A Very Murray Christmas


More fun to make than it is to watch?

More fun to make than it is to watch?

(2015) Musical (Netflix) Bill Murray, Paul Shaffer, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock, Michael Cera, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph, Jenny Lewis, Amy Poehler, David Johansen, Dmitri Dimitrov, Julie White, Phoenix. Directed by Sofia Coppola

Back in the day, celebs like Dean Martin and Judy Garland used to put on Christmas specials and variety shows that would have the thinnest of plot lines but were mainly an excuse for them to sing a few Christmas tunes, have a few friends show up and generally just be themselves.

Director Sofia Coppola is trying to resurrect that vibe and has picked the perfect guy to do it; Murray plays a version of himself, contracted to do a live Christmas special at the Hotel Carlyle in New York City with its retro-cool Bemelmans’s Bar and Cafe Carlyle. An impressive guest list and audience however has evaporated as the city is paralyzed by a blizzard. Sensing catastrophe, Murray sinks into a booze-fueled depression as Hollywood handler-types (Poehler, White) and wanna-be agents (Cera) beset his Christmas mellow.

Guests happen by (Rock) or turn up as hotel employees (Lewis as a waitress, who has one of the better songs when she covers the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, the band Phoenix whose frontman is married to Coppola, as a group of singing chefs) and musical numbers ensue. Murray captures the barfly/hipster mode nicely and sings adequately, but this is the type of Christmas show you’ll want to watch with a shaker full of martinis, a bowlful of peanuts and a pack of cigarettes.

Murray is a genial host but not in the tradition of a Dean Martin, a Mel Tormé or a Steve and Edie. Yes, he’s got that same rumpled charm that Dino had, but there is a weather-beaten feel to him, like someone who’s been too far and seen too much. The show opens with a bluesy downbeat Christmas song that sets the tone; world-weary Murray feeling the depression that often accompanies the Holidays. Essentially confined to the hotel by the weather and prowling the hallways like a claustrophobic cat, he hangs out in the bar and drinks away his sorrow, interacting with a bride (Jones) and groom (Schwartzman) whose wedding fell apart and whose relationship may be as well and listening to a lounge singer (Rudolph) belt out a few Christmas tunes.

Much of the action takes place in the hotel, other than a fantasy sequence featuring Clooney and Cyrus that takes place after Murray passes out. This is the kind of Christmas special for the crowd that identifies strongly with Mickey Rourke in Barfly or Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. And yet, there is a hipness to it, like Murray has us in on the coolest night in that crazy New York town ever, a place where Chris Rock might just stumble in from out of the cold and warble a duet of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with Murray.

So this isn’t for everybody, needless to say. Some will find it too irreverent and even take insult – those who think there’s a war on Christmas might see this as yet another salvo (it’s not). I think it’s far more subversive, taking a pot shot at our attitudes towards the holiday and snickering at it, reminding us at once that there are those who are lonely and depressed at this time of year, but also reminding us that the holidays can take a bunch of strangers and make them family, even if just for one night. In that sense, A Very Murray Christmas is suffused with holiday magic. I don’t know that this would bear repeated viewings but I suspect that those who revel in this sort of thing will make it an annual tradition. As for me, I’ll take A Charlie Brown Christmas every time.

REASONS TO GO: Hippest Christmas special ever. Murray is always a hoot.
REASONS TO STAY: Might be overly irreverent for some. A bit heavy on the quirk.
FAMILY VALUES: Some profanity, adult themes, drinking and general attitude.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bill Murray doesn’t have Netflix and refuses to get it, which means he won’t be able to watch his own movie – not that he does that anyway.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/11/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scrooged
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Children of Men

Strange Magic


Welcome to Fairyland Idol.

Welcome to Fairyland Idol.

(2015) Animated Feature (Touchstone) Starring the Voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Meredith Ann Bull, Sam Palladio, Peter Stormare, Maya Rudolph, Alfred Molina, Elijah Kelley, Llou Johnson, Tony Cox, Joe Whyte, Gary Rydstrom, Robbie Daymond, Sterling Sheehy, Amanda Jean Young, Nicole Vigil, Brenda Chapman. Directed by Gary Rydstrom

At the risk of making this review about the reviewer – a cardinal sin – I want to preface this particular review with a little bit about me. I try to be fairly lenient whenever viewing a movie. I honestly try to highlight the things about a film that work rather than focus on the things that didn’t. I try to criticize constructively as often as possible, sometimes with suggestions on what I think might have improved the movie. I don’t look for pithy bon mots at the expense of the filmmakers or the cast, or at least I try not to. Sometimes it’s unavoidable; I’m only human after all.

I give out few perfect scores, but I do hand them out, usually about three or four a year. However, up until this point, more than five years into this blog I haven’t ever – not once – given out a zero. Until now.

