Annie

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Quevenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Easy A,” “Friends With Benefits”)
Written by: Will Gluck (“Friends With Benefits”) and Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”)

My memories of the original big screen adaptation of “Annie” are fuzzy, mixed up with the McDonald’s commercials that interspersed the movie which my mom had recorded off of a TV broadcast in the mid-’80s for my sister and me. Sure, I know the songs “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life” like the back of my hand, but they also seem strangely related to that commercial where the girl has a piano recital and sings along to “Fur Elise” by talking about how much she loves McDonald’s cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes just the same. I guess what I’m saying is that, while that version of “Annie” was a big part of my childhood, it wasn’t important enough that my mind immediately turned to rage when I was made aware of director Will Gluck’s (“Easy A”) modern take on the venerable Broadway musical.

Swapping out the source material’s Depression-era setting for present-day New York, we find Annie (Quevenzhane Wallis) as an agreeably pleasant foster kid living with a quartet of other girls with Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz, lost from the get-go as a broadly-drawn cartoon), a mean, drunken wannabe superstar who was kicked out of ’90s band C+C Music Factory just before their appearance on Arsenio Hall’s late night talk show. Meanwhile germaphobic cell phone billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running a losing campaign for mayor of New York City. With his trusty assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) and slimy campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) by his side, he runs into disaster after disaster on the campaign trail, sending his polling numbers lower and lower. It isn’t until a chance meeting where Stacks saves Annie from getting hit by a car that his fortunes turn around, thanks to a bystander catching his heroism on camera and uploading it to YouTube. Seeing how things start going his way after Annie arrived on the scene, Guy suggest Stacks take Annie in to live with him for the duration of the campaign, a scenario that Stacks isn’t 100 percent on board with.

While the modern-day setting makes sense for a film that wants to sell (and wink at) blatant product placement for contemporary things like Target, removing the story from the original ’30s setting causes problems almost immediately. Wallis is fine as Annie, but lacks the plucky, gee-whiz spirit the material really needs. Instead of a fire plug of energy who would turn a distant plutocrat’s world upside down with her shenanigans, this Annie is a sweet, caring, low-key little girl who seems like she would be a dream to have around (the only strange thing about her being that she prefers to sleep on the floor instead of the giant bed she’s given). As Stacks, Foxx is called upon to play a strange mix of bumbling dad, fussy weirdo, and smooth R&B singer, never finding a groove to carry him through the film. And while the signature songs like “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” are given relatively straightforward arrangements, the rest of the tunes are adapted into strange, stuttering hip-hop beats that all but destroy any entertainment value, especially anything requiring Cameron Diaz to sing. Yikes.

The most enjoyable moments in the film, sadly, come from a Gluck signature: a movie within the movie, this time a bombastic “Twilight” knock off called “MoonQuake Lake” starring Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Rihanna, directed by Hollywood golden boys Chris Miller and Phil Lord. The fact that I’d much rather watch that movie says a lot about “Annie.”

Friends with Benefits

July 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Easy A”)
Written by: Keith Merryman (debut), David A. Newman (debut), Will Gluck (debut)

“Friends with Benefits” might have been given the benefit of the doubt if it had at least tried to be anything besides “No Strings Attached.” Sure, you’ve probably heard the comparison a million times already, but it’s evident that what we have here is the same movie six months later. If studios are this hard up for material, don’t be surprised to see a remake of one of these two rom com in about five years.

All kidding aside, a romantic comedy with this many unoriginal ideas can easiliy write itself. Boy and girl meet; boy and girl wonder if they can base a relationship on sex; boy and girl begin to fall for each other; friendship is ruined; relationship is mended. Happily ever after. Who actually knows what screenwriters Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, and Will Gluck (also the director) did to earn their paycheck?

While Justin Timberlake does exude 10 times more charm that Ashton Kutcher of “Strings,” “Friends with Benefits” just doesn’t have substantial material to work with. At first, it makes fun of what a cliché rom-com looks like and then blatantly becomes the exact same type of film it was parodying only minutes before. Maybe that’s the kind of sarcastic storytelling this genre is going for now, but it doesn’t make a difference when everything feels so recycled.

