Lovelace

August 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone
Directed by: Rob Epstein (“Howl”) and Jeffrey Friedman (“Howl”)
Written by: Andy Bellin (“Trust”)

“Lovelace,” the biopic featuring actress Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miserables”) as 1970s porn icon Linda Lovelace, could be a very minor companion piece to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 porn epic “Boogie Nights.” While the film doesn’t come close to the depth or emotional resonance of Anderson’s masterpiece, Lovelace herself would have been an interesting secondary character to follow in “Nights” like audiences did with Don Cheadle’s Buck Swope or Heather Graham’s Rollergirl. Instead, “Lovelace” is a solo show that has grand aspirations but isn’t playing in the same league as the big boys. Still, the screenplay by Andy Bellin (“Trust”) is distinctively framed and some inspired casting decisions were made giving “Lovelace” just enough stamina to see it through.

While Seyfried is playing the title role, actor Peter Sarsgaard really has control of the film just like his character Chuck Traynor does with Linda’s life and career. Once Linda meets Chuck, who is just about as sleazy a character as James Woods’ Lester Diamond in “Casino,” there’s no turning back for the innocent Catholic schoolgirl from the Bronx. When Chuck tells Linda they need more money, it’s never a question about how they’re going to get it. Chuck’s plan is definitive when he begins pimping out Linda and then introduces her to the world of pornography.

From here, the fantasy of a perfect marriage and home life is destroyed as Linda finds herself trapped in an industry that praises her for nothing more than a nonexistent gag reflex. As she continues to perform and live with her physically abusive husband, we watch as Linda transforms from a human being into a belittled brand name simply to line Chuck’s pockets. Her claim to fame is the infamous 1972 adult film “Deep Throat,” which is considered one of the most successful ever made.

Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who teamed up in 2010 for the inadequate Allen Ginsberg biopic “Howl” starring James Franco, the duo do a better job making us believe Seyfried is more than a big-name star playing pretend during an era she wasn’t even alive for. For the most part, Seyfried loses herself in the role as does Sarsgaard and other well cast actors like Chris Noth (“Sex and the City”), Bobby Cannavale (“Win Win”) and Hank Azaria (“Along Came Polly”). As Linda’s overbearing and seemingly uncaring mother, Sharon Stone (“Casino”) gets her biggest opportunity to shine since her role in 2006’s “Bobby” and does a commendable job. As Linda’s father, Robert Patrick (“Gangster Squad”) is given the most emotional scene in the film when he asks his daughter what he did wrong that pushed her into an immoral lifestyle.

Linda might have transcended the porn industry in the 70s, but “Lovelace” doesn’t do the same for biopics in general. Her life was a complex one, but Epstein and Friedman only skim the surface. With Linda Lovelace, you have to go a lot deeper than that.

The Smurfs

July 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring:  Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays
Directed by: Raja Gosnell (“Beverly Hills Chihuahua”)
Written by: J. David Stern (“Shrek 2”), David N. Weiss (“Shrek 2”), Jay Scherick (“Zookeeper”), David Ronn (“Zookeeper”)

For an adaptation of a children’s franchise like “The Smurfs” – defunct for almost 20 years – to be successful,  it needs to be able rekindle its original appeal for a younger generation while also offering nostalgia for those parents who remember it fondly.  While the film is zany enough to amuse small children, “The Smurfs” is missing any real appeal that could spread several generations.

Sticking to the already-tired 3D technology, “The Smurfs” begins by trying to wow the audience immediately by showing off the oversized mushroom village where the Smurfs live. When the Smurfs arch nemesis Gargamel (played by Hank Azaria in awful make-up and costumes) shows up to try to wreck the Blue Moon Festival, some of the Smurfs jump through a portal that sends them to New York City.  There, they take shelter with Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris), a fast-rising employee at an ad agency, and his pregnant wife Grace (Jayma Mays) and wait for the portal to open back up to get them back to their village.

