Tusk

September 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Hayley Joel Osment
Directed by: Kevin Smith (“Red State”)
Written by: Kevin Smith (“Red State”)

After breaking into the independent film scene with “Clerks” in 1994 and developing a strong cult following with other projects like “Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” Smith, in recent years, has decided to switch gears and give audiences a peak into the more sinister sections of his creative mind. He started in 2011 with “Red State,” an ultra-violent film featuring a group of religious fundamentalists who abduct a trio of teenage boys and hold them prisoner in their church. While the movie was something completely different than he had ever tried before, the controversial storyline of the horror/action flick far outweighed Smith’s execution. The setback, however, hasn’t stopped him from continuing down this unfamiliar path for his next movie “Tusk,” an attempt at dark horror comedy that illustrates Smith’s total ignorance when it comes to separating shock value and humor. ”Tusk” would’ve been a barrel-full of laughs if it wasn’t so disturbing.

In “Tusk,” Justin Long (“Drag Me to Hell”) stars as Wallace Bryton, an obnoxious podcaster who, along with his sidekick Teddy Craft (Hayley Joel Osment), co-hosts a popular internet show called the “Not See Party,” wherein Wallace interviews (and at times exploits) interesting guests and then returns to the studio to share his experience with Teddy on the web. When an upcoming guest kills himself before Wallace can conduct his interview, Wallace is forced to find a replacement interviewee on short notice. When he stumbles upon a flyer from a man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who promises loads of fascinating stories to share with him, Wallace takes him up on the offer.

It turns out Howard is a maniac (think Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs” meets Dr. Moreau) and before he knows it, Wallace is facing a situation many would consider worse than death. Without giving too much of the reveal away, let’s just say Howard has a sick fascination with walruses, a talent with the stitch, and a total disregard for human life. The twisted mess Howard creates isn’t the type of image you can easily scrub from your mind.

Compared by some as the second coming of a movie like the unfairly-condemned 2009 horror film “The Human Centipede,” which repulsed even audiences who didn’t actually see it, “Tusk” could have played out its own nightmarish scenario in the same vein as “Centipede” and gotten away with simply being an unsettling film to watch. There is nothing funny about “Centipede,” and it’s clear director Tom Six wasn’t playing up the narrative for shits (pun intended) and giggles. With “Tusk,” though, Smith is pushing hard for the extreme grotesqueness of what he puts on the screen to somehow find its way into a whole other genre. Sure, there are hilarious moments in “Tusk” to go along with the stomach-churning ones, but Smith is never really quite sure which are which. Because of that, the film is left to suffer in a sort of tonal limbo.

Where “Tusk” finds most of its footing is in the sharp dialogue Smith delivers in the first half of the film, especially with Parks’ insane character interacting with Long’s insufferable one. It’s like watching a spider teasing a helpless fly before it mercilessly bites its head off. That intensity is palpable as are the comedic jabs Smith sprinkles throughout. But once Smith begins to overexaggerate what is already exaggerated and then tries to hammer home a meaningful message, “Tusk” can’t find a way out of its own misery.

For a Good Time, Call…

September 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Lauren Miller, Ari Graynor, Justin Long
Written by: Lauren Miller (“Girls! Girls! Girls!”) and Katie Anne Naylon (debut)
Directed by: Jamie Travis (debut)

In the film “For a Good Time, Call…” reluctant roommates Lauren (Lauren Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) share a rocky past that stretches back over a decade to college and includes one of them being doused in the drunken urine of the other. After both of them come to realize they can’t afford to live alone in New York City, mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long, mincing around embarrassingly) facilitates their new living arrangement. After clashing predictably over things like the color of the walls and the placement of a dead grandmother’s belongings, the two forge an unlikely bond when Lauren discovers Katie is a phone sex operator. With Lauren’s business-minded attitude and Katie’s natural talent at talking dirty, a lucrative endeavor is born.

Fans of HBO’s TV series “Girls” might feel a twinge of deja vu in the initial set-up, what with its sexually-frank narrative about 20-something women struggling financially in New York City while pursuing jobs in the publishing industry, etcetera. Pair that with a shaky first act and the audience might end up sighing and checking their collective watches. But when the girls’ phone sex business takes off, so does the movie.

First-time feature director Jamie Travis adds a dash of indie quirk to the “Bridesmaids”-approved formula of girls being raunchy—though he doesn’t avoid the cheese entirely (see: any scene with Justin Long and his dog or the small roles played by Nia Vardalos and Mimi Rogers). Casting relative unknowns like Miller (who also co-wrote) and Graynor lends a freshness to the movie that it often doesn’t earn through the screenplay (seriously, are 900 numbers still a thing?) and some well-placed cameos from lewd-comedy ringers like Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen (Miller’s real-life husband) deliver huge laughs. While the foreplay might be boring and unnecessary for some, “For a Good Time, Call…” will have you glad you stuck around for the climax.

