Scream 4


Scream 4

Sometimes, a rave in a barn can be a Scream.

(2011) Horror Comedy (Dimension) Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Eric Knudson, Marley Shelton, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Mary McConnell, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell. Directed by Wes Craven

 

New generation, new rules. The Scream franchise made its reputation for slyly skewering the conventions of horror movies (as well as any number of good-looking 20-somethings playing teens) while retaining a certain amount of hip cachet.

But that was back in the ’90s. Depending on who you talk to, Scream set off a whole new generation of innovative new horror films or were the final hurrah of a golden age of horror films (the 70s and 80s). Since then, horror films particularly in Hollywood have degenerated into mostly remakes of standards or soap operas about vampires (although there is a very strong underground horror movement in which exciting and innovative films continue to be made, some here in the United States but also in Europe and Asia). So, is it a ripe time for writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven to bring the Ghostface out of mothballs and turn their poisoned pens on a moribund industry again?

Woodsboro, the bucolic small town of the first Scream trilogy, has been immortalized and yet traumatized by the murders there 15 years earlier. The survivor of the murders, Sidney Franklin (Campbell) is returning after a ten year absence to promote her book. Gale Weathers-Riley (Cox) has settled down and married Dewey Riley (Arquette) who is now the sheriff. Gale, whose books became the lucrative basis of the Stab motion picture series, is suffering from writers block and might be just a hair jealous of Sidney’s success.

A pair of comely high school girls are murdered by Ghostface and evidence planted in Sidney’s car, leading her to be forced to stay in Woodsboro much to the chagrin of her agent Rebecca Walters (Brie). Sidney is staying with her aunt Kate Roberts (McDonnell) and her cousin Jill (Roberts) who is dealing with break-up issues with her boyfriend Trevor Sheldon (Tortorella). Jill and her friends Kirby (Panettiere) and Olivia (Jaffe) have received threatening Ghostface phone calls. They enlist the local movie club president Charlie Walker (Culkin) and Dewey’s Keystone Kops (or in this case, Demented Deputies) Hicks (Shelton), Hoss (Brody) and Perkins (Anderson) to keep Sidney alive and catch the killer. However, this is a reboot and the rules, if any, are far more different.

There are those who complained that the originally trilogy of Scream films overstayed their welcome and I have to admit that there’s a point there. The first movie was massive fun, marvelously self-aware and yet managed to have its cake and eat it too in that it made fun of all of the clichés of horror and yet it used them too when it suited the movie.

There is an attractive cast here but the movie is dually focused on Sidney’s gang (Campbell, Cox and Arquette) as well as Jill’s group (Roberts, Panettiere and Culkin). That might sound like Craven’s trying to pass the torch to a new generation but that really isn’t the case. At the end of the day, this is Sidney’s story to tell and Neve Campbell for better or for worse is Sidney. I’ve never found the character of Sidney to be anything more than the generic plucky horror heroine and to be honest I’ve never really thought Campbell has imbued the character with much of a personality, which to be fair has always kind of been the point – most of the quips and snappy dialogue have really gone to other characters in the series.

Arquette, always the comic foil of the series, still plays Dewey like a kind of stoned Barney Fife. It can be endearing in places, and annoying in others. Still, I think Dewey has kind of matured in a way the other characters here haven’t which is a bit of a plus.

The main question is whether the traditional teen audience for horror films will get behind a movie that features lead characters that are essentially in their 30s and even (gasp) 40s and I don’t think they really embraced the franchise the way the previous generation did. The reveal of the true identity of Ghostface, supposed to be a shocker, didn’t really deliver the punch the first movie’s reveal did and by the time the movie ended I was actually kind of bored.

The movie captures enough of the essence of the first film that I can give it a recommendation with some caveats in that the original still delivers the goods, even if the audience for it has moved on. Revisiting Woodsboro isn’t a bad thing in and of itself however, and if a Scream 5 is ever made I’ll probably see it (although Da Queen won’t). Not a glowing testimonial I know, but it’s all that I got.

WHY RENT THIS: Actors settle into their roles nicely. Great seeing Campbell-Arquette-Cox combo again.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Didn’t really capture my imagination. Seems a bit “more of the same.”