Strange Magic is an animated feature from LucasFilm, with a story written by George Lucas himself that is loosely – very loosely – based on Shakespeare’s immortal Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s actually a brilliant idea – that’s a Shakespeare play that cries out for being the subject of an animated feature; just not this one.

After discovering her husband-to-be has been cheating on her, fairy Marianne (Wood) turns her back on love, becoming a fairyland version of Xena, Warrior Princess instead. Her younger and blonder sister Dawn (Bull) is boy-crazy in the way that mid-teen girls can be. Her good friend Sunny (Kelley) – who happens to be an elf, which means he looks a whole lot like a garden gnome – would like to take things to the next level, although Dawn has her eye on much better looking guys than Sunny.

Advised by Marianne’s ex Roland (Palladio) to get himself a love potion from the Sugar Plum Fairy (Chenoweth) under the pretense of winning Dawn’s love for Sunny but in reality so he can liberally douse Marianne with the potion and get her back to the altar so that he can win the kingdom he wants to rule. However, Sunny’s success provokes the Bog King (Cumming), who has a vendetta against love but turns out to be a sweet guy despite the Jewish insect mom (Rudolph). Will true love triumph or will Roland’s plans to win the fairy kingdom end up destroying it?

The filmmakers, in a particularly Baz Luhrmann moment, decided to pepper the soundtrack with pop songs from across the various decades of rock music (the music supervisor from this film also worked on Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge) which ends up making this a cross between an excruciating night at the karaoke bar and a particularly bad episode of Glee. While some of the songs are punchy and/or performed adequately, the bulk of them seem to be thrown in there without regard for whether they fit in with the movie’s plot or atmosphere. While Wood, Chenoweth and Cumming have fine voices, the soundtrack is essentially a hot mess.

The animation is something I’m kind of torn on. The backgrounds are extremely detailed and chock full of interesting eye candy which normally isn’t a bad thing, but scene after scene of overwhelming imagery makes you want to shut down, or at least it did me. There was literally too much going on but at least it provided someplace to look other than at the characters who have that creepy rubber-faced style that made motion capture films so unpopular. At the end of the day the characters look like they sprang from a video game circa 2003.

None of the characters are given much depth and there isn’t much reason to root for anyone. “But this movie isn’t intended for adults,” you might say. “This is meant to appeal to a much younger audience.” You’d be correct in pointing that out, but appealing to children doesn’t have to mean pandering to their lowest instincts. Kids aren’t cretins; they can be very smart and yes, they actually have standards, probably higher than most adults when it comes to animation. After all, they see a ton of it, more than we do since they tune in to Nickelodeon, Disney and the Cartoon Network more regularly than we do.

I can’t honestly and in good conscience recommend this for anybody. I wish I could – I would love to see Lucas hit one out of the ballpark, something he hasn’t done in several decades – but this film is just so terribly made that it gets the absolute bottom of my normal rating scale; the dreaded Zero. Please save yourself the chore of asking for your money back after walking out halfway through by spending it on a different film in the first place – the lovely Paddington comes to mind.

REASONS TO GO: Not a one.
REASONS TO STAY: Poor animation. American Idol-like singing that sometimes approaches drunken karaoke levels. Several steps backwards in animated feature quality.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mildly scary images that may upset wee tots.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The sisters Marianne and Dawn were originally supposed to have long brown hair but in order to save on animation costs, they were given short hair instead with only Marianne retaining brown hair to differentiate her and Dawn’s hair style.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Epic
FINAL RATING: 0/10
NEXT: Black Sea

New Releases for the Week of January 23, 2015


The Boy Next DoorTHE BOY NEXT DOOR

(Universal) Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth, Lexi Atkins, Hill Harper, Jack Wallace, Adam Hicks. Directed by Rob Cohen

A high school teacher whose husband has recently walked out on her and her teenage son welcomes a new addition to the neighbor – a young teenage boy who becomes fast friends with her own son and takes an unhealthy interest in her. At first she is flattered by the attention; she’s just a little bit lonely and has been feeling under-appreciated as a woman for some time. But when things go too far and her husband moves to reconcile, the new neighbor won’t take no for an answer and he already has a few bodies buried to his credit.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, sexual content/nudity and language)

A Most Violent Year

(A24) Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks. 1981 would be the worst year on record for violent crime in New York City. An immigrant looking to provide for his family enters a slippery slope of moral compromises and dangerous decisions. When violence threatens his business, an investigation further details the corruption that is rampant in his industry and in his business. His next decisions will define who he is as a man – and possibly put his wife and children gravely at risk.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language and some violence)

Cake

(Cinelou) Jennifer Aniston, Sam Worthington, Anna Kendrick, William H. Macy. A woman in chronic pain takes out her anger, frustration and rage on everyone around her, including those unfortunate enough to cross paths with her. When another woman in her support group commits suicide, she finds herself obsessed with the woman’s husband and son, inserting herself into their lives and maybe finding what she needs to move on with her life. Aniston received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance here.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality)