The voice cast of the Smurfs is serviceable.  Jonathon Winters provides a familiar voice for Smurfs aficionados as the voice of Papa Smurf, a role he played in the original cartoon.  The one standout is Anton Yelchin who gives an earnest voice to the lovable screwup, Clumsy Smurf.  Extending his streak of being a distraction in kids movies, George Lopez lends his voice to Grouchy Smurf.  Having such a recognizable (and grating) voice makes it hard for Lopez to give identity to any animated character.

As far as the human cast is concerned, Neil Patrick Harris embraces his role as the character trying to maintain his sanity with weird events happening around him.  He shows that he is fully capable of pratfalls and freakouts to play to the level of younger children. The wildcard of the cast is Hank Azaria, who shows a knack for slapstick that would have served him well had he been cast in “The Three Stooges” role he had been rumored for instead of this.  Still, Azaria provides the only actual amusing parts of the film, with much of his humor coming across as improvisation that seems to stem from the awareness of just how ridiculous “The Smurfs” is.

The humor in “The Smurfs” is decidedly juvenile, even for a kid’s film.  There is no shortage of flinging, falling and flying into things as characters beat themselves and each other up.  When the film isn’t relying heavily on slapstick, there is an abundance of potty humor, both literally and figuratively.  One of the most bothersome details about “The Smurfs” is that there is a distracting amount of product placement.  While the Smurfs are riding on top of taxis to destinations, we see them in front of an advertisement for Blu-ray or the Blue Man Group.  When a smurf is talking to Harris sitting on his computer, the Sony logo is perfectly in view.

Although one expects the Smurfs to use the word “smurf” to replace words for comic effect, it is so lazily executed that it becomes incredibly annoying. In addition to the obvious substitution for expletives, unnecessary words like “smurftimistic” and “hypersmurfalating” drive the joke into the ground.  There is also a particularly shameless reference to one of Katy Perry’s song lyrics infused with the word.

While there is some sweetness from its human characters, “The Smurfs” relies too heavily on lame puns and physical comedy to make audiences of all ages laugh.  While young children may enjoy the slapstick-heavy humor that “The Smurfs” has to offer, adults looking to relive a part of their childhood will find these Smurfs far more crude and less charming than they remembered.

Hop

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Marsden, Russell Brand, Hank Azaria
Directed by: Tim Hill (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”)
Written by: Cinco Paul (“Despicable Me”) and Ken Daurio (“Despicable Me”)

While Easter may never be referred to as a Hallmark holiday (the whole Christ resurrection thing usually trumps marshmallow Peeps), it’s not very difficult to point out the shamefully obvious marketing strategy a family flick like “Hop” has planned for the month of April. If Universal Pictures could assure God-fearing consumers wouldn’t scream blasphemy, the studio would’ve probably cross-promoted with candy companies to make licorice crucifixes and unleavened bread-flavored jelly beans. (Anyone wanna join me later at Denny’s for the $7.99 Last Supper?)

Actually, pay no attention to the blatant commercial hooks in “Hop.” They will distract you from the real problems this franticly written live-action/animated hybrid tries to bury under mountains of milk chocolate and fluffy bunny ears. The movie might keep the youngest of kiddos hypnotized by the gaudy imagery on screen, but “Hop” is far from hip.

In “Hop,” Easter is threatened when the Easter Bunny’s spoiled teenage son E.B. (Russell Brand) decides he doesn’t want to follow 4,000 years of tradition and take over for his retiring father. Instead, E.B. escapes Easter Island via an intercontinental rabbit hole (don’t scoff, it’s magic) and journeys to Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a rock ’n’ roll drummer.

His plan is diverted when Fred O’Hare (James Marsden mugging for the camera), a slacker with his own daddy issues and vivid Easter memories from his childhood, runs E.B. over with his car (someone please explain why Fred is freaked out when E.B. talks but not when he hits a rabbit wearing a plaid shirt) and is forced to care for the cuddly creature out of pity.