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of blood, gore and violence (as you would predict from a Wes Craven horror film), a bit of bad language and some teen drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The third consecutive movie in which Rory Culkin has been in a movie that Emma Roberts was in (the others being Lymelife and Twelve

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a promo for the Scream 4 video game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $97.1M on a $40M production budget; the movie made a bit of a profit at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scary Movie

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Tillman Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story


It's Kind of a Funny Story

Zach Galifianakis tries to pretend he's listening to Keir Gilchrist

(2010) Dramedy (Focus) Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Zoe Kravitz, Aasif Mandvi, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Jeremy Davies, Bernard White, Jared Goldstein, Alan Aisenberg, Thomas Mann, Rosalyn Coleman.  Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

The human mind is a funny thing and never is it funnier than when we are adolescents. I’m not talking funny ha-ha here, but the other kind of funny. That dichotomy in term makes the title of this movie a double entendre that is worth considering before viewing it.

Craig (Gilchrist) is a young 15 year old boy who feels unbelievable pressure, particularly from his dad (Gaffigan) to achieve. That pressure has become so intense that he is considering taking a swan dive off the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead, he calls a suicide prevention line and is directed to a local hospital where a doctor (Mandvi) evaluates him.

Although the doc is reluctant to, Craig insists on being kept there and finally the doctor agrees when Craig threatens to kill himself if discharged. What Craig doesn’t realize is that the observation is five days, not the several hours he thought it would be – and the teen wing is being renovated so the teens were scattered among the adult psychiatric population.

He is taken under the wing of Bobby (Galifianakis), someone who has been there awhile and whose marriage and relationship with his daughter is crumbling. Still, Bobby knows all the ins and outs of the system and encourages Craig to follow his dream and as it turns out, Craig’s dreams are a whole lot different than the ones his father and mother (Graham) have for him.

He falls for a girl (Roberts) who’s pretty messed up but a better fit for him than the uptight Nia (Kravitz) whom he has a big time crush on and who has been dating his best friend. Strangely, Craig’s incarceration has made him a celebrity among his classmates and rather thinking him  a freak, they think him more of a rebel and a hero.

This comes from the acclaimed directing team that directed Half-Nelson and Sugar. This is the first movie the team of Boden and Fleck have made that wasn’t an original screenplay. It is also a bit more comedic than their first two efforts, although there were certainly elements of comedy in Sugar. Here, the big star is not necessarily the focus of the movie (Craig is) and unfortunately, while that may be a bold move it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Galifianakis is especially good here. Most of us know him from his comedic roles as in Due Date and the Hangover movies but he shows surprising dramatic range here. He creates sympathy for Bobby who has made some very major mistakes that he might not be able to come back from. Still he manages to put up the veneer which crumbles if prodded too much.

Davis is also fine as Craig’s psychiatrist. She has that irritating manner that some psychiatrists have of being so non-committal as to be almost not human. Not that Davis is non-human here – she does show her humanity in spots – but her objectivity remains clear throughout. It’s an impressive performance in a role that might not get noticed for it. Veteran character actors Davies and Mandvi bring some quirkiness to their roles.

Roberts and Kravitz are both young performers with impeccable pedigrees (Roberts with father Eric and aunt Julia, Kravitz with father Lenny and mother Lisa Bonet) and bright futures. Although they are basically there to be played off of one another and to make a tug-of-war situation with Craig’s heartstrings. Roberts plays against type as a kind of tattooed rebel girl while Kravitz plays the self-centered object of Craig’s affections. Both are memorable in roles which could very easily have been forgotten if left in the hands of less capable actresses.

The trouble with the movie here is that it seems to take a long time meandering down the garden path with apparently no fixed destination and in no particular hurry to get there. Worse still, the path looks strangely familiar and you’ll probably recognize your own footprints on it. That’s not a good feeling when you’re taking your time to get to a destination that you suspect is going to be a place you’ve already visited dozens of times.

There are enough good performances here to make the movie worth your time, but the script holds it back from being a real major release. Still, it’s encouraging to see Galifianakis give such a layered performance. It bodes well for the man’s future in Hollywood, which gets rosier with every film he makes.

