Tammy


Susan Sarandon tries to give Melissa McCarthy some career advice.

Susan Sarandon tries to give Melissa McCarthy some career advice.

(2014) Comedy (New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Oh, Ben Falcone, Sarah Baker, Rich Williams, Steve Little, Dakota Lee, Mark L. Young, Mia Rose Frampton, Steve Mallory, Keith Welborn, Oscar Gale, Justin Smith, Barbara Weetman. Directed by Ben Falcone

Sometimes we manage to become people we never intended ourselves to be. Through circumstances that are sometimes entirely out of our control – but not always – we find ourselves being the very people we swore we’d never be. Generally that revelation is accompanied by bitterness and self-loathing.

Tammy (McCarthy) has it in her to be happy but it doesn’t look like she is. She does seem self-possessed on the exterior – belting out renditions of the Outfield’s “Your Love” in her car. Not a cappella and not on the car stereo but from an ancient boombox which may or may not be older than the Toyota Corolla she’s driving. After an unsettling encounter with a deer, her car which was already only a hair or two away from breathing its last gives up the ghost.

Not only that but the deer encounter makes her late for work, which her prissy boss Keith (Falcone) uses as an excuse to fire her. Tammy’s reaction to the news is how you might expect – she’s not the sort to take that kind of thing lying down. Having to walk home essentially she returns home early to find out that her lackadaisical husband Greg (Faxon) is having an affair with a comely neighbor (Collette).

Convinced that she needs to get out of town or go crazy, Tammy heads over to her mom’s (Janney) house. However, her mom won’t lend Tammy her car, nor front her some cash so she can go walkabout. However, her grandmother Pearl (Sarandon) has a Caddy and seven grand that says road trip to Niagara Falls  which Pearl has always wanted to visit.

 

On the surface, this seems like a very bad idea. Tammy is mulish and a wreck – it’s not hard to figure out why her husband would cheat as she has taken zero care of herself and can’t be easy to live with. Worse yet, it turns out grandma is an alcoholic and a bit of a nymphomaniac, getting it on with a Louisville rancher (Cole) while Tammy is forced to sleep outside the hotel room. Only Bobby (Duplass), the sweet son of the rancher who treats Tammy decently – the first man to do so in ages – makes it anything more than excruciating.

The two women’s shenanigans cause them to blow through their cash faster than expected forcing Tammy to take some desperate measures that lead the two of them to go on the lam over at the beautiful home of Tammy’s cousin Lenore (Bates). Lenore, a lesbian who owns a chain of pet food stores and whose partner (Oh) is as sweet as pie, is a no-nonsense sort who sees what’s really going on. When Pearl and Tammy’s problems lead to a painful moment at a Fourth of July party at Lenore’s place, it becomes obvious that Tammy needs to make some changes if she’s ever going to be truly happy. The question is, is it obvious to Tammy?

McCarthy has become a star comedic actress with not only her TV success on Mike & Molly but also a string of hit movies to her credit. She co-wrote this with her husband Falcone who also directed the movie; you’d think it would be an absolute slam dunk.

Sadly, it’s not and it isn’t due to McCarthy the actress who actually does a pretty fine job in a role that is pretty similar to the ones she’s played in the past three movies; foul-mouthed, gross, obnoxious and highly sexual. The trouble is that the role isn’t given depth so much as it’s given mannerisms and the blame lies with McCarthy the writer.

McCarthy the actress isn’t alone in this issue either. None of the characters here are particularly well drawn out,  mostly given a trait and essentially left to flounder with a script conspicuously short on jokes. I get the sense the writers weren’t sure if they wanted a comedy or a heartwarming buddy movie and ended up with neither.

Reading that back, it sounds a little bit harsh and if I’m gonna be honest, there are some laughs here (some of which may be found in the trailer) and if I had to recommend the movie, I could do so grudgingly; McCarthy is an engaging enough actress that she can provide life to any movie no matter how terrible. This isn’t the funniest summer comedy ever but at least it’s better than last year’s truly awful Grown-Ups 2 – now there’s a franchise which could use McCarthy’s talents. In any case, fans of the actress probably will end up liking the movie anyway; she basically has this kind of role down pat enough that she could do it in her sleep. Those who want better from her however will have to wait for the next one.

REASONS TO GO: McCarthy and Sarandon battle gamely through subpar material. Bates does her usual impressive job in support.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks real humor. Could have used some depth in the characters who mainly end up as caricatures.

