Take Me Home Tonight


Take Me Home Tonight

Topher Grace is disconcerted that Teresa Palmer has never heard of "That 70s Show."

(2011) Comedy (Rogue) Topher Grace, Teresa Palmer, Dan Fogler, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Lucy Punch, Michael Ian Black, Demitri Martin, Michael Biehn, Bob Odenkirk, Angie Everhart, Jay Jablonski, Edwin Hodge. Directed by Michael Dowse 

Honesty is the best policy; it has been said time and time again but few of us really regard it as true. Most of us will lie about how successful we are, how old we are, what we did during the day – even who we are – to impress someone else. In an age where lies are commonplace and Internet identities are meaningless, we sometimes forget we used to have to tell our lies face-to-face.

In a sense, Matt Franklin has been lying to himself. He is an MIT grad who doesn’t really want to be an engineer, but kinda does. He’s not sure. He’s really not sure about anything. So he lives at home with his policeman dad (Biehn) and housewife mom and twin sister Wendy (Faris) and works at Suncoast Video (are there any of those left?) in the local Mall. Oh, did I mention its 1988?

Into his mall walks Tori Frederking (Palmer), the high school crush he never had the guts to ask out because he never had an “in” and about whom he was just coincidentally talking about with his best friend Barry Nathan (Fogler), a Mercedes salesman who’s about to get fired, although he doesn’t really know it (but he kinda does). Matt nervously strikes up a conversation with his unrequited love, trying to act nonchalant but getting flustered when she mentions her successes – graduation (with honors) from Duke, a job at a high-end investment banking firm.

That’s why Matt blurts out that he’s working at Goldman Sachs, which is a bit weird because apparently they don’t have an L.A. office (which is really weird because of course they do – even in the 80s, all of the big financial firms had L.A. offices). She asks if he’s going to a party that evening, and even though he wasn’t planning to; it’s at the home of Kyle Masterson (Pratt), the smarmy preppy boyfriend of Wendy who doesn’t even know that she applied to Cambridge (which I suppose is supposed to be Oxford but who am I kidding?) or that she would move to England if she was accepted.  The letter detailing whether she got in or not sits unopened in her purse.

So yes, this is one of those “life changing party” movies that had their genesis in the ‘80s and there are plenty of nods here to the era from a decidedly John Hughes-like tone to the big hair to the cocaine use. As someone who lived in Los Angeles in the 80s, I can tell you that they did get the mall culture right, and if the movie is a bit smug in its nod to the wealthy – both of the parties depicted here are in the homes of rich people, even if Matt and Wendy live in the burbs as the children of a cop who put most of his retirement money into Matt’s education, only to see him take a job at the mall. Money well spent, eh dad?

There are a few laughs here although not nearly as many as in the similarly-themed Hot Tub Time Machine which was a much better movie than this one. Then again it’s something of a miracle we’re seeing this movie at all; it was actually filmed four years ago, but Universal, which then owned the distribution rights through their Rogue imprint didn’t feel confident about releasing it and it sat on the shelf until the Starz-owned Overture distributors bought Rogue. Overture was in turn purchased by new distributors Relativity who then added it to the release schedule.

Grace can be truly charming (as he showed in “That 70s Show”) but he looks a bit lost here. His character is so wishy-washy that it’s difficult to get behind him fully and it gets frustrating to watch him flounder, which he does for much of the movie. Fogler, who hasn’t always been impressive in his film roles, does actually manage some of his best work here – a scene where he is lured into a threesome (of sorts) in a Beverly Hills bathroom with a Cougar who turns out to be “Law & Order” hottie Angie Everhart (shockingly unrecognizable here) is one of the movie’s highlights.

Unfortunately much of the movie relies on unfunny gags and uninspired bits. The movie relies far too much on the ‘80s gimmick and poking fun at a decade which is too much like shooting fish in a barrel. I liked the Goldman Sachs reference until I realized that it was inserted in well before the financial meltdown that Goldman Sachs had such a hand in so the reference was kind of accidental.

This is one of those movies that has enough good moments so that it’s not an utter waste of time, but is frustrating because it does waste its potential. I liked the tone of the movie; it just could have used a few more laughs to keep the pace moving along.

REASONS TO GO: There are a few funny moments, particularly between Grace and Fogler. Palmer is awfully pretty and Faris has a role that is completely out of her comfort zone but she still nails it anyway.

REASONS TO STAY: Not enough laughs to sustain the movie. There is a little bit of heart and warmth and while the film nails the “look” of the era, doesn’t really capture its essence, preferring to focus on the excesses of the time.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of bad words, lots of drug use, plenty of sex and nudity but hey, it’s the 80s!