WHY RENT THIS: Galifianakis shows some surprising range in his first real dramatic role. Fine supporting work from Davies, Davis, Kravitz, Mandvi and Roberts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat formulaic with a predictable outcome.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of sex and drugs and language, and the overall theme is on the mature side.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the “Under Pressure” montage, Craig is dressed as Vanilla Ice who notoriously sampled the bass line for his “Ice Ice Baby.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some footage from the New York red carpet premiere.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.5M on an $8M production budget; the movie was a financial flop.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Tangled

New Releases for the Week of June 17, 2011


June 17, 2011

GREEN LANTERN

(Warner Brothers) Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan. Directed by Martin Campbell

A cocky test pilot (is there any other kind?) is drawn into a galactic conflict after an alien hands him a ring that has the power to convert thought into reality. He becomes a member of a corps of heroes who protect the universe from evil, but they are facing a threat more powerful than any they’ve ever seen before. Not only is the earth in peril from this enemy but there are enemies at home that are compounding the threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Superhero

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

The Art of Getting By

(Fox Searchlight) Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Blair Underwood, Rita Wilson. A spoiled teen who has managed to reach his senior year of high school without doing a day’s work, faces the onset of the real world. He meets a young woman who sees past his facade and takes a liking to him, although she has issues of her own. Together they try to weather the storms of adolescence and learn the difficult art of getting by.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including sexual content, language, teen drinking and partying)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

(20th Century Fox) Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Philip Baker Hall, Clark Gregg. A man who has become so career-driven that he has lost sight of why he is working in the first place inherits six penguins from his arctic explorer Uncle. Ready to send them to the zoo at first, he discovers that the penguins are helping him re-discover what’s important. Now if he can only keep them out of the hands of the zookeeper…

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and language)

The Tree of Life

(Fox Searchlight) Brat Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going. A man has to resolve his complex and often difficult relationship with his father. Adrift in the modern world, seeking answers involving faith, science and man’s place in the universe, he finds himself on the cusp of wonders, discoveries that will change everything – but not his past. This is the most recent from respected director Terrence Malick; it recently won the coveted Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and has been as controversial as it has been acclaimed.

See the trailer and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

New Releases for the Week of October 8, 2010


Secretariat

It's Secretariat by a nose!

SECRETARIAT

(Disney) Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Fred Thompson, Dylan Baker, Kevin Connolly, James Cromwell, Margo Martindale. Directed by Randall Wallace

This is the story of one of the most revered horses in the history of racing, Secretariat, who became one of the most dominant horses ever, becoming the first to win the Triple Crown in 35 years and setting course records that still stand. Director Randall Wallace has made quite a career doing movies about sports underdogs, and this one may well be one of his best yet.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Biographical Drama

Rating: PG (for brief mild language)

Buried

(Lionsgate) Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowski, Samantha Mathis, Robert Paterson. A contractor whose assignment has taken him to Afghanistan wakes up to find himself buried alive. Armed with only a cell phone and a lighter, he somehow has to find a way to get someone to rescue him before his air runs out in 90 minutes. This was a major hit at Sundance and looks to be one of the better suspense films of the year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for language and some violent content)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

 (Focus) Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis. A troubled young man decides to check himself into a mental institution, only to discover that he must reside on the adult wing due to construction on the teen wing. He is then taken under the wing of a quirky inmate, and a strong bond develops with each one being the perfect therapy for the other.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language)

Khaleja

(Ficus) Mahesh Babu, Anushka, Prakash Raj, Suneel. An industrialist discovers iridium in the location where he is building his plastic factory, and in order to get his hands on the valuable element decides to marry off his daughter to the son of a local magistrate and thus gain the land as a dowry.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: NR

Life As We Know It

(Warner Brothers) Josh Duhamel, Katherine Heigl, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks. Two people who can’t stand each other are named by their best friends as guardians to their baby when their friends are killed in an accident. The two are at each other’s throats initially, but grow to realize that they need to work together for the good of the baby. 

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

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

My Soul to Take

(Rogue) Max Theriot, John Magaro, Emily Meade, Nick Lashaway. Master horror director Wes Craven returns with a new movie that will sure make this Halloween season more nightmare-inducing. Six teens born on the night that a serial killer was executed find themselves being picked off one by one. Could one of them be the killer, or is something supernatural going on? 

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and pervasive language including sexual references)

Never Let Me Go

(Fox Searchlight) Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling. Based on a novel by the Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day), the movie concerns some students at an idyllic English boarding school that hides a terrible secret about the future of the students and the meaning of humanity in general.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Drama

Rating: R (for some sexuality and nudity)

New Releases for the Week of August 6, 2010


August 6, 2010

Will Ferrell has Mark Wahlberg fit to be tied.