FAMILY VALUES:  A ton of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sarandon is only 24 years older than McCarthy, who plays her granddaughter. In addition, Janney – who plays Tammy’s mother and Pearl’s daughter – is 13 years younger than Sarandon and 11 years older than McCarthy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/22/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Thelma and Louise

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Begin Again

Bad Words


Spelling bee-yatch.

Spelling bee-yatch.

(2014) Comedy (Focus) Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall, Rachael Harris, Ben Falcone, Steve Witting, Beth Grant, Gwen Parden, Anjul Nigam, Allan Miller, Bob Stephenson, Patricia Belcher, Matthew Zhang, Madison Hu, Michael Patrick McGill, Judith Hoag, Greg Cromer, Kimleigh Smith, Connor Kalopsis, Rachel Taylor. Directed by Jason Bateman

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop screen, trying to come up with a way to start this review. I couldn’t think of anything pithy or wise, so I just thought I’d cheat and lead with how I couldn’t come up with a lede.

Cheating though is something Guy Trilby (Bateman) is not above. At 40 years old, he’s had an unremarkable career as a proofreader with one somewhat quirky but useful skill – an eidetic memory that allows him to remember how every word he sees is spelled.

An indifferent student who never passed the eighth grade, Guy discovers that there’s a loophole that would allow him to enter the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee. Parents are aghast at the 40-year-old man entering a competition meant for children. Dr. Bernice Keagan (Janney), the President of the Golden Quill foundation that runs the Bee, is just as aghast and tries to figure out ways to get Trilby out. The founder of the Golden Quill, gruff academic Dr. William Bowman (Hall) is also appalled, particularly since this is the first year that the Bee will be televised nationally.

Intrepid reporter Jenny Widgeon (Hahn) wants to get to the bottom of what is motivating Guy but instead winds up in the sack with him…more than once. The only one who seems to be making any headway with him is Chaitanya (Chand), a 10-year-old competitor who has been ostracized as nerd his entire life. Like most people, Chaitanya seems to bring out a testy, vulgar response in Guy but for whatever reason he is able to make friends with the 40-year-old man. However, they are still competitors and at least one of them will do whatever it takes to win.

Bateman takes over the director’s chair for the first time in his career and the result is pretty impressive. It doesn’t hurt that he has to work with one of the 2011 Black List screenplays (an annual list of the best unproduced screenplays to that date). He also gets one of the better nice guys in Hollywood and managed to talk him into an unlikable role. I hear he has an “in” with the star.

This is a vulgar, vulgar film with every profanity you can imagine, some of them hurled loose by kids. There is a good deal of sexuality as well including some fairly frenetic sex scenes with Hahn screeching “Don’t look at me!” at Bateman as they copulate. People who are easily offended with foul language and sexuality should be warned that there are plenty of both here.

But beyond that, this is a comedy that hits the funny bone with a sledgehammer. Da Queen almost bust a gut laughing. However, I do have to admit that the kids drove me crazy. Even the one playing Chaitanya, who was better than most of the rest of them, occasionally would get on my nerves, sounding whiny which is the way to get on my nerves the most quickly.

That aside, this is a very funny comedy which may be a bit too mean for some. Certainly the critics have been making mean remarks about it – which I suppose under the circumstances is understandable. If I were you though, I’d ignore those critics and go check it out on your own and make your own opinion.

REASONS TO GO: Hysterically funny. Bateman does a terrific job.

REASONS TO STAY: Chand gets a little whiny in places. May be too raunchy for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  A surfeit of expletives, some brief nudity and plenty of sexual and crude content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the filming took place at the Sportsman’s Lodge in the San Fernando Valley.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Old School

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Noah

New Releases for the Week of March 21, 2014


DivergentDIVERGENT

(Summit) Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer. Directed by Neil Burger

In a future society in which humans are grouped by virtues that they are supposed to exemplify, a young woman discovers she doesn’t fit into any single group but is a combination of many. This makes her dangerous to the government who hunt her down ruthlessly. She joins a mysterious underground group of Divergents who must discover why the government thinks they are so dangerous before they are all eliminated for good.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality)

Bad Words

(Focus) Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall. When a 40-year-old loser who never graduated from the eighth grade enters the National Spelling Bee through a loophole, parents and educators alike are outraged. However, as he develops an unexpected friendship with a 10-year-old competitor, his motivations for doing this soon turn out to be not what anyone expected. While this is only opening at the AMC Downtown Disney this week, it is expected to expand to other theaters in the region on the 28th.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and videos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity)

