Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Love You, Man

I Love You, Man is the latest from writer/director John Hamburg whose previous directing job was the less than stellar Along Came Polly. However, he's also the guy who contributed to the screenplays for Zoolander and Meet the Parents, the latter of which is one of my favorite comedies of the past decade. That, coupled with the use of two of the most relevant funny guys in the business right now in Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, had me very much looking forward to this movie.

The story is simple, silly, and a bit contrived. Rudd's character, Peter Klaven, is getting married but doesn't have any close friends. He was always a girlfriend kind of guy, so now he's scrounging at the last minute to find a best man. I imagine he could have easily used his brother or his dad, but that wouldn't be very entertaining. After a hilarious failed attempt to bond at a guy's poker night, Peter begins to go on a series of "man-dates," getting advice from his homosexual brother. This turns out exactly as you'd expect, and Peter had just about given up hope when he meets Sydney Fife (Segel), a philosophical, free spirited fellow, at a open house for a Hollywood mansion that Peter is trying to sell. They hit it off immediately and go out for some beers and fish tacos which leads to future "dates;" usually last minute, and usually involving Peter skipping work to go walk on the boardwalk or practice their Rush set list in Sydney's "man-cave" on his plethora of band equipment. Of course, this starts to not sit well with Peter's fiancé, Zooey, who has been more than supportive to this point. Peter then reverts back to his old, whipped self and basically breaks up with Sydney, who is heart broken, especially since all of his other friends have grown up and moved on with their lives. There is never any real conflict and of course the ending wraps everything up nicely.

Obviously in a film like this, the story is completely unimportant compared to the chemistry between the actors and the humor of the dialog and the situations, the latter of which is there in full force. Paul Rudd pulls off "awkward moments" better that than most of his peers, and in I Love You, Man he is completely unable to end a conversation with a guy without saying something ridiculous. These were the funniest moments of the movie to me. Jason Segel does a great job playing a real character rather than a comedic caricature, however, the relationship between Sidney and Peter is not as comfortable and realistic as John Hamburg wants us to believe. It's obviously trying to be the ultimate "bromantic" comedy, but it frequently skirts the line between "bromance" and homoerotic. If this was a film about Peter struggling with his sexuality, that would be one thing, but it's not. The truth is, Peter's declaration of love for Sydney at the end of the film feels much more heartfelt than his actual wedding vows.

While I enjoyed this film and thought it had some very funny moments, especially the scenes with Jon Favreau, I do not think it deserves all of the high praise it's been getting. Frankly, it doesn't hold a candle to films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, or Knocked Up, although it's obviously try to emulate some of the formulas that made those films so successful. I Love You, Man will make you laugh, probably a lot, and is very earnest in its attempt at real, heartfelt comedy. I even recommend checking it out, I just don't think it accomplished what it was trying to do, and that left me feeling a little disappointed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hotel for Dogs

Allow me to preface this by telling you why I went to this movie. Unlike a professional movie critic, I typically try to stay away from films that I think are going to suck. With a full time job as a CPA I only have a certain amount of free time to indulge my cinematic cravings; therefore I usually go see the films that look good to me or have received high critical acclaim. So when my 4 year old son was in town for spring break, I was sad to discover that this was the only movie in theaters that I thought would be appropriate for his age. I would so have loved to take him to Monsters vs. Aliens, but that didn't come out for two more weeks, so Hotel for Dogs it was, to my chagrin.

This is a movie about two orphaned kids, a brother and a sister about 12 and 16, who are constantly bouncing around from bad foster parents to other bad foster parents, because evidently all of the good foster parents won't take a brother and a sister their age. Of course their evil foster parents won't let them keep their mangy dog inside, so they spend all of their time and effort stealing and defrauding people in order to feed the poor thing. One day, when running from the cops, they discover a huge abandoned hotel with a couple of dogs living there. They decide to board their own dog there, and subsequently begin listening to police scanners and rescuing stray dogs from all over the city, with the help from 3 other kids who want to help.

I know what you're thinking. "The plot is flawless, and this movie sounds amazing! How did you not like it?" First, it was easier for me to suspend my disbelief for Star Wars. The 12 year old kid is a genius inventor who creates a house full of contraptions that would make Leonardo DeVinci proud, in order to help with all the dogs they accumulated. In addition to the inventions, they somehow trained all these stray dogs to use a toilet, stand in line for rides, etc. Second, every adult character in this movie is an evil douche bad, except for Don Cheadle's character and his wife. Third, the acting, apart from Cheadle (how did he get duped into this?), is atrocious, but even if the actors had been brilliant the script is so bad that it wouldn't have mattered. Four, the message this movie sends is that it is ok to commit crimes and spit in the face of authority if you deem it a worthy cause. Not that I disagree with them trying to prevent a dog holocaust in the local pound, but it is a bit far fetched to think that the pound would immediately execute 50+ dogs. No pun intended.

I can at least say that it was relatively clean enough for my son to see, and he seemed to enjoy it to a certain extent, especially the potty humor. Oh and there was tons of potty humor, the word "humor" being used very loosely here. One thing I noticed about the film was that the only reaction it ever got out of me was the occasional cringe, never a laugh, not once. I was in a great mood too. I love taking my son to the movies, and in general we had a good time, but it was definitely in spite of Hotel for Dogs.

