You Again


You Again

Jamie Lee Curtis keeps an eye out for Michael Meyers while Sigourney Weaver is just happy there are no aliens about.

(2010) Comedy (Touchstone) Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Victor Garber, Kristin Chenoweth, Betty White, Jimmy Wolk, Sean Wing, Kyle Bornheimer, Billy Unger, Christine Lakin, Meagan Holder, Patrick Duffy. Directed by Andy Fickman

We can’t escape our high school years. Try as we might, they follow us around like embarrassing photographs, our most ill-advised moments and heartbreaking renderings of teen angst caught in living color. Like it or not, we are shaped by those years. Surviving them just makes us stronger.

Marni Olsen (Bell) is living proof of that. She is a beautiful, confident marketing vice-president at a public relations firm whose career is on an upward spiral. She’s a far cry from the awkward teenager with the bad skin, braces, terrible fashion sense and unreliable social skills that she was. She was tormented by J.J. (Yustman), the head cheerleader with a vicious streak who refers to Marni as “Moo” (Marni’s middle name is Olivia which should be a lesson to expecting parents when coming up with names for their kid) and does everything humanly possible to make her high school experience comparable with a four year-long root canal. But Marni has moved past all that.

She’s come home for her brother Will’s (Wolk) impending nuptials to what sounds like a living saint named Joanna, who works with the underprivileged and so on. Of course this being a Hollywood film, we all know who Joanna used to be right? Right! From that moment, Marni makes it her mission to subvert the wedding because she knows that Joanna will make Will’s life miserable too.

Marni’s mom Gail (Curtis) tries to talk Marni down from her neurotic treehouse but Marni is having none of it. Of course, all that comes to a screeching halt when Gail meets Joanna’s Aunt Ramona (Weaver) who was Gail’s high school nemesis. Marni’s dad Mark (Garber) – on a strange diet where he is required to eat blindfolded (don’t ask) – is at first befuddled by all this but his bemusement evaporates as things get out of control.

Also along for the hilarity is Betty White as Grandma Bunny which is yet another Betty White shocking grandma role, Kristin Chenoweth as a Southern-fried wedding planner and Kyle Bornheimer as Joanna’s obsessive ex.

There are well-dressed people falling into swimming pools. There are inopportune ant bites. There is True Love that Triumphs Over All. Yeah, this is a Hollywood romantic comedy and we’ve seen it all before.

Still, I can’t quite bring myself not to like this movie.  For one thing, it’s got Weaver and Curtis, two of the strongest actresses of the past thirty years, and seeing them together is worth the price of rental right there (although I would have preferred to see them battling an alien with a butcher knife if I had my druthers) and Bell and Yustman are both wonderful eye candy.

There’s a warm center to the movie that overcomes many of its sins. I was charmed by Garber and Chenoweth as well as the four leads and even if I knew what was coming, it still entertained me when it finally arrived and left me with the warm fuzzies when the credits finished rolling. The movie got a critical savaging when it was released and I can kind of understand why – there isn’t a lot of inventiveness here. Still in all, there is enough charm and wit to keep its head above water; I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s Jamie Lee Freaking Curtis and Sigourney Frickin’ Weaver. More charming and warm than it got credit for.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Yeah, we’ve seen it all before in dozens of other movies. Gags are a little rote and telegraphed big time.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mildly bad words but this is Disney so nothing too out-of-control.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Referencing a joke in the movie, Weaver and Curtis wore the same dress to the film’s premiere.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a three minute Funny or Die sketch of the four main actresses sniping at each other during an interview, a gag reel and an “ask the cast” segment in which they give their opinions on various romantic questions.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $32M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a financial disappointment.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Get Smart

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And Soon the Darkness


And Soon the Darkness

Both these girls need to take Horror Movie Heroine 101 over again

(2010) Thriller (Anchor Bay) Amber Heard, Odette Yustman, Karl Urban, Adriana Barraza, Cesar Vianco, Michel Noher, Luis Sabatini, Daniel Figuereido, Jorge Booth, Gia Mantegna, Javier Luna, Andrea Verdun.  Directed by Marcos Efron

Travel is one of life’s sublime pleasures. Seeing a new place, investigating a new culture can be a good way of broadening your horizon and gaining new perspective. Travel in a foreign  country however can be exceedingly dangerous as well.

Stephanie (Heard) and Ellie (Yustman) are a couple of cute American girls who decide to break off from their tour group in Argentina and go biking around some of the more rural parts. Two young girls alone, who don’t speak the language biking in a rural part of a country not known for being the safest place on earth. Sounds reasonable to me.