THE OTHER GUYS

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Eva Mendez, Michael Keaton, Ray Stevenson. Directed by Adam McKay

Danson and Manzetti are the city’s two most celebrated cops, collaring bad guy after bad guy. Gamble and Holtz aren’t quite up to their level; Gamble is a forensic accountant who would much rather sit in the office analyzing the paper trail, while Holtz has been banished to being Gamble’s partner after an itchy trigger finger put him in hot water with the Captain. These two unlikeliest of heroes will be called upon to save the day but as things usually do for the other guys, things don’t go quite the way they intend them to. McKay and Farrell have previously teamed up for movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

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

The Girl Who Played With Fire

(Music Box) Roomi Napace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Sofia Ledarp. The second installment in the Millennium trilogy penned by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson sees the publisher of Millennium magazine, who has made his living exposing corruption in high places, throwing himself once more into the fray when a young journalist comes to him with a story of sex trafficking in Sweden that goes up to the highest levels of authority. During the investigation, the computer hacker who works with the publisher is accused of three brutal murders, forcing her to go on the run while the publisher clears her name. The two stories turn out to be interrelated. The first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, made serious waves in the indie film circuit and is being remade into a major studio property being directed by David Fincher scheduled for release on December 23, 2011. The third of the Swedish films, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest will see a limited American release this fall.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Step Up 3D

(Touchstone) Adam Sevani, Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Alyson Stoner. A group of street dancers from the Bronx team up with a freshman at NYU to take on the world in a global breakdancing showdown that will change their lives forever. One wonders how relevant a movie is when their official website is a MySpace page.

See the trailer, featurettes, music videos and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Twelve

(Hannover House) Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kiefer Sutherland. A high school dropout turned drug dealer is living the good life; his Upper East Side clientele of boarding school preppies are keeping his business booming and he is able to successfully hide his secret life from his girlfriend. Things take an ugly turn when a new recreation drug du jour called Twelve is introduced into the market and his cousin is brutally murdered on an East Harlem playground. Now he is going to have to survive in a world he’s woefully ill-equipped to handle. This is based on the controversial novel by Nick McDonnell.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong drug content, alcohol abuse, language, sexual material, brief nudity and some violence – all involving teens)

Hotel for Dogs


Hotel for Dogs

Proof positive that Hollywood is going to the dogs.

(DreamWorks) Emma Roberts, Lisa Kudrow, Don Cheadle, Jake T. Austin, Kyla Pratt, Kevin Dillon, Johnny Simmons, Troy Gentile, Ajay Naidu. Directed by Thor Freudenthal

I will admit to a severe soft spot for dogs. Put a few dogs in a movie and it’s an automatic win for me. Keep that in mind as you read on, gentle reader.

Andi (Roberts) and Bruce (Austin) are orphans as well as brother and sister. They live with a pair of dopey foster parents, Carl (Dillon) and Lois (Kudrow) who has aspirations of rock stardom with a slightly more ambitious reach than their talent is able to grasp. Lois’ idea of cooking is heating up the most disgusting frozen dinners imaginable, which the two understandably leave uneaten more often than not.

For someone wanting a rock and roll lifestyle, Lois has a fair amount of rigid rules for her charges to live by, one of which includes no pets. This is bad news as the two are devoted to their dog Friday, a lovable mutt taken to getting his meals wherever he can. He, like most dogs, is also prone to getting into mischief at the most inopportune times which makes keeping his presence secret from Lois and Carl a bit harder. However, fortunately for Andi and Bruce, the two of them are idiots so they manage to keep Friday nearby.

Although basically good kids at heart, Andi and Bruce have a penchant for getting into trouble, which keeps their long-suffering social worker Bernie (Cheadle) busy. He warns them, after the latest incident, that they can’t afford to alienate their current foster parents as keeping the two of them together would be next-to-impossible if they were returned to the orphanage.

On one of Friday’s misadventures, he is picked up by the local pound which gives people only 72 hours to pick up their pets before euthanizing them. The kids manage to get Friday out of there, only to have him lead them to an abandoned hotel where a couple of other homeless mutts reside. The soft-hearted Bruce convinces the more practical Andi that they could care for the three dogs there, and as you might expect the three dogs become more dogs right quickly.