Manny

(Gravitas) Manny Pacquiao, Liam Neeson, Mark Wahlberg, Jimmy Kimmel. Manny Pacquiao may well be the most popular boxer in the world and one of the all-time greats. He is revered as a national hero in his native Philippines where life comes to a screeching halt every time he fights. From inconceivable poverty to the height of the sports world, his life story could only have been invented by Hollywood – if it wasn’t already true.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG-13 (for some sports violence/bloody images)

Mortdecai

(Lionsgate) Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewen McGregor, Paul Bettany. An English noble, art dealer, scoundrel, rake and dilettante named Mortdecai is quietly – or not so quietly – heading into bankruptcy and scandal when a member of MI-5 approaches him to assist with a stolen painting which will be used to fund international terrorism. With his jaw-dropping beautiful wife, his ever-suffering manservant with him and an array of Russian mobsters, terrorists and assassins against him, Mortdecai will try to save his dignity – and maybe save the day in the process.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for some language and sexual material)

Strange Magic

(Touchstone) Starring the voices of Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina, Maya Rudolph. Deep in the woods, creatures of myth battle for a magic potion and for the hearts of true love in a story inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and with a soundtrack of popular music from the last six decades. From the studios of Lucasfilm, Ltd. and with the aid of Industrial Light and Magic comes this enchanting family film that arrives with almost no fanfare.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some action and scary images)

Inherent Vice


Joaquin Phoenix counts the number of people in the theater.

Joaquin Phoenix counts the number of people in the theater.

(2014) Mystery (Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jordan Christian Hearn, Jeannie Berlin, Joanna Newsom, Hong Chau, Michelle Sinclair, Elaine Tan, Martin Donovan, Erica Sullivan, Sasha Pieterse. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Those of a certain age will remember the hippie movement of the late 60s and early 70s. The flower children whose innocence combined with rampant drug use and sexual experimentation and some new age noodling ended up making them targets for ridicule in the 80s and beyond. Long haired sorts blissed out on whatever drug of choice was handy, smiling beatifically and mouthing pseudo-philosophical aphorisms of pseudo-depth that were in the end senseless became something of a cultural stereotype, but in truth they did believe in love and peace, which has to be better than believing in money and war.

Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) is a private eye living in Manhattan Beach – called Gordita Beach here – in 1970. Sporting mutton chops that both Wolverine and a British sailor from the 1820s would envy, he is mainly content to work on such cases that came in to his office that he shares with dentists and the rest of the time, smoke pot and hang out with his latest lady friends who at the moment happens to be Assistant D.A. Penny Kimball (Witherspoon).  Life is pretty sweet.

Into his life comes an ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Waterston). She happens to be having an affair with big-time L.A. developer Mickey Wolfmann (Roberts) and who has been undergoing some sort of guilt trip, possibly brought on by heroin addiction. He has surrounded himself with neo-Nazi bikers which is interesting since he himself is Jewish. His wife and her boyfriend want to put Mickey away in a sanitarium and throw away the key by which means they’ll gain control over his fortune. Shasta Fay begs Doc to look into it and Doc, being the last of the knights errant, agrees to. Shasta Fay promptly disappears.

I could tell you how the rest of the story goes but it won’t make sense. It is, after all, based on a Thomas Pynchon novel. However, I will say that there is an ambitious cop named Bigfoot (Brolin) who may be a staunch ally of Doc or setting him up for a murder charge – or maybe both, an Indonesian heroin cartel laundering their money through a consortium of dentists called The Golden Fang, a saxophone player (Wilson) and heroin addict who has disappeared, leaving his wife (Malone) frantic, a shady Hispanic lawyer (del Toro) and a sweet but scatter-brained assistant who narrates the movie (Newsom).

In the interests of fairness, there are a lot of people whom I respect that really liked this movie a lot but for me, this is more like The Master than There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s worst and best films to date (although I must admit Boogie Nights comes close to the latter). I can understand why they liked the movie – the visual style, the well-written dialogue (with Pynchon you can’t go wrong in that regard) and the performances but this is one of those movies that depends on excess but sometimes, more is way too much.

Like most Paul Thomas Anderson movies, this meanders all over hell and gone, following one thread until it gets played out or Anderson gets bored with it and then suddenly switching to another. Keeping track of who is allied with who is apt to cause your brain to spontaneously ignite into flames. Don’t bother because it doesn’t really matter much in the end anyway.

The thing is that Anderson (like Pynchon before him) is doing a kind of stoner noir here, a hard-bitten detective story with a soft-chewing hippie detective. You’ll smell the intoxicating mix of patchouli, marijuana smoke and incense blending together at the same time as you feel like you’re in a stoners apartment in which a fine layer of ash coats everything and every container possible has stubbed out cigarette butts and the counter tops faint signs of cocaine lines left behind. Both Da Queen and I felt the squalor permeating our skin and exited the theater into the cool night air, relieved to be breathing in something fresh and unadulterated by intoxicants.