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It took four years for the movie to see the light of day, mainly over studio reluctance to show all the drug use; during the down time the title changed from “Young Americans” to “Kids in America” to the present one, taken from an Eddie Money song that while played in the trailer never appears in the film.

HOME OR THEATER: Chances are this will be gone from theaters before you can get out to see it anyway, so I’d make this a rental.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Looking for Eric

New Releases for the Week of March 4, 2011


March 4, 2011
To be…or not to be…

RANGO

(Paramount) Starring the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abagail Breslin, Ray Winstone, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Beth Grant, Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, Alfred Molina. Directed by Gore Verbinski

A chameleon with ambitions of becoming an Errol Flynn-like swashbuckling hero moseys into a dusty Western town that is beset by outlaws and other scumbags. He’ll have to become the hero he always dreamed of being in order to save the town and it’s good citizens from lawless animals…literally.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

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

The Adjustment Bureau 

(Universal) Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Terrence Stamp. An ambitious politician running for U.S. Senate meets a beautiful girl who turns his world upside down. There’s just one problem – he’s not supposed to be with her. His fate lies along another pathway – and there are agents of Fate who mean to insure that he takes that pathway, no matter what. He must find a way to do something most men fail to do – evade his own fate – in order to be with the woman he loves.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image)

Beastly

(CBS) Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris. In this Digital Age retelling of the timeless classic Beauty and the Beast, an arrogant prick of a high school senior gets by on his good looks and wealth until he pisses off the wrong woman – a mystical witch. She curses him with ugliness until he can find someone to fall in love with him as he is – or else stay in this state of hideousness for the rest of his life.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for language including some crude comments, drug references and brief violence)

Cedar Rapids

(Fox Searchlight) Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche. A mild-mannered, naïve insurance agent from a small town ventures to a convention in the titular city, only to be steered into the wild ways of the conventioneer by veterans of the circuit. As his life spins merrily out of control, he begins to discover that perhaps expanding one’s horizons isn’t so bad after all…assuming he survives it. One of the funniest trailers I’ve seen in a long time, by the way – it’s super awesome!

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Marwencol

(The Cinema Guild) Mark Hogancamp, Jeff Malmberg. A brutal beating left ex-navy veteran and carpenter Hogancamp unable to speak, walk or eat and most of his memories of his former life gone. While occupational and physical therapy brought him part of the way back, his insurance was cut off, forcing him to rely on alternate means. He builds a World War Two-era Belgian town called Marwencol in his backyard (at 1/6 size) and populates it with G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls, acting out his fantasies and his messages. As the world begins to find the art that Hogancamp creates, he finds it the encroaching fame perhaps the most difficult thing to handle of all.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Take Me Home Tonight

(Relativity) Topher Grace, Anna Farris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer. A graduate of the MIT class of 1988 drifts aimlessly in Southern California, choosing to work as a clerk in a video store rather than taking a job at some Fortune 500 company to begin that upward path to success. When he is invited to a party by the girl that he had a crush on throughout high school, he means to go and impress her – with nothing really in his arsenal to impress her with. It’s one last chance at redemption, all set to the throbbing New Wave and Hip Hop beat of timeless classics…yes, I’m talking about you, Eddie Money.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

I Am Number Four


I Am Number Four

Timothy Olyphant and Alex Pettyfer discover that catering has run out of bran muffins.

(2011) Science Fiction (DreamWorks) Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel, Jeff Hochendoner, Patrick Sebes, Cooper Thornton, Judith Hoag, Emily Wickersham, Jack Walz. Directed by D.J. Caruso

Growing up is hard enough without moving from place to place, never being able to set down roots or forge deep connections with friends. How much worse is it when you’re being chased by alien killers bent on your destruction before you develop powers over which you have no control and no idea what those powers are going to be?

Ask John Smith (Pettyfer) all about it. That’s not really his name; he’s not even human. He is Number Four, one of nine young teenagers who are the last of their kind, bred to be protectors of their race, the Loriens, but a cruel, homicidal race called the Mogadorians wiped them out before the teens could develop their powers. They were then brought to Earth, each with a warrior-guardian to protect them until their powers manifested.

Unfortunately, the Mogadorians followed them to Earth and have started to kill the teens, one at a time in order. Each teen is wearing a pendant with a symbol on it; the Mogadorians are taking them with each murder. The first three are dead; John is next on the hit list. After John makes an unwanted YouTube appearance, he and his guardian Henri (Olyphant) are forced to relocate to the lovely Rust Belt town of Paradise, Ohio.

Despite Henri’s warning for John to stay home and skip school, he gets stir crazy and enrolls in the local high school. There he meets Sam (McAuliffe), the resident geek whose dad disappeared a few years back and who was something of a UFO nut. He also falls for Sarah (Agron), the town shutterbug which leads him to run afoul of Mark (Abel), the quarterback of the football team and something of a jock jerk (ah, the timelessness of stereotypes).