God’s Not Dead

(Pure|Flix) Willie Robertson, Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, Dean Cain. A devout Christian who is in his freshman year at college is challenged by his philosophy professor to prove the existence of God – or face failing the class. With most of his classmates against him, he finds that he’ll need all of his faith to see him through this challenge. You can bet that there’ll be plenty of church groups seeing this one.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith

Rating: PG (for thematic material, brief violence and an accident scene)

The Grand Budapest Hotel

(Fox Searchlight) Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton. Europe between World Wars was both an elegant place and a dangerous place. A concierge at one of the most opulent hotels of the time takes a lobby boy under his wing, only to become embroiled in the theft of a priceless Renaissance-era painting, the inheritance of an enormous family future and a scandalous murder. While this is only opening at the Regal Winter Park Village this week, it is expected to expand to other theaters in the region on the 28th.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and footage from the premiere here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and violence)

The Muppets Most Wanted

(Disney) Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Stanley Tucci. Kermit the Frog is mistaken for Constantine, the world’s most notorious thief and imprisoned. In the meantime, the nefarious Constantine has taken Kermit’s place and is planning his greatest heist ever. Only the Muppets can stop him – but not all of them are convinced that Constantine isn’t the real Kermit.

See the trailer. clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild action)

New Releases for the Week of March 7, 2014


300:  Rise of an Empire

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

(Warner Brothers) Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell. Directed by Noam Murro

Following the defeat of the 300 Spartans by the Persian army at Thermopylae, the massive invasion force has Athens in its sights and will attack by land and by sea. The Greek general Themistokles will face the same long odds as Leonidas but losing to Xerxes and his vengeful general Artemesia will mean losing all of Greece to the Persian scourge.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, B-roll video and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: R (for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language)

The Great Beauty

(Janus) Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso. A wealthy novelist in Rome contemplates the missed opportunities of his past, the empty existence of his present and the squalor, corruption and beauty that is the Eternal City. Some have called this Fellini-esque but one thing is for certain – this won the Best Foreign Film Golden Globe and Oscar.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: NR

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Allison Janney, Patrick Warburton, Stephen Colbert. The world’s smartest dog lives with his talking boy. However when Sherman (said talking boy) in an attempt to impress his friend Penny takes Mr. Peabody’s time machine out for a spin, he creates an instability in the space-time continuum that will take all of Mr. Peabody’s intellect and courage to fix – not to mention some parenting skills. It must be said however that if my boy created an instability in the space-time continuum, he’d be in time-out until he was forty.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild action and brief rude humor)

Total Siyapaa

(Reliance) Ali Zafar, Yami Gautam, Anupam Kher, Kiron Kher. A young man has fallen in love with an Indian girl living in London. He goes to her parents home for a weekend with the intention of asking for their blessing of the union. They seem to be taking well to him until they find out his dirty little secret – he’s Pakistani. Total chaos ensues as he tries to overcome their prejudices – and his own – in winning back the love of his life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

War of the Worlds: Goliath

(Anderson Digital) Starring the voices of Adrian Paul, Adam Baldwin, Peter Wingfield, Mark Sheppard. Following the unsuccessful Martian invasion of the Victorian era, the human race has attempted to rebuild their shattered world using the captured technology of the defeated Martians. As is the nature of the human nature, a return to “civilization” has meant that we are all at each other’s throats and a war on a global scale – the war to end all wars – is about to erupt after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. All that must be put aside when the Martians return with even more advanced technology and inoculation against the bacteria that killed them the first time. Can we survive another invasion – and more importantly, can we survive ourselves?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG-13 (for fantasy war violence including some disturbing images)

Liberal Arts


Liberal Arts

Happy to be hipsters!

(2012) Dramedy (IFC) Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Burton, Robert Desiderio, Kristen Bush, Ali Ahn, Ned Daunis, Gregg Edelman, Travis Alan McAfee, Angelic Zambrana. Directed by Josh Radnor

 

For those who attend a small liberal arts college (as I did), it becomes a benchmark that takes on a kind of bleary glow through which when looking back suffuses the time in a kind of mellow haze. Certainly I did a lot of growing back then and I learned a lot both in the classrooms but more importantly, outside it. What leadership skills I possess today began their evolution there, at Loyola Marymount (and a shout out to all my fellow Lion alums).

Nostalgia is one thing but at some point everyone has to un-tether the umbilical cord no matter how painful. We can’t just graduate and then stop growing – growth is a lifetime occupation.