Pet store employees Dave (Simmons) and Heather (Pratt), both seemingly cast out of the Disney Channel/Nickelodeon school of cute tweeners (although only Pratt has television experience, on the Disney Channel series “The Proud Family” as well as the BET series “One on One”), stumble onto the situation and are enlisted to help, as is would-be ladies man Mark (Gentile). In order to better care for the dogs, Bruce designs and constructs elaborate devices that take care of specific needs; means of feeding the dogs, disposing of their – ahem – waste products, throwing tennis balls and even a simulator to allow the dogs the sensation of driving in a car.

Like any kids movies, there are always mean-spirited adults wanting to spoil the fun of the kids and this movie is no exception, with the foster parents and the testosterone-overload head of the dog pound Jake (Naidu). The kids will need to use all their wiliness to outwit the adults…all right, it really doesn’t take much.

This is somewhat loosely based on a children’s book by Lois Duncan, who also penned the book that was made into I Know What You Did Last Summer, a teenage suspense novel that Hollywood turned into a slasher flick. Duncan openly despises that adaptation; I suspect she’s a bit more sanguine about this film which is far more harmless.

The devices invented by Bruce are marvelous and make for the best moments in the movie. Even hard-hearted adult critics will get a kick out of them, not to mention the young kids that are the target audience of the film. Also, the main dog actors are given distinct personalities and make for some real “awwww” viewing. The young juvenile actors are pretty much as you’d expect; white-bread, bland and freshly scrubbed. Pratt obviously got the memo that has circulated around Hollywood that all African American teen girls are to be portrayed as sassy and full of ‘tude.

Dillon and Kudrow, both marvelous actors in their own right, overplay their roles which is essentially the only option they had. Only Cheadle, one of the best in the business, comes off as sympathetic among the adult cast, and he makes of his role something better than it was supposed to be, with a nice little speech near the end.

My problem with most kidflicks of this ilk are that they have the same basic premise; kids are wise and committed, adults are stupid and greedy which means that the kids will win every time. I don’t have a problem with depicting kids as cause-committed or even smart, but I get tired of adults being portrayed as buffoons in movies – how are kids supposed to respect the adults in their lives when they are constantly told on television and in movies that adults are neither to be trusted nor respected? I wonder if that doesn’t have a lot to do with some of the problems that the last couple of generations have had in terms of dealing with authority and rules, as well as with issues of frustration and instant gratification. Then again, I’m getting to be a grumpy old man.

Still, this is pretty harmless stuff and even entertaining in places. As I said earlier, I’m a sucker for a movie with dogs and when you throw in the kids, W.C. Fields is probably rotating in his grave. Certainly this makes for good viewing if you want to keep your kids occupied for an afternoon.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s dogs. Some fun Rube Goldberg-like devices.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Typical kidflick conceit of stupid adults/smart kids.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of doggie doo-doo humor but otherwise suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the more than 70 dogs used in the movie were actually rescued from the pound. Several of them were adopted by crew members after filming wrapped.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a feature on the planning and execution of the doggie gadgets shown in the movie. As a nice touch, there’s a public service announcement on adopting pets from your local shelter. There’s also a linked website that will allow you to insert pictures of your own dog into a cover insert as well as into a special downloadable trailer.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Valentine’s Day


Valentine's Day

Jennifer Garner finds out what Demi Moore already knows - Ashton Kutcher delivers.

(New Line) Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Alba, Queen Latifah, Emma Roberts, Jessica Biel, Hector Elizondo, Topher Grace, George Lopez, Eric Dane, Taylor Lautner, Patrick Dempsey, Anne Hathaway, Taylor Swift, Bradley Cooper, Kathy Bates, Bryce Robinson, Larry Miller. Directed by Garry Marshall

There are many who consider Valentine’s Day to be a “Hallmark holiday,” an artificial occasion that prompts the sale of chocolate, jewelry and flowers, as well as dinner reservations. It is a day for those who are single and not seeing anyone to be reminded painfully of that fact, and for the unromantic to give their best shot at actual wooing.

It is a sunny day in Los Angeles on February 14, which means that the florists of the Southland are going to be hella busy. For Reed Bennett (Kutcher) who inherited his flower shop from his grandparents, it’s going to be a little different; this morning he has proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and she’s said yes. His best friend Alphonso (Lopez) is happy but seems surprised she accepted his proposal.