They stop by the Hotel Ass End of Nowhere and are warned to stay away from a certain lake by the desk clerk (Barraza). They need to get up early to catch a bus that will take them back to their group, so of course they go out and party the night before. While Stephanie is the responsible one, Ellie never met a guy she didn’t flirt with or a drink that didn’t make her shout WOOOOOOOOH! (the international mating call for college-age girls). Of course that leads to a tussle in which  strong silent guy named Michal (Urban) kicks the shit out of a local who is getting too familiar.

Of course in the struggle the alarm clock gets unplugged, they miss their bus and decide to go to the forbidden lake to sunbathe in skimpy bikinis. Of course they have an argument and Stephanie storms away. Of course Ellie disappears. Of course the police, in the form of Calvo (Vianco) dispute that Ellie is gone. And Michael, who claims to be looking for his own girlfriend, complicates matters. Is he really looking for his girlfriend or is he in fact the one who took Ellie?

Director Efron based this on a 1970 British film of the same name. I actually saw that one a long time go; there are some images I remember from it but little else save that Pamela Franklin played the good girl and Michele Dotrice the party girl – OK I remembered Franklin but I had to look Dotrice up on IMDB.

Heard is an appealing actress who is one of those performers who always puts on a performance that no matter how bad or how good the movie is, is always a strong effort. She has kind of a stock horror movie role of the plucky heroine and there really isn’t a lot she can do with it, but she makes the best of it. Yustman is a beautiful girl who sometimes gets roles that basically has only that element to them –  the pretty party girl. She does it well enough but I get the sense that she has much more in her than that. I hope she gets to show off her range one of these days.

One of the problems with this movie is that it is based on a movie that really has a lot of clichés built into it. The original could have used a little more originality and the remake doesn’t give the original any twists, nothing that would set it apart from the rest. Karl Urban, who was so good in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plays the suspect with a likable performance but you never get the sense that Michael is seriously the culprit.

You should figure out what’s going on pretty early on. This is one of those movies where the heroines put themselves into jeopardy by acting in a way no intelligence young woman (whom Stephanie is purported to be) would ever act. Sorry guys; if you’re going to get two young women taking a bike tour on their own in Argentina, you’re going to need a better way than this to get them isolated and vulnerable. You’re also going to need a better movie than this to get my attention.

WHY RENT THIS: Some genuinely thrilling moments. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An extremely derivative movie that could have used some stronger performances from its stars.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of violence, a bit of brief torture, an even more brief bit of sexuality and a little bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this movie is set in Argentina, the original British thriller it’s based on was set in France.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a director’s video diary here if you like that sort of thing.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: One Day

Operation: Endgame


Operation: Endgame

Zach Galifianakis supplements his income with a part-time job at Target.

(2010) Spy Comedy (Anchor Bay) Joe Anderson, Ellen Barkin, Rob Corddry, Odette Yustman, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Ving Rhames, Emilie de Ravin, Maggie Q, Brandon T. Jackson, Beth Grant, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Hitchcock. Directed by Fouad Mikati

When you are a highly-trained assassin, paranoia is part of your daily routine. Of course, if you’re locked in a bunker with a group of other highly-trained assassins all of whom seem hell-bent on killing you, that paranoia might seem downright reasonable.

It is the day of new President Obama’s inauguration. In Los Angeles, an underground bunker is the headquarters for a group called the Factory, two teams of highly skilled killers (Team Alpha and Team Omega) are welcoming a new recruit to their ranks. He is codename Fool (Anderson) and no, that’s not a knock against his intelligence; all of the operatives have codenames based on the tarot deck.

However, there is much more going on than meets the eye. There is a traitor in their ranks and when Devil (Tambor) turns up deceased, the facility is accidentally put on lockdown with 90 minutes to evacuate before going ka-boom. With the identity of Devil’s murderer in question, suspicions run rampant and it becomes crystal clear that the orders have come down from on high that the two teams have been ordered to eliminate each other. Who, if anyone, will be left standing at the end is pretty much anybody’s guess.

 The concept is pretty nifty and the cast even more so, so that should make for a terrific movie right? As we all know, that isn’t always the case. The movie is sabotaged by sub-par production values and awkward moments that bring proceedings to a screeching halt every so often, and that’s not what you want to do in a thriller, an action movie, a spy movie or a comedy, all of which this movie has elements of. Maybe that’s part of the problem – too many genres in this soup.

Anderson is a bland lead, although Yustman as the romantic interest (who has a history with Fool) is pretty solid. Galifianakis, who was on the cusp of hitting it big when this was filmed, has little more than an extended cameo as a brilliant but deranged individual haunting the corridors of the bunker. Barkin is wonderful as usual as a cruel chain-smoking bitch who heads one of the teams; I’ve always thought of her as the thinking person’s Cameron Diaz. Corddry also gets kudos for an acerbic foul-mouthed mentor for Fool.