However, the Mogadorians are hot on his trail and so is a hot young blonde named Jane Doe (Palmer) who turns out to be Number Six. Together, the four young people will take on the Mogadorians and their monstrous creatures, a sort of combination between a rhino, a bat, a dog and a crab – only about twenty feet long and ten feet tall.

This is based on a book that was co-written by James Frey, who you may recall caused a stir some years back when Oprah ordained his alleged biography as a book about courage until it came out that he had fudged a number of the facts in it. He has since founded a writing collective called Full Fathom Five and this book, the first in a series, was credited to Pittacus Lore which is Frey and Jobie Hughes. There is actually quite a backstory to the writing and publishing of the book which in some ways is more fascinating than the actual book itself.

I had fairly high hopes for the movie not so much for who was onscreen but for who was behind it. Caruso is a highly talented director whose works include Suburbia and Eagle Eye. There is also writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar of “Smallville” and Marti Noxon of  “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”  as well as Michael Bay in the producer’s chair and of course Steven Spielberg lurking in the background as the head honcho of DreamWorks.

Certainly of all the young adult fantasy novels that have come our way in recent years trying to create a franchise for themselves, this isn’t the worst of them. It isn’t the best either; certainly not along the lines of a Harry Potter or a Narnia (or some would argue, the Twilight series). Still it has a good deal going for it.

First and foremost is Pettyfer, a young British up and comer whose angular good looks and smoldering screen presence is certain to set a lot of young pre-teen and teenaged hearts a-flutter; certainly Hollywood has noticed, casting Pettyfer in a number of high profile projects in the coming months. Here, he is ideally suited to the role of John carrying off both the brooding angst as well as the yearning for normalcy that is present in most teenagers – needing to fit in and stand out all at once.

Olyphant is one of those actors who elevate most of the projects he’s involved in. Best known for his work in “Deadwood,” he is circling around a breakout role that will elevate him into stardom. He hasn’t gotten there yet but it’s only a matter of time. The two females, Agron from “Glee” and Palmer, who is set to appear in the new Mad Max: Fury Road, are gorgeous but while Agron is fairly disposable, Palmer has the makings of a solid female action star.

The problem here is that the movie spends a whole lot of time dwelling on the teen interrelationships that make it a lot like “One Tree Hill” and the like. I’m wondering if the filmmakers are consciously trying to appeal to the teen soap crowd as well as the action/sci-fi crowd; it’s only in the last 30 minutes that the movie really takes off and when it does, it’s a solid, fun movie with some nifty special effects and CGI beasties.

Unfortunately it takes awhile to get there. The set-up of the movie takes a bit too long, and too much time is spent with Henri acting like a mother hen to John and John brooding over Sarah, or raging at Mark and his goon squad. I haven’t read the book but from the synopsis I’ve read of its plot, the movie seems to follow it pretty basically and quite frankly, that element of the book doesn’t work well cinematically speaking.

Still, the last 30 minutes are quite a ride and if you’re willing to sit through the first 60 minutes, it’s worth the wait. Pettyfer is to my mind a future star – he has everything going for him, especially the screen presence which is an intangible you can’t teach. Caruso helped make Shia LaBeouf a star and despite the pretty much universally negative reviews of this one, I can’t help but think that what’s going to emerge the most from this film is not necessarily a new franchise for DreamWorks but a new star who is going to have a really good career ahead of him.

REASONS TO GO: The last 30 minutes are a great ride. Pettyfer has big star written all over him.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much exposition to begin with. Goes the teen soap route and really torpedoes the sci-fi action vibe.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some intense sequences of violence and sci-fi action. There are a few bad words, but not really in a pervasive manner.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shalto Copley was originally cast as Henri but had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict.

HOME OR THEATER: The last 30 minutes should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Collector

New Releases For the Week of February 18, 2011


February 18, 2011

Tell 'em Liam Neeson's coming...and a Cold Day in Hell's coming with him!

UNKNOWN

(Warner Brothers) Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Bruno Ganz, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

A trip to a conference in Berlin for a doctor and his wife turns into something far more sinister when the two are involved in a car accident. When the doctor wakes from a four-day coma, his wife doesn’t recognize him and there appears to be a different person in his identity. Is he suffering from brain damage and doesn’t realize his true identity, which is what the authorities believe? Or is there something different going on, something with terrible ramifications?

