Thursday, June 30, 2011


“BAD TEACHER” (Cameron Diaz)

The premise and the trailer gave me high expectations. With that, ‘Bad Teacher’ was a huge let down. Despite being semi-amusing, there simply wasn’t that one killer scene that would make you tell your friends, “You’ve got to go see this movie if just for the (i.e. ‘taser’) scene!”
It has some humorous moments – none of which are memorable.
The ‘hard R’ rating is due only to the repeated use of the ‘F’ word, but this is far from being an adult comedy. In fact, it’s quite childish at times – basically two grown women behaving like teenagers while fighting over a male teacher (Whom to me seemed obviously gay)
Cameron Diaz, playing disinterested middle school teacher Elizabeth Halsey, has almost zero talent in comedy timing – “There’s Something About Mary” being an obvious fluke.
Yes, Elizabeth is a bad teacher, but calling the film ‘Bad Teacher’ invoked comparisons to ‘Bad Santa’ and teech comes up sorely lacking when going up against that comedy classic. (“Best Christmas Movie EVER!” according to comic-book guy)
Is ‘Bad Teacher’ a bad movie – No, it’s a passable comedy (a 21 on my laugh-o-meter)
but I wanted it to be so much better than it was. Yes, I wanted another ‘Bad Santa’; a politically incorrect satire with plenty of witty lines and sight gags – ‘Bad Teacher’ is definitely politically incorrect, but it has no wit. Nor heart.
Elizabeth is a golddigger – her goal in life is to become the wife of a rich husband – love, companionship, finding a partner to go through life together – those feelings and dreams are for saps. So Elizabeth is shallow and could care less about teaching the kids in her class. She’s just there to collect an easy paycheck until Mr. Right puts a ring on her finger.
Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) is her target husband, even though he is ‘just a teacher’, he is the son of a wealthy watch tycoon. He is bland, uninteresting and to this viewer, more than likely gay. Lucy Punch, an odd looking actress but with nice curves, plays Amy Squirrel, Elizabeth’s arch enemy both in school and in trying to win Delacorte’s heart. Their antics devolve into childish catfights that caused more disgusted shakes of the head than guffaws. Actually, they didn’t cause any guffaws, ONLY disgruntled sneers.
There was a dry humping scene included that - #1) seemed entirely out of place considering the point the characters were in at the time and - #2) seemed only to exist for the gossip show crowd. I guess because the two actors involved (Diaz & Craterlake) were at one time real-life lovers, we were suppose to laugh hysterically at them screwing one another fully clothed. This information was foreign to me until Diaz appeared on ‘The Daily Show’ and made me aware of that fact. - #3) wasn’t the least bit funny, and - #4) added more proof that Delacorte was gay.
Jason Segal,as Russell, the gym teacher, plays the seemingly dopey nice guy yet again. Elizabeth insults Russell for the entire first hour of the film. If this film wanted to break from the norm and try to actually be a hard-edged dark comedy, she would have kept insulting him. If this film wanted to make Elizabeth less unlikable by having her suddenly seeing the gym instructor in a new light, without any lights actually coming on, thus turning into a... holy crap, chick flick, they would follow that tired old formula... I’ll let you guess which one they settled for.
With ‘Bad Santa’, even though Billy Bob Thornton’s character takes advantage of the little boy that actually believes he’s Santa Claus, he does so reluctantly. You can tell that he doesn’t revel in making the dumb little kid look dumb – and tries to teach the lad to stick up for himself – thus making ‘Bad’ Santa an acceptable character.
Everything Elizabeth Halsey does ‘for’ her students is meant to benefit Elizabeth Halsey – from opening day of class when she takes a nap while the kids watch ‘Stand & Deliver’ to when she finally decides she needs to start teaching her students properly in order to win a bonus that will allow her to pay for the breast implants she feels she desperately needs in order to attract a multi-millionaire looking for nothing more in life than a trophy wife he can cheat on.
It has some funny lines - I believe Segal’s Russell uttered the bulk of them - but it just doesn’t ‘click’. I found Russell to be pathetic when he gives in to Elizabeth’s come-on after she treated him like a pile of excrement earlier.
So as long as you’re okay with your pre-teens hearing the ‘F’ word, this film is actually aimed at them with its juvenile set ups between Halsey & Squirrel.
I was hoping to have a new best comedy of 2011 to hail, but “Paul” still holds that title for now... “Horrible Bosses” look promising to anyone?