Phoenix and Brolin are fine actors, Oscar nominees both. Phoenix does befuddled about as well as anybody and he plays stoned perhaps better than anybody save Seth Rogen. He captures the part of Doc about as well as anybody’s going to without doing the copious amounts of weed that Doc does during the film – and who knows, maybe he did. Brolin on the other hand plays the flat topped brush cut cop who wants to be the next Jack Webb but is more likely to be the most recent Martin Milner. He’s the best part of the movie, partially comic relief but not always.

We get that people did a lot of drugs in the 70s. We don’t have to see them light up in every fucking scene, take a long drag, and then proceed with the scene. I would estimate that about 20 minutes of the two and a half hour run time is devoted to watching people go through the mechanics of smoking dope and cigarettes and it gets monotonous. So too does the story, which meanders from place to place, becoming maddeningly interesting but just when it’s about to, takes off on another tangent with the previous story elements never to reappear again. Eventually the last 30 minutes the film picks up steam and for that reason the movie isn’t getting the first Zero rating this site has ever given out but it came damn close.

I get the sense that Paul Thomas Anderson’s ego wrote checks that this movie didn’t have the funds to cash and I’m not talking budget here. Pynchon as a writer has a delightful command of language and to Anderson’s credit as the screenwriter adapting his work, he does try to utilize that in the script where he can. Sadly, both Pynchon and Anderson are guilty of the same kinds of excesses – one in literature, the other in cinema – and the two don’t make a good match.

I’ve always admired Anderson for his creativity and for making movies that don’t conform to any standards, but that is a double edged sword and the blade is cutting deep here. Whereas There Will Be Blood is damn near a masterpiece, this is kind of a sordid mess that never really manages to get going and throws so many characters at you that pretty soon you begin confusing one longhair for another. That’s never a good sign. I had hopes that the combination of Pynchon and Anderson might yield up a great movie. Some folks may argue that it did. I would contend that it did not.

REASONS TO GO: You can always walk out.
REASONS TO STAY: Way long. Dwells on minutiae too much. Watching stoners being stoned is about as entertaining as watching mimes at work.
FAMILY VALUES: Near-constant drug use and profanity. Some violence. There’s also a good deal of sexual content and occasional graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time that Rudolph has appeared in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The two have been a couple for more than a decade.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Forbidden Zone
FINAL RATING: 1/10
NEXT: Listen Up, Philip

Big Hero 6


Hiro and Baymax get stealthy.

Hiro and Baymax get stealthy.

(2014) Animated Feature (Disney/Marvel) Starring the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph, Abraham Benrubi, Katie Lowes, Billy Bush, Daniel Gerson, Paul Briggs, Charlotte Gulezian, David Shaughnessy, Terri Douglas. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

We are not a one of us who knows what we’re truly capable of until we test ourselves. Whatever motivates us – ego, greed, tragedy, desire, altruism – it remains for us to see what we can do.

Hiro (Potter) is a robotics genius. In the alternate world of San Fransokyo where Japanese immigrants rebuilt the city after the 1905 earthquake and meshed the architecture of Occidental and the Land of the Rising Sun to create a more quake-resistant city. The San Francisco Institute of Technology is one of the finest cutting-edge schools in the nation and the city is a jewel of natural beauty married to technological advances.

Hiro’s brother Tadashi (Henney) is, like Hiro, a genius at robotics. Whereas Hiro is out for financial gain in underground street Robobattles, Tadashi is creating a robot that will genuinely make the world a better place. Tadashi attends SF Tech with his friends Honey Lemon (Rodriguez), Go-Go (Chung), Wasabi (Wayans) and Fred (Miller) under the tutelage of Professor Robert Callaghan (Cromwell) who is respected and admired by his students. Tadashi is urging Hiro to come join him at the school after Hiro graduates high school but Hiro is none too eager to join up with, as he terms it, Nerd Tech. However, he grudgingly agrees to sign up after Tadashi pesters him enough.

Then tragedy strikes and Hiro discovers that there is something terrible going on, something involving his own invention – mini-bots that can be controlled by brain waves – and a kabuki-masked villain. Using Baymax (Adsit), a robot that Tadashi was working on, Hiro and his friends will have to develop armor with different powers in order to stop a catastrophe from happening and to bring the bad guy to justice.

 

This is the third straight fall release from Disney Animation to hit a home run (Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen preceded it) and quite frankly after a less-than-satisfactory year for animated entertainment at the box office, trust Disney to set things right in that regard. This is a natural, with cuddly soft robots resembling the love child between Gigantor and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, both references likely to fly right over the head of most younger readers.

While the cast isn’t particularly well-known – no Tom Hanks or Paul Newman or Billy Crystal here – it is pretty solid and a bit younger and hipper than the voice cast that Pixar generally uses. T.J. Miller as Fred is especially fun; reportedly he ad-libbed a lot of his dialogue. The main roles of the brothers are less well-known voice actors and come off as fairly bland typical animated prince guys.