This isn’t something Jesse (Radnor) learned in his small liberal arts college. With a degree in English (and a minor in History just to make sure he’s fully unemployable), he has taken a position as an admissions counselor in a New York university. It’s not a job he’s in love with and he kind of goes through life drifting through a sea of disaffection. He surrounds himself with books and thinks himself educated; his girlfriend breaks up with him and isn’t very nice about it.

When he gets a call from his college mentor, Professor Peter Hoberg (Jenkins) asking him to come back to campus and speak at his retirement dinner, Jesse jumps at the chance. Once there, all the memories come flooding back – the days of intellectual stimulation, the feeling of unlimited promise and of course the distinct lack of any sort of responsibility.

He meets 19-year-old sophomore Zibby (Olsen), the free-spirited daughter of a pair of friends of Professor Hoberg. They quickly hit it off, aided and abetted by Nat (Efron), a guy who walks his own path quite deliberately. After irritating Zibby’s roommate (Ahn) by their obvious May-July romance, Jesse returns home.

The two continue exchanging letters and Jesse listens compulsively to a disc of classical music that Zibby burned for him. She invites him back to visit her and he returns but things don’t go as planned. A further encounter with Professor Judith Fairfield (Janney), a romantic poets professor cements Jesse’s confusion. It seems he has a lot of growing up to do after all.

Radnor, who currently enjoys a spot in the popular sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” previously directed, wrote and starred in Happythankyoumoreplease which had some of the same themes of growing up and aging, but this is a far better movie than that. He has likable enough onscreen but not super-memorable; he might be able to carry a movie on his own someday but not at this point in his career.

I liked Olsen a lot in this movie. She really captures the kind of 19-year-old attitude in which the world is her oyster but she’s not quite sure how to crack it open. She sounds wiser than her years but makes some mistakes – one of which might be hooking up with Jesse. Olsen captures the vitality of youth and its accompanying heartbreak. It’s not a “real” performance – Zibby is a bit too self-consciously indie for that – but it’s a real good performance and she’s the one I’ll remember most from the movie.

That’s not to say that Jenkins and Janney don’t have their moments. Their screen time is pretty minimal but both make the most of theirs, Jenkins with a heartrending performance of a man fighting his age, Janney with that arch and imperious but deliciously funny delivery that she specializes in. Efron is surprisingly good as the Yoda-meets-indie hip Nat even though the part is a bit overwritten, and Magaro who plays a tortured genius sort makes good use of his limited onscreen moments.

There is plenty of heart here but maybe a bit too much. The Jesse character is pretty much excoriated by other critics who have disdainfully characterized him as effete and unmanly (using a word synonymous with kitty cats). I disagree; while Jesse is a bit wishy washy and overly romantic in the poetic sense, he’s more of a talker than a doer which some men find to be similar to nails on a chalkboard. I’m not necessarily that way; while he can be incredibly clueless at times, he simply overthinks things and is a bit of an intellectual snob, spending a long portion of the movie debating the merits of reading for fun (which Zibby does with books that are meant to be Stefanie Meyers’ Twilight trilogy) which Jesse is apparently against. Jesse isn’t metrosexual but if he hung out in the Village more, he might be.

This is a flawed movie but ultimately one with its heart in the right place. I found myself thinking of my college days and I imagine if I went back there now and hung out I might be tempted to let myself fall back into that sensibility, although to be honest I don’t much want to which is probably why I don’t think about it much. Those days were pleasant, but they are gone. The people that I met there who touched me are still either in my life or in my heart. The important things I learned in college will be found with them, in those places.

REASONS TO GO: Olsen is invigorating. Janney and Jenkins turn in some solid performances, as does Efron and Magaro.

REASONS TO STAY: Radnor a bit too “mushy.” Lots of heart but maybe too much. Doesn’t have the courage of its convictions.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some thematic concerns as well as implied sexuality, some smoking, some teen drinking and a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The book that Dean carries around with him is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Wallace delivered the commencement speech at Kenyon in May 2005.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. The reviews are pretty much mediocre.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Could Never Be Your Woman

SMALL COLLEGE LOVERS: The college scenes were filmed at Kenyon College in Ohio which is not only Radnor’s alma mater but Janney’s as well.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Three Backyards

New Releases for the Week of November 9, 2012


November 9, 2012

SKYFALL

(Columbia/MGM) Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Helen McCrory, Ola Rapace. Directed by Sam Mendes

James Bond is back, and in an adventure that for the first time looks into the background of M, the mysterious boss of MI-6. When a figure from her past threatens to destroy the British Secret Service, Bond is put on the case in an ordeal that will not only test his loyalty to M but also may cost Bond much more than he could anticipate.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips, interviews and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Spy Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking)

The Imposter

(Indomina) Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker. When a young 13-year-old San Antonio boy disappears without a trace, his family is overjoyed to discover him alive and well and living in southern Spain. At first all seems well, but nagging inconsistencies lead the family to begin to ask questions – and they are wholly unprepared for the answers they receive.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for language)

Liberal Arts

(IFC) Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney. A teacher at a big city university returns to his alma mater when his mentor asks him to speak at his retirement dinner. He gets immersed in the poetry readings, seminars and dining halls of campus but is unprepared for a precocious sophomore whose zest for life and sense of wonder awaken new feelings of possibility and romance in him.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including references, mature thematic material and some teen drinking)

Simon and the Oaks

(Film Arcade) Bill Skarsgaard, Helen Sjoholm, Jan Josef Liefers, Stefan Godicke. The scion of a working class family, an intellectually gifted boy, persuades his reluctant father to allow him to attend a prestigious boarding school. Once there he befriends a Jewish family whose atmosphere of music and culture whose son, yearning to do something with his hands, learns to build boats with his friend’s father. As World War II approaches, the two families will slowly merge in an effort to protect one another and make it through the war in Sweden.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

A Thousand Words


A Thousand Words

Eddie Murphy takes out his frustration after Cliff Curtis reads him some of the reviews of his latest film.

(2012) Fantasy Comedy (DreamWorks) Eddie Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, Clark Duke, Allison Janney, Ruby Dee, Jack McBrayer, Alain Chabat, Lennie Loftin, David Burke, Emmanuel Ragsdale, Eshaya Draper, Sarah Scott Davis, Brian Gallivan, Steven M. Gagnon. Directed by Brian Robbins

 

Words are paramount. We communicate everything with them; civilization would be impossible without them and yet we use them to obfuscate, to twist the truth, to spin lies. Some of us use words as tools; others as weapons. However, words are meaningless without the underlying concepts and emotions behind them. Without truth, words are as empty as the space they fill.

Jack McGill (Murphy) knows all about words. He is a literary agent, one who makes a living selling words. The irony is that Jack isn’t much of a reader. A good book, he tells his youthful assistant Aaron Wiseburger (Duke), is good in the first five pages and the last five pages – everything else in between is just filler.

Jack has his sights set on Dr. Sinja (Curtis), a new age slash kinda Buddhist philosopher who has been gaining an amazing worldwide following. Rumor has it he’s written a book and Jack can see dollar signs all over the puppy. He goes to Sinja’s temple, posing as a follower and wrangles his way into a personal audience with the good Doctor.

Jack makes his pitch and manages to convince Sinja that he has his best interests at heart, that he believes in his message and wants to spread it. The only message that Jack believes in however is the message that money delivers. And that message often gets in the way of his life.

His wife  (or is it girlfriend? this isn’t made clear) Caroline (Washington) wants to live in a house that is more suitable for a family; they are living in what is essentially Jack’s old bachelor pad and Jack who loves the amenities and the view is loathe to give it up for a suburban split-level. Caroline wants Jack to spend more time with their son Tyler (Ragsdale) but Jack’s manic career precludes that. However, he makes time to visit his Alzheimer’s-stricken mom (Dee) in the home on her birthday; she confuses him with his father, who passed away when Jack was a little boy and for that Jack has been unable to forgive him.

One night a Bodhi tree appears in their yard, fully formed with a thousand leaves on it. Jack is puzzled at first but he quickly figures out that for each word that he speaks or writes, a leaf falls. Dr. Sinja explains that once the Bodhi tree loses all its leaves, the tree will die and since Jack is somehow linked to the tree, he will die as well.

The rest of the movie is about Jack’s attempts to communicate non-verbally in a world where he is expected to speak. There is some hilarity because whatever happens to the tree happens to Jack as well; if it’s watered Jack gets wet; if fungicide is sprayed on it, Jack coughs. If squirrels run around its trunk playfully, Jack is tickled. You get my drift.

It also gives Eddie Murphy the opportunity to mug outrageously with twisted lips, eyes as wide as saucers and arched eyebrows. This gives him the look of a black constipated  Don Ameche from Cocoon doing an impression of Bette Davis while auditioning for “Project: Runway.” It’s unsettling to say the least.

This was actually filmed in 2008 (pre-Tower Heist) and is one in a long line of Murphy mis-fires (i.e. Meet Dave, Imagine That, The Adventures of Pluto Nash ad nauseam). This isn’t strictly a family movie but it isn’t very funny either. The sad part is most of the best humor comes from Duke, who made an indelible impression in Hot Tub Time Machine. Murphy has always been one of the better verbal comics and robbing him of his most effective weapon is a ballsy move but one that ultimately doesn’t pay off here.

