The Five-Year Engagement


The Five-Year Engagement

Emily Blunt thinks Jason Segel’s pointy head is cute.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Lauren Weedman, Jacki Weaver, Jim Piddock, Dakota Johnson, Brian Posehn, Mindi Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Molly Shannon, Tracee Chimo. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

 

Planning a wedding is a tricky thing. Making it work requires organization, patience and sometimes, a lot of time. Even small weddings can require some juggling skills, particularly when you have to find the right venue, a date that’s  available and make sure it works within everybody’s schedule, at least the main participants. A good sense of humor is a must.

Tom Solomon (Segel) is a sous chef at a fine San Francisco restaurant working for a frenetic and uptight chef Sally (Weedman).  His closest friend is Alex (Pratt), a fellow sous chef who is a cheerfully gross womanizer.

He is dating Violet Barnes (Blunt), a doctoral student in behavioral psychology. Since the moment he laid eyes on her at a New Year’s Eve costume party he knew she was The One, and she knew likewise. He also knows it’s time to propose and although the proposal doesn’t go exactly as planned (why is it that marriage proposals have had to become such production numbers, both in real life and in the movies – are men so insecure that they think that a woman who wants to marry them will change their minds if the proposal isn’t staged elaborately enough?) she still says yes.

They get to planning but Violet is awfully distracted; she’s applied for a position at UC Berkeley that would advance her career greatly but it’s fallen through. When she gets accepted at the University of Michigan for a similar position, the two arrive at a crossroads. Tom decides to give up his position in the prestigious kitchen to follow his fiancée to Ann Arbor and become a chef there. Of course, he finds out only after giving his notice that Sally was planning on making him head chef at her new restaurant. Instead, that job goes to Alex. Things are looking pretty rosy for Alex, who had sex with Violet’s sister Sue (Brie) at the engagement party, knocked her up and is now married to her.

When Tom moves up to Michigan he’s in for quite a culture shock. There’s snow everywhere; on the cars, on the streets, and hiding fire hydrants when he wants to jump into an inviting drift. There’s also no work; some restaurant chefs just laugh at him for giving up a job in San Francisco and he’s forced to get a job at a sandwich shop run by the blunt and profane Tarquin (Posehn).

In the meantime, Violet is taking to her new position like a duck to water. Her charismatic boss Dr. Winton Childs (Ifans) and his lunatic crew of the masturbation-obsessed Doug (Hart), the bitchy Vaneetha (Kaling) and the whack job Ming (Park) have become close friends and a support group. Her career is taking off and her two year contract has become five. The wedding plans are on hold because the pressure is getting to Tom, who has grown Chester Arthur mutton chops and has taken to hunting with a sweater-wearing househusband, while Alex has grown to be a great success in his new restaurant.

What I really like about this movie is that the couple in question don’t face contrived situations based entirely on mis-communication like most of Hollywood’s recent rom-coms. Things happen but because things happen in real life; frustrations that take effect because of situations that could and do happen to anyone.

The chemistry between Blunt and Segel is crucial to making this film work. Their relationship, their love is central to the movie; if you don’t believe in the relationship that is at the crux of the film, you are not going to be sucked in by the story at all. Fortunately, that’s not a problem here.

Segel is one of the most naturally likable guys in Hollywood. He’s easygoing, sweet-natured and perfect for this role. He’s not as over-the-top as say Seth Rogen but he’s still plenty funny. Here he runs the gamut of emotions; he can be giddy, sexy and frustrated. At times his character loses his temper but never in a threatening or obnoxious way. Segel makes Tom a likable guy – and frankly I’d love to have some of his tacos.

Blunt is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses. She’s done yeoman work on a number of pictures in the last couple of years, most recently Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. She’s sexy as well as funny but projects a sense of decency. Violet takes some missteps which people make; she’s not perfect but there’s no doubt that Violet loves Tom very much and Blunt makes that very apparent. It’s hard to realistically portray a deep, lasting relationship onscreen but Segel and Blunt do just that. The chemistry between them is undeniable.

They aren’t the only impressive actors here. Pratt, last seen as a relief pitcher in Moneyball, tears it up here. He steals nearly every scene that he’s in. and he has a terrific chemistry with Brie. The two of them prove themselves able in this film and I foresee big things ahead for both of them, particularly Pratt.

Yeah, there are a few moments that made me wince; unfortunately, that seems to be part and parcel with Hollywood romantic comedies. Still, while this is a Judd Apatow-produced  film and thus has its share of raunchiness it is as sweet-natured as any rom-com you’re gonna see from America. I was pleasantly surprised by it in that sense; I was expecting something rather formulaic and instead got something that felt like we were watching a real relationship. And that, my friends, is priceless.