Going the Distance

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day
Directed by: Nannette Burstein (“American Teen”)
Written by: Geoff LaTulippe (debut)

In a typical romantic comedy it’s usually an unwritten rule that a best friend character is given just enough material to steal a scene or two and then spends the rest of his or her time providing sound advice or a shoulder to cry on. But in “Going the Distance” you don’t have to get too far into the film before it becomes evident who is really carrying the rom-com where it needs to go. It is unfortunate Drew Barrymore and Justin Long had to come along and cramp their style.

In “Going the Distance,” Barrymore and Long take a backseat to comedians Charlie Day (TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), who play Dan and Box, the best friends of Garrett (Long), a record label employee living in New York City who falls for Erin (Barrymore), a newspaper intern, six weeks before she’s scheduled to finish up her internship and move back home to San Francisco.

Despite the short amount of time they have to spend together, Garrett and Erin start their cutesy courtship and first-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe makes sure to squeeze as much out of their clever personalities before they retire to opposite sides of the country. Before Erin departs, however, the two decide they want to try a long-distance relationship.

Alone in their respective cities, the new couple, through formulaic montages and rom-com romance revolving around text messages and Skype, Garrett and Erin journey through the vast emotions one would feel if their significant other was thousands of miles away. There to balance out all of Garrett’s jealously and loneliness are Dan and Box, who inject some much needed humor into all his pouty moments. Meanwhile on the West Coast, Christina Applegate plays Erin’s concerned sister Corinne, a character shamelessly cut from the same cloth as Leslie Mann’s in “Knocked Up.”

But like most wannabe Judd Apatowesque comedies, “Going the Distance” has neither the charm nor enough laughs to drag it from the trenches. Aside from the few secondary characters that brighten up all the lame lovie-dovieness that Garrett and Erin share both from afar and when they have the cash to fly in for a visit, Oscar-nominated documentary director Nannette Burstein (“American Teen”) just can’t make the profanity-laced script mesh well enough with eyelash-fluttering romance. 

What’s left are gags about dry humping, pop culture references of “Top Gun,” and a mishap in a tanning salon that set the bar fairly low even for Long’s lack of slapstick-comedy prowess. Barrymore’s still as accessible as ever, but if she’s trying to find some edge in her roles she’ll have to travel farther than this.

Youth in Revolt

January 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”)
Written by: Gusten Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”)

It’s common knowledge in most Hollywood circles that when making a movie (indie or otherwise) where the script calls for a soft-spoken, insecure character with a heart of gold the actor on top of most people’s lists would be Michael Cera (followed closely by the fidgetiness and nervous rambling of Jesse Eisenberg).

While Cera’s style works rather well in most cases like in “Superbad” and “Juno,” it would still be interesting to see what he could do out of his comfort zone. How much longer will he be able to pass for a dweeby teenager anyway?

His newest comedy, “Youth in Revolt,” isn’t the breakout role some of us might be looking for, but it’s a nice transition piece that could expose him to some dimension. It’s ironic that a role like this also does the exact opposite and pigeonholes him into what we already know he’s good at.

In “Revolt,” which is adapted from the epistolary novel by C.D. Payne, Cera plays Nick Twisp, a shy high school kid who listens to Frank Sinatra and is mystified by the opposite sex. Still, he’s a sweet, old soul who wonders why “in the movies the good guy get the girl and in real life it’s the prick.”

With nothing better to do, Nick goes on a spontaneous vacation to a trailer park with his mother (Jean Smart) and her loser boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). While there, he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), the girl of his dreams who is culturally aware of all things French and would think Nick was much cooler than he really is if he’d just show a little backbone.

He gets the chance when their fling ends and both realize the only way they can be together is if they can pull off an intricate plan. Part of the mischievous plot is for Nick to get himself kicked out of his mother’s house. To do this, Nick creates an alter ego named François Dillinger (also played by Cera), a rebellious little punk with a pencil-thin mustache, blue eyes, and sharp tongue. Basically, François is the man Nick wishes he was because he’s the type of guy Sheeni could go for without hesitation. François, however, become more trouble than anticipated when he turns Nick into a fugitive.

This is where Cera breaks out of his usual mold and shows us something different, but not entirely unconventional to where one might think he was trying too hard. François puts Nick on edge and gives Cera a great character to explore alongside another that basically comes naturally to him at this point. The identity crisis works well as his battling personalities match wits. Cera alone has it in him to push the adapted material well passed a month most would deem as a cinematic dumping ground.