Hopefully his work on Heist will have generated some better scripts for Murphy, although clearly his Oscar-winning turn in Dreamgirls didn’t. There is plenty of concept here, but the execution is tired and lame. Nothing unexpected happens, there are no laugh-out-loud moments and the comedy is pretty low-brow generally speaking. Movies like this one, which are mediocre at best, make me wonder how long it will be before Murphy’s films start going direct-to-home-video.

REASONS TO GO: There are a few mildly amusing moments. Duke gets most of the laughs.

REASONS TO STAY: Another family-oriented Murphy comedy that isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. All concept and no execution.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there, some sexual dialogue and a bit of drug humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third movie that Murphy has been directed by Robbins in, the first two being Norbit and Meet Dave. It is also the first one of the three not to have the lead character’s name in the title.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 26/100. The reviews are bad, bad, bad!

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Liar, Liar

TREE LOVERS: While the Bodhi tree is a real tree (remarkable for its heart-shaped leaves) the one in the film is not.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Maiden Heist

New Releases for the Week of March 9, 2012


March 9, 2012

JOHN CARTER

(Disney) Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Andrew Stanton

A Civil War veteran finds himself inexplicably transported to a strange new world. No, not Bolivia – Mars. He finds himself caught up in a genocidal civil war there, falling in with an unexpected ally, an eight-foot-tall four-armed green man named Tars Tarkas and the beautiful Martian princess (and more human-looking) Dejah Thoris. Carter will have to confront the demons of his past and learn from them if he is to save himself and Mars. From the series of books by “Tarzan” creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

See the trailer, clips, promos, featurettes and a film short here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action)

A Separation

(Sony Classics) Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat. An Iranian woman initiates divorce proceedings to get custody of her daughter and move away from their home which her husband won’t leave because he is caring for his Alzheimer’s-stricken father. The daughter winds up staying and the man hires a maid to help care for his father, but discovers she’s been lying to him and events begin to escalate beyond control.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material)

A Thousand Words

(Paramount) Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington, Cliff Curtis, Allison Janney. A glib literary agent who prides himself over being able to talk anyone into anything discovers that after failing to get a new age guru for representation that a bodhi tree has miraculously appeared in his yard. For every word the agent speaks, a leaf will fall from the tree and once the tree is bare, both the agent and the tree will die. He will have to use different means of communicating and treasure his words wisely.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor)

Deadline

(Roadside Attractions) Eric Roberts, Steve Talley, J.D. Souther, Anna Felix.  An investigative journalist re-opens a case of an African-American boy who had been murdered twenty years earlier. The case had never been properly investigated and thus the murderer had gone uncharged for the crime, let alone punished for it. Inspired by actual events, the movie is based on a novel called “Grievances” by Mark Ethridge.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True-Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language, some violence and thematic material)

Friends With Kids

(Roadside Attractions) Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig.  A group of young twenty-somethings who have been friends for awhile have mostly paired off. The last two singles in the group observe the effect of kids on the lives of their friends and decide they want a child of their own – they just don’t want to get married to each other so they decide to have a kid together – and date other people.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language)

Silent House

(Open Road) Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross. A young woman and her father decide to renovate their secluded lake house. While there they are mysteriously sealed in and all contact with the outside world cut off and soon strange and terrifying things begin to occur as they soon realize that their lives are in mortal danger in this silent place. The movie is presented as a single uninterrupted shot taking place in real time and is based on an Uruguayan movie of the same name that was their country’s official Foreign Language Oscar submission last year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use)

Finding Nemo


Finding Nemo

Dude! Have you seen Nemo?

(2003) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Bana, John Ratzenberger. Directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

 

You might think that being a clownfish is all fun and games, but it’s a dangerous ocean out there. Just ask Marlin (Brooks). He had it all — a beautiful home with a view, a loving wife, and a brood of kids on the way.

However, a chance predator takes out nearly everything, leaving Marlin with just one son, Nemo (Gould), and Marlin swears that nothing will happen to Nemo as long as daddy is around.

Time passes, and it’s time for little Nemo to head out to school. However, his overprotective dad has Nemo seeing red, and so the little fish with the half-formed fin ventures out farther than he should — and is caught by a dentist looking for a new addition to his tropical fish collection.

