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.

Ice Age 3

July 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha (“Ice Age: The Meltdown”) and Mike Thurmeier (debut)
Written by: Michael Berg (“Ice Age”), Peter Ackeman (“Ice Age”), Mike Reiss (“The Simpsons Movie”), and Yoni Brenner (“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”)

Even in a technologically-advanced age in cinema, watching an animated movie in 3-D is never enough if there isn’t an interesting story to match its computer-generated imagery. For every “Coraline” there’s always a “Chicken Little” or “Fly Me to the Moon” that will have you wondering if studios are depending on audiences to simply visit the theater for the free plastic glasses or if there’s an actual narrative moviegoers over the age of nine can also enjoy.

With “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” the third installment of the prehistoric series, you don’t have to speculate on the intentions of 20th Century Fox. While 2002’s original movie seemed insignificant in the midst of Pixar’s “Monster’s Inc.” and “Finding Nemo,” and 2006’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown” tied in too bizarrely with Al Gore’s global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy the year before, “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” comes with no strings attached and a whole lot of solid humor.

Unlike the first two films, you won’t have to wait around for Scrat, the half-squirrel, half-rat hybrid who is always in pursuit of an ever-elusive nut, to be entertained. In “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” Scrat is back, of course, this time with an eyelash-fluttering female rival who also craves an icy acorn snack. However, Scrat’s antics, again presented in short interludes throughout the film, are only part of the delightful animation.

Returning to form the awkward-looking herd of mammals are Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah), a wooly mammoth couple now expecting their first furry baby, Diego (Dennis Leary), a saber-toothed tiger who is going through a mid-life crisis, and Sid (John Leguizamo, who should be given some kind of award for his voice work in all three films), a lovable sloth hoping to start his own family like his tusked friends.

Sid gets his chance to prove he would make a good father when he stumbles upon three dinosaur eggs. Not knowing there are dinosaurs inside, he takes responsibility for the brood by drawing faces on their shells and appropriately names them Eggbert, Shelley, and Yoko. When they hatch, however, they’re Tyrannosaurus-like appearance isn’t the only thing that gives them away. Mama T-Rex shows up looking for her newborns much to the chagrin of Sid.

With more baby species in “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” you’d think that the sequel might rely on the cuteness of its new characters to carry the load. But others including Sean William Scott and Josh Peck, who return as the comedy relief possum duo Crash and Eddie (far less annoying than they were in “Meltdown”), and newcomer Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) as an adventurous, eye-patch wearing weasel, contribute to the comedy. Even SNLer Bill Hader makes a memorable voice cameo as a gazelle that mocks a predator after he outruns him in an open field. (Definitely a part of the natural world National Geographic doesn’t show you).

Overall, “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” is the best of the trilogy and should entertain both children and adults alike. But let’s be honest; 20th Century Fox needs to quit while they’re ahead with this specific adventure.

The Secret Life of Bees

October 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”)
Written by: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”)

Dakota Fanning’s no longer the cutie-patootie we all remember from movies like “I Am Sam” and “Uptown Girls.” She’s all grown up with a bright future still ahead of her. Luckily, it seems the beginning of her journey through adolescence will not follow the same path as Haley Joel Osment in “Secondhand Lions.” After “The Secret Life of Bees” Fanning is sure to find more acting work.

In “Bees,” Fanning plays Lily Owens, a young girl living in South Carolina in 1964 who runs away from home to find the truth about her deceased mother. Traveling with her nanny Rosaleen (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson), who she helps escape from police after they arrest her for a run-in with some short-tempered racists, Lily is determined to know more about her mother’s life before Lily, at the age of four, accidentally shoots and kills her.

It’s a heavy burden to live with knowing you are responsible for your own mother’s death, but deep down Lily believes there is more to the story. It’s a story, unfortunately, her emotionally abusive and neglectful father (Paul Bettany) refuses to tell her. Without any real memories of her mother, all Lily has left is a pair of her white gloves and a photo with the word “Tiburon” printed on the back. Tiburon turns out to be a small town in South Carolina, so, on a whim, Lily and Rosaleen hitch a ride to see what a change in locale has in store for them.

In Tiburon, they find the home of the Boatwright sisters: June (Alicia Keys), May (Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo), and August (Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah), who are well known in the South for the amazing honey they produce as beekeepers. Here, Lily and Rosaleen make a temporary home by telling little white lies so the Boatwrights will allow them to stay in their guest house.

Once safe inside their new home (or metaphorical beehive) director/screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) is able to effectively capture the emotional struggles the women are experiencing in their personal lives and during an era where hatred is consistent. We especially see that in Okonedo’s May, whose hypersensitivity always gets the best of her. This character reminded me a lot of Wes Bentley’s persona in “American Beauty” because of how they both wear their hearts on their sleeves. While Bentley’s Ricky Fitts becomes choked up with all the beauty there is in the world, May reacts the same way to all of life’s drawbacks.

Yes, the film does pull at the heartstrings, but not in a contriving or melodramatic way. Instead, the ensemble cast of “Bees” depicts some powerful characteristics and does so without overstating their motives. It’s a breath of fresh air when we see real African American characters that mean something more than the cliché, thoughtless material Tyler Perry usually flings at us twice a year.