Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jeff, Who’s In a Great Movie

Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Guest Review by Kyle Kuzemchak

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is one of the most thoughtful, touching, feel-good movies I have seen in a long time. Coming in knowing the talented, underrated writer/directors The Duplass Brothers (Cyrus), Jay and Mark, were involved, I knew exactly what to expect; a movie with hearty laughs, but that ultimately is more focused on it’s message and it’s build-up to a touching conclusion, and that is exactly what I got.

The story follows a man named Jeff, played by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who…well, lives at home with his mom. He is a firm believer in fate, that everything happens for a reason, and this belief is what moves the entire plot. Along the way, we meet his mom, played by Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise), and his brother, Pat, played by Ed Helms (The Hangover), neither of whom quite seem to understand Jeff’s vision of life.

Jeff comes off as an intriguing character the second the movie begins, as he explains his view of fate by describing his fascination with the M. Night Shymalan film, Signs. He then, by a strange twist of fate, runs into his brother, and eventually helps him try to figure out if his wife is having an affair. While these two are out causing a ruckus, their mother is being courted by a “secret admirer” at work, creating two coinciding stories exploring feelings of loneliness and hope for a better life, in Jeff's mind, through a fateful act.

Jason Segel is immediately likeable as Jeff, and he not only shows off his comedic talents, but his dramatic side. The same can be said for Ed Helms, whose acting chops are especially tested in the second half of the film, and he delivers with a very believable and strong performance. The two actors work incredibly well together, with a fantastic chemistry displayed through their conversations in a cemetery and in a bathtub. The Duplass Brothers’ script is funny and extremely heart-warming, and with their classic home-video style of filming, including a lot of use of zoom, the movie feels even more touching and real. The film takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster, but I enjoyed every up and down, and will definitely take the ride again.

The Final Word: Go buy a ticket.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Don’t Hate the Tribute, Hate the Game

Review: The Hunger Games

Gale: "They just want a good show, that's all they want."
Katniss: "There's 24 of us Gale, only one comes out."

The Hunger Games certainly gives us a good show as the big screen adaptation of the novel by Suzanne Collins of the same name. In both book and film, every year tributes from each of the twelve districts of the nation of Panem, a futuristic America, are forced to fight to death on live television, while the rest of the nation is forced to watch, until a sole victor remains. Teenagers Katniss and Peeta are the chosen tributes from District 12 who must band together to stay alive.

Full disclosure: It’s very hard to write a review of a movie that is based on a book you have read. You notice every change. You notice every omission. You notice every addition. You notice every difference.

This is, of course, unfair to the film. It wasn’t made to be a carbon copy of the book, but rather an interpretation of it. The film should be judged on its own merits and not as a comparison to the original work.

That being said, as a big fan of literature I find such an objective perspective is nearly impossible to adopt. When you truly dig into a book, invest in the characters, cherish the nuances, you cannot help but die a little inside when filmmakers fail to match the intricate detail and deep emotion which has developed in your imagination as you journeyed through those thousands of pages.

Such a bias is not fair, but its reality.

Now, all of that being said, The Hunger Games is a film that replicates the tone of the book with an exciting final act in the games, but does feels a bit drawn out for a few reasons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Undercover Antics Prove Hilarious

Review: 21 Jump Street

Surprise! 21 Jump Street is a remake that’s actually good! Hollywood reproduces old ideas so often and sloppily that it actually comes as a shock when they get it right. If only all remakes were as effective as this reimagining of the old Johnny Depp t.v. show of the same name.

The primary way 21 Jump Street actually manages to make itself feel original is that it knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to pretend it’s a brand spanking new idea. Rather, it recognizes that it’s a reboot, and then does everything it can to shake things up for an audience who thinks they’ve seen it all before.

This very self-aware tone is found in a number of places, in an incredibly “meta” comment in the beginning from the chief of police about the rehashing of old ideas, in action sequences when things don’t go the way movies would have us expect, and in a later surprise that I won’t spoil now, but which actually ends up being one of the best parts of the movie.

21 Jump Street also works well because of the chemistry between the main characters, played by Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe). And gosh darn it, somebody should throw Tatum a party, because for perhaps the first time in his life, the boy actually acted! I’m serious! Channing Tatum was funny! And both he and Hill clearly had lots of fun making this film.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lost in Space

Review: John Carter (of Mars)

Famed author Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his creation of Tarzan, an iconic figure who has inspired an estimated 89 movies. However, his other famous work, John Carter of Mars, set the stage in the world of science fiction for the development of such renowned futuristic fantasies as Star Wars, Avatar, and Superman. Finally brought to the big screen, John Carter delivers thunderous action in the midst of an overwhelming amount of mythology.

Director Andrew Stanton joins Brad Bird (Mission Impossible 4) as the second legendary Pixar director to make the jump from animation to live-action. With such a visual-centered background, Stanton is certainly to credit for the wondrous sights in John Carter. From sweeping shots of the Martian desert to a walking city to clashing armies, John Carter is a visual delight, dazzling audiences with the realistic aliens and stunning locations. The film just looks good.

John Carter also boasts a subtle yet endearing sense of humor. We see this right from the start as the titular protagonist John Carter tries and fails repeatedly to escape the clutches of a character played by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). The humor continues throughout the film in some subtle (“You are ugly, but you are beautiful”) ways and in some unsubtle (alien dog) ways. The humor gives the film a quirky quality that draws us in.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Superbly Seussical

Review: The Lorax

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful not, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

So says Danny DeVito (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), the voice of the titular character in the new animated film, The Lorax. One of Dr. Seuss’s most popular books is brought to life by the relatively new production company, Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me). The animators do a phenomenal job creating a Seussical world filled with vibrant colors and quirky architecture. (I didn’t see it in 3D, but I’ve heard it looks fantastic in that format as well.)

The atmospheres created are truly unique. From the industrialized town of Thneedville to the lush forests filled with truffula trees, each location has a character and presence all their own. The citizens of Thneedville are blissfully ignorant of the effects of their overblown consumerism, delighting in the florescence of their technological superiority, while the adorable creatures of the forest have their naturally beautiful home destroyed and their innocence heartbreakingly fractured by the Onceler. The forests animals (birds, fish, and bears) steal every scene they are in, particularly the bears.

The Lorax is not only a retelling of the classic story, but also a continuation of it. The book depicts the Once-ler telling the story of how his greed led to him cutting down the forest to a young boy and ends with the Once-ler giving the last truffula seed to the boy. The film goes a step further, showing audiences the story of the boy, now given the name Ted, and his quest to win the heart of a nature-loving girl and, later, to plant the all-important seed. The extra content in the film meshes incredibly well with the original material and creates an incredibly satisfying story.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are You Ready to Party?

Review: Project X

It’s everything your high-school self always wanted. The party of the century. No parents. No rules. Just you and 2,000 of your closest friends going crazy from dusk til dawn (and even then the party only ends cause a crazy man shows up with a flamethrower!), much to the chagrin of the neighbors and the police. All this and so much more happens in Project X, the new, over-the-top teen party movie from first-time director Nima Nourizadeh

It’s crude. It’s vulgar. It’s a hard R-rated movie filled with alcohol, drugs, and promiscuous girls. So the film is certainly not for everyone. However, Project X does boast some of the most outrageous comedy stunts since 2009's The Hangover. And the “found footage” style of film-making really helps the audience feel as if they are right there, in the midst of the party.

The acting is decent, but then again, the actors hired to play the main characters, led by Thomas Mann (It's Kind of a Funny Story), aren't exactly the most trained or experienced actors. You get what you pay for. There is virtually no plot; the teens host a party that escalates out of control. That’s it.

One the most interesting things about Project X is that is the 4th movie of 2012 (and we’ve only just started March!) to bring in over $20 million in its 1st weekend, despite not having a “name-cast,” following The Devil Inside, Chronicle, and Act of Valor. This could really start to change how Hollywood approaches filmmaking in terms of paying out millions for well-known actors.

Overall, Project X is a ridiculously naughty romp through the party we always imagined in high school. It’s completely immature, but sometimes that can be fun, depending on who you are. What's scary is that kids who are growing up watching t.v. shows like Skins and Jersey Shore and movies like Project X might actually think such debauchery portrays normal, acceptable levels of behavior. Recognize this film should be escapism, not the goal for everyday reality.

The Final Word if you’re okay with massive inappropriateness: Wait to rent it.
The Final Word if you have more dignified preferences: Avoid it at all costs.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Cost of Free Love

Review: Wanderlust

Director David Wain (Role Models) had a full house of potential when he took the helm of this new film: a high concept plot with leading stars in Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man) and Jennifer Aniston (Horrible Bosses). So why did the film go bust as a blockbuster comedy? 

The major issue with the movie was a lack of intentionality in each scene to mount the tension and build up the story-arches. We first meet Rudd and Aniston’s characters, George and Linda, in New York City buying a tiny apartment they can’t afford and soon after losing their jobs.

They drive to Georgia to live with George’s brother, spending the night at a commune along the way. Finding the brother and their new life unbearable, they return to the “intentional community” desperately looking for a solution to their discontent.

The basic character conflict of the film is that Linda quickly falls in love with the commune and the accompanying lifestyle, while George is increasingly uncomfortable with the total lack of privacy found at the camp. The problem is that we see things entirely from George’s perspective.

Good Deeds Make a Mediocre Movie

Review: Good Deeds

The biggest problem with writer/director/producer/actor Tyler Perry’s newest film, Good Deeds? No Madea!!! Seriously, that cross-dressing, gun-toting granny wins me over every time! 

Now obviously Tyler Perry (upcoming Alex Cross reboot) is allowed to make movies that don’t include his iconic character, but they should be expected to maintain a certain level of energy. Good Deeds does not.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a decent story – a wealthy businessman reassesses his life after meeting the poor, hardworking nighttime janitor who can barely provide for her daughter – but it lacks a certain sense of momentum that keeps the audience interested. 

Perry does a decent job as the nice, but rather bland Wesley Deeds, while Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happiness) is a bit better as the struggling janitor and Jordenn Thompson (Should've Been Romeo) is simply adorable as her daughter. But the problem is never the actors, but rather that we really never get a complete story-arch for any of them. We meet them, get to know their strengths and their flaws, but never see them change in any real way. 

Perry’s character comes the closest, predictably giving up all that he has to find happiness. Yet it’s not so much a change in character as it is a response to the obvious discomfort Deeds has with his life and material treasures. A better film would have chronicled a change in perspective of a man who took his wealth for granted and slowly learned that money doesn't buy true happiness. As it stands, Deeds never wanted his job or power, so him giving it up isn't that much of a journey at all. 

Overall, Good Deeds is a decent film, but one that explores no new territory in terms of either character or plot. Maybe if Madea had shown up… 

The Final Word: Don’t even bother.