Doggedly, Marlin sets out to bring his boy home. He is aided by Dory (DeGeneres), a loopy bluefish with short-term memory loss that occasionally jeopardizes Marlin’s mission. But the plucky Dory sticks with him, and turns out to be a valuable ally, even with her problems remembering what happened just a few minutes before.

Meanwhile, Nemo is attempting an escape of his own, aided by several denizens of the fish tank, notably the only one among them who had actually lived out in the open ocean, Gill (Willem Dafoe). Marlin must navigate through the ocean’s natural dangers, ranging from a minefield of beautiful (but deadly) jellyfish, to a trio of sharks undergoing a twelve-step program to become, well, friendlier to fish.

The environment created by Pixar is even more enchanting than the undersea world of Disney’s other waterlogged animations, The Little Mermaid and Atlantis, mainly because it seems more real. The sequence with the current-surfing turtles is one of the best Pixar has ever come up with. In many ways, this is the most Disney-esque of the animated features Pixar has done, which, considering that director Andrew Stanton was responsible for A Bug’s Life – quite frankly the weakest Pixar movie to date – is not surprising.

Although Finding Nemo has gotten universally excellent reviews (including from my spouse Da Queen, who quite firmly stated that this is an Animation classic), I found it to be less engaging than the great majority of their films. While I can understand the popularity of the movie (and like DeGeneres, wonder when the inevitable sequel is coming), I just didn’t connect with it.

Albert Brooks has always struck me as kind of a poor man’s Woody Allen (making him, I suppose, a rich man’s Richard Lewis), somewhat neurotic and pessimistic, which suits Marlin well enough, but can get on the nerves over the course of 101 minutes. Dory is the best-drawn (excuse the pun) of the characters here; she is certainly handicapped by her memory problems, but never allows it to get her down. She turns out to be a loyal friend, something Marlin desperately needs.

Don’t get me wrong; the kids are going to love this, and adults will find some of it spectacular at times. Like nearly every Pixar movie, this one has enough subtext (particularly in the humor) to keep the attention of the big kids, and enough eye candy to keep the attention of the smaller kids. It was one of the big winners in the 2003 box office derby, and a big shot-in-the-arm for Disney’s flagging animated feature fortunes (particularly after the dismal performance of Treasure Planet). Pixar next released The Incredibles which even now is my favorite Pixar film ever, superhero geek that I am. You have every reason to see this movie, but be warned that at least for my part, I had a difficult time loving this as much as I have other Pixar movies. Perhaps therein lies my own problem – my expectations. You may want to go into this without any. You may enjoy it more than I did.

If you have kids, expect this to be a staple in your video library – if it isn’t now, there’s a good chance it will be at some point. No kids? You’ll still want to see some of the spectacular underwater scenes anyway and you’ll appreciate DeGeneres’ kooky performance.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous backgrounds and authentic undersea settings. DeGeneres makes Dory one of Pixar’s most memorable characters. Crush and the turtles make one of the most breathtaking segments Pixar’s ever done.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Marlin is a bit too neurotic to be an enjoyable lead. Is less compelling than other Pixar classics.

FAMILY MATTERS: Are you kidding? This is Disney…of course it’s perfectly suitable for the entire family!

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The waiting room in the dentist’s office was modeled after one near the Pixar studios in Emeryville, California.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The special edition DVD, like most Disney home video, is loaded with special features including the animated short Knick Knack which played in the theaters alongside Finding Nemo. There’s also an interactive game, a studio tour of Pixar Studios and a hilarious featurette called “Exploring the Reef” hosted by Jean-Michel Cousteau which purports to be a serious feature about the Great Barrier Reef but Cousteau constantly gets interrupted by characters from the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $867.9M on a $94M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster in every sense of the word.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: We Bought a Zoo

The Help


The Help

Viola Davis is tired of Emma Stone asking what it's like to be nominated for an Oscar.

(2011) Period Drama (DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Often those who work as domestic servants are relegated to being background characters, even in real life. They clean the houses of their employers, cook their food and even raise their children, but their stories are rarely told. That’s especially true of the African-American domestics of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s as America stood on the cusp of the civil rights movement.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Stone) has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss with her head stuffed with the dreams of being a writer. Her mother Charlotte (Janney) has different dreams for her daughter; mainly of getting married, something Skeeter isn’t eager to do. Her friends mostly already have and can’t figure out why on earth a good looking girl like Skeeter remains unhitched.