REASONS TO GO: Really good chemistry between Segel and Blunt. Sweet to the core.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit contrived in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexual content as well as plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Segel and Blunt have appeared together in two other movies; Gulliver’s Travels and The Muppets. This is the first time they’ve appeared as romantic partners however.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/6/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The film has gotten some pretty solid reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

WOLVERINE LOVERS: Much of the film is set at the University of Michigan and there are plenty of U of M accoutrements and a couple of jokes at Ohio State’s expense. Michigan fans will be in heaven.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Blue Valentine

New Releases for the Week of April 27, 2012


April 27, 2012

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman, Jeremy Piven, David Tennant, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson. Directed by Peter Lord

The twisted minds at Aardman Animation, purveyors of the Wallace and Gromit cartoons as well as such features as Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run and Flushed Away take to the high seas for their latest feature. Here, a somewhat inept but enthusiastic Pirate Captain yearns the one prize that has eluded him over his career – the Pirate of the Year award. He must battle fierce rivals such as Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz but also Queen Victoria who wants to eradicate all pirates – forever! What’s a scurvy dog to do?

See the trailer, a featurette and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

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

The Five-Year Engagement

(Universal) Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans. When a young couple gets engaged, the plans for their wedding take up all of their attention. So when she gets a job out of town, they decide to postpone, setting off a chain of events that keep their wedding being put off and put off until their relationship is threatened.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout)  

Footnote

(Sony Classics) Shlomo Bar Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alisa Rosen, Alma Zak. A respected Talmudic scholar whose father is bitter at being cast in his son’s shadow and for having his own research passed over for years finally wins the Israel Award, one of the highest honors in the Israeli academic world. However the son discovers that the award was meant for him and not for his father but can’t bring himself to correct the mistake. So he plays along, discovering things about both his father and himself he’d never have guessed at.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief nudity, language and smoking)  

The Raven

(Relativity) John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson.  A literate young Baltimore detective discovers that a series of murders seem to have been inspired by the works of an up-and-coming young author – Edgar Allan Poe. The detective enlists the writer to try and get inside the mind of the killer but this only escalates the stakes as Poe’s love is deemed to be the killer’s next target.

See the trailer, interviews, promos, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for bloody violence and grisly images)

Safe

(Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Anson Mount, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Chan. A disgraced detective whose meddling into the affairs of the Russian mob got his family killed and a stigma placed on him – that anyone he knows will be murdered by the mob – spies a young Asian girl being threatened by the mob and is moved to intervene. He discovers that the girl has a talent for memorizing long numbers and holds in her mind a number that not only the Russian mob but also the Chinese mob and the police want very badly. It will be up to protect her from the multitude of crooks and crooked cops out to get the two of them and achieve some kind of redemption.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence throughout, and for language)

Tezz

(Eros Entertainment) Anil Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Borman Irani, Phillip Martin Brown. A counter-terrorism expert and a desperate man are pitted against each other on a high speed train rocketing from Glasgow to London. Only one will succeed in their objectives and hundreds of lives hang in the balance.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR  

Jeff, Who Lives at Home


Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jason Segel believes he's being stalked by Muppets.

(2012) Comedy (Paramount Vantage) Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Evan Ross, Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis, Benjamin Brant Bickham, Lee Nguyen, Tim J. Smith, Ernest James, Katie Aselton, Joe Chrest, Lance E. Nichols, Carol Sutton. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

 

Families are complicated things that we rarely can make heads or tails of, even of our own. We mostly see the people in our families as filling certain roles and rarely can adjust our thinking beyond those definitions we ourselves set. A lot of times those definitions are there from years of observation and experience but every so often those in our family can surprise us.

Jeff (Segel) is a 30-year-old unemployed man who lives in his mom’s basement and apparently has little ambition beyond getting stoned every day. His mom (Sarandon) is exasperated beyond words; she longs for him to find some sort of path that he can follow through life but he doesn’t seemed interested in finding one.

The truth is that Jeff really wants to find that path but isn’t quite sure how. He has determined that life is a series of signs and portents that one must be open to receiving and able to interpret once received. Jeff thinks he is able to do this but thus far hasn’t found the right way yet. So when he gets an angry phone call from a man demanding to speak to Kevin (there is no Kevin in the household) that starts the ball rolling.

It’s also his mom’s birthday and she wants just one thing from him; to go down to the local Home Depot (a bus ride is required) and pick up some wood glue to fix a slat on the shutter doors of the kitchen pantry. While on the bus, he sees someone with the name Kevin on a basketball jersey and follows him, leading him off the path of the wood glue and onto the path of something else.

Pat (Helms) is the married, responsible one. Or at least he is on the surface. In reality his marriage to Linda (Greer) is falling apart at the seams; there is little if any communication going on between them. Judy wants them to save their money to buy a house so that they can raise a family; Pat wants to buy a Porsche so that they can…own a Porsche. Pat impulsively buys one, prompting Judy to dump her breakfast over the car.

The paths of Pat and Jeff cross, leading the Porsche to take a path into a nearby tree. Their paths then intersect with Linda, who apparently is meeting another man in a fancy Bistro that Pat has refused to take her to. Linda’s path then takes her to a hotel room with that man while Pat and Jeff take separate paths, all leading to the same place.

Jeff’s mom, Sharon, is also on a path, looking for the kind of fulfillment and appreciation that comes from a close relationship but she’s been unable to form one since her husband had passed away. She confides in Carol (Chong), a friend from work that she’s been receiving some secret admirer messages from someone at work, but doesn’t know who it is. She is troubled by the attention but also intrigued by it.

Where will this all end up? I can tell you a few things for certain without giving too much away – one, all of the main characters will end up in wet clothes. Two, all paths lead towards New Orleans over the Pontchartrain Bridge. Third, some things take more than wood glue to fix.

The Duplass brothers, who directed this, have a fair amount of indie cred with such films as Baghead and The Puffy Chair to their credit. Their movies tend to be low-key and charming with a certain amount of complexity under the surface that make them ideal for discussion for days after you’ve seen them. They also know how to coax subtle, nuanced performances from the actors in their films and they do the same here.

Segel is rapidly becoming one of the most likable performers in Hollywood. He is big and lovable to the point where his brother calls him a sasquatch, but also has plenty of goofy stoner in him. There are those who compare Segel (somewhat unfairly) to Seth Rogen who is a different kind of performer. Not that Rogen isn’t a nice guy, Segel just seems nicer (see The Muppets). Here he is just kind of treading water through life, allowing the current to take him wherever it will. That can be kind of irritating to those who prefer to swim their own course as most of us do but Jeff is anything but a control freak – he prefers to see what is going to happen rather than making things happen.

Helms is rapidly becoming a go-to guy in the comedy landscape with roles in “The Office” as well as The Hangover series, as well as Cedar Rapids. This is a bit of a departure for him – he is not the lovable nerd here but he is more of a hustler sort, the kind of role more familiar to guys like Vince Vaughn. If this were a different sort of movie, I might have even preferred Vaughn in the part but to be honest, as much of a con-man as Pat is the movie wouldn’t be able to accept someone as over-the-top as Vaughn. Helms gives it just the right amount of undertones.

Judy Greer has graduated from mainly playing the best friend of the rom-com lead to playing terrific wives criminally ignored by their husbands (as she does in The Descendants). She is one of those actresses who doesn’t get a lot of kudos but quietly performs strongly in every role she takes on. This is the kind of part that can be easily overlooked by a performer of her caliber makes that impossible to happen.

Because Jeff is so innately a good guy, the movie has a quiet sweetness to it that never gets too sentimental or too saccharine. However, the Duplass brothers seem bound and determined to brand this as an indie feature; they have a tendency to zoom the camera in nearly every scene as kind of a Duplass trademark. It gets irritating after awhile and seems to be a minor case of “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome.

This isn’t a movie that is going to overwhelm you or offer some life-shattering insight, although you may come to one eventually on our own. It isn’t going to be the kind of movie you leave with your sides aching with laughter, although you will at least chuckle at some of the situations. This is a movie about life and about the resilience of family to overcome even the greatest of gulfs. I like this movie and even if it doesn’t shout its name from the rooftops, well, a quality movie doesn’t have to.

REASONS TO GO: Sweet to its core but not so sweet your blood sugar spikes. Nice performances from the leads.

REASONS TO STAY: Camera moves draw attention to themselves. Occasionally suffers from over-quirkiness.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of bad language including some with sexual connotations, and some depictions of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nearly all of the movie was shot in New Orleans suburb Metairie, doubling for Baton Rouge.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100. The reviews are good though not great.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cyrus

STREET BALL LOVERS: Early on, Jeff participates in a pretty convincing game of street basketball, although Segel appears more adept at hoops than you think he might be.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Love Ranch

New Releases for the Week of March 16, 2012


March 16, 2012

21 JUMP STREET

(Columbia) Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Johnny Simmons, Dakota Johnson, Johnny Depp, Ellie Kemper. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

A couple of misfit cops, once buddies in high school, go undercover as part of a unit headquartered at 21 Jump Street to chase down a ring of drug dealers at Sagan High. Unlike the iconic 80s Fox TV series (whose breakout star Johnny Depp cameos here), this one is played for laughs.