The city of San Fransokyo while not dazzling visually is inventive, clever and looks like it could be a real place. Sure some San Franciscans may take umbrage at the liberties the animators took with their home town but as an ex-resident I have to say that I’m delighted to see The City by the Bay portrayed both in an animated feature and a Marvel comic. It is after all one of the most charming big cities in the country.

 

While this is definitely more Disney than Marvel, there is plenty here to keep those who aren’t still drinking out of juice boxes plenty to cheer about. The humor can be dry and acerbic as well as broad enough to land a 747 on. Kids will laugh, their parents will too. It’s a win-win.

There are some moments that actually brought a tear to my eye which is something in the animated feature world had previously been reserved only for Pixar films. This isn’t a movie that’s talking down to anyone and at the same time isn’t afraid to tackle issues that most kidflicks shy away from. That’s pretty refreshing and while it deals with some pretty tough subjects it doesn’t turn maudlin nor does it pander. What we end up with is a way in to conversations that some kids sadly are forced to have when they are far too young. You’ll get what I mean when you see the movie.

This is the first Marvel property to be developed by Disney as an animated feature. While it isn’t a part of the cinematic universe that the House of Ideas has created (for one thing, characters in the comic include Silver Samurai and Sunfire, are actually part of the X-Men universe and unavailable for Disney) it does have a fresh four-color look all its own. However, those coming to the theater expecting an animated Guardians of the Galaxy will leave disappointed; this is clearly separate from anything else Marvel has done. Which is, in my book, a good thing.

REASONS TO GO: Inventive and fun. Surprisingly moving in places.
REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t retain the Marvel “feel.”
FAMILY VALUES: There is some action and peril, a bit of rude humor and some thematic elements that may be too much for the littlest of tots.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third consecutive non-Pixar and non-Studio Ghibli animated film that Alan Tudyk has voiced, making him the John Ratzenberger of Disney.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/17/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Iron Giant
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Whiplash

Turbo


Snail fail.

Snail fail.

(2013) Animated Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, Mario Andretti, Michael Patrick Bell, Aidan Andrews, Paul Dooley, Latifa Ouaou. Directed by David Soren

If you must dream, dream big. It’s easy to dream of getting an ice cream cone – after all, that’s something nearly everyone can achieve. But for a snail to dream of winning the Indianapolis 500…

But that’s just what Theo (Reynolds) a.k.a. Turbo does. He dreams of being fast, to race alongside his idol Guy Gagne (Hader), a French Canadian who has won four Indies and is the most loved race car driver in the world. However, the reality is that for all of Theo’s dreams, he’s still a snail. His delusions make him the target of a lot of abuse, much to the chagrin of his brother Chet (Giamatti).

When a mistake on Theo’s part leads to a disaster at the tomato plant in which he works, his brother and Theo are both fired. Disconsolate, Theo goes to an overpass to watch traffic pass by…fast. However a chance truck sends him over the side and onto the hood of a street racing vehicle. When Theo is sucked into the manifold and it is flooded with nitrous oxide, Theo attains super-speed that allow him to go Indie car speeds. Barry Allen, take note.

Theo – make that Turbo – then chases down a crow that has taken Chet and rescues him. The two are then captured by Tito (Pena), the dreamer brother of a taco stand owner (Guzman) in a dilapidated strip mall and entered in snail races which of course Turbo dominates. Tito – with an assist from Turbo – then determines to enter his unique snail in the Indy 500. Tito’s snail pit crew of Whiplash (Jackson), Smoove Move (Dogg), Burn (Rudolph), Skidmark (Schwartz) and the White Shadow (Bell) are very much supportive; Chet, not so much.

However, things take on a life of their own and Turbo becomes the big story at Indy, bringing in record crowds and viewing numbers. This doesn’t sit well with Gagne who doesn’t relish being beaten by a snail. It will take every ounce of courage and fortitude for Turbo to achieve his unlikely but now well within his reach dreams.

I have to admit, auto racing does nothing for me so the subject of the movie left me underwhelmed. That’s a personal bias more than an indictment of the plot here. While I will admit that the snails make fascinating animation subjects, they are kind of limited as one-joke subjects; they’re slow, we get that. There’ s the slime trail and then…nothing. That means it was always an uphill climb for the writers and filmmakers to make these characters interesting and I will give ’em props for managing to do it more or less; sadly they were less successful with the human characters.

Although bashing Reynolds has become a popular critical pastime, you won’t find me joining in. His voice is expressive and he gives Turbo a heroic yet nebbish personality. One of the movie’s funnier sequences has Turbo getting pie faced by rotten tomatoes (it’s his job to dispose of them at the plant) which pretty much sums up the critical reaction to the film.