Easy A

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”)
Written by: Burt V. Royal (debut)

High school hierarchy is given a literary twist in “Easy A,” a teenage sex comedy that confuses clever dialogue with something better suited for the Diablo Cody school of excessive quick-wittedness. If you thought “Juno” was a bit too cheeky at times, there is no comparison to the number of silver-tongued characters brazenly stealing the spotlight from one another here.

Loosely inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mid-19th century masterpiece “The Scarlet Letter,” director Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”) transports the story from a small village in Boston to the halls of a gossipy high school where we meet our leading lady Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) doing everything she can to sully her goody-goody reputation.

It starts when Olive, under the duress of her nosey best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), is overheard lying about losing her virginity, a speck of information that quickly finds its way across campus through phone texts and good old-fashion whispering between classes.

Not very concerned with her newfound promiscuous status, Olive is actually surprised about how much attention she’s receiving for telling one little white lie. However, Olive spreads herself thin when her knack to stretch the truth without worrying about the consequences leads her to do charity work for some of the more unpopular boys of the school whose lives could quickly change for the better if Olive agrees to let people think she’s sleeping with them. In exchange, she’s paid with store gift cards to places like Office Max and Home Depot.

In a role too similar to Mandy Moore’s religious she-devil in 2004’s “Saved!,” Amanda Bynes plays Marianne, a Bible-thumping student who wants to save Olive’s soul before she ends up in hell with all the other floozies. The adults in Olive’s life include her hip parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) whose casual nature with their daughter works well for a generation that refers to their mom and dad by their first names. As married high school teachers, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Hayden Church drag the plot into awkward territory.

If anything great comes out of “Easy A” it is the overall likeability of star Emma Stone. Regulated to more secondary roles in past movies like “Zombieland, “Superbad,” and “The House Bunny,” Stone proves she can carry a movie all on her own especially during the scenes where she video blogs to her online audience. Sure, she doesn’t have much help from co-stars this time around, but there’s something striking about Stone aside from her attractiveness. Look for her to scoop up all of the roles Lindsey Lohan would have earned if she wasn’t too busy passing out in her own vomit.

Despite Stone’s very enjoyable performance, “Easy A” is still all snap and no substance. First-time screenwriter Burt V. Royal was probably patting himself on the back as he churned out page after page of this script. On occasion it’s sharp. Most of the time it bludgeons us for the sake of a few one liners.

Fired Up!

February 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas D’Agosto, Eric Christian Olsen, Sarah Roemer
Directed by: Will Gluck (debut)
Written by: Freedom Jones (debut)

If debut screenwriter Freedom Jones didn’t seem so vigilant to create the next big movie catchphrase or T-shirt slogan in “Fired Up!,” there might have been more to the teenage-cheerleading-buddy comedy than goofball one-liners and catty shenanigans.

While its touting itself as the anti-cheerleading movie, “Fired Up!,” when stripped down (and we’re not talking about the unexciting skinny-dipping scene) is exactly that. The only difference between it and something like “Bring It On” and its two pointless sequels is that “FU!” plays out more like a parody of something awful instead of just something that’s truly awful.

In the film, actors Nicholas D’Agosto (“Election”) and Eric Christian Olsen (“Dumb and Dumberer”) play best buds Shawn Colfax and Nick Brady, two popular high school football jocks who forgo summer football camp in El Paso, Texas to join up with their less-than-formidable cheerleading squad and attend cheer camp so they can scam on girls.

With over 300 girls and only one straight guy (whose actually there to get earn a cheerleading scholarship) in attendance, Shawn and Nick don’t have much trouble adding notches to their belts as they “leave no girl unturned” during their horny tramping through cheer camp.

While “Fired Up!” could have easily been rated R if Jones were to have done what most teenage comedies do and replace actual dialogue with expletives for shock value, she pulls back and leave the F-bombs behind to get a generous PG-13 designation. Despite the rating, there’s plenty of sexual innuendo and lowbrow humor for those moviegoers who are into the most recent National Lampoon straight-to-DVD flicks that are plaguing your local video store by the dozens.

Still, “Fired Up!” – no matter how admirable it becomes by taking itself less and less serious with each exaggerate scene – is too smart-alecky for its own good. After Shawn says, “You’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit” for the fourth time, it’s evident that Jones and first-time director Will Gluck have heard the jokes far too many times and still considered them just as funny as the first time they read the script. Unfortunately for “Fired Up!” they’re not.