See the trailer, clips and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence)

Being Flynn

(Focus) Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby, Julianne Moore.  A young man just beginning to establish himself as a writer mourns his late mother and her gentle nature. However, he does not miss his father, a fellow writer, whom he hasn’t seen for 18 years. However when his dad is evicted from his apartment, he goes to the only place he has left – his son – and the two are forced to face the issues between them.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content, drug use and brief nudity)

Casa de mi Padre

(Pantelion) Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Genesis Rodriguez. Armando has lived and worked on his father’s farm in Mexico his entire life. His younger brother, newly engaged, arrives back home pledging to save the farm from all the debts it has incurred. However as Armando falls for his brother’s fiancée, he discovers that his brother’s financial dealings aren’t all on the up-and-up and that he has placed the family in the crosshairs of Mexico’s most notorious and vicious druglord.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

(Paramount Vantage) Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon. A man who lives with his mom butts heads with her and his more responsible brother, and in the end teaches them something about what life is supposed to be, and what really matters. This is the latest from the highly regarded Duplass Brothers, a writing-directing team that has made some pretty awesome films of late, including Cyrus.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language including sexual references and some drug use)

Kahaani

(Viacom18) Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Indraneil Sengupta, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  A pregnant woman travels from London to find her missing husband. However the more that police investigate, the more puzzles they discover – for example neither the company that employs her husband nor the hotel he allegedly stayed in have any record of him. Worse still, he may have been involved with a fatal terrorist attack on a commuter train years earlier. What awaits the woman – a loving reunion or an assassin’s bullet?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood Thriller

Rating: NR

The Muppets


The Muppets

Walter, Amy Adams and Jason Segel have stars in their eyes.

(2011) Family (Disney) Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Walter, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo, The Swedish Chef, Alan Arkin, Mickey Rooney, Whoopie Goldberg, Jim Parsons. Directed by James Bobin

 

Cultural icons carry their own baggage with them. Because they fill a niche in our society, we associate them with particular characteristics – be it the fanboy nerdiness of Star Wars or the catty kitsch of RuPaul. The Muppets, however, are an entirely different story.

In the ’80s and into the ’90s the Muppets were electronic babysitters to the country. Kids of that era (Da Queen among them) were glued to the set. Parents of kids growing up during that era also got to know the lovable felt and fur creations and were amazed to discover that the scripts weren’t necessarily dumbed down and made so kid-centric that parents couldn’t enjoy them. Everybody could and that was the secret to their success.

Times changed and tastes changed. Disney bought the rights to the characters and up until now have mostly used them in their theme parks (which surprisingly isn’t referenced in the movie – I would have thought it a perfect opportunity for the Mouse to pimp their parks a bit). However, Segel – a huge fan of the series – pitched a movie to Disney that would possibly resurrect the franchise and the execs there agreed – the time was ripe for a return of the Muppets.

It is fitting that Mickey Rooney turns up in a cameo during the opening musical number; there is a “let’s put on a show” vibe here that Rooney was famous for in his classic films with Judy Garland.  The plot here is fiendishly simple; Tex Richman (Cooper), a nefarious oil baron, has purchased the old Muppet Theater for the purpose of drilling for oil deposits located beneath it. Gary (Segel), and his brother Walter (voiced by Steve Linz) stumble upon the plot while vacationing in Los Angeles with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Adams) and touring the dilapidated Muppets studio. Walter, you see, is a Muppet-wannabe, a huge fan of the show who yearns to be a Muppet himself, even though he is a Muppet – it’s all so confusing in text but trust me, it makes sense when your butt is in the seat.

The Muppets have scattered to the four winds; Fozzy is in Reno playing in a rundown casino in a tribute act called the Moopets. Miss Piggy is in Paris as the plus-size editor of Vogue. Gonzo is a plumbing magnate and Animal is in Santa Barbara taking self-control classes with Jack Black. Kermit, the glue who always held the gang together, is living quietly in Los Angeles in the house he built for him and Piggy whose relationship has since fallen apart.

They have to raise $10 million (I can almost hear Dr. Evil intoning “ten millllllllllllion dollars” while putting pinky to lip) in order to save the theater. They decide a telethon is in order; trouble is, no network will put it on since the Muppets are no longer the stars they once were. They have gone the way of Fran Drescher, Emmanuel Lewis and ALF.