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content)

Barney’s Version 

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver. A seemingly ordinary man writes a book about his life, which is far from ordinary. His story spans three decades, three wives, two continents, one wacky dad and a bizarre best friend. This is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler, best known for his novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Yeah, I know – that’s like counting the rings on trees to determine how old they are.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips and an online review here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

(20th Century Fox) Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas, Faizon Love. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner returns as his undercover alter ego, this time as a house mother in an all-girls school – where he is taking his son with him to learn the family business. Oy vey.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual humor and brief violence)

I Am Number Four

(DreamWorks) Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron. A young teenager in a typical small American town is anything but typical. In reality, he’s one of the last survivors of an alien race who is being hunted into extinction by powerful alien assassins, who are trying to wipe him out before his powers begin to manifest. That can make finding a date for prom problematic.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Science Fiction

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

Bedtime Stories


Bedtime Stories

A rose by any other name doth smelleth.

(2008) Fantasy (Disney) Adam Sandler, Guy Pearce, Keri Russell, Richard Griffiths, Courtney Cox, Lucy Lawless, Teresa Palmer, Russell Brand, Aisha Tyler, Jonathan Pryce, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Laura Ann Kesling, Carmen Electra, Paul Dooley, Rob Schneider. Directed by Adam Shankman

There is something comforting about a good old fashioned bedtime story. They transport us to faraway places and show us fantastic sights with strange and magical beings. This is part of the comforts of our childhood, as well as the joys of our parenthood.

Skeeter (Sandler) had a vivid imagination and loved to tell stories almost as much as he loved his dad’s (Pryce) hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Times were hard and his dad wound up having to sell the hotel to Barry Nottingham (Griffiths), owner of a chain of hotels – the understanding being that Skeeter would one day run the hotel.

Years later, Skeeter was still working at the hotel as a handyman but the days of the hotel were numbered; Nottingham had plans to build a new hotel, the flagship of his chain. Unctuous manager Kendall (Pearce) has the inside track for the position, as well as for Violet (Palmer), the tabloid bad girl who seems to always have a cloud of paparazzi following her.

Skeeter’s sister Wendy (Cox), the principal of an eco-friendly school, is having to look for new work in Phoenix when her school is abruptly closed, the land sold to a hotel magnate (you can guess who that is). She needs someone to watch her kids, daughter Bobbi (Kesling) and son Patrick (Heit) and Skeeter is essentially her only resort since her best friend Jill (Russell) must work. She doesn’t trust Skeeter – in fact, she hasn’t spoken to him in four years and he can barely remember the names of her children. Family is family though, so he does the best he can.

Turns out they can’t fall asleep without a bedtime story. He has them suggest one to him and he tells it to them, incorporating elements of his own life into the story. When the kids change the ending to include a rainstorm of gumballs, he doesn’t think much of it…until the sky opens up the next day and gumballs rain down.

Skeeter realizes that the kids have the ability to make their bedtime stories come true and he tries to manipulate their stories so that he gets what he wants in life. However, try controlling a couple of kids with vivid imaginations and as this is a Disney movie, you can bet that things are gonna get complicated.

Sandler can be an engaging and charming guy and there’s no doubt that he can appeal to the younger set, but this is actually his first family movie and in a lot of ways it feels kind of vanilla – more so than a family film would demand ordinarily. Not that Sandler has to be blue to be successful, but he feels very toned down, scaled back and watered down. I get the feeling that was more the doing of studio execs at the Mouse House more than anything but still the effect is the same.

There are several story segments, ranging from Ancient Rome to the Old West to Outer Space and beyond. Some of them are imaginative, others less so but they mostly hold your attention at least. So too (but for all the wrong reasons) does the guinea pig with saucer-like eyes that is used as a running joke in the movie. It’s CGI and not particularly good CGI; it’s a tiresome one-joke bit that is used way too often.

The cast is pretty impressive and for the most part, the acting is solid enough but again, nothing really stands up and makes you take notice. Russell is one of my favorite actresses and she lights up the screen when she’s on, but never really generates much chemistry with Sandler. Pearce, in a moustache-twirling villain role, seems a bit out of his element.

 There really doesn’t seem to be much of a message here, which would be refreshing if there was something else concrete to take its place, like sly wit or humor. I felt rather indifferent after seeing this and that’s not where you want your movie to be. I would have liked there to be more edge here, but unfortunately it can be filed away with Tooth Fairy, The Pacifier and other family films of that ilk that have a bit of magic to them, but only a bit.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the story segments are cute and imaginative. Sandler is likable in a kind of oafish way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sandler goes family-friendly but it comes off a bit bland.

FAMILY VALUES: Disney knows family friendly and this is it. A few bad words and some poo-poo jokes but otherwise easily family-friendly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: On the driving range, one of the golf balls that goes whizzing by bears the Happy Madison logo, a reference to the production company logo.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $212.9M on an $80M production budget; the movie made money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Art of the Steal