Monday, June 20, 2011


“SUPER 8” (Joel Courtney & Elle Fanning)

When the trailers prior to the feature presentation are all silly, stupid or just plain uninteresting, that usually means what I’m about to see is going to be silly, stupid or just plain uninteresting. ‘Super 8’ didn’t follow that criterion. Realizing it was a kids’ movie along the lines of ‘E.T.’, but with a scary alien, ‘Super 8’ far exceeded expectations.
Besides, ‘E.T.’, I also thought of ‘Alien’ & ’Australia’... ‘Australia’??? I’ll explain later.
But the obvious comparison is to ‘E.T.’ one of the most beloved movies of all time by the American masses... of which I am not a member. ‘E.T.’ was a cute little kid’s film, but it was nothing special to me. It was childish, poorly acted and phony. ‘Super 8’ has a more adult theme to it despite being dominated by child actors, the acting is decent – in the case of the two leads, outstanding, and it is realistic; the U.S. military (the Air Force in this case) is the villain – the creature is simply an added, unseen terror. The heart of ‘E.T.’ was the ‘aw, schucks’ simplistic story of a boy’s friendship with a muppet from outer space; ‘Super 8’ is the story of 2 kids developing a friendship with one another because their fathers lack the ability to relate to them.
The comparison to ‘Alien’ is that the creature isn’t cute & cuddly – it’s a monster, but you don’t even get a glimpse of it until late in the film & then see the whole thing, up close & terrifying, at the end. I throw in ‘Australia’ because like that film, ‘Super 8’ had to win me back after stumbling out of the starting gate. I hated the first 30 minutes of ‘Australia’, but then it improved. What I disliked about ‘Super 8’ was the implausible ‘accident’ that sets the whole story in motion – a truck speeds onto a train track & collides with an oncoming locomotive head on. I’ve actually seen something like this happen & in every train vs. truck match-up – the train wins. But not here. The truck is cut in half. The collision was head on, but somehow only half of the truck is obliterated? Not only does the driver survive the crash & subsequent explosions, so does his map of the trains’ itinerary – it isn’t even crumpled or singed... I just found that to be somewhat ridiculous and I was disappointed because the movie had a really nice opening.
Joey (Joel Courtney) is seen sitting on a swing while adults gather inside his house following his mother’s funeral. A man (Men Behaving Badly’s Ron Eldard) comes to pay his respects & is brutally thrown out of the house by Joey’s grieving father (Kyle Chandler, yet another TV actor, but at least he’s had a job in this century)
Later, Dad – a deputy on the local police force – tells Joey he’s sending him to a 6 week fantasy baseball camp for the summer. Joey doesn’t want to go & feels as though his father is abandoning him, virtually making him an orphan.
Joe’s excuse is that he has to help his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish his movie. 'Super 8' is set in the late 70’s, the amateur ‘zombie’ movie is being shot with a camera that uses ‘Super 8’ film – the kind that has to be sent away for three days to be developed. So by the time the footage returns and a glimpse of the creature is finally seen, the small town of Lillian has already been over-run by the military and every dog in town has thumbed a ride to anywhere but there. Which leads to my next curious moment – why didn’t the horses and goats run away as well? Because they’re used to being food?
Noah Emmerick plays the military meanie that herds people like cattle and imprisons anyone that questions what he’s doing and why he’s doing it (Like Joey’s dad) Emmerick was excellent as the bad cop in ‘Little Children’, but here, he plays a ‘seen that same character dozens of times before’ role, so he isn’t very impressive.
‘Super 8’ is elevated by the appearance of Alice (Elle Fanning) the cute girl in school that Joey (& every boy in class) has a secret crush on. When Alice sees the son of a cop, she sneers at him; “I’m not doing this with him around!”
Alice has agreed to be in Charles’ movie, but balks after she’s ‘borrowed’ her dad’s car & is driving without a license. Joey assures her that he won’t tell his dad and although she agrees, the look on her face says, ‘OK, but stay AWAY from me!’
It’s that growing into puppy love relationship between Joey and Alice that makes this film special because the actors are two of the best for their age that I’ve ever seen. Though her sister Dakota was much younger when she came into prominence, Elle proves in ‘Super 8’ that she can definitely act. In fact, if I have one complaint about her it’s that she’s TOO good. During one scene Joey has to act in a scene from the zombie movie and he’s terrible; Alice is impressive right from the start – but then again, why would Alice want to be in these geeky guys’ movie if she didn’t think she had acting chops?
The other kid actors pale in comparison to Joel & Elle, but they’re ‘ok’. The most amazing casting however is Cary; a kid who is obsessed with fireworks and blowing things up – somehow they cloned Tanner Boyle from the original ‘Bad News Bears’ and brought him back to life!
So ‘Super 8’ is the kid’s movie made for adults – if you have little ones that have seen ‘E.T.’ a hundred times on DVD & want to go see the latest cute ‘n’ cuddly alien movie –this isn’t it. I think pre-teen kids will be bored by this film - They’ll think the implausible train vs truck crash & explosions are gnarly, but after that, they’ll get restless because then it becomes a mystery & when the alien is finally brought to the forefront, it is far from being cute’n’cuddly and instead of Reese’s pieces, it eats people (because the dogs had the good sense to hightail it out of town!)
Since I grew up with a father that I never connected with, that I felt didn’t want me around either, I related to Joey’s predicament. That’s what pulled me into this story – why I cared about the kid and needed that happy ending – because I never got it. Perhaps ‘Super 8’ is just special to me – maybe the masses will love it because the monster at the end is real gnarly. By the way, what word do kids use today instead of ‘gnarly’?
Dudley Moore, after peaking with 'Arthur' made a whole lot of stinkers, but one had the memorable line, "Do you know why Hollywood has such a difficult time finding good actresses for female characters? Because you have to hire women to play them." I always felt that way about 'child' actors - that they can ruin an otherwise good flick. In 'Super 8', it's the kid actors that are the reason to go see this film. Did Joel Courtney & Elle Fanning just happen to find roles that fit them perfectly, or do they have impressive acting careers on the horizon? I'll be watching them both in the future and I hope they continue to work at their craft because they are off to an incredible start. Excellent job, kids, excellent.


