Masterminds

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”)
Written by: Chris Bowman (“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) Hubbel Palmer (“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) and Emily Spivey (debut)

Whether or not you’ve even seen 2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite,” chances are its self-consciously weird aesthetic has touched your life in one way or another even to this day. Some dipshit you know still exclaims “GOSH!” or wears a “Vote For Pedro” ringer tee. You’ve likely flipped past dozens of copies of the DVD at used bookstores, going for a lowly buck because everyone seemingly owned that DVD at the height of the medium’s powers. That movie (briefly) put its director, Jared Hess, on the map in the mid-2000s. But a stab at the mainstream with “Nacho Libre” and an attempt to recapture the quirk with the awful “Gentlemen Broncos” has left Hess in the clearance bin with “Napoleon Dynamite” with people wondering why anyone liked it in the first place.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Hess’ latest, “Masterminds,” feels like it came from 2005, when the prospect of the director of a weird cult favorite and a cast featuring Owen Wilson was enough to open a movie.

“Masterminds” is said to be based on a true story, wherein a dim-bulb South Carolinian named David Ghant (Zach Galifianakis) works for an armored car company. Even though he’s engaged to be married to Jandice (Kate McKinnon), David is sweet on coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig) and sort-of expresses his feelings toward her when she is fired. After taking up with dirtbag criminal Steve (Owen Wilson), Kelly sees David as the perfect patsy to set up a robbery. Soon, he’s convinced to steal $17 million from the armored car company and flee to Mexico, waiting for Kelly and the rest of the money to arrive when the heat dies down. But since David forgot to take all of the security tapes with him, a hitman hired by Steve (Jason Sudekis) and an FBI agent (Leslie Jones—yes, this movie reunites three of the new Ghostbusters) are on his tail.

Sporting a He-Man bob cut and an effeminate sweet tea accent, Galifianakis feels like he’s trying too hard from the get-go. Gifted at playing a weirdo, the added affectations only distract from the okay-enough humor on display. Some nice moments of absurdity creep in here and there, from Sudekis’ ruthless-turned-affable hitman and an all-too-brief appearance from Ken Marino, on hand for one cheapo (yet effective) visual gag. While never looking to plumb the depths of wood-paneled quirkiness dredged up by “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Masterminds” still wears the influence of that passing fad too proudly on its sleeve.

 

Inherent Vice

January 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”)
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”)

It’s always gratifying to be able to go back and revisit the work of auteur filmmaking genius Paul Thomas Anderson, especially when his narrative sprawls into something your head is unable to put together after only one viewing. Truth be told, it took me a handful of screenings of “Magnolia,” “Punch-Drunk Love,” and “The Master” to fall madly in love with each of them (it was love at first sight with “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood;” “Hard Eight,” his first film, is good but not great). With his seventh feature film “Inherent Vice,” Anderson has done something that I honestly didn’t think he was capable of doing as a storyteller. After only experiencing the film twice, very little of it absorbed me emotionally in the way any of his past six films have done and, for the first time, I don’t feel like any amount of times I see the film to discover all the nuances of it will make me like it much more.

Maybe it’s because Anderson adapted “Vice” from the novel of the same name by reclusive and complicated author Thomas Pynchon (the first time Pynchon has ever allowed his work to be made into a film) and decided to capture the essence of what the writer put on the page no matter how convoluted it might turn out. Maybe it’s because, like Anderson always does, he wanted to show audiences something they had never seen before and prove just how vast his range really is by making a comedy neo-noir film with a dash of slapstick. Whatever the case, “Vice,” unfortunately, is the first Anderson film I cannot recommend. It’s highly inspired filmmaking and Anderson recreates the haziness and hippiness of 1970s Los Angeles with appeal, not to mention all the characterizations are extremely unique, but that screenplay (oh, that frustrating, confusing screenplay) is not something I’d consider a triumph no matter how close to Pynchon he was able to get. As eccentric as some critics might call his past work, it doesn’t get close to the off-tempo mess that is “Vice.” Anderson plays to the beat of his own drum (and I love that about him), but he’s influenced here by a higher power. Pynchon is in his head and it shows for better or worse. That might be great for Pynchon’s diehard fans, but he uses Anderson as a link to the outside world and it’s Anderson who is the one that comes out with the short end of the stick.

The Internship

June 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Shawn Levy (“Date Night”)
Written by: Vince Vaughn (“Couples Retreat”) and Jared Stern (“The Watch”)

When the modestly budgeted comedy “Wedding Crashers” came out in 2005, few people (not to mention the studio) anticipated its mammoth success. Not only was it the highest grossing comedy of the summer, but it, along with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” spawned a resurgence in the edgy R-rated comedy genre, a trend that still hits box office gold today. Arguably the biggest reason for “Wedding Crashers’” success was the pairing of actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Eight years later, Wilson and Vaughn join forces again in “The Internship.”