Yeah, there are a lot of pretty colors and kids are going to love it along with all the merchandising that is sure to follow. I will say that overall that the filmmakers purloined so many elements from so many films from the TRON-like neon trail that Turbo leaves when he’s in turbo mode to the Big Wheel-riding shell crusher kid who brings to mind Sid from Toy Story that a savvy moviegoer might be more entertained by spotting the rip-offs than actually watching the movie.

It’s been a pretty subpar year for animated features and this one isn’t going to redeem it any. By any measure, this is fairly bland entertainment for kid and parent alike. That doesn’t mean it won’t keep your kids happy and content in the theater which for a frazzled parent who’s had to deal with amped up kids all summer long is all the blessing you need.

REASONS TO GO: A bit better than you’d expect.

REASONS TO STAY: Not really into snails or race cars. Very derivative.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of cartoon violence and action as well as some thematic elements that might be a bit more than the very wee tots can handle.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: “Gagne” means “to win” in French.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/5/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100; the reviews are pretty mixed thus far.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ratatouille

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Wolverine

Grown Ups 2


Adam Sandler tries to convince a mob of angry critics not to throw him and his friends over the cliff.

Adam Sandler tries to convince a mob of angry critics not to throw him and his friends over the cliff.

(2013) Alleged Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Nick Swardson, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Jon Lovitz, Taylor Lautner, Shaquille O’Neal, Alexander Ludwig, Georgia Engel, Peter Dante, Oliver Hudson, Allen Covert, Steve Austin, April Rose. Directed by Dennis Dugan

Growing older is not merely learning to cope with the aches, pains and infirmities that are visited upon our bodies; it is also learning to deal with our own increasing irrelevance as those who are younger are catered to and worshiped while those who were once sitting pretty in the sun are shuffled aside into the shadows. Growing old sucks.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to for Lenny Feder (Sandler). A successful career as a Hollywood agent has allowed him to move his family back to Amoskeag Lake where he grew up and where his friends Eric Lamonsoff (James) – a world class mama’s boy – Kurt McKenzie (Rock), a sharp-witted man and lady’s man gone to seed Marcus Higgins (Spade). All are family men who are feeling a little bit of middle age envy as their responsibilities as husband and parents have forced them to put aside the fun and games of their younger days.

Lenny’s restlessness increases as the last day of school coincides with the anniversary of Kurt and Deanne (Rudolph) which Kurt wants to celebrate with a big party at Lenny’s house, much to the surprise of Lenny’s wife Roxanne (Hayek) who although not consulted is all for an 80s-themed shindig.

But there’s a hell of a lot going on. When Lenny and his bro’s head on over to the quarry that they swam in as young men, they find it infested with the college kids who are none too happy to find mere townies invading what is their space. Particularly put out is Andy (an uncredited Lautner), leader of a bunch of preppy frat rats who bump chests, give weird intricate handshakes and spout off things like “Yeah, that just happened” and “Boo-yah!” ESPN couldn’t pay enough for the free advertising.

Now the Hideous Preppy Frat Villains are out looking to crash Lenny’s party and put a beat-down on him and his 2OldCrew. Lenny’s high school nemesis, Tommy Cavanaugh (Austin) who terrorized him back in the day, is the boyfriend of Lenny’s daughter ‘s hot dance teacher (Rose) and continues to frighten Lenny even now, a trait which he’s passed on to his son.

All of the buddies are basically dealing with mid-life issues from Marcus’ attempts to bond with  switchblade-wielding son he never knew he had to Lenny’s feeling that he’s missing out on things because he spends so much time doing the “right” things. Can they resolve them, show the frat kids who’s boss and throw one hell of a party?

I have to admit that I didn’t mind the first Grown Ups so much. It had some laughs and some real moments in which the talented comics (which also included Rob Schneider who wasn’t able to fit this movie into his schedule – and when Rob Schneider can’t find time to do your movie, you know there’s a problem) bonded and showed some genuine warmth. It looked like a lot of fun to make which made a second film inevitable (as did the massive box office the first film did). Sadly, I’m not looking forward to a third film, not even a little bit.

This is as bad a movie as I’ve seen this year. There’s nothing remotely funny going on here, at least other than in the trailer in which you can see all of the movie’s best moments. And as for plot, what you have here is a series gags strung together without rhyme or reason. It’s very much throwing whatever you can find against the wall and hoping it sticks and ladies and gents, moose piss sticks to any wall just fine.

This is a real waste of talent and time. I wish it were different but I had more fun glancing at Da Queen and shaking my head than I did watching the goings on onscreen. I can’t put it any more plainly – this is the very worst movie you’ll see this year.

REASONS TO GO: Because you missed the movie’s trailer where all the best moments can be found.

REASONS TO STAY: It’s. Not. Funny.

