Arthur

April 15, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner
Directed by: Jason Winer (debut)
Written by: Peter Baynham (“Borat”)

Late comedian Dudley Moore should not be turning in his grave. Merely turning would not get him far enough away from the disastrous remake of his 1982 classic “Arthur,” a film British actor Russell Brand somehow botches up. “Arthur” follows a rich, alcoholic playboy who throws a tantrum when his mommy arranges his marriage. No, instead of just turning in said grave, Moore needs to actually dig another one inside the one he’s already in and crawl into that. In small doses (like Will Farrell), Brand, who has an uncanny resemblence with Skeletor if Skeletor had skin, can have some great moments (his Aldous Snow character in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek” is annoying and charming all at once). In those movies, however, he either had a supporting role or was leaning on someone as talented as Jonah Hill. In “Arthur,” Brand is bare-boned and all by himself, which doesn’t do him any favors. The man-child character has been done well plenty of times before, but in “Arthur” the classic story sadly takes a nosedive and becomes laughless.

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.

Despicable Me

July 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Directed by: Pierre Coffin (debut) and Chris Renaud (debut)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and Cinco Paul (“Horton Hears a Who!”)

While the cuteness factor is at an all-time high in the new animated feature film “Despicable Me,” the elimination of any real conflict between characters is bothersome. Sure, a collection of likeable toons can offer a gleeful experience especially to those of a certain age, but important as it is to have someone to cheer for, it’s also kind of fun to have someone to root against. In “Despicable Me,” everyone is either just so gosh darn adorable or wacky, you might as well be watching an episode of the “Teletubbies.”

The happy-go-luckiness begins with the yellow, scene-stealing, Twinkie-shaped characters known as the minions, who will probably grace every lunchbox and backpack once the new school year starts up next month. The minions, who take on the same type of role as the claw-loving, squeeze-toy aliens in the “Toy Story” franchise, work for the darkly sophisticated Gru (Steve Carell), a supervillain who cuts in line at the coffee shop and hogs the road while driving his oversized, jet-powered vehicle.

When Gru finds out another supervillain known as Vector (Jason Segel) is outworking him by successfully executing high-profile crimes (his latest is stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza), Gru decides he will not settle for being second best. His plan: to steal the moon, a plan that first requires him to get his hands on a shrink ray gun retained by Vector so he can simply pluck a miniature moon right from the sky.

To do so, Gru adopts a trio of orphans – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnus (Elsie Fisher) – to infiltrate Vector’s lair by peddling cookies at his front door. In return, the girls, who make up a major portion of the good-natured spirit of the animation, show Gru that being a supervillain doesn’t mean he can’t also be a loving dad.

And so goes Gru’s transformation from a coldhearted evildoer to compassionate father figure. It’s part of the basic and mostly cliché script by “Horton Hears a Who!” screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Aside from Carell’s awkwardly inconsistent voice work as Gru, most of the character’s problems come during his transition from baddie to daddy. “Despicable Me” digs for some sentimentality, but ultimately comes up short.

Left to fill space: the minions, who are bound to be a crowd favorite by the end of the summer. They scuttle, chatter incoherently, and earn their laughs mostly when getting bopped in the head or knocked to the ground. “Despicable Me” deserves a chuckle or two here and there, but the safety net it seems to be working over gets in the way of producing any authentic animated dramedy not found on Nickelodeon.

Get Him to the Greek

June 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)
Written by: Nicholas Stoller (“Yes Man”)
 
What happens when you take the most irritating character from the very funny 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and create a spin-off movie just for him? While a first impression of actor Russell Brand’s narcissistic British rock star Aldous Snow might be as grating as an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track (shudder), he actually grows on you in the new film “Get Him to the Greek.” And even if he doesn’t, you’ll be laughing too hard to care.
 
In the film, Brand reprises his role as a less-sober version of Aldous, lead singer of the popular band Infinite Sorrow, who has since fallen off the wagon when his life begins to spiral out of control. His latest pretentious song “African Child” is receiving some critical backlash (its called “the worst thing to happen to Africa since the Apartheid”) and his Victoria Beckham-esque girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) has dumped him.
 
His career is all but over until lowly record company minion Aaron Green (Jonah Hill, who was also in “Sarah Marshall,” but played a different character) suggests to his high-strung boss Sergio Roma (Sean Combs in a scene-stealing role) that booking Aldous for a 10-year anniversary concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles is just the thing the record label needs to make some serious cash.
 
To make it happen, Aaron must fly to London to pick up the fried musician, escort him to N.Y. for some press and then to L.A. for the performance. But when Aaron arrives, Aldous becomes much more interested in partying hard than getting on the flight. When he promises Aaron the time of his life, the concert at the Greek falls a few slots down on the priority list as the two make a mad dash cross country in a riotous road-trip comedy.

As a raunchy, hard R-rated flick, “Greek” resembles some of the more recently successful foul-mouthed comedies of the past few years including “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.” Director Judd Apatow, who seems to have his hand in most of these movies in some form or another, serves as producer on this one.

Brand, who might be viewed as a one-trick pony, gives Aldous more of a human element here that would not have fit well in “Sarah Marshall.” Most of the comedy does work because his character is so reprehensible at times, but the cockiness is balanced out nicely by some surprisingly genuine scenes that deal with depression and loneliness. Also there to keep Brand from going overboard is Hill, who over the last six years has become a comedic genius. His timing, subtle delivery, and overall likeability are taking him places.

While a film like “Almost Famous” might have romanticize what it would be like to spend some time on the road with musicians, “Greek” does the opposite. It takes the rock star lifestyle into extreme territory. It’s only halfway through the year, but “Get Him to the Greek” is the most side-splitting comedy to hit theaters thus far.