Skeeter is surprised that her longtime nanny and maid Constantine (Tyson) is gone. According to her parents, Constantine has gone to Chicago to be with her family there but Skeeter senses that there is something she’s not being told. She holds her tongue however, considering her mother is battling cancer. Skeeter is also far too busy starting a new job as the columnist for the (fictional) Jackson Journal dispensing housecleaning tips.

Her friend Hilly Holbrook (Howard) has become something of a community leader, head of the local Junior League and writer and proponent of a bill that specifies that the hired help in Jackson homes must have separate toilet facilities. This doesn’t sit well with her maid Millie (Spencer), who doesn’t appreciate being sent out in a hurricane to use an outdoor commode. When she pretends to use the family restroom, she is shown the door much to the chagrin of Hilly’s mom (Spacek) who was Millie’s actual employer.

Millie is the best cook in Jackson so it won’t take her long to get another position, this time with Celia Foote (Chastain), a wrong-side-of-the-tracks blonde who is married to an ex-boyfriend of Hilly’s and has thus earned social shunning. Celia knows nothing of cleaning house or cooking, and she desperately needs someone who can train her in both, or at least convince her husband Johnny (Vogel) that she knows something.

Also in Skeeter’s circle is Elizabeth Leefolt (O’Reilly) whose young daughter Mae is being raised by Aibileen (Davis), who has raised seventeen white babies while her own son died recently. She keeps her grief to herself, pouring herself into taking care of the family she works for. She notices that Elizabeth doesn’t really interact with her daughter much, rarely picking her up and Mae has become as a result way more attached to Aibileen.

Skeeter is aware of Aibileen’s reputation as a housekeeper and asks Elizabeth permission to talk to Aibileen so she can get help writing her column. Elizabeth is reluctant and puts a stop to the conversations after a single session but Skeeter becomes fascinated by Aibileen and has the brilliant idea to write the stories of the domestics of Jackson and make a book out of them. Her publishing contact in New York (Steenburgen) agrees but is skeptical that given the climate in Jackson that Skeeter will see much co-operation.

It initially appears that the publisher is right when Aibileen refuses Skeeter but after a particularly impassioned sermon by the local pastor (Oyelowo) inspires Aibileen to change her mind. Aibileen also recruits her friend Millie and soon Skeeter is getting some pretty subversive stuff, things that are going to shake up Jackson to the core.

This is based by the 2009 bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett whose childhood friend Taylor adapted the work for the screen and directed. Taylor does a fair job with it, framing the story in the turbulent times; we see clips of Medgar Evers (and see the devastating effects of his murder on the community) as well as JFK and Martin Luther King. The archival footage dos help set the time and place.

It is the acting that is the real reason to see this movie. Davis in particular becomes the center of the movie and Stone, who is the erstwhile lead, seems to realize that and generously allows Davis to shine at her own expense. That turns out to be a good move for the film; Davis carries it. Her quiet dignity and expressive eyes are at the center of the movie. For my money, it’s an Oscar-caliber performance and I sure hope the Academy remembers her work come nomination time.

That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast isn’t impressive as well. Stone takes Skeeter and gives her sass and character. At times the character is written as kind of the “white person saving the black person” cliche, but Stone elevates it above stock character status. Speaking of sass, Spencer just about defines the term in her portrayal of Minnie who comes off as very spunky but there are moments when she reveals her inner pain, suffering in an abusive relationship and unsure of herself.

Howard has the juiciest role here, that of the hysterical racist Hilly. Howard has had some decent performances in a variety of movies, but this might be her finest. She captures the pettiness and vitriol of the part and her expression when Millie’s “terrible awful” is revealed is priceless.

Veterans Steenburgen, Janney and Spacek lend further credibility to the film which is well acted from top to bottom. There are moments of genuine comedy (the terrible awful) as well as some heartstring tuggers (when Aibileen reveals to Skeeter what happened to her son). Mostly, you get a sense of the attitudes towards African-Americans of the era. We’ve come a long way since then, but we still have a very long way to go (as evidenced in the treatment of our President and the continued use of racial profiling). The Help isn’t the best movie of the year but it is on a very, very short list.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances and compelling source material. Drama, comedy, pathos; this movie has something for everybody.

REASONS TO STAY: Can be emotionally manipulative in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The thematic material is on the mature side; younger kids may not understand the historical context but for teens who might be learning about the civil rights movement this makes for some fine viewing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The book the movie is based on was rejected 60 times before finally being published, a testament to persistence by author Kathryn Stockett.

HOME OR THEATER: As studio films go this one’s pretty intimate but the shared experience factor tends to make me lean towards theater for this one.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: GasLand