“HANNA” (Saorise Ronan, Cate Blanchett & Eric Bana)

This is one of those films where you reach the point that you don’t care what happens to the characters or how it’s going to end because you JUST want it to be over with. And I felt that way about a half hour into the thing.
It opens with a disgusting scene of an elk being murdered by a little girl (Saorise Ronan as Hanna) This is followed by a scene of child abuse as Hanna’s father, Erik (Eric Bana) attacks like ‘Kato’ in the old Pink Panther films – the only enjoyment I got from this movie was when my mind yelled out, “Not NOW, Kato!” during this senseless scene.
Hanna murders an elk with no feelings of remorse, yet she wants her father to tell her that the dog the Russians sent into space in the 1950’s made it back to earth alive?
Hanna & her father live in a cabin in the Arctic tundra. They have no logical reason to exist this way, other than Erik telling the girl to flip the switch on the location finder box when she’s ready to leave.
Hanna is given a make believe background to recite if and when she is captured. When she flips the switch on the box, he father puts on a suit & a backpack & leaves her.
Hanna awaits the arrival of the military & murders several of them before deciding to go with them willingly (huh?)
Once ensconced in a military installation, she demands to speak to Marissa & when the woman arrives, Hanna crawls into her lap like a frightened child & then... well, sets in motion her plot to escape. This thin, frail child shoots her way out of a heavily guarded institution to an 80’s techno pop beat that would make The Pet Shop Boys(*) envious & then makes her clever getaway by latching onto the bottom of a speeding military vehicle. Pretty impressive, eh? Except they don’t show you HOW she was able to jump up from a hole & grab onto a speeding vehicle as it passed overhead – they just show you her in the hole & then the line of vehicles, panning down to Hanna clutching to the bottom of the last car. It’s not clever when they ask you to believe something implausible without showing how the trick was pulled off. It’s stupid & it makes you feel like they think you’re stupid enough to believe it.
At this point I would have liked to have learned exactly what the hell was going on – but no hints are given – everything is revealed at the very end, when you really don’t care what the hell is going on anymore...
To make things even more implausible, Cate Blanchett sends Elton John’s younger, gayer brother to track down Hanna & bring her back dead or alive. . . Elton John’s younger gayer brother as a hit man? How much B.S. do you expect us to buy?
This is Cate Blanchett’s career low point – in both films & her performance – she’s almost laughable using a Texan accent as she mercilessly hunts down a small blonde waif. Even when the secret is revealed, you think – If Erik cared about Hanna, why didn’t he simply take her to a remote city in a small corner of the world & bring her up to be a normal child instead of training her to be a ruthless killer? HE determined her destiny would be filled with violence, not the military. So there’s no good guy here, they’re all bad & there’s no sympathy for the little killing machine either – I mean, do YOU want to adopt her?
This film is as bad as ‘Black Swan’, except that there is an explanation at the end...
but who cares?

(*) I used Pet Shop Boys because I never listened to 80's techno pop so if it's a bad reference, don't blame me, it's the only name I could think of from that time frame... I don't even know if The Pet Shop Boys were techo pop!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


“The HANGOVER PART II” (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms & Zach Galifianakis)

“The Hangover” scored a 79 on my laugh-o-meter... Part II soared to 19 thanks to another entertaining round of photos shown during the closing credits.
I think that says it all. And there’s going to be a Part III ?
Unless Mel Gibson's in it, I’ll pass...

I’d like to leave this review at that, but I suppose I should explain to you why this movie pales in comparison to the original – It’s the same story but with a twist! Stu’s soon-to-be-brother-in-law Teddy disappears instead of soon-to-be-groom Doug. Amazing what they can come with in the ways of new original scripts isn’t it?

Everybody’s back for Part DUH, except Heather Graham is replaced by Paul Giamatti... Improves the acting caliber, but I’d rather look at Heather playing a stripper - especially in a comedy. Stu's new relationship is mega-creepy; he's engage to a Thailand girl (Jamie Chung as Lauren) who looks to be 17, maybe 18 years old. And everyone is mystified as to why her father doesn't want her to marry a 40-ish dentist coming off a failed marriage to a Las Vegas stripper.

That's another innovation – instead of Vegas being a co-star, the backdrop is the city of Bangkok, with all its live chickens & dead pigs roaming the streets.

Since the script is so familiar, it seemed that Ed Helms decided to make it ‘come to life’ by screaming most of his dialogue. Quirky, semi-disturbing idiot-savant-like Alan (Zach) comes across as a racist jackass and much meaner than the boyish misfit he played in the original.

Justin Bartha is back as Doug and contributes virtually nothing. Ken Jeong returns as a much kinder, less dangerous Mr. Chow (now a buddy with goofball Alan) though he still manages to get the hungover trio in steaming tubs of hot water. Now, it made some sense that Asian Mr. Chow might show up in Bangkok the same time as the hungovers –But Mike Tyson? Yes, the way they bring him in makes sense – but who wants him? And when you see what they have him do – displaying his lack of singing skills to go along with that Oscar caliber acting ability – it isn’t a welcome return by any means.
These people refused to be in a movie with Mel Gibson, but a convicted rapist is A-OK?

Just a side-note – Andrew Howard plays a Russian mobster in HO2 but doesn’t have nearly as many lines as he did playing a Russian mobster in Bradley Cooper’s previous film, “Limitless”. They were so lazy with this film they couldn’t even come up with a different guy to play a Russian mobster!

There is one scene that had me laughing out loud, but it is also its most difficult to watch... I'll only say that the stripper Stu gets 'involved' with in this film isn't nearly as enticing to watch disrobe as Heather Graham was.

The only reason to anticipate Part 3 is the obvious inclusion of my pal, Brody Stevens in yet another unnamed cameo – here, Brody plays bodyguard to mobster Kingsley (Giamatti) This time, unfortunately, he doesn’t even have one spoken line. Let’s hope they don’t make that mistake again when they spend the 7 minutes its going to take them to write the script for #3...