There are tons of celebrity cameos (a kind of Muppet tradition) and clever musical numbers, as well as a few gentle pop culture spoofs. Segel is properly reverent towards the Muppets (he co-wrote the script) but throws in enough “we’re has-been” references for it to start to get old. Believe me, we get it.

The movie is charming and has enough in-jokes to both the series and the movies that followed to keep rabid fans of the show, who are now in their 30s and 40s like cats in a cream factory. Those too young or too old to have been grabbed by the Muppets may find some references zinging over their heads (as I did – I’m definitely in the “too old” category) but Kermit, Piggy and company are all such major cultural figures from that era that it isn’t hard to pick up on most of the cultural references. In other words, you don’t have to be a fan to love the show.

As for the more modern kids, of course they’re going to love them. Some might grouse that Elmo doesn’t show up (the producers wanted him to, but Elmo still belongs to Sesame Street and even though the Muppets and the Sesame Street characters are related they are still legally separate) but for the most part, they’ll be satisfied with the wacky kid-friendly characters of the show that are still around. I found myself charmed by the movie and I wasn’t even the target audience.

While the late Jim Henson only appears in a couple of photographs in Kermit’s office and elsewhere, he would have approved I think (although former Muppet performer Frank Oz grumbled publically about fart jokes – I don’t recall seeing any but admittedly I might have overlooked it). I think I can safely say that this is a worthy addition to the Muppet legacy.

REASONS TO GO: There are a ton of “Muppet Show” in-jokes. Heartwarming, charming and generally goofy.

REASONS TO STAY: If you have an issue with Muppets, this isn’t going to improve your perception of them.

FAMILY VALUES: While the parental advisories warn against mild rude humor, in truth there is nothing here I would hesitate to expose a small child to.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Blunt plays Miss Piggy’s receptionist/assistant at Vogue in Paris; she played a very similar role in The Devil Wears Prada.

HOME OR THEATER: Kids will want to see this on the big screen and you will too.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Descendants

New Releases for the Week of November 25, 2011


November 25, 2011

THE MUPPETS

(Disney) Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Zach Galifianakis, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy. Directed by James Bobin

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Muppets onscreen and quite frankly, the lot of them have gone their separate ways. Some of their fans still carry the torch however, and one of them learns that the Muppets Theater, where their show took place, is about to be bulldozed to the ground by a greedy oilman who wants to drill into the oil deposit below the theater. Energized to save his beloved Muppets, he enlists the help of a whole lot of celebrities to help save the day – but can he get the Muppets back together again?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

Arthur Christmas

(Columbia/Sony Animation) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy. Santa Claus has gone high tech. The increasing world population has meant that the North Pole’s gift-delivering operation has had to make some changes, much to the chagrin of several generations of Santas including the ne’er-do-well younger son, Arthur. When it appears a child has been overlooked, it will be up to Arthur to deliver it old-school, and in the process restore everyone’s faith in Christmas. This is the latest from the wonderfully warped minds at Aardman animation.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

The Descendants

(Fox Searchlight) George Clooney, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer. A somewhat indifferent husband and father is forced to face his responsibilities and come to terms with his past when his wife is involved in a boating accident in Hawaii. He discovers that his view of the world is not necessarily what reality is, and that there are things that are worth fighting for.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Hugo

(Paramount) Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law. A young boy finds a home in a Paris train station after a series of tragic circumstances. He finds that his father has left him an automaton with an odd heart-shaped lock. The search for the key that fits that lock will lead to an adventure of magic and mystery unlike any other you’ve ever seen – and this was directed by Martin Scorsese, so that alone should whet your appetite.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking)

Melancholia

(Magnolia) Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, Kiefer Sutherland. As a planetoid approaches the Earth on a collision course, a young newlywed awaits the end of the world with her friends and family. This film became infamous for director Lars von Trier’s meltdown at the Cannes Film Festival where Dunst won the best actress award at the prestigious festival.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a link to view the full-length film here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: R (for some graphic nudity, sexual content and languge)

My Week With Marilyn

(Weinstein) Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench. A 23-year-old assistant on the film set of the 1956 classic The Prince and the Showgirl becomes attracted to Marilyn Monroe, starring in the film with Sir Laurence Olivier and simultaneously on her honeymoon with playwright Arthur Miller. When Marilyn yearns to get away from the pressures of the film and of being Marilyn Monroe, he takes her away for a week to show her the pleasures of idyllic British country life.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: R (for some language)

Bad Teacher


Bad Teacher

Who's haughty? Cameron Diaz and Lucy Punch engage in a pose-off.