FAMILY VALUES:  Quite a bit of crude and sexually suggestive language and some male butt shots.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Adam Sandler’s first sequel.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 7% positive reviews. Metacritic: 19/100; critics hated this and for once I can scarcely blame them.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Love You, Beth Cooper

FINAL RATING: 2/10

NEXT: Pacific Rim

New Releases for the Week of July 19, 2013


The Conjuring

THE CONJURING

(New Line) Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Kyla Deaver. Directed by James Wan

When a family is terrorized by unexplainable phenomenon in an isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse, they call in world-renowned husband-wife paranormal investigators Ed and Leslie Warren who made their bones on the Amityville house. What they discover there is something so frightening and violent that they’ve kept that case secret…until now.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for sequences of disturbing violence and terror)

The East

(Fox Searchlight) Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson. An ambitious young operative for a private security firm goes undercover in an anarchist group that’s targeting major corporations that it finds guilty of covering up criminal activity. The deeper she gets, the more she finds her own moral compass beginning to point East.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence, some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity)

Evidence

(RLJ/Image) Stephen Moyer, Radha Mitchell, Torrey DeVitto, Caitlin Stasey. Detectives investigating a massacre find a number of recording devices found at the crime scene. The footage reveals survivors of a bus crash fighting for their lives after a mysterious killer picks them off one by one.

See the trailer and stream the full movie on Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: NR

Girl Most Likely

(Roadside Attractions) Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Natasha Lyonne. When a New York playwright finds her career swirling down the toilet bowl after a crisis in confidence, she fakes a suicide attempt to win back her boyfriend who is dumping her. However, things don’t turn out as planned when she is put in the custody of her estranged mother, a gambling and drug addict, and leaving her Manhattan society circle for the Jersey Shore.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language) 

R.I.P.D.

(Universal) Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker. When a tough-as-nails cop is killed in the line of duty, he discovers that his duty doesn’t end with his mortal life; instead he is brought aboard the R.I.P.D., a next-life law enforcement team that tracks monstrous spirits on Earth who aren’t supposed to be there. Teamed up with a cynical Wild West lawman, the rookie is about to come face-to-face with a threat that could mean Armageddon…or at the very least Hell on Earth.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references)

Ramaiya Vastavaiya

(Tips Industries) Girish Taurani, Shruti K. Haasan, Randhir Kapoor, Vinod Khanna. A young man, Indian of descent but raised in Australia and a young woman from a beautiful village in the north of India. They meet at his cousin’s wedding and become instant friends, which deepens into an intense love. Circumstances force them to return to their homes. The man wants to woo his lady love but her protective family want him to prove himself. Will love triumph over all?

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

RED 2

(Summit) Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins. After re-retiring, the AARP superspies are called back to active duty to thwart a plot to detonate a nuclear device in Russia. The guy who created the device is crazy as a loon however and only one guy can actually get him to fork over the information they need – and I can bet you can guess who that is!

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material)

Turbo

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph. What could be more ridiculous than a snail that dreams of going fast. I’m not talking about crossing the sidewalk in five hours fast, I’m talking Indy 500 fast. Yeah, right…but this is an animated feature so anything is possible. Heck if snails can talk, why not have them go 200 MPH?

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (Opened Wednesday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and thematic elements)

The Way, Way Back

(Fox Searchlight) Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Liam James.  A 14-year-old boy’s summer is being ruined by his mom’s overbearing boyfriend. Retreating into a shell, he finds an unlikely friend in the owner of a water park. As he is coaxed into a less introverted state, he finds his own two feet to stand on – and a sense of who he is becoming in the summer of his life.

See the trailer, a promo, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming of Age Dramedy

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

New Releases for the Week of July 12, 2013


Grown Ups 2

GROWN UPS 2

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Taylor Lautner, Steve Buscemi, Maria Bello. Directed by Dennis Dugan.

Most of the all-star cast from the first movie is back and now the high-priced Hollywood agent has relocated to the small town he grew up in. It isn’t always idyllic but he is certain that it was the right move, and his family seems to agree. Now, joined by his friends, they are getting ready for the last day of school  for their kids – and find out that the grown ups still have an awful lot to learn.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Today)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity)

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

(Reliance) Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Dalip Tahil, Prakesh Raj. Milka Singh was once known as “the Flying Sikh” and was one of the most dominant sprinters of his day. However in the 1960 Rome Olympics, he lost a race he was heavily favored to win and found himself disgraced. His return and redemption was the stuff legends are made of.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens today)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: NR

Lootera

(Ramesh Sippy) Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Adil Hussain, Vikrant Massey. An archaeologist in the 1950s impresses the local magistrate and more so the magistrate’s feisty and independent daughter. However the archaeologist has some skeletons in his closet and rather than let them rattle around free decides to leave. However, you know he won’t stay left forever…

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Pacific Rim

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman. Humanity is at war with invaders from beneath our own oceans – a vicious, gigantic alien race called the Kaiju. To fight these nearly unstoppable creatures we develop gigantic robots we call Jaegers, machines powered by two linked, synchronous human minds. However we are still losing the war and humanity’s last chance boils down to an obsolete Jaeger run by two mismatched pilots – one an untested rookie, the other a burned-out pilot who has lost his edge. While this sounds like the plot for an anime, this is in reality a live action feature from director Guillermo del Toro.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Today)