“LIMITLESS” (Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro & Abbie Cornish)

Finally a film with a positive message for America – Do drugs! Do lots of them! Especially untested ones and you too can make it to the top of your field becoming wealthy beyond your wildest dreams!
Actually this was an entertaining tale, but yes, that IS the message it seems to be sending.
Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a struggling unknown writer to has received a rather large advance from his publisher even though Eddie has never had anything published...
Which let’s us know right from the git-go that this is a fantasy tale...
Not only has Eddie never been published, but he hasn’t even written one word of his manuscript before receiving this bonus – How in the hell did he sell THAT idea?
I’ve written three full-length novels and I can’t get agents or publishers to even look at what I’ve written, let alone advance me any bread to write something from scratch!
OK, so that aspect of the film made me bitter...

But the rest of the story unfolds in a way that keeps you interested in Eddie’s sudden mercurial rise to the top despite the fact that he’s doing it while taking a drug that will kill him if he stops taking it - & looks like it will do that eventually if he continues popping the pills like peanuts to avoid the D-T’s as well.

Eddie’s ex-brother-in-law hands him an experimental drug called NZT (“FDA approved,” Vernon tells Eddie, “though it’s not on the market yet.”
NZT supposedly allows the user to expand the ability to use one’s entire brain instead of just the 20% most of us can access. Eddie remembers everything that’s ever entered his head since birth and goes from a disheveled looking loser into a sharp dressed well-groomed business genius in just a matter of weeks.
The downside – well, when Eddie tells Vernon, “You told me this was FDA approved!” Vernon chuckles, “And you believed me?” – so Eddie is addicted to a drug that he discovers will kill him if he stops taking it or takes too many doses too often.

Throw in a Russian mobster (Andrew Howard) that keeps shaking Eddie down for more NZT and Robert De Niro as Eddie’s new mentor and Eddie finds himself keeping dangerous company along with his ‘drug problem’.
Abbie Cornish is quite cute as Eddie’s girlfriend that dumped him when he was a useless writer but finds the ‘genius’ Eddie irresistible – Until his unscrupulous lifestyle puts her in danger and her only hope to survive is to start taking NZT herself.

I liked this movie despite being an anti-drug person. Not that I care if you do them, I just wish I didn’t have to take as many pain pills as I do in order to get through my job.
I didn’t care for the ending – but on the other hand, it didn’t end the way I expected it, and I always appreciate a twist of that sort – at least it’s original...



Saw these within a few days of each other and I felt a comparison was needed. Going into these two nature/documentary films, I had a much higher interest in ‘Oceans’.
(Not a cat person, you understand) But ‘African Cats’ is unquestionably the better film.

Probably because ‘Cats’ focuses on one central location and tells the ‘story’ of two prides of lions and a cheetah mother trying to raise and protect her cubs and ‘Oceans’ has no story. They simply show you footage of underwater creatures from all 5 oceans, tell you their names & then move on to the next creature. No interesting commentary on their lives and how they survive in the deep, just “this is a weird looking fish and here it is eating another weird looking fish” (or being eaten by...)

I am a wimp when it comes to watching something being killed and eaten. I was able to foresee scenes that were going to make me sick to my stomach in both films and closed my eyes at the appropriate times. I did see a large group of lions feasting on a fallen zebra, but by the time I looked up you could hardly tell what the beasts were devouring.

So I recommend ‘African Cats’ even if your not a cat person – though I did scoff, “What a pussy!” when Fang ran away from danger. It takes the time to let you know these animals, and yes, the slow motion footage of a running cheetah is impressive to see -
though I also would have liked to have seen more actual speed chases. You root for the moms and you boo the (bleep) out of those (bleep)ing hyenas – that’s one creature I wouldn’t mind seeing become extinct – the little a—holes. Oh, sorry, forgot this is a kid’s movie!
In the end you come to understand there’s an order that needs to be maintained as distasteful as it is to view or learn that a cub has been killed or a daughter that just lost it’s mother is not being accepted back into the ‘tribe’.

‘Oceans’ is only interesting from a viewing viewpoint. You see lots of strange looking creatures – you see lots of creatures killing and eating smaller creatures (Unless you close your eyes & count to ten) – and you learn next to nothing about any of them.
It would have been a better idea to do a series of 5 films, taking time to show & teach us about the creatures that inhabit the world’s oceans.