After their company goes bankrupt, middle-aged watch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) are forced to throw themselves back into the job market. Desperate for something new, Billy and Nick apply for an internship program at Google. When they arrive, they find themselves to be the oldest interns (by decades) and are teamed up with a group of youngsters and an enthusiastic Google employee. As they go through a series of challenges to try land a job, Billy and Nick realize they’re in over their heads in a program full of tech-savvy people.

Predictably, Wilson and Vaughn fall into character structures similar to the ones they had in “Wedding Crashers.” Wilson plays the part of the charming go-getter while Vaughn is his neurotic and persuasive counterpart. Unfortunately, these characters are far more flimsy than the ones in “Crashers.” Wilson probably fares the better of the two, as his relationships with his fellow interns and Rose Byrne work decently. Conversely, Vaughn’s fast-talking, stumbling-over-his-own-words shtick is tiring and becomes grating very quick. The rest of the cast is rounded out by secondary characters and a few cameos, none of which are particularly noteworthy.

For a film that boasts bankable comedic talent, “The Internship” really struggles to find consistent laughs. Most of the jokes fall flat, including a bizarre recurring 30-year-old reference to the movie “Flashdance,” which is never funny despite the three or four times they go back to it. In place of a clever screenplay, the film relies too heavily on Vaughn and Wilson for laughs. Another bothersome wrinkle in the film is its obvious product placement for Google. Everything is green, yellow, blue and red, and virtually every service that Google provides is name-dropped at some point during the film. It wouldn’t be so bad if each scene didn’t contain some sort of corporate shilling.

At its core, “The Internship” is an underdog story about people who are being phased out by a new generation. From a sheer storytelling perspective, director Shawn Levy follows the formula close enough to sustain the films watchability, especially through the back half of the movie. The problem, however, lies in the unfunny script, average characters, and overextended run time. It’ll take something a little more substantial and effortful for Vaughn and Wilson to regain their once held spot as kings of the summer comedy.

Cars 2

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine
Directed by: John Lasseter (“Toy Story”) and Brad Lewis (debut)
Written by: Ben Queen (“Proximity”)
  
After 16 years of smooth sailing down a highway of animation bliss, the check engine light is officially blinking at Disney Pixar with their newest feature film “Cars 2.”
 
It may have taken them a while to pull it off, but the studio, who has built a reputation on groundbreaking computer graphics and pitch-perfect storylines and characters, has finally done something that seemed extremely unlikely given their extraordinary 16-year track record – they’ve delivered a real clunker.
 
A shiny clunker, yes, but junk nonetheless. While it is rare to see Pixar struggle, it’s not much of a surprise they’ve hit a rough patch with this particular franchise. Despite what box office and merchandising receipts say (little boys love their Hot Wheels), the original “Cars” in 2006 was not exactly a winner either. Any film that assembles a cast of characters based on lazy stereotypes can’t really be recognized for its originality. But at least the first one had that new car smell. Despite the sequel’s impressive design (those hubcaps sure do gleam), there are some ugly things going on under the hood that easily makes “Cars 2” the weakest entry into the Pixar catalog.

The problems start and end with an uninspired, witless, and convoluted script, which places racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and country bumpkin tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) into a story centered on international espionage and a case of mistaken identity. The James Bond-esque scenarios never push the creativity to the high standards Pixar has placed on itself since releasing “Toy Story” in 1995.
 
Alas, not all is wasted on a trip to the theater if pleading kids have made a “Cars 2” screening nonnegotiable. The short animated film “Hawaiian Vacation” featuring the “Toy Story” characters, which precedes the actual movie, is a gem. Just remember to sneak out once you hear those engines start to rev.

Midnight in Paris

June 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in another time period? Imagine experiencing the Renaissance in the early 16th century or witnessing the birth of Hollywood’s silent film era in the late 1880s.

The idea is something three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) experiments with in his new film “Midnight in Paris,” a smartly-written, whimsical romantic comedy that just so happens to include a charming little time-traveling storyline that fits in wonderfully.

In “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson (“Marley & Me”) stars as Gil, an American screenplay writer and self-described “Hollywood hack,” who travels to France with his boorish fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents and ends up going on an adventure on his own. Gil enjoys Paris well enough, but he wonders what it would’ve been like to be there during the Roaring 20s when art and literature were at a historical peak.

When Gil decides he no longer wants to hang out with Inez and her snooty friends (Michael Sheen plays a know-it-all intellect to perfection), he decides to take in Paris by himself by going on a late-night stroll through the city. In a magical and Cinderellaeque twist, Gil steps into a mysterious car at the stroke of midnight and is somehow transported back in time to the 1920s where he meets the like of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso, all of whom inspire his own work as an aspiring novelist.

The time traveling scenario happens every night at the same time and Gil takes full advantage of his newfound friends. He even gets writer Gerturude Stein (Kathy Bates) to read over his own manuscript and give him some priceless constructive criticism. During his nightly trips back to the era (the time-traveling scenario happens every night and every night Gil somehow returns home without explanation), Gil ends up meeting one of Picasso’s mistresses (Marion Cotillard), a French socialite who also wishes she could have been born in another era, specifially the Belle Epoque.