Surprisingly, “Youth in Revolt” is a rarity for early new-year releases. With filmmaker Miguel Arteta (“Chuck & Buck,” “Star Maps”), who has been making solid albeit small films for the past 12 years, the journal entries of one Nick Twisp are a creative and amusing journey about what it means to be at an age where the world begins and ends with whether or not you have the ability to grow facial hair.

Planet 51

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel
Directed by: Jorge Blanco (debut), Javier Abad (debut), Marcos Martinez (debut)
Written by: Joe Stillman (“Shrek”)

There’s literally been an alien invasion this year at the movies. From the entertaining extraterrestrials of “Star Trek” and “District 9” to the less than stellar offerings of the animated “Aliens in the Attic” and the thriller “The Fourth Kind,” life forms from galaxies beyond have taken over the cinema.

With the new animated film “Planet 51,” audiences are bound to go into alien overload. The excess of little green people isn’t the problem, however. Instead, it’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter Joe Stillman (“Shrek”) who doesn’t know when to let up on other sci-fi references. It makes another alien encounter feel like a worn-out welcome.

Humans and aliens trade roles in “Planet 51” when astronaut Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands on a planet inhabited by anatomically incorrect creatures living in what is reminiscent of small-town America in the 1950s. As much as Chuck is scared of them, he is actually the one that has “invaded” their planet. With a much-anticipated movie about alien invasions about to hit theaters, the aliens go into full panic mode when they find out something from another world has made contact with them.

Desperate to get back to his abandoned spacecraft, which he parks in the middle of a suburban alien neighborhood, Chuck puts all his trust in Lem (Justin Long), a typical high school dweeb and aspiring astronomer who can never muster up enough courage to ask the alien of his dreams Neera (Jessica Biel) out on a date. Lem takes on the responsibility of getting Chuck safely back to his ship before General Grawl (Gary Oldman) and his army captures him. There’s also a mad scientist, Professor Kipple (John Cleese), who wants to dissect his brain.

While most of the slapstick humor will sit well with younger kids, “Planet 51” is far too imitative to give it a pass. Sure, it’s always fun to see a couple of really nifty movie references sprinkled into the story at just the right times, but when Stillman delivers them in droves, it’s hard to tell where his admiration for the sci-fi genre ends and unoriginality begins. From “E.T.” to “Alien” to “Star Wars,” no sci-fi film of the last 30 years is left unturned. Even a joke about the 1983 Oscar-winning film “The Right Stuff” gets overused so much, it becomes trite and obvious.

In a year where animated films are just as abundant as alien ones, “Planet 51” floats aimlessly in the cinematic solar system. It might be harmless enough for the most nonjudgmental of tikes, but everyone else will only be reminded of movies that have pushed the genre to the outer limits instead of simply rehashing the past.

Drag Me to Hell

May 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Directed by: Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”)
Written by: Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”) and Ivan Raimi (“Army of Darkness”)

Director Sam Raimi returns to his horror roots in entertaining fashion with “Drag Me to Hell,” a creepy, campy, and richly-stylized blood offering from the man who grossed us all out with his “Evil Dead” films of the 80s and 90s.

After sinking his teeth into the blockbuster trilogy “Spider-Man” for five years, Raimi proves he still has a grip on fiendish humor and doesn’t even need actor Bruce Campbell to make it work. In the bluntly-titled “Drag Me to Hell,” Raimi and screenwriting partner/brother Ivan give us a story about cursed souls and the demons who await their arrival into the underworld.

The film stars Alison Lohman as Christine Brown, a self-conscious loan officer who has her hopes set on a promotion at her bank. While she one of the two leading candidates for the position, her boss makes it clear that he wants her to take initiative and make more bold decisions for the benefit of the company.

Christine gets her chance to impress her supervisor when Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an old, unsightly Gypsy woman with brittle fingernails and ghastly rotted teeth, walks into the bank to ask for a third extension on her mortgage. When Christine denies her insistent requests, the old woman casts an evil spell on the young loan officer and seals her fate for a fiery death.

Now hexed with the spirit of the Lamia, a violent and devilish creature who stalks her every move, Christine and her skeptic boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), attempt to find a way to rid her of the entity before her three-day window shuts and she is dragged into the pits of hell forever.

While the story is fairly basic and becomes entirely too predictable, Raimi shows audiences that horror films built on traditional ideas and scare tactics are just as effective as any computer-generated fluff most American horror uses as a crutch today. This is what was specifically great about films like the “Evil Dead” series. Grotesque makeup, stop-motion techniques, and other rare treats in the genre that aren’t used nearly enough are showcased sparingly in “Drag Me to Hell.” It’s when Raimi allows other influences to manipulate his aesthetic when the movie gets the messiest. It’s doesn’t happen too often here. Horror fans of all ages (because of the PG-13 rating) will end up going on a trippy and repulsive ride.

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?