lead character from the same cloth as “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” or “Bart Got a Room “or “Thumbsucker,” it’s that his execution of such heavily navigated terrain isn’t nearly as distinctive as it needs to be to avoid getting lumped in with every other sad-sack storyline that came before.

Without giving much of a reason for George’s aloof lifestyle, it’s difficult to maneuver our way through his misanthropic mind. After an hour of watching him pout, you’re ready for someone to just pump him full of Paxil and tell him to get over it.

Scream 4

April 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts
Directed by: Wes Craven (“Scream”)
Written by: Kevin Williamson (“Scream”)

If the “Scream” franchise had anything going for it since the original debuted in 1996, it was that the horror series had no qualms about poking fun of itself or the genre director Wes Craven has made his living on for the last 40 years. Now, with “Scream 4” coming over a decade after the last unimpressive sequel, returning back to the scene of the crime simply feels outdated and conventional. Sure, the snarky humor from screenwriter Kevin Williamson is still there, but at this point emphasizing how cliché something is so it will no longer be considered cliché is just about as cliché as a “Scream” script can get.

The entire main cast is back, including Neve Campbell playing everyone’s favorite victim Sidney Prescott, who goes back to Woodsboro to peddle her new self-help book on how to deal with traumatic situations. Like clockwork, Sidney’s homecoming is met with a new round of murders by Ghostface (still the most uncoordinated, clumsiest killer in cinematic history no matter who is under the mask). Whoever is committing the murders is patterning them after the original ones 15 years ago.

With a list of suspects as diverse as the last three movies (could it be the somber ex-boyfriend or one of the nerdy horror film buffs?), Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and former reporter now wife Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox) must follow a new 2011 horror movie standard and identify the copycat killer before he or she makes mincemeat out of everyone.

Although he seems to be attempting to breathe new life into the franchise by writing in actresses Hayden Panettiere (“I Love You, Beth Cooper”) and Emma Roberts (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”) as two new fresh-faced targets, Williamson is dedicated to his original characters more than ever, which makes them more invincible and thus less fun to watch as Ghostface stalks them.

It’s more of the same shtick from Craven, too, who is the wrong director to try and revitalize this series again. His last film, the demoralizing “My Soul to Take” of last year, proved Craven was out of touch with a younger audience. While the YouTube.com generation is obviously the key demographic for “Scream 4,” Craven is on another wavelength. Think of a grandfather telling his grandkids the same predictable ghost story every time they camp out in the backyard. It gets old after a while.

“I just can’t do it,” one of the film’s characters says as she watches a lame horror movie with a friend before getting knifed in the abdomen. “These sequels don’t know when to quit. They just keep recycling the same shit.”

Even with the irony in “Scream 4,” at least we can say Craven and Williamson are extremely self-aware about what they’ve created.

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.

Hotel for Dogs

January 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal (debut)
Written by: Jeff Lowell (“Over Her Dead Body”), Robert Schooley (“Sky High”) and Mark McCorkle (“Sky High”)

Call off the rescue mission. “Hotel for Dogs” is in so much trouble from every filmmaking aspect, not even a massive St. Bernard with one of those little brandy-filled kegs around its neck can save it from dying a cold and bitter death.

Based on a book by Lois Duncan, who jumps to another genre after writing the novels that inspired the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” slasher series, “Hotel for Dogs” is an absurd family film about a pair of foster siblings who spend their time rescuing dogs and housing them in an abandoned hotel.

Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) have been shipped to five sets of foster parents in the last three years because of behavioral issues. They’re social worker Bernie (Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle, who’s doing some cinematic slumming here) tells them that if they act up again, he will be forced to place them separate homes. Getting out of their present situation isn’t a bad idea (they’re living with two rude wannabe rockers played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillion) but Bruce is too dependent on his big sister to handle another home on his own.

The kids, however, decide that they’re love of dogs far outweighs the advice of their case manager. Instead, they start saving stray dogs off the street (who just happen to all be purebred, clean, and well-trained) by rounding them up in a condemned hotel near their home. They get help from other kids in the neighborhood who seem to be the only ones in the entire city to notice the vacant hotel has new tenants.

Starting a doggie day care is far easier than one would imagine. Since Bruce is a novice inventor (a trade he learns from his father although nothing else is said about the kids’ parents), he creates a network of pooch-friendly machines and simulators that allow the pets to walk themselves, feed themselves, and play catch all on their own. Forget that at the beginning of the film Andi and Bruce have to hustle a pawn shop to afford food for one stray dog, now they can somehow feed them by the dozens.

While Roberts and Austin are likeable as actors (she is Julia’s niece and did fairly well as the title character in 2007’s “Nancy Drew” and he is a Disney Channel veteran), you can’t help but wonder who really stunk up the joint, the dogs or the humans. When one of the characters exclaims, “We’re out dogged,” you’ll know you’ve had your fair share of puppy jokes for the day. Easily-entertained young children and biased dog lovers might enjoy the cuteness of man’s best friend, but when a script is this pointless you have to wonder why producers didn’t just print it out and use it as a puppy pad during production.