(2011) Comedy (Columbia) Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Phyllis Smith, John Michael Higgins, Dave “Gruber” Allen, Jillian Armenante, Matthew J. Evans, Thomas Lennon, Molly Shannon, Rick Overton, Kaitlyn Dever, Kathryn Newton. Directed by Jake Kasdan

Most of us owe at least a part of who we are to our teachers. Some remain engrained in our memory, teachers who make a positive difference, who inspire and guide. Others are less significant in our lives but have some sort of impact. Once in awhile we have a teacher who impacts our lives in a negative way.

Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) has only been at John Adams Middle School for a year but she has already made an impression – and not the good kind. Not liked by her colleagues, ignored by her students, she’s just killing time until she marries her rich fiancée. When she is given a bon voyage at the end of the year, her fellow teachers can only muster up a $37 Boston Market gift card as a going away present.

Unfortunately, the engagement falls through and Elizabeth must return for another school term. This doesn’t sit well for her and her new mission is to find a new husband who will take care of her for the rest of her life in the kind of comfort she aspires to. A candidate comes along in substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (Timberlake) who has just ended a long-term relationship with a large-breasted girlfriend and whose family runs a high-end watch company.

Elizabeth zeroes in on the big-breasted aspect of the former girlfriend and decides that her ticket to the easy life is a boob job. She means to get that operation by hook or by crook but on a teacher’s salary, that kind of money just isn’t there. So she goes about using her feminine wiles and her manipulative nature to get the cash. When she finds out from her friend Lynn Davies (Smith) that a bonus is paid to the teacher whose class gets the highest score on the state test, she decides that she must actually teach her class to pass the test. Of course, she takes a short cut here as well; she obtains a copy of the test from administrator Carl Halabi (Lennon) by pretending to be a reporter, seducing him and drugging him. Nice girl, no?

In the meantime, she finds that she has a rival for Scott’s affections in uber-cheerful teacher Amy Squirrel (Punch), who despite her outwardly sweet and perky nature hides suspicions and a dark side. The two women go to war, while nice guy gym teacher Russell Gettis (Segel) tries to romance an uninterested Elizabeth.

Diaz has never been one of my favorite actresses; she always seems a bit high-strung to me. However, this is a role that is from my point of view, perfect for her. Elizabeth is shallow, self-centered and without any sense of morality whatsoever. She smokes pot in the parking lot, throws rubber dodge balls at her students’ heads when they get an answer wrong, shows up to work hung over and simply shows a movie with a classroom theme to her students, and dresses provocatively at every turn.

Segel has a certain sweetness to him that we’ve seen in films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall that serves him well here. He also has a bit of a bite which also serves him well here. He is by far the most likable character in the film. Punch, last seen in Dinner With Schmucks, is delightful in the antagonist role. Watching her unravel onscreen is one of the movie’s better accomplishments.

Kasdan, who also directed the musical bio spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, doesn’t pull any punches here. This is mean-spirited, over-the-top and without any redeeming moral qualities whatsoever. Now, I’m not the blue-nosed sort who thinks every movie needs to have a strong moral compass and I can occasionally find a laugh in mean things happening to people who don’t deserve it. However, I require that if you’re going to do a comedy this mean-spirited, there needs to be at least a few laughs.

This is not a movie that pretends to have an uplifting message, and in that sense, the movie is exactly what it appears to be. To that end, it really boils down to your own personal preference; do you prefer laughing at people, or laughing with them. For my own personal taste, this isn’t my kind of humor so the rating for the movie reflects that to a certain extent. However, even people who like this sort of thing may have a hard time finding more than a few chuckles for the full feature.

REASONS TO GO: The movie is at least true to its convictions. Diaz moves out of her comfort zone and Segel is at least pleasant.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the movie’s funniest moments can be seen in the trailer. Offensive on nearly every level.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language as well as raunchy jokes, sexuality, nudity and a bit of drug use make this not fit for family viewing.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky both worked extensively on “The Office” where Smith is a cast member.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing here screams “see this in a theater.”