Friday, March 20, 2009


No, I didn't go see this with my 4 year-old son, and after seeing it I would definitely not take him to it. This film is a dark, creepy, suspenseful romp through Henry Selick's twisted mind; in no way was it appropriate for small children, despite the PG rating. That being said, I loved it. It was an extremely gratifying experience; a feast for the eyes, if you will. This is one of the guys who brought us The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a stop-motion classic, but I think he outdid himself here.

The story centers around a little girl named, you guessed it, Coraline, not Caroline. She's a lonely, quirky little girl with somewhat of a bad attitude. Sure, she only wants more attention from her parents, but she isn't very understanding when if comes to their work, or anything else for that matter. They have just moved into an apartment which appeared to be sectioned off from an old mansion. Their neighbors are an interesting lot, consisting of an old gymnast/magician with ridiculous flexibility, two overweight, elderly drama queens, and a weird little boy, about Coraline's age, named Wybie who lives in a house nearby. Wybie's grandmother owns the place, however, she's forbidden him from entering the mansion, and is pretty mysterious as to her reasons why. The tale that unfolds during the next 100 minutes contains an alternate universe, trapped ghost children, a mouse circus, and many other crazy, inventive scenarios that have earned it legitimate comparisons to the classic children's tale, Alice in Wonderland.

One of the most important aspects of an animated movie is the visual effects and Coraline doesn't disappoint. The stop-motion animation is fabulously executed, some of the best I've seen, and I have never seen 3-D like this before. Usually 3-D leaves me feeling less than impressed, even downright nauseous, but Coraline is crisp and beautiful, undoubtedly due in part to
the Rave's new Texas Instruments projectors. I never felt that the 3-D was gimmicky or overdone; it simply enhanced the movie going experience as it was meant to do, and was easily worth the extra two bucks per ticket.

I feel very comfortable recommending Coraline to anyone who loves animated movies or the zany, Tim Burton style films with a well balanced mix of humor and horror. However, for the full affect I strongly encourage you to watch it in digital 3-D. Unfortunately, it is probably late in its theatrical run, so hurry! If I had to make a guess right now, I'd agree with Jack Black and say that the smart money is always on Pixar, who is releasing Up this year, but I think Coraline will be in the running come Oscar season.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I must start by saying that I do not read comic books at all. Never have. I've only heard about Watchmen from comic book junkies who host movie sites on the internet. I went into this movie expecting to be entertained but not much more. Boy was I in for a treat!

This dark, brooding tale is set in a parallel universe in which Nixon is in his fifth term as President and the U.S and Russia are so close to nuclear war that it's practically inevitable. The story centers on a small group of retired "superheroes," or rather former crime fighters who wore masks and costumes and had cool names, like Rorschach, Silk Spectre, the Comedian, and Night Owl. These characters have no supernatural powers, except Dr. Manhattan, whose powers are explained with the usual comic book science (i.e. lab experiment gone wrong), and each one is very human, and flawed. They are thrown back into each others lives by the murder of one of their own, and while solving that mystery, they uncover a plot so sinister and bizarre; it actually forces them to question their common sense of morality (if there is such a thing) in light of the circumstances.

There's no way I can do the story justice with this short synopsis, and I almost feel that it was too complex and convoluted even for a 2hr. 42min. movie. The pacing was perfect during the first half, setting up the characters and the plot, letting the audience into that world; but I think the further down the rabbit hole we got, the more it began to spin out of control. That's really my only criticism. I wanted more time with these characters in that alternate reality, more time to take it in and to unravel the story methodically, not frantically.

The visual style that Zack Snyder made famous with 300 is back, and is actually better suited for this film. The extreme violence coupled with Rorschach's gruff voiceover is Sin City-esque, which in my mind is a good thing, and the special effects serve the story and the environment much better than the distracting CGI effects found in the typical summer blockbuster. I knew I was going to be seeing Watchmen because it's an "event" movie; I love standing in line with a hundred people for a movie on opening night! That said, it's really nice when the movie is not only entertaining, but has substance. Watchmen delivers on both accounts.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Taken is the second film from director Pierre Morel, his first being the insanely hyper-active District B-13. Although Taken's protagonist, played by Liam Neeson, is much older than the usual action movie stars, Morel maintains a frantic pace throughout the film, reminiscent of the Bourne trilogy or some of the more recent Bond films.

Not only does Liam keep up, but he is extremely believable as the retired CIA operative, named Bryan Mills, forced to call upon his wealth of knowledge, skills, and resources acquired through years of "preventing." I really connected with the back story, involving his bitter ex-wife, her new, ridiculously rich husband, and his 17 year-old daughter, who he's trying to re-connect with after years of being invisible. However, when his daughter is kidnapped by some thugs and sold into an Eastern European prostitution ring while visiting Paris with a friend, a trip he did not want her to go on, the real entertainment begins.

The action in this movie is shot with a sense of realism, but the stunts are truly impressive; whether it's a car chase through a construction site or a guy jumping from a bridge. More impressive still are the martial arts on display. I'm no expert, but Liam Neeson looks totally legit as he disfigures and maims every bad guy in his way. I could swear I was watching a Tony Jaa movie there was so many cracking bones. There are many moments that made me just yell out in surprise, whether it was the method in which he dispatched some gang-banger, or just one of the measures he takes to find his daughter; this guys stops at nothing.

Whether your an action movie junky or just appreciate a thriller with a heroic protagonist, this film will meet your needs. Taken is one of the best pure action movies I've seen in a while.