Schoolteacher Julia Fitzpatrick (Garner) is awakened by her boyfriend, handsome cardiologist Dr. Harrison Copeland (Dempsey) who is unfortunately flying up to San Francisco to perform surgery there and will have to miss his Valentine’s Day rendezvous with his deliriously happy girlfriend. Still, he leaves her with a cute little memento.

Liz (Hathaway) and Alex (Grace) have had a night of incredible sex; they’ve only been going together for a couple of weeks but things look very promising. He is a bit of a nebbish from Indiana and she is a sophisticated L.A. woman who has kept from him that in order to help pay off her student loans, she is also working as a phone sex operator while she works as an assistant to bitchy high-powered sports agent Paula Thomas (Latifah) whose star client, quarterback Sean Jackson (Dane) has just been let go by his ballclub. Sean’s publicist Kara Monahan (Biel) is working on spin control at the same time she is planning her annual “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party. Terminally single, she commiserates with buddy Kelvin Moore (Foxx), the second sportscaster at a local television station whose station manager (Bates) is relaying instructions from on high that more fluff pieces are wanted and Moore, who doesn’t believe in romance, finds himself doing a piece on romance in L.A.

For romance, he could have looked no farther than one of Julia’s students, Edison (Robinson) who has a big crush on someone at his school and hires Reed to send some flowers there. He is staying with his grandparents (MacLaine, Elizondo) because his mother is away. The grandmother has just revealed something to the grandfather that is a game-changer in their relationship. Edison’s babysitter (Emma Roberts) is contemplating having sex with her boyfriend and her best friend (Swift) is head over heels over track star Willy (Lautner). In the meantime, a businessman (Cooper) and an army captain (Roberts) are sitting next to each other on a flight home.

Just another day in L.A., no? No. It’s a day on which romance will bloom for some, wither for others and make unexpected turns for all of them. Some of these relationships will not survive the stress and pressure of Valentine’s Day.

Marshall and writer Katherine Fugate have crafted a sort of American version of Love, Actually and quite frankly, it doesn’t measure up. For one thing, there are far too many threads going on here and quite frankly about half of them are unnecessary. That forces many of these relationships to be given short shrift in terms of screen time so we don’t get the opportunity to become invested in them. We didn’t really need two high school romances, nor did we need multiple anti-Valentines Day cynics in the mix. One gets the feeling that there were stars who called Marshall and said “I want in” and Marshall had his writer add another vignette to accommodate them.

Surprisingly, Kutcher proves to be the most winning actor on this fairly distinguished list. He is at heart a really nice guy, and he is the real glue that holds this entire handmade Valentine together. His relationships with Garner, Lopez, Robinson and Alba are all well-thought through and work nicely. Lopez is also impressive as the somewhat clumsy but lovable sidekick. Julia Roberts, one of the biggest stars in the world, shows why as the captain coming home to the love of her life. She is alternately warm and sweet as well as cold and sandpapery. Not Oscar-winning material mind you but compelling nonetheless.

I’m a sucker for a good romantic movie, as Da Queen can attest – Love, Actually and About a Boy are two of my favorites, and I watch them regularly on DVD. Although this movie has it’s share of sweetness, it won’t bear the same repeated viewings on home video for me. There’s just too much going on and despite the talented actors who do their best in roles that are just not that well-developed, not a lot here to love.

REASONS TO GO: A star-studded cast and a lot of awww moments. Kutcher does a nice job of being the glue that holds this movie together.

REASONS TO STAY: While some of the pairings work from a chemistry standpoint, not all of them do. It seemed to me there are too many vignettes going on for the movie’s own good.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of sexuality, as well as some partial nudity but nothing very naughty. Indeed, this movie is suitable for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Julia Roberts’ last name in the movie, Hazeltine, is a combination of her daughter’s names; Hazel and Valentine. Also, on Alex’s phone the date “Monday, February 14” is plainly seen. Since Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, we have to assume that the movie takes place in 2011, the next year that Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a movie to be seen cuddling on the couch with someone you love.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Starting Out in the Evening

Lymelife


Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts discuss the pitfalls of having relatives more famous than themselves.

Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts discuss the pitfalls of having relatives more famous than themselves.

(Screen Media) Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Jill Hennessy, Cynthia Nixon, Kieran Culkin, Adam Scarimbolo, Logan Huffman, Brandon Thane Wilson, Phillip Pennestri, Isabella David. Directed by Derick Martini.