I like that the bunker is more or less a bunch of offices, and the assassins dispatch each other with a variety of office supplies. Some of these murders are rather clever and more than a few are pretty gruesome. The somewhat banal environment accentuates the horror of the bloodshed nicely. These sequences tend to work better than most of the others in the movie. While the cast is impressive, for the most part the characters are kind of one-note and exist to have a cool Tarot-related name and eventually get bumped off.

All of this could have been forgiven if the movie had a little bit more fun in it but the fun felt forced. I would have wished for something with a little more energy; at times, it felt like a direct-to-cable release that in a lot of ways it was. Operation: Endgame got a very brief theatrical release before going to home video which is where you’re going to find it now, assuming you still want to look for it. There are some moments that are genuinely entertaining, but not enough to keep my interest throughout.

WHY RENT THIS: Fun concept and when the movie hits its high notes, it is quite entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough high notes. Feels more like a made-for-cable movie.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence is pretty much off-the-chart, there are a few sexual references and a good deal of swearing permeates the soundtrack.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled “Rogue’s Gallery.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Change-Up

The Unborn


The Unborn

Idris Elba finds out firsthand that kids suck, especially creepy icy blue-eyed dybbuk kids.

(Rogue) Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Carla Gugino, Jane Alexander, Idris Elba, Rhys Coiro, James Remar. Directed by David S. Goyer

Life is precious and we get to experience it all-too-briefly. If it’s precious to us, how much more so must it be to an entity that doesn’t possess it?

Casey Beldon (Yustman) has been experiencing some terrifying nightmares of late, bad dreams that she can’t explain but are unsettling. She is a pretty college student with a group of awesome friends, but those nightmares are starting to spill over into her waking hours. Images of creepy children with icy blue eyes, dogs with creepy masks, creepy fetuses floating in creepy jars, creepy big-ass ants, creepy creepy creepy.

It turns out that Casey is actually one-half of a matching set; she had a twin who had died in utero, leading to the suicide of her mother (Gugino) and some lingering guilt from her dad (Remar). Along the way she is led to an ancient woman in a nursing home who – surprise! – turns out to be her grandma Sophie (Alexander) and also a concentration camp survivor. It also turns out that the experimentation that had been performed upon identical twin in Auschwitz had led to the unleashing of a dybbuk, a creature from Jewish legend that was the spirit of the unborn. And this particular dybbuk (with the innocuous name of Jumby) wants to be born in the worst way.

Casey watches her friends get picked off one by one by the angry Jumby and those he is able to control until she reaches out to the local Rabbi Sendak (Oldman) for help. This leads to the mother of all exorcisms, this one from the Jewish tradition and involves the bleating of a ram’s horn courtesy of the good Rabbi, who must have gotten a kick of the irony of a cleric named for the author of Where the Wild Things Are blowing through a ram’s horn.

I read several fanboy-type reviews that bashed this movie and particularly the director, sneering at a resume that includes such treats as The Invisible to his directing resume and Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and Puppetmaster vs. Demonic Toys as a writer. However, they fail to mention he also wrote the remarkable Dark City and the last two Batman movies as well. That’s what we in the critic biz call “selective resume tunnel vision” or SRTV for short. It’s a terrible condition, so give generously at the next telethon.

This is actually not a bad horror movie at all. It has a lot of the requisite elements – a major league yechh factor, frightening images, attractive female leads dressed in skimpy underwear and plenty of shock frights to give you the jumpies. It is a bit light on the sex, which is a bit intriguing considering it is essentially a horror movie about something wanting to be born so bad it would kill for it, but I suspect that the studio wanted a PG-13 rating which is what this got. Sometimes, you gotta go for the gusto for a really effective scare film.

Odette Yustman is a pretty girl and a decent actress, but I’m not sure she’s really scream queen material. She doesn’t have that kick-ass quality that a good horror heroine needs, and her character is written to be a bit on the passive side anyway, which makes it harder for the audience to connect with her. Alexander stands out in a fairly solid supporting cast as the grandmother, and Twilight’s Gigandet does well as the second banana boyfriend.

I give Goyer props for writing a supernatural theme from a Jewish viewpoint instead of the usual Catholic one. It gives the movie a nice twist that sets it apart from other supernatural horror movies. If you’re looking for a disc that’s going to deliver some nice frights and make for a dark night scary movie popcorn evening, this one certainly makes a solid candidate.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some pretty nifty visuals, particularly the demonic upside-down headed people and dogs. Some quirky humor scattered throughout shows up at unexpected moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the plot points stretch believability to the breaking point. I couldn’t really get behind Yustman who seems a bit too passive to be a horror heroine.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of graphic violence and terrifying images, lots of foul language (hey, you’d swear too) and some implied sexuality in this one, so no kiddies allowed.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene depicting concentration camp experimentation on the pigmentation of the iris of the eyes is based on actual experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele who is, we assume, the doctor depicted here.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief