September 20, 2010

Weekend In Reviews

I had a pretty productive movie weekend that included two trips to the theater to watch brand new films plus three recently released movies on DVD. 

The Backup Plan - This is one of the most poorly written movies I've ever seen, and I have seen many poorly written movies.  The dialogue is stilted, awkward, cheesy and predictable.  The story is absurd and obnoxious.  And I can not understand why anyone enjoys movies that star Jennifer Lopez.  The last time she was even remotely likable on film was Out of Sight in 1998.  And I suspect that a large part of what made her tolerable in that film was her proximity to George Clooney. 

On the other hand, Alex O'Laughlin is really nice to look at and he takes his shirt off more than once in the movie.  That does it for the nice things I can think of to say about this movie.  I honestly can't recommend that anyone watch this because it's not even a good bad rom-com, it's just bad.  But if it were on cable and you had NOTHING else to watch, you could certainly put it on mute and enjoy looking at Alex O'Laughlin for 90 minutes. 

Killers - Ok, fine, this section of my NetFlix queue had a lot of bad rom-coms in it.  But who among us doesn't enjoy watching bad rom-coms on a Saturday afternoon?  This was better than The Backup Plan by a very small margin.  It was like if Mr. and Mrs. Smith had been 100% less kick-ass, 90% less funny and with 360% less chemistry between the leads (which is good news, I suppose for Demi Moore and that guy Katherine Heigl is married to). 

The problem with this movie is that the concept was decent but it took forever to go anywhere and it was pretty boring while it was getting there which is particularly unfortunate when your story is essentially the same as True Lies and the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Smith, because both of those movies are done so much better. 

I dislike Heigl as a person a lot but she's a decent actress and her bad rom-coms are often the most delicious kind of guilty pleasure bad rom-com I can really enjoy.  But between Killers and The Ugly Truth, her on-screen characters are starting to be as unenjoyable as her off-screen personality.  Ashton Kutcher is the equivalent of a cinematic rice cake for me - I never think about him unless he's right in front of me and he's perfectly serviceable while I'm watching him, but as soon as I'm done, I forget it ever happened.  If you want to watch this one, I won't steer you away from it but I will council you against getting your hopes up, it's more of a time waster than it is entertainment. 

Date Night - Do you think Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are funny?  Of course you do.  Do you enjoy seeing fairly big name stars make silly cameo appearances in films?  Sure, who doesn't.  So Date Night should be for you...except somehow it isn't as fun or funny as I expected it to be. 

Don't get me wrong, there were several good laughs to be had, they were just fewer and further between than I'd anticipated when I saw the cast list.  Remember several years ago when Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn remade the Out-Of-Towners?  This was a better version of that remake that I still didn't love as much as the original Out-Of-Towners

But I enjoyed the Taste and Whipit scene, the pole dancing, and the running joke about Mark Wahlberg's shirtlessness.  Oh, speaking of Mark Wahlberg, I've met him and he's not a tall man, he's just about my height (5'7") so the first thing I thought when I saw him share a scene with Steve Carrell was "Damn!  Carrell is SHORT!"  Just putting that out there. 

Anyway, a movie worth seeing but I must also recommend you rent the original Out-Of-Towners starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, if you've never seen it.  You won't be sorry.  

Easy A - Smart, charming and funny.  Emma Stone is delightful and possessed of effortless comic timing.  I see the story less as an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter and more of a tutorial about the novel as it freely uses both the book and it's subsequent film adaptations in the narrative.  When Olive (Stone) realizes that the false rumor that's been spread about her has turned her from a regular, anonymous student to an infamous social pariah, she decides to embrace her fate and turn herself into a modern-day Hester Prynne whom they're currently studying in English. 

Even more than The Scarlet Letter, the film pays homage to teen-centric movies from the '80s.  This movie loves John Hughes, it loves Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Can't Buy Me Love, and maybe that's partly I love it - because we have the same, nostalgic taste in movies. 

Olive's parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and her favorite teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) are hilarious and Amanda Bynes makes a good foil for our heroine.  Dan Byrd is under-utilized as her gay friend and I think I'd have cut Aly Michalka from the cast and made his Brandon Olive's BFF instead.  He's got much better acting/comedy chops and Rhiannon came off mean and stupid instead of boisterous and wacky.  The other weak link in the cast is Cam Gigandet who didn't fit the part of the twenty-something high school senior boyfriend of judgemental Christian nutbar, but even if the casting had been better, the character felt tacked on specifically to be the catalyst for the climax of the story which felt awkward and clunky. 

Still, any movie that includes the line "If there's anything worse than chlamydia, it's Florida" gets an automatic place on my DVD shelf.  And Emma Stone's wonderful performances in this and Zombieland get her a new spot in my girl crush category. 

The Town - I loved this movie.  It's interesting, well paced, attractively cast (I would make out with about 80% of the main cast, including the chicks) and beautifully directed.  The writing was a little off in several places - heavy handed when it needn't have been, and the tiniest bit sloppy in the service of advancing the plot on occasion - but the acting and directing are good enough so as to mostly make up for where the writing falls short. 

The film opens with a robbery that lets you know from the start that this movie is going to include action but wastes no time setting up the love story as even in the middle of the robbery, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) shares a nice moment with Claire (Rebecca Hall).  It also kicks the drama up from the start as the dynamics between Doug and his life-long best friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) are set up when Coughlin beats a bank employee senseless against Doug's better judgement.  The action sequences are really well done, exciting without causing motion sickness and plotted every bit as well as the story which is intricate and emotional and suspenseful. 

Renner is easy to hate as Coughlin and Jon Hamm is a great FBI foil for our gang of robbers.  He makes it pretty easy to root for the "bad guy" rather than the law which, trust me, is a compliment.  Claire doesn't have a very dynamic part which isn't to say that Hall doesn't do great work, because she does.  But the part isn't exciting or showy and she's mostly there as an emotional anchor and love interest for Ben Affleck who, I am not exaggerating even a little bit, has never been hotter in his entire life.  To wit:

To my great surprise, the real powerhouse performance came from supporting actress Blake Lively playing Renner's drug addicted/dealing, single-mom sister who has a past with Doug.  She is in only a small handful of scenes but her slurring, bleary-eyed portrayal of Krista is pure perfection.  I wouldn't be surprised to see her get an Oscar nom for this role and I wouldn't argue with it either. 

Not only would I recommend everyone see this, I think I might go see it again myself. 

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