As a species, we tend to show a different face to the public than we wear in private. Beneath the façade of even the most tranquil and affluent lives there is often a turbulent miasma of a different life, one not easy to spot from the surface. Sometimes that other life can rear its ugly head and take over every facet of our lives.

Long Island in 1979 was an idyllic place to grow up, especially if your father is a successful developer. For Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin), his father Mickey (Baldwin) is just that. Scott idolizes his dad, but has little more than contempt for his mom (Hennessy), whom he considers a whining lunatic who doesn’t appreciate the things she has, constantly obsesses over their former life in Queens where she was happier. They are pleasantly surprised when his hotheaded older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) arrives home a week early on leave from the army reserves, awaiting deployment to the Falkland Islands or some other hot spot. Jimmy is closer to his mother, and has some serious issues with his dad.

In school, Scott is picked on by the school bully (Scarimbolo) but has eyes for his childhood friend Adrianna (Roberts) whom he’s had a crush on since he was eight years only. Her family is close to his, but they’re nearly as dysfunctional as the Bartletts. Her dad Charlie (Hutton) has contracted Lyme’s Disease on a deer hunting trip with Mickey and Scott. Her mom Melissa (Nixon) has by necessity become the breadwinner, working for Mickey as a sales associate.

Conditions become more volatile as Scott and Adrianna begin to get closer, but secrets that the adults are hiding soon begin to bubble to the surface, and threaten the world they’ve carefully built for themselves and their children.

Director Martini co-wrote the script with his brother Steven, basing it on their own experiences growing up on El Lie. This is definitely a slice of life motion picture, and it’s an honest one. That slice tastes great at times and tastes funky at others, but it always is an honest taste, for better or for worse. Martini re-creates the world of the ‘70s adequately; he depicts the drug use and sexual promiscuity that was part and parcel of that era. He nicely utilizes news footage of the day. In all honesty, I have to say that I didn’t feel immersed in the period, but that’s okay because this is a movie more about the story than the setting.

Part of what makes this movie work, besides the authentic-feeling writing, is the performances of the leads. Hutton and Baldwin are two pros who are as dependable as they come. They ring true every moment they are onscreen. Both characters are highly flawed individuals but Hutton and Baldwin make them both sympathetic. Same goes for Hennessy and Nixon, who have roles that are mostly thankless but are believable nonetheless.

The real revelation here from a performance standpoint is the Culkin brothers. Honestly, I expected them to be mediocre at best, but in point of fact they do outstanding jobs here. Rory’s interaction with Roberts leads to one of the most awkward sex scenes ever. It’s also one of the most realistic depictions of first time sex I’ve ever seen. However, given the use of drugs and sex by the character, one must wonder what her famous Auntie Julia thinks of it all. It is certainly the most adult role the teenaged Roberts, a Disney Channel mainstay, has ever tackled.

This is an intelligently written film that profiles troubled marriages, troubled teens and troubled times. There is an authenticity here that can only come from personal experience. It feels less like a movie and more like a voyeur looking in on actual lives, observing close at hand what goes on behind closed doors. The warts-and-all performances overcome the movie’s not-quite-successful evocation of era.

I’ve always been exceptionally fond of movies that give you a sense of looking in on lives as opposed to watching performances that approximate reality. That helps give you insight on your own life in my opinion. Granted, most lives aren’t as convoluted and chaotic as the lives of the Bartletts and the Braggs, but by following their example – or rather, learning from their mistakes – perhaps we won’t have to.

WHY RENT THIS: Written with the kind of authenticity that comes from personal experience. Extremely competent performances, particularly from the Culkin brothers, Baldwin and Hutton, give a sense of real people with plenty of flaws living real lives.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The era of 1970’s Long Island isn’t as immersive as it could be, although the superior writing overcomes this.

FAMILY VALUES: Very adult storyline, with much drug use and two semi-explicit sex scenes, including one between teens. While these are consistent with the era, they may not be appropriate for younger viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Kirean Culkin was initially cast in the role of Scott, but by the time financing was secured to make the film, he had grown too old for the role and was instead cast as older brother Jimmy with his brother Rory getting the role of Scott.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: An alternate ending and several revealing extra scenes are included.

 FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Battle for Terra