Director Tim Hill (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”) offers up some harmless silliness, but Hop’s script is as uninspired as an animation can get. Why is the Easter mythology so much like Christmas? Why does the villain pollito have to have a Latino accent? And why, oh why, isn’t there a Glenn Close cameo when E.B. fakes his own death by boiling a turkey? In all, avoid “Hop” like you would cavities and hyperglycemia.

Year One

June 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”)
Written by: Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Gene Stupnitsky (TV’s “The Office”), and Lee Eisenberg (TV’s “The Office”)

Just when you thought terrible comedic parodies were recently monopolized by the two-headed monster known in Hollywood as filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” etc.), director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) tosses his name into the mix for at least one satirical take on a genre that really hasn’t seen the light of day since Universal Pictures ruined “The Flintstones” with a pair of live-action duds.

Before that, prehistoric comedy was rocky at best with movies like 1981’s “Caveman” starring Beatle Ringo Starr and 1992’s “Encino Man” about a thawed-out Neanderthal who is taught how to party hard. Now we have “Year One,” a timeline-jumping spoof starring Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) and Michael Cera (“Juno”) that feels 20 years too late and a handful of well-executed gags short of keeping anyone’s attention.

In the film, Black and Cera play Zed and Oh, two simpletons who are shunned by their tribe for their inadequate hunting and gathering skills. Tired of being ridiculed by the other tribesmen and rejected by the tribeswomen, Zed decides to take a bite out of a forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When the rest of the tribe finds out he has broken the law of the land, he is cast out of the village for fear that he is cursed.

With nothing to live for back at the village, Oh joins his hairy friend on a road trip by foot through undiscovered lands and time periods. During their adventure, the odd couple dive into the Old Testament where they meet Biblical characters such as Cain and Abel (Paul Rudd and David Cross in an unfunny exchange of sibling rivalry and violence) and even stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing his only son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA McLovin of “Superbad” fame). Later on, Abraham reveals he is the mastermind behind circumcision when he recommends to Zed and Oh that they should allow him to perform the surgery because “it’s going to be a really sleek look that’s going to catch on.”

The rest of the film follows our journeymen to the unholy city of Sodom (described here like a first century version of Las Vegas) where they travel to save the women they love after they are captured and forced into slavery. It’s a storyline that is knocked out of sync by one uncreative skit after another.

Relying on cheap and childish jokes (most revolve around bodily excrement and an oily Oliver Platt) and unmemorable one-liners, “Year One” falls face first somewhere in the rear of the evolution line (maybe between the amoeba and the chimpanzee). It’s a primitive, pun-filled hodgepodge that screams Monty Python without any of the wit or style.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”)
Written by: Robert Ben Garant (“Balls of Fury”) and Thomas Lennon (“Herbie Fully Loaded”)

The entire original cast might be back for a second helping, but rehashing the same old jokes from the first outing is a bit overzealous even for Ben Stiller and his myriad of fictional characters in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

In the sequel, Stiller returns as Larry Daley, this time a former museum night watchman who has become a successful CEO of a company that produces a glow-in-the-dark flashlight. When Larry returns to the Museum of Natural History to say a quick hello, however, he learns that all the exhibits that came to life during his first adventure (and ultimately became his friends) are begin replaced with interactive displays and getting shipped off to the Smithsonian Museum for storage.

He also discovers the magic tablet that transforms the exhibits into living, breathing creatures is being pursued by the evil Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah played by Hank Azaria (“Along Came Polly”) and his henchmen, which include Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). New to the fray is also Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) who sticks with Larry during most of the battle and participates in the most interesting scenes of the movie when the two figure out how to jump in and out of famous works of art.

Any clever ideas, however, are easily diluted by lots of bad one-liners, obvious jokes (Yes, Napoleon Bonaparte was short, get over it), and tedious slapstick, which will only appease the youngest viewers. While there are slight highlights like Bill Heder as Gen. Custard, the humor is sketchy at best and gets it wrong most of the time.