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

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

The Pawn Shop Chronicles

(Anchor Bay) Paul Walker, Norman Reedus, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser. A Southern pawn shop sees a clientele of the weird, the wacky and the warped as three tales of sordid and strange goings on are wrapped around items being pawned. Among the customers are a man searching for his wife who’s been kidnapped, a pair of white-supremacist meth-addled crackers and a beaten-down Elvis impersonator. All wind up pawning items that cost more than they think.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for violence, sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language and some drug use)

Zookeeper


Zookeeper

Kevin James talks to his target demographic.

(2011) Family (Columbia) Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Joe Rogan, Ken Jeong, Cher (voice), Nick Nolte (voice), Adam Sandler (voice), Sylvester Stallone (voice), Judd Apatow (voice), Jon Favreau (voice), Maya Rudolph (voice), Faizon Love (voice), Don Rickles (voice). Directed by Frank Coraci

 

There’s a Hollywood platitude that a smart actor never works with kids or animals. Of course if a career is going to have any longevity, it is inevitable that one will someday have to work with either or both. If you’re going to do a movie set in a zoo…well, be prepared to be upstaged.

Griffin Keyes (James) is a zookeeper who really loves his job. He enjoys interacting with the animals in his charge and cares very much about them. He is a kindly, genial sort who is also quite shy and a bit clumsy. He is trying to get over the rejection given him by Stephanie (Bibb), his ex who turned down his elaborate marriage proposal five years earlier. It devastated his self-confidence and led him to an existence with virtually no social life.

He has earned the respect of the zoo’s veterinary zoologist Kate (Dawson) who sympathizes with his plight. Stephanie had dumped him because he was a zookeeper, someone with a limited income and limited possibilities. Of course Stephanie is a shallow materialistic individual that has no business with guy like Griffin anyway but Griffin doesn’t see that.

He has a chance to win her back, even though she’s seeing an ex-boyfriend named Gale (Rogan) who is as mean and as shallow as she is. The animals, thinking that Griffin will leave them unless he finds a girl in town who will keep him there, decide to give Griffin dating advice so that he can win the girl.

Of course, this unnerves Griffin more than a little bit. It turns out however that animals can in fact talk and just choose not to because it freaks out the humans when they do. Griffin particularly bonds with Bernie the Gorilla (Nolte) who is depressed. Griffin cheers him up (by taking him to a TGI Fridays of all places) and the two become best friends. No comment on being the best friend of a primate, please.

Of course Griffin must eventually make  a choice between Stephanie and a life as a successful car salesman and Kate and a life as a humble zookeeper. I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which way the wind blows on this one.

The movie got critically panned during its release last year and it made a few “Worst film of the year” lists which I think is a bit harsh. Certainly there are some misfires here.

Casting James isn’t one of them. He is one of the most likable actors working in Hollywood and it’s hard not to root for him, even if his romantic leads of Bibb and Dawson don’t seem to be the types who would fall for pudgy older men. Of course, as a pudgy older man I have some experience in this.

The problem here is mostly with the zoo animals. They were matched with celebrity stunt voice casting which might have pulled a few bodies into the theater at the time but the CG was a little bit rough and the voices don’t always go with the animals really well.

Worse still, I get the sense that this was a movie that wanted to pull in an adult audience but the studio was aiming for a family audience and we got jokes that fell somewhere in-between. Some of the jokes were probably a bit much for kids, and others a bit dumbed down for their parents. Try to please everybody and you wind up pleasing nobody, and that statement is never truer than it is here.

There is some heart and charm and it shows through at unexpected times. Dawson does a great job as being the girlfriend everyone wants to have – just like in Clerks 2. She reminds me a little bit of Meg Ryan in that regard; she has a big future in romantic comedies in my opinion. Kevin James is also pleasant to watch.

And that really sums up the movie in a nutshell. It’s pleasant but not particularly memorable. You won’t hate it while you’re watching it but you won’t love it either. It’s just kinda…there. Your kids might get a kick out of the talking animals but something tells me that it won’t be enough for them to put it on their regular viewing list.

WHY RENT THIS: James is plenty likable and Dawson is the girlfriend every guy wants.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The animals don’t quite work out so well and the humor is mostly either too over the heads of kids or too dumbed down for adults.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some rude humor, a little bit of innuendo and some mildly bad words. Still acceptable for nearly all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Hong, who voiced noodle shop owner Mr. Ping, is the son of an actual noodle shop owner.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and an in-depth look at the creation of Bernie the Gorilla in physical effects. The Blu-Ray also contains a playable demo for a Sony Playstation 3 Game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $169.9M on an $80M production budget; the movie basically made back its production budget during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: House on Haunted Hill (1999)