As picturesque as most of Allen’s past work that embraces particular cities like New York and Barcelona, “Midnight in Paris” is a refreshing fantasy that takes being inspired to a whole new level. It might not reach the greatness of some of Allen’s classics, but “Paris” easily arouses the artist’s passion in all of us.

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.

Marley & Me

December 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin
Directed by: David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”)
Written by: Scott Frank (“The Lookout”) and Don Roos (“Happy Endings”)

You’d have to have a heart made of rawhide not to feel a tad gushy while watching “Marley & Me,” especially if the man-dog relationship reminds you of a puppy love from your past. For me, it was my first pet, a funny-looking mutt I named Cracker (he was the color of a Saltine), whom I loved dearly.

The film may rekindle some lasting memories from your childhood, but the source material, John Grogan’s New York Times bestselling autobiography of the same name, is milked of all its sentimentality, and by the time we get to the film’s most tender moments, they’re unconvincing and obvious.

Directed by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”), “Marley & Me” is not so much about a dog as it is a family’s life journey with a dog as a supporting player through their ups and downs. Owen Wilson is John Grogan, a newspaper reporter stuck in a rut writing blotter stories, who surprises his newlywed (Aniston) with a pup (giving her something to nurture is supposed to be a surefire way to slow down her biological clock).

Marley is an adorable but incorrigible yellow Labrador whose alpha-male inclinations make him “the worst dog in the world.” (Basically, he gnaws everything to a stump and humps Kathleen Turner’s fat leg). In addition to Marley’s mischievous ways, the Grogans’ stress level skyrockets when they begin raising a litter of their own.

While the screenwriters would like you to believe the heart of the story centers on the unconditional love of a dog, Marley becomes an afterthought in the script until he turns weathered and gray in the most heartfelt and drawn-out scenes. Toss him a Snausage for not sinking to Beethoven levels, but I’d rather have my puppy-loving tears triggered by “Old Yeller,” “My Dog Skip,” or even “Turner & Hooch.”

Drillbit Taylor

February 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley
Directed by: Steven Brill (“Little Nicky”)
Written by: Kristofor Brown (debut) and Seth Rogen (“Superbad”)

If it was the goal of teen actors Troy Gentile and Nate Hartley to forever be known as the pocket-sized versions of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, then congratulations. The new comedy “Drillbit Taylor” is “Superbad”-lite with fewer laughs and a lot more Owen Wilson that we actually needed to see.

At its core, “Drillbit” is a story about nerds, a comedy goldmine if done correctly (TV’s short-lived “Freaks and Geeks,” another produced work by Judd Apatow, is an example). But when forced into flat scenes and relying on unmemorable characters, someone’s bound to wish Arnold Poindexter or Paul Pfeiffer would make a quick cameo.

Alas, they do not and we are left with a trio of lame ducks in Wade (Hartley), Ryan (Gentile), and Emmitt (David Dorfman, the little kid from “The Ring,” who seems to have fallen victim to the Haley Joel Osment-hit-puberty-and-get-butt-ugly-syndrome). Emmitt is a sort-of third-wheel character like McLovin if McLovin was a spaz who liked showtunes.

The film opens as BFFs Wade and Ryan are getting ready to start their freshman year of high school. Believing that this is their time to shine, the boys make a promise to themselves that they will no longer be viewed as dorks or feel inapt when talking to the opposite sex. Ryan even gives himself a new nickname, T-Dog, to start the year off a new man.

Not even within five minutes of stepping inside the school, however, Wade and Ryan are singled out by Filkins (Alex Frost), a psychotic bully, and his henchman Ronnie (Josh Peck of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh”…shiver). After a few weeks of being humiliated by the goons, who are written way too exaggeratedly by Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogan, the boys decide to hire a bodyguard to protect them from any more torture.

In steps Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a self-proclaimed military hero and bodyguard to the stars. Actually, Drillbit is really a compulsive liar and homeless man living in the woods and hustling for change with his bum friends. When he sees an opportunity to make some extra cash by swindling some desperate kids, he doesn’t hesitate. Since he seems legit (but mostly because he is the only bodyguard the kids can afford), Drillbit gets the job and assures the boys they are now under his wing. Pretending to be a teacher at their school, Drillbit has no real intention of living up to his job description. He’s too busy flirting in the teacher’s lounge with a cute English teacher (played by Apatow’s real leading lady Leslie Mann, who is sadly underused).

Although the first half hour or so brings some steady laughs, when the boys match wits with Drillbit is where the picture suffers. This is the type of character where Wilson should flourish, but when heaved into a clutter of implausible personas and loopy writing “Drillbit Taylor” isn’t this year’s comedy gem we all know Apatow has delivered before.