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Larry Crowne

New Releases for the Week of July 1, 2011


July 1, 2011

CARS 2

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Thomas Kretschmann, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Vanessa Redgrave. Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis

Stock car superstar and Piston Cup winner Lightning McQueen has been invited to participate in the first ever World Grand Prix, a series of races all around the world. He brings along Mater, his friend from Radiator Springs who is promptly mistaken for a spy by a pair of crack British agents. Embroiled in an international espionage affair, Lightning is going to have to help foil enemy spies, cocky racers from around the world and an international conspiracy in order to win the Grand Prix.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Bad Teacher

(Columbia) Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch. Some people are born to teach but Elizabeth does it as a means of supporting herself until she can marry a wealthy guy. When a new substitute proves to be rich, she schemes to get his attention but will need to fight another teacher off for his affection. She might also finally find her own inner teacher.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Turtle: The Incredible Journey 3D

(Hannover House) Miranda Richardson, Daniel Braga. The epic migration of loggerhead turtles from the Florida beach where they were spawned on a journey to the Atlantic and back to the same beach years later is the subject of this award-winning documentary, 25 years in the making. Sea World partially funded this film..

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)


Gulliver's Travels

You think YOUR day is going badly - Jack Black is getting a wedgie from a Transformer.

(2010) Comic Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd, T.J. Miller, James Corden, Catherine Tate, Emmanuel Quatra, Olly Alexander, Richard Laing. Directed by Rob Letterman

The dreaded updating of a classic usually spells utter disaster. When moving Jonathan Swift’s iconic novel into the 21st century, will the filmmakers retain its essence or go for the cheap laughs?

Score one for the cheap laughs. Lemuel Gulliver (Black) – and I find it unbelievable that not a single joke was made about someone with the unfortunate first name of “Lemuel” – has been working in the mail room of the New York Tribune for ten years; for nearly that long he’s had a crush on the comely travel editor Darcy Silverman (Peet). He’s been content to worship from afar and play Guitar Hero on the job. When he trains a new young buck in the mail room (Miller), he is mortified to discover that his trainee has been promoted to the Mail Room manager, which sucks big time.

Then again, Lemuel is too afraid to even talk to other employees at the paper, let alone approach them about career advice. On the spur of the moment, he picks up an application for the position of travel writer and Darcy urges him to submit some samples. Lemuel spends the entire night trying to write some scintillating prose – only to discover that he has no game. Desperate, he plagiarizes sections from Frommer’s Guide and other travel icons and gets the job. Darcy sends him out to Bermuda to check out a tour into the legendary Bermuda Triangle.

He falls asleep at the wheel of the boat (apparently this tour comes sans guides) and is steered directly into a gigantic waterspout. When he awakens, the boat is wrecked and he has been tied up by lots of tiny little people, led by a tiny little General Edward (O’Dowd) who takes him to the King of Lilliput (Connolly) and his MILF queen (Tate). The giant Lemuel is chained in a cave along with Lilliput’s only other offender, Horatio (Segel) who had the effrontery to glance soulfully at Princess Mary (Blunt) who happens to be Edward’s betrothed.

When the sworn enemies of Lilliput, Blefuscia, attack, it is Gulliver who comes to the rescue. The grateful king pardons Gulliver and makes him “vice-general” of the army which doesn’t sit well with the pompous Edward.  He plots to allow the entire fleet of Blefuscia attack but Gulliver inexplicably saves the day again. Edward defects in disgrace and guilds a giant robot which he defeats Gulliver with. Gulliver reveals himself to be a lowly coward and a liar (having told the Lilliputians outrageous tales of his life) and is exiled to the Island They Dare Not Travel To, which turns out to be inhabited by giants (by Gulliver’s standards – to the Lilliputians everyone’s a giant). However, Darcy has washed up on the shores of Lilliput having set out after Gulliver. Can the disgraced protector find his inner giant?

If you loved the Jonathan Swift novel, keep walking when you get to the box office; other than having a Lemuel Gulliver wash up on the shores of Lilliput and be tied up by its army, there is almost no relationship between the book and the movie. What this is mostly is a Jack Black vehicle, designed to showcase his talents as a comedian and his usual shtick. The jokes are mainly unfunny; playing foosball with Lilliputians, having Lilliputians re-enact scenes from Star Wars and Titanic and claiming that these are moments from his own life; hardy har har har.

While I was a big fan of Black in High Fidelity, I have to admit that he was a bit tiresome here. When you look at comedians who inhabit a certain persona (like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams), they become like one-trick ponies, constantly reprising the same role in movie after movie. It works for the first few films of their career but eventually the audience gets tired of it. Sometimes, as in the case of Williams, they broaden their range and make movies that are more mature but when they don’t, they tend to fall by the wayside much faster.

I have to admit the visuals here are pretty good. Lilliput has a quasi-Victorian feel. In some ways, it’s almost steampunk and that’s not a bad thing – I kind of wish they had pushed in that direction a little bit further.  However, and I must emphasize this, what they have works just fine as it is.

Besides Black, you have the very likable Segel as the second banana and the lovely Blunt and Peet both make fine romantic foils, but this is clearly Black’s show. Even Connolly, one of the most brilliant comedic minds of the past decade, is curiously humorless in his role.

As comedies go this is pretty mediocre stuff. I can’t really recommend it with too much enthusiasm, although I can’t really say “avoid it at all costs” either. It’s just kind of there as an alternative when you want something light and brainless and seeing Tangled for the umpteenth time is not in the cards.

REASONS TO GO: It’s a nice-looking movie and there are some funny moments as well as some heart-warming moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Jumps the shark with the musical number at the end. Too much mugging from Jack Black and not enough real human emotion. The film felt more like a product.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of crude humor (Jack Black is not going to get any points from firefighters) and some mildly bad words but otherwise, pretty much suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Blunt was originally cast as the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 but backed out to do this movie.

HOME OR THEATER: I imagine the scale of the visuals looks better on a big screen than a small one, but hey, they’re little people – on a smaller TV screen they still look little.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: RocknRolla

New Releases for the Week of December 24, 2010


December 24, 2010

The thorough emasculation of Robert De Niro continues.

LITTLE FOCKERS

(Universal) Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Barbra Streisand, Harvey Keitel, Laura Dern. Directed by Paul Weitz

Greg Focker and Jack Burns return to torment one another in the third installment of the comedy series. Now married ten years and with two children, it seems that Greg has finally earned his place in the circle of trust. However, cash problems lead to Greg taking a second job for a drug company, leading to misunderstandings with his father-in-law who uncharacteristically goes overboard. With Pam’s ex-flame still in the picture, can the Focker family withstand the machinations of the parents?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content)

Gulliver’s Travels

(20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet. The Jonathan Swift classic is given a Black attack as the comic actor takes on the title role in this modernized version. A mail room clerk with tons of ambition and zero conscience gets swept away in the Bermuda triangle to a strange land of people no bigger than his finger. He becomes the national hero although he is just kind of skating through. Eventually he has to stand up for those smaller than himself, learning in the process that the hero inside is often bigger than the person outside. For those who love the Ice Age movies, there will be a Scrat short accompanying this film.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comic Fantasy

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

I Love You, Phillip Morris

(Roadside Attractions) Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. A successful Texas businessman and pillar of his community has an epiphany; he’s gay, and he intends to live the rest of his life to the fullest. In order to support an extravagant lifestyle, he turns to crime – con games, as a matter of fact. While in prison for one of his attempts he meets the love of his life, a soft-spoken man named Phillip Morris. He determines to free his new-found companion and organizes brilliant cons and escape plans to do it. Ah, ain’t love grand?

See the trailer and a news clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including strong dialogue and language)

The King’s Speech

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce. Although most people are familiar with the current English monarch, not many Americans know much about her father who ruled before her. Even fewer know that he was afflicted with a terrible stammer. Desperate to conquer this impediment, he seeks out an Australian speech therapist with unusual methods. The two race against time to give the King of England a voice as the country is swept into World War II. This is considered one of the odds-on favorites at Oscar time.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for some language)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tomilla, Jonathan Hutchings. A Finnish archaeological team digs up Santa Claus – the real one…and he’s nothing like any of the legends say. As the local children begin to turn up missing, an enterprising reindeer hunter and his son bag Santa and try to sell him back to the CEO of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig. However, nobody thought of the elves who will stop at nothing to get jolly St. Nick back. This is what I call holiday entertainment.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Horror

Rating: R (for some nudity and language)

Tees Maar Khan

(Hari Om) Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sanjay Dutt (voice), Anil Kapoor. The greatest criminal in all of India – indeed, in all of the world – is given an impossible job; to steal a load of priceless antiquities from a moving train. It will take all his skills, the unwilling help of his actress girlfriend and the participation of a vain but stupid Bollywood star to help Khan and his crew pull this one off.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Heist Comedy

Rating: NR

True Grit

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld. The Coen Brothers take on not so much the 1969 Oscar-winning John Wayne movie but the Charles Portis novel that inspired it. 14-year-old Mattie Ross seeks to bring to justice Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father down in cold blood. To that end she recruits Rooster Cogburn, a mean drunken U.S. Marshall who shoots first and then forgets to ask the questions later. They are joined by a vain Texas Ranger who has his own agenda.

See the trailer, promos and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Western

